[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Dead to Me Season 2.]
In case you missed my spoiler-filled Dead to Me Season 2 feature, I am very into the show. Not only have I fallen head over heels for Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), but I’m endlessly fascinated by the complexity of their friendship, which is constantly challenging the viewer to reevaluate right vs. wrong, when to forgive, and how to grow.
We recently had the great pleasure of welcoming Linda Cardellini to an episode of Collider Connected where we discussed a little bit of everything from Freaks and Geeks to being part of the MCU and more, but a good deal of the conversation focused on the incredible work (awards-worthy, in my opinion) that Cardellini delivers in Dead to Me. For much of the show, Judy bears the burden of past mistakes, whether they were her fault or not, and she’s constantly directing that anger inwards. However, in Season 2 Episode 9, that changes and Judy finally gets the opportunity to let a little of that anger out and direct it towards Jen. During our chat, Cardellini spoke about why filming that moment did feel like a release, but was also very difficult to play:
“Yeah, it’s actually really challenging. It’s one of the biggest challenges of the part. Although I have to say, there’s a lot of challenges with that part. [Laughs] Luckily so. I’m so lucky! But one of them is, it’s so much easier to play anger than it is to deflect all of the things that Judy has. It’s much easier to let things escalate in a scene and let it feel good and get it out. Yeah, we emote, but there’s this thing about anger that when you lock in, especially if you lock in in an argument, it took re-training myself not to be angry. Some of that is evident in how locked up it is, even in my body. So that is a huge release and it’s something that I was waiting to do, just personally as an actor because I’m hanging on to so much in my body that just to be able to do that felt good.”
But, of course, even after Judy yells at Jen, the scene comes to a crushing close with Judy visibly going right back to her old ways:
“And you want the audience to feel like it’s earned at some point too, but then she turns right back around and takes it out on herself. I think that that’s a fascinating piece of the character and it’s something that we sort of stumbled upon in the first season that wasn’t exactly written and just came from me sort of researching people who can’t quite get angry and how it turns into this self-loathing and, I don’t know, it can turn into other things that way.”
It seems as though Jen and Judy’s heart-to-heart in Season 2 Episode 10 does take Judy a major step forward in this respect, but the truth of the matter still is, Jen did kill someone. In Season 1, Judy was involved in a hit and run, and pressured to leave the scene of the crime by Steve (James Marsden). With Jen, however, she chose to kill Steve. How can you forgive that? How can I, as a viewer, still be rooting for Jen to get away with it and for Jen and Judy to live happily ever after? I say as much in the clip at the top of this article, but it’s very difficult to explain precisely why I had that exact emotional response to Season 2. For that reason, I was eager to talk this through with Cardellini. Here’s what she said about ensuring that the audience is still rooting for Jen and Judy:
“Well, that’s the trick of the show. That, to me, is the most incredible thing that Liz manages to do with the show is, you would never in a million years want Jen and Judy to be friends if you read on paper what – in the first season, with what had happened! And I always felt like, if you can root for them to be friends, we have accomplished the impossible because it’s counterintuitive in some ways. Yeah, when Liz lays it out, it seems so true somehow and natural that you want that to happen. And I think that also is between Christina and I on set too, we have just such a wonderful relationship and a wonderful working relationship and I think that that texture really helps it feel beyond all of the circumstances in the plot.
Season 2, it’s interesting because Judy forgives fast in some ways, and for me, it was a wonderful challenge to be able to make that forgiveness seem really earnest and true, and it is. I think how they wrote it was so beautiful how she says she’s tired of feeling sad and angry, and to be doing that to sort of not forgive her would be punishment for herself and I think that is very true for Judy, but would not be true for other people.”
I think Cardellini really nails it right here, especially for a viewer that does connect most to Judy. Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) holding or not holding Jen responsible is one thing, but Judy’s choice to forgive is directly tied to her behavior as someone with a tendency to blame herself for everything throughout the show. She tells Jen, “I don’t want to carry around any more pain. I’m tired of feeling sad and hurt. And resenting you would just be punishing myself.” No, this might not be the case for everyone in such a predicament, but it is Judy’s truth and it shows that she’s finally putting herself and her well-being first.
Cardellini also added the following about the complexity of Judy’s situation and why it’s difficult to explain exactly why you might have a particular emotional response to her decisions:
“You don’t necessarily love all the people you should, you know what I mean? You don’t make the right decisions when you know you could have and so I think that’s the complexity of the relationships. And for me too, when Judy mourns Steve the way that she does, that is complex and for that reason makes it real.”
If you’re looking for even more from Cardellini, boy do we have you covered these next two weeks! You can expect the full conversation to drop on Collider next week, but we’ll also be sharing additional clips from the chat shortly, so be sure to check back for Cardellini’s thoughts on working with Josh Trank on Capone, the possibility of a Freaks and Geeks reunion, and more!