The final season of Netflix’s Dead to Me follows Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), now beautifully set in their familiar and loving friendship, on a wild ride of another kind. Gone are the days of Steve (James Marsden) and Judy accidentally killing Jen’s husband in an evening hit-and-run accident, or Steve’s twin brother Ben (also Marsden) drunkenly plowing into Jen and Judy’s vehicle before driving away. No, instead, the final season finds Judy battling cervical cancer while Jen, who lost her mother to a years-long battle with breast cancer at just 19, is forced to confront all of the buried and familiar emotions that are bubbling to the surface with Judy’s illness.
This begins in the aftermath of the second hit and run, as Jen and Judy arrive at the hospital to get checked out to make sure there are no serious injuries. They do scans, blood work, and other regular tests, with one or the other being left in the makeshift hospital room by themselves. After spilling water in her own bed, Jen climbs into Judy’s to rest (as she had more injuries than Judy, being on the side of the car that was hit). Judy steps away, leaving Jen alone when the doctor comes in to inform her there was something strange about one of her scans. A shadow, of sorts, which often means cancer. After what her mother went through, and having a double mastectomy to lower her own chances of getting breast cancer, this is Jen’s worst nightmare. But, before leaving, the doctor addresses her as “Ms. Hale,” having mistaken Jen for Judy because of the bed situation.
Once Jen finally brings herself to give Judy the bad news, it’s all downhill from here. Judy discovers she has stage four cervical cancer, prompting an immediate and long round of chemotherapy. Jen and the boys do everything in their power to make Judy feel safe and at home as she grows progressively sicker and weaker, but they all try to remain hopeful that the chemo will help. However, this is not the case. Judy’s cancer worsens, spreading to her liver, and she is now terminal and doesn’t have long to live. By season’s end, Jen and Judy take a trip to spend Judy’s final days, following her confession for Steve’s murder (which Jen committed), in Mexico. After talking about her love of the open water, Judy sets sail one night without Jen’s knowledge, and we know she has gone and met her fate. Tearfully, and while imagining her best friend, Jen makes her way home to have her daughter, Joey, and live happily ever after with Ben.
Frankly, this is a bullshit ending.
Let’s just say it: Judy Hale deserved better. (So did Jen, for that matter.) Queer, fan-favorite Judy, who wore her heart on her sleeve and showed kindness to absolutely everyone she crossed paths with, did not deserve to meet such an awful end. Especially, as we learned throughout the seasons of Dead to Me, given how hard her life was. When she was around on the rare occasion, Judy’s con artist mother used Judy in her schemes, even having Judy fake seizures at the hospital so she could sneak behind the counter and steal prescription medicine. Judy never knew her father, something that always haunted her. She let people, like Steve, walk all over her and treat her terribly because she was afraid to lose them, particularly after the trauma induced by her absentee mother.
All Judy ever wanted in life was her own family. She tried, so unbelievably hard, to have a child, suffering through five miscarriages and the heartbreak that came with them. Her pain is palpable and haunting, helping to bring us into Judy’s life completely from the very start. Then, Judy learned she couldn’t have her own children, breaking her heart once more. Before the end of the series, Judy had finally found her family in Jen, Charlie (Sam McCarthy), and Henry (Luke Roessler). The final episodes make a point to show Charlie finally coming around—long after his mother and brother—to accept Judy as the new member of their family. Though, by this time her cancer is terminal and her death inches closer, shattering the illusion that Judy could ever get the happy ending she more than earned.
Nothing was gained by killing Judy. It’s a depressing ending that just goes to show that no good deed can ever go unpunished. The reason Judy put off getting her abnormal pap smear results further inspected in the first place was because she put everything to the side to help Jen in the aftermath of Steve’s murder. Judy always, always put others above herself in her life. Her death simply ripped away her chance at a beautiful relationship with Michelle (Natalie Morales), adding yet another character to the long list of familiar faces on the internet’s “bury your gays trope” explainers. It also ripped away Judy’s second chance to raise the baby girl she dreamed of for so long, helping Jen with her unexpected new addition as their own makeshift, cohesive family unit.
Judy suffered endlessly in life, showing nothing but kindness and love to people who didn’t deserve it. She risked everything for those she loved. Plus, the message Dead to Me continually preached and reinforced in its stories, even well into the final episodes, is how Jen and Judy could get through anything together because of their true, meaningful friendship. It surpassed even the harshness of the incident that brought them together. It’s how they survived everything, especially with the police breathing down their necks over Steve’s death.
Now they aren’t together. The story is over. Jen is forced to go on without her best friend, her platonic soulmate. Judy is just gone. And the entire show feels empty because of it. We sat through an entire season of misery. We hoped for a happy ending that would do justice to the characters and cement a legacy that would live on for years to come due to how incredible the first two seasons were. Instead, if I could, I would go back in time and choose to never watch this show. What was the point? Why did we watch Jen and Judy continually beat the odds, come back together despite their misgivings, and build a life together? Why didn’t Judy deserve a happy ending, too?
Jay Snow is a freelance writer. He has published many places on the internet. For more of his thoughts on television and to see his other work (or to simply watch him gush again and again over his love for the original Charmed) follow him @snowyjay.
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