SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the series finale of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
After four seasons of sending up romantic comedy tropes, expanding the quintessential love triangle into a quadrangle, and delivering 157 original music videos, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” came to an end without a romantic resolution for Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom).
“What we wanted to show is that usually love is on a pedestal as an answer, and it’s not an answer and we should stop telling people that it is an answer. It’s that last puzzle piece [but] you are your own puzzle piece,” co-creator and showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna, who also directed the finale, tells Variety.
The end of the series finale jumped forward in time a year, during which Rebecca was working toward a newly realized dream of writing music, and ended with her about to debut a song she wrote for the first time.
“What we wanted to say was to seek out the thing you love,” McKenna says. “Rebecca has a very profound, and occasionally incomplete, love of all different kinds of music. But the songs she’s imagining, she never really told anybody that was what she was doing. Rachel likes to say it’s about matching your insides to your outsides [and] what we have seen is in her heart.”
The finale ends after Rebecca tells the crowd, “This is a song I wrote,” marking those the last lines of the series, but before her fingers touch down on the keyboard to actually sing and play. “She’s just starting, and a lot of people who write songs are not necessarily great singers. She’s not going to be Patti LuPone, but she’s going to write songs, so she needs to sing well enough that she can communicate them to people,” McKenna explains. Although she and Bloom wanted to leave what Rebecca’s debut song is vague, she notes that she isn’t a comedy songwriter because “when Rebecca’s imagining those songs, she doesn’t know they’re funny. She’s trying seriously to do whatever genre she’s trying to. She’s trying to do a sexy song in ‘Sex with a Stranger’ — except she can’t prevent herself from thinking ‘Please don’t be a murderer.'”
But before she got there, in a literal case of “it’s not you, it’s me,” Rebecca stepped inside her imagination once more (through a dream sequence) to see what a future would look like with each of the three men who were in love with her — Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), Greg (Skylar Astin) and Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster) — and came to the realization that in all three she was unhappy, which prompted her to look even deeper inside herself to find out why.
“In the writing of the finale we had leaned into, ‘She has to embrace herself’ and then as we were cutting it what became clear was it was more about her identity,” McKenna says, noting that originally the final music video (“11 O’Clock”) was more of a closer in Act 5 but they moved it up to Act 2 because it was “more of a question” than a resolution. “The [Rebecca] in the dream says, ‘You don’t know who you are,’ and really the core of the show is a girl who’s trying on different identities.”
That dream sequence was one of the more technically challenging moments the show had to tackle across its run, McKenna shares, because of the “really complicated transitions.” In one moment, Rebecca is at home, then she steps right into Greg’s restaurant, and from there she steps into Nathaniel’s apartment. The production team utilized green screen and moved the doors around to make sure everything matched and cut together seamlessly in post. But McKenna notes that it was all worth it because Rebecca’s “imagination is such a huge part of her, so her actually living in those spaces” was integral to the journey of her realizing whether or not she could be happy with those men.
“I think that saying to women, ‘You need to embrace yourself or accept yourself’ is a little vague. That’s a very difficult action item and maybe a life-long pursuit. So, say to women, ‘Figure out what you like, what your dreams are, where you want to go for dinner’ so when you are with someone you have a point of view,” says McKenna. “You can see in [Episode 16] she’s a slightly different person with each guy, and that is a little bit her issue, and again it’s an identity issue. She’ll just become the pal that Josh wants or the quirky girl that Greg wants or the romantic fantasy that Nathaniel wants, and because she’s so flexible in that way, she’ll migrate over.”
The final number of the series, while “designed to be very stripped down,” was also a technically complex one to pull off because it took place on a turntable, which was a new experience for the crew. “At a certain point they came out and said, ‘You have three hours left’ and then we just jammed. So the dream sequence with the transitions, we had it planned down to every little detail, and with the turntable it had to be freeform in what we were doing,” McKenna says of the experimental feel to the piece. “The design of the shot is so that it looks practical. There’s a few little VFX with the dresses, but it’s basically designed to be, instead of a Broadway spectacular or a music video where there are all sorts of tricks and gimmicks, very stripped down. It’s going back to a very basic, bare bones aesthetic for those songs because it’s really, really inside her head. It’s a very first-person episode.”
A key moment in the series finale saw Rebecca admit to Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) that she often sees things in musical form. This prompted Paula to ask what Rebecca considered “the most important question of my life,” which was, “What are you doing when you’re staring off into space like that?”
Suddenly it clicked for Rebecca just how much she wanted to give that artistic outlet a real shot — something which the show itself had been laying groundwork for awhile but was “careful not to let the audience get ahead of,” per McKenna. The first episode of the season saw her getting overly excited by a prison troupe, and a few episodes later, she met her half-brother and realized there might be “innate” talent in her family, McKenna reminds. Just a few episodes before the finale she took part in community theater.
“Every writer has this story: You pick an area and you try the area and you go, ‘This is close but it’s not exactly right.’ You want to be a playwright, but then you realize you want to be a tv writer — or a journalist, but no actually an opinion writer. You hone in on the area and then you squidge over. For her it’s realizing these patriarchal narratives that she’s always loved don’t quite speak to who she is, and she’s going to need to lend her voice,” McKenna explains.
Similarly, Paula, who had the second biggest storyline in the finale, also found her own voice. After passing the bar, she started receiving high offers from other law firms and realized what she was worth. She joined a new firm and immediately fought for them to incorporate a philanthropic program that would allow her to continue her work with female prisoners.
“Because she doesn’t come from a privileged background she doesn’t want to leave those people behind,” McKenna points out. But she has also finally found a place where “she can make her Elena Kagan jokes and everybody gets them, and they’re truly, truly devoted to the law, which is how she is,” she continues. “There are certain elements that are heavenly to it and we took great pains to make that set really beautiful and special.”
It took Rebecca a year to develop her own voice and “sing serviceably,” during which time passed off-screen because McKenna says “seeing a full year of her playing piano and taking voice lessons is not that interesting,” but by the end of the series she finally “decided to tell her own story and speak her own truth.”
“One of the ironies of Rebecca Bunch’s story, and at the end that’s what she’s saying, is [everyone else is] ahead of her, but because of her — because she pushed everyone and supported everyone, and now she has to practice what she’s preaching,” McKenna says. “We wanted to show that in that year, ‘This is who I am, and this sense of who I am is not going to change.'”