[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Season 3 finale, “Nathaniel is Irrelevant.”]
“I’m so excited that our love story can begin.” “Josh Chan must be destroyed.”
It’s only fitting that the third season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” would end with another shocker of a sendoff, courtesy of Rebecca Bunch. The closing to an unofficial trilogy of Rebecca’s journey from workaholic hurricane of obsession to a more self-aware, introspective version of herself is what this season has been building towards from the start. “I plead guilty” is a pretty striking way to close out a true roller-coaster season — in many ways, it feels like the only logical conclusion.
Both in the episode and season overall, it wasn’t necessarily the cleanest road to get there. But what the show leaves behind at Season 3’s end is the biggest change yet for a volatile heroine, and the decision that almost feels like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” starting over again. That reset button is one that really got pushed two weeks ago with the masterfully executed time jump that kicked off a thrilling season-ending arc. Tracking into the finale, part of that comes from Paul Welsh, who continues to be uproariously unsettling as Trent. Between last week’s incredible opening credits number, him combing his hair in the mirror, and his delivery of the line “Io-was…” it’s appropriately bizarre farewell if Trent’s destined to be consigned to a body cast for the foreseeable future.
But as result of her increasingly haunting visions and a discussion with her therapy support group (a chance for Michael Hitchcock to make one last guest appearance this season, in an episode he co-wrote with director Aline Brosh McKenna), Rebecca decides that it’s time to come clean with everything she’s hidden from the three most important people in her life over as many seasons. Rachel Bloom’s deep breath expression before unleashing a torrent of missteps is the kind of frankness the character’s been searching for in a shifting, post-diagnosis world.
That confession summit is an interesting way to reevaluate all four people involved as the show heads into a hiatus. Josh has felt like an appendage of sorts to the season. Once Rebecca finally moved on, his connection to the series has felt less vital, even if a stripping gig, a great “Singing in the Rain”-inspired number, and a stomach-churning barkeep mishap has kept him in the mix. But it makes sense that he was there for this, especially if Rebecca’s potential jailtime will put extra focus back on the people she’s wronged.
Of course, this boardroom reckoning shows that Rebecca’s not the only person deserving of some long-overdue blame. Between the confessions that earn him a sharp Chan right hook to the jaw and the not-so-flattering nihilism of the ethically murky ballad “Nothing is Anyone’s Fault” (of course the closest the show’s ever come to a Jason Robert Brown song features the line “Energy in space was the ultimate Bad Father!”), it’s clear that Nathaniel still is not a good person. That’s true even if Nathaniel mouthing the word “insanity” in the courtroom is one of his best moments of the season or if “I Go to the Zoo” is the most replayable jam “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has ever made.
Patrick Wymore/The CW
And while the episode may have begun and ended with Rebecca, like most of the strongest parts of the season, this was a showcase for everything that Paula can be. In a finale that leaned a little closer to the surreal and goofy side of what “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” occasionally becomes, Donna Lynne Champlin grounded every single major moment that she was a part of.
Reading seismic revelations from a piece of paper, there’s genuine hurt in Paula’s demeanor. This isn’t just the usual disappointment that Paula sometimes has to shoulder. It’s a breaking point. That she can play that sense of betrayal and, in the seconds right before Rebecca‘s final line, be understanding enough to give her best friend the strength to face the aftermath of her decisions is a testament to how Champlin’s elevated the character from sidekick to a fully developed woman all her own.
Goodness, and that’s all after “The Miracle of Birth,” another show-stopping Paula sequence worthy of ancestors “Maybe This Dream,” “Face Your Fears,” and “The First Penis I Saw.” Rhyming “went, uh” with “placenta” is lyrical wizardry, a trick to which Champlin adds the perfect final touch. No other actress alive could put that same frisson on the word “mucus,” either.
And the callbacks. Ohhhhhh, the callbacks. The song titles alone would have been enough. (Though, with Nathaniel and Darryl both saying it, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that we hoped a third invocation of “Having a few people over” would lead to a full-blown reprise.) But by squeezing in “Group Hang,” “After All [She’s] Done for You,” and “You Stupid Bitch,” it’s almost like the soundtrack was clearing house just as much as Rebecca was.
But the two most important songs for this episode were also ones that were not sung. Rebecca nodding to the Season 2 opening credits, saying that she wants to be “held responsible for her actions,” might have been one shade too on-the-nose for the climactic moment. But if the intent is to lay the groundwork for everything we’ve seen of this character so far, that’s one last goodbye to what Rebecca used to be.
Patrick Wymore/The CW
But the final touch, even after those final affirmative seconds, is “I’m a Good Person” over the end credits. (Listen for it on the DVD.) When Rebecca sang that song on Season 1, it was a shining example of the disconnect between how she was seen and her own self-denial. Now that she’s finally begun to accept that responsibility, she’ll still have to reckon with whether her decision to throw herself at the mercy of the Los Angeles County legal system is a true act of absolution.
Whatever conclusion she or the judge arrive at, this finale also gave a chance to bring the Whitefeather/Plimpton employees back to the fold, after they took somewhat of a backseat to the messy Nathaniel and Rebecca drama. George delivers heat-seeking missiles of truth to both lovesick co-workers, Tim gets the blood-curdling shriek after Trent gets pushed off the rooftop, and Maya gets to explain her love for the baby name Rufus. Regardless of how Season 4 progresses, here’s hoping the future doesn’t lose sight of the law firm support staff.
Two other people the show hopefully has a plan for? Darryl and Heather, who made the most out of this finale’s B(irth)-plot. Fast-forwarding Heather’s pregnancy was probably the best move in the long run, particularly since it’s becoming more and more difficult to have a birth scene that doesn’t lean on cliches. (A dream ballet with pre-schoolers was far more illustrative!) But by skipping over all the lead-up to Baby Heabecca, it’s another case of this finale tying its effectiveness to events that are still over the horizon. So much of the success of this turning point depends on where the show goes afterwards (and whether David Wain gets to come back as the doctor who, like the Waiters Who Are Nauseated by Food, reaches for the trash bucket after Paula’s description of the birthing process).
Even after her diagnosis earlier this season, a slightly changed Rebecca still had so many chances to backslide and to do the bare minimum to change. So “Nathaniel is Irrelevant.” doesn’t seem like a series finale. Of the three season-ending episodes, this is the one that even in coming full circle would be the most heartbreaking to not see what comes after. The fairytale ending of Season 1 ended exactly the way that Rebecca wanted. The crazy wish fulfillment of Season 2 ended with a strange, renewed sense of purpose. In a season where Rebecca felt the most conflicted and the show’s tone and approach sometimes matched that, the ending was never going to be as clean and happy as those last words may indicate.
So what comes next? For the first time in the show’s history, that’s not abundantly clear. It’s a radical departure for a radical show. If a next chapter is on its way, it’ll be the most important one yet. (And if it isn’t, we’ll always have Dog Josh.)