Quite a few of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s best episodes have played with the notion that Rebecca’s selfishness blinds her to the reality of her relationships and the world in general, and they make particular hay of the moments when a rude awakening of some kind snaps her back, however briefly, to what’s really happening. Let’s call them the “Villain in My Own Story” moments, or the VIMOSes, for short. In nearly every case, any growth she exhibits gets pushed back when her great romance rears its ugly head, up to and including the climax of the first season. There’s a VIMOS, Rebecca makes some discoveries, and then “blam!”—in walks Josh, or Greg, or Josh’s new girlfriend, or some kind of sign, and she’s back to old habits.
That’s also true of “Who is Josh’s Soup Fairy?,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s terrific mid-season premiere—until it isn’t. Written by Rachel Specter and Audrey Wauchope and directed by Linda Mendoza, the episode follows Rebecca down a familiar destructive path: she has a VIMOS, courtesy of Mrs. Hernandez (Gina Gallego), then attempts to course-correct before running into Josh and pretty much blowing it all. It’s frustrating in the best way possible, in that it’s not the missteps of a writer or reliance on cliché that causes the upset. It’s watching a masterfully drawn character fall into the same terrible pattern over and over again, knowing she almost learned something. Almost.
The most brilliant surprise in “Soup Fairy” isn’t Mrs. Hernandez’s outburst (although that’s also wonderful). It’s that Rebecca finally escapes that loop, even if its only briefly, in a way that really matters. Taking the first step in putting her friendship with Paula back together isn’t really enough, particularly as it comes complete with some truly delusional ideas about motherhood and her own superiority, but it’s still a mostly unselfish moment, complete with earnest apology. No, the real kicker comes at the end, when faced with the chance to run away with Josh into the night, Rebecca chooses to stay, to own up to her absolutely absurd childcare screw-up, and to prioritize her broken-hearted friend over the guy on whom she dotes (but who also, let’s be honest, treats her like crap).
It helps that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s most affecting scenes are typically between Paula and Rebecca (with the odd Greg moment thrown in, may they rest in peace). That’s thanks in no small part to the fact that Champlin and Bloom are the joint MVPs of the series, and toxic tendencies and all, theirs is the relationship on which this series hinges. Rebecca spends a significant chunk of this episode with Tommy Proctor (played with a hell of a straight face by the impeccably named Steele Stebbins), but in her three scenes with Paula, this episode gets its real meat. First, she does the same terrible thing she’s always done, leading to the episode’s second-most cringeworthy moment. In the second, she actually apologizes and makes a point of trying to help a friend. In the third, she does the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. It’s not fixing a mistake or making up for something. It’s a moment of honesty and growth unparalleled on the show, and it works like gangbusters.
In fact, the loveliness and simplicity of Paul and Rebecca’s final scene makes Josh’s storyline that much more sad. Whether or not they’re good for each other (all signs point to no), it’s clear that Josh and Rebecca have a fair amount in common, particularly when it comes to emotional maturity and healthy decision-making. Turning a pint of chicken soup into a sign is a particularly Rebecca Bunch move, especially when it comes on the heels of a break-up and includes a solo musical number. Come to that, thinking a sponsored party will be your ticket to break into the modeling business in a life-changing way isn’t that far from deciding that being Miss Douche will make you a whole new person.
Josh’s musical number and race down the street are funny, sure, but they also underline much of what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has to say about relationships. It’s not simply that Josh can’t be alone, although that’s part of it. The show makes a point, again and again, of saying that not only isn’t life a story, but that our attempts to make our lives and especially our relationships adhere to an unrealistic and untrue narrative can be deeply damaging. Rebecca wants to “be friends” because of what comes next in the movies; Josh gets dumped and realizes that it’s really been his “soup fairy” all along, that she’s the one, pregnancy scares and dysfunction be damned (or better still, forgotten).
Similarly, Josh’s trip down the runway would be the start of something new in the movies. Here, it’s a scene so profoundly embarrassing it border on unwatchable, though to skip it would be a crime, since you’d then miss the reaction shots. Vincent Rodriguez III has never been funnier than in that scene, with the possible exception of “Angry Mad,” and the whole thing, from Hector and White Josh attempting to distract Anna to the moment the sleeve lands on her face, is pretty much perfect. Brittany Snow is perfectly horrified, and David Hull and Erick Lopez are so earnest in their horror and their valiant efforts to save this thing for him that it’s all the funnier. Perhaps only the Party Bus pole dance beats it for pure, undiluted cringeworthiness.
Still, there’s a reason that Josh’s storyline is ultimately the subplot here. Contrary to the title, this isn’t an episode about who Josh’s soup fairy is. It’s about who Paula’s soup fairy is, about who’s warm and nourishing when she needs them to be. Finally, at long last, it’s Rebecca, and though it would be foolish to assume all is well from here on out, let’s all just enjoy it when it lasts.
- It’s too big a moment and too great a pay-off to really qualify for the Hector Award, but has there ever been a slow-burning punchline more satisfying than Mrs. Hernandez’s outburst? Maybe all the subtle references to Kenneth’s age on 30 Rock? I still think this takes it. Champlin’s reactions really seal the deal.
- This week’s musical influences: “Uptown Funk” and, I’m fairly sure, the Chainsmokers.
- Heather was a treasure this episode, as always. At least Rebecca wasn’t alone in a bathroom listening to Josh have sex with someone else this time.
- This week’s Hector Award: Hector and White Josh, for that modeling scene alone. I think this is the third time Hector’s won the Hector award, which seems unfair, since it was named for him.
- This won’t be a new take to anyone who’s kept up with weekly reviews (or spent much time in the comments section), but here’s an excellent piece from Vox on the way Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is subverting conventional storytelling tropes.
- VIMOS is my fetch. This is the hill on which I die.
- Second review of the night is now live.
- Here you go: