Every once in awhile, a person gets lucky. They come across a piece of art that’s well-made, thoughtful, and entertaining. Beyond that, it captures something important. Not the capital-I kind of important, where the loftiness of what’s being attempted becomes more important than the attempt itself. The kind of important that sticks to your ribs, and sits with you for awhile. Maybe a long, long while. It’s good, and smart, and it matters, and you’re lucky it exists.
“I Never Want To See Josh Again” is one of those pieces of art. Like all such gems, it exists in two spaces. In one, it’s a thing someone (or in this case, a group of people) made, with flaws and wrinkles and hiccups mixed in alongside the moments of brilliance, sorrow, and delight. In the other, it’s that piece of art you found, and none of those flaws and hiccups matter. This isn’t a perfect hour of television. There are some bumps, some unevenness. This review will address some of those things, because that’s what reviews are for, but the second space matters more than the first. “I Never Want To See Josh Again” has flaws. Who the hell cares about flaws right now?
Directed by Stuart MacDonald (who’s directed for the show a lot) from a script credited to Jack Dolgen (also one of the show’s songwriters), “I Never Want To See Josh Again” aches. It’s the kind of story that will nearly always work best on television, because the viewer’s investment in these people stretches over months, if not years. Watching Rebecca fade and recoiling as we wait for Naomi’s other shoe to drop is an experience that’s richer because we’ve spent so much time with these people. Even with an awareness of how dark this show has always been willing to go, particularly this season, it’s still somehow impossible to accept the ending that barrels down the line. Then it’s there, and Rebecca’s taking those pills so deliberately, each one somehow different from the last, and it’s horrible and a remarkable feat of artistry all at the same time.
It’s not fair to say that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been telegraphing that moment since the beginning — suicide isn’t some romantic inevitability, and the show doesn’t paint it as such. Still, it’s there in the pilot, when she’s pouring her pills down the garbage disposal and listening to her mother’s voicemail (“You didn’t even break the skin, and you inconvenienced a lot of people!”) The setting takes on additional importance, when Rebecca looks out that airplane window and sees not so much as a single Dream Ghost. Even the flight attendant’s description of the wine feels vaguely reminiscent of those terrifying butter ads—”We have a merlot that… is the one we have.” Floating between two homes that aren’t homes, she takes one pink pill, then another, then another. Then she asks for help.
To skip right to the end of this episode is to bypass a lot of greatness, but it’s hard not to jump right to the most important, and most brilliantly executed, scene. An easy remedy to that problem is to simply start in by talking about Rachel Bloom. This may not be the flashiest performance she’s given on the show — it’s possible that nothing will ever top the perfect marriage of high satire, soul-baring, and vocal fireworks that is “You Stupid Bitch” — but it may well be the most affecting. If nothing else, it’s certainly the bravest, culminating in that quiet, raw scene on the plane, but her work is equally as spare and honest in those quiet moments on the fold-out couch as it is in that aisle seat. Playing big, ugly emotions is hard. Playing emotions so big that you go pretty much numb is harder.
Bloom’s given the room to give such a complex, quiet performance by virtue of storytelling that’s thoughtful, empathetic, and yes, nuanced. Rebecca’s complacency sets off alarm bells for Naomi, and for us; her disturbing reading material spurs her mother to action, but the action in question becomes clear only gradually. There’s a sense that something is very wrong, but it’s so nice to believe that everything’s great. That feeling is underlined when the music swells, and it becomes clear how quiet and unmusical Rebecca’s world has been until that moment. The bubble is burst by a nemesis who comes to strike a blow, but instead offers up honesty. When Naomi’s betrayal is revealed, it’s both deeply upsetting and wholly understandable—Rebecca’s relationship with her mother, distilled to its essence with one horrible and manipulative choice motivated by terrified, bone-deep love. All the spaces between those contradictions leave plenty of room for a great performance, and that’s what Bloom gives (as does Tovah Feldshuh.)
Meanwhile, Rebecca’s friends project their worries on a unsuspecting and startlingly stable new lawyer (the excellent Bayne Gibby), or stay at home incapable of letting go of a friend who tried to burn a bridge. If Rebecca and Naomi’s story is an A, then Paula’s is probably a B+, and the Whitefeather gang lands somewhere in the B- range. There are plenty of solid jokes (Esther Povitsky’s Maya is pretty much a one-woman GIF factory in this episode) and some affecting work, particularly from Donna Lynne Champlin and, in their final scene together, Scott Michael Foster. These plotlines offer a necessary respite from Scarsdale, but after a bit, they begin to feel a little thin. The writing, direction, scoring, and actors involved do such an excellent job of conveying exactly what’s going on with Cordelia and the gang that it’s clear from the very first scene, and from there on out, the returns diminish. Paula’s storyline holds up much longer, but in the end, it all feels a bit like filler.
It’s hard to imagine the episode without that filler, however. It’s as though Rebecca’s internal life is a radiator you keep bumping against with your bare arm—you have to yank away very quickly sometimes. That was certainly true for me; it’s easy to see how it might be true for the writers, as well. Perhaps that scene on the airplane couldn’t be stomached without a little ditty about a place where they cut the meat right at the table. The issue isn’t that the story strays from Rebecca, it’s that the longer it’s away, the more repetitive things get. The arm needs to be yanked away, but while that happens, the wheels spin a little.
And all that said, once again—who cares? I watched tonight’s episode with a friend who pointed out, quite rightly, that there are plenty of shows that would go to the places Crazy Ex-Girlfriend went to tonight. Many would do it with less thought, empathy, and honesty, but they’d go there nonetheless. What makes this one special, she said, is that while many others writers would choose to end on a cliffhanger—Rebecca on a plane with an empty pill bottle in her hand, maybe passing out as we hear people start to shout in alarm—Dolgen and company bypass that stuff entirely. The choice they make is infinitely more responsible and affecting. They don’t end with drama and darkness.
In “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy,” Heather told the others that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Here, Rebecca asks for help, and that’s how it all ends—with the promise of help, which is, quite by coincidence, just a few letters away from hope.
- If you need help, please find a way to ask for help. Some resources: here, here, and here.
- Now that you’ve seen the episode, revisit the episode title. Woof.
- Glen-Gary-George Award: This was a tough call, but as Gibby’s role is really too big to qualify, I’m going to give this one to Gina Gallego’s Mrs. Hernandez, for either “Never talk again” or “NOPE.” Take your pick.
- It’s not really a GGG Award situation, but Elisabeth Kiernan Averick, who played the flight attendant, does some really graceful, simple work here. As it turns out, she’s also on the show’s writing staff, so huzzahs to her for pulling double-duty so nimbly this week.
- If the mover looked familiar, guess what: That’s Garrett Mendez, who has popped up in two prior episodes, including the pilot. In “West Covina,” he said he didn’t speak English, and I’m choosing to believe that was a pretense to get out of having an awkward conversation with the woman who hired you to move her shit.
- A scene in this episode reminded me a great deal of a scene in I, Tonya, which I highly recommend. To say which is to spoil the film, so just see it, and then we’ll talk.
- “We sun her, we steam her, we put crystals in her.”
- “He loves to drink while he pees.”
- “Nice. They’re working.”
- At least we know what’s happening with Karen now.
- Hope this makes you feel better. It did it for me: