In her brilliant, beautiful Antigonick, Anne Carson asks “How is a Greek chorus like a lawyer?” and answers, “they’re both in the business of searching for a precedent so as to be able to say, ‘this terrible thing we’re witnessing now is not unique, you know, it happened before.” The brilliant, beautiful Crazy Ex-Girlfriend happens to feature both a lawyer AND a Greek chorus — sometimes appearing as “a fuckton of cats” or “dream ghosts” or even Josh Groban chastising “it’s pretty messed up that you banged your ex-boyfriend’s dad.” Rachel Bloom has always been wonderful at this Greek chorus/lawyer role: early videos like “The OCDance” derive their dark humor from her ability to be vulnerable and thus give voice to gross, scary, or otherwise difficult experiences. In the commentary track for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s “You Stupid Bitch,” Bloom admits that the ode to self loathing “was such a scary song to write,” but her audience embraced it as a cathartic revelation. Connecting with her audience on such a deep level made her feel less alone. And, she observes with pride, one of her Twitter followers even proudly claimed the lyric “poopy little slut” as a username.
I really value the way Crazy Ex-Girlfriend never shies away from the ugly emotional truths that Bloom has always enjoyed playing with. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and I thought of that line often while watching Bloom and company sing and dance through their emotional upheavals. The territory covered in “Maybe She’s Not Such A Heinous Bitch After All” in particular has occupied pages upon pages in the journals I’ve kept assiduously since I could write complete sentences. Like many people, I naïvely get my hopes up when it seems like someone who has hurt me in the past might be prepared to apologize or change. But, even though those feelings are common (if not necessarily particularly healthy), it still causes me a lot of shame and guilt to admit. Being able to sing — nay, laugh! — about it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended a few weeks ago — three days before my 23rd birthday, in fact — and it’s been exactly the show I needed to watch during this part of my life. One’s early 20s are a time of magical thinking, a major part of the show’s narrative thrust. “My life’s about to change!” sings Rebecca in the show’s first song, hatching a scheme to move across the country for her first love. “Maybe this dream won’t be like some maggots feasting on the rotting dear carcass of my pride!” sings the overworked and under-loved Paula when she takes a chance on law school. “It has to be different, and if it’s not, I fucking quit!” sings Dr. Akopian, anticipating yet another therapy appointment where Rebecca doesn’t listen to her advice. “Do you remember back when we had problems? Our love has magically solved them!” sing Josh and Rebecca at the beginning of their long-awaited and ill-fated love affair. Watching this show saw me through all kinds of endings and beginnings: graduating from college, moving into my first apartment in a city, and the beginning (and end) of both my first real adult job and my first real adult relationship. Trying to figure it all out takes a lot of false starts. It’s nice to have company.
… which is what made Season 4 so disappointing.
In Dr. Robert Gregory’s paper “Thematic Stages of Recovery in the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder,” he explicates four stages of gaining control over Borderline Personality Disorder. Deliberately or not, the first three seasons follow these stages beautifully. Dr. Gregory’s stage one is “Can I be safe here?” or as Bloom et al. put it, “True happiness is so near!” Dr. Gregory’s stage two is “Do I have a right to be happy?” or as Bloom et al. put it, “Was I sick the day in school they taught you how to be a normal person?” Dr. Gregory’s stage three is “Am I worthwhile?” or as Bloom et al. put it, “Who am I now? What will I be? My reason for living has abandoned me.”
Season 3 saw the chronically love-sick and co-dependent Rebecca do a lot of difficult work on herself, including surviving a suicide attempt and committing to a more intense therapy regimen. Season 4 had me deeply concerned that she had thrown it all away.
Dr. Gregory’s stage four is “Am I ready to leave [unhealthy coping mechanisms]?” I wanted so badly for Season 4 to see Rebecca spend time working through the self-sabotage, mania, and depression driving her darker moments. But instead of a hard-won recovery, Rebecca’s storyline backslides into episode after episode agonizing over the boring and tired question of “Which guy will she choose?” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has made wonderful use of reprises, but “The Math of Love Quadrangles” made me want to throw my television out the window. Adding another man to the question of “which love interest will make me complete?” is not progress.
Coming to the end of the series, I was frothing at the mouth about the love quadrangle plot. I knew Bloom et al. were smarter than this, what on earth was the point of drawing this out? I was wondering if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s ultimate message truly would be that we are stuck in a cycle of seeking external validation because we’re too fucked up to reach self actualization on our own terms. Which, obviously, is disturbing, not to mention horrifically misogynistic. Luckily, I was right: the series finale saw Rebecca choose herself over any of the three eligible bachelors. In a charmingly meta plot twist that was half Truman Show and half The Sixth Sense, Rebecca performs the show’s songs at a West Covina open mic.
I loved the series finale, but I wished that it would have come earlier. I wished that the contrived love quadrangle plot was scrapped in favor of something more substantial. I wished that the show hadn’t rehashed such tired material. I wished that, to paraphrase the excellent season 1 theme song, “the [music of season 4 was] a lot more nuanced than that.” (I can’t count the number of times I’ve shared earlier videos like “The Miracle of Birth” or “The Sexy Getting Ready Song*” with people who hadn’t seen the show. Meanwhile, in my opinion at least, there are maybe three songs from Season 4 that stand up out of context or that I’d want to listen to again.) I wished that Rebecca’s personal growth and decision to choose her own passions over a man was given more screen time than a quick montage. I don’t wish these things because I’m a bitter fan (although maybe I am); I wish these things because when this show is good, it’s REALLY good, and I wanted it to end on the strongest possible note. (Ha… ha…)
I’ll always be grateful for what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gave me: a journey through mental health that was both devastating and uplifting, one banger after another, and perhaps the most delightful ensemble cast on television. For better or for worse, it’s invaluable to me that, for a few years, someone else was singing my song.
* RIP Nipsey Hussle, the fantastic guest star who “had to go apologize to some bitches”