Let’s pause for a minute to consider the backslide.
“I Will Help You” isn’t the first instance in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s final season in which Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) has fallen into some old, unhealthy patterns. There was the time her sense of embarrassment and shame made her afraid to leave the house; there was the time her desire to help her kid brother become a child star drove her to some classic Bunch stalking; there was the time news that two of her best friends were moving drove her to behave like a real asshole. The list goes on. Pick an episode, and you’ll find an example.
That’s not accidental. It’s not just a way of reintroducing conflict into a the landscape, needlessly revisiting problems Rebecca’s already tackled. It’s essential, because it’s honest, depressing though that may seem. Mental health isn’t an overnight thing. There’s no finish line. You take steps forward, you take steps back. Repeat until you die. And with that, enter Naomi Bunch.
Any Naomi episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is bound to be eventful. First, you don’t bring in the great Tovah Feldshuh for her to sit on her hands and whistle, knowwhatimean? But more importantly, Naomi has been a source of chaos in Rebecca’s life since the very beginning of the series—her voice pops up in its very first scenes, and when she finally arrived in person, it was with the energy of a tornado. It’s not as though Naomi is a purely destructive force. There have been moments of tenderness, and even the most purely messed-up thing she’s done (drugging Rebecca in “I Never Want To See Josh Again.”) is an incredible violation that nevertheless stems from a place of bone-deep fear for the life and safety of her daughter.
So when this episode begins with the news that Rebecca is headed to New York to see her mother, it’s just a wee bit ominous, but unsurprising. That’s because of the other thing that makes Naomi such an important element of this series. You can cut out some of the toxic elements of your life, you can make hard, necessary changes, you can adjust your habits and circumstances, set goals and find new ways to cope, but it’s not so easy to get rid of family.
That right there is the result of all Rebecca Bunch’s newfound healthy habits (though it must be said that making one’s mugshot the photo on one’s dating profile is, perhaps, taking things a bit far). Rebecca goes to New York because it’s important to her that she be honest with her mother. She chooses to stay with Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) and Beth (Emma Willmann) instead of Naomi, knowing that’s better for her; she asks for and receives moral support—immediate moral support, on-site moral support—from Valencia, instead of trying to tough it out alone. She arrives and dives right in, and while she stumbles at first, she goes in for a do-over the next day. She does all the things she should do, and that’s what she gets.
What’s most interesting (and exciting) is that while Rebecca ultimately ends this storyline on a note of triumph, it’s hard fought, and it’s not exactly where the episode ends, either. But while the triumph is there, it sure is sweet. Director Kabir Akhtar (the show’s Emmy-winning editor and the director of several previous episodes) and credited writer Aline Brosh McKenna cleverly stage that final confrontation in Valencia and Beth’s comically small apartment (complete with combo refrigerator/murphy bed), so that the residents of that apartment are there to underline the importance of the step Rebecca takes. That it’s also funny is a nice bonus, but the important thing is that they’re there to stand in for the audience: There to feel uncomfortable, to root Rebecca on, to give her support, and to be proud.
Then she heads right on back to the Cov, just in time for a backslide. And with that, enter Josh Chan and Nathaniel Plimpton, Esq.
The Josh (Vincent Rodriguez) and Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) storylines might seem somewhat disconnected from the main event at first glance, but as with Rebecca, it’s all about putting us in a position to cheer them on as they make things better for themselves. Josh successfully cleaning the apartment and Nathaniel experiencing the sensation of doing something nice for someone else aren’t on the same level as Rebecca clearly and defiantly establishing some boundaries for her mother (and consequences to go along with those boundaries, should they be violated), but they’re steps nonetheless. Each is captured with a similar, affectionate sense of “you’ve got to be kidding me;” when of the show’s grown-ups wanders in, they’re bemused, irritated, and affectionately incredulous.
And when Rebecca comes back, she finds them both improved somewhat. Feeling lighter and stronger, she finds herself in a position where—whoops—glitter’s exploding inside her. And while Rebecca’s right to think that’s trouble, she may not be aware of the other big step that happens. She knows it’s trouble, doesn’t bother to deny it, and once again, tells a friend immediately. Bad news, but in a much better situation.
“I Will Help You” asserts itself of the strongest episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fourth season early on, right from that first scene with Naomi, and that’s where it stays. Akhtar’s playful direction keeps it there; McKenna’s assured knowledge of the characters she’s lived with for years keeps it there. It’s many steps forward, this episode, and then, as always, a few steps back—but this time, even the steps back are steps forward, in a way. That’s progress, too.
- GGG Award: Elayne Boosler, naturally.
- The “hey, large adult son, here’s how you clean up” song is one of my all-time favorite CEXG gags.
- I also laughed very, very hard at Nathaniel getting turned on by being a decent person.
- And at the doughnuts.
- This is a good episode.