Not being the kind of woman who’d watch The Bachelor, even ironically, is at the core of Rebecca Bunch’s personal brand. As she tells Dr. Akopian, it’s “weird and insane and it’s dumb and it’s lame” — just after she’s performatively hijacked the “Meet Rebecca” credits tag by pointing out Debra’s makeup artist and screaming “Perfection is an illusion!”
But just as credits-Rebecca changes her tune when she needs a touch-up on her own zits, show-Rebecca changes hers when given the opportunity to star in her own glamorous mini-version of The Bachelorette. Even if her shrink had insisted that Rebecca’s week of dream dates was a no-no for her mental health, Rebecca would undoubtedly have ignored that warning. Her suitors know it, too, preemptively negotiating rules of engagement for their dates to ensure there’s no unfair advantage from Nathaniel’s wallet or Josh’s abs.
It’s no coincidence that this battle between caring and commerce is staged in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. But considering that it features the entire supporting cast betting money on the outcome of Rebecca’s dating game, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s penultimate episode remains curiously timid about choosing a side. Even its centerpiece song, Guys and Dolls riff “Love’s Not a Game,” goes by halves: Do you believe the WhiJo who croons that love is important and pure, that it’s the reason we’re all here, or the one who dismisses that noble ideal with a “J/K, LOL” before raking in the bets?
In a way, this episode is the show making the case for two different versions of itself: the CXG of the first two seasons, when even Rebecca’s worst romantic decisions were still often imbued with a certain sparkle and magic, versus the show of the latter seasons, whose fixation on self-improvement as the ultimate end was so strident that Rebecca fantasized in song about a world with no romantic love at all.
Rebecca’s dream dates with Josh and Nathaniel are intended to represent the former camp, and to be honest, I felt a bit indicted by how fluttery they made me. Watching Josh recreating his and Rebecca’s summer-camp days with a backyard weenie roast and stargazing, or Nathaniel and Rebecca kissing on a clifftop in the gorgeous fading L.A. light — they reminded me of the way the show’s early episodes felt genuinely thrilling and romantic, a sentiment it’s parted ways with for a really long time.
In the glare of all this very good lighting, Greg’s unwillingness to play the game of purchasing a romantic moment for himself and Rebecca initially comes off as total idiocy. As Hector lives up to his name by repeatedly pushing Greg to to make his date special, the solution feels so obvious. Book some tickets on that damn hot-air balloon already! What’s the big deal?
But as the episode reveals the toll that Rebecca’s TV fantasy has taken on Josh and Nathaniel, those perfect clifftop sunsets start to fade into darkness. Both of them really do love her, and seeing their misery as she heads out on her dates with the other guys is making her miserable, too. Reprising “Love’s Not a Game” in a downbeat key, Rebecca realizes she’s always hated games — and that she should cancel on Greg before he becomes the third member of this woeful fraternity.
In the end, Rebecca and Greg still get their date. But instead of soaring in one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s suspiciously cheap hot air balloons, they’re grounded in the waiting room of an auto-body shop with Greg’s malfunctioning car. As they cheerfully bicker over their takeout order, Greg quietly tells Rebecca that she’s the love of his life — a moment every bit as breathtaking as anything that happened on her camera-ready dates.
Earlier in the episode, Nathaniel and Josh puzzled over what to ban Greg from offering on his date. (Can you force someone not to make witty asides?) But Greg’s actual killer app is his honesty. He’s the guy with such a horror of pretense and showiness that he can’t even sing “Happy Birthday” without feeling embarrassed — which means he’s also the guy who’ll tell you that he can’t live without you while you wait to get your spark plugs changed. For a woman who once saw a grand romantic destiny written in the skies all around her, is that kind of authentic but low-key love enough?
CXG’s unwillingness to tip its hand in the debate between false fantasy and cold reality hints that a third way may still waiting in the wings for Rebecca, a path between the hopes and aspirations of her goofy inner-child and the often unsexy truth of grown-up romance. For a show that’s always been so willing to expose it all, it’s funny to be in this much suspense about how it will all end. Order up that salmon for 60, because it’s about to go down.
• What a gift that Weird Al cameo was. Besides the touching significance of the all-time great song parodist passing the torch to an up-and-comer, the choice of having him reprise “Where’s the Bathroom?”— as an extended bathroom joke! — was perfect, perfect, perfect.
• On the flip side, the whole “Paula navigating Little League parent politics” plot did nothing for the overall themes of the episode, and took valuable time from more interesting storylines, especially Greg’s. It’s been clear for a while now that the writing team has a lot of pent-up energy for jokes about parenting — maybe Bloom can do the Great TV Parenting Musical in another decade or so.
• I desperately need to see a close-up of the odds board for Josh’s death pool. Parasailing seems a bit overrated in light of the potential threat of the Josh Chan in Asuza with poor credit.
• Scott Michael Foster has been absolutely crushing his line readings this season, especially his response to the spending limit for the dates: “What can you do with $50? Park?”