Jen Harding was the self-confessed “bitter woman” of “Dead to Me.” Out of the two people whose friendship defined this iconic series, Jen was the one who was a lot more understandable. Judy and Jen both had difficult childhoods. Judy had to suffer due to a neglectful mother, and Jen had to take care of her. This essentially meant that both of them were introduced to the tougher side of life very early on. And once people see that, the romances and fantasies of life start seeming a little clownish. This is something we noticed in both Jen and Judy. But while the latter still tried to see it as something positive, Jen took shelter within her anger and dark humor. She wasn’t happy with Ted and blamed him for a lot in their marriage. We never got to know the details of it all, but we know that she was trapped in a cycle where her realization that maybe her anger drove Ted to his death led to even more fury. It was at a time like this that Judy came into her life. She was the person who acknowledged and understood Jen beyond her anger. She was a shoulder to cry on, and their past traumas led them to connect with each other in ways they did not even realize were possible. Jen and Judy were the first people to accept each other without conditions or expectations.
Throughout the first season of “Dead to Me,” Jen deals with Ted’s death with the help of Judy. When she comes to know the truth that she was responsible for his death, it is not just the betrayal that breaks her heart, but the fact that she has lost the one true friend that she had found, maybe for the only one in her life. Yet, when Steve comes knocking on her door, it doesn’t take long for her to put two and two together. When she kills him in her rage, her first instinct is to call Judy, the person she wished was dead just a few hours ago. It is an indication of what Judy has come to mean to her. And she keeps that faith by helping her cover up Steve’s murder throughout the second season of “Dead to Me.” But to a person like Jen, who was hardened against the soft touch of understanding and love, Judy had ended up looking like a looney toon with issues of her own. She says some unkind words to her, which are insensitive to the trauma that she knows Judy has gone through in her life. But even that wasn’t enough to put an end to their friendship.
At the end of “Dead to Me” Season 2, when it had started looking like they may have just gotten away with it all, let us not forget that the car Jen bought for Charlie was using Steve’s stolen money, which must have come through Judy. And we know what it means when people start mixing finances: it means they are becoming family. Throughout Season 3 of “Dead to Me,” we saw the tables turn. It was Judy who needed caring, and by this time, Jen had no doubts about what this person meant to her. She fought for her, tooth and nail and made sure that she had every kind of support she needed. For her own reasons, Judy had come to terms with her cancer diagnosis, but Jen couldn’t accept that her best friend—probably her one true love—was going to be leaving her.
When the two of them land in Mexico, the scene where Jen refuses to bash the ’66 Mustang has great significance, not just to her friendship with Judy but also to her growth as a person. Right from the moment we see her in “Dead to Me” Season 1, Episode 1, when she slams the door on Karen’s face when she brings her the lasagna, to her every interaction with literally everyone, Jen is not a happy woman. She had the entire anger of the world within her, and Ted’s death had only served to exacerbate it. She had gone from smashing down every car with a dent in the first season to wanting to keep the actual 66′ Mustang intact because somewhere, spending all the time with Judy had brought out the side of Jen that knew how to love and be loved, without fear clouding her judgment. She loved Judy enough that she did not mind the unfortunate circumstances that had brought her into her life. And on this journey, she had also fallen in love with Ben. As horrified as she was at finding out that she was pregnant, the miscarriage scare made her admit that she wanted the child and that she wasn’t averse to a future with him. He was the only other person who did not judge her for her anger or her death metal music but accepted her for it all. When he confessed to her that he wanted her to see herself through his eyes, it was like a balm for all the wounds inflicted by her marriage to Ted. This was a relationship that could actually make her happy. Judy had made a sacrifice for Jen. Yes, she had chosen to stay back in Mexico for herself, but even then, she had Jen’s best interests at heart. She wanted her best friend to live the life she deserved.
Months after Jen has settled into her new family, she still misses Judy. Her memory was everywhere around her. The thing is, when you love a person, you try to emulate the best of their qualities. And that gives rise to two possibilities as to what she could have said to Ben. First, she could have come clean to him about the truth because she loved and cared for him and had decided that she couldn’t keep lying to him anymore. The result of this could have been a total reopening of the can of worms, or he could have just taken some time to understand her reasons and forgiven her, though we find that hard to believe. Even if he could forgive, there are some things that a relationship just can’t survive, and the murder of a twin brother is one such thing. Second, she could have just mentioned something inconsequential. We don’t doubt that Jen wanted to tell Ben the truth. But doing so would have meant letting all the sacrifices made by Judy go to waste. Not to forget that Jen had too much at stake, including a new baby, for her to take the risk of coming clean. So maybe she just said something like she was craving pizza and wine, and the makers toyed with their audience for dramatic effect. Either way, Jen was never an easy person to deal with. Whatever choice she made; we hope she did not turn away from her own happiness. And she found a therapist other than Ben and the memories of Judy.