I was fascinated to see how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would follow up last week’s episode, which was so impressive it felt more like a magic trick than a narrative arc. One would think that after turning on her friends, becoming the horror-movie villain in Josh’s life, and sleeping with Greg’s father, Rebecca Bunch had hit rock bottom. Consider “I Never Want to See Josh Again” a jackhammer.
Paula, for all of her maternal instincts when it comes to Rebecca, understands that she’s not actually Rebecca’s real mother. And so when Rebecca disappeared last week, she called Naomi Bunch (the wonderful Tovah Feldshuh) who brings Rebecca back to Scarsdale to get her life back on track.
For Rebecca’s mom, “on track” means resigning from her West Covina job (which she does for Rebecca via fax) and getting her old job in New York City back. That’s the plan, at least until Naomi looks at Rebecca’s laptop and sees that her daughter hasn’t been retooling her resume like she said she was. Rebecca had been researching ways to kill herself.
Suicide is always a delicate subject to discuss and depict onscreen — shows risk minimizing it, or veering into the maudlin and exploiting it for drama. But for all its candy-colored musical numbers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has hardly ever misfired when it’s come to its depiction of mental illness. The show’s unofficial credo seems to have been snuck into a parenthetical from the first season’s theme song: “The Situation Is a Lot More Nuanced Than That.”
And so the normally controlling and overbearing Naomi Bunch becomes Mother of the Year overnight, offering Rebecca an endless stream of full-fat strawberry milkshakes and wearing matching Juicy tracksuits with the daughter she’s so desperate to cheer up. “Maybe she’s not such a heinous bitch after all!” Rebecca sings in a gleeful doo-wop number, complete with black-and-white background dancers. Audra Levine, nemesis, comes over to bring a casserole and warn about Naomi’s seemingly inexplicable mothering streak (“What do opinionated Jewish mothers do when they turn 60? They change!”) but Rebecca doesn’t want to hear it. Rebecca may have given up on controlling her own life, but it seems playing Twister and eating popcorn with a mother finally showing her love and affection is making suicide a more distant preoccupation.
Back in West Covina, Nathaniel immediately jumps on Rebecca’s absence to hire a new replacement: the eternally professional Cornelia, who also went to Yale and Harvard but doesn’t mention it unless someone asks. Cornelia is the anti-Rebecca Bunch; she shies away from office drama, works diligently, doesn’t talk about her personal life, and treats all of her co-workers with basic, non-sexualized respect. And so, of course, all of the office employees become insane projecting their needs from Rebecca onto this poor woman. Maya wants a millennial-friendly mentor; former background-character Bill needs someone to replace Rebecca as his will-they-won’t-they office romance (don’t you remember that nonexistent plot line? Everyone saw their chemistry!); and Darryl needs someone he can talk to about White Josh, and Cornelia’s polite recommendation of a relationship book she read a review of in the New York Times just isn’t going to cut it. (Masterful music detail: the background reprise of “Who’s The New Guy,” reminding us probably not to get too attached.)
And Nathaniel. Poor Nathaniel, who caught feelings for Rebecca and now holds tight onto her stuffed alligator while moving men hired by Naomi clear out her West Covina apartment. Nathaniel seems alternatively perplexed and outraged by the fact that Cornelia is a professional and not the sexually electric and completely inappropriate Rebecca. (Recap continues on next page)
This is a nice episode for learning more about formerly minor background characters. Maya veers further into her role as “young millennial” (was that a Lauren Duca reference with that “thigh-high feminism call out?) and her fan-girling about White Josh and Darryl’s relationship establishes her squarely as an audience stand-in the way Paula had been early on in the way she rooted for Rebecca and Josh’s love. And Mrs. Hernandez, the formerly silent, is revealed to be a glorious bully. And Bill is ripped! You know, Bill! The guy who’s been here this whole time, probably.
Rebecca is thinking of the West Covina cast too, playing over the cruel things she said to her friends before she left. But where she had once been suicidal, she now just feels a pleasant buzzing in her ears — brain freeze from the milkshakes, she assumes, at least until she sees her mother’s hidden stash of anti-anxiety pills. Naomi had been plying her with drugs to keep her docile and happy until she could find an institution for her. Rebecca confronts her mother, feeling more betrayed than ever since she had a taste of the hope that her mother actually cared about her. Of course, the terrible irony is Naomi does care about her — getting Rebecca treatment is almost certainly the best course of action at this point — but Rebecca doesn’t see it that way. She feels betrayed.
The West Covina law firm crew has a sitcom-y run-in at the pool of a timeshare resort involved in one of their lawsuits (Paula was there trying to bond with her family, Nathaniel and Cornelia went to work, the rest of the gang followed Cornelia because they still want her to fill the Rebecca-sized holes in their lives), and Cornelia sings a genuinely funny Brazilian-inspired song about fully recognizing that all of this attention is not about her but the hijinks seem downright whimsical when we’re just a scene-cut away from a suicidal Rebecca who feels like she has nothing left to lose.
When Naomi can’t find Rebecca and is calling for her, I’m genuinely terrified she’s going to open a closet and find a body. The believability and emotions in this episode made me forget that this was the fifth episode of a season. But mercifully, Rebecca isn’t dead. She’s on board a plane to Los Angeles and drinking a glass of Merlot from the kind flight attendant, with a handful of pills. And then, it happens: one by one, sip by sip, Rebecca swallows each of the pills in a sequence that’s dizzying in its placid simplicity, dramatic for its lack of drama. When the world tunnels around her and she briefly regains consciousness, Rebecca is able to push the help button and show the flight attendant what she’s done.
This episode’s balancing act was ambitious and precarious, and the team behind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend proved once again that their show is fearless.