Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first season was perfect television. Now in the context of season 2, it seems, perhaps, not fully realized as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but merely prelude. Season 2 is a more direct approach to the same story and mission, with explicit indictment of the funny bad stuff we had grown to love in spite of ourselves. In weighing both instances of the show, which is better? And do they point toward an identity for season 3?
There’s a very natural transition between the first two seasons, despite this shift in approach. The first season ended with a number of characters in Rebecca’s orbit really burnt by Joshbecca, although that’s probably better rendered as Rosh. Paula is shaken out of the trance, which leads her to a revelation upon hearing Greg talk about glitter exploding inside of him. Greg reluctantly backed out of the sex cocoon, realizing that no matter what, Rebecca would always find her way back to Josh, and break his heart again. This is what incidentally broke Heather’s heart a few episodes prior. Let’s also not forget that Valencia understood from the beginning that Rebecca was wedging in between her and Josh.
When I said that this first season was television perfect, it sounds pejorative, because of how transcendent the show is, but it operated within the bounds of expectations based on what they set up. That’s really not the case with season 2, and it starts immediately. These were really affecting character moments which close out arcs, and making that transition into the renewed space, the character moments are filtered through a real world lens. Greg’s season one sadness is revealed as alcoholism. Paula’s season one rejection of the sidekick role is a metatextual obstacle to her dream, which trades for season 2’s surprise pregnancy. Season one Josh is not a good fit for Rebecca because he’s a fantasy, and in season 2 we see how he’s living a fantasy, and has never grown up.
Season one was dark but managed to balance its tones in an even weave and bury a lot of the horror inside Rebecca’s sunniness. Season 2 commits to a darkness which is still candy-coated, but moves more toward the demented and often depressing music videos Rachel Bloom had done beforehand. By the end, I had to remind myself was still a comedy-musical, and began to feel, lightly, the story possibly straining against that tonal genre. So that’s where we begin with the new season, that question of balance.
Again, the first season was so consistent, and so I was constantly comparing the two in my mind; they’re just so opposite in so many ways. And I think I still like the first season more, in the way we like our favorite childhood movie more than what’s playing at the independent theatre.
If I had to boil it down, the word that chiefly describes season 2 for me is stressful. And that’s probably a pretty common feeling for people who watch TV because it comes from empathizing with fictional characters. I never seem to identify with characters but Rebecca Bunch is one of the rare examples. It’s not for issues of womanhood or mental health but of chasing fantasies, and defining oneself externally. So seeing Rebecca fall on her face repeatedly and cause harm to other people and especially to see her spiral and dig so deep into the fantasy, it becomes intense in a way I don’t expect.
But to give an overview, the structure of the season is a little more apparent than the last go around. There was back-and-forth and an overall sense of progress with season one, as well as a single goal for Rebecca. Season 2 loses its central plot for a while, on purpose, only to gain it back when it’s least welcome. Overall, the story is broken up into three pretty distinct arcs. Greg’s farewell, Rebecca and Paula, and Nathaniel.
The first arc really does set the stage and offers a number of moments that exemplify the show’s approach to horror or sadness. I’m pretty sure there’s a film director who said that horror and comedy cannot exist simultaneously, and in this case, I think I agree. I don’t realize how sad a lot of these musical numbers are until I think about them divorced from the comedic performances and dazzling choreography. Because what’s actually happening is devastating, it’s only when I come back I see this previously invisible layer.
One of the foremost examples is “Makey Makeover,” which is kind of the odd duck in its episode’s musical lineup. So in order to talk about it, I also want to talk about the other two songs, which are among my favorites. You have “It was a Shit Show,” which covers the dramatic side, and then the even more unexpected “We Tapped that Ass,” which had me fucking rolling, maybe against my better judgment. I think I probably found it too funny. I mean, with this show, I’m always self-reflexive, like, “Should I be laughing at this?”
“It was a Shit Show,” almost works better censored, and is, at least, a send-up to that much-parodied moment in romantic comedies where one of them stops the other at the airport. But things go one of two ways, and in addition to the song being really good, what always gets me here is the acting. Additionally interesting because both performers are already doing an unusual thing — Santino Fontana is sing-acting, and Rachel Bloom is just standing there, and both break my heart. The way Greg’s eyes get more and more watery as the song crescendos, the way Rebecca looks just so devastated.
“We Tapped that Ass” is something I feel like I could write an essay about, but I’ll try to keep it brief. This is another song about self-loathing, and it is so uptempo and so entertaining it does capture that sensation we all occasionally feel of regret hitting us so hard it’s almost funny, and we become hysterical, but it also kind of plays like revenge for Greg and Josh, who are so gleeful and were also to varying degrees hurt by their relationships. Not as much as Rebecca, of course. But despite her misery, this song does cover the comedy side.
“Makey Makeover” splits it right down the middle. It isn’t just being zany, it’s actually one of the most heartbreaking things in the show. This is after Rebecca has been dumped twice, first by the man of her dreams and then by a man who flew 2,000 miles to escape her. She’s hit rock bottom again, and regresses to a childlike state, exemplified by the pigtails and cheerleader outfit. But also the performance, and Rachel Bloom’s comedic performance at Heather’s house is on another level. She’s at once completely self-absorbed and entirely sympathetic, making the interplay between child Rebecca, unconditionally accepting Heathers and the exasperated actual Heather… sublime.
So she decides, in order to bounce back, that she needs a makeover, and the way she smiles, the overexuberance, the fast editing, it’s too much, it’s a peak of delusion, though perhaps one of several. She is violently trying to convince herself to be happy, and the manic energy with which the sequence passes captures that unhinged and teetering psychological quality. This scene and this episode will later be recontextualized, furthering the psychological reality. This is an attempt to escape reality, though it is more conscious than a dissociative episode.
Not much is really accomplished in this state, aside from trolling Paula, because she runs into Josh on the street and immediately relapses. When she says this line, “It can’t get better when it’s already the best,” the way her voice drops out… But the makeover sequence is a really good example of how the show sticks barbs into your eye and you don’t notice because you’re laughing. So anyway, that was Greg’s swan song, and that perfect episode closes out the first arc. One of the best of the season.
The second arc maintains this level of quality, and is really interesting for focusing on a series of relationships between women.
The problem with television and sitcom romance is that a lot of the time, the conflict hinges on the chase, the trope we sometimes call the Will They/Won’t They. I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms, so for me, that was Jim and Pam on The Office. Good or bad, we can agree that it was more interesting before they were together. There were issues to work through. Then they got together and suddenly they ran out of storylines. This reaches back to an ancient problem, that we don’t sense drama or storytelling without conflict. That’s what you learn in English class, and I think it means that, as a species, we’re designed to be miserable. What it means for us, now, is that a happy relationship is not compelling television.
Going even further, the television critic Kathryn VanArendonk spoke about this on an episode of the Vulture TV podcast, pointing out that even just ‘a relationship’ isn’t often compelling television. She notes that a lot of times with young women characters in particular, their depth is revealed once the will-they-won’t-they conflict is finally resolved. And what’s actually revealed is the inability of the writer, usually male, to have imagined conflict facing that young woman beyond romance, that her entire world is manifest in our handsome lead.
This is why it’s so important to hire based on gender, if that’s the only way women get their stories on television. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend becomes a go-to case study or quivered arrow when it comes time to discuss the politics of who gets to write whose story. They’re a diverse writing team with two women showrunners, and they provide a perspective we wouldn’t get with just men. So when it comes to this romance and this woman’s only conflict, the show is specifically a deconstruction, and so reflecting reality at every turn is symptomatic of that. When bad things happen, people have to sit out episodes of their lives because they’re immovably depressed, and there’s nothing sexy about it, either.
The writers can imagine that space beyond the love triangle because they’ve lived in that space. I mean, it’s kind of a funny instance of a bold-faced feminist TV show because I don’t know that it ever passes the Bechdel Test, but the two episodes which begin the second arc explore that space, explore female friendships in a relatively uncommon way. As far as my own TV-watching career goes, extremely uncommon — unique. First, there’s Rebecca and Valencia, who are capable of getting along, but finally put aside their ulterior motives, or motive, and become friends. Then it’s Rebecca and Paula, who are capable of having beef, but finally seem to hit an impasse.
Paula has had moments where she’s said she’s no longer friends with Rebecca, like in the second episode, or in the first season finale. But the conflict they arrive at by the end of “Who Needs Josh When You Have a Girl Group?” speaks to character flaws which can’t be solved overnight, the way you can hug someone and say “I’m sorry.” Something fundamental about either of them is what’s bothering the other, and that’s the part that’s new.
They resolve it by exploring alternate lives. For Paula, it’s beginning to break away from her usual work/life balance and going on law school field trips, which clears out her head. For Rebecca, it begins as the same aggressively facilitating of something, but ends with lessons learned following a try at motherhood. In the end, Rebecca is able to actually be there for Paula, and Paula recognizes that Rebecca is trying to mature, and may be doing so right before her eyes.
So what do we have? A renewed sense of friendship between Rebecca and Paula, and an actual friendship between Rebecca and Valencia. Maybe Rebecca finally doesn’t need a man, that she’s found actualization elsewhere.
And so, part of the stress with the third arc begins with how it starts walking back the progress we’ve made. I don’t see the depth of it right away, when Rebecca finally hooks up with Josh, but things are going so wrong. In the latest reprise of West Covina, Rebecca is willfully ignoring all the grief and misery we remember but maybe Paula wasn’t around for so she could summarize as a list of disasters. Scott Joplin drawer, ping pong fraud, the recommendation letter, pregnancy scare, burning down the apartment, and let’s not forget pooping in a shoe on YouTube.
She’d been through a lot, and is now going in reverse. That means no more friends with Valencia, and Paula is powerless before Rebecca’s spiral, and maybe even taken by what looks like happiness shining on Rebecca’s face. Rosh promises they’re never gonna have problems again, in another big production that really impresses, in part, because of the way Rebecca stares. The eye-shadow brings out the intensity.
It all happens too fast, and I think that’s deliberate to make the viewer uncomfortable. Everybody realizes what’s happening, and that’s when Nathaniel comes in to really bring the point home. He’s there to cast uncertainty on the whole thing, but he ended up contributing what was for me, personally, the most stressful part. I was watching these episodes during a time when I was convinced Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be canceled, with just a little bit of doubt. And that prospect made me so sad, because the world during November and December was descending, as we recall, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend constituted my sole escape. And now that, too, was ending.
On top of that, there’s this existential Nathaniel threat [that I’ll have to explain carefully]. His role in the story, at least initially, is to perform a necessary action: challenge Rebecca’s lifelong fantasy as solution to her unhappiness. He’s not alone in this work, where non-ghost Dr. Akopian and Rabbi Shari speak to the impossibility of a man solving all her problems as if in a fairy tale, but Nathaniel stokes Rebecca’s insecurities enough to accelerate the already accelerated relationship, increasing its likelihood for failure. I mean, only a few episodes back, Rebecca and Valencia peed on Josh’s stuff to mark their independence.
I’ve always liked Josh, and it’s part of why I really like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. One of the first things I read about the show was how Rebecca’s object of affection wasn’t some total fratguy loser or an archetype who never demonstrated change. Critics early on were impressed that Josh is actually a character, and that ties directly into the essence of the show, because in reality, everyone’s a character. When he is positioned against broken-hearted Rebecca and Valencia on the Electric Mesa, my sympathies are split among characters, who are then easy to think of as human. There are no heroes and villains, good guys, bad guys. There are only complex situations and the emotional violence characteristic of millennials trapped in their eternal adolescence.
But, the other reason I like Josh is less defensible. As it happens, I too am an Asian-American man, though definitely not a bro, or Filipino, for that matter. I wish I could tell you I didn’t watch the show as an Asian-American guy, because I thought I was past all that, but it’s true what that one writer of science-fiction once said: “Space travel has again made children of us all.” So, somewhere deep inside, I’ve always been pulling for Josh. It’s true. Not in his current state, and certainly not the way we leave him. And actually now, never. But we’ll talk about it.
Even before the season finale, and basically from the beginning, I understood that Rebecca and Josh were not meant to be. But when the creators decided to make this archetype Asian, that was so incredible that I would never have problems again? That’s kind of how my mind works, and so I came to the show for Josh (the last sitcom I saw being Selfie) but I stayed for Rebecca, which we’ll also talk about later.
Nathaniel comes in and provides a much more traditional potential love interest who begins by directly diminishing the less traditional. He calls Josh all kinds of objects, like watercooler and flip flop, and that really evokes a lot of the same feelings I have when watching other shows where Asian guys exist on the periphery to be commented upon, or they just aren’t there, because they are just objects. Nathaniel’s more acceptable appeal filled me with a sense of dread which I’m sure non-Asian men viewers didn’t sense. But again, it’s good that Josh is taken apart like this, because he’s not a good person, though we understand him.
It’s that funny confluence of things, when a progressive artist wants to do something like this. In 2013, the developers behind the reboot of Tomb Raider wanted to create a character who felt vulnerable, and a lot of it was in the animations and storyline. It worked. But you step back and wonder, “Why did you guys only think to do that when it was a girl…?” We’re missing a few steps to reach this point. The prerequisite was an entire era of video-games replete with badass women avatars played straight, the way we had with guys. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s a similar and similarly blameless situation where the construction of the Asian American man is coming from a deconstruction. If only we had some of those steps earlier to establish the idea before taking it apart.
But again, Josh and Vincent Rodriguez III are able to demonstrate a sex appeal we just don’t see a whole lot, and so I’ll always be grateful for that. Not in the sense that it makes me feel like I’m a stud all of a sudden, but that there are people out there who would see me and just think I was normal, irrespective the shape of my eyes. That means a lot. And I do wish being fulfilled as an Asian American man didn’t pivot entirely around masculinity, but hey man, we’re all victims of patriarchy. Some… less than others. Much less.
The last few episodes take place a lot more in the office, or in guest locations. Being holed up in Whitefeather and Associates really underscores the stress with claustrophobia, and the feeling of being trapped. Naturally, Rebecca finds herself literally trapped in an elevator.
There was also this sense of building toward a reversal, which does happen, but that everything going on in these episodes may prove false later or otherwise irrelevant. Rebecca’s happiness is only temporary, and deluded at that, that much is obvious, but it’s kind of unpleasant, made up for by the performances again, just the way that she gets her voice so high and is such a dick. Ultimately, the issue is that I didn’t have a sense for where the show was going. I was in the dark, and scared. Not that I’m a genius but most storytelling is formulaic, so I know that the hero will learn about the power of love or everybody dies or they blow up the Death Star, but so much of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is uncharted territory.
And as I want for direction, there’s also a matter of tone, and I think it comes with the relative absence of grounded characters in Rebecca’s life. Paula’s storyline during this arc has basically nothing to do with Rebecca. Greg is straight-up gone. Heather might appear to be grounded but it’s more that she’s really good at calling people on their shit and I’m not sure she does it deliberately a lot of the time. And most crucially, Rebecca isn’t here either. We’ve seen Rebecca have her shit together, and it’s not in these moments where she’s talking about engagement rings and undergoing this slow-motion spiral that’s so gradual nobody notices there’s something deeply wrong. Wrong, for sure, but nobody knows who Robert is yet, in essence. I would say she’s at her most grounded when she was with Greg. It’s during that time she even says to Paula, passingly, “we should talk about our boundary issues,” placing this version of Rebecca Bunch above even Rachel Bloom, who has never said that.
I do want to mostly talk about the season finale, for the remainder of this video. For me, emotionally, there was a lot riding on it, because I’m just so terrified of the sophomore slump as one of those very superstitious people who picks really lame superstitions like that. If there was a narrative purpose for what I had felt was less pleasant in the final episodes leading up to the finale, then that’s fine. Like, why am I hating Josh all of a sudden? Why am I rooting against this woman I’ve never seen before? Why am I even rooting for Rebecca and Josh, oh, just because the alternative seems to be Nathaniel, and that’s the only thing worse. And that’s all Josh-related stuff, but I think he’s a good jumping off point.
I was intrigued when, in some interview, Rachel Bloom said that Josh was going to be explored quite a bit in season 2, and she was probably most excited about that. It’s an interesting approach to character, because he doesn’t so much change, and in fact, he can’t, because the exploration is all about his inability to change. How he falls back on old comforts and runs away from problems. And really what we find, when Nathaniel is given the last line to Rebecca’s father, which is curious, is that Josh has been the real villain this whole time. I may have understood that academically before, but to see Rebecca’s 16-year-old heartbreak play out in front of me was another matter.
I had been seeing Josh under a different lens. I think he’s always meant to be sympathetic in the way Rebecca is always meant to be sympathetic, that we are them, in some regard, and they are us. And in being empathetic, even with fictional characters, maybe we can address these issues in ourselves and each other like adults. For Josh, it is kind of relatable that he’s trapped in a perpetual state of adolescence. Especially for millennials, even if we have jobs and are relatively stable, I don’t think that concern ever goes away, this sense that maybe we’re never there. There’s always another level, and other people have reached it.
For Josh, he’s unambitious. Didn’t seem to have a job for the first few episodes, living with his parents, same girlfriend for the last fifteen years. Preoccupied by that relationship as well as diversionary things like video-games and skating on boards. When Rebecca blows into his life, she challenges all of that in a way Valencia never did. Because what Valencia did was nag in that way we say women nag. She did small annoying things that weren’t big enough to engage with and solve, human to human. Rebecca scares Josh with pregnancy, she actually demands his respect, she brings a lot of baggage from an earlier relationship, and there’s this vague discomfort because maybe she moved here for him?
So Josh is explored in this way. It comes together with Thought Bubbles, where we see how he uses relationships as a shield against confronting the harsh realities that’ve piled on his refusal or inability to grow up. Again, that makes him sympathetic. But for that to then build to his final reveal, which had my jaw on the floor, it’s such a violent swerve in a show now known for pretty wild twists, I almost can’t reconcile it. In season 3, will we see Rebecca beat the crap out of a priest? Perhaps we can only dream.
To return briefly to the Josh as villain thing, it would’ve been too easy to do that right out of the gate. Initially, we see Josh the way Rebecca does. In season 2, there’s a little bit of distance drawn between audience and character. Maybe it’s a function of time, that we’re growing weary of Rebecca’s old habits and can recognize that they’re bad. But if you go back to season 1 after having seen the entire season or the two seasons, that very first scene when Josh breaks up with her is fucking brutal. And it wasn’t, initially, it was just kind of funny.
But knowing what lies ahead for Rebecca, all the pain she’s about to go through for this fucking guy. It was just so easy for him to walk away. And then he does it again at the end, and the hurt is reiterated and finally made real for us in a way it wasn’t in the very beginning, of course. The first break-up is pure exposition, and then we come to care about the characters, and then the biggest break-up of all time happens.
We did not get a repeat of the first season’s wedding, which was like a gender-swapped version of this one in terms of racial composition, but ended with a marriage. The productions were different. We didn’t see Jayma’s wedding, but the reception was California pastiche — Ironic Juxtaposition. It was as romantic as you wanted it to be, maybe like a rorschach, but an invitation nonetheless — you could be cynical, you could be swept away. Rebecca’s wedding is at the place they film movies, and she attempted to copy wholesale a wedding that worked out for someone else, because that’s maybe what Rebecca ultimately wants to be, is someone else. Or at least, live the lives that happy people seem to.
Josh leaves her at the altar. You knew it was coming, given their leaning on his promiscuity, which I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. Jumping from love interest to love interest is just something TV characters do. But these aren’t TV characters, he’s… Josh Chan. Even still, what he did was so horrible. A bride being left at the altar would be public humiliation in addition to the horrendous swirl of emotions in response to such an ultimate rejection. I guess I’d never really thought about that before, because I never really thought about brides before, until Rebecca was a bride. All the weddings I’ve been to have led to functional marriages, so things only went wrong in the movies. Or, it was even okay because the guy left the wrong bride at the altar and picked up the female lead who was just about to leave town.
This is another case for media as important in society, because it can fill in gaps. I claim to be feminist, but my empathy for women’s experience always had boundaries, and this is one area I never considered before it was narratively proposed, so to speak.
The reason Josh leaves is to become a priest, and it’s hinted at beforehand, not only in his interactions with Father Brah, who’s the only person he listens to (which is apparently how I sound to you?) but his becoming even more spiritual following the Barmitzvah. So, it’s the perfect twist that is unexpected but not out of nowhere. And speaking of twists, there’s also the matter of… well, the title of the show? What this wedding disaster leads to.
We are halfway through the series, theoretically, and we’re learning fundamental things about the main character. I feel like that doesn’t happen a whole lot. The show is introducing new characters in pace with other shows at around the season 2 mark, but this is something else. First of all, the entire episode is intense in that way the show does intensity, which is — here’s something relatively innocuous, in this case, a daughter’s love for her father, but in context, it’s scary and dark as hell.
I think what got me about it was that they had their cake and ate it too with the equation of Josh and Silas, Rebecca’s dad. They’ve indicated the connection before, like during Rebecca’s weird party, or with Dr. Dream Ghostakopian. Foolishly, I just assumed it’d be this thing we wink at if anything, partly because I never read Freud in college, and because it’s such an unexplored idea in popular culture.
Most stories are about men, and so a lot of romantic stories take that perspective. Men don’t want to think about their mothers, but that angle is synonymous with that era of psychology. And I know Freud does not represent a modern take, but whether it’s an elektra complex or whatever, asking questions about our own sexuality is uncomfortable, and so maybe we just don’t do it? And with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend it raises an even more troubling prospect, it’s not so much an innate psychological thing, like the twisted attraction to a parent, it’s an indictment of one of society’s major failures. That in doing the work of the show, illustrating that police sketch of patriarchy, we see how men can influence women. Some people don’t believe that’s real, and partly it’s because sometimes it doesn’t come from malice or even consciously, it’s just a consequence of living as we do.
There’s an incredible article by Amelia Bonow, which I always find myself referencing and in doing so reveal how little I actually read, but it talks about this, how it might look like she’s on display at her job, and you might fashion evidence out of her life to support that theory, but understand how as a girl she shaped her sense of self-worth around men, that men wanting to have sex with her was how she defined value. And you don’t have to look far, even now, to see where a child or anyone would reach that conclusion. I mean, both young boys and girls learn the same lesson, so we’re all affected by it, but it manifests in different ways. Issues of identity and self-worth…
There may be at least two things going on. Rebecca creates herself utterly through external means, like through princess movies and men, and she is constantly rejected. That would make anybody crazy, and the big reveal comes down, at once providing the scary imagery we associate with psychosis in popular culture, but also recontextualizing comedic elements from the past. Lines about how she’s “just a girl in love” and “can’t be held responsible for her actions” were really funny just moments ago, and are no longer. I mean, they still are, but man O day.
Let’s return to the episode where Rebecca burns some ex-boyfriend memorabilia. One one hand you have Rachel Bloom saying “Fare thee well Gregorino,” and then spiraling in a way that is funny, but now that we know this is just what she does, and she actually has a break with reality and erases it, it’s scary in a way her quote unquote craziness has never been.
And now is a good moment to give a shout out to Rachel Bloom, as an actress. From the beginning, her performance has been so amazing it’s hard to believe this is her first major, live-action role on TV. She sells sadness really well, she has a natural sense for comedy of course. I think part of what separates her from others in the overcrowded TV landscape is that she can do both, sometimes at once, and always finds the humanity in either. In terms of the technical aspect, she also does a lot of the acting through song and dance, which is new to me so all I can really say is that it’s quite powerful. And I haven’t been this blown away by acting since Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, which was only as far back as 2014, but before her, it was like nobody really, on that level.
I also heard a description of how she on set, how she’s always running around, writing and overseeing edits and rehearsing choreography and coordinating with everyone else. As much as that shouldn’t bolster my appreciation for the performance, I’m only human, and so I do appreciate when some among us are not. In a good way. Finally, it might be easy to conflate Rachel Bloom with Rebecca Bunch at times, so that we think it’s semi-autobiographical. From what I remember hearing, I think Rebecca Bunch is a mix of Bloom and McKenna, primarily, so it’s not necessarily that Rachel Bloom is just playing a version of herself, but rather that this study of an American woman is so ballsy, for lack of a gender-neutral term, that she’s the only one who could play it. Similar, but with a fine distinction worth noting I think.
For the writers, this moment is so brave because they were holding a lot back this whole time. Peeling layers away is so exciting because it suggests that there’s more to discover even if what we find is pretty shocking. But it’s also brave in a broader sense. It’s important work to take apart the idea of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as a social construct, and now they’re doing it, potentially, as a medical one. Yet also inherently within that same social construct, so it’s just that this problem is a lot bigger than we realized and a lot more serious. It isn’t that she’s gonna do these funny schemes and keep falling on her face, but that she poses a serious risk to herself and all involved.
I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was unexpected but not out of turn, and signals an interesting direction for the future. But I can’t stress enough how stressful this whole affair was, culminating in the final moments. Season one was not really like this. Season two started with the thesis statement of Greg’s alcoholism, that the funny machinations of Rebecca are real consequences if we care about these characters, and it ends with something so dramatic and heart-wrenching I almost couldn’t bear it.
The season finale didn’t bring the waterworks like I was prepared for, but when she runs to the edge of the cliff in her wedding dress at her wedding, I was stunned. And characters, like, do stuff like this on TV and in movies, but there’s so much investment here. The only comparison I can make is to the end of the first season of The Wire, where we’ve seen TV gangsters shoot each other, but suddenly it’s this completely different thing. It’s like, all kinds of different people are having tragedies, and I never knew. And in this case, I know Rebecca’s not gonna kill herself, not only because they just got picked up for season 3, but just the fact that she felt that way, that the titular leap of faith was suddenly an option is so heartbreaking. And this is just how people feel.
There’s also just so much going on in this moment, in the situation itself. This cliff was first introduced to us as the moment where everything comes together. “You Stupid Bitch” was revised, she takes the daughter role in “I Love My Daughter, (But Not in a Creepy Way),” which is perfectly reset here, and even the late game favorite “We’ll Never Have Problems Again” caps it off. All of the delusions and sadness in those songs are just colliding into one beautiful medley, like she hasn’t learned anything. Or she has, and is willfully ignoring all that progress. She saw who she could’ve been, and it was too scary and hard.
I think it’s important that when everything comes crashing down, which we anticipated enough that the characters could joke about it earlier, that nobody judges Rebecca. Valencia doesn’t relish this as some kind of long game victory, because she really has moved on, and Paula would never, no matter how deep their problems were. I mean, Rosh was her original love, anyway.
But to return to the musical cliff, initially– kneejerk reaction– I wasn’t too keen on music being recycled, like Karen doing “Math of Love Triangles,” or even the “Period Sex” reprises. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t like these, but I wondered how other people would react. Usually, in-jokes and callbacks are a sign of attenuation. But with “Rebecca’s Reprise,” it gives a greater meaning to the original songs and deeper contextualization, that these are the shape of her thoughts. Entertaining for us, but incredibly sad for Rebecca, imagining life as a musical because life sucks. So we’re being reminded that this is her headspace, and finishing off with “Daddy will love me, and Mommy will love me, and Josh will love me” as she inches toward the cliff is almost all you need to say.
But then they go further. The cliff is also interesting because it’s all jagged down there but scenic just up above. How the surfaces of things can be so deceiving. And finally, the image of a woman casting herself into the ocean is, I feel like, a benchmark in feminist studies, like in The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into the patriarchy hole, the woman decides to choose her own fate. Suicide as empowerment myth. Very tricky.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t do that. They revise it. They challenge that troubling binary between life according to men’s rules or death. They say, “Let’s fight back,” and maybe she could still be called a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but instead of scheming to spend time with a guy and thereby ruining the lives of other women, it’ll be a way to do badass shit and wreck up the place. That’s a different kind of deconstruction, which is the reclamation. Is she crazy? Before, it was “I don’t like that term.” Now, it’s “A little bit,” which is also what she said to Josh when she kicked him out of her house. She’s now begun to accept her past instead of escape from it.
I thought they would actually close on this image of the non-judgmental girl group squad standing in defiance to a garbage father, a garbage love interest and maybe weddings entirely. This episode challenges the role of weddings as the ultimate expression of love, such a status called into question immediately for us when Rebecca Bunch reflects on becoming Rebecca Chan. I feel like that doesn’t often happen on television, where character names change. There’s also that added layer of dissonance because, of course, she doesn’t look like a Rebecca Chan. No matter how, it raises the question, “Why do women have to do this?” Because weddings were invented by men.
So, it sounds lame, but the most exciting thing about the season finale is where they go next, based on what they set up. Granted, what was set up in the original finale lasted only a few episodes into season 2. But now there’s a greater sense of narrative momentum, and that’s really something.
Rebecca’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend journey crashed and burned, and now it’s time for a change. The therapy scene in episode 210, which leads up to Josh’s proposal, appeared to be the thesis for a mythological second half or true endgame of the series, speaking to what instantly presents itself conceptually alongside the premise. The answer to the question it raises. She describes something like a scary journey of self-discovery, the thing she keeps herself from while pursuing Josh and Greg and Nathaniel. Going forward, there may be three possible paths.
1. Rebecca continues to spiral, and we learn a lesson by way of her never learning a lesson. It’s hammered home for us because we see how much misery it causes Rebecca and the people in her orbit. That’s a non-happy ending, for sure.
2. Rebecca goes on this journey and does something we probably haven’t seen before but makes sense, like, maybe she takes those singing lessons, or takes the helm of the new firm, or travels to Europe. This would be a happy ending, but it would break the premise.
3. Rebecca learns that the true journey was the friends she made along the way, in essence. What was going on in season one, where although she was driven to do almost everything in that season by her pursuit of Josh, she did a lot of great things for other people, even without realizing it.
Between the three, I most prefer option 2, just because it would be more dramatic and inventive than option 3, which is however more clever. Option 1 doesn’t interest me at all, and doesn’t work for me, at least, on paper. Once brought to life and filtered through the language of the show, absolutely, it would be A+, of that I have no doubt. But I’m gonna make the case for Option 2 regardless, knowing it’s probably not exactly gonna happen. I have been wrong before.
I mean, that supposed thesis moment with Dr. Akopian might’ve been paid off already, just in reverse, because shows do that sometimes. They set you up to have the rug pulled by the end. Who could forget that time Guts declared his love for Casca by the waterfall moments before demons ate everybody and he chopped off his arm?
During the final arc, I was having a little bit of trouble with the musical numbers, not because they were bad, not even close, I mean there are a lot of classics there and “WHAT A RUSH TO BE A BRIDE” was just so fucking weird and good, but the tone of the story was getting so dark, I just couldn’t imagine anyone would want to break out into song. And it felt more story-driven than previous episodes — Rebecca is spiraling trying to put a wedding together and Darryl and cohorts are trying to get Nathaniel to take a man nap. She’s dying! You couldn’t take these out, but in the future, what if the tone of the show began to lean harder into drama than comedy, such that the nature of the music would become more uniform? I don’t actually want anything with the music to change, but it did have me wondering about the show on holistic terms. Could a TV show, or any longform work of media, change itself so dynamically that it wasn’t about genre anymore, but something more pure?
Going back and thinking about this purity, we begin to encroach on the answer to our ancient problem of conflict and love triangles. The question of “What would Rebecca’s journey look like?” is incredibly exciting. Because I have no idea. I’m a straight man, and my happiness was practically taught in school. But what about for everyone else? What does her happiness look like when she has to so painfully remove herself from a socially dictated myth of happiness? In visualizing the real thing, my greatest hope is that Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna show us something we’ve really never seen before, because we couldn’t have. Something that comes from personal experience, or just how they see the world, vantages historically outside the conversation, out of the spotlight.
I’ve only read Virginia Woolf secondhand, through references in other books, and so I think I get the briefest sense for what she talks about, exploring the world as a writer and going outside, where expanding your physical space expands your headspace. This comes from Rebecca Solnit in her book Men Explain Things to Me, where she talks about the utility of walking and wandering, discovering things instead of being trapped in the space you’ve made for yourself.
That’s what I envisioned for Rebecca, and to say ‘envision’ of course, is a misnomer. Just like how “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” showed me a part of the woman’s experience I’d never seen despite growing up with a mother and two sisters and living with a woman roommate for a year (we’re never as liberal as we think, there’s always more to learn), I’m still holding out hope that we see this next novel thing, a woman defining her own happiness in a world that smashes stereotypes the way you might a banana. Fingers crossed, but no matter what direction they go, it’ll still be Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
And that’s an important point to make because based on how the showrunners discuss Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it feels like they’re leaning toward Option 1. I listened to a really great podcast — it was again The Vulture TV Podcast — where they interview Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom before a live audience, and speak to the whole of the series. As Bloom was explaining at one point, she and McKenna had pitched the entire arc of the show in their many pitch meetings, and if Rebecca ever got better, there wouldn’t be a show.
Or it would just change dramatically, and that’s something else they talk about. As it turns out, Breaking Bad and Mad Men are models for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend more than sitcoms, and in both those shows we follow this descent of a character.
And that’s my issue with that theoretical season 3 and 4, that the description of Rebecca as the bubbly Walter White just reiterates on that show, which I think parades American thanatos as somehow what we all secretly do, instead of offering a healthier vision. Revenge could be the start of that further darkening, but I hope it’s instead an important detour on the road to Rebecca’s happy ending, that wonderful and at this point grandly mythological thing. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is poised to answer this question that 49% of the world has no clue about.
And for me as a viewer, I just need that happy ending. I’ve never felt more emotions toward a fictional character — happiness, sadness, whichever. I think it’s in the illustration of self-hatred that I found the most relatable, and I didn’t anticipate that going in. The way the show characterizes loneliness and I need to see Rebecca come to a good place, because if she didn’t that would just shatter me.
In fact, all the emotional violence inflicted upon Rebecca is in need of retribution, and I feel bad for, in the past, buying into the idea that she in some way caused her own misery. What has she really done? She’s been a woman, and such a thing is even more so a fantasy than her fairytale ideals of weddings and theatrical declarations of love. Male heterosexuality transforms the concept of woman into a deity that no human being can happily live up to. And that’s truly Rebecca’s problem. When she asks why do people leave me, I also wonder, because aside from having a few issues, who doesn’t, she seems pretty cool. But she didn’t fit into Silas’s bachelor pad lifestyle, Greg’s recovery, or Josh’s stress-free Southern Cali lifestyle. She tried to fit herself into those molds which were moving targets anyway, and now she has to create her own mold. That’s what I’m hoping for, but it doesn’t mean she can’t take time to exact some cathartic vengeance.
The back half of this show is shaping up to be pretty amazing already, on the foundation laid by season 2. So that’s ultimately the difference. I like season 1 more because it’s fun and full of life. I kind of resented season 2 for tearing it all down, but it’s that necessary step to really see the truth of things. And so season 2 was a machine designed with that purpose and it was scarily efficient, even if it wasn’t always the most pleasant watch.
Originally published to A Generic Wonderful on 03/02/2017