Dead to Me Recap: The Other Shoe
“We Need to Talk” feels like it starts defining the themes of this end run of Dead to Me. The difficulty of maintaining secrets from people we’re close to has long been a narrative factor on this show, but the heavy weight of the decision to withhold information feels more front and center this year. Ben and Judy have massive secrets — everybody does, really, but theirs feel like truths that can’t be withheld forever. How long can someone carry the weight of a secret that’s pulling them down before they crumble?
The episode starts with Jen’s newest secret, but it’s one that’s thankfully not held too long: Judy might have cancer. Jen practices telling her friend the truth in the mirror, but panic sets in and the emotions pour out. While Judy is already waist-deep in cupcakes for Charlie’s birthday, Jen is ready to spill the beans, but first Judy wants to talk about Steve’s body being found and what that means. They can’t talk seriously yet. They need wine, weed, and pain pills: “All the numbing agents.”
Well, too bad, ladies. Charlie has other ideas. He’s in the pool house with a gun and he wants to talk. Remember, he read mom’s goodbye letter and is starting to put it together — he can sense that things are connected, and that mom and her new BFF know more than they’ve told him. He throws blame at Judy first — it’s easier to deflect than attack his mom — and Jen starts crying as her son waves a gun around. She’s done a lot of that already this season. And then she shifts into denial, asking, “Have you heard of the Greek mafia?” She’s going to spin that part of the story for Charlie, but not without throwing Judy under the bus, claiming that she was screwing Charlie’s dad. This can’t work out well, right?
And then there’s Henry! Played by Luke Roessler, the sweetest Harding is allowing the always-unsettling Shandy (Adora Soleil Bricher) to tie him up and play “Stockholm syndrome.” Yikes. The important thing to note here, other than Henry’s willingness to go along with just about anything, is that he has the wooden bird that his mom used to kill Steve Wood. That could end up mattering.
Nick and Perez come to meet with Jen and Judy about the hit and run, but the discovery of Steve’s body hangs in the air. It turns out that the body was on federal land, so the FBI is now involved in the case. Jen gets Perez away to the kitchen to admonish her about not being informed about the federal involvement. There’s a beat when the detective notices a crack in the ceiling that should be fixed before it gets worse — symbolism! It’s just like all the cracks in the various plates that Jen is spinning. For now, Jen and Perez agree they need to communicate more, especially with Nick saying things like, “I just have this odd feeling it might all be connected somehow.”
Charlie doesn’t want to eat the cupcakes made by his dead dad’s mistress — he’d rather drive the new sports car bought for him by his grandma Lorna (Valerie Mahaffey). It’s just another annoyance in Jen and Judy’s life, and now it’s time for Ms. Hale to start to crack under the emotional pressure. She wants to tell Charlie the truth. She wants to be honest. She wishes she had been honest from the very beginning. But then there wouldn’t be a Dead to Me.
Ben shows up at the Harding house with a care basket for Jen. He talks about fighting with Steve the last time that they saw each other, carrying the weight of regret on top of the secrets about the hit and run that he’s just starting to unpack. He can’t make things right with Steve. That’s a theme of the show, too — how regret over what we can’t possibly change can eat away at us emotionally. He looks in the mirror and sees Steve, haunting him more than ever. He’s lucky to have someone in his life like Henry, who wants to give him something besides good advice: a big hug. James Marsden sells the beat really nicely — he needed that hug.
Judy finds the pamphlets about coping with cancer and confronts Jen with them. “They found shadows on the CT,” says Jen, and it’s a very good thing the writers didn’t hold this secret for too long; it would have been hard to navigate keeping that kind of diagnosis from immediate medical attention. Judy’s response to hearing the news is SO sweet: “So you’re okay.” She thinks of Jen first. It’s a wonderful little character beat that Cardellini nails.
On top of all of this, Judy has to deal with an aggressive Charlie who wants answers. She claims to have just slept with Ted once, and it’s funny how in lying she says things that aren’t entirely lies, like how it was just one bad night and how she wishes she had done everything differently. She’s playing into Charlie’s interpretation while also expressing legitimate regret over the one night she spent in proximity to his father.
The final scene reveals that Henry gave the bird to Ben, who is now sitting at a bar again, drowning his sorrows. He sees his dead twin brother in the mirror and flashes back to the last time they fought. The emotion of the moment pushes him out of the bar, and he leaves the bird by his glass … where it’s picked up by Nick! The inquisitive officer grabs it and holds it, noticing the tail is broken. Uh-oh.
• Judy says she never understood why it’s a shoe that drops when bad news comes. According to this article at the Gothamist, it actually can be traced back to noisy NYC neighbors.
• Shandy gets one of this episode’s best lines: “I collect things that are broken … like my dad’s promises.” Yikes.
• There’s another great beat that defines the Judy and Jen relationship when the latter says to her BFF, “Your least is better than my best.” It plays into both Judy’s undeniable over-achievement and Jen’s self-deprecation.