Season two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was heralded in with a new theme song: a Follies-style Old-Hollywood throwback with Rebecca Bunch in a 1920’s hairstyle and a short flouncy dress adorned by hearts. “I’m just a girl in love,” she chirps. “I can’t be held responsible for my actions.” Her background dancers croon in agreement: “She’s an ingénue.” Rebecca continues dancing. “I have no underlying issues to address, I’m certifiably cute and adorably obsessed.”
The song is representative of the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that made Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend one of the most original, and funniest, shows on television. But like a magic trick, the season two theme song turned out to be the key to one of the most, well, nuanced season finales I’ve ever seen.
If you haven’t seen the season 2 finale of Crazy Ex yet, stop reading this right now and do that first. I mean, while you’re at it, watch the entire show. You can keep this article open on one of your tabs until you’re finally done and then come back to it.
After Josh Chan leaves Rebecca at the altar so he can become a priest, Rebecca runs to the seaside cliffs of her wedding venue, apparently contemplating suicide. The lyrics of the opening theme song are eerily repeated verbatim by Rebecca and her mom during a flashback when a court finds Rebecca guilty of setting her law school professor lover’s house on fire after he refused to leave his wife for her. Our “certifiably cute” heroine becomes actually certifiable. The tongue-in-cheek irony of a show called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” becomes a little less tongue-in-cheek.
A genuinely interesting finale twist is difficult to pull off in the era of instant Twitter spoilers and TV writers trolling for clickbait by using the word “twist” when they really mean “a thing that happened.” What made the thrilling final moments of the finale so compelling is that the plot doesn’t feel artificially thrust into the show: the events happen organically, rooted in the characters and their personalities.
Josh Chan is impulsive, looking for permanence and meaning: in retrospect, his proposal to Valencia last season and his to Rebecca this season were both attempts of a very lost man trying to find solid footing. From the first episode, we knew Rebecca suffered major trauma from her father’s abandonment, and it’s a theme that reappears over and over again: from Valencia’s taunting in Rebecca’s head during yoga class to Rebecca’s fantasy of throwing a party for Josh to attend as a way of replacing the memory of the last party she threw, the day her father left.
Unlike some television shows or movies that use mental illness as a supernatural plot device, Rebecca’s mental illness always existed as a dark specter over the dream of her West Covina happiness, sometimes forgotten but never gone. In the pilot of the show, Rebecca suffered a nervous breakdown when faced with the prospect of promotion at her prestigious law office; she followed a former flame across the country and washed her pills down the sink. But the show’s magic trick was comforting the audience with the justification in Rebecca’s head: her neurosis and quirks make her fun and interesting and relatable! We are all complicit in the thinking of the girls who say, “Ugh I’m so anorexic,” or “OMG I’m going to kill myself,” or the way television shows introduce a character with bipolar disorder or OCD and then promptly forget about their diagnosis when the plot calls for it. The show masterfully lured the audience into thinking that Rebecca, for all of her over-the-top behavior was just your typical sitcom protagonist.
But then the rug is pulled out from us. Unlike other comedies that reset the emotional counter after every 30-minute episode, all of Rebecca’s past traumas have weighed on her, and affected her profoundly. Her life didn’t refresh once the credits rolled, allowing her to start fresh the following week. Her father leaving, her mother’s selfishness, Greg leaving, the desperation that she’s projected onto Josh Chan’s love, and, now we discover, Robert—all of it has accumulated over the course of a lifetime and affected an individual with mental health issues in realistic ways that only seem surprising to us because of how transient most trauma is on television.
Season one completed a full cycle of one type of stereotypical “crazy ex-girlfriend:” the type that won’t let go of a lost relationship and will go through drastic measures (stalking, breaking in, moving across the country) to get him back. Now season two has ended with a set up for the second stereotypical type of “crazy ex,” the shrew out for revenge, for whom keying someone’s car and TP-ing his house isn’t enough.
Everyone exaggerated and uses hyperbole for humor (“I feel like if I could master a multi-step skin routine I would never have any problems in my life ever again,” I tweeted the other day) but Rebecca’s pain, her darkness and her denial, had been woven throughout the show all along. The depth of her mental illness was hidden in the season two theme song all along, and as we’ve been told from the beginning, it’s all a lot more nuanced than we might think.