“The most important thing is to tell your own story. Not a story you get from the outside world, but your own story.” That’s a quote from Rebecca’s copy of Lyrics 101, but it could also be the first line of Therapy 101. Over the past four seasons, Rebecca’s journey has been a reeducation in stories: the ones that our culture has told her about love and happiness, the ones her crappy parents told her about her value, and most perniciously, the ones she told herself about herself. So if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s decision to tell a new kind of finale story at all surprised you, you clearly haven’t been paying attention in class.
No, Rebecca didn’t choose any member of her love quadrangle; there were no weddings, no babies with their own baby Ruth Gator Ginsburgs. Instead, Rebecca realized that her true love had been right there all along — and that it wasn’t Josh, Nathaniel, or even Greg. It was writing big, funny, weird Broadway numbers — and now, for a theater larger than the confines of her skull.
On one level, this revelation could come off as smug. (“A woman who’s become famous and wealthy for writing comedy songs reveals that the key to happiness is writing comedy songs? You don’t say!”) But as an endpoint for this show’s commitment to providing therapy in sitcom form, it makes perfect sense. What have you been doing all along to make sense of the world? Rebecca’s realization asks viewers. Because that’s probably what you should be doing all the time.
For Nathaniel, it means not just going to the zoo, but working there. For Paula, it’s fighting for justice for lots of unappreciated women, not just one. For Josh, it’s doing cool tricks, which is fucking hilarious. But that’s self-actualization for ya. Life doesn’t make narrative sense, aside from the times when it absolutely, totally does make narrative sense, and you wonder how you possibly could have missed the memo for so long.
To accentuate that final step of the characters’ development, the finale is built around a leap in time, interweaving Valentine’s Day 2019 and Valentine’s Day 2020. The present day finds Rebecca dozing off on the toilet, as Dream Ghost Akopes shows her all three “Men of Christmas Future,” and the fact that she’s truly happy with none of them. Tormented by Dream Rebecca’s insistence that she still “doesn’t know who she is” — but also running out of time to pick a guy — Rebecca withdraws into a literal 11 o’clock number.
Rotating through her costumes from various past songs on a circular stage (a great kiss-off to all the people who’ve undoubtedly asked Rachel Bloom when she was going to do a Hamilton parody), Rebecca sings her way through a reprise mega-mix that eventually circles back to her old friend self-hatred, a.k.a. “You Stupid Bitch.” But this time, Paula literally snaps her out of it, asking where the hell Rebecca goes when she gets that faraway look in her eyes. Rebecca swallows her embarrassment and finally lets Paula in to her messy inner costume closet — and is shocked to learn that Paula thinks it’s beautiful enough to merit charging admission.
Meanwhile, in 2020, Rebecca is essentially giving a thinly veiled wrap-party speech, calling out each player in turn so she can tie up their storylines of personal growth with mini-flashbacks to the past year. Some, like Darryl, have made big moves like getting hitched and having another kid; others savor smaller joys, like a new hot tub (Heather and Hector) or growing out a ponytail called “Raven’s Nest” (George, glorious weirdo that he is).
The only down note characteristically goes to WhiJo, the Frank Grimes of West Covina, who’s lost both his current and childhood homes in a wildfire. The episode pointedly notes that he’s still out on Rebecca; becoming true to yourself doesn’t magically change your relationships, a fact that’s underlined by the non-presence of both Bunch parents.
Yes, it’s all very tell-not-show. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been a “tell” kind of show — the kind of show that, even in its waning minutes, snuck in one last PSA about getting tested for HPV. Like Rebecca, its goal is to be heard, which is why it ends by having her out-and-out state that “romantic love is not an ending; it’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.” Subtlety isn’t the goal if you want to make the most unequivocally feminist statement ever to conclude a big network TV finale. That’s why we don’t need to actually hear Rebecca play her first “real” song; we already know its message.
Putting herself first doesn’t mean that Rebecca might not still get together with someone. In fact, the finale hints pretty heavily that that someone will probably be Greg, who’s the only one of her men not to have picked up a new love interest in the year since Rebecca dumped him. But the only “truly happy” Rebecca is the one who’s expressing herself. Romance is the grace note, not the song.
Change “romance” to “success,” and you discover that this finale is also about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend coming to terms with itself. It’s all too aware that it’s not the ratings hit its network wanted it to be, the one that’s not “too hard to summarize.” But it’s accepted its virtues and shortcomings, with a hopeful eye to Sunil’s prediction that “flops only appreciate over time.” What it needed to know all along just happened to be here. Maybe it was what you needed, too.
• Josh and Rebecca managed to get to 28 Estrellas before Josh moved out. I can only imagine how disturbing the starfish equivalent of “Our Twisted Fate” would be.
• You’ve gotta love that Nathaniel managed to conquer his daddy issues by getting not one, but two replacement dads (Darryl and Bert, now the blissful co-parents of MountainTop). Telling his actual dad where to stick it, then hanging up with a sharp-tongued “I love you!” was equally great.
• For all its yeoman work promoting mental health, this show really knows how to dunk on therapy when it feels like it — I howled when Rebecca told Dr. Akopian, “You usually want me to figure things out on my own, which I think is such a waste of money.”
• The pan across all of Rebecca’s potential love interests, resting too long on Father Brah and AJ as they became increasingly horrified, is one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s all-time great fourth-wall breaks.
• Thanks to the CXG recap readers out there. Of all the shows I’ve written about for Vulture, this one has been the most personally meaningful to examine and explore, and I appreciate all the love kernels that I’ve gotten along the way.