After a short hiatus and a cross-country tour, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back this Friday for its fourth and final season. No, it hasn’t been canceled — co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna have stated that their aim all along has been a story told in four parts. It’s a refreshing stance for a show to take, and it’s a welcome one especially for this show.
That’s because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about personal growth. It’s about coming to terms with yourself and trying to be a better person. And after three years of disastrous attempts to be happy, Rebecca Bunch (played by Bloom) is finally on the path to working out her issues on her own terms.
Unfortunately, Rebecca’s own terms aren’t always the best ones, and just because she knows she needs work doesn’t mean she’s doing a good job. Last season’s excellent finale saw her pleading guilty… or rather responsible… to murder. It was a sensational ending, and one very much in conversation with the show’s themes and even its title — faced with the easy out of pleading insanity and claiming, legally, to be a “crazy ex-girlfriend,” Rebecca chose to face up to her actions. She may not have meant to hurt Trent (the crime she was charged with) but she felt guilty enough for all her other actions that an attempted murder charge seemed like it would just about cover it.
The season premiere picks up right where the finale left off, with Rebecca in an orange jumpsuit before a judge. Without going into too many details, let’s just say that the outside world isn’t completely on board with Rebecca’s fantasy of martyrdom.
In fact, if there’s one marked difference with the new season (prison time notwithstanding), it’s a lack of sensationalism. Where in previous seasons Rebecca may have been able to milk her arrest for all it was worth, it just doesn’t work anymore. The show has stopped enabling her.
It’s a good change, and one that makes sense. We’ve come a very long way from the levity of the first season, in which Rebecca would ride her obsessive behavior as far as it would carry her, fabricating lawsuits and home invasions and job offers in wild and desperate attempts to get what she wanted. Her behavior was destructive, yes, but it came with a certain air of flippancy, with the accompanying songs particularly serving to lighten the mood.
The levity and the humor are still there this season, but anything that could previously be perceived as “zaniness” is now just evidence that this person we’ve come to care about still needs help. And the music, once the source of some of the finest comedic moments, is now the vehicle for some of Rebecca’s most troubling delusions. The very first song of the season comes roaring in with this fact. A “Cell Block Tango” spoof, it puts Rebecca’s understanding of her situation in a very harsh and, ultimately, satisfying light. The song is still, somehow, genuinely funny, but the humor comes from a dark place indeed.
And as if that weren’t enough, it comes quickly on the heels of an unprecedented event — Rebecca singing her heart out not in her mind, but in the real world. It’s quite the eye-opener. It’s clear that Rebecca still has issues, and if anything, the disparity between reality and her stilted view of the world is even greater when reality starts to shine through more.
But while the show is clearly taking a harsher stance on Rebecca’s worldview, it’s also making sure to give her the necessary tools to cope. Rebecca has a band of loyal friends, now, an ever-present support system, and for every harebrained plan she voices, half a dozen people are there to tell her it’s a bad idea. It’s a development that was already showing itself in the third season, and it’s only more prominent now.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems more serious than ever about holding Rebecca responsible for her actions, but it’s clear that it’s not about to abandon her. The path to healing really does seem traversable now, and the focus is firmly on Rebecca’s understanding of herself. This is easiest to spot in the decided shift in this year’s naming conventions. After three and a half seasons of titles centered around Josh’s name, then a short smattering of other male names (Jeff, Nathaniel, and Trent), the first three episode titles of this season use the word “I.”
While the show is ever darkening and ever more conversant with mental health issues, it’s still, as always, remarkably smart and funny. The first song of the season may be a gut punch, but the second episode’s songs are much more regular (and excellent) fare, including a spooky group number led by Patton Oswalt. A wonderfully clever send-up of a well-known song that dwells on a particular social convention, it’s Classic™ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and a real joy to watch.
The final season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is sure to be quite the journey. Bloom and Brosh McKenna have said that “it’ll be (their) version of a happy ending” but with the season slated to contain 18 episodes (up from last year’s 13), that happy ending is probably going to be a long time coming.
However long it takes, I’m excited to follow Rebecca every step of the way.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns Friday, October 12 at 9pm EST on the CW.