“I Never Want to See Josh Again” – Crazy Ex Girlfriend’s Exploration of Mental Illness & What It Really Means to Be ‘Crazy’

*Trigger warning for suicide*

*also spoilers obviously*

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — “I Never Want to See Josh Again” — Image Number: CEG305b_0209.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Tovah Feldshuh as Naomi and Rachel Bloom as Rebecca — Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW — © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

In last week’s episode of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, our beloved yet highly distressed heroine Rebecca takes a turn for the worse. Yes, in the past she has manipulated, lied, destroyed her friends lives, broken into her own house, installed tracking devices in Valencia, and last but not least, stalked Josh Chan across the country. Though the series has lightly (and not so lightly) tapped into Rebecca’s mental illness before (often at the hands of her long suffering therapist), ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ went to a place the show has not visited before.

Throughout the witty humour, social commentary and catchy musical numbers, there’s always been an underlying theme of mental illness in the show. The title, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend refers to a misogynistic phrase that women often get branded after a relationship breakdown.  Crazy Ex Girlfriend, as well as being incredibly self-aware and progressive in other aspects, often debates the use of the word crazy. Regularly, women are labelled as a ‘crazy ex’; a sexist, simplistic marker that men can use to diminish any of their own responsibilities for a relationship failing. Rebecca Bunch, the ex of the title, bucks the stereotype by being a interesting and developed character. But, as the show goes on, something becomes abundantly clear. Rebecca Bunch may actually be crazy. Not in a flippant way, or derogatory way. Rebecca is seriously mentally ill – something which is brought to the forefront at the beginning of S3.

This isn’t the first time that we have been invited to think about Rebecca’s actions as the behaviour of someone who is really quite ill, rather than as a caricature or humourous. Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a hilarious show, but from the end of season one, it was clear that Rebecca needed help of some sort. Real help.

At the beginning of the episode, Rebecca is reeling from her newest attempt to destroy Josh’s life, in the style of Swimfan, a film I have never seen but now desperately want to. Rebecca has gone off the deep end this time (sorry for the pun) and when she sends Josh a thinly veiled threat about his mother, it’s the last straw. Josh reveals everything that was in his ‘Rebecca Bunch’ envelope, including Robert who is NOT a dog, to all of the gang in West Covina. Not cool Josh, not cool.

Unsurprisingly, despite Rebecca’s anxiety-child telling her differently, Paula, Valencia and Darryl all rally around her, desperate to help her through this dark time. Rebecca, naturally, becomes defensive and proceeds to tell each one of them what is wrong with them. It’s one of the saddest scenes in Crazy Ex Girlfriend yet, Rebecca’s words are cold and callous, and the hurt that is caused is clear.  She tells Paula that she is fed up Paula treating her as a daughter, and suggests she spends time with her own family. She then proceeds to rip into Valencia and Heather, mocking Valencia for planning her dream wedding for Josh and Rebecca, and Heather for perpetually being a student and being unable to make up her mind about anything. Finally, she tells Darryl that there is no way White Josh wants a baby with him and he needs to realise that.

Not only are all of these things hurtful, they are almost all true. Rebecca, due to understanding how insecurities work all too well, manages to tap into each of her friends’ vulnerabilities in a pretty sadistic way. And, although all of them are hurt, they are still determined to help her. However, we begin Episode 5 with Rebecca flying back to New York to move back in with her mother – Naomi, trying to avoid any contact with anyone in West Covina.  As we well know, Rebecca and her mother are not exactly best friends. In fact, it’s very heavily implied in earlier episodes that Naomi’s controlling nature might just be a factor in Rebecca’s mental illness.

To begin with, Naomi continues her controlling streak – resigning Rebecca from her job in West Covina, insisting that she get up and stop moping around. It’s only when Naomi discovers that Rebecca has been researching ways to kill herself that things begin to change.

‘Maybe She’s not Such Heinous Bitch After All’, Rebecca sings, as her mother brings her strawberry milkshakes, gives her a cuddle on the sofa and wears the matching tracksuits Rebecca has bought her. It soon becomes clear though, that Naomi’s intentions are not entirely pure – though this is debatable. It turns out she has been lacing Rebecca’s milkshakes with anxiety medications.

Now, whilst it isn’t a great idea to drug anyone against their will, I can see Naomi’s logic here. Realising that your daughter might be on the verge of suicidal must be a terrible, terrible feeling – and Naomi’s controlling instincts went into overdrive. She saw the medication as a quick fix to get Rebecca back on feet. I believe she genuinely cares, but Naomi see’s Rebecca as a problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a human being who needs emotional nourishment.

Meanwhile in West Covina, the gang are getting used to life without Rebecca. ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ gives a glimpse into how life would be for them if Rebecca was a ‘normal’ employee/friend.  When Whitefeather & Associates hire a replacement for Rebecca though, it begins to become apparent what a terrible friend Rebecca has been to the people who brazenly adore her. Daryl is overcome with emotion that Cornelia will simply reply to his emails, Maya praises her as a #feminist for signing her mentoring form and Nathaniel is just happy that she gets on with her job without any distractions (including no inappropriate swimsuits). Basically, Cornelia is a functioning human being who does her job, treats her co-workers like people … well the opposite of Rebecca. This is a hard pill to swallow, because although we always knew Rebecca wasn’t the greatest person in the world, we never really saw how much destruction she causes to those around her until she wasn’t there anymore.

After the altercation with Naomi, Rebecca, upset and angry, gets on a plane back to West Covina. Then she remembers that she’s essentially pissed off everyone there, so she asks the flight attendant to drop her off ‘around Ohio’. Not possible. Rebecca, after ordering a glass of wine, proceeds to overdose on the anxiety pills. Right at the end, she utters the three words we’ve all been waiting for her to say. I need help.

Covering suicide is a tricky thing to get right, even though more and more TV shows are trying it (on that note DO NOT watch 13 Reasons Why). Crazy Ex Girlfriend, as always, approaches suicide and mental illness with the tact, sensitivity and bleak humour that it is known for. Rebecca’s mental illness isn’t funny, but we laugh because we all sort of get it. We are all Rebecca to some extent. Watching Rebecca hit rock bottom was hard not only because she’s our protagonist and we want her to succeed, but because we hit rock bottom with her.

In some sense, this episode has been a long time coming. Finding out about the Robert situation and Rebecca’s stay inside a mental rehabilitation facility hinted heavily towards this kind of thing happening again. Bloom has fed us subtleties, titbits of information throughout the series, until an episode like this was absolutely inevitable. Rebecca does a lot of things in the series that we don’t actually see that would lead us to think that she is actually mentally ill. Like reading the entirety of the Hunger Games in one night just to be able to make a joke from it. We dismiss these because we only hear Rebecca say it, we don’t actually see her in this situation. It’s really easy to hear these anecdotes as funny stories rather than as a indication of a serious mental disorder. 

Yes ‘I Never Want to See Josh Again’ was a hard watch, and emotional, but it also might have been the best episode of the series so far. 

Crazy Ex Girlfriend has shown mental illness to be serious, ridiculous, sad, distressing and funny all at the same time. Rebecca has a long journey upwards from here, and no doubt that will change the dynamic of the show, but I am with her all the way*.

Also, if you really want to get in deep with the critical analysis/psycology/social commentary of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, then check out Bagels After Midnight on Youtube who makes the best vids on this!

 

 

*Apart from sleeping with Greg’s Dad. Ewwwwwww what???

 

Size Matters: A Contemporary Reading of ‘Attack of the 50ft Woman’

Everyone knows that size equals power. Raw, unhinged power. The type of power to destroy or control, just because you physically can. Attack of the 50ft Woman (Nathan Juran, 1958), and all it entails, definitely stimulates some sort of dialogue about power dynamics between men and women – and not just because of the size of the protagonist.

For a B movie made in 50s, marketed at the pulp-sci-fi crowd, Attack of the 50ft Woman is not the most obvious place to spot feminism. And reasonably, it’s not what we would call a feminist film by today’s standards. However, it does do a very interesting job of reflecting attitudes about hysteria, power, sexism and marriage in the 1950s. It’s also unique in that (due to its narrative) actually visually depicts the power struggle between men and women.

In the midst of ‘satellites’ (alien spacecraft) sightings across the world, Nancy (Allison Hughes) and Harry’s (William Hudson) marriage is falling apart. After a short spell in a rehabilitation centre, Nancy has returned to town determined that her marriage to Harry will succeed. Harry has other ideas – namely getting his wife committed so that he can make off with her fortune (Nancy is pretty damn wealthy) with his new squeeze Honey (Yvette Vickers). Nancy knows Harry is a no good two-timing bastard, but her fatal flaw is that she loves him anyway.

Harry’s plan comes close to fruition as he plots to inject Nancy with a lethal dose of medicine, but is caught red handed. Just as he plans his escape from town with Honey, he is stopped by the town’s Sheriff and warned not to leave town. We then learn that, after a bizarre encounter with one of the satellites, Nancy has been transformed from a regular sized human to  (you guessed it) 50ft tall.

With her new physical power, she seeks out Harry at the local bar where he’s cavorting around. Angry and upset by Harry’s infidelity, Nancy destroys the bar (and a couple of other buildings along with it) and ends up with Harry (quite literally) in the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, she is then shot down by the Sheriff, killing both Nancy and and Harry.

Yes, it’s zaney, and there some very questionable ideas about women but there’s also some vein running through Attack of the 50ft Woman that I could get on board with.

Nancy is an incredibly wealthy woman, who is also treated terribly by both the townspeople and Harry. Her mental health is alluded to by the Sheriff, but only insofar as to say that she is basically crazy. She is written off as a wealthy but ‘troubled’ woman who has a drinking problem – one of the Sheriff’s department even saying that she is crazy, but she pays all of their bills so he does what she tells him to. Nancy is described to us in this way before we are properly introduced to her – and when we are it’s quite clear that Nancy isn’t a ‘mad woman’ at all.

Nancy’s main frustration stems from Harry’s inability to stay faithful to her. She is heartbroken, but this is read as hysterical by the men in the town. Attack of the 50ft Woman actually introduces the idea of gaslighting – Harry purposefully makes Nancy think that she is crazy, in order to have her sectioned and take her money. Knowing Harry’s plan, we can empathise much more with Nancy’s apparent paranoia, because she is right! Harry is having an affair, and she shouldn’t trust him at all! Gaslighting is a useful term – generally applied within relationships when one partner attempts to undermine the opinions or ideas of the other. Harry tells Nancy that she is paranoid (both about the alien satellite and his cheating), convincing her that she saw neither event and is simply imagining it. We know, and Nancy does too, that this is simply not true.

So how can Nancy rectify her anger, broken heart and lack of power in a man’s world? How can Nancy escape and get even with her gas lighting toad of a husband? Well, physically she overpowers him. She gets really, really big. One the one hand, Attack of the 50ft Woman is a pulpy sci-fi which features a giant woman in her lingerie, but in another very different reading it’s actually about how little power women can have within society.

Nancy is a white woman with a lot of money. A lot. Her diamonds are almost constantly talked about by herself, Harry, the Sheriff – pretty much everyone. When she is “attacked” by the alien, she tells Harry that it seemed to reach for her diamond necklace. It seems unlikely that an alien would have any interest in jewellery, but Nancy’s paranoia of losing her jewellery underlines her fragile position within society. She has very little power, but what she does have is solely down to her financial status. If she loses that, then there is nothing else she can lean on to be respected or treated as a human (even if this respect is fake anyway).

Of course, this analysis and identification with Nancy requires the film to read in a certain way. We, as a modern audience, recognise the sexism directed at Nancy straightaway. She’s considered hysterical (because she’s a woman), she isn’t taken seriously (because she’s a woman) and the men in the town are all top happy to cover for Harry when he is lying to her. I get the distinct impression that when Attack of the 50ft Woman came out, audiences would not have identified with Nancy at all. Now, though, we can see this film for what it is. A woman being gas lighted, lied to and emotionally abused whose only glimmer of hope to regain some of the power in her relationship is to quite literally overpower him.