The Pitch: At the end of season three, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) finally decided to take responsibility for years of passive-aggressive, manipulative behavior by pleading guilty to the attempted murder of the psychotic Trent (Paul Welsh). Now in jail, Rebecca tries to do penance, but finds it harder than she thought – especially when she tries to take control of the prison’s theater activities. Meanwhile, Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) tries to soothe his own guilt at Rachel’s incarceration by going on a manly “death wish adventure,” and Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) goes on a self-diagnosis jamboree, trying to find the mental disorder that explains his flightiness and lack of responsibility.
Rebecca is the New Bunch: It’s nothing short of miraculous that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend crawled its way out of the cancellation bubble for an 18-episode final season to wrap the show, and Rebecca Bunch’s final bow is off to a great start with the season premiere, “I Want to Be Here”. Most Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episodes focus on the object of Rebecca’s outward attention, but the fourth season’s titles indicate an in-depth focus on Rebecca herself.
That certainly holds out here, as much of the episode is spent on Rebecca’s newfound attempts to atone for what she’s done, a method of self-punishment that is, paradoxically, as self-serving as the mistakes she has already made. See, for instance, her attention-grabbing takeover of the jail’s theater program, resulting in a riotous play on “Cell Block Tango” featuring women with lace bras and panties over chunky orange prison jumpsuits. It’s such a Rebecca move, her wide-eyed enthusiasm for the performing arts blinding her to the fact that her cellmates don’t have the charmingly melodramatic life she’s so carefully curated. She may be trying to face reality, but her self-perception is still firmly entrenched in romantic fantasy. (It’s also funny to see that real-life Rebecca has more of a tin ear than musical-sequence Rebecca; she should have pled guilty to the crime she committed against Rodgers & Hammerstein.)
“I Deserve This”: Sure, it’s disappointing that we won’t get a full Orange is the New Black/Prison Break-esque ‘Rebecca in prison’ season (the judge points out that her guilty plea was “more of a speech” and only gives her six weeks in county jail), “I deserve this” is her refrain through the doldrums of prison life, punishing herself for everything from her direct actions to her indirect white privilege. It’s a familiar white-guilt impulse, her experiences with the beleaguered women of color in jail making her recognize just how good she has it. But thank God for Valencia talking some sense into Rebecca, making her realize that she can either just talk about having privilege, or she can do something about it.
This theme of self-flagellation extends to the other subplots in the episode – Nathaniel’s Bear Grylls cosplay is a classic uber-masculine attempt to reclaim some semblance of manhood by eating bugs and wielding an over-designed machete. His posturing is deliciously upset by the appearance of George (Danny Jolles), a great foil for Nathaniel made even better by the fact that he loves ska. Meanwhile, Josh Chan is in his own tailspin, going “identity shopping” for mental disorders that would allow him to explain his own flaws instead of dealing with them head on. All three of these emotionally adrift characters are looking for something to take their mind off their pain, whether it’s punishment, posturing or the comforting explanation of oppressed victimhood.
The Verdict: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always dabbled in a delicious gumbo of tones – musical, sitcom, psychological drama, love story, Brechtian metatext on its own quirky nature – and this season opener offers a polished portent of things to come. As the journey of characters who keep trying to make themselves better, only to fall into familiar patterns again and again, it’s a compelling microcosm for the show at large. While Rebecca’s problems are certainly more pronounced than the supporting cast, every major company member is united in their desire for connection. The hour’s final number, “No One Else is Singing My Song”, lays this out wonderfully, with Rebecca/Nathaniel/Josh lamenting that they’re all alone while split screens (and their pitch-perfect three-part harmony) proving that they’re each going through the same thing. There are no easy answers for this ensembles’ ongoing quest for responsibility, love and peace, but at least they’re going down separate roads together.
When’s It Playing?: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sings its way onto your television screens every Friday at 9/8c on The CW.