SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the 11th episode of the third season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” entitled “Nathaniel and I Are Just Friends!”
The answer to this storytelling conundrum for McKenna and her writers’ room was to push the show months into the future, with a time jump that highlighted just how far some of the other characters had come — while also showing that Rebecca was still struggling with her recovery.
The 11th episode, “Nathaniel and I Are Just Friends!” took that jump midway through the hour, revealing that Heather (Vella Lovell) came through on her offer to carry Darryl’s (Pete Gardner) baby, Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) was taking on additional responsibilities at the law firm, and Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) was in a new relationship with former client Beth (Emma Willmann). And Rebecca was still sleeping with Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) — even though he was dating someone else.
Variety spoke with McKenna about the reasons for the time jump, what’s next for Rebecca and Nathaniel, and what’s ahead for the finale.
Why do a time jump at this point?
Where the inspiration came from was trying to think of a way to not be so quickly [moving] through Rebecca’s recovery that she would get to an unrealistically settled place. So we wanted to move forward in time and show that she’s been dealing with the same issues of recovery, and in doing the things that’s been asked of her, there are still some struggles that she has. The jump allowed us to say, “There she is trying to take these big steps forward, being successful in some regards, while other people have a lot of momentum in their lives.”
How much did not wanting to spend episode after episode with a pregnant Heather factor into that decision?
That’s the second thing — trying to figure out how to advance the pregnancy story. The impetus for Heather being the surrogate was to give her something that she couldn’t quit. We wanted to dramatize it in a Heather-y way: she goes into it because she loves hobbies and activities and to help people, and this seemed like a great and easy thing to do. But it’s [something] she can’t quit, and she’s stuck with the ramifications of her decision.
Between her job, her relationship with Hector (Erick Lopez), and having this baby for Darryl, Heather really seems like the one who has changed the most and is the most together right now.
In a lot of ways she’s one of the smartest characters on the show, and the catalyst of Rebecca in her life has led her to do things she might never have done before, going back to her dating Greg and confronting him with his ambivalence and moving out of her parents’ house. She’s moved on a bit, and it all kinds of clicks into place for her where she thinks she can take on this pregnancy. “It’s not going to be a big deal. It’s not going to be harder than when I took up archery. How is this going to be any different?” But the design of the pregnancy was to give Heather something she can’t quit when she realizes she wants to.
What is the plan for integrating a baby into the show?
Well, people on the show have children, so we’ll see it when we feel it’s interesting, but we have a lot of parents on the show. So [the baby] will be seen on an as needed basis.
Rebecca has been doing the work in her recovery, but she’s gone back and forth in terms of making good and bad decisions.
Always with good intentions, though!
Did you approach her not knocking on Nathaniel’s door at the end of the episode as a good decision she was making because she was ready to put herself first?
It is a good decision, but it’s a sad decision, too. He’s not a perfect person, but he has been consistent about how he feels about her, and there is a world where she says to him, “Look I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, but let’s work on this” — but she’s too afraid to do that. She just feels like if this doesn’t work out for her, it can lead to something that puts her in real physical danger. So she has more reason than most people do to be hesitant. I don’t think it’s about somebody who’s ready to embark on a relationship. It’s about somebody who has to face her fears, which is what she sings about at the end, and I think the fact that she stopped herself at all is another sign of growth — which she can’t really see. Dr. Akopian has said to her she has done better, she is moving forward, but if there’s someone she cares about she deserves to at least try — but she doesn’t feel like she’s there yet.
So it was more about the fear than intentionally putting herself first.
Yeah, I think in that moment she’s really letting the fear of intimacy and the fear of making mistakes in the relationship and the fear of “Do I know myself enough? Do I know him enough? Do I want to jeopardize the place that I’ve gotten to?” Rachel and I, when we had our conversation about the back half of the season, the thing we were most interested in was where she had moved forward in these nine months and where had she not. And I think you do see that in a lot of ways she’s more centered and more grounded, and she’s able to have a relationship with a man that has limits. But it’s partly because he’s otherwise occupied, which is not the greatest thing. So if you feel that the only circumstance under which you can have a relationship with someone is if they’re involved with someone else, that’s not great. Rebecca’s gotten better in some respects, and she feels that to protect the amount of recovery she has — which is pretty significant when you consider where she started — put herself into a state of romantic hibernation, in a way.
Does the decision stick?
As we get toward the end of the season, they’re a very compelling couple and they’re amazing together, but what we always have most in our minds is where is she in terms of her emotional, spiritual, moral development? And she’s so lovable I think it can be easy to forget that in her past there were some questionable decisions along the way. And so the end of the season she’s having to face these decisions about her love life and her future, but there’s also the sense of the ramifications of the decisions she made at the beginning of the season. She has a tendency to be a bit Teflon as a person, but she’s become someone who is trying to occupy her place in the world in a more honest way, so she’ll have to face some of the things she’s done, and that has meaning in all of the areas in her life — her work life, her personal life, her friendships. So how is she going to confront these challenges of owning up to the things she’s done when she’s in the midst of this recovery, which is still very new?
Valencia is the only one in a healthy, happy relationship right now. Does that make it harder to keep her in the mix because there’s less conflict?
She is, and we show that very rarely on the show. People have a lot of difficulties, and we’re not saying they’re perfect — and we’re going to show their issues — but Rachel and I have always wanted to balance out the difficulties [with] the ease of when you meet someone and you just click with someone and their personal goals are aligned and their professional goals are aligned. She’s the first person to really think Valencia’s funny — and Valencia, I think, would love to be funny! So it’s not a story turning point — it’s sort of a fact of her life that she has a new love interest. Again, it shows how the people around Rebecca are inspired by her because [Rebecca] is the one who’s really responsible for freeing Valencia from that extremely unsatisfying relationship with Josh. Valencia’s now open to the world in a completely different way. Valencia is still finding her place in the world. For some characters it’s the romantic part that they’re missing and for some it’s other bits of their lives that they’re missing, and in this sense, Valencia meets someone she’s very compatible with, but there are other things she’s dealing with, and that’s what the next episode is about.
Looking ahead towards the season finale, what are the most important elements in showing that even when she stumbles or gives into fear for a moment, Rebecca is still working toward being healthy?
A lot of the characters in the show have shown her a lot of kindness and humanity, and she’s gone through this in a different way than she expected because I don’t think she had close friendships before. But she’s not as kind to herself. I think “Stupid Bitch” from the first season is still sort of the summary of the places she can go to, and obviously she got to a very dark place this year. It’s hard for her to show kindness and humanity to herself, and I think that’s what she’s still developing — her ability to be happy and have her needs met in a way she feels comfortable with because she still has trouble accepting herself.
You also launched a #femalefilmmakerfriday initiative on social media last week, asking women to post photos of themselves at work on sets. Is that going to be an ongoing campaign? What inspired you to do it?
It was a very informal thing. I saw Tamra’s [Davis] post on her own Instagram — it was a picture of her directing and she said, “We need more images of female directors.” I emailed her and said, “What do you think about coming up with a hashtag and asking a lot of people to do it all on one day?” The dates got messed up — I had asked people to do it a week from Friday. But people went for it, and honestly it was just sort of a desire I had because I thought those images were really cool and just wanted to see them. And it is an inspiring thing to see. It does make the distance shorter, being a young girl sitting on your bed imagining it, if you have an image of someone doing it. I thought it would be fun, and I am on hiatus, so I’m not as busy. It took off in such a great way. There are images of a girl loading a 16mm camera under a blanket to Ava DuVernay and everybody in between. There were a lot of people that I didn’t even know had directed, so I think it also just kind of got the word out about some female directors that people didn’t even know existed. So I think, why not keep it going?
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. on the CW.