Jen from 'Dead to Me' Is The Unfiltered Rage Queen We All Need Right Now
So, every aspect of the show is absolutely fucking phenomenal, but the writing and acting in particular are off-the-charts flawless. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play Jen Harding and Judy Hale, an unlikely pair united by a web of tragedy and bad decisions made by good people. Free-spirited Judy befriends cynical Jen at a grief group after Jen’s husband is hit and killed in a hit-and-run accident, and chaos ensues. Between Liz Feldman’s brilliant script and Applegate’s and Cardellini’s bang-on portrayals of their characters, I sometimes have to pause the show just so I can scream and dance around without missing any dialogue.
I think the thing in Dead to Me I connect to more than anything else though, is Jen Harding’s unfettered rage. Jen listens to death metal as a coping mechanism and is constantly either muttering insults under her breath or shrieking them out loud without any regard for who may hear. She ugly-sobs in her car, on the toilet, or curled around a pillow, but never in front of her kids. Her lightning-fast sarcasm is unparalleled. Nobody can place a strategic “fuck” better than Jen. She’s just generally over people’s bullshit and expresses it in ways most of us either can’t or won’t. I mean, at one point she literally bludgeons someone to death when he pushes her too far with his woman-hating bullshit. Is there a woman out there who hasn’t entertained this fantasy? Jen’s honest, naked fury is the reason I think so many have fallen in love with the show and with this character in particular.
Dead to Me might be a show about ride-or-die friendship and flawed-but-good human beings, but for me, Jen’s anger is the true lynchpin of the show. I mean, literally, the show is built upon her furious sarcasm. The very first scene of season one opens with the irritatingly chipper neighbor—y’all, the neighbor’s name is Karen, I can’t—presenting Jen with a “Mexican lasagne” and blurting out a familiar, tone-deaf platitude that anyone who’s lost a loved one has been forced to hear: “Jeff and I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” And Jen, rather than shrugging in confusion the way so many of us would when confronted with such an idiotic attempt at commiseration, says, utterly deadpan, “Well, it’s like if Jeff got hit by a car and died suddenly and violently… like that,” and smiles and slams the door in Karen’s face even as Karen blathers on with her generous timeline for when Jen can return her casserole dish.
Jen is a woman who says exactly what she’s thinking, and more than that, what most of us wish we had the vagina to say. In season two when the cashier questions whether she really needs eight bottles of wine, she retorts, “I’m sorry, are you the wine sheriff? Because I am the dick police. And you have the right to remain fucking silent.”
Jen Harding is completely fucking done with pointless social expectations. As part of her mission to install a stop sign near the spot where her husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver, she appears at a city council meeting. She drops an F-bomb while at the mic and is told by a council member, “Miss, we really don’t need that kind of language.” She replies, “Please don’t call me ‘Miss.’ That is annoying. I’m a full-grown fucking woman.” I just fucking love this character so much.
In season two, when a man interrupts a tear-filled moment between Jen and Judy to ask Judy if she would like to dance, Jen unleashes her fury on him in one of the best moments of the entire show. “Do you see that we’re in the middle of something here? Does it look like my friend wants to fucking dance? Read the room, fucko!” Y’all, she called this asshole “fucko.” I cannot. Jen Harding is my hero.
Interestingly though, in the show, Jen’s rage is presented as a problem—something she should change. The viewer is first led to believe her rage is a manifestation of her grief, something that arose after having lost her husband so suddenly. But as the season progresses, we learn from her realtor partner that her rage problems were there even before her husband died. Her clients see her as abrasive and aggressive to the point that she ends up losing her job. I mean, she is a realtor on the show, a job that obviously requires a certain amount of finesse that doesn’t really seem to exist in Jen’s wheelhouse.
But I have nothing but respect for Jen’s impatience with social niceties, small-talk, and hypocritical bullshit. I envy how she says exactly what she’s thinking. She is not a woman who rehashes arguments in the shower and kicks herself in the ass for not coming up with the exact perfect comeback at the exact perfect moment. Oh no. Jen will eviscerate a bitch with her vicious wit, and she gives zero fucks how anybody feels about that.
She is filled with righteous rage, she’s completely filterless, and I would, one-hundred percent, hire her as my realtor.
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