Friday, November 10, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is Taking Darker Twists and Turns — And I Love It [Contributor: Jenn]

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WARNING: This piece contains spoilers for tonight’s episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Read at your own risk.

I’ve talked before about my love for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — how I thought it was brilliant at subverting tropes, addressing mental health issues, and tackling meta problems head-on. It’s an incredibly smart, silly, funny, poignant show and I’ve enjoyed how each season serves as a chapter in Rebecca Bunch’s story. In season one, we’re introduced to Rebecca as a woman who is obsessive and desperate to find happiness in a relationship with Josh Chan, the love of her life when life was simpler and easier. Our theme song that season was all about how women are often perceived as crazy by society or their exes — whether or not they’ve actually done anything to warrant the title of “crazy.” And it’s only women who are seen as the “crazy” ex-girlfriends; for the most part, men are not labeled in the same way. There were so many fun songs throughout the first season, often very meta ones that addressed the show’s conceit.

And then we moved into season two, and our new theme song involved the notion that people are “crazy” in love. The whole season featured the relationship between Rebecca and Josh, as well as the relationship between Rebecca and Greg. This season particularly addressed Rebecca’s mental health in a more serious light — though still in an easily-digestible way for our readers (though dream ghosts in season one made it pretty digestible). As the stakes got higher, though, so did the seriousness of the content and details of Rebecca’s past began to surface. We learned about her relationship with Robert and the things she’s hidden from people throughout the seasons.

Rebecca Bunch has always been an incredibly complex character, and I appreciate the fact that the show acknowledges this. I mean, Rebecca sang a song about being the villain in her own story. That thread — the narrative of a narrative — has woven itself throughout the series. In the beginning, Rebecca believed it to be fate that she ran into Josh Chan and she chose to see the signs she wanted to. Her life was aimless and she desperately clung to the love she once had for someone she barely knows at the time the show begins. She impulsively moved to West Covina, but the stakes throughout season one were pretty fun and hijinks-y in nature. Paula jumped on the bandwagon of trying to secure a future for Josh and Rebecca, we had Valencia as our villain, and a cast of zany side characters to keep us entertained.

When the show dove into the Greg/Rebecca/Josh love triangle, they did so with intentionality, knowing that the focus — unlike other shows — wasn’t on whether one of these men was “the one” for Rebecca so much as pointing out that Rebecca is a messed up character who deserves love but can’t seem to address her own issues in order to secure it in the healthy way. Both Greg and Josh are flawed characters, but it’s Rebecca’s actions and projections onto them that ultimately make the relationships unhealthy. It’s not to say that everything that happens in this series is Rebecca’s fault — it’s not. Other characters make decisions that are bad or hurtful too (uh, hello: her mother is degrading to her and her father abandoned her).

But that’s why season three is so important and, arguably, the most important season of the series for Rebecca’s characterization. When we ended season two, Josh had ditched Rebecca at the altar in order to join the priesthood because of his intense fear of commitment and juvenile response to conflict in relationships. Josh chooses to run away from his problems and from anyone who causes them. He can’t handle conflict and he can’t be mature about anything (it always reminds me that Rebecca idealized him and what they had when they were kids, but it’s that juvenile behavior that ultimately screws her over as an adult).

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And so at the beginning of season three, we’re meant to think that this year will be about Rebecca enacting revenge on Josh for the way he treated her — you know, Carrie Underwood “Before He Cheats”-style. Our new theme song, in fact, pays homage to songs about women who are “crazy.” It’s fun, it’s got a heavy dose of irony (“You do/don’t want to be crazy,” Rebecca sings), and could have set the tone for this season as Chapter 3: Revenge in Rebecca Bunch’s story. Admittedly, I was a bit worried that this season was off to an intense, revenge-filled start with the premiere. But then Rebecca’s friends began to talk her down from the ledge of “crazy” schemes and steer her toward the avenue of practical revenge.

We’ve known Rebecca Bunch enough to know that this isn’t how she operates. She has a lot of mental issues and she’s buried them in order to be whatever the people around her need her to be so that she’s accepted. But season three is Rebecca snapping, in quite the heartbreaking way. First, she drives away the people she loves most by digging deep and insulting them. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t apologize, and goes for the jugular. It’s as vicious as we’ve ever seen Rebecca. And mind you, this is after she’s run away from (or tried to run away from) her problems. Her friends found out about her past — how she set fire to her ex-lover’s apartment and was institutionalized for it rather than sent to prison. Rebecca is so terrified that people will see the real her — the darkest parts of her that even she hates — and will reject her or force her away. So like someone backed into a corner who attacks on animal instinct, Rebecca snaps.

She spews hatred and then sets off on her one-woman quest to ruin Josh’s life the way he ruined hers. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of things wrong with the way that Josh treated Rebecca and her sing-yelling at him at the church was one of the most satisfying parts of the series. It was also Rebecca’s tipping point. See, once she admitted to him what she had done, she realized she was exposed. Vulnerable. And so she had to rewrite her narrative so that she once again was the victim rather than the instigator.

“Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy” spends most of its time on Rebecca’s horror film-esque antics at getting revenge on Josh and spooking him out of hiding. Once she manages to do this, she claims that she just wanted to get Josh to respond to her — that now that he’s speaking to her again, they can work through all of their issues. They have history, after all, and can’t throw it away. But Josh has seen what Rebecca is capable of, and he wants nothing to do with her. He wants her out of his life, forever.

And Rebecca Bunch hits rock bottom. Kind of. In fact, she officially hits rock bottom when she drinks at a bar and sleeps with Greg’s dad. Yup. That happened. And that’s why Josh Groban’s meta song, “The End of the Movie” is so powerful and moving. We’ve seen the thread woven through Rebecca’s story for a few years now — she sees herself as the hero in her story, even though she’s sometimes actually the villain. Rebecca needs to continue to be the hero for that narrative to make sense — for her LIFE to make any sense. But walking home from the encounter with Greg’s dad, we see Rebecca at her lowest. She’s driven away everyone she loves. She’s realized she’s not even the hero in her story anymore. In fact, she doesn’t even feel like she’s the main character. She has made choice after choice that doesn’t make sense and she doesn’t want to feel or think or be in this narrative anymore.

“I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative” should be the tagline of the end of the episode, really.

And so Rebecca hits bottom. The end of “I Never Want to See Josh Again” is the darkest the show has ever gone, and to be frank, after I watched the screener of the episode a week ago, I thought about the ending for a solid hour. It wrecked me. And then I rewatched it before writing this piece and was wrecked yet again. Because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has made Rebecca’s mental illness real to us.

Rebecca Bunch wants to end it all — she’s hopeless and can’t imagine how life could possibly get any better. Her depression has exhausted her, and she physically doesn’t want to do anything other than sleep.

The moment that Naomi discovers Rebecca’s search history is such a beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking moment of acting by Tovah Feldshuh. For all of her faults, Naomi does love her daughter and the horror and shock upon discovering that Rebecca is contemplating suicide is just so painful. Even more painful is the note that Rebecca leaves for her mom, expressing that she know she did her best.

Rachel Bloom then gives the most heartbreaking performance of the series as Rebecca Bunch boards a plane back to Los Angeles. But the difficult thing is that she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere anymore. She doesn’t belong in New York. She doesn’t belong in West Covina. Where is she supposed to be? A compassionate flight attendant listens to her, offers her wine, and then departs. And that’s when Rebecca realizes she still has an entire bottle of anti-anxiety medication in her pocket — the same medication that Naomi slipped into her milkshakes in order to pull Rebecca back from the ledge.

So she takes the pills.

And then she takes more of them.

And as she takes a few swigs of wine, she takes even more pills. Slowly, the world gets blurrier and it becomes harder and harder for Rebecca to keep her eyes open. She sees the flight attendant and she looks up above her, noticing the “Help” call button. In a moment that struck me right through the chest, Rebecca sees “Hope” instead. With the last bit of strength her overdose allows her, she presses the button and tells the flight attendant that she needs help.

That’s where our chapter ends.

In spite of how incredibly dark the end of this episode was, that little bit of hope is what really hit me. Hard. Rebecca is cartoonish in a lot of what she does — there are episodes devoted to zany antics and shenanigans and she’s so fun — but we often forget that Rebecca has deep issues. She has problems that she can’t force herself to face and can’t figure out how to fix. So she covers them up, like most of us do, and buries them underneath all of these excuses and monologues and songs and dance numbers until they force themselves back up in the most grueling manner possible.

Rebecca Bunch hit rock bottom. And it was utterly gut-wrenching to watch.

But then she looked up.

She saw the button and realized that this was not the end for her — it could not be the end. There was still hope left, even though she insulted her friends and her relationship with Josh was over and she was broken by a million different people in a million different ways. Rebecca thought that she was done — that this was the end of her story. And it’s really just the end of her chapter. She’s ready to start a new one, and one that begins with her getting the help that she’s pushed away for so long.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a daring show in so many ways. It’s often raunchy and wild and fun, but the end of this week’s episode reminded me that it isn’t afraid to address the things in our lives that are deeply painful. If this episode means that one person will see a “Help” button as a “Hope” button just like Rebecca did, then I am incredibly grateful. I can’t wait to see how the show continues to address Rebecca’s mental health journey. It’s only by walking through darkness that we can truly understand and appreciate the light.

It’s cliché, but it’s true. Thank you, Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna for being unwavering in your pursuit of great storytelling. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.


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