James Marsden’s character loses all appeal when—in the morning after scene with he and Linda Cardellini—he starts listening to his white man self-actualization podcast. Then he does his workout on the trampoline and you wonder just how Marsden came up with his characterization. Did he get to see the whole series script with all the character details and reveals or what. Because, even if he’s not appealing, Marsden’s performance as a mundane sociopath might end up being “Dead to Me”’s standout performance. Depending on how things go with Christina Applegate and Cardellini.
After Cardellini does the walk of shame home—or gets a ride because she’s still not driving—she finds out Applegate is upset about something, namely dead husband Ted cheating on her. Thanks to Cardellini knowing how to use the Internet, they convince the girlfriend they’re the dead husband and they’re going to meet her after work. So they go to the girlfriend’s restaurant—she’s a waitress—and try to spot her.
Unluckily, their waitress (Olivia Macklin) turns out to be the girlfriend. Applegate understandably gets hostile while Cardellini plays the good cop and gets information out of Macklin. Amid all that drama, Applegate’s also upset because Marsden has pulled his house off the market… because he’s getting back with Cardellini, which turns into an argument between the two.
Marsden’s already told Cardellini to pick a fight to break up the friendship and come back to him, so there’s a lot going on even with two characters sitting at a table.
Cardellini’s getting back together secret, which doesn’t even last the episode, is probably “Dead to Me”’s shortest secret. The show runs on them—it’s like if you found out Bruce Willis was a ghost every twelve to seventeen minutes—and this episode has two more? Three more? Ted had secrets on top of secrets for a lot longer than Applegate knew. But Applegate’s also got a previously undisclosed character backstory detail getting revealed and playing into the plot with Macklin so it’s a lot.
We’re also finding out Applegate gave up her dreams to support the husband, who was a failed musician, and it compounds a lot with her just revealed history secret. The episode ends in a very complex place for both Applegate and Cardellini; it appears “Dead to Me” is about to explore whether or not the truth truly sets one free… or maybe how that freedom might not be better. It’s complicated. And a good puzzle.
Also, Abe Sylvia’s direction is a really nice development for the series because you don’t notice it. There’s no forced pretentious composition with Sylvia.
Kate Robin’s script has some excellent barbed dialogue and sometimes it’s funny but it’s a very grim half hour.