What is forgiveness?
Review: Dead To Me (M)
Starring: Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden
From its’ opening frames Dead To Me sets up a complex look at the very nature of forgiveness with its protagonists having very different takes on how this might be achieved in their lives.
Christina Applegate plays Jen, a real-estate broker whose husband has been killed in an unsolved hit-and-run three months prior. She has two children and a beautiful home. And there’s an understandable gaping grief at the centre of her life, one she tries, very reluctantly, to address by attending a grief counselling group as Dead To Me opens in episode one.
There she meets Judy (Linda Cardellini), a palliative care worker dedicated to her work but similarly pained over the death of her significant other. As they warily bond, Jen begins to shake off her fog with the help of a growing friendship with Judy and a determination to find the killer of her husband, which is where the show’s version of a mystery kicks in.
The script carefully brings these two grieving women together and then begins a complex web that draws you in with each episode ending in a revealing cliffhanger (side note: it makes you binge the series even quicker because of the nature of the reveals).
Jen is understandably bitter and grieving about the random nature of her husband’s death, while Judy is surrounded by it as a care giver and masks her pain with avoidance and helping others.
Each episode adds a complex layer to the relationship between Jennifer and Judy and how they move toward resolution and forgiveness.
The script is so carefully crafted that each scene builds to another in a way that makes the whole both a satisfying thriller (yes there are some shocking reveals) and intimate character study.
Cardellini and Applegate are brilliant in their roles and the believable set-up for their complex, layered relationship is never short-changed by the writing.
There are moments of humour – mostly dark – that help lighten the subject matter. In each scene every decision (whether outrageously over the top, or a conversation over a glass of wine) feels like it advances the complex relationship that underpins the show.
Unsurprisingly the show tackles some “big questions” like how would it be possible to forgive a person who kills somebody in their car and drives away. Some of these issues are briefly discussed in the “Friends of Heaven” group attended by the women and led by Pastor Wayne (Keong Sun).
In other areas the show seems to acknowledge a Christian worldview. In one episode they celebrate what would have been Jen’s husbands 50th birthday with a touching recitation of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis – “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith.”
Despite its twists and turns it is clear that both the strong leads in Dead to Me are required to endure the personal empathy and cost in the meaning of this prayer making the ten episodes in the season at times gripping, darkly funny and complex.
Find out more about the nature of forgiveness here
All ten episodes of Dead To Me season 1 are streaming on Netflix
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