SPOILER ALERT: This post contains plot details for the Season 3 finale of Dead to Me.
Dead to Me series creator Liz Feldman wanted to punctuate her Netflix dark comedy series the same way she’d started it, with an emphasis on grief. Much like the grieving process itself, the series finale lacks the closure that audiences might have hoped for, instead leaving them to assess their own endings for the central characters.
After Linda Cardellini‘s Judy is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jen (Christina Applegate) must prepare for life without the woman who has, through an interesting twist of fate, become her best friend. The two travel to Mexico together for Judy to live out her last days relaxing in a peaceful villa, and they spend their last night together curled in bed watching their favorite TV show. Jen wakes up to find a note from Judy indicating she’s left for good. When Jen walks onto the beach, she notices their small sailboat is gone, and there are footsteps in the sand leading to the water.
“I left things ambiguous in certain respects on purpose,” Feldman told News Brig of the series’ ending. “You’ve spent a lot of time with these characters. I feel like our audience almost has their own relationship with Jen and Judy, and I wanted them to be able to interpret for themselves what they felt like was the end. I didn’t feel that I needed to hit you over the head with it or have any sort of formal ceremony to mark a closure.”
She continued: “I wanted it to feel like grief itself feels, which is that you love someone, you have these beautiful relationships, and then one day they’re gone, and you’re left to put the pieces together yourself.”
Jen and Judy spent three seasons navigating their grief together, and the final moments of Episode 10 follow Jen as she begins trying to process this new wave of grief on her own.
“I just wanted it to be satisfying. I wanted it to be cathartic. I wanted it to feel like an emotional experience that we were all going through together as an audience. It’s a lot of pressure to end a series, so I went with the feelings that I was hoping to produce in the audience and worked backward from there,” Feldman said.
Cardellini had more time to process her character’s fate, telling News Brig that Feldman explained her plans for Judy while they were in production on Season 2. Due to the pandemic and other setbacks, there was more than a two-year hiatus between Seasons 2 and 3.
“I trusted her completely. In being there and having it evolve as time went on and as we shot things, I did realize that it reminded me of my own grief, where you are left with this person, wherever they go, you’re left missing them,” Cardellini said. “I always felt like it was a beautiful way to focus on grief and friendship. Because of what happens, I think you value the friendship even more and it feels like you were there in just a moment in time, and I think that’s what I love about Jen and Judy.”
Judy’s fate isn’t the only ambiguous part of the series finale. After Jen returns home, she gives birth to her daughter with Ben (James Marsden). In the final moments of the episode, Ben and Jen are sitting in the yard watching Jen’s older sons play in the pool when Jen turns to Ben and admits she has something she needs to tell him.
We’ll never know for certain, but it seems safe to assume she was finally going to tell Ben the truth about killing Steve, which Judy had been encouraging her to do all season. Speaking with News Brig, Feldman and Marsden remained tight-lipped about how they’d interpret the scene.
“I echo what Liz says in that we like to leave it open for the audience to interpret. They’re the ones who have their own personal relationships with the characters on screen,” Marsden said. “But I feel like [Ben is] in a much better place, all things considered, by the end of the story. He feels safe and in love with this woman and my hope is that whatever information she’s telling him will bring them closer.”
Dead to Me Season 3 is streaming on Netflix.