This post contains discussions of major plot points in the season finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. You have been warned.
The dream of Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) is done for Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom). Well, that’s understating matters a bit. Friday’s finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend indicates that Rebecca is not only finished pinning her hopes on the man for whom she moved to West Covina, she’s turned her love into vicious animosity after learning that her fiancé abandoned their wedding to become a priest.
The episode’s dramatic finish is the culmination of a revealing hour that gives its audience another window into the mind of the heroine. It delves into the extent of her father’s blithe cruelty, and the circumstances surrounding an event that shaped her romantic perspective: When Rebecca was in college she had an affair with one of her professors. After he rebuffed her, she set fire to his things, and was sent to a mental hospital.
The A.V. Club hopped on the phone with the show’s co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote and directed the episode, to discuss Rebecca’s new mission: To “destroy” Josh Chan.
The A.V. Club: This is the first episode you’ve both written and directed. What was that like?
Aline Brosh McKenna: It was great because I felt very free with the process. This is our 31st episode so we’re a very close community. I always love directing because it gives me a chance to be with everyone 24/7. But also we had such a specific vision for what we wanted this season finale to be so it was great to kind of embody that in a thorough way.
AVC: What was that vision?
ABM: We always knew that the second season would end with the idea of her turning on Josh. That he was going to let her down in some way and that we were going to move into the next phase of being a crazy ex. She’s now really well and truly an ex, because they really have been together.
This relationship has uncorked an aspect of her that we haven’t seen before and she hasn’t really expressed before. This idea that she had prior relationships that were really disruptive and dysfunctional and unhealthy is something that the show has hinted at a little bit but we haven’t had any specific instances. It was always very clear to us that this was a pattern for her. The intent of this episode is to show where that deficiency in her life formed the little shades that patterns these relationships and why she’s attracted to men that are not fully on board for her. At the same time it explores her relationship with her father, and it explores her relationship with Josh. But it also deals with showing us a relationship in her past where she also behaves in this way with disastrous consequences.
AVC: What was the process behind breaking the storyline with Robert, her former professor? Was that something that you and Rachel have been talking about for a long time?
ABM: We’ve been talking about the affair with the professor from the beginning. That struck us always from the conception of the character as something she absolutely would have done. Rebecca is precocious, intellectual, status-seeking. And especially at that young age, she’s very responsive to authority and also, in an obvious way, lacking a father figure—it always seemed very obvious and natural to us that she would be attracted to a professor. The idea that she’s sort of on the precipice of having everything she said she wanted in terms of Josh—and at this moment of what should be happiness and fulfillment—because she’s unnerved by her father’s presence and her continued unrequited longing for her father—it sends her back to remembering the last time she contemplated really making a commitment to someone, and it was Robert.
AVC: One of the stereotypes the show is playing with is the girl with daddy issues. How did you walk that line between embracing the cliché and deftly exploring it?
ABM: I think what’s interesting about Silas is he doesn’t present as a bad guy. He’s very charming. And she’s always oscillated between thinking he’s a total negligent insufficient person, but also being very easily charmed by him and very easily reverting to the person she was before he left, and longing for his attention. What I love about John’s [Allen Nelson, playing Rebecca’s father] performance is that he really gets that he presents so well in such a charming way, sort of the in the same way that Josh presents really well. He’s very handsome, and there’s a sweetness to him.
And then when we were doing the scene where he takes the check from her John made the choice to pocket the check without ever looking at it, which I loved because that shows the true con man in there. Somebody who has gotten what he’s came to town for so he immediately moves on to giving her the emotional connection that he knows she wants. It’s not like he’s an awful guy. He’s not a mean guy, he’s not an abusive guy. He’s just somebody who is very incapable in relationships and furthermore, what she senses correctly, is he’s very overwhelmed by how smart she is, how intense she is, how dramatic she is.
I think one of the things about parents and children is there are these accidents of temperament. There’s no guarantee that just because you are related you’ll have anything in common. Rebecca’s much more like her mother than her father and so in one sense he wants to be a good father to her, but in another sense he’s really repelled by the qualities of her, especially the ones that remind him of his ex-wife.
AVC: As the season came to a close it seemed like Rebecca was continually on the verge of some sort of the breakthrough with her therapist, and there almost seems to be a moment of recognition in her admitting that she is “crazy” to her father during the finale. Is that supposed to be read as such?
ABM: She’s always resisted being labeled that way by him. She’s been told that many times in her life. I’m sure she’s had many many boyfriends tell her she’s crazy and many people in her life feel like she’s overreacting to stuff. It’s not the first time in the show we’ve had someone call her crazy. It’s a moment where she says, “Maybe I am a little bit.” That’s a moment where she takes ownership of it.
In terms of the breakthroughs one thing that we’ve tried to show many times is when she’s on the precipice of something that feels like real life—something that isn’t anchored in fantasy, doesn’t have any element of escapism—she tends to run and try and retreat. That was one of the foundational issues of her relationship with Greg [Santino Fontana]. Her relationship with Greg was much more grounded and based in the real world and she doesn’t really like that. She likes for the angels to sing and heavens to part and beautiful music to play. That’s the world that she inhabits. She has a sense that if she immerses into reality in some way she’s going to have to confront a whole bunch of ugly realities that she doesn’t want to deal with.
AVC: Was this an emotionally wrenching episode to play?
ABM: There’s definitely a lot of high emotion in it. So the scene where she’s on the cliff—Rachel’s down a few steps and I was at the top of the steps in the video village so between takes we were sprinting toward each other. She was really vibrating. To me it reminded me a lot of the scene in the pilot where she’s in the garage and she throws her pills away. She’s kind of confronting these patterns in her life that Dr. Akopian [Michael Hyatt] wants her to look at and she doesn’t want to, and she’s realizing, hey, there’s a reason why this has happened to me.
The scene where you see her in the mental hospital we see she was very overmedicated. She’s a zombie. It’s one of the reasons that she struggles with and rejects medication because she associates it with being a zombie. So yeah, it was very emotional, and what happens at the very end of the episode is that when she’s threatened or frightened or had to confront something unpleasant she looks for a new role to take on and she finds this form of behavior which is to become the avenging angel.
Rachel and I had always pitched that the end of the second season is she says, “Josh Chan must be destroyed.” I honestly think that was in the pitch for the very first meeting we had. Because there are a few phases that you go through when you’re an ex. The first season [was], “Oh, you’re in town? I’m in town! Weird!” The second season was, “Oh, we slept together, you must love me.” Then the third season is, what do you do when that dream that you’ve had—which you’ve embodied in a person in a not very healthy way—disappears? And often what they do is they focus all their hurt and upset and rage at their ex. She’s going to move more toward, “Screw him, I hate him, oh wait did he like one of my pictures on Instagram?” The opposite of love is apathy or hatred. So the second she starts to turn on him it’s another manifestation of romantic obsession. I think in some sense we’re moving toward the most classic embodiment of the premise of the show.
AVC: Is that challenging because of all the baggage associated with that?
ABM: Yeah, that’s sort of the beating heart of the trope and the thing that we want to get underneath. My contention about the show—always from the beginning from the minute I pitched it to Rachel initially—was that everyone has been a crazy ex or had a crazy ex, and most people have been both. Everybody knows the feeling of, “Oh god, this person won’t stop bothering me.” Everyone has also been the person finding it really hard to control themselves on acting out toward someone who they feel had romantically wronged them. We are really excited to get inside what that feels like for someone who is fundamentally a good person—if a troubled person—trying to sort out how to deal with having been very very publicly spurned by him.
AVC: Josh wants to become a priest. Is that something that we can expect to stick? Is he just substituting religion for another girl or is he truly going to devote himself to this?
ABM: Well, he’s certainly going to try. He is a well-intentioned person in many ways. He kind of tries to do the right thing. We’ve been showing him as somebody for whom religion is extremely important, somebody who goes to his priest kind of whenever and frequently and really depends on him. What happens in the moment is that Father Brah [Rene Gube] correctly diagnoses his issue. He’s an immature guy who has always processed his own feelings about himself through women. So he doesn’t really know how to have an introspective thought without a woman. He realizes he’s got this issue and he’s either got to confront it, or he can seek refuge in something that to him seems rather noble.
One thing I told Vinnie [Vincent Rodriguez IIIl, who plays Josh] was, I think what he’s thinking is, “I can’t marry this girl, my mother is going to kill me.” And then when he thinks of the priest thing, I think part of what he is thinking is, “My mother won’t be as angry if I call her and say, yeah, I ditched the wedding, but guess what? I think I’m going to be a priest.” At least that gives him some cover for some period of time.
AVC: In the hospital scene a nurse says that Rebecca sings to herself all the time. What did you want to do in connecting the musical aspect of the show to Rebecca’s mental health?
ABM: It’s her retreat. She goes to fantasy when she’s threatened and I think we see numerous examples in the show where she goes to her imagination and fantasy to process difficult or confusing experiences for her. It’s where she’s always gone. It’s the reason we have the musical numbers in the show. Because it’s how she deals with and processes the world. I think we’re showing part of where her tendency to disappear into fantasy solidified for her because it was an escape.
AVC: What was it like building this wedding that you knew you were going to rip apart?
ABM: That location was spectacular. Our location manager found this place in Malibu. We actually were able to shoot multiple things there because the wedding takes place there, and also the seminary is there, and the mental hospital is there. They are all different buildings on the same property. We had a great time. That location gave us such great light and such great backdrop.
We were very lucky with the light when we shot Rachel solo and we had an enormously good time. We’ve ended both seasons with a wedding and it’s kind of a fun thing for the crew and cast and everybody to end with a celebration. Even if they are all kind of fucked up. But we save up a little money for the last episode so we can have more production value. We normally shoot in seven days—we shot this one in nine days so it gave us the opportunity to make things look nice.
AVC: You don’t have lavish big musical production numbers in this one. Was that to focus more on the emotional aspects of the episode?
ABM: It’s an emotional episode. It’s also a little bit of thriller in a way. It’s a little bit of a detective story. Josh is in his little Sherlock Holmes story trying to figure this out. He’s not the brightest. But he does a pretty good job of sleuthing. He actually gets the proof delivered to him. He never opens it, but he does get it. It didn’t seem like it had an opportunity for a big song and dance number but we wanted to give that reprise—we call it the super reprise—some scope.
AVC: You spent a lot of this season forming Rebecca’s coterie of girlfriends, developing her relationships with Paula [Donna Lynne Champlin], Valencia [Gabrielle Ruiz], and Heather [Vella Lovell]. Are they going to inform her vengeance or are they going to drive people away more?
ABM: It will likely be a combination of those two. This season had three distinct chapters. The first one was Greg’s departure, the second one was the girl squad, and then the third one was the engagement and meeting Nathaniel [Scott Michael Foster]. I think all of those relationships will definitely come into play and at the very end all of those girls rally around her when she’s confronting her father. I think actually for the first time in her life she has friends. Because she’s a somewhat selfish and deluded person she still has to learn what true friendship really is about, but these women all certainly love each other and are going to protect each other and learn about each other. We’ll definitely be exploring the friendships in context of what happens with her and Josh and how they all feel about what her strategies are.
AVC: And are you going to keep Nathaniel around?
ABM: Yes. That will be there next year.
AVC: You’ve ended these first two seasons on weddings. Is that going to become a hallmark? Is that something you want to do every season?
ABM: We’ll have to see. We are a romantic comedy and weddings are a big part romantic comedies.