Dead to Me Recap: It’s Hard to Die

by 24USATVNov. 18, 2022, 1:01 a.m. 15
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It’s right there in the title, but death has hung over this season of Dead to Me with a heavier weight than before. It’s not just the death of Steve Wood, which has now spawned both an investigation and a funeral arrangement, but also the potential mortality of Judy Hale, who gets devastating news but keeps on pushing forward like she so often does. It’s been an interesting start to a solid season as the writers have balanced emotional beats with the always-deepening narrative quicksand in which this show has placed its central trio. This is another strong chapter, elevated by great work from Linda Cardellini. It was reasonable to assume that Christina Applegate would get the big emotional arc in this final season, but it looks like it’s her co-star who’s getting the spotlight as the curtain draws to a close.

Judy and Jen are at Laguna Radiology, where some sadist has included “Seasons in the Sun” on the waiting-room playlist. Judy is preaching the power of positive thinking, but Jen sticks to her realist core even as she asserts everything will be fine. Then Judy drops some bad news: She had an abnormal pap smear a year ago when she thought she might be pregnant, and didn’t follow up. They have been kind of busy over the last year, but the whole “catching it early” possibility just took a hit. Before they can really dig in, though, Perez calls Jen in a panic. Judy will take care of herself; Jen will take care of the cover-up.

Eileen Wood (Frances Conroy) is back! The eccentric mother to the twin Wood boys is a mess after the discovery of Steve’s body, muttering to Ben about not being able to find the glasses … that are in her hand. Ben’s not doing much better, having another flashback to him and Steve fighting before his brother’s death and covering the car that was involved in the hit-and-run in his garage. And then Nick pops up! The officer is snooping and returns the wooden bird left at the bar he saw Ben stumble out of. (Did the cop think Ben was calling an Uber, or was he just cool with a little DUI?) Nick notes that he nearly drank himself out of his job too and just got his six-month chip. Ben has had a few of those. After all, “We go way-AA back.”

Nick has no idea he just handed the murder weapon in the Steve Wood investigation back to Steve’s brother (and, for the record, neither does Ben). The plot thickens when Perez tells Jen that they found the missing wooden bird tail in Steve’s skull. They have to get the full bird back and dispose of it. Perez also drops that there’s a new FBI agent on the investigation and he’s “The MVP of the FBI.” They take Tums and try to visualize a positive outcome.

After Judy gets her second scan, she discovers that the man heading the FBI investigation is one she has worked with before: Glenn Moranis, played by the wonderful Garret Dillahunt, one of the best character actors alive. Judy tells him that she thinks someone might be following her as he eats pistachios and mentions that he’s separated from his wife. Seeing that Glenn has the Steve Wood file out on his dresser, the attempts to manipulate the G-man into pinning the murder on the Greeks. Steve stole millions of dollars from them, after all. Glenn looks uncertain. Dillahunt is so good at looking uncertain.

Meanwhile, Jen is at the Wood house, finally breaking Eileen out of her emotional fugue a bit. She sees the suits that have been laid out for Steve to be buried in, and that has to be surreal. It’s easy to forget that Jen is currently helping emotionally assuage the mother of the man she killed. While Jen believes she did the right thing, it has to be heavy to hear Eileen call her “kind” given the role she’s played in this entire situation.

Back at the station, Nick notices Perez with the autopsy report from the FBI, including a photo of the piece of wood they pulled from Steve’s head. Will Nick put it together? He takes the photo, staring at it, and appears to have a lightbulb moment. “No way,” he says. But before Nick can get his hands back on the bird, Ben appears to be fixing the situation … literally. He goes to a store to buy the materials needed to fix the toy that he probably thinks he broke in a drunken state. Will it be enough to send Nick off the scent?

The emotional toll of Jen’s afternoon with Eileen can be seen in Applegate’s performance as she sits in the church and watches Henry perform with the Holy Harmonies again. The song of choice? “Broken Wings,” a nod to the wooden bird that has become this episode’s centerpiece, but they’re both a callback to the bird that Henry thought was his father. (Birds have been a part of the background of this show since the beginning, and so it just makes sense that Jen somehow finds herself agreeing to make a thousand “Paper Cranes for Christ.”) Jen gives into the moment and prays for Judy, leading to some big tears. She doesn’t get that prayer answered, but Ben does show up with the fixed bird, which could solve at least one of Jen’s big problems.

Back at the house, Judy gets the call — “It definitely is …” — and still has the quality of character to say, “I’m sorry that you had to make this call.” She pours a glass of wine and chugs it before pouring another, seemingly bracing to tell Jen. But nope. She tells her BFF that she’s fine, and they go off to douse the bird in lighter fuel. Is that the right move? Couldn’t they keep it and prove that the tail isn’t embedded in Steve’s head? Nonetheless, they celebrate, and while they do, someone is observing Jen’s house: Agent Moranis.
• Garret Dillahunt! Can we talk for a minute about the range of a man who can appear as easily in a Michael Bay movie as he can on the streets of Deadwood? He’s been a simply phenomenal supporting actor in so many things. I know I said after the first episode that I was happy they were adding any new characters in this final season, but exceptions can be made for Dillahunt. Always.
• Judy spotting the nurse’s evil-eye necklace and getting one for herself got me digging into the meaning behind these necklaces, which apparently protect against evil spirits. Read more here. It’s interesting.
• How long can Judy keep the secret from Jen? Will her health start to fail before she reveals it? There are so many secrets in play and we’re already three episodes into this season. With only seven episodes to go, they have to start spilling out soon.

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