“That’s a lot!,” says Judy.
“Yeah, it’s way too fuckin’ much!,” Jen replies.
That exchange is “Dead to Me” in a nutshell, Liz Feldman’s dark comedy that premiered in 2019 and wraps up with a third and final season nearly three years after it last aired. Judy met Jen at a grief support group after driving the car that killed her husband, and a few months later the two of them were in cahoots concealing Jen’s accidental murder of Judy’s ex Steve (James Marsden). The rest is soapy twists and turns and secret twins and lots of expletives — as only “Dead to Me” delivers.
Season 3 follows suit and pulls out all the chaotic stops, piling up one complication after another as Jen and Judy try to maintain their innocence and stay out of trouble. But trouble is everywhere in their improbably insular social web; Judy is still involved with Michelle (Natalie Morales), who used to date the detective covering up Steve’s murder (Diana Maria Riva), who works with Judy’s grief camp fling Nick (Brandon Scott), who’s investigating the hit-and-run involving Jen, Judy, and (unbeknownst to anyone else) Steve’s twin brother Ben (Marsden), who has developed feelings for Jen.
And that’s just Episode 1.
Tempting as it is to binge “Dead to Me,” there’s just too much misunderstanding, coincidence, gaslighting, and skullduggery to digest Season 3 in one go. The twists are still gasp-worthy, if wildly improbable, until they start retconning events of Seasons 1 and 2 and feel distinctly more hollow. The show works best when Jen and Judy are allies, but they spend most of the season keeping each other deliberately in the dark, to the detriment of the story. In the past, they kept secrets to protect themselves, but now they’re doing it to protect each other, and the I-love-you-too-much-to-tell-you-the-truth angle wears thin after a few episodes, despite the strength of their bond. The pacing is almost as preposterous as the plot points; a year has allegedly passed since Season 1, but at some point in the season months have elapsed with no clear indication.
Applegate and Cardellini slip comfortably into their old rhythm (a brief shroom trip in one episode wastes their chemistry and timing, but still radiates tipsy warmth), fueled by their real-life friendship and two seasons of living in this dynamic. New episodes do their best to utilize the not-so-secret weapon of Marsden, adding hallucinations and flashbacks as Ben processes his brother’s death. Marsden has played inner turmoil, puppy-dog brightness, and a slick, oily jerk on this show, but never all at the same time or across from himself in a scene — compelling in theory, but ultimately disserviced by predictable dialogue and hokey direction.
The stakes might be high for Jen and Judy, but they’re low, bordering on nonexistent, for “Dead to Me,” whose writers at least seem to enjoy a final shot at testing these characters and their audience’s stress limits. Why shouldn’t a show known for twists evolve into its most serpentine self for one last hurrah? New conflicts, characters, and solutions are more convoluted than ever — but if you’ve made it this far you not only expect, but relish that, though the payoff might fall short. It’s hard to say much without knocking over a domino lineup of spoilers, but “Dead to Me” ends largely as it started: Mired in shock, love, and loss, but insisting that all those unlikely and harrowing developments might just work out in the end.
“Dead to Me” Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.