Rachel Bloom, Ava Acres, Donna Lynne Champlin (Photo: Tyler Golden/The CW)

The first two episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s third season managed to tie together all the individual plot threads thematically, creating cohesive, funny, and upsetting hours that were each as tight as a drum. “Josh Is A Liar” doesn’t do that. Not much connects Heather’s “moment” and Nathaniel’s trip to the zoo, and while they’re both linked directly to Rebecca’s manifest anxiety and seriously bad choices in terms of plot, you can’t really say they’re on the same emotional wavelength. Instead, those stories connect with Rebecca’s because her actions and priorities affect them both. They are both, in some way, collateral damage. And Rebecca Bunch is the real trainwreck.

In “Josh Is A Liar,” episode writer Michael Hitchcock (who previously wrote “Who’s the Cool Girl Josh Is Dating?” and now serves as an executive producer for the series) reminds the audience of something big: Rebecca isn’t great, and the worse she’s doing herself, the worse she is for the people around her. That’s not to say she’s a fundamentally horrible person—painting anyone on this show, with the possible exception of Rebecca’s father, with that broad a brush is a mistake—but she’s capable of callousness and ofdeliberate cruelty, of both neglect and deliberate mistreatment. She does cruel things unintentionally and she does them even though she knows they’re cruel. Sometimes she’s self-absorbed, and sometimes she knows exactly what will happen when she opens her mouth. None of those modes is great.

Yet Hitchcock, and the rest of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s writing team, know that the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. Mental illness isn’t a free pass for bad behavior, but it’s also not something one should ignore. Even if Rebecca weren’t unwell, she’d still be worthy of empathy. But being empathetic doesn’t mean you’re not a total and complete asshole sometimes.

The reverse is also true: being a total and complete asshole doesn’t necessarily mean you’re undeserving of empathy. Enter Nathaniel, who in the last episode was forced to cancel a plan to murder a guy’s grandpa because the woman (also his employee) who he’s got the hots for asked him to ruin a life. He’s terrible, but as is the case with Rebecca, it’s not that simple. This “white 10" is a guy so unaccustomed to feeling rejected, unwanted, or remotely out of control of his emotions that he has absolutely no idea what’s happening to him or what he should do. And when he’s in a bad place, he bribes security guards to let him into the zoo after hours. (The monkey’s eyes look like his eyes.)

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There’s a kind of dopey innocence there, underneath all the other awful stuff. And Rebecca’s responses to his clumsy, odd overtures (coached by George, who continues to not be ignored) don’t often acknowledge the feelings of the person in front of her. When asked to dinner, she says yes only because he’s got dirt on her. She then forgets about that meal entirely. Last, when Nathaniel shows up to sweep her off her feet at an incredibly inopportune time, she begins to tell him that she’s been in his shoes, but that this isn’t the moment. Then she realizes he’s got a private jet, and for a woman looking for a out, that’s a hell of a perk.

That’s not great, Rebecca. But using someone for their material worth, or pleasing them to secure their loyalty, is only one kind of mistreatment. There’s also plain old neglect, and that’s not great, either. Heather’s crisis might seem insignificant to a woman who has to gaslight one person, deceive many others, and deal a major blow to the confidence of her best friend in order to keep ahead of some seriously questionable choices, but it’s still a crisis. She’s a student. In one of the only moments in which Heather has ever needed anything from Rebecca, Rebecca flops so hard. “Kill your pets” hard.

Part of what makes Heather’s incredible music theater moment such a joy is that you know it wouldn’t exist if she didn’t need it to exist. In musical theater, songs emerge when words aren’t enough, and even though Heather is dragged into hers against her will, that rule applies here as well. Just as Rebecca’s anxiety manifests in the form of her younger self, Heather’s uncertainty forces its way out in the form of a broadly inspirational ballad. She hates that song, and hates needing that song. It’s all the worst, and then Rebecca’s the worst, too. But at the episode’s end, Heather’s the one standing in front of the door, trying to keep Rebecca from running away again.

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“I Go To The Zoo” and “The Moment Is Me” are as different as the two characters who sing them, but they’ve got two things in common. The first is that they’re both great. “Zoo” might not be top 10 material, but it’s still a wicked and catchy tune aced by Scott Michael Foster, who between this and last season’s expert Ed Sheeran skewering, is easily one of the best interpreters of pop parody the show’s got. “The Moment Is Me,” however, is basically perfect. As a marriage of character, performer (Vella Lovell, always great but especially so here), story, direction, and choreography, it’s bliss. As a way to send up a familiar genre while leaning into the very best parts of that genre, it’s incredibly smart. And as a few quick minutes of television, it’s hard to top.

It’s not the episode’s finest moment, however. As good as Rachel Bloom is with the terrific Ava Acres (as young Rebecca), as quietly unsettling as Father Brah’s scenes with Josh and later Paula are, and as wonderful as those two songs may be, the peak of “Josh Is A Liar” comes early. It’s when Rebecca, realizing that suing Josh will make all the people she’s found in West Covina aware of some seriously shady stuff, decides to tank the case. She looks Paula in the face, realizes that the only way to stop her is to go for her knees, and does exactly that.

Rachel Bloom has had many great moments on this show. Hell, she’s had quite a few this season, and that includes some in this episode. But for all Rebecca’s talk about keeping her external monologue internal, it’s that completely internal moment that really stings. This is a friend she’s almost lost twice, who she loves and respects, and who she desperately needs. It manages the neat double-trick of being both cruel and self-destructive. It’s proof of exactly how far Rebecca’s willing to go to hang onto the image of a person who’s OK, to hide how desperate, ill-judged, and often illegal her actions have been.

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It’s a little bit crazy (don’t call her crazy) how much ground this season has covered in just three episodes. It’s no The Good Place when it comes to plot speediness, but things are moving much more quickly than they have in previous seasons. It’s hard not to think this race reflects what’s going on with Rebecca Bunch, who never seems to be able to get a good hold on anything. The snowball’s been rolling down the hill for a long time now, and she seems to know, in her bones, that she’s headed for a great big splat.

Stray observations

  • What Rebecca attempts to do to Josh here is terrible. Josh is also still terrible. Just like when he found out Greg was an alcoholic, he’s found a way to make sure he’s not accountable for his own bad choices. But again, as always, the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.
  • This episode’s director, Stuart McDonald, has directed a few great episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, including “I’m Going On A Date With Josh’s Friend!” which is one of the series’ best.
  • To the many people who wondered, in the comments or elsewhere, when the hell Heather was going to graduate, I salute you. You are the moment, and the moment is you.
  • If you missed it last spring, Foster’s live performance of “Let’s Have Intercourse” is well worth the watch.
  • Speaking of the above, I went back to rewatch a bunch of songs in order to make sure I was right about Foster being great at these pop parodies (and he is). The songs remain excellent, but man, it’s hard not to miss Santino Fontana when you revisit stuff like “I Gave You A UTI,” “Settle For Me,” “What’ll It Be,” and “I Could If I Wanted To.”
  • Glen-Gary-George Award: While I’m super glad to see Chris (Jacob Guenther), Kevin (Johnny Ray Meeks), and especially Father Brah again (Rene Gube, one of the most frequent winners of the Hector/GGG award), this one’s gotta go to Ava Acres, for her pronunciation of “priest school” alone, to say nothing of that beautiful cursing.
  • More storylines for George (Danny Jolles), please.
  • Shoutout to my friend Caroline Siede, who beat me to this headline by about three weeks:

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