When the show focuses on this sense of entropy, the inevitable feeling that everything we’ve seen up to this point is about to finally blow up in their face, “Dead to Me” recaptures some of the magic it had in its strong first season. But in its desire to wrap up all of its loose ends along the way, Feldman and the writers stuff too many ideas into the mix, almost as if speedrunning a three-season arc into the one final turn at bat that Netflix would actually shell out for.
Season Three cuts in almost immediately after Season Two’s finale, which ended with Steve’s twin brother Ben (also Marsden) relapsing and getting into a hit-and-run with Jen and Judy after learning the cops have found his twin brother’s body. The two emerge relatively unscathed, but a chance miscommunication at the hospital gives Jen yet another secret she can’t bring herself to tell Judy. Suddenly, all the death they’ve been evading over the course of their friendship is finally knocking on their door.
It’s a solid angle for the series to go in its final act, especially as these new sets of secrets and lies compound on the ones they’ve already accumulated. But the sheer weight of all those deceptions, whether towards themselves or others, tends to bog down the season throughout its five-hour runtime. There’s an endless parade of circular secrets and vestigial character beats that seem included out of apparent obligation. Judy’s ex, Michelle (Natalie Morales), drops in with little to do; Jen’s kids, Charlie (Sam McCarthy) and Henry (Luke Roessler), mostly hang around to respectively challenge and encourage the strange family unit Jen and Judy have built for themselves. And don’t forget those subplots about stolen paintings and the Greek mafia!
And then there’s Ben, who elevates himself to third-lead status this season. Ever the charmer, Marsden sometimes steals scenes right out from under Applegate and Cardellini by sheer dopey gumption. His journey, at least for most of the season, is interesting, his transgressions throwing him into the same cycle of guilt Jen and Judy started with. And it’s great to see such an unassuming, sweet guy succumb much more readily to these demons than our stalwart wine-mom BFFs—a testament less to Ben’s weakness than the idea that Jen and Judy have a particular gift for self-delusion that informs their particular neuroses.