Warning: Spoilers are ahead for Dead To Me season 2.
Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini) deserves some happiness. As one half of Dead To Me’s main duo, she’s endlessly caring, almost annoyingly genuine, and she possesses a superhuman capacity for forgiveness. It’s these qualities that allow Christina Applegate’s Jen to forgive Judy for hitting her husband with her car. Despite that moment of forgiveness in the season 1 finale, Judy spent most of Dead To Me season 1 in pain, riddled with guilt, gaslit numerous times by the man she loved, and expelled from her best friend’s life at what was already her lowest point. Luckily, Dead To Me season 2 introduces us to someone who might help turn things around: Judy’s new girlfriend Michelle, played by Natalie Morales.
Judy meets full-time chef Michelle at work, where Michelle’s elderly mother is a new resident. Judy and Michelle bond pretty instantly. And by “bond,” I mean, air their troubles over a joint in Judy’s car. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Michelle and Judy are feeling each other, but like any good drama Dead To Me draws their relationship out a bit. When they finally get together, the word “fireworks” doesn’t even begin to describe it. That’s certainly not how Michelle’s heartbroken ex, Detective Perez (Diana-Maria Riva) — the very same woman who hates Judy and thinks she’s a murderer — would describe it, which is a bit of an issue.
So yes, Judy’s brand new love story is riddled with obstacles because that’s how Dead To Me rolls, but one thing you won’t find anywhere in season 2 is a label. Judy dated two men in season 1, and in season 2 she’s dating a woman. That’s all. And showrunner Liz Feldman couldn’t be more proud of that fact.
“It was very intentional to never name it or label it or talk about it like it was a big deal,” Feldman tells Refinery29 over video chat. “I think sometimes labels really help us; I'm happy and proud to define myself as a lesbian. It describes who I am and what kind of relationships I will be in in my life and what my marriage is. But at this moment that we're living in, I know so many people for whom it just is what it is. You love who you love, you're attracted to who you're attracted to.”
While many viewers may have made assumptions about Judy’s sexuality simply because she dated men throughout season 1, Feldman was determined not to react to that assumption through the show’s writing. Instead, when Judy finally tells Jen that she’s in a new relationship, she doesn’t dance around her new partner’s gender or reveal it with a big declaration. Jen, for her part, reacts the way any friend would when someone tells them about a new romantic interest: She’s happy for Judy (well, until she finds out about the Perez connection, but that’s a whole other thing).
“I intentionally didn't want it to make it like, This is Judy's coming out, or like, This is a very special episode about learning what fluidity is,” explains Feldman. “There's never a conversation about What does this mean for you? What does this say about you? It doesn't say anything. It is what it is. It is the fictionalised embodiment of love is love.”
Without fanfare around Judy’s newfound romance, the only part of the storyline that’s “special” is the fact that this lovely person has found someone who makes her happy, and that’s pretty great! Plus, it allowed Feldman and her writing team to get away from the season 1 narrative of toxic men messing with Jen and Judy’s lives and focus on who Judy really is.
“I call Judy a walking, beating heart — she has the capacity for love of all forms. I thought, especially as a gay woman, that's something I know would be interesting to see, and to watch it in a way that we haven't seen it before,” says Feldman. “As a writer for 25 years of my life, I have explored the coming out story many, many times. So for my own sense of freshness, I was like, Let's not label it.”