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‘Dead to Me’: Cancer Risks and Human Psychology

If you haven’t binged “Dead to Me,” yet, it’s time to start. The short episodes featuring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini pack a punch. They are witty, dark and amazing. Bookmark this page and come back to it after you’ve seen the series. There are spoilers after the trailer.

Jen (Christina Applegate) found out she had the breast cancer gene and decided to undergo a double mastectomy to protect her family from the pain and suffering she went through when her mother died early due to breast cancer. She does this because she has seen the stress and sorrow that breast cancer can cause. Yet, Jen still smokes and drinks a lot, so while she has reduced the cancer risk due to her genetics, she has increased her overall cancer risk due to lifestyle choices. And it’s an unfortunately too realistic portrayal of decisions people make every day.

At first glance and with deeper thinking, it may seem like Jen’s decision to smoke and drink is in direct opposition to her decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of cancer. After all, smoking causes cancer, and recent studies have shown that alcohol is the cause of “several types of cancer.” It should be a no-brainer for Jen to give up these vices; instead, she dives headfirst into them.

In some ways, having a double mastectomy is the easier decision because it only has to be made once. There is a lot that goes into that decision, but once it’s made and the procedure is done, there’s no going back. Someone who should quit smoking or drinking needs to make the decision to not participate in those activities every day. Sometimes, the addiction is bad enough that an active decision needs to be made several times a day. It’s not just one decision and it’s over. Instead, it’s a continuous process of decision-making that doesn’t get easier.

Smoking and drinking are socially acceptable. Having a smoke or drink with someone is a way to bond with that person. Jen is in a position where she needs a support system. These activities are a socially acceptable way to make interactions easier.

Smoking and drinking provide solace and improve mood. Jen is facing the death of her husband and the problems that come with it. Alcohol is a depressant, which would make it easier for her to sleep at night. Smoking provides a comforting habit while producing a positive-emotion effect. Both these things are helping her deal with her sadness, her feelings and the tragedy she has experienced.

Regardless of her personal experience, Jen has fallen into the trap that many people succumb to. She doesn’t believe that smoking or alcohol will harm her in the long run. She experienced the death of her mother due to cancer, but that cancer was ostensibly caused by the BCRA gene not by other behavioral and environmental factors. While the cause of cancer is often more complicated than people want to believe, it’s easier to have a procedure done than it is to change behavior and overcome the addictiveness of nicotine and alcohol.

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‘Dead to Me’: No One Drops the F-Bomb like Christina Applegate

Most of the time when people curse, it’s not pleasant or natural. It’s like they’re trying too hard to make a point: I’m cool, I’m down to earth, I’m angry, I don’t give a rip what others think… (probably should have put a swear word in there.) The words spew forth like so much phonic vomit with no care for art or lyricism. Christina Applegate’s Jen in “Dead to Me” is the exception.

Jen swears a lot throughout the series. However, there is one scene where she shows how deftly Applegate, and theoretically, the writer on this show, can create poetry through vulgarity. Her delivery is only over the top because of the number of curse words she crams into two or three short lines. It’s a feat that would scare some actors and have others lose their, uh, this is a family blog, sort of.

Her use of the F-word is particularly beautiful. She wields the word like a tool to deliver a nasty cut or create laughter. Applegate delivers every line with clarity and emotion that matches the scene. Check out “Dead to Me” and learn how to swear from a master.

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‘Dead to Me’: The Measure of Womanhood

If you haven’t binge-watched “Dead to Me,” what are you waiting for? With episodes coming in at under 30 minutes, you’re getting a series that can fit in with almost any schedule, and every episode packs a punch of drama, comedy, pathos and the exploration of psychology that comes with it. Bookmark this page, go watch the show and then come back here for the discussion. Spoilers are below the trailer.

Jen (Christina Appplegate) found out she had the gene related to breast cancer and got a double mastectomy (Applegate went through the procedure IRL in 2008) to save her family the trauma of what she went through when her mother died. (She still smokes heavily, but that’s for a different blog post.) After the surgery, her husband stops being intimate with her, and unbeknownst to her, he finds a younger woman with larger breasts to start a relationship with. He told this girl that he was a widower and his wife died from breast cancer.

While Judy’s (Linda Cardellini) case is a little more complicated, she says her fiancé left her after she had her fifth miscarriage. He couldn’t deal with the pain or the letdowns, and he wanted to have a family at some point.

These two experiences are parallel. As the two women have their womanhood and desirability called into question when they, for all intents and purposes, lose the body parts that make them female. Is Jen any less worthy of her husband’s love after she sacrifices for the sake of her family’s future? Is Judy less deserving of love because she hasn’t been able to bring a child to term?

Most people would say “No,” probably including these two women’s husbands before the procedure and the miscarriage had the hypothetical been asked of them. For all of American society’s supposed advances in rights and body image, the U.S. still values women for how they look and their ability to bear children. Nowhere is that point made better without it being preached than in “Dead to Me.”

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2 Episodes in: ‘Dead to Me,’ Human Psychology and Guilt

The trailer is here to prevent you from seeing any spoilers. “Dead to Me” is a slow-burning, smart series that includes surprise reveals and twists you may or may not expect. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t spoil it for yourself.  Go watch it. There is swearing and discussion about issues particularly related to the female experience; both these things should recommend the show to you because they help make it funny, tragic, and create biting irony.

When Judy (Linda Cardellini) befriends Jen (Christina Applegate) at a grief group, it seems sincere enough. She’s a little too eager and overzealous, but people grieve in different ways. This may just be the way Judy deals with her grief.

However, Judy’s secret casts a shadow on her interactions with Jen, even as they become fast friends. Judy was the driver in the hit and run that killed Jen’s husband. The guilt she feels has led her to try to do something for Jen and her family to make their lives better. Through her actions, camera angles and the acting skills of Cardellini, it also becomes clear that Judy wants to be caught. She doesn’t want to live with her guilt, but she doesn’t want to go to jail, either. The only problem is that she doesn’t know how to relieve her guilt without putting her at risk of going to prison.

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2 Episodes in: ‘Dead to Me’ and the M-word

To avoid any spoilers for “Dead to Me,” I have intentionally kept the subject of this post out of the title. That may mean fewer page views, but ultimately, it means better viewer service. If you’ve already seen “Dead to Me,” then feel free to scroll past the trailer. If you haven’t, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. Go watch it and then come back to this article. You can book mark it. It’ll be here when you come back.

According to the Mayo Clinic, between 10 and 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Miscarriages are rarely addressed in American culture. It’s almost as if superior medical practices and technology have made miscarriages a thing of the past. As an overlooked problem, and one that is often attributed to the woman and her lack of womanhood, it may be difficult for women to find a place that can help deal with the emotions a miscarriage may instill.

Judy (Linda Cardellini) has had five miscarriages, but this isn’t sufficient enough loss for some members of the grief support group to accept her after she has lied about her fiancé. It’s clear from a flashback that Judy’s grief comes from another place as well, but the group members don’t know about it. They just know she lied.

Not everyone handles their grief in the same way, and when something as personal as a fifth miscarriage is the cause, the woman may displace her feelings and choose to deceive to get the help she needs without exposing the reality of her situation. “Dead to Me” does a beautiful job of dealing with this emotional situation, touchy subject, and the psychology that comes with it.

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2 Episodes In: ‘Dead to Me’

When Jen (Christina Applegate) goes to a grief counseling circle, Judy (Linda Cardellini) tries too hard to become her friend. Jen holds onto her anger at her husband’s killer, a hit and run driver, and she is left alone with her two boys. Judy comes across as flaky, weird and possibly crazy. She says she lost her fiancé eight weeks ago.

“Dead to Me” deals with grief and other social issues. When the twist is revealed, it’s not because it’s obvious; it’s because of the acting skills of Cardellini and possibly the director’s skills.

There’s only one way this series can end, but much like watching a train wreck, you won’t be able to look away as the characters become more entwined and make choices that, while poor, make sense in what we as viewers know about the situation. The acting is great. Cardellini and Applegate make for an odd couple that fit just right. The situations are funny, and the dialogue is spot on. The characters are sympathetic and the script is well-written.

Don’t be put off by the stated subject matter of the series. “Dead to Me” is funny, smart and deserves to be in queue and binged at the first possible moment. Discover something you didn’t know you were missing.