Finales are tough. You have to wrap up storylines and set the stage for whatever comes next, leave audiences feeling satisfied but not without some apprehension, and end on a high note without being too obvious about it. For every Alias season one finale (“Mom?”), there’s Lost’s Jack and Locke staring into the hatch. It’s a difficult thing to do, and it’s a promising sign that in their first at-bat with season-enders, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pretty much hit a home run. Directed by co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna and written by Rene Gube (Father Brah!), “Paula Needs to Get Over Josh!” hits basically all the points it needs to hit, and just as a bonus, seems to offer something of a thesis on the whole season. That’s a dramaturgical mic-drop.
Rebecca’s had three relationships that really matter this season—three different love stories, if you will—and they all change in the course of one hour. Each is tested in a new way, each gets more complicated, and each ends up much clearer and headed in a different direction (for better or worse). There’s a lot to talk about in this episode, and we’ll catch as much as possible, but it’s most useful to break things down into those three relationships. So let’s go. One more spin around the dance floor.
Pure (but messy) love
Get ready, Paula haters. You’re not going to much like this chunk.
After this episode, it’s clear that, for all its many, many complications, the most valuable relationship Rebecca has in West Covina is Paula. After episode after episode of lunacy (some of which gets revealed in a killer send-up of the Gypsy classic “Rose’s Turn”), Rebecca and Paula have the single healthiest scene of the season. (Well, the single healthiest scene between any pairing that’s not White Josh and Darryl.) They had a fight, as people do. They were both right, and both wrong. Paula did some dumb shit. It happens. What matters is that, when the time came, two people who love each other fell all over themselves to try to make things right.
Of all the clarifying moments in the season finale, none was perhaps as surprising as Paula and Rebecca finding the true nature of the friendship they’ve built over eighteen episodes. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that it’s so surprising. It shouldn’t be that unexpected that a show created by two women should choose to most firmly underline the importance of its central female friendship. But surprising it was, and refreshing. Rebecca may end up in a mess nearly as big as that time she had Paula break her window to cover up that she broke into Josh’s house to cover up that she sent a bad text that revealed a bunch of the rest of her lies, but she gets one definitively happy ending. Will everything be smooth sailing with Rebecca and Paula moving forward? Probably not. Most relationships aren’t that simple. But each starts thinking about what the other actually needs, and about the value they place in each other. That’s no small thing.
And oh yeah, Donna Lynne Champlin sang the holy crap out of a terrific, funny, and illuminating character song. Mic-drop.
Complicated (and not necessarily healthy) love
Greg blew it. No getting around that. Rebecca got great advice twice, and acted on it both times—or at least tried to act. Granted, she made some mistakes as well (hanging all kinds of importance on a date that involves a wedding, for one), but healthy Rebecca made some mostly good choices. Nervous, yes. Awkward, yes. Wanting to force storybook romance into something that’s real, yes. But she tried to have real feelings and handle them in a reasonably healthy way.
And Greg blew it. Sometimes you start to fall just a little bit in love with a person who might be great for you, but they’re also a terrified, insecure, emotionally stunted alcoholic. Greg is those things, and that is no longer ambiguous. It’s not a cute, romantic-comedy obstacle. It’s not . One of the most impressive things about the finale is how firmly it hammers home that this season hasn’t been about #TeamJosh or #TeamGreg (if anything, it’s #TeamPaula and/or #TeamDarrylandWhiteJosh). Any moments of romantic love that feel genuine in this episode come from this pairing, but it’s impossible to watch and think that these people are in any way ready to be in a relationship. They can’t get it together to have an actual conversation about anything but UTIs.
Credit where it’s due: Greg and Rebecca’s scenes in this episode hit some beautiful comic notes, but what makes them work so well is the palpable sense that they’re each so fundamentally misinterpreting what’s happening. Two ships passing in the night, each drastically off course and maybe piloted by a drunk. Rene Gube has undoubtedly done some terrific work in the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writers room this year, and even if he hadn’t, Father Brah would be gift enough. But with this finale, he manages to walk the line between slapstick and sorrow with admirable grace, and no scene walks that line more nimbly than Rebecca’s final scene with Greg. Santino Fontana and Rachel Bloom really earned their paychecks on this one.
Love stories (real and imagined)
Good for you, Valencia.
With Josh, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took a character that could have been a big ol’ nothing and made him engaging, likable, and flawed. They took a character who could have either been too perfect or perfectly wrong and smacked him somewhere in between. It’s wonderful. It’s so smart. It’s perhaps the single smartest thing they did in a very smart inaugural season. Vincent Rodriguez III has gotten better with each episode. He was great in “Paula Needs to Get Over Josh!” and so, of course, was Bloom.
Who knows what will happen in the future. This is one writer who will happily eat crow if she is wrong about this, but to me, this episode seems to make clear that the connection that Rebecca and Josh have is a heady blend of friendship, nostalgia, and total fiction. That would be clear even without the voice of two Disney Princesses singing a power ballad.
That’s not to say that the breakup scene between Valencia and Josh isn’t inherently satisfying. God, is it ever. Again, much praise is due to both Gube and Brosh McKenna (as well as Rodriguez and Gabrielle Ruiz), because that brief interaction conveys an honesty not seen in most of their interactions to date. Both of them tell the truth, and then make good choices. And then Josh rushes right into some more fake conversations and some magic carpet sex.
I’m sure there’s a world (and maybe a future storyline) where Rebecca and Josh are well-suited to each other. There have certainly been moments this season when they’ve seemed like a good match. But season one doesn’t end with a genuine connection. It ends with “One Indescribable Instant,” and those moments, for the most part, aren’t real. Rebecca went from the fantasy of not moving to West Covina for Josh, to the fantasy of Josh solving all her problems (and briefly, to the fantasy of instantly starting a life with Greg while talking to a bird). And Josh went from an unhappy relationship to the sweet, princess-like girl who shouldn’t be with the bad guy. Then the balloon gets ruptured, and off we head into season two.
If Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about happiness and how elusive it can be, what “Paula Needs to Get Over Josh!” really says is that hanging that happiness on any one relationship is treacherous. Honesty has to come first. A happy lie is still a lie, whether that lie belongs to you or your best friend. Paula and Rebecca will be OK. Valencia will be OK. Honesty matters, and it’s necessary to get to anything resembling real happiness.
White Josh and Darryl, though. They’re doing great.
- Check back a little later tonight for a ranking of every song in the season, but for now, here’s a video of me and Allison Hendrix of Chicago’s Kokandy Productions talking about 15 of the season’s best songs. Thanks to everyone who piped up here and on Twitter about your favorites. [Edited to add: here it is! Look for part two tomorrow, and follow me on Twitter for more CExG stuff this summer.]
- Hey, Greg. Listen to your dad next time.
- Things I thought I’d never see: Valencia going full Tim Tebow.
- “God, pep talks into a mirror do nothing but enhance the loneliness.”
- “You need to realize that ‘u up’ is text for ‘are you horny.’” Heather is a bizarrely good friend, and Vela Lovell really, honestly made me believe that Heather was grown-up enough to give Rebecca some legitimately good advice. Heather didn’t have a ton to do this season, although nearly everything she did was excellent. More Heather in season two, please.
- Lea Salonga! Knowing that she’d be guesting in advance didn’t make her appearance any less delightful. I hope that Aunt Myrna went up against Beyoncé’s childhood girl group on Star Search. (Those who don’t know that particular goddess by name, she’s the singing voice of both Jasmine and Mulan, and a musical theatre legend.
- Things we learned from Rebecca’s wedding gift purchase: she’s still terrible with money. Things Rebecca learned about money this season: exactly zero things.
- I wrote most of this review off of a screener, but watched live to avoid missing any last-minute edits. No changes, just those terrible commercials combining the show with the new Alice in Wonderland movie. BOO.
- Told you:
- See you next season! Get your friends hooked over the summer.
- This is basically just here because it’s wonderful. Let’s end on this note, shall we?