As you might suspect, this post contains information about the most recent episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to do that first. It’s one of those situations.
We could dive into the brilliance of “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy” in any number of ways. There’s Rachel Bloom’s performance, which will sit comfortably alongside her work in episodes such as “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!” and “When Will Josh And His Friend Leave Me Alone?” when it’s time to rank the best things she’s done in the series. There’s the structural daring, which sees the entire episode (credited to Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna) function as a scary movie Rebecca’s creating all on her own, right down to a credits sequence in which nearly every name is hers. There’s the dramatic shift in style designed to evoke horror and revenge films, expertly handled by director Joseph Kahn, which ensures that this hour of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend looks like something else entirely, save the sight gags. There are the terrific supporting performances, the glorious aforementioned sight gags, and a hell of a shrub costume.
We could start in any of those places, but we won’t. Let’s start with “The End Of The Movie,” a song on par with “West Covina,” “You Stupid Bitch,” and “Rebecca’s Reprise” in terms of both importance and achievement. It’s a song that feels monumental to the show, a thesis statement set to music which sees its significance underlined by the show’s choice of performer. Written by Bloom, Jack Dolgen, Adam Schlesinger, and Brosh Mckenna, “The End Of The Movie” makes its point in a big, unambiguous way, but isn’t satisfied to merely be important, beautifully written, and funny. It also reflects that big point in not only the meaning of its lyrics, but also in the way they sound together:
Because life is a gradual series of revelations /
that occur over a period of time /
It’s not some carefully crafted story /
It’s a mess and we’re all gonna die /
If you saw a movie that was like real life /
You’d be like, “what the hell was that movie about? /
It was really all over the place” /
Life doesn’t make narrative sense.”
The first two lines of this chorus feel overstuffed, syllables tripping over each other to fit into the bars available. The next two fit perfectly—the “die” lyric is a metric beauty—but then there’s the slant rhyme of “time” and “die,” an imperfection that stands out because the rhyme in the preceding verse is perfect (whoa/no, stories do/looking for you). From there on out, chaos. Technically “place”/“sense” is also an example of imperfect rhyme, but in the most traditional of senses, in that they end in the same consonant sound. It’s meant to jar, and not in the “whoops, almost got it” kind of way that “time” and “die” rhyme. That word “sense,” it just doesn’t fit, and those lines don’t fit. They don’t make songwriting (or narrative) sense. They’re just true.
That’s all doubly true the next time the chorus rolls around (“People aren’t characters / They’re complicated and their choices don’t always make sense / That being said, it’s really messed up / That you banged your ex-boyfriend’s dad.”) And while it’s impressive that Bloom, Brosh McKenna, and Kahn find ways to connect the song to nearly everyone else in the story, this is pure Rebecca. This isn’t what happy looks like. This is what reality looks like, if it were sung by Josh Groban in the middle of a darkened subdivision. It’s a song that clearly states to Rebecca, and to us, what the show’s been telling us since the first time we heard the season one theme: life isn’t a movie, and the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. This is the level at which Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is operating. Its commentary comments on itself, its jokes have jokes, it’s all even more thoughtful than it seems — and it seems pretty damn thoughtful. All that, and a shrub costume, too.
Nuance is precisely what makes the opening scene of “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy” such an upsetting one. Rebecca’s being cruel, deliberately, unabashedly, and somewhat shamefacedly — with the latter making it all that much worse, since it’s obvious that she knows exactly the kind of damage she intends to do and what the consequences might be. She shocks both her friends and herself with her words, and that she’s reacting defensively doesn’t excuse her behavior. There’s no positive spin. It’s meanness, pure and undiluted. She’s terrible. But.
Life isn’t that simple, and people aren’t characters. Her mental illness isn’t an excuse. It is a factor, however — as Valencia aptly puts it, “She’s so lucky she cray.” That she feels cornered, and has spent her whole life feeling excluded and abandoned by “normal” people, doesn’t make any of it OK, but it does make it at least a little bit understandable. And worst of all, she’s also not completely wrong. Paula has done some truly dubious, occasionally illegal things, and she’s often seemed more invested in her friendship with Rebecca than she is in her marriage or her children. Heather has been saying she’s a student and taking every class she can, presumably to avoid having to do anything else with her life. Darryl is ignoring the fact that his partner does not have any apparent interest in having children. She’s totally wrong about Nathaniel, who has other hang-ups which go unremarked but is not conspiring against her, and the assertion that Valencia pushed her wedding on Rebecca is deeply unfair, but the rest of her barbs are rendered all the more sharp because they’re based in truth.
That’s what makes Valencia and Paula’s scene together among the most interesting of the episode. It’s complicated and sticky and it doesn’t make a ton of sense. Gabrielle Ruiz’s reading of “This sucks” is perfect — it does suck, and it’s in the past, and the only thing to be done is to decide what happens next. I’m not sure we’ve seen what happens next yet, and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Valencia put a whole lot of distance between herself and two women who treated her so abhorrently. I also wouldn’t be surprised if she finds a way to move past it, or winds up stuck in a place where she wants to but can’t let it all go. People aren’t characters, and their choices don’t always make sense.
That’s especially true of Rebecca, who once again thinks she’s following a script, only no one else has the pages. This time, she’s cheered on, so to speak, by Jarl (the delightful Rory O’Malley, somehow equally naive and deranged.) Jarl knows the script (to Swimfan, at least), so just as Paula was throughout season one, he’s the perfect person to make even the worst ideas seem like reasonable options. His glee serves as the perfect launching pad for Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III’s study in contrast. With Jarl’s help, Rebecca’s back to being the villain in her own story. Josh, however, isn’t following a script. He’s just the victim of one.
Rodriguez’s work on the show has typically been best when he’s playing a big emotion in a broad, funny way (think “Angry, Mad.”) Not the case here — somebody should cast that poor guy in a slasher right this minute. Bloom’s Rebecca is having a deeply messed-up blast, and while Rodriguez leans into the tropes of the genre, he never really plays it for laughs. He’s not the episode’s MVP — that’s Bloom, and would be even if she hadn’t also co-written the damn thing, for the butt-dial scene alone — but it’s series-best work.
There’s so much to unpack, but this is a review, not a novella. There’s more to say about how dizzying it is that this packed hour manages to make room for some of the season’s best jokes, how good Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is at crafting punchlines through repetition (“Angry like a witch, and sexy like a sexy witch”), and how hardcore one might be shipping Heather and Hector. Still, we’ll have to leave some of it for the comments. Suffice it to say that this story’s triple-trick — making a horror movie pastiche that’s also a major and upsetting turning point for the protagonist that also underlines one of the show’s most important themes — is perhaps best summed up in the scene in Greg’s study bar. A butt dial is just a butt dial. A mistake is a mistake. And sometimes when an oxygen tank shows up in the credits of the revenge thriller you’re filming in your head, you should take note.
Every time Rebecca’s hit bottom on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or has seemed to, anyway, we’ve gotten something new. The party bus begat her exit from total denial about her own motivations. The rock through the window begat a new level of desperation and self-loathing. Josh’s sister’s wedding, Greg’s departure, the fight with Paula, the scene on the cliff: each led to something new on the show, and several led it in an entirely new direction. What’s next? No idea, but I wouldn’t count on it making narrative sense.
- I’m sorry, you’re going on an all-night search party mission, you change your shoes. I get why Valencia might leave her heels on—seems like a very her kind of thing—but Paula? No way she makes that trek in heels.
- Nobody likes jagged reindeer meat.
- Glen-Gary-George Award: This week, I’m sorely tempted to give this one to Zayne Emory, for Brenden Proctor’s vocal resemblance to Scott Proctor alone. This could also easily go to Rory O’Malley, who was terrific, or Amy Hill, who is always a delight. But come on. Those aggressively moody “whoas” in Rebecca’s ear? The terrific hand gestures? The “JOSH GROOOBAAAAAAN?” This one goes to Josh Groban, as Josh Groban. Way to go, Josh Groban.
- Josh’s childhood bedroom is exactly what I imagined it would be.
- I will never get over the sight of Rachel Bloom turning to hide her face in that shrub costume.
- Do yourself a favor and read every single one of the credits. Worth pausing. I’m particularly partial to “Carb Services.”
- Seriously, bring it in the comments (or on Twitter.)
- Never forget: