This article contains spoilers for Dead to Me Seasons 1 and 2
When James Marsden’s abusive attorney Steve Wood met his fate at the end of Dead to Me‘s first season, the audience assumed that’d be the last they’d see of the character on the hit Netflix dramedy, but Season 2 had a surprise in store – Marsden was back as Steve’s softer, goofier twin brother, Ben. While Steve was enough of an overwhelming asshole to push a grieving Jen (Christina Applegate) over the edge, Ben had an entirely different and therapeutic effect on her, and the pair developed feelings for each other over the course of Season 2.
Marsden says that he originally signed on for just one season of the popular series, and admits that the sudden appearance of a semi-identical twin brother allowing an actor to return after their character’s death is a “classic soap opera trope,” but after Season 1 debuted on Netflix to a big audience and positive reviews, he reached out to Dead to Me creator Liz Feldman about the possibility of a new role.
“The show was so much fun and it also did really well and everyone loved it,” he told Variety, adding tongue-in-cheek that he’d googled “whether or not a human can survive a traumatic head injury compounded by drowning” after season 1’s success.
Luckily, Feldman was keen to bring Marsden back in the season 2 twin twist, which allowed the actor to explore what it meant to have been in Steve’s toxic orbit since birth.
“He’s been the Invisible Man his whole life. He’s always been living in Steve’s shadow. And because of that, I think what springs from that is a real empathy and a really kind heart,” Marsden explains of Ben.
“Obviously with twins, they really start out the same way — there are certain things that are innate in you when you come out into the world and you’re coded in some ways, but then you’re also completely formed and shaped by how people treat you,” he said. “We just wanted to do something different other than just parting my hair on the other side and throwing [Ben] in some some Dockers and a Patagonia vest.”
Dead to Me Season 2 ended with Ben accidentally crashing into Judy (Linda Cardellini) and Jen’s car, which they had ironically been sitting in just yards from Jen’s hard-fought stop sign at the scene of her late husband’s hit and run. Marsden says that in season 3, Ben will probably be aware that at some point he has been in a car accident, but he won’t know that it was Steve’s ex and his new love interest that he smashed into.
“I don’t think he saw them in the car. I don’t know that he’d remember them. He was also just blackout drunk, I think. I think the reminder is going to be the blood coming from his nose,” he said.
At the time of writing, Netflix hasn’t officially renewed Dead to Me for a third season, but Feldman says that we certainly shouldn’t expect Jen and Judy to be unaffected by Ben’s actions behind the wheel, even though they both seem to be alert and chatting to each other in Season 2’s final moments.
It’s likely that Ben won’t be affected by theirs either, as he remains unaware that it was Jen who killed his brother.
“It was pitched pretty early on in the season that the finale end in that manner, and for me it had to sort of pass the test of like, is this really earned? Are we setting this up in a way that it can be as surprising as it is inevitable? It was pitched early on and we thought about different ways of ending it, but we always kept coming back to this end because it felt like such a full-circle, karmic moment while still being able to deliver the kind of surprise and delight that I want to leave people with,” she explained.
We’ll bring you more news on Dead to Me Season 3 as it arrives.