Photo: Greg Gayne (The CW)
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What’s wrong with you? This is what happy feels like.

Forget about the guys. That’s the worst part about being a ghost and working with women. So much talk about the guys.

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Love doesn’t have to be a person, it can be a passion.

“I’m In Love” feels like a long, slow exhalation. It’s a release. There’s a palpable sense of the show having arrived at its destination. It doesn’t play as a farewell, or not entirely, despite the gentle goodbyes it offers to some of its characters. No, “I’m In Love” feels most like the flushed, still minutes you get when you’ve climbed a big hill. It’s expected you’ll pause. The view is beautiful. It’s an accomplishment, and that feels good. The relief is welcome. But that walk down the other side is going to feel great, too.

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Some of this might be projection. If I didn’t know how improbable Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s four-season run is, how incredibly unlikely it is that the show lived to end as its creators intended, would it feel this way? If I didn’t see smart, clever, big-hearted, under-viewed shows get cancelled all the time, would this finale feel like such a well-earned rest at the summit? If I weren’t aware that it’s still totally nuts that this thing exists, that we got a musical PSA about the clitoris and the neggy Ed Sheeran ballad and “Valencia, czar of torture” and ass-blood and an hour-long CATS parody about yeast infections on a network, would it feel this way?

Yes. It would. “I’m In Love” works because we’ve met Rebecca. She’s too hard to summarize, but four seasons isn’t a summary, is it? And this finale gives her a future, whether we see it or not.

There’s nothing self-congratulatory about “I’m In Love,” an extraordinary finale for an extraordinary series, the former written by and the latter created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. There’s no showboating. It earns its big moments, and none overstay their welcome. Every time it tiptoes close to a line that no one could blame it for crossing, into the grandiose or the saccharine or the precious, it throws up a hot tub or a poop attack or White Josh not warming to Rebecca. In every scene, it lays out the arguments Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been making since the very beginning, quietly demonstrating how carefully and faithfully it has adhered to its themes and ideas over its four terrific seasons. All of that alone—to say nothing of the great direction from McKenna, terrific performances (particularly from Bloom, but everyone is great across the board), some excellent jokes, one ambitious song, and one perfect reprise—would make for a very good finale.

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But this is a great one, because all of that is just a nice bonus. This is Rebecca Bunch finally being able to tell that butter ad to shut the fuck up and get out of her face. We know Rebecca Bunch. We walked up that hill with her. We slid back down it sometimes, too. And because we’ve watched the show, we know it’s not all smooth sailing from here on out. Things will get tricky sometimes, but wow, will the walk be easier.

The genius of the writers’/White Josh’s three dates idea is revealed and underlined by how effectively it moves the story forward. Three perfect dates, in their own way. Three men who’ve each worked to make themselves better people and partners. Accurately prescribed medication, a treatment program and support system, an enjoyable job and distance from toxic forces in life. Good friends. The ability to ask for help. Rebecca Bunch has all these things, and a Dream Ghost (a very welcome final turn from Michael Hyatt). And she’s still not whole, because she doesn’t know who she is.

The echoes of “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am!” sprinkled throughout “I’m In Love” serve more than one purpose, as they also demonstrate how far Rebecca’s come since season one, but mostly, they exist to underline two big ideas explored in that chapter. One: People really care about this woman. Two: Love doesn’t have to be with a person. It’s a little staggering to look back at that season one episode and see how long some part of Rebecca’s mind—the part that takes the form of a Dream Ghost, anyway—has known that music (and more specifically, telling her own story) was something she needed. The men can be perfect. The life can be perfect. You can put in all the work you want, but if you don’t know who you are and what you want, if you don’t make choices for yourself based on an understanding of your own heart and soul, there’s no chance of that kind of bone-deep reliable happiness Rebecca Bunch has craved for so long.

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“Forget about the guys. That’s the worst part about being a ghost and working with women. So much talk about the guys. You loved that play.

To its credit, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t make this an easy fix. It’s not just all the work we see Rebecca put in during what we’ll call the Raven’s Nest Year, though that is something. Imagine the Rebecca who was afraid to throw a party being willing to learn some stuff she might be bad at, and then to willingly be vulnerable in front of a crowd, not because she’s a mess (see: Miss Douche) but because she’s secure and happy. It’s also the work she did beforehand, because she’s never have made that last leap without Paula being there to put that pen in her hand.

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Every scene in “I’m In Love” is a winner. The jokes land, the hard moments land. Though they’re on screen for minutes at most, Vincent Rodriguez III, Skylar Astin, and Scott Michael Foster all do excellent work. But the heart of this episode is the relationship between Paula and Rebecca, with one last incredibly lovely #GurlGroup4Evah sighting as a bonus. It’s Paula who finally asks what that weird thing she does is, and Paula who sees instantly what it means to her. Donna Lynne Champlin may have had more challenging storylines over the years, but she fills every corner of those scenes, leading to some of her best work and setting her scene partner up for success as well.

Maybe “I’m In Love” feels like a relief, like crossing a finish line, because Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna got to, at long last, give Rebecca Bunch the happy ending they always planned to give her. Maybe it’s because Bloom got the chance to be every bit as good in a crisis with a healthy Rebecca as she’s been when Rebecca was in trouble. Maybe it’s the knowledge that the pair got to end this wonderful series in a way that gives their protagonist a bright, loving future, no matter who she “ends up with,” whether she “ends up with” anyone at all. Maybe it’s the satisfaction I hope they feel of knowing that giving her that ending will mean so much to people.

Maybe it’s gratitude. Maybe it’s delight. Maybe it’s the green juice. I think that’s probably it.

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Stray observations

  • This has been such a joy. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was one of my first assignments here, and it has one-hundred percent changed my life. Thanks for reading, for chatting on Twitter, for loving this show, and for tolerating this ridiculously sentimental review. I tried my best to always look at this series I love with a critical eye, because I believe that art becomes more precious the more we explore and understand it. But I’ve got nothing in the tank here, friends. Even George’s ponytail was perfect. I wish we could have seen the horses, how about that? There’s a criticism.
  • Yes, It’s Really Us Singing!: Wonderful, right?
  • Hector/George Award: It’s a tie, between Jim (Burl Moesley), Tim (Michael McMillian), Maya (Esther Povitsky), AJ (Clark Moore), Father Brah (Rene Gube), Bert (Michael Hitchcock), and of course, Hector (Erick Lopez) and George (Danny Jolles), the two actors who made me laugh so hard at their spot-on delivery of expertly written jokes that I felt compelled to name a fake award after them.
  • On a related note, the thrill I felt when seeing Jolles sing “George’s Turn” during the taping of the special cannot be described. God, what a good joke.
  • And on another related note, Mr. Jolles was kind enough to come on a podcast I co-host to discuss the best recurring characters in this wonderful goddamned show.
  • I was lucky to get a glimpse behind the scenes at the making of the finale, which I’ve written up over at Vulture. Now that this has aired, I can share the answers I got to some questions we couldn’t run beforehand, which you’ll find here. I’m also running a song ranking at The Spool next week, so look for that.
  • And tomorrow morning, my friends here at AVC are running a story I worked really hard on about how “Eleven O’Clock” came to be. It would mean a lot if you’d read it. Watch this space. [ETA: Here it is.]
  • Thanks again for reading, and for being the best damn comments section on the whole darned internet. Come watch Legends Of Tomorrow with me?

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