Between Lady Dynamite, Bojack Horseman, and You’re The Worst (among others), there’s been plenty of material to bring up in a conversation about television’s most realistic depictions of mental illness. But the fourth episode of this season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for me at least, has brought this show the front of the pack. “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy” sacrifices some of the relatable whimsy that sometimes forms the backbone of the show’s songs in exchange for a bleakly funny, heartbreaking look at the titular “crazy ex” in a way that manages to be both surprising and inevitable.
Last week, we left off with Rebecca being swept up in Nathaniel’s arms (an Officer and a Gentleman thing, as Paula puts it), allowing herself to be carried off to Rome to escape the fact that Josh just revealed her criminal past and history of institutionalization to her friends — only for Paula, Valencia, Heather, and Darryl to meet her at the threshold and try to stop her.
The situation, which began as loving concern, deteriorates into a botched intervention attempt as Rebecca turns on the people who love her the most, hitting them exactly where a smart Ivy League girl knows will hurt the most: Valencia was “forcing her dream wedding on someone else because no one actually wants to marry [her],” Heather is a pathetic community college fraud, Paula is crazy too and neglecting her real family because she thinks Rebecca is her daughter, and Darryl cannot see the bright neon writing on the wall that says White Josh doesn’t want to have a baby with him. As for Nathaniel, in his moment of confusion as he tries to figure out what’s going on, Rebecca instantly turns on him: “You’ve been texting with them this whole time, haven’t you? You’re a traitor, just like them.”
And so, having severed herself from everyone in her life, Rebecca retreats to a youth hostel to befriend a Danish tourist (after she leaves Josh a few dozen voicemails, of course). It’s the Danish tourist and his obsession with Danish-American movie stars that ignites Rebecca’s latest revenge plan on Josh: become Erika Christensen in Swimfan. Sure, Rebecca knows she’s technically the villain in the movie — and a murderer — “but she is treated so unfairly!”
And so begins the night’s first musical number, the incredibly low-budget title sequence song for SWIMCHAN, in which Rebecca transforms into the femme fatale she’s been teasing all season. This Rebecca is “angry like a witch, but sexy like a sexy witch” and “wearing high heels and a trench coat made of murder” and ready to make Josh Chan wish he was never born using classic revenge thriller tactics.
Meanwhile, Rebecca’s friends are looking for her (even if they can’t file a missing person report because, technically, she’s just a person who walked out of her own home) and trying to digest the cruel truths she spewed before she left. Valencia and Paula have to reconcile over how crazy Paula was in season 1 toward Valencia as she attempted to sabotage her relationship with Josh for Rebecca’s sake. Valencia, obviously, is rightfully upset, not least about the tracker Paula implanted in her arm (even if it is out of batteries), which makes Paula realize maybe she had crossed a line or seven, and maybe Rebecca had been right about how she treats her family. “Do you think I’m a bad mom?” Paula asks Valencia and Heather. They answer with a chorus of “Welllllllllll.” “Two-part harmony bad?” Paula replies. The girls confirm she has been sort of neglectful. “Brendan is my weed guy,” Valencia says.
(Recap continues on page 2)Darryl tried to dismiss Rebecca’s appraisal of White Josh’s anti-baby attitude, but he brings it up as the pair are looking for her, and White Josh can’t give Darryl the answer he wants. This season’s most functional couple are having to deal with a genuine challenge for relationships, the old Monica-and-Richard-from-Friends, if you will: How can a couple work if two people disagree on something as fundamental as having children? The good news is, we also get a new couple to begin shipping for dear life as other couples begin to shake: Heather and Hector (couple name: Hecther?), who are definitely, definitely getting it on.
Back in Rebecca’s revenge movie, she’s pulling all of the classic moves: a branch banging against a window, a creepy hanging teddy bear, a phone call with breathing on the other side, a creaking swing set (Rebecca running by while Josh isn’t looking to push the swing set and sprinting away is a hilarious visual), and sabotaging Josh at work. All of this is punctuated by some of the season’s best camera work; this episode is directed by Joseph Kahn (the guy behind some of Taylor Swift’s most memorable music videos — and this season’s Crazy Ex title sequence), who makes the episode feel cinematic in the best possible way.
It’s the Danish tourist who finally points out the obvious to Rebecca as she’s consumed with her revenge scheming: She dies. That’s how these movies end. “You are about to be caught, and when you are caught, you are killed,” he says matter of factly, more for the audience’s benefit than for hers. Because Rebecca’s final move — taking Josh’s mom to the carnival — reads very, very sinister, and we know that it’s not going to end well. (Danish Tourist is also the one who points out to Rebecca that “Josh is more a symbol of effortless normalcy from which you always felt excluded,” which is pretty dang insightful.)
Josh finds Rebecca and confronts her head-on with the indignation and fear that’s been building up this entire episode: “Where is my mother?” he shouts over and over as Rebecca backs away, teetering closer and closer to the edge of a construction pit. “I want you out of my life!” Josh says, just as Rebecca loses her balance and falls back, only for Josh to grab her and pull her back. Rebecca reveals where his mom is: over there, getting a caramel apple. She was never planning on hurting her. Josh wants Rebecca out of his life forever, and even as Rebecca begs him to talk to her, Josh feels completely justified.
And so, lonely, purposeless, and hopeless, Rebecca goes to the bar where Greg used to drink. And Greg, who used to be her answer to everything, calls her at that moment, only for it to be revealed to be a butt dial. As luck would have it though, Greg’s father is at that bar too, and he tells Rebecca that for the first time, Greg is sober, and happy, and… in love with someone else. And a heartbroken Rebecca makes the worst possible decision: She sleeps with Greg’s dad. This is her rock bottom — not violence, not death, just the worst possible soul-crushing sexually humiliating decision.
And, when Rebecca walks home in the darkness of too-early morning, we get a ballad from Josh Groban, who seems like the best possible person to keep the moment from getting too miserable. “If you saw a movie that was like real life, you’d be like, what the hell was that movie about? It was really all over the place. Life doesn’t make narrative sense,” Groban croons before delightfully breaking the fourth wall.
So even at rock bottom, there’s hope. Paula calls Rebecca’s mom. Darryl and White Josh can still touch each other’s hands and smile sadly. And Josh Groban might just be walking down the street to remind you that things can be a little bit whimsical.