Donna Lynne Champlin, Rachel Bloom (Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW)

It’s been hours. Wait, what time is it? It’s been 40 minutes. 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has played with many things in its three seasons, the third of which is rapidly drawing to a close. This series has played with genre, with structure, and with expectations. It’s commented directly on itself, and kept it vague, because it’s more interesting that way. In ways big and small, it has asked us to question the rules of its world and broken those rules as soon as we get used to them. It’s played with greek choruses, and with standards and practices, and it’s certainly played with the penises of sexy strangers. It’s even played with flashbacks, but until now, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has never played with time.

“Nathaniel And I Are Just Friends!” has to, because the story it’s telling requires it. It also requires a killer performance (and several really excellent supporting performances, to boot). It’s telling a story about growth and recovery, and those things don’t happen overnight. Sometimes they don’t happen in eight months. And growth often comes with lots of steps backwards, sometimes because of bad habits, and sometimes because growth is terrifying. Eight months is nothing. You can grow a person in that amount of time, but you can’t always heal.

It’s fitting that this deceptively simple episode, with a script credited to Rene “Father Brah” Gube and direction from Erin Ehrlich, begins and ends with songs from Dr. Akopian and Rebecca. Both of them want things to be different. Both of them believe things can be. Both know, somewhere deep down, that there’s a solid chance they won’t be. And both, despite singing stirring renditions of their respective ballads, somehow end these songs much less sure.

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Dr. Akopian gets her big ballad, and it’s exceptional (it’s also a giant nod to this song, which would be apparent even if she didn’t drop the name right before the music swells.) Then Rebecca comes in, ready to do the work, and promptly begins lying to herself again. Michael Hyatt has always been excellent in this role, whether she’s dream-ghosting or looking on as the slow-motion-car-crash that is Josh Chan’s proposal occurs. But in her scenes here, she’s the best she’s ever been, balancing frustration and impatience with compassion and patience. She’s also our most useful guide to navigating what Rebecca’s eight months have been like, because she’s still there, wearing her requisite therapy shawl and hearing the same self-deceiving lines, over and over and over again, until she doesn’t.

Seems like only yesterday I was in this very room, ignoring everything you said.

Of course Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had to jump ahead eight months. Had you asked me to predict what would happen as the season approached its end, I would never have guessed it, but of course that’s what these writers had to do. Heather rounds that corner, and things have changed a lot. Valencia has a girlfriend and her business is thriving. Heather’s dealing with the reality of an impulsive decision she made (and does do some honest to god growing this episode, and not just of a human.) White Josh gets the hell out of town and comes back with a dog. Paula’s lost a friend and has been, unbeknownst to her, deceived by another for eight long months. But Rebecca and Nathaniel are still stumbling out of the supply closet, and at least one of them believes that perfectly fine. Eight months have passed, and on the outside at least, absolutely nothing has changed.

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And that’s what makes Rachel Bloom’s performance in this episode such a knockout. We can see what’s happening, see the story she’s telling herself, watch her breezily remind herself, and her therapist, that she’s totally in control of what’s happening, but it’s all an illusion — and we can see that, too. Rebecca knows how good she is at lying to herself, and when the words finally come spilling out, first to Paula, then to Dr. I-Do-Not-Wish-To-Be-Called-Akops, there’s momentum behind them. They’ve been bottled up for a long time. Rebecca constructed a safe world for herself again, told herself a story about a grown woman having casual sex without any consequences for anyone involved, and when she finally pushes that fiction too far and it crumbles, the reality’s there, just waiting. Guilt is waiting. Shame is waiting. Fear is waiting.

Gube’s script is terrific, but outside of the therapy scenes and the ballads, the knockout segment is the saddest conversation about office supplies anyone has ever had, and the coda that follows in Rebecca and Nathaniel’s shared office. I love that Scott Michael Foster has gotten so much good stuff this season, and the more complicated it gets for Nathaniel, the better he does. He’s outstanding here. I’ve watched it several times, and I still can’t quite figure out how Bloom, Foster, and their audience of weepy coworkers thread that needle. It’s so genuine, and so absurd, and it’s not played for laughs at all, but it’s still utterly ridiculous. How does that work? How is it possible that not one of them plays it for laughs, but that none of them goes maudlin, either? What is this witchcraft?

Somehow that coda is even better, with Gube waiting to give Nathaniel a line and intention so direct and clear that there’s no room for Rebecca to create a fiction around it. What’s being offered — offered, not chased or hinted at — is love. Not love kernels. Just love. Foster and Bloom make that crystal clear, and if you watch the breakup scene from “Nathaniel Gets The Message!” you’ll see a difference. That one was hard, and sad. This scene is something else entirely. This is a moment of honesty between two people who’ve been denying the reality of what they’re experiencing for eight months, but who experienced it all the same. The relationship grew without their acknowledgement or permission, but there it is.

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I don’t want to die, okay?!

So Rebecca has what might be her third honest-to-god productive conversation with her therapist, and it’s a heartbreaker. And she shows up, singing the song her best friend sang (in her head at least) when she wanted her to overcome her social anxiety to throw a party. This is the point where you take a big step, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t make the comfortable choice, it makes the honest one. So Rachel Bloom breaks our hearts, and Rebecca Bunch runs away.

There are issues with this episode, to be sure. I’m still not sure how I feel about the Heather storyline, though her acknowledgment that she’s freaked about having to act like a grownup makes her latching onto ‘manager’ as a substitute for ‘student’ far more understandable. And while Paula’s story works really well and ties into the other storylines through her own denial of how she conducts herself and the reasons behind it, it’s not quite as rich as the other two (excepting that last scene with Sunil, which is a gem.)

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But the ambition, and the result of that ambition, makes those small criticisms seem minor by comparison. Rachel Bloom is as good as she’s ever been. Scott Michael Foster is the best he’s ever been. And Michael Hyatt gets a killer song to belt and a home-run scene to deliver in one hour. All that, and an incredibly thoughtful look at the difficulties of recovery that’s still funny and weird and wonderful, to boot. That makes this an excellent episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and one that this writer, at least, won’t forget any time soon. 


Stray observations

  • “I don’t count this morning because the janitor opened the supply closet, so nobody finished. Except I’m pretty sure the janitor.”
  • The recurring CBS bit was fun, but this one was the best: “I think there’s a possum and a cat in there and they’re fighting but they’re also best friends and they solve crimes.” Love you, Maya.
  • I gasped at that eight month jump.
  • “He’s like Benjamin Coffin III in Rent.” That’s way harsh, Bunch.
  • “I am making him a present, bitch!
  • “I wish you all the freshest, inkiest, yellow highlighters there could ever be.”
  • G-G-G Award: It’s too big to be a true G-G-G but to hell with it, Michael Hyatt is fucking great in this episode. “You’re a loving person who deserves love” is one of the single best lines of this series, and it took my breath away. And damn, that woman can sing.

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