[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Season 3, Episode 6, “Josh Is Irrelevant.”]
In the wake of her suicide attempt in last week’s episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is recovering physically from overdosing on anti-anxiety meds she took on a plane, but mentally and emotionally, she’s still trying to catch up.
On Friday’s episode, she gets what sounds like the answer to all of her problems. When Dr. Dan Shin (Jay Hayden) says he believes she’s been misdiagnosed all these years, she has the first glimmer of real hope. She’d been struggling because she’d been given meds and treatment for anxiety, depression, OCD, and host of other incorrect diagnoses, but now she’ll find out what she really has, healing can begin. “He just opened up a whole new set of possibilities, a whole new path for my life,” Rebecca says.
It turns out that Rebecca has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is so misunderstood that Dr. Shin warns her not to look up what it is online. Of course, she immediately Googles it and is confused by what she reads (which leads to that scene when she’s looking at her phone in the bathroom that made it into the new opening sequence).
Coming to this diagnosis was a work in progress for the show, which didn’t initially have a disorder in mind at the start.
“We wrote her behavior in a way that felt right to us for about a season and a half,” co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna told reporters after a screening of the episode. “Rachel and I … were trying to help Rebecca, so we were trying to figure out what was wrong with her, and as we looked into it, so much of this seemed to resonate for her. The other thing is that it’s a very – even though it’s extremely common – it’s very misunderstood. The people who suffer from it suffer from a really heartbreaking stigma because people don’t understand it, and there are psychiatrists who refuse to treat them because they’re very difficult to treat.”
At first, Rebecca is depressed and then later in denial as her friends urge her to get a second opinion. But when Dr. Akopian (Michael Hyatt) reads her a checklist of nine tendencies that might be exhibited by people with BPD:
1. Severe mood swings
2. Profound fear of abandonment
3. Instability in relationships
4. Unstable sense of identity
5. Paranoia or dissociative episodes
6. Excessive and frequent anger
7. Feelings of emptiness
8. Impulsive behavior
9. Recurring suicide threats or attempts
Only five of the nine tendencies have to be present before someone might be diagnosed with BPD, and as each one is read, Rebecca flashes back to instances from her life that illustrate each point perfectly. Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) tries to deny that those sound like her friend, but faced with such overwhelming evidence, Rebecca admits, “All of those were me.”
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“We wanted to show the human aspect of somebody who thinks their diagnosis is going to be some sort of badge of honor, and then it’s something that she really doesn’t like,” said Brosh McKenna. “I think one thing that’s important to note is no diagnosis is a perfect diagnosis. It’s a bit imprecise and there are many schools of thought on BPD, but we try to dial in what we felt like was accurate for her. What’s amazing about that flashback sequence where you see all those things that she’s done [is] we have 10 [examples we could have used] for each of them.”
While the first two seasons of the show dealt with Rebecca acting erratically but not admitting she might have a problem. She kept hopping from boyfriend to boyfriend or project to project to find some sort of meaning, but never focused on herself. Now that she’s realized she really does have BPD, her actions will be focused on self-improvement and understanding which behaviors are affected by BPD.
“It’s a big step forward in her maturity here in terms of actually accepting it,” said Brosh McKenna. “Now she’s been given a diagnosis and she’s trying to understand what that means and you see here, for the first time, where that credit sequence came from in her mind. And so that idea of, ‘I have this mental illness, it’s been labeled for me. Is that who I am? How do I live within that? What choices do I make now? What things am I responsible for, knowing that I have this disorder?’ It’s a progression from there.
“As with anything, as with any diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that you don’t do it anymore. In many ways, it kind of enhances her struggle because it makes it harder,” she continued. “Now, when she’s doing things, she kind of knows what she’s doing and why. And there’s a certain way in which that makes her confused and angry. And with mental health stuff, there’s a lot of one step forward, two steps back. The treatment for this is very difficult, and there’s a lot of backsliding involved. And she now has a name for this whole host of behaviors, but the host of behaviors are so deeply rooted in her that she’s going to continue to struggle with it, but struggle with more information.”
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Treatment will be complex, and ranges from taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – medications used to treat depression and anxiety – group therapy, self-monitoring, and other behavior techniques.
“People with borderline often do get SSRIs or medication like that, but that’s not really the focus of getting better,” said Brosh McKenna. “Getting better really [involves] these intensive therapy techniques, which, you know, at this point she would rather have a pill even though she doesn’t like pills. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s really challenging, and the people who do that work with BPD are very brave because it’s very hard. And you know she’s not always diligent about it, but we really see her going forward, trying to do the work. She is an ‘A’ student, so once she has an assignment, she tries to take it on.”
Although Rebecca will be focused on herself, she’ll still try to navigate what it means to have romantic relationships. The show is a riff on rom-coms after all.
“For Rebecca, love is her drug of choice, right? It’s not food, it’s not drugs, it’s not alcohol: it’s love,” she said. “That’s a very dangerous substance, but like food, you need to have it. That’s tough. If you do Overeaters Anonymous, you can’t go cold turkey. You’ve got to eat something. So she has to learn how to get love in her life in a healthy way, which is obviously very challenging for her. And if she messes up with that going forward, it has possible serious consequences for her.”
In the episode, Rebecca’s boss Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) has difficulty even composing a card for the flowers he wants to send Rebecca when she’s in the hospital after she attempted suicide.
While the situation is delicate, it’s revealed that Nate has unresolved feelings about his mother once trying to kill herself, which is having an affect on him now.
“In [Episode] 304, he’s given the folder on her, and he doesn’t turn on her in any way. He just falls asleep holding her [gator], you know. He’s waiting for her to come home,” said Brosh McKenna. “He’s, in a funny way, one of the most accepting of her past and it’s because he connects it to this other thing. He’s got a lot of unresolved pain in his past. I think now we kind of understand a little better why he’s so comfortable with Rebecca, that this echoes certain things about his own past. So it sets him on the most serious of the journeys in that episode.”
Unlike Nathaniel, the underlying reasons behind Paula being drawn to Rebecca are not yet understood. While she has been Rebecca’s best friend ever since she moved to West Covina, some of her supportive behaviors may not be the best for either of them. Not only has Paula been ignoring her own family while caring for or living vicariously through Rebecca, but she’s also enabled her friend almost every step of the way.
“One of the things I love is when… [Paula says] ‘I’m by her side,’ and Dr. Akopian says, ‘That’s another problem. We’re gonna have to talk about that,’” said Brosh McKenna. “I love the thing where Dr. Akopian is talking to Rebecca, and Paula is repeating everything she says because Paula is very intrusive and wants to be her shrink and her mother and her everything, really.
“It’s actually the next episode is we go home with Paula to Buffalo. There are things in Paula’s own story that made her connect to Rebecca so much, and we learned a little bit about those in the pilot, so we get to see a little bit more about that,” she continued. “But you know, in terms of that being the love story of the show, which we’ve always felt it is, it’s not a completely functional relationship. There’s a lot of love there, but they’re always trying to figure out their boundaries. And Rebecca always wants to do the best by Paula, but she isn’t always able to do it. And that really continues to be a theme, because as Paula tries to get healthy and Paula goes to law school and Paula tries to have better boundaries… she tends to get very seduced back by [Rebecca].”
Perhaps the most unexpected reaction to Rebecca’s suicide attempt and recovery belongs to Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz), who first tries to help by keeping all of Rebecca’s friends in the loop online. She posts live vlogs and updates about Rebecca’s progress, and it becomes a full-blown social media movement that involves hashtags, international attention, and sponsors. Later, Valencia breaks down, realizing that she was just avoiding her fears about how much Rebecca is in danger and could still harm herself.
Valencia is in the throes of her activism led to one of the show’s most irreverent (and scatalogical) numbers. Watch a behind-the-scenes video about the song:
“The Valencia song is probably the silliest song we’ve ever done,” Brosh McKenna said. “She’s literally physically clenching the whole episode. We’d actually written a thing where she does run out in the end and does poop very loudly. But, [Standards & Practices] was not that excited about it. But I think it’s understood that that’s what happens at the end.”
In accepting her diagnosis, Rebecca suddenly lets go of blaming Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), the man whom she followed across the country because she thought they were meant to be.
“This is not Josh’s fault,” she sas. “I haven’t thought about him in days. Josh is irrelevant. It’s not even about Josh; maybe it never was.”
Josh overhears these comments of course and must recalibrate what his life is now that he realizes he doesn’t have the power he once had over Rebecca.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that story before, where somebody is obsessed with someone and then you’re over it,” said Brosh McKenna “Josh connected to her because he was really struggling with his own identity and he’d kind of failed in New York and here’s this smart, cosmopolitan, charming, beautiful girl who loves me and makes me feel special. But of course the audience has always known it has nothing to do with him and that he was conveniently placed. He could have been anybody, but he didn’t know that. He thought she loved him and that made him feel great.
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“Josh’s show now becomes, ‘Well, who am I if I am not Josh Chan, this object of adoration by this fabulous person?’ Rebecca really is so charismatic and fabulous and intelligent and out of his context. Vinny starts to quietly steal some of these episodes coming up because he plays that confusion and he really starts to have his quarter-life crisis now. He is now unemployed, he doesn’t have a place to live, and he doesn’t have her anymore, and he’s not seeing anybody. So it’s tough stuff coming for Josh.”
Another big Josh-related change is coming to the show as well. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” sister show “Jane the Virgin” kept its title even after its protagonist lost her viriginity, but after the cold open of each episode, graphics will cross out the “Virgin” and replace it with another appropriate description in context. For “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” each of its episode titles thus far have mentioned Josh’s name to reflect Rebecca’s obsession with him. Now that she’s deemed him irrelevant, his name is not essential to the titles.
“There’s a change in the names in the episode titles coming up,” Brosh McKenna confirmed. “Some expected and some unexpected.”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.