For those of you keeping up with the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the last few episodes have definitely been the dramatic peak of the season, with the plot lines all hitting the height of their arc. Had the show only had a 13-episode order, the end of last week’s “Josh and I Go to Los Angeles” would have been a fairly perfect cliffhanger to keep the audience on the hook for the next season. After 12 episodes of buildup, from a Rebecca finally kissed Josh. Paula and Greg looked on from the other room, Greg having left Heather to be there, and elsewhere Darryl is screaming about how totally bisexual he is. All of our main characters are having a moment.
With the full season order though, we’re right back into things with an episode that basically turned the entire series thus far around on its axis. And also didn’t at the same exact time. The story has remained mostly the exact same as it already was, but Rebecca Bunch’s understanding of it, and by extension ours as the audience, has completely flipped.
The moment occurred this week, in “Josh Is Going to Hawaii.” Opening with both Josh and Rebecca’s perspectives on the kiss starting just a few minutes later, the show digs into Rebecca’s immediate glee, and Josh’s immediate guilt. There’s a narrative build, first with some throwaway indications of problems brewing for Rebecca, like skipping therapy to celebrate with Paula, or a bigger bombshell, like the fact that Rebecca blew through all of her New York lawyer money by throwing it at her plans to ensnare Josh for months. Building to her hocking the priceless family heirloom ring her mother finally gave her just to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii to follow Josh there, assuming he’ll be freshly single after confessing his adulterous kiss to his girlfriend Valencia.
Only, that breakup doesn’t occur. Instead, while Rebecca secretly watches, Josh confesses the kiss, and Valencia, hurt and heartbroken, doesn’t kick him out but instead forgives him. Rebecca wanders off and has the epiphany moment: She’s been scheming all season to break up a relationship. This whole time, she’s been the antagonist of the show:
This sort of narrative gamechanger is rare. Even rarer is seeing it land with the expert precision of this one. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend joins the ranks of such shows as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or even Breaking Bad, in expertly revealing to the audience that we’ve been rooting for the bad guy this whole time. What’s most impressive about this one though, what makes it truly unique and interesting in my opinion, is that Rebecca didn’t know it either. Grant Ward knew he was a Hydra agent and all around factory that manufactures brooding the entire season, we just didn’t get it shown to us. While we can argue all day about whether he was bad news before the show started, Walter White saw himself as good guy in a bad situation whose ambition slowly compromised his soul. I don’t think I’ve seen such a perfect depiction of someone confronting their own villainy since Frollo in the Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame’s “Hellfire.” (Although unlike Rebecca, Frollo really seems fine to just dive on in to his villainy once he works it out.)
One of my favorite songs is “America” by Simon & Garfunkel. Putting aside its recent usage in a political ad, it seems like a wistful adventure song about a couple traveling the country, and every line in the song seems to feed that narrative. Except for one. Tucked away in the final verse of the song, there’s this: “”Kathy, I’m lost”, I said, / Though I know she was sleeping. / “I’m empty and aching and / I don’t know why.”
That’s all it is, and yet with those four stanzas positioned right before the final chorus, the entire song changes. It goes from this romantic travel story to one of a broken man, running away perhaps, or perhaps just trying to feel whole.
With Crazy Ex-Girlfriend we’ve already had a half-season of a show presenting itself as a quirky deconstruction of a common, sexist stereotype. And as strong and as good as that was, the territory we’ve entered now is what hopefully will be the turning point in making this show something even more interesting and complex. With “I’m the Villain,” Rebecca is revealed to not just be a misunderstood heroin, but an actually troubled, obsessed young woman who, despite no actual malice in her heart, despite acting out of what she sees as love, has come to the brink of destroying lives, both Josh’s and her own.
There’s a joking line in the song embedded above where Rebecca identifies herself as the woman in the corner of the movie poster. This line is the “Kathy I’m lost” of this episode, perhaps of the entire show. This is exactly who and what Rebecca Bunch is. She’s the scheming ‘other woman.’ Yet, through the writing, and through Rachel Bloom’s Golden Globe winning portrayal of her, we’ve fallen for her and we sympathize with her anyway. We care about her, we root for her. The show expertly guided us into believing that Valencia was terrible and thus bad for Josh, never-mind how he might feel about the subject. Challenging us to consider why we were so worked up with rooting for Rebecca to break up Josh’s relationship, despite seemingly no agency on the matter on his part, in turn challenges us to consider that not everyone we’ve written off as a home-wrecker as such a total monster, but rather just someone very human who didn’t realize how much they’d broken until it was too late.