“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???

 

Letting My Bi Flag Fly: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the Show We’ve Been Waiting For

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a phenomenal show for a vast, vast number of reasons. Too vast to really write all of them here, but let me give it my best shot: healthy (and not so healthy) portrayals of female friendships, representation of mental health, a diverse and wonderful cast and serious discussions of addiction, body dysmorphia, abortion and relationships. And, naturally, a lot of these topics are discussed in musical form, and though I generally dislike musicals – I just cannot get enough of of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s frank and honest portrayals of so many taboo topics (honestly, Paula’s abortion storyline was phenomenally put together) means it stands head and shoulders above a lot of shows on TV right now.

Though I’d love to write a book about how awesome the show deals with everything above, first I’d like to focus on Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) and how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deals with bisexuality.

There have been representations of bisexuality in TV in the past. Willow (Buffy), Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black), Kalinda (The Good Wife), Cosima (Orphan Black), Annalise Keating (HTGWM), Captain Jack (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Clarke (The 100), Stella Gibson (The Fall) and a fair few more. Things are, undeniably, looking much better for representations of bisexuality than they were, say even five years ago. Sadly, there is one thing (other than being bi) that almost all of these characters have in common. The word ‘bisexual’ is never used to describe them. It is never actually said out loud, either by the characters themselves or by other characters in the show. These characters are referred to as gay or as lesbians, even if they have had prior relationships in the show with members of the opposite sex. Or, in some cases – it’s just never even discussed.

Bisexuality is either invisible, or a short ‘waystation’ (to quote Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) to being gay. A lot of the characters mentioned above are also portrayed as mentally unstable, or unhinged – which seems to be either a result of or very much linked to their bisexuality. Most recently I watched Gotham and despite loving most of it, I found the portrayal of Barbara Kean’s mental health and bisexuality incredibly disturbing. Sadly, this is pretty much the norm. Enter Darryl Whitefeather…

When Darryl Whitefeather began to question his sexuality in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I naturally assumed this revelation would go the same way. Despite having been married to a woman, I expected Darryl’s interest in men to be depicted as him realising that he has always been gay. Surprisingly (and thankfully), Darryl’s discovery of his sexuality and subsequent coming out turns into one of the major sub-plots of the series and is pretty damn fantastic.

Darryl, aside from being an alarmingly bad boss at the law firm Rebecca works at, is a sweet yet bemused man who is only just finding himself at the age of 40ish. Darryl’s exploration of his own self, his sexuality and his identity becomes an important plot during season two. To begin with, Darryl doubts himself and believes his attraction to white Josh to be simply friendship, and admiration of his gym repertoire (we’ve all been there, am I right?). Daryl slowly realises that his desire to spend time with Josh may not solely be about wanting to have his physique. Or rather, he desires white Josh’s physique in other ways…

“Now some may say, ‘Are you just gay? Why don’t you just go gay all the way?’ But that’s not it cuz bi’s legit! Whether you’re a he or she, we might be a perfect fit.”

We get to witness Darryl’s self realisation when he has a crush on another man and the process is handled sensitively, though not without humour – the show is still a comedy after all. Throughout the second season, Darryl and Josh go through many normal ups and downs of relationships – not least when they go to Burning Man Festival in ‘Why is Josh’s girlfriend eating carbs?’ Darryl meets several of White Josh’s exes and becomes unnerved that they are all older – specifically, they are all around Darryl’s age. Darryl confronts Josh, believing that Josh is only with him because he has a fetish for older men. Fortunately, Josh sets the record straight and the two rekindle their love at the end of the episode. It’s a small example, but it goes a long way to normalise Darryl and Josh’s relationship – they have issues just like anyone else. The portrayal of their relationship also combats the ‘bisexual’s just like having sex’ stereotype, as White Josh and Darryl are committed to each other and clearly have a lot of love and respect for one another.

The show also completely humanises Darryl. It would have been very to make him two dimensional, with his only characteristic being his bisexuality. As it happens, Darryl is a complicated character. He is introduced as a small town, incompetent boss – even making an anti semitic remark in the first episode. His law firm isn’t doing very well, he overshares about his upcoming divorce and he sings a very strange song about his daughter. As we get further through the series, Darryl’s insecurities about himself begin to surface, especially his desire to be friends with Rebecca. He may be insensitive and inept, but doesn’t that just make him a far more interesting (read: human) character!

Darryl is a huge change from the tradition of slotting bisexual characters into either the ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ label, or just ignoring them completely. The fact is that there is little support for bisexuals in the real world, from both the LGBTQ community and in general society. Bi-erasure is everywhere. Just in my personal experience, my own bisexuality has been negated by so many people around me – especially from those who I would expect support from. The general response is ‘so what?’ – I can only assume because I am in a long term relationship. In a relationship or not, bisexuality is a valid and legitimate identity, and one which deserves to be represented. So, getting to watch a musical number which solely focuses on how being bi is enough in and of itself is just so awesome.

Also, reportedly Rachel Bloom and co hired a GLAAD representative to assist with Darryl’s storyline, in order to get it right. A smart move, and one that a lot of screenwriters could probably learn a huge lesson from.

 

Also, can I just say that in addition to ‘Gettin Bi’, I strongly identified with ‘Heavy Boobs’. So strongly, I play it at least twice a day to remind myself that there are others out there like me. Heavy boobs are no laughing matter and it’s totally true, they are just bags of yellow fat. Love you Rachel Bloom, thanks for everything.