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Creator Liz Feldman  

[This story contains spoilers to the series finale of Dead to Me.]

Dead to Me started with loss, and it ended with loss. The third and final season of Netflix’s dark buddy comedy, starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, saw the partners in literal and figurative crime grow closer than ever as Cardellini’s character navigated a terminal cancer diagnosis.

In that last episode, one in which the pair almost mystifyingly evades the law yet again for past deeds, Jen (Applegate) and Judy (Cardellini) abscond to Mexico for a vacation where harsh realities are ignored and ultimately embraced. Only Jen returns to Orange County, after Judy, on her last legs, steals away one morning for a presumably one-way boat ride toward the horizon. 

“I wanted the ending to feel important,” says creator and showrunner Liz Feldman, who spoke with THR earlier in November. “When I was thinking about how to end this show, I wanted to find a way that felt satisfying but also like I was honoring the themes. I realized that the way to do that was to bring this friendship to a natural end.”

Sure, jokes about “the friends we made along the way” are corny and ripe for meme mockery — but, in the case of Dead to Me, it was the truth. For all of its hit-and-runs, murders, laundered money, improperly buried bodies and abundant lies, Dead to Me was about the most unlikely of friendships. Judy was involved in a hit-and-run that killed Jen’s husband. Jen later killed Judy’s ex-boyfriend. Somehow their bond became invincible. Yet, for Feldman, it wasn’t meant to last forever. She realized as much while halfway through the series’ run. 

“We were in the middle of shooting season two, and I was thinking about the themes of the show — grief, loss, forgiveness, friendship— and about all the insanity I’d brought these characters through,” she says. “And the ending just came to me. What’s a more full-circle way to express those themes and to explore the idea that grief is just love looking for someplace to go? So, that’s where I brought it.”

These last ten episodes are emotionally loaded on multiple fronts. Not only does Dead to Me establish relatively early on that Judy’s time is running out, but its production also coincided with Applegate’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Filming stopped for half a year so that the actress and executive producer could start her treatment. When filming resumed, Applegate called the shoot the hardest she’s experienced in her life.

The happy ending of the series was reserved for Applegate’s Jen. With an unexpected third child, a new partner in James Marsden’s Ben and the lessons from her brief time with Judy, Jen’s in much better shape than when viewers met her in 2019. Did she tell Ben about killing his twin brother? Who’s to say? For those involved in the show, that seems to be beside the point.

“It was a hard plane to land… it was a hard flight,” Feldman says of the three-season journey. “It’s very meaningful, and a little bit scary, to do something like this on a show where people love these characters so much — and obviously loved Judy. But it is the story I felt was supposed to be told. Also, I want people to feel things. I want people to have to reckon with their own grief because that’s something that lies dormant in us. It’s something we’ve all experienced. I wanted to remind people that it’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to have lost someone because it means you loved them. It means that you got to love, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Dead to Me

Dead to Me

Courtesy of Netflix

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