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The CW series ended on a message of self-love, but left us wanting more
[The following contains spoilers for the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.]
After four seasons, so many love triangles, and even a square, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended its celebrated run on The CW on Friday. The episode, which aptly took place on Valentine's Day, found Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) having to choose between her three suitors: Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), and Greg (Skylar Astin). Bouncing between the present day and flash-forwards to one year later, the series finale revealed Rebecca doesn't actually choose any of the men; instead she decides to focus on figuring out who she is, a journey which culminates in Rebecca becoming a songwriter, making all the musical numbers she's imagined in head throughout the series a reality.
In the show's final moments, Rebecca stands on stage ahead of performing her work publicly for the first time and explains how, when she's telling her own story, she's finally happy. "I came to this town to find love, and I did," she says to the crowd, which includes all three of her exes. "I love every person in this room, each and every one of you. ... And now, for the first time in my life, I can say that maybe I'm finally ready for the other kind of love, the kind we talk about a lot more. And hell, it might be with someone in this room. But whoever it's with, it won't be ending up with someone because romantic love is not an ending. Not for me or for anyone else here. It's just a part of your story, a part of who you are."
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This is a powerful declaration and one that rings true in so many ways, and yet I can't help but be a little disappointed in the series' conclusion. We've watched Rebecca go through so much over the past four seasons, and it's hard not to believe she has earned the happiest of endings. That's why seeing her put her love life on hold in order to focus solely on herself felt like an unnecessary compromise and one that presented the two desires (for self-love and for romantic love) as mutually exclusive. But this isn't an either/or situation.
When I met my fiancé five years ago, I was a mess. Fresh off of a multi-month bout of manic depression and an incredibly ill-advised relationship with a part-time bar back who lived on his grandmother's couch, I promised myself that my priority moving forward wasn't going to be a relationship but figuring out how to find happiness within myself. But within two weeks of meeting the man I'm now planning to marry, I knew this was someone I didn't want to let go of just because my own sense of self felt incomplete at the time. And so instead of ending things, I talked to him about all of this -- my fears, my insecurities, my patterns of self-sabotage, what I wanted for myself and for a relationship in my future. And in doing so, we established open communication and created the space for our own individual journeys to progress simultaneously to our growth as a couple.
So often before I met my fiancé -- and even occasionally to this day -- I felt that because of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD, I was somehow incapable of being the type of romantic partner I wanted to be or that I thought was expected of me. I felt as though I needed to fix myself, to have it all figured out before I could be with anyone without me being a burden on them or using the relationship as a distraction from my personal growth. But that wasn't the case at all. You can do both, and I did -- and it was a hell of a lot easier going through this journey with someone by my side.
Five years later, I still feel as though I'm getting to know myself and I don't know if that journey will ever be finished. But I've reached a point now where I understand that this is perfectly acceptable, not to mention expected, even if so much media messaging likes to pretend otherwise. There is so much pressure put on people to have all the answers all the time, as though uncertainty or ambiguity is a roadblock to achievement and not a natural part of the process. So while I think there's great power in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showing a woman choosing herself instead of a man, I also think there's great power is embracing the uncertainty of the journey, and acknowledging the fact that you may not have all the answers but you can still have everything you want and figure things out along the way.
For years now I've been comforted by the presence of Rebecca Bunch on my screen. As a musical theater loving, heavy boob having Jew who struggles with her mental health and can get a little carried away by romance, I have never seen a character with whom I had so much in common, for better and for worse. Throughout Rebecca's journey, I empathized with her and saw myself in her struggles and successes. Yet this finale left me feeling detached, unable to understand the certainty she feels about having finally figured herself out and acting as though her newfound happiness resides in a state of permanence that frankly feels ungrounded in any reality I've experienced. But while I felt alienated from Rebecca Bunch's ending, I found myself drawn to another rom-com heroine whose journey with love and self-growth also came to a close this week: You're the Worst's Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash).
Like Rebecca Bunch, who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in Season 3, Gretchen's struggles with mental health have played a large role in the FXX comedy since her clinical depression was first introduced in Season 2. But unlike Rebecca, Gretchen doesn't step away from her relationship with Jimmy (Chris Geere) in order to work on herself, nor does the show wrap up her personal journey in a neat little bow. In You're the Worst's series finale, which aired Wednesday, Gretchen and Jimmy call off their wedding but don't break up, instead deciding to make staying together a daily choice rather than an obligation to what they deem the falsehood of marital vows. But after coming to this conclusion, Gretchen gives Jimmy one final chance to back out, reminding him that her struggles with mental health will always continue and that there remains the possibility that she might choose to end her life one day -- a warning that doesn't dissuade Jimmy in the least. And as flash-forwards reveal, Gretchen's struggles with do depression continue, but so does her happy relationship with Jimmy, with whom she starts a family and builds a joyous future.
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By acknowledging the reality of Gretchen's ongoing battle with clinical depression and showing that this doesn't mean she isn't capable of a fulfilling romantic relationship, Gretchen's happy ending feels that much more powerful. It acts as a reminder that even though certain hardships will continue, so will life's more beautiful moments and it's only by embracing all of this that you're able to get the most out of your experiences.
This is why seeing Rebecca declare that she is finally, truly happy in the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finale brings me joy, yes, but it also feels somewhat hollow. The sweetness of this declaration of self-love is undercut by the lack of acknowledgment of how -- just like she says with finding romantic love -- this is not an ending. Finding her passion for songwriting isn't a solution that magically means Rebecca's current happiness will continue unencumbered or that this alone can or will fulfill her entirely. Rebecca figuring out who she is and how to love herself is monumental, and it's a big part of her story -- but it's not the only part.
When Rebecca came to West Covina in the series premiere, she was a shell of a person: she had no friends, only toxic family relationships, a job she hated, a man she loved obsessively who didn't love her back, and no real sense of who she was. But over the past four seasons, we've watched Rebecca work on herself, building beautiful friendships, repairing her relationship with her mother, reckoning with her BPD, learning what healthy love looks like, and finding what truly makes her happy. And in the series finale, everything she was lacking in the series premiere she now has. That is everything except romantic love.
And Rebecca does want love. This much has been clear throughout the entire series. And wanting love in your life is inherently not a bad thing; it doesn't make Rebecca desperate, insecure, codependent, or crazy. Yes, romantic love has been tied up in such toxicity for Rebecca in the past, but the Rebecca we see now isn't the same woman who ran across the country to chase the chance of love, and it's because she put in the work. After hitting rock bottom (a few times, actually), Rebecca has worked so hard on herself and on replacing her unhealthy relationship with romance with a more balanced one, and I wanted to see Rebecca rewarded for this without compromise. When Rebecca canceled her big date with Greg in the penultimate episode, choosing the more mundane realities of life over the grand romantic gestures of the stories she had previously idolized, I thought that this is what the show was building to: a karmic reward for all the hard work she has done on herself and proof that she deserves everything she has ever wanted.
So while Rebecca choosing herself sends a powerful message that I'm sure will have many fans cheering, I still wish I could have seen Rebecca be fulfilled in every aspect of her life. Because she has earned that, no compromise necessary.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available to stream on Netflix.
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