[The following contains spoilers for the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Read at your own risk!]
After four seasons, 157 original musical numbers, and countless instances of subverting the most trite and boring rom-com tropes, The CW's Golden Globe-winning musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came to a close Friday with "I'm in Love," a somewhat predictable but not entirely unwelcome ending.
After going on dates with each of her suitors -- Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), and Greg (Skylar Astin) -- in the penultimate episode, Rebecca (co-creator Rachel Bloom) realized, with an assist from Dream Ghost, that she was not going to be truly happy with anyone until she knew who she was and was happy with the woman she'd become.
With support and encouragement from Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), who finally asked Rebecca what was happening in her head every time one of the show's catchy musical numbers happened on our television screens, Rebecca realized her dream of becoming a songwriter, a development that finally tied together the musical aspect of the series with the emotional narrative we've spent the last four years watching. So after gently explaining her decision to all three men, Rebecca spent the next year of her life working on herself and working toward achieving her dream.
The finale ended with Rebecca sitting down, on Valentine's Day, to perform a song for the people of West Covina who had helped her on her personal journey to discovering true happiness. It was the culmination of four seasons of personal growth, and although it might not be the more traditional romantic ending shippers were hoping for or expecting, it's what Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the finale together, had been planning since the beginning of the show.
"Obviously we planned it out five years ago, six years ago, whenever that was, so not all the details were worked out," McKenna explained to a small group of reporters after a screening of the series finale, "but [we knew] the very last thing she was gonna say and where she was gonna end up and that she was going to have what seemed like an ideal romantic opportunity, but find this other thing."
"[Rebecca] figuring what her passion is and what she needs to pursue and what she loves and what she wants to do with her life was always the primary goal and then, I think, the other stuff was really in a fun way, kind of up for discussion," McKenna added.
Taking the time to discover what she wanted to do with her life -- the finale jumped ahead one year -- doesn't preclude Rebecca from having romantic relationships in the future; it just reveals she has finally come to understand the journey she was on was not a search for love but a search for identity. And that journey, which featured a number of memorable highs and lows, was depicted in the episode's sole musical number, which revisited some of the show's most popular songs as Rebecca stood in a black box experimental theater and watched the costumes from those numbers rotate around her to reveal the many different versions of Rebecca Bunch we saw throughout the series' run.
Although Rebecca might not be a good singer (yet), by the end of the series, she has not only figured out who she is and worked through a lot of her issues, but she has also discovered that love and romance are but a single part of each of our stories, not the end or the final destination. It was a major revelation for someone who has been conditioned by popular culture to believe that one's happiness and self-worth are determined by their relationships or romantic status. And it was important for Bloom and McKenna, a screenwriter of romantic comedies who also directed the series finale, to avoid that all too familiar happily-ever-after trope.
"The thing we talked about a lot was sort of trying to dismantle the idea that there's one person [for everyone]. That there's a puzzle piece, because I think that's a very damaging idea for people," McKenna said of the finale's message, which is why we see a number of familiar faces in the crowd, including a rather uncomfortable looking Father Brah (Rene Gube), when Rebecca is talking about her wide open future. "The fact of the matter is, if you're making good choices for yourself and you know who you are, you'll meet lots of great people and then you'll pick the one that matches up with you on terms of values and timing."
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend definitely did a remarkable job of making all three of Rebecca's potential suitors feel like truly viable romantic partners over the course of the show's final season -- they are all part of her, and she, in turn, is a large part of who they are now as well. But fans may have noticed that Rebecca spent more time explaining her decision to pursue her songwriting dreams over embarking on a romantic relationship to Greg, who had confessed she was the love of his life in the series' penultimate episode.
"She spends the most time explaining to Greg what happens and that's because the date that we ended [Episode 16 on] was probably the most, kind of, groundedly connected, and so she felt like she owed him a little bit more of an explanation," McKenna explained. "And he's the one who's the most distressed really. I mean, Nathaniel kind of knows it's coming and then I think kind of knows that the barn and the ring and all that stuff is not exactly what she wants, so that's why Greg gets a little bit more of an explanation than the other folks."
"Presumably she also told Josh and Nathaniel the same thing she told Greg about like, 'I just discovered this thing and I have to give it time,' but we only see her telling Greg," she continued. "He kind of deserved a fuller explanation."
It's important to also note that although Rebecca is technically single at the end of the series, she's not alone; she is completely surrounded by all the people she loves, and who love her in return (except for White Josh [David Hull], who hilariously admits he never really came around on her). Because as much as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was about Rebecca coming to terms with having borderline personality disorder and stumbling toward self-discovery, it was also about the ways in which Rebecca helped others to achieve their own version of happiness.
Take Nathaniel: He finally decided to stand up to his father and quit the law firm, and now he is happily working at a monkey sanctuary (their eyes look like his eyes!). Josh has grown up considerably since we first met him, and at the end of the series is seen to be in a healthy new relationship. Meanwhile, Greg is not just sober but has overcome his self-hatred, as manifested by his hatred of West Covina, and has successfully reopened his father's Italian restaurant and found happiness there. And Paula, who means just as much, if not more, to Rebecca as the three men who've been the focus of her attention since moving to West Covina, has become a successful lawyer in her own right, one who has learned to speak up for what she wants, even if it means she might have to walk away from an excellent opportunity. Rebecca has played a significant role in all of their lives and journeys.
So ultimately, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's message was not to say that Rebecca, or anyone for that matter, needs to be alone, because as McKenna noted, that's just another trope. Rather, it was that Rebecca first needed to be able to get to a place where she was a whole person who was not defined by her love life or her relationship to someone else.
"The point that we were making is when someone says who are you, you don't say, 'I'm Mike's wife. I'm Kim's girlfriend. I'm Lisa's girlfriend.' You say, 'I'm me and I do this and this is what I believe, and I like tacos, and I'm in a book club, and these are my best friends and I have a spouse,'" McKenna said. "I think the idea that it's destiny and that there's a happy ending and there's a kiss and then you're all set is not a good message, actually, for women or men."
So why, then, did the show focus quite so heavily on Rebecca's love life in the lead-up to the series finale? "I think you can enjoy the romance and enjoy the moments of connection but not make that the destination," McKenna explained. In other words, it was just one more instance of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend smartly subverting the frequently toxic tropes of romantic comedy that lead women (and everyone, for that matter) to have unrealistic expectations not just in their romantic endeavors, but in every aspect of their lives.
But in making the series, McKenna and Bloom weren't hoping to kickstart a genre revolution and change the ways future rom-coms treat the subject of love. They just wanted to make the show they wanted to make and weren't necessarily concerned with what its legacy would be moving forward.
"You don't really know how things are gonna live on in the culture, and I think it's sort of not for us to say," she said. "What we were trying to do was take a number of female-based genres -- romantic comedies, musicals, to a certain extent animated movies, fairy-tale princess narratives, and then all the guys were tropes, obviously -- and to take some of those tropes and sort of like, look under ... the hood of those. That's what we were trying to do, but you really don't ever know how something's gonna be received."
Based on the four seasons, 157 original musical numbers, and rewriting the rules of romantic comedy, I think it's safe to say Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's legacy will be a positive one that continues to impress viewers for many years to come.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is streaming on Netflix.
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