Though it was pitched to viewers as being about vengeance, this season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is really about grief and loss. Rebecca’s desire to become an avenging woman scorned is just her initial form of denial; from there, we go through anger (her nearly killing Josh and destroying his family’s lives), depression (her suicide attempt), bargaining (her attempts to change her manipulative ways without actually changing them), and now, acceptance. Whether Rebecca’s form of acceptance is to your taste depends on whether or not you love the more operatic turn the show has taken. The earlier seasons at least kept a toe in the pool of realism, but this finale confirms that, for better or worse, the chains are off.
Sometimes that level of liberation can be freeing, as in Paula’s “The Miracle of Birth,” a hysterical ballad about pregnancy realities that’s spectacularly gross and uncomfortable, even by the standards of a show that loves to get gross and uncomfortable. I never thought the Darryl surrogacy story line particularly justified Rebecca and Heather’s participation, but there is something undeniably satisfying about a women-run show that’s simultaneously super real about how unpleasant pregnancy (and egg donation!) can be, and yet outright dismissive of the agency-less birth narratives written by men. (“Birth is beautiful when you get pain meds,” notes an epidural-receiving Heather, “because then you just do crossword puzzles and binge-watch Top of the Lake.”)
I also appreciate that the finale doesn’t take the easy out on Darryl’s other loose end, his and WhiJo’s continuing sadness over their breakup. Both characters have been authentic about the lasting impact of that loss, yet the arrival of baby Habecca (who’s hopefully going to get a name change) doesn’t ultimately serve as a catalyst to bring the couple back together. It’s a rare instance of a show respecting a character’s desire not to parent, instead of letting their opinions get bowled over by the arrival of an adorable newborn.
While Heather and Darryl’s story line brings a sweetness and an affirmation to a complicated narrative of grief and rebirth, Rebecca and Nathaniel’s is a lot thornier. All season long, the show has felt pressed for time, stuffing in plotlines like Rebecca does Sugar Face doughnuts, and this finale might be the worst offender yet. There’s so much here to unpack, and not nearly enough time to do it. After criticizing the show last week for wrapping up the Trent storyline too quickly, I was gratified that this finale went deeper with the parallels between Trent and Rebecca, and what it’s like for Rebecca to get a taste of her own manipulative medicine. I really enjoyed the intensity of Rebecca’s PTSD and dissociative episodes, which made it easy to understand the potency of her guilt about making others in her life feel the same way. Her desire to confess all of her sins to Josh, Paula, and Nathaniel is a typically over-the-top Rebecca move, but in context, it makes its own weird kind of sense.
That decision and its fallout — Josh’s very understandable anger about Rebecca trying to get his dad deported, Nathaniel’s fears for Mona’s safety, and Paula’s heartbreaking decision to finally cut ties with Rebecca — could easily have been its own episode. The finale does a good job of trying to encapsulate all those big betrayals in just a few little moments: Josh clocking Nathaniel feels authentically raw, and Donna Lynne Champlin deserves an Emmy nomination just for her perfect line reading of the words “I’m done.”
But then it’s on to the next thing, as Trent attempts to murder Nathaniel at his and Mona’s housewarming party, in a plotline that tilts more silly than scary. Tipped off by a #motive revealed in an Instagram story, Rebecca rushes in uninvited to save Nathaniel’s life, going full Big Little Lies by pushing the murderous Trent right off a rooftop. But unlike the murderesses of Monterey, she’s the one who takes the fall. All of Rebecca’s bad behavior, especially with regards to her past relationships, now weighs against her in court, and she soon finds herself charged with second-degree attempted murder.
For some reason, Rebecca’s own brilliant legal mind is suddenly unable to wrap itself around this plight. But Nathaniel encourages her to plead insanity and offers the additional carrot that he’s dumped Mona, after realizing that what he really wants is to be with Rebecca. That leads to “Nothing Is Nobody’s Fault,” a meta-narrative companion piece to “The End of the Movie” that sees the show reckoning with its own understanding of culpability. Can all of Rebecca’s bad behavior be excused by her very abusive past and her very real mental illness? Are we, as viewers, too inclined to forgive her, when we wouldn’t forgive other people with traumatic pasts who did awful things (like, say, Hitler)? It’s a complicated concept, beautifully sung by Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster, and one that offers no easy answers.
Which is why it’s disappointing that the finale does opt for an easy answer: Rebecca pleads guilty, essentially condemning herself to a felony prison sentence (and likely torpedoing her legal career as well) to win back Paula’s respect. The credits outroing to “I’m a Good Person” make it clear what the show thinks of Rebecca’s decision. But as important as it is for Rebecca as a character to atone, the sacrifice feels hollow. The fact of the matter is that people like Rebecca — well-intentioned, but reckoning with the fallout of decades of trauma and mental illness — probably comprise the majority of prisoners in this country, and suggesting that our horrific carceral state is some kind of useful cure is hot garbage.
It also leaves the show as a whole in an uncomfortable place, especially since it hasn’t yet been renewed for its fourth (and final) season. Considering we already have a black comedy about a privileged white woman trying to hack it in women’s prison, I doubt Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is going to go down that path; that means the only options are some kind of deus ex machina that lets Rebecca off the hook, or another time jump. All I can say is that I really hope it doesn’t end here, and that we get to see the story conclude the way it should.
• Vulture sent a reporter behind the scenes of this finale’s making, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a must-read. Even though this season has frustrated me at times, I’m continually impressed by the amount of thought and effort that goes into making this show.
• On that note, I should mention that the acting is across-the-board exceptional in this episode. Vella Lovell delivers one of her most nuanced performances yet, Scott Michael Foster is utterly charming, and Rachel Bloom continues to push boundaries with her performance — I don’t think she’s wearing a stitch of makeup in that final scene, a sacrifice not many actresses would make for authenticity.
• Also worthy of praise: Though they easily could have, the writers never made Mona a one-dimensional or hateful character. Even though Nathaniel didn’t choose her, she posed a genuinely appealing alternative to Rebecca. (Cue wistful strains of “Settle for Me.”)
• Josh was late to Rebecca’s confessional because someone asked him to change the water cooler on the way in. Some things never change.
• There are a lot of song references in the dialogue this week. (Trent: “I’m a scary scary sexy man,” George: “After everything she did for you that you didn’t ask for? Whoo, that stupid bitch!”) My favorite, though, was Darryl describing the birth as “having a few people over.” Does that make Heather the Queen of the Spread?
• Thanks for reading this season! Keep those fingers crossed for a season-four renewal.