It's Pope's birthday, which means a lot of skydiving, drugs, strippers, and exposed secrets
Credit: Doug Hyun

There ain’t no party like the Pope’s birthday party! Well, not the Pope, but rather the one who just got out of prison, has a creepy relationship with his mother, and thinks fear and intimidation are qualities to aspire to. Anyway, “Dead To Me” uses Pope’s birthday as a way to muse about just how messed up this family is — and how many secrets they may be hiding.

The boys are trying their best to make something memorable of Pope’s first birthday since getting out of the pokey. They have a day of paintball and skydiving planned, but the birthday boy doesn’t seem too interested. Baz and Deran try their best to cheer him up by grabbing the paintball guns, running around the backyard, and shooting at him, but that all comes to an end when Pope smashes a paintball gun with a sledgehammer. He’s a serious party pooper, huh?

Meanwhile, Smurf leaves the house to pick up a few things for the party, but she has a bigger plan in mind. She texts “CUTBACK” to all her boys, which is some sort of signal she’s been arrested and everyone needs to initiate an escape. They all pack their bags — Craig too, who’s spending more coked-up, sweaty naked time with Ren — and head to the safe house. Once they’re there, they wait for instructions, and Pope gets on Baz’s case about calling Catherine. Yeah, those two don’t have any bad blood brewing, right? When the boys hear a knock at the door, they cock their guns and prepare for the worst — only to hear Smurf’s voice. She walks in cool and confident, and they all realize Smurf was testing them. But why?

Well, she knows things have been financially tight lately, and the elaborate plans for Pope’s birthday would suggest the boys have been running jobs on their own despite her instructions to lay low. Nobody fesses up, so she cuts them off, taking all the money and saying there’s no new jobs on the horizon.

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J and Nicky get caught smoking weed back at school, only for J to step up and take the fall for both of them. Somehow that “fall” means the teacher lights up and offers for him to go on some sort of trip for a surfing photo shoot? Anyway, what this scene really sets up is Nicky heading to Smurf’s place to thank J for taking the blame, only to spend the day hanging out with Smurf. Smurf clearly sees Nicky as someone she can control, and she’s slowly luring her into this world of drugs and too-close relationships.

J, on the other hand, is making a connection with Catherine. It turns out it’s his mother’s birthday, too, and he’s a little pissed the family hasn’t mentioned Julia. So he brings some mac and cheese to Catherine and her daughter, and the two outcasts of this family connect while acknowledging Smurf is a little much (to say the least).

NEXT: When the dead rise, Craig freaks out

After a session of skydiving — where the boys admit they ran some jobs independent of one another — Craig heads back to Ren’s place for, presumably, more sex and drugs. When he gets there, though, he finds her overdosing on the floor. Not knowing what to do, and not wanting to be caught with a dead body, he snags a bunch of her jewelry and drugs before taking off.

So imagine Craig’s surprise when he gets a phone call from a groggy Ren later that night. He finds out what hospital she’s in and goes to visit her, pretending to be the caring boyfriend, but Ren is pissed. She wants Craig to find whoever took off with her stuff and lay a brutal beating on him. It’ll be interesting to see where Craig goes from here, especially since secrets have a funny way of coming out on TV dramas.

At the same time, Baz is looking for his dad, who seems to have magically disappeared from his small home. When he can’t find him, he comes home to Catherine and a visiting J, and proceeds to lash out at them. Baz yells at J for doing the job with Pope and Deran, and gets mad at Catherine for stirring things up with Smurf. He’s just trying to make things right again — since Smurf is freezing all her boys out — but so it goes.

The guys eventually head out to a strip club to continue celebrating Pope’s birthday, and it’s there we get a darker look at Pope. Craig buys him some alone time with a stripper, and things get weird quick. It’s likely Pope’s dealing with the aftermath of some abuse, possibly sexual, from childhood or his time in prison. Combined with his confusion over his evident feelings for Catherine, he takes it out on the stripper by getting aggressive and repeatedly asking her to say “We can’t, Andrew.” Pope is coming more and more unglued with each episode.

Still, Pope does have a more relatable chat with J later, when they’re just hanging out in the cemetery like all the cool kids do. J’s venting about the family’s lack of focus on his dead mother, and Pope seems to agree. It looks like he and Julia had a stronger connection than most, but this could just be part of his manipulation of J.

“Dead To Me” ends on a note of instability (duh). Smurf, having found out about the secret side jobs, kicks her boys out of the house, telling them to find somewhere else to sleep. She keeps J close, though, telling him he can stay in the house with Nicky. She even gives him a cupcake with a candle in it and tells him to never lie to her again. Quiet intimidation is Smurf’s game, and it seems to be working.

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