Over seasons and one and two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we saw Rebecca Bunch commit some pretty out there acts. Yes, she dumped her life in NYC to chase her summer camp boyfriend Josh Chan. She dedicated herself and no small amount of her wealth to breaking him up from his long-time girlfriend Valencia, played with the heart of his best friend Greg, and along the way killed a cat, stalked Josh’s parents, and rushed her wedding plans to avoid dealing with the uncomfortable fact that she made out with her boss, Nathaniel. But this week, with “Josh is a Liar,” Rebecca may have gone too far.
After the season two finale left her jilted at her wedding, we knew this season she was setting out to destroy Josh Chan. So her smear campaign that gleefully spun him into a racist homophobic anti-vaxxer/holocaust denier seems almost inevitable in retrospective. While Josh is a childish heartbreaker, he’s not the absolute garbage person Rebecca made him out to be. But that’s not the part of this season three ep that had me reeling. It was how Rebecca treated Paula.
Ever Rebecca’s defender—but not afraid to throw down real talk when a fake sex tape scheme demands it—Paula has been Rebecca’s greatest friend. And in this episode, Rebecca became so terrified that the ugly truths about her history with Robert and Josh would be exposed to this very best friend that she decided to (briefly) kill the lawsuit Paula proposed. More than that, she did it by ruthlessly attacking Paula’s insecurities, telling the aspiring lawyer the lawsuit was “cute.” And because Paula admires and trusts Rebecca, her face falls along with her excitement and self-worth. She is crushed. (“I’m really embarrassed, and I feel stupid.”) And though Rebecca later backpedals, it’s not to save Paula’s feelings or because she realizes how fucked and selfish she is, but because she has a new plan for thwarting Josh.
But that’s not all! Rebecca also managed to completely ignore Heather in her moment of crisis. Faced with having to graduate college, the steadfastly apathetic student at long last sought out help and counsel. And her friend and roommate couldn’t be bothered to listen, offering some off the cuff atrocious advice, “Kill the sponge.” In this scene, Rebecca reveals she’s blind to Heather’s pain, and has totally ignored their “third roommate,” a soulful starfish named Estrella. But Rebecca doesn’t even acknowledge these crimes against friendship. It’s just the Josh stuff that torments her, forcing her into shameful arguments with her embodied anxiety, Li’l Rebecca. She even thanks Paula for supporting her while determinedly continuing to lie to her. Then she gets all caught up in nail art and her delusion that she’s a role model.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has never shied away from Rebecca’s complicated narrative. From their first theme song to her big villain number (viewable below), the show has repeatedly challenged viewers to question her (often bad) decisions. But is this a bridge too far? Watching this episode, I realized I’d pulled myself into a tight ball. I felt anxious and ill, and no longer was I rooting for Rebecca to get the guy or get her shit together. Now, I just wanted her to GET AWAY FROM PAULA.
I fear we may have hit a tipping point. Like when Carrie cheated on Aidan or when Ted Mosby just wouldn’t fucking let it go with Robin. Sure, you still watch the show, but your heart’s not really in it. You realize you’re no longer pulling for its hero, you’re just hoping they don’t make matters any worse for the characters that dared to love them, even at their worst.
Admittedly, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator/star Rachel Bloom has been warning things would get even darker in season three. Frankly, I imagined that as more scandalous soap opera narratives of sex and deceit. I never dreamed of Rebecca using her knowledge of Paula to rip her apart for her own selfish ends. Paula has been a friend, protector, mother, and champion for her. And though Rebecca has rebuffed her in the past for hipper gal pals, it seemed like they were finally back and bonded once more. But it turns out, nearly committing suicide on her wedding day was not rock bottom for Rebecca Bunch.
This episode makes me fearful that the show has plateaued, like Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs all managed. Even as the series progresses, writers need to stifle the growth of the hero so that they can keep having those reliably zany problems that keep each episode humming along. So, Carrie gets back with Big. Ted continues to pay lip service to love while dragging his junk through half of Manhattan, and J.D. continues being doggedly introspective while learning nothing. Their failure to evolve, as others around them do, tips them from relatable to repulsive. Season three seems early to hit such an emotional jump the shark moment, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn’t a 22-minute sitcom, but a 42-minute musical dramedy. So maybe this damning moment was doomed to come sooner than later.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope the writers are not digging deeper just to keep the story rolling, but instead are challenging us to stay with Rebecca at her true rock bottom. Not when she is sad and understandably outraged, left at the altar and ravaged by rejection. But when she is proactively making horrible, no good, very fucking bad choices that only manage to hurt everyone who cares about her. And it seems there’s a good chance for an important turn next week.
After all she’s done, Rebecca tried to take an easy out by flying off with a bewildered and besotted Nathaniel. But Team Rebecca dashed in just in the nick of time. It was there that Paula, Heather, Valencia, and Darryl stood as a united force, and there the episode cut to black. It’s time for an intervention, and a new re-invention of Rebecca’s self-spun narrative. This means “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy” will be a defining moment for the series, for better or worse.
How do we come back from this dark place? It’ll take more than a little song and dance.