‘Nathaniel Is Irrelevant’ is an unexpected but perfect season finale.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came on the scene in 2015 as an excellent foray into musical comedy and cringe humor. In its three seasons, it’s broken countless rules and has evolved into a unique study of mental illness and the human condition. And “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant,” the third season finale, is a grand, surprising episode that ends with a shock, leading to a massive sense of anticipation for more to come.
This whole season has been a gift. If you want to try to chart the show’s journey, just watch “Face Your Fears,” a fun but very standard comedy song from early season 1.
And then watch its late season 3 reprise, sung as Rebecca contemplates whether she’s deserving of love.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was always good, but lately, it’s become truly great, due in no small part to the journey taken by its star Rebecca Bunch (played inimitably by co-creator and co-writer Rachel Bloom). The speech Rebecca gives in the last minutes of the episode could never have been given by the Rebecca of a previous season, or even of a previous episode. She’s changed so much, and the show has changed with her.
This is demonstrated exquisitely by its arsenal of over one hundred songs that the characters and the score constantly reference. This time around, Darryl is “Having a Few People Over” not in a desperate attempt to make friends but to celebrate the group effort in the birth of his child. Rebecca is called a “Stupid Bitch” not by herself, for once, but by George, who has genuinely misunderstood her good intentions. And as Nathaniel gazes at Mona, strains of the long-lost “Settle for Me” tinkle in the background.
This musical recall is especially effective with Trent’s co-opting of Rebecca’s musical numbers. As a reflection of her foibles, his full-on recreation of her second season intro song last week shone a stark new light on her actions. Trent has always served as a welcome wrench in the works for the show’s script. But with this episode, the champion of the surprise intervention has performed the ultimate surprise — he’s stuck around. And it makes sense. Trent’s similarities to Rebecca can no longer be ignored by both her subconscious and by the people she cares about.
Rebecca finds herself for the bulk of this episode all alone with her Trent-shaped guilt, and that guilt transforms into consequences. The first season ended with her getting everything she wanted, while the second ended with her losing it. The third season’s ending has a little bit of both. Rebecca may be losing her freedom and her way of life, but at the same time, she’s gaining something she didn’t even know she wanted until recently — self-respect and responsibility. And for the first time ever, love doesn’t factor into it.
Or at least not her brand of fairy tale love. After singing a beautiful duet with Nathaniel that could potentially lead to her happy ending, Rebecca realizes that tied up in Nathaniel’s bargain for a life together is the same problem that’s landed her here in the first place. She’s just a girl in love who can’t be held responsible for her actions. And that’s not who she wants to be anymore.
So Nathaniel is irrelevant. But as Dream Ghost Dr. Akopian told her in the first season, Rebecca does have love in her life — she just doesn’t always recognize it. She has love for herself. And, importantly, she has love for Paula. Paula and Rebecca’s friendship is one of the cornerstones of the show, and it’s what’s made Rebecca’s deceit so hard to stomach, particularly in last week’s episode. Two finales ago they reconciled easily after Rebecca lied to Paula about sleeping with Greg. This time, Rebecca’s put Paula’s career and life at risk for her own gain, and reconciliation is still a long way off. But Rebecca understands that, and it’s Paula’s lack of reconciliation that helps save her from herself.
To Rebecca’s immense credit, many of the finale’s consequences are her own doing. She loses Paula’s trust because she doesn’t feel she deserves it. And while the real, legal consequences come from outside, they’re so intertwined with her own actions that she has to own them. Trent’s Scary Sexy Man doesn’t do anything she didn’t, right down to sending a threatening note about a loved one. Trent is the monster Rebecca once was. And like Jarl Thedanishguy said, “The monster has to be killed.” It’s too bad Trent is real, because in a way pushing him off that roof is a healthy step forward, a rejection of her past self.
But Rebecca is on trial for attempted murder, with the tantalizing option of pleading insanity.
It’s an obvious but very smart move, and one that the show handles well. In spite of it all, Rebecca has never been comfortable with the term crazy. By legally disavowing the term, and putting herself at risk in the process, Rebecca is literally pitting her life against the way society has labelled her. She confesses to her crimes, and in a perfect song recall, she asks to be held responsible for her actions (“I’m Just a Girl In Love”) over an instrumental reprise of “I’m A Good Person.” This time, maybe we can truly believe in her goodness.
Interspersed with the whirlwind of Rebecca’s guilt, attempted murder, and confession is the delightfully low-key story of the birth of Hebecca (name pending). Any other show would work a season finale birth into a frenzied group affair with lots of running and panic. (And the script takes care to point this out). Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems to be going down this path until Heather takes the reins and delivers a laudably feminist… delivery. In doing so, she also orchestrates one of the show’s sweetest, most satisfying moments to date.
Darryl and White Josh’s relationship has grown quietly in the background over the seasons as a gentle reminder of how simple and enjoyable love can be. While Rebecca has bounced around desperately seeking her fairytale romance, Darryl and WhiJo have been a beacon of understated maturity and reality. Even with their breakup, they’ve behaved admirably, Darryl forging ahead with his dream and WhiJo undergoing some serious introspection.
While Rebecca’s love life has been profoundly unpredictable, Darryl and WhiJo’s relationship has always followed a normal narrative trajectory, so a reunion in the delivery room seemed inevitable. But the way the show handles it is surprising and lovely. There are no tearful proclamations of love. There are no grand gestures. They each admit that they missed the other and that they like each other. They seem truly content without the promise of romance. Even though they’ve split up, Darryl and White Josh continue to have one of the healthiest relationships on tv. If Rebecca had been willing to behave this way, the show may have resolved itself after just one season. Luckily for us, it hasn’t.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend hasn’t been officially renewed for a fourth season yet, but if The CW knows what’s good for them, they’ll keep this miracle going. Co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna says the writers have plotted a finite story of four chapters. Luckily for Rebecca, she and half the people she knows are lawyers, so she won’t be short on representation. Paula is tantalizingly close to passing the bar, and I’ll eat my hat if that doesn’t come into play in the next season.
This show began as something fresh and exciting, and it’s morphed into something extraordinary. “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant” has kept the bar for the show sky high, and it demonstrates just how far Rebecca and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as a whole have come. Even if there’s only one more season, it’s due to be spectacular.