Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The Definitive Tale of a Millennial Journey
The cult musical comedy hit Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended its run with a finale episode and live concert special this past week. Both of which will be discussed herein. Spoiler-phobes, you’ve been warned.
The show has taken its lead character Rebecca Bunch through various states of mental health and major life changes over the last 4 years, many of which struck close to home with fans. The premise was simple. In the beginning, Rebecca was trapped in a life she built, living by the values she was raised on that were a supposed path to happiness. Instead, that actually made her miserable, a situation many in the show’s target 18-49 demographic found relatable, myself included. From there, we followed her in her struggle to find what might actually make her happy. She pursued many of the changes most of us experience as we grow into adulthood: changes of location, jobs, friends, and romantic partners. The show has always been peppered with funny, well-written, plot-related catchy songs, an amusing and engaging way to allow the audience into the character’s inner world. As it turns out, these often ridiculous flights of fancy would turn out to be the heart of the show in more ways than one.
As the final season approached its end and Rebecca tried more frantically to figure out what she should be doing, her life seemed more and more out of control. A lack of satisfaction led her to quit the law firm she joined at the start of the show and open a soft pretzel shop, seemingly on a whim, but didn’t really seem to spend much time there. She returned to her community theater roots only to discover she’d evolved beyond them. She found herself in a love quadrangle, feeling equal affection for the three diversely appealing romantic leads the series had paired her with, and trying to force a decision between them brought her more pain than clarity. By the time of the finale, which was meant to reveal which romantic partner she’d choose and bring closure to the show, I was pretty well stumped as to how her story would wrap up.
The finale episode is told mostly in flashback, with the “present” being set a year after her decision to pursue songwriting, at an open mic night. In an opening dream sequence, we are shown her possible futures with each man and in terms of romance, each future looks bright, but in terms of personal satisfaction, there’s as little there as there ever was. In the present scenes, she addresses each of her suitors, leading to flashbacks that explain why they weren’t the right choice for her at the time and how their lives have continued since that moment. One flashback shows us a conversation with her best friend Paula in the hours before her self-imposed deadline to make this choice. She reveals that these imagined “mind songs” we’ve seen throughout the course of the show help her process difficult times in her life. Since she has been so conditioned by her upbringing and society to stifle these creative impulses and instead pursue others’ definitions of “normal” and “happy,” she’s never taken them seriously. It’s a beautiful touching way of dramatizing how our friends often know us better than we know ourselves and their belief in us can often set us on the path that’s truly right for us.
Rebecca ends up choosing none of her suitors, opting instead to focus on herself and her songwriting. We get a brief montage of her developing this talent over the course of a year, going from fairly inept, to reasonably competent and confident. It’s the show’s way of teaching us that just because we are drawn to something, that doesn’t mean it comes naturally, and it can require work and time. In the end, she prepares the audience to hear a song she’s written that she’s performing live for the first time and we cut to black before she begins to sing. We don’t hear it and we don’t need to. We’ve been hearing her songs for years.
As the episode closed, I found myself initially annoyed. The episodes leading up to the finale sold this love quadrangle hard and made us believe we’d see some resolution in Rebecca’s love life by series end. The finale closed the door on two of the options, leaving one possibility open, but shifted the focus from whether these people would end up together to whether Rebecca would be okay. I was mad. I’d been shipping Rebecca and Greg since season 1, clearly the show thought they were the most viable pairing, they even went to the lengths of recasting the role when the original actor wasn’t available in order to bring the character back to the show. And in the end, the show that was sold as a subversive romantic comedy did not give me the romantic ending I craved.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how perfect the ending was and how smart show creators Aline Brosh-McKenna and Rachel Bloom are. All along, the show had never hesitated to show this character’s life as it truly was. Rebecca made mistakes and paid the consequences. She wasn’t always likable, she didn’t always do the right thing. She learned and grew and changed just as we all hope to do at that stage in our lives. The final season was pretty reflective of the crisis many of us can feel in our lives, at whatever age it is when we decide it’s time to Grow Up™ and figure our shit out. We scramble to try different things, marry this person, take this job, whatever it is we’ve been told will lead to happiness, without stopping to consider whether those choices will ACTUALLY make us happy or the effect that those choices will have on our mental health. And this scramble can often cause us to neglect those non-traditional pursuits that actually bring us joy and blind us to what we actually should be doing if the goal is to be happy.
The ending wasn’t just right for the character, it was right for the show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been super feminist and subversive of every trope in the romantic comedy genre. Giving Rebecca a happy ending dependent on a romantic pairing would have betrayed what the show is about. When you think about it, this is how this show was always meant to end; it’s practically predictable. At the end of the series, Rebecca’s story is not over. She says “romantic love is not an ending; it’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.” This chapter, where she figures out who she is and what makes her happy, is ending, but the next one where she pursues that happiness and sees where it leads her is just as exciting. It doesn’t invalidate what’s come before. She may still end up with Greg, she may keep running the pretzel shop, she may do some other job entirely, she may not end up with anyone. None of that is the point. She is the point. She is the ultimate example of self-care, which is not just “take a relaxing bath” or “get a hobby,” but is actually, annoyingly obviously, to take CARE of the SELF, which first requires self-discovery and then allowing nurturing, whether it conforms to social norms or not.
This show is the perfectly satisfying story for adrift millennials discovering that the way their parents lived doesn’t work for them and they are lost without a map in terms of finding a way that does. This was a revelation that didn’t click until the show’s final moments and I don’t think I could have come to this conclusion before the finale. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or an outcast or a musical theater fan or all those things or none of them. If you have ever felt that way, this show is for you and it will help you feel better and take care of yourself.