Even by the standards of ensemble comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend maintains an extremely deep bench of characters. It’s an asset that cuts both ways: Sometimes, old characters come back in ways that are necessary and fresh, and other times, the near-compulsive effort to make time for everyone doesn’t end up benefiting viewers.
In the former category, we have Trent, whom I’ll admit I completely forgot about after the end of last season, when he dropped the blackmail package that blew up Josh and Rebecca’s wedding. His absence is explained by a baroque flashback montage, in which he gets hit by a bus, spends months being tortured with bad jokes in a full-body cast (#comedywriterproblems), and then goes on some kind of vision quest in the desert. Now he’s back to win Rebecca’s affections — but since those aren’t an actual option, he’ll settle for more blackmail.
The CXG writers have always played with Trent as a funhouse-mirror version of Rebecca, and they’re clearly having a blast here. Dropping the season-three theme song for a Trent-centric recasting of “I’m Just a Girl in Love” is genius, as is forcing Rachel Bloom to wear the character’s preferred turtlenecks throughout the entire episode. (It’s a fate worse than death for a busty woman — a nice unspoken character detail is that she’s constantly tugging on them.) Since Rebecca’s friends quickly forgave her for that last piece of blackmail, the show is smart to make the stakes a lot higher this time: As Trent notes, trying to have Mona killed could not only cost Rebecca her relationship with Nathaniel, but also the firm’s and her own license to practice law.
Forced into dating a man she hates (though he thankfully isn’t also raping her, a fine point the writers make pains to note), Rebecca turns to Paula for a little bit of spy-sabotage assistance. But Paula, just one more year of school away from full-lawyer status, wants nothing to do with her old shenanigans. So Rebecca does something that could cost her their friendship for real this time: Shifting back into full manipulation mode (why does she always do this in bathrooms?), she tells Paula that Trent has dirt on all of Paula’s past transgressions, too. Forced “Back in Action” to save her own skin, Paula helps Rebecca unearth Trent’s Carrie Mathison–style stalking lair, which makes it clear that his obsession runs as deep or deeper than Rebecca’s with Josh.
The fascinating thing about Trent’s character is that he provides an outside lens into how Rebecca, a person we empathize with and root for, makes other people feel. Like her, he’s essentially a sweet-natured, brainy dork with a lot of obsessive interests (outlet shopping, gourmet cooking, NPR) and a bottomless need for affection. Yet he’s also a genuinely scary character, capable of doing terrifying things when he doesn’t get what he wants. Why we, as viewers, love Rebecca and hate Trent is a tricky bit of psychology that this episode could have spent a lot more time exploring, especially since his role as a man is different from hers — notice how much at the beginning of the episode he refers to Rebecca as a possession, a prize he’s come to claim after “winning.”
Instead, Trent’s departure is a bit of a wet noodle, deflating all the episode’s hard-won creepiness and tension. Devoid of empathy for their similarities, Rebecca berates him for believing all the nonsense that she once did. Fated romance isn’t real, she tells him; the love kernels she gave him (and there were plenty, including taking his virginity) aren’t love. Trent may be a monster, but it’s in large part because he’s been fed on the leavings of Rebecca’s own obsession. That’s a fascinating observation, but one that the show immediately glosses over to get him out the door.
It’s especially disappointing because the Trent saga was clearly just cut to make some screen time for Josh and Valencia, who haven’t had much to do all season. Valencia wants to plan more prestigious parties and break into the L.A. market, so she overdoes it on a West Covina teen’s Sweet 16 celebration without taking the teen’s wishes into account, much to the chagrin of her new girlfriend/business partner/one-dimensional “better angel” Beth. In the end, though, Valencia accepts her West Covina roots with the help of Josh, and there is hugging and learning and a climactic dance number that gets everyone on the floor. It’s surprisingly unoriginal for a show that prides itself on being original, and its low stakes look even worse in contrast with the high ones of Rebecca’s story line.
We also get to spend a little time with Nathaniel, who’s clearly still heartbroken over Rebecca. (Poor WhiJo, having seen yet another close friend fall victim to the Bunch Blues, outright asks Nathaniel if she has a magic vagina.) After blowing off Mona, he tries to reconnect; she figured out he was cheating with Rebecca, but she also really does like him, and tries to convince him that they can reach beyond their WASPy upbringings and have a real, emotional relationship. I’ll give the show points for making Mona a more complicated, thoughtful character — and genuinely appealing alternative to Rebecca — than she could have been. But with Rebecca still mooning over Nathaniel, that relationship seems doomed.
Or maybe not? The title of next week’s season finale is “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant,” which indicates that Rebecca’s real problems are likely to come from another sphere. Will Trent exact revenge? Will Paula catch up with Rebecca’s lie? Or will some other thread I’ve forgotten finally work its way back into the tapestry of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? This show has set a high bar for season endings, and I’m ready to be surprised.
• The songs in this episode don’t have much to do with the plot, but both are top-notch. “A Buttload of Cats,” with its fun dive into puppeteering, is a nice addition to the show’s lineup of trope-subverting songs (I almost died at the bit where Rebecca played a cat scratcher like a washboard, as well as the reference to that Atlantic article about cats making you crazy). “Back in Action” was also laugh-out-loud funny, though I wish Donna Lynne Champlin had more of a vocal part.
• Ardent feminist that he is, Trent loves both period sex and “Period Sex,” much to Rebecca’s chagrin. Like a period itself, that song is just going to keep coming back.
• Is the price of this show staying on the air promoting other CBS/CW properties? I would have normally just laughed at “None of your friends are hot enough to be on Riverdale,” but after last week’s multiple references to CBS, I’m wondering if it’s either an attempt at corporate synergy or a hidden cry for help.
• Nathaniel’s affinity for Harry Potter still slays: I love that he and Rebecca had a weird sex thing in which she referred to her vagina as the Sorting Hat.
• Important point from Heather: “Since the Bechdel test is a measure of women talking about men, talking about the Bechdel test means you’ve kind of failed the Bechdel test.”
• Someone on this show really, really likes bacon-wrapped dates. Though I have to admit that “Turn ’em over in five, they’ll be ready in 20” seriously rivals “Here’s looking at you, kid” as a closing line.