Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Recap: Happy Tats for Manatees

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Nathaniel and I Are Just Friends!
Season 3 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

Hitting the fast-forward button on a floundering season is a time-tested strategy, and for good reason: It works. After a few relatively weak episodes, this week’s outing jumps ahead eight months in time, then quickly establishes itself as one of the strongest of the season. That’s in large part because it’s focused on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s real strength, delving into the deep emotional waters within and between characters. I enjoy the show’s madcap sugar highs as much as anyone, but this episode provides some necessary salt.

For starters, Rebecca is back in therapy with Dr. Akopian, and this time, it’s everything the torch-singing shrink has dreamed of. “It seems like only yesterday I was right here in this room, ignoring everything you said,” Rebecca wisecracks, before expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to really tackle her abandonment issues and her BPD. She’s by no means the perfect patient (and she’s oddly obsessed with her and Akopian having a buddy action-comedy on CBS), but she’s making real progress.

Except in one area: She and Nathaniel still can’t stop hooking up, and since Rebecca isn’t willing to have a relationship, Nathaniel is still going out with Mona, too. Initially, this seems like a minor roadblock to the eventuality of Nathaniel and Rebecca getting back together. But even after the eight-month time jump, Mona is still in the picture, and Rebecca and Nathaniel are still making out in the supply closet, promising every time that it’ll be the last. This is serious.

Unfortunately, jumping ahead to add gravity to Nathaniel and Rebecca’s affair means compressing everyone else’s timeframe, too. While there are some plots I’m happy to breeze past (WhiJo’s ongoing heartbreak over Darryl, Josh’s ongoing existential crisis), others feel like a real loss. Valencia came out as bi and has a new girlfriend, and we didn’t even get to see it! Meanwhile, Heather’s existential pregnancy crisis seems a little forced now that she’s suddenly in her eighth month; things are undoubtedly uncomfortable by that point, but she’d probably have been on an emotional roller coaster, questioning her decision and her readiness for adult life, since her first bout of morning sickness.

The worst injustice of all, though, is that Paula’s hilarious law school buddy Sunil is finally back — but we hardly get to see any scenes of them having fun before they start hating on each other. That’s because Paula has recruited Sunil to Whitefeather (well, “Bunch, Whitefeather, Plympton, Plympton, & Plympton,” if we’re being accurate to its new moniker), without informing him that she’s actually the office bitch. She initially sides with him against the incompetent Jim, Tim, and Maya, but ultimately starts dismissing his work as much as theirs, often for picayune reasons like incorrect fonts or margins.

This is a plot the show has subtly built up for quite a few episodes, as Paula’s temper with non-Rebecca employees gets shorter and shorter. But considering it’s so often engaged with complex feminist concepts, it feels like a missed opportunity to delve into emotional labor and what being bitchy at work really means (since, in the words of Sts. Fey and Poehler, bitches also tend to “get stuff done”). The fact of the matter is that Jim and Tim, at the very least, are genuinely incompetent, and that women like Paula often actually are the glue that holds offices together — whether it’s nailing down depositions or refilling the ice-cube tray. It’s not the type of sainthood most women intentionally set out to attain, which is why it can eventually lead to an angsty martyrdom.

Maya, with her millennial-feminist lens, hints at a more nuanced view, noting that Paula comes from a generation of women who had to be tougher at the office. But the plotline fizzles out without engaging the issue, simply dismissing Paula’s attitude as too harsh. She vows to become more flexible and throws Sunil some well-deserved praise, but none of the underlying factors are addressed.

However, there is another Paula beat that the show gets exactly right: her disappointment in Rebecca, whose dalliance with Nathaniel brings back bad memories of Scott’s affair with Tonya. (Rebecca tries to claim that it’s different: “Nathaniel and Mona aren’t married, they don’t have kids, and I don’t wear an orange vest, which is the only fact I can retain about Tonya.”)

But it’s not different, as Rebecca realizes when she finally meets Mona for the first time at Darryl’s baby shower. She might have segmented herself from doing one kind of damage by not being in a relationship, but now she’s trying on a different kind. Mindful of Paula’s disapproval, she resolves to finally break it off with Nathaniel, in a genuinely emotional scene that’s all the more impressive because it’s conveyed entirely in metaphors about office supplies (so as not to pique the interest of an eavesdropping Jim, Tim, and Maya).

Rebecca’s sacrifice leads to an even more compelling one from Nathaniel: If she’s finally ready to have a relationship, he’s willing to leave Mona for her. And Dr. Akopian, of all people, is supportive, telling Rebecca she’s made strides and should go ahead and accept the love that Nathaniel is showing her. But Rebecca has been badly shaken, going from commitment-phile to commitment-phobe. She’s not sure she can withstand seemingly normal relationship trials that might cause her abandonment issues to flare up, and she’s terrified that she might return to where she was after losing Josh, depressed and suicidal. Rachel Bloom is heartbreaking in this scene, which offers a refreshing return to the grown-up, complicated, nuanced perspective I’ve been missing from the show in recent weeks.

The episode ends with a crushing reprise of Paula’s season-one song “Face Your Fears,” as Rebecca contemplates whether she can face down the terror of falling in love with Nathaniel, and ultimately decides to walk away. It’s a complete 180 from where she was the last time we heard the song, and a fascinating shift for the character as we head into the final two episodes of the season.

Other Notes

• I love that this season has given more songs to bit players, especially since Michael Hyatt’s pipes were so great in “Dream Ghosts.” My favorite line from this episode’s tune: “I’ve been burned / So many times / By the girl who’s committed so many burn crimes!”

• This episode threw a lot of Rebecca and Sunil joke bones to musical-theater fans (all while insisting that they will never, ever bond over it). Rebecca comparing Sunil to Benny from Rent, then interjecting, “Don’t watch the movie! Don’t watch the movie” had me in stitches.

• Heather did a really nice job taking Home Base millennial! Craft cocktails and yellowtail crudo for all.

• In case you were wondering why there were all those references to CBS: the company partially owns the CW, and its TV studio produces Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (Most of the jokes seem like potshots at CBS’ other programming, but I guess all publicity is good publicity?)

• I’m very disappointed that White Josh won’t name his dog Dog Josh, because hey, that is funny. Though he got the biggest laugh of the episode when Josh insisted that he no longer thinks Habitat for Humanity is called Happy Tats for Manatees: “… do you?”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Recap: Happy Tats for Manatees