Rebecca, Paula, and Heather all have to resist their worst impulses
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been full of surprises with regard to narrative structure this season. Last week, we got the opening titles twenty minutes into the episode. This week, we begin with a surprise Dr. Akopian solo (!) and an eight-month time jump.
Dr. Akopian’s “Maybe This Time”-esque Cabaret number seems mostly like an opportunity to show off the actress Michael Hyatt’s beautiful voice, but the lyrics are so good (“with my requisite therapy shawl”) that it’s hard to begrudge the song’s lack of narrative purpose.
With Dr. Shin’s blessing, Rebecca has moved back to her regular therapy sessions with Dr. Akopian (or as Rebecca likes to call her, Akopes) which allows her to quickly recap what’s been going on: she and Nathaniel got together, she recognized that she had destructive tendencies and was falling into a familiar pattern with him, she broke up with Nathaniel, and now they are sleeping together, usually in the office supply closet, even though Nathaniel super has a girlfriend (remember Mona? That girl he met at the gay bar? They went to Stanford together and they’re dating now). Rebecca frantically insists that it’s in the past (like forty-minutes-ago past), but it’s fairly obvious to Dr. Akopian that Rebecca is once again tuning therapy out.
Breaking personality patterns are hard: just as Paula, who’s forced to come to terms with the fact that she’s the office bitch. The Whitefeather supporting cast have formed a clique of which Paula is certainly not included. As a way to compensate for their shenanigans and have a new ally on the office, Paula brings on board Sunil, her friend from law school whose obsession with musical theatre makes him a natural stand-in for Rebecca, (even though the two insist they’d never get along. “He’s like Benjamin Coffin III,” says Rebecca.)
But Paula isn’t the way she was in law school with Sunil now that he works with her. She acts like, well, the office bitch: berating him constantly, talking down to him, never offering praise, nitpicking his work. And so, naturally, Sunil gradually joins up with the others. After all, they all have a common enemy. It takes the classic sitcom trope of overhearing a conversation about her (and a conversation with Rebecca) for Paula to realize that her “Office Bitch” mug isn’t ironic. “It’s your brand!” Rebecca says, shocked that Paula would even ask. It’s easy to get defensive, but Paula takes the opportunity to look inward. Maybe she has been overly critical. It comes from a place of competitiveness and insecurity, wanting to prove to herself, as well as the rest of the office, that she’s good enough to belong here. It’s a well-written and natural development for Paula, who’s become of the most nuanced characters in a show where almost everyone gets nuance.
Heather is also forced to confront her worst impulses this episode: after volunteering to be the surrogate for Darryl’s (and Rebecca’s) baby, she begins to feel the consequences. Being pregnant sucks. Even if she has a great career at Home Base and a great boyfriend in Hector (let’s see more of this couple, please?) she still has to deal with the annoying restrictiveness of growing a person inside her belly. No raw fish, no alcohol, no fun activities. Heather never seemed like a quitter before, but she was someone who was comfortable in situations that didn’t require her to move forward, with no risk of failure—like remaining a student. Growing a baby has no escape hatch. Desperately as she might want to go skateboarding to prove her own control over a body that no longer feels like her own, she can’t. Thankfully, Hector is around to wrestle her to the ground in her protective fat suit that she was planning on wearing (even if he does get distracted by a classic “look over there, it’s a podcast!”)
And after eight months (helpfully time-stamped by Heather’s growing pregnant belly), Rebecca and Nathaniel are still having the secret supply closet affair and, yes, Nathaniel is still dating Mona. In her therapy, Rebecca has moved from denial (That was the last time) to justification (So what if we’re having an affair?) It’s not until she sees Nathaniel arrive to Darryl’s baby shower hand-in-hand with Mona that the gravity of what she’s been doing sinks in. Dissociation is a hell of a drug. Rebecca helps Paula come to terms with the fact that she’s not the nicest in the office and, in term, Paula helps put Rebecca’s affair in perspective. Paula had been the one cheated on. She knows how it feels. She sees Rebecca as the Tanya of this scenario, and she might be correct.
(A small qualm about this episode: that party wasn’t the first time we, as the audience, saw Nathaniel with Mona. We saw them briefly out to dinner, and learned that she seemed nice and funny and sweet. With her long, straight brown hair, she has the “fiancée the guy starts out with in a romantic comedy” look down pat. But I wish we also saw them together for the first time at Darryl’s party, so we could go on the same journey with Rebecca.)
After her talk with Paula, Rebecca reaches what might be the closest she’ll come to relationship enlightenment. She tells Nathaniel (in office supply-themed innuendo) that they can no longer get supplies together. Nathaniel understands, but later he tells Rebecca that he wants to be with her. Only her. He gives her the “other woman” fantasy, telling Rebecca that he’d choose her over Mona. But Rebecca doesn’t have an answer for him. Not even a “Face Your Fears” reprise in the hallway outside his apartment door is enough to get Rebecca to knock. She’s not ready for a real relationship with Nathaniel yet, whatever that would entail.
And throughout all of this, Valencia began a lesbian relationship with a woman who runs a PR company and hired her as a party planner! Yes! Finally, #JusticeForValencia! This means we’re going to get a “Gettin’ Bi” reprise sometime soon, right? Please?