Dead to Me star Linda Cardellini believes Judy's fate is a choose-your-own adventure
Warning: this post contains spoilers for Dead to Me's final season.
In the third and final season of the dramedy, the free-spirited and altruistic artist receives an unexpected diagnosis after undergoing some routine scans following the hit-and-run at the end of season 2. She has cervical cancer, a development that leaves her ride-or-die bestie Jen (Christina Applegate) shattered, given her mother's history with the disease.
In the finale, while on a brief getaway in Mexico with Jen, Judy dies. It's implied in a subtle scene, wherein Jen gazes out into the sea and spots a sailboat — the very one in her dream sequence that opens the first episode of the season — in the water. Creator Liz Feldman crafted a fitting swan song for a series centered on grief and loss, yes, but it's still a hard one to swallow.
"I was excited, but I was also sad about it," Cardellini tells EW. "I kept sort of vying for like, 'Okay, maybe there's a time capsule buried so that if we ever wanna come back to this, you could see something.' We kept joking about this time capsule idea so that Judy could sort of live forever."
Still, there's an ambiguity to the ending. The actress likens her fate to a choose-your-own adventure.
"It's up for grabs," Cardellini says. "They really leave it open-ended. I do think that there are different versions of how the story ends for people." And with Judy, Cardellini notes, "you never know if she's totally telling the truth." She says, "Her mother [played by Katey Sagal] always alludes to that. And I think what you see in her mother, there is a piece of that in Judy as well."
"I think there is a part of it where you're like, 'Well she could have gone, I don't know, anywhere,'" the actress muses. "Is she gonna be in San Francisco? You know what I mean? There is an open-endedness to it that I think allows for people to make their own sort of choose-their-own adventure there."
Cardellini contends the sailboat represents a freedom that her character — one who grappled with a crushing amount of hurt in the form of multiple miscarriages and an emotionally abusive marriage — never really attained. "Even though Judy is a free spirit, I don't think she was ever really free," Cardellini says. "I think she had a lot of guilt and shame, and so that maybe represents a sort of freedom that she could finally have."
For Cardellini and the rest of the cast and crew of the Emmy-nominated series, "There was a big feeling of triumph to have finished [the season] because there was a lot that happened that was very challenging," she says, referring to Applegate's multiple sclerosis diagnosis, which she received amid production of the final season. "There was a big feeling of completion that was hard fought for some people, so that was a good feeling."
"It was also very bittersweet because we loved seeing each other all the time and got really close, not just costars, but the crew and that whole family," Cardellini says. "We relied on each other quite a bit throughout the end there. The amazing thing about this job and being an actor and being in this business is you have these communities pop up for short periods of time, and everybody gets very close and works very hard toward the same goal."
"That creates a camaraderie and then it, like a circus, gets taken down and you move on to a different project," she says. "I feel very lucky that I've made lifelong friends. All of the kids, watching them grow up. We got to have lots of good years together."
Dead to Me season 3 is streaming on Netflix.
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