Written by Christoper Diggins
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season Finale PLot Summary:
Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) and Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) get into a huge fight after Paula discovers she’s sleeping with Greg (Santino Fontana). Rebecca decides a wedding is the perfect venue to tell Greg how she feels about him, while Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) rethinks his commitment to Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz).
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been about a lot of things over the course of its season, from critiques of the way women interact in media to a brief exploration of bisexuality. But perhaps more than anything else, this show has been about the traditional narratives that we get told about love and how badly they can mislead us. And fittingly, no episode makes this idea more explicit than the season finale. We open with a scene from Rebecca’s childhood as she, enamored with hit Disney movie Slumbered (a very modern Disney name for a Renaissance-era Disney parody, but whatever), is determined to re-enact its perfect love story. Later, when she’s describing the one perfect moment where she and Greg can confess their feelings, she starts singing the song from that movie. In other words, the show makes it absolutely clear where she gets her unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for romance, and in a devastating finale, shows exactly how poorly holding on to those expectations can go.
Let’s back up for a minute, though. The episode picks up right where the last one left off, with Paula and Josh upset at the revelation that Rebecca and Greg are together. This quickly leads to the first song of the night, a fantastic solo for Paula called “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For).” The best songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aren’t just hilarious and fun, they provide a real window into Rebecca’s mind with an emotion and bombast that mere dialogue couldn’t capture, and this one is no exception. As Paula details all the insane lengths she went to to help Rebecca win over Josh, for the first time Rebecca sees her intensity as not only a little worrying but genuinely frightening, and that gets expressed in a sinister ballad that Donna Lynne Champlin just sells the hell out of. It’s a dynamite way to open the episode, a demonstration of all the best that the show’s format can achieve.
But the biggest focus of this episode is on Rebecca and Greg’s burgeoning relationship, and there we find a familiar dynamic that captures why the two are both perfect and terrible for each other. While Rebecca is wrapped up in recreating the grand storybook romance she always dreamed of, Greg is freaking out that if he starts caring too much she’ll lose interest. They each care deeply about the other, but they both have such massive hang-ups and neuroses about love that they are incapable of being honest and direct with one another, instead reacting in exactly the way that makes the other worry even more. Their awkward inability to actually articulate their feelings is funny at first, even cute, but it quickly becomes heartbreaking as this lack of communication drives a totally unnecessary wedge between them.
Which leads us, inevitably, to Josh. Josh has always been a much thinner character than everyone else on the show, a deliberate move that makes it easier for Rebecca to project all her desires onto him. But ever since Rebecca finally moved on from her obsession with him, we’ve been getting little glimpses at what makes him tick. Most telling of all, he’s been increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of Rebecca not lavishing attention on him and her dating other people, suggesting his ignorance of her intentions may have been more willful than it appeared. Add to that the mounting pressure to finally propose, and Josh snaps in a dramatic confrontation with Valencia. If the show at times made Valencia seem like a one-note villain, it’s been making up for that in this home stretch, culminating in this scene. The show thankfully avoids the temptation to have a simple break-up with someone right and someone wrong. Both Josh and Valencia have valid grievances: Valencia does often run roughshod over Josh’s wants and needs, but considering the slow pace of their relationship she has reason to be concerned about his commitment. Ultimately, the only real conclusion to draw is the one Valencia settles on: that their problems were always more fundamental than just Rebecca.
And then, after Josh’s waffling has ended his relationship with Valencia and Greg’s fear of seeming too eager jeopardizes his with Rebecca, disaster strikes. Josh’s aunt, played by Lea Salonga (singing voice for Jasmine and Mulan), starts to sing the song from “Slumbered” that Rebecca has been humming all episode, “One Indescribable Instant,” an ode to love-at-first-sight worthy of the best Disney movies it’s imitating. And Rebecca finally gets her perfect moment…with Josh. The two run off together in a scene set to Salonga’s singing that seems straight out of an epic romance. Except we know it isn’t real. This isn’t two fated lovers finally meeting, it’s two messed-up people making the self-destructive choice to chase a cipher. Josh is kind and good-natured, but her attraction to him has far more to do with the image of happiness she’s built up in her head than anything about him. And it seems lately like Josh cares more about the attention and support she lavishes on him than anything intrinsic to Rebecca. Capped off with a sick Greg belatedly realizing he should have said “I love you,” no amount of sweeping score or passionate embraces can make this seemingly idyllic romance anything but tragic.
Now, it should be said that there are some bright spots in this ending! For one, Rebecca and Paula make up and reaffirm their worth to each other. Paula is often terrible for Rebecca, but she’s also her anchor in West Covina, a best friend who genuinely does want her to be happy, and their last scene seems to set the stage for their relationship to become healthier in season 2. And of course there’s Darryl (Peter Gardner) and White Josh (David Hull). Darryl, who started the show as Rebecca’s goofy and inept boss, has evolved into a loving and compassionate figure (who does happen to be goofy and inept, but lovably so). It’s his efforts that ultimately bring about Paula and Rebecca’s reconciliation, after a few looks that make it clear it pains him to see Rebecca so unhappy. And to show just how perfect they are for each other, White Josh seems to serve a similar role for his friends, trying to convince Greg to be honest and reassuring Rebecca that Greg really does care when he predictably fails. Darryl and White Josh may be the only healthy, functioning relationship in the whole show, and it’s hard not to love them for it.
If there’s any criticism to be had, it’s that it falls into the old tendency of comedy-dramas to sideline the comedy when the drama starts getting heavy. There are funny moments to be had, to be sure, but overall I laughed much less during this episode than I usually do during Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This isn’t exactly a problem, not when the drama is this compelling, but it’s often disappointing when shows decide to drop the humor whenever they want to get serious.
When I first watched the pilot for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I instantly fell in love. I wanted to shout at everyone I knew that there was this amazing new show that they had to check out. And now, 18 episodes and a finished season later, I feel the same way. This show has been an incredible, original, and extremely entertaining ride, something unlike any other show I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t watched this show yet, well, you really shouldn’t have read this review. But regardless, you have 6 months to catch up before season 2 starts, and you owe it to yourself to do just that. Because this show has taken so many old tropes and cliches and rebuilt them into something wonderful, something you would never expect. Josh isn’t just the perfect old flame, Valencia isn’t just the bitchy girlfriend, Greg isn’t just the funny best friend you should really go for, and Rebecca isn’t just the crazy ex-girlfriend. The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. And so much better.
Rating: 9 out of 10