When you enter Dead to Me season 2, one thing is certain: Steve Wood (professional handsome person James Marsden) is dead. In the season 1 finale of the Netflix dramedy, we see Steve — ex-boyfriend of Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini) — floating in the luxurious pool owned by Jen Harding (Christina Applegate), Judy’s on-again, off-again best friend. Steve isn’t moving. He is frozen in the beginning stages of rigor mortis — his eyes are stuck open and blood is pouring out of his skull into the water. Jen, Dead to Me would have you believe, killed Steve. The manner of murder remains a mystery.
When Dead to Me season 2 begins, premiere “You Know What You Did” adds another knot to the intrigue by suggesting Steve isn’t dead at all. That little seed of doubt is planted with the end-of-episode introduction of Ben Woods (also James Marsden). As second chapter “Where Have You Been” reveals, Ben is Steve’s “semi-identical” brother. After such a too-good-to-be-true twist, all of Ben’s appearances in Dead to Me hint that maybe — just maybe — Ben might be a secretly alive Steve in a very convenient disguise. It's impossible not to wonder if July killed Ben in some elaborate switcheroo engineered by Steve.
Thankfully, if you really pay attention to Dead to Me season 2, the series eventually reveals precisely how Steve died, along a sure fire way to recognise the difference between the (semi) identical Wood brothers.
One of the biggest question marks throughout Dead to Me season 2 is why Jen actually killed Steve. In the season 1 finale, “You Have to Go,” we see Jen pull a gun on Steve after he shows up at her home, demanding to know where Judy is. That is the last time we see Steve alive. In the final seconds of the episode, Jen calls Judy to come “home” to the Hardings’ Laguna Beach house. When Judy gets there, Steve is dead in the pool, leaving the precise events that lead to his death as an unknown.
Season 2’s “You Know What You Did” confirms Jen didn’t shoot Steve, despite pulling a gun on him. Jen also didn’t kill Steve in self defence because he “attacked her,” as she tells Judy. Instead, as flashbacks reveal, Judy put the gun down during their “You Have to Go” argument and told Steve to leave. But, Steve didn’t simply walk away from the tense scene. Instead, he turned around and began to taunt Jen, calling her a “poor widow” with a “miserable,” now dead, cheating husband. The fact that Steve and Judy were the ones who killed Jen’s late husband Ted by vehicular manslaughter, as we learn in Dead to Me season 1, did not help the situation.
Finally, in penultimate season 2 episode “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” we get the full picture of what drove Jen to kill Steve. In another flashback from that night, Steve tells Jen, “Ted. He jumped in front of our car. Oh, yeah, he wanted to get hit. And you know what? I don’t fucking blame him.” Steve then claims Jen is the cause of Steve’s supposed suicidal ideation, continuing, “If I was married to you, I’d want to put a fucking gun to my head. I’d want to kill myself too.” As a final straw, Steve calls Jen a taunt“miserable cunt.”
Reeling from the barrage of insults, Jen “lost it,” as she tells Judy in the present timeline, and bludgeoned Steve to death.
While the full story of Steve’s terrible behaviour before his death seems extremely Steve, Dead to Me still wants us to wonder if, somehow, it was Ben who died that night — and now Steve is walking around Laguna pretending to be his brother. Considering the fact that Steve is the subject of an FBI investigation and in the midst of some Greek mob-related drama, such a con would be a genius move on Steve’s part. He would be allowed to live life as a free man, while his dead brother would shoulder the pressure of multiple crises, all from the grave.
Season 2’s fifth episode, “The Price You Pay” starts laying the groundwork to confirm such a massive twist isn’t true. In the mid-season episode, Ben reveals that he had a heart defect as a child, which resulted in multiple surgeries. In eighth episode “It Had to Be You,” Jen sees a photo of the Wood twins as children and young Ben is wearing a long sleeve turtleneck at the beach. Adult Ben explains that the choice in top wasn’t a fashion statement — he had scars from his heart surgeries and didn’t want the cute girls at the beach to see them. The subtext of the statement is: if Ben takes his shirt off and doesn’t have the surgery scars, he is actually Steve.
Yet, when we see a shirtless Ben in “It’s Not You, It’ Me,” we glimpse a huge scar on his chest. Ben is Ben — and therefore Steve is really Steve. And Steve is dead.