By Rebecca’s definition, Heather is the cool one. And it isn’t hard to see why: she’s got style, she’s very chill, and when standing next to Rebecca, the chill is certainly amplified. Her easygoing nature is facility, though, as Rebecca and all sitcom protagonists require either encouragement or discouragement to move forward, and Heather’s good with pretty much anything.
There are no bad ideas, and that’s exactly who Rebecca wants to be around. But is it who she needs to be around? Part of our collective understanding of ‘cool,’ which may or may not exist at a distance for those of us not content to merely watch a television show but to rather fix on every detail, is the glistening edge of danger. There must be a price to aloofness, or at least, that’s always been the theory for us too afraid to be like that. And so, Heather is who we aspire to be. But here’s the big twist: we may be Heather already, and that’s really important.
Like Greg, she’s something of an audience proxy, as we see in episode 4, which is her thesis episode. She begins as we might, thinking about Rebecca analytically, a subject in the laboratory of Rebecca’s own creation. This Crazy Ex-Girlfriend may do things initially worthy of scrutiny: she suddenly appeared, like a Pokemon, is anathema to the neighborhood culture, she throws a weird party, undergoes possible cranial remolding, demonstrates poor decision-making skills, etc.
This makes for good material for Heather’s psychology class, but by the end of the episode, Rebecca’s own psychological issues are logicked out — she does something hurtful that she regrets, and we don’t agree with it but we understand why it happened, and of course, that’s the essence of the show. In an almost metatextual move, Heather seems to have picked up on this rationale, justifying all the crazy she saw earlier and leading into this:
“I don’t want to label her. I just want to be her friend.”
This is the arc we also have, arriving upon a show with this title. But the contrast in humanity or efficacy between psychological academia and friendship is intriguing, almost troubling, but something I imagine we’ll revisit in Dr. Akopian’s office sometime in the future. For this moment, it’s the difference between field study and something more isolated, but as we’ll see, even that field study will need to be properly calibrated. Stepping into Rebecca’s orbit is exactly that: step one.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the off-screen nature of Heather’s coming around on Rebecca. But just as a slice of Rebecca’s quote unquote ‘craziness’ is left to the viewer’s imagination, like how we don’t see her staying up late to read the entirety of The Hunger Games book one in a night so she can say and that’s about it, part of Heather’s mysteriousness is also maintained by what we don’t see.
That’s where the distinction between herself and Greg comes in, when we’re talking about audience proxies. With Greg, it’s mostly about in-the-moment reaction shots and bearing the brunt of Rebecca’s madness as the third man. Greg and Heather both provide straight man comments to West Covina’s fall guy, but there’s some versatility with Heather, a lot of interesting play with point of view. She’s a witness, but we don’t necessarily know how she’ll react to things, just that she will. And so, when she administered her test in episode 113, maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I did not pass that test.
Her relationship with Greg lasts about five episodes, and comes to an unfortunate end during “Josh is Going to Hawaii.” We’ve talked before about this string of three episodes, how “Hawaii” blows up the previous two as a lead-in to the final arc. Part of that blowing up is revisiting this moment, Heather’s first solo: “Don’t Settle for Me.” As Rebecca had been doing so much Hollywooding in Los Angeles of all places, Heather deals in turn, urging Greg to make a very cinematic intervention and finally profess his love.
In the next episode, Rebecca has to reconcile the consequences of living her movie-like fantasy, and so does Greg. Turns out, Heather wasn’t just playing a role in other people’s lives, that not only does she have thoughts and feelings, those feelings are really hurt.
When I first saw this scene, staying within Greg’s point-of-view worked to the extent that I didn’t see this coming. But even if I wasn’t, I’m still not sure I would’ve seen this coming, and so a thought occurred, in a detached way, without endorsement, that… this isn’t fair.
Women are so unpredictable, right? And I was kind of surprised that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would play into that mythology, manufacture something to do so. But maybe I’ve been looking at miscommunication between genders the wrong way. And maybe television has, too. It’s true that in this moment, we’re meant to understand Greg’s perspective more so than Heather’s, but if we’ve been paying attention, we would’ve realized that “Don’t Settle For Me” comes out of left field.
Heather really likes Greg, and she’s pretty casual otherwise. So is this test unfair? Is it a trick? Are these kinds of tests we see on TV or in our lives arbitrary? Heather’s doesn’t come from nowhere. She’s the observer, and she’s very observant. She knows Rebecca has that weird thing with Josh, just as she knows Greg has that weird thing with Rebecca. Seeing him get googly during the water trial, Heather is both hurt and ready to put everything on the line.
Chris assumes that Heather will be a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Greg’s insecurity about it suggests he agrees, deep down. The craziness, the thing we’re afraid of, is an emotional outburst. But in Heather’s case, it’s about truth, nothing that comes out here is crazy or histrionic at all. Women are usually only crazy when we think of them that way, and that’s how shortcuts through communication might be taken, and then feel unfair, like a trick.
So it’s all the more important then, when the show does slip into Heather’s point of view. As a refrain, the show identifies something bad, which is not making a connection with Heather, and then follows up by making that connection itself.
Heather, like the audience, sees West Covina on a two-dimensional plane, with all the pieces laid out for thematic connect-the-dots. Rebecca and Josh should not get together, Valencia and Rebecca should be careful playing Thelma and Louise, Paula’s not having fun because this is awkward. And this lasts to at least the season two finale, this distance, because wanting to be Rebecca’s friend, again, is that step one, and as we’ve discussed before — it takes a process. Yes, even friendship, which is a lesson I only ever learn when it’s too late.
So what’s the problem, then? Well, throughout the entire first season, it’s no skin off Heather’s back, but there might be something deeper going on with her eight years at community college. It may come in handy excusing breaking and entering, and it isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but it’s revealed to be symptomatic of something.
Young liberals and millennials often take heat for being caught in a lifelong arrested development, which may or may not be a matter of old definitions of adulthood becoming outdated, but we’re certainly not unimpeachable. I know people who are career students, maybe because they’re pursuing medicine or something. The reactionary among us might say it’s a deflated ambition, but careful that theory doesn’t come in place of another, that it might be a lack of direction. Neither is impossible, but the latter is what’s relevant to this discussion.
Episode 204 is one of my favorites, and the unfortunate byproduct of season 2’s economic storytelling is we get certain things minimally when maybe we’d want more — an episode between 204 and 205 detailing Rebecca and Heather moving in together, more girl squad between 205 and 206, and with this episode, more of the dynamic created between Heather, Heather’s parents, and Rebecca, which just slays me.
In these scenes, we enter Heather’s POV space through reaction shots and her general stance on this unfolding absurdity. Rebecca becomes a child in the wake of her breakups, and in response, Heather’s parents become parents to Rebecca. The very obvious part I didn’t realize until recently was that this is Rebecca occupying Heather’s role, logically, and so this turns any criticism of Rebecca by Heather at this moment into self-criticism.
So when Heather’s annoyance with the new roommate boils over, she isn’t content to just go along with Rebecca’s big plan like usual, because in this case, the big plan is just lay around and take up more space. And then late-in-the-game parenting comes out, as Greg might say, where Heather’s mom and dad remind her they never pushed her to do anything she didn’t want to do.
“Girl get your hair glue,” is one my favorite lines.
That sounds fine, until we see their reaction to Heather winning Rebecca’s douche contest. They never pushed Heather out of her comfort zone, and pretty soon, never had expectations for her. Heather’s parents are such a surprise, but they really shouldn’t be. Of course, they’d be exactly the opposite, sunny and talkative, but with this polarity of personality, we have a nice counterpoint on the idea of perfect parents.
We’ll talk more about, let’s say, toxic parenting in a Rebecca video later on, and that’s a parent-negative area. I think with the addition of Heather’s into the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend thematic conversation, we continue to see how complex the job is, that even open praise and unconditional support can do damage. The game is rigged, there are no right answers.
“Get out of my head, you angel. Both, I’ll take both!”
We see a light bulb go off over Heather’s head, that by the end of the episode, she’s connected her parents’ support of Rebecca/Heather’s failures with that overall lack of direction, which is something we definitely all need and don’t get from many sources. But what interests me most in this exchange is how Heather needed to step outside of herself to have a personal revelation of this scale, and required in doing so is taking that next step, fulfilling the promise of friendship with Rebecca. She’s arguably still in observe mode up until that point, but here, she engages, moving from seeing Rebecca as subject, then seeing her as friend, to now, what lies beyond that.
Regarding arrested development, Heather poses this dilemma that many of us face, and we may not feel like it’s a problem worth addressing. People who aren’t dealing with sexual identity or who don’t suffer from mental illness, or maybe who just feel like they exist in a supporting role, as Heather technically does, at least, so far. It’s not a dramatic enough problem to be the focus of a show, but it’s still important. And it’s important because Heather doesn’t come from nowhere either — as a character written to be compelling, she must in part reflect the real world, and so if you’ve had a wonderful childhood but are lost at sea right now, that’s a problem published the moment you have it, and space ought to be partitioned for those stories, too. Maybe not the most space, and so I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend strikes a good balance with this and other kinds of problems.
We find that the solution to this problem is to — wait for it — truly engage, but — and this is the new part — to the extent that we’re able to see ourselves in someone else. This idea is all the more impactful because Rebecca was initially such an Other, as we remember, so it wasn’t just the snap of fingers, it was another instance of being there or showing up, or what have you.
Ruminating on contact with the Other is so crucial, not in regards to friendships but in the defeat of intolerance. Working backward from real world cases where people raised in environments of hatred come to denounce their extremist ideology through contact with other kinds of people, the question raised is how do we measure this contact?
If we want to exercise this utopic barrier-breaking in ourselves, we ask, how do we know when somebody new is an Other? How do we recognize when we’re not actually engaging? Because when Heather first meets Rebecca, it’s not about hatred, but it’s still a dehumanizing perception. It’s what’s anticipated by a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the perception of labels. And so again, Heather is us, even if we’re not cool enough to be her.
So we might use her experience as a starting point: what can this person teach me about me? Part of intolerance or otherness or whatever is believing that there’s some impassable gulf between people, a belief that may even supercede an academic understanding that we’re all one species. You can exist in a post-racial society in your head all you like, but that doesn’t negate the fact of how that brain actually works. And it’s true that people can be really wild or terrible or amazing, and maybe you don’t ever find anything shared between yourself and someone else, and to believe there could be that thing might have a touch of naivety, but that’s the work, and rejection of a stranger doesn’t come ahead of that work.
And so, if we’re wondering, maybe that’s what it takes to truly be Heather. She moves from the outside in, and that process is pieced out. It’s not enough to say ‘we’re friends’ and then the job is done, but for people to actually mean something to you, and that may sound vaguely sociopathic, but I wonder. I wonder all the time.
Aside from the occasional reference to what videos may come at some point down the line, I never really want to tease future material because it may be making promises I can’t deliver on. I used to do that all the time with the podcast I did before this. But it’s important to note as part of this video that there is some irony in calling Rebecca the Other between herself and Heather. Being a black woman in the West Covina of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might be different than being a black woman generally, but at some point we do need to talk about the conversations not had when you’re projecting a more egalitarian world, as well as the few, debatable problems the show has in general, so that we can perhaps fashion whatever negatives into positives. It’s easier to see problem areas this deep into the off-season, so that video should be coming before season 3 drops, when I’ll be in unconditional love mode once yet again.
Originally published to A Generic Wonderful on 06/04/2017