One of the guiding principles of comedic TV has long been that lessons are either never learned or learned once and definitively, preferably at the end of an episode. But in showing Rebecca’s quest to become a saner person, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has taken a much more realistic tack: Lessons are learned only after weeks of repetition, and sometimes only partially, and often forgotten once they’re learned, despite a character’s best intentions. It’s a one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach to character development, and for those of us reared on the old ways, it can feel a bit jarring.
As heavily foreshadowed last week, Rebecca opens the episode by doing a hard thing: Seeing herself fall into old, Josh-like patterns with Nathaniel, she dumps him outright. But even as she summons the emotional maturity to avoid this trap, it’s not long before she strolls right into another. After volunteering to help resuscitate Valencia’s failing party-planning business, she quickly susses out that the couple whose engagement party she’s planning is a bad match — and that the bride is cheating on the groom. It’s a test of Rebecca’s will to not get involved or make a scene, and she completely fails it. Even worse, she fails it for no reason: Both parties know the bride is cheating and that they really shouldn’t be getting married, but neither of them cares.
One of the subtle things about a mental-health diagnosis that this show really understands is that it might change how Rebecca approaches problems, but it doesn’t change who she is. She’s still a person who combines a big social conscience (fantasizing in the Hair-esque “Without Love, You Can Save the World” about reassigning all the energy she spent on Josh to saving the whales or curing leukemia) with a small-minded selfishness (subsequently rejecting work at a soup kitchen or sorting donated clothes because both are too gross). Unmoored from both work and relationships, she desperately wants to be useful to Valencia, but not at the cost of being right or “saving the day,” even if it destroys Valencia’s business. It’s one of the most honest approaches to the punishingly hard work of developing self-awareness that I’ve seen in a piece of media.
To help lighten the sting of that challenging lesson, this episode also delivers an extremely fun new character pairing: breakup buddies White Josh and Nathaniel, who lock eyes over sadness fries at Home Base and quickly bond over further chiseling their chiseled bods. It’s a combination that’s both surprising and obvious — of course these two judgy gym rats should be best buds — and deserves particular credit for treating the fact that one of them is straight and one is gay with the same no-big-deal approach that the show has taken to racial diversity. (Though I’m sure there still reams of WhiNat slash fiction being posted to Tumblr as we speak.)
Try as they might to drown their sorrows in pumping iron and dancing at the local gay bar (which also offers plenty of straight women, much to WhiJo’s irritation), both of these characters are just running from their feelings. They’re joined along the way by an unexpected fellow traveler: Josh, who’s been go-go dancing in a fireman costume at the gay bar to make some extra cash. By episode’s end, all three have stripped down both physically and emotionally, baring themselves to their skivvies for a fun, saucy, extremely female-gaze-y dance number (move over, Outlander!), and then openly sobbing about their respective losses.
The latter particularly struck me because I don’t think I’ve ever seen two men, much less three, cry together on TV. It’s fascinating to see a show acknowledge that even a pair of fit, hot guys can have both immediate issues and deep-seated issues (WhiJo is as observant about Nathaniel’s daddy issues as Nathaniel is about his former-fat-kid ones), that they can emotionally let go about them, and that it still might not be enough. After all, Nathaniel still decides to drown his sorrows in casual sex, even if WhiJo is self-aware enough to know it won’t solve anything.
Unfortunately, the complexity of these two plots doesn’t leave much room for a half-baked Darryl story line, which was clearly cut for time. After his second egg implantation fails due to his super-healthy “supersperm” (Paula: “Who named that, a 10-year-old doctor?”), the aspiring dad turns to an illicit office poker game to score some extra cash, soars on beginner’s luck, and then loses everything. Sadly, that’s not enough time to learn much about Darryl or about the increasingly baroque secret lives of Jim, Tim, and Mrs. Hernandez, though at least we get Pete Gardner in a ridiculously silly Maverick ensemble.
What it does lead to, however, is one more questionable decision by Rebecca. In another misguided attempt at altruism, she decides to give Darryl the egg he needs, without a thought to her current mental health (as Paula is well aware, those hormone injections are no joke) or to the future of having a kid that isn’t actually hers. It’s an offbeat approach to an old story line, but make no mistake: Rebecca is, in her own strange way, going to become a mom. Things are about to get weird.
• “Without Love” is officially Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s 100th song! If you missed it earlier this week, I ranked all the show’s songs so far from worst to best. (I’ll update the list again after the season finale.)
• Longtime viewers may remember this episode’s engaged couple as the same star-crossed duo from the grocery store that Greg tried and failed to get together in season one. Sadly, that means Brody (a.k.a. Grocery Clerk with Half an Eyelid) is once again single, though with a stand-up routine like that, hopefully he won’t be for long.
• Best reveal of the episode: Father Brah is in on the Whitefeather poker game. “Oh, I am not Father tonight. Tonight, you will call me Daddy.”
• The past few episodes have had insufficient Heather, but as usual, Vella Lovell nails every line she gets. On her waitressing lederhosen: “I hate how much I’m pulling this look off … later, hosen.”
• Rebecca casually mentions she only has $30 left in her bank account, yet somehow affords intensive therapy and rent with no job (and presumably no health insurance, either). I get that this show isn’t into gritty realism, but not digging into Rebecca once again going broke, this time with no financial recourse, seems like a huge missed plot opportunity.
• Favorite song line of the episode, from “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too”: “We’re expressing our pain through the art of dance / But we’ll express so much better without these pants.”