When we last saw Rebecca Bunch, she just experienced the ultimate blow: After two years of obsessively courting Josh Chan, he left her at the altar to join the priesthood, ending all possibility of the two of them ever getting together. But while season two ended on Rebecca (and her biggest booster, Paula) dramatically vowing to get revenge, this season’s opener is more of a whimper than a bang. No one has seen or heard from Rebecca for two weeks — not even Paula, whose sole receipt of communication is a Facebook like on a three-year-old Ice Bucket Challenge video.
Naturally, the whole town is a-twitter (on Twitter), which leads to a big medieval opening set piece, as the “villagers” of West Covina speculate about the fate of the princess in their tower — a.k.a. the hotel where Rebecca has been sobbing and stress-eating in her bathrobe. This does bear a few funny medieval-meets-modern gags, like George getting fired again after failing to shine Nathaniel’s shoes and Darryl milking a cow into his latte, but the premise is pretty thin. Some of the cast members go for exaggerated British accents, others don’t bother, and the medieval theme doesn’t even translate to Rebecca’s half of the song. It all feels a bit low-rent compared to last year’s big opening gambit of the Beyoncé-aping “Love Kernels” (whose joke about consuming the whole production budget must have been too accurate to repeat for another season premiere).
Even as her romantic fantasies fade, Rebecca still relies on pop-culture tropes to define her life, and it isn’t long before she decides to actually become the villain in her own story, metamorphosing from jilted, innocent bride into Basic Instinct–inspired vixen who shows up at the office at 5 a.m. to prepare the perfect chair-spinning makeover reveal. (“I know, my hair is dark, so I look evil,” she tells her co-workers, “but I’m wearing white, which is ironic.”)
But this is still Rebecca we’re talking about, and like that slinky white dress, the role doesn’t really fit. She’s far too nerdy and excitable to maintain an icy cool, and her big “plan” for revenge consists of pulling a stunt straight out of The Help: She wants to send Josh a surprise box of cupcakes laced with her feces. Surprisingly, the only person she fools with her Sharon Stone act is Nathaniel, whose interest in a hookup has only increased now that it’s the last thing on Rebecca’s mind. In fact, he’s developing a few Rebecca-like tendencies himself, sending surprise gift baskets and “just happening” to run past her house.
Desperate to appease a grieving Rebecca, her girl squad of Paula, Valencia, and Heather urge her to skip the plan that’s “literally crap” and opt for the only slightly superior backup: making a viral fake sex tape in which an actor playing Josh loudly rejects Jesus, thus screwing up the real Josh’s chances at the priesthood. It’s a terrible idea and Rebecca’s pals know it, but it drags on far too long, in part to give Vincent Rodriguez III something to do. (With Josh sidelined in seminary, Rodriguez appears instead as Josh’s British doppelgänger Colin Crowley, an actor who answers Rebecca’s casting call.)
It isn’t until Rebecca goes so far as to attempt making literal porn with her Josh clone that her friends intervene, and realize that her yen for revenge is really more of a yen for self-destruction. It’s an important revelation, but it’s also a bummer to have the bubble popped so early on. Rebecca’s rapacious zeal for getting what she wants is what makes this show so much fun, and while the important flip side of that coin is its rigorous emotional honesty, the writers probably could have had a little more fun with her plan first. The show might be a little too committed to showing how a sad, exhausted real-life Rebecca would feel to provide the big thrills that make for a satisfying season premiere.
The revenge plot doesn’t get enough time because the show is also handling the fallout of the rest of the finale: Paula agreeing to take back her cheating husband Scott, and Darryl’s revelation to White Josh that he really wants another kid. The Paula plot dovetails nicely with Rebecca’s because she’s also trying to exact a form revenge on Scott, subjecting him to a series of rules and sign-ins and extensive lie-detector tests, but it’s really just a cover for how insecure the affair still makes her feel. Donna Lynne Champlin is great in this episode, really nailing all the nuances of Paula’s plight, but the whole thing doesn’t quite get enough time to gel, and it’s resolved fairly quickly.
Paula and Rebecca’s story lines should have gotten more breathing room by pushing the Darryl and WhiJo plot, in which they seek therapy over Darryl’s baby obsession (with Dr. Akopian’s husband … Dr. Akopian!) to another episode. Still, we get Pete Gardner and David Hull wearing an adorable fuzzy anteater costume to shill protein bars, so what else can you ask for?
Amid this busy and chaotic jumble of plotlines, the episode manages to throw in one of its all-time best songs, “Let’s Generalize About Men,” in which a totally ’80s Rebecca, Paula, Valencia, and Heather engage in the time-honored female ritual of griping about the opposite sex. Catchy and perfectly written from end to end, it’s a knife-edge satire, both sympathizing with and satirizing women’s tendency to gripe in blanket statements (and to perversely lionize gay men). In fact, it’s so good at skewering the “kill all men” mentality that I’m actually worried MRA types might seize on it as a nice bit of self-justification — before they go back to generalizing about women, of course.
In the end, Rebecca and Paula settle on a revenge plan more suited to the skills of a talented attorney and attorney-in-training: suing the crap out of Josh. But Rebecca’s yen for self-destruction remains in full play. She lies to Paula about Robert, pretending he was a literal dog that deserted her, and the episode closes on her following through with the poop-cupcake plan. It’s a lot of conflicting plot for the show to balance, and it’s clear that some of Rebecca’s insecurity about what’s next is shared by the show as well. What’s a woman worth without her man, and what’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend worth without Rebecca’s need for a man? It’s going to be an interesting ride.