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Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
In the recent Netflix mini-series Maniac, there are a number of inventions and companies offering services to stave off feelings linked to the human condition. The pharmaceutical trial at the heart of the drama wants to go one step further with a desire to cure all mental health conditions in a simple three-step process. Of course, things go awry in spectacular fashion, but part of this journey includes a number of fantastical scenarios taking place in the participants' minds.
In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, there is no miracle cure on the table. Instead, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) has spent four seasons grappling with who she is, typically through song and often with a colorful array of costume changes. Since getting a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder last year, Rebecca has been going to therapy, taking medication and completing workbooks. And yet by the series finale, “I’m in Love,” she is still as lost as she ever was. Will another song rendition help her figure out who she is?
Spoilers ahead for the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend series finale
Pop culture can act as an escape and a method of understanding who we are, a swinging relationship, which Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gets to the heart of. Songs are how Rebecca processes her problems, including the many relationship dilemmas she has experienced over the four seasons. The first season theme song told the audience it was "a lot more nuanced" than the simplified version of why she moved from New York to West Covina, a song that is reprised through both lyrics and costume in the last big number of the series, “The Eleven O’Clock Song.” The latter title is a reference to the time when a Broadway show used to have its big showstopper, complete with a thematic revelation. Instead of giving her the answer she craves to her Greg/Nathaniel/Josh conundrum, she is instead left with a rotating stage featuring an array of different identities she has tried to fit into.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has worn many hats (sometimes actual hats) throughout its four-season run, covering many musical genres in the 157 songs featured. Comedy, and particularly romantic comedy, is the foundation on which Rebecca's story is built, but it doesn’t take a retro-futuristic pharmaceutical trial to experience fantasy as a way to help make sense of the world. Clothing is one way to explore identity; playing dress-up in fancy gowns and '70s jumpsuits can provide an escape, but it can also overwhelm.
Not only does “The Eleven O’Clock Song” pay homage to tracks that have been a key part of Rebecca’s journey, but the corresponding costume appears on a mannequin showcasing the work of costume designer Melina Root. Originally, Rebecca was going to be wearing different parts of the costumes, but this idea got stripped back to the version that made it to the screen. Rather, the abstract black theater space feels a bit like Janet's (D'Arcy Carden) void in The Good Place; it is a non-place where all of the versions of Rebecca reside.It is a dizzying rendition, in part because of the rotating stage, but also because of the number of song changes. It is a greatest-hits medley of devastating proportions that lands on the most Eleven O’Clock-like number from the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song catalog. "You Stupid Bitch" sees Rebecca doing her best Barbra Streisand. It is the song that would typically close out a show in dramatic fashion, and in this case, it is full of self-loathing. For Rebecca to revisit this tune at this moment — the only costume change of this song — it reveals just how lost she is at this point.
The love story at the heart of this show isn’t a fantastical one, nor is it a fairy tale with a traditional happily ever after. No, for Rebecca to get the magical ending she has to open up about her “mind songs.” The solution isn’t Greg (Skylar Astin), Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), or Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), but rather she needs to tell Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) about her musical process. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has his mind palace, Rebecca Bunch has various musical spaces to address her quandaries. Before the finale, she hasn’t told anyone about “where she goes” — other than Dr. Phil and her dream ghost — but the real breakthrough comes when she tells Paula.Prior to this, the closest she got to explaining her coping mechanism is by telling her friends, “I was in there doing this thing that I sometimes do to make sense of things. I was listening to music and watching music videos.” This scene is just after she got her diagnosis in Season 3; a moment that was meant to be triumphant but led to even more confusion.
Despite the uncertainty that persists by the series finale, Rebecca is open to answering Paula’s questions about where she goes from here. It isn't just about answering the question, there needs to be someone to ask it.
Rebecca is reluctant to unlock this part of herself as she's worried it will sound weird, but when Paula gazes off and ends up surrounded by the costumes of Rebecca’s mind songs, she is not freaked out. Instead, she sees the beauty of it all.
All of these identities Rebecca has tried to fit into — including a jumpsuit-wearing Disco Queen, the optimist in a yellow floral and embracing her inner misery in a black hoodie/ripped jeans — are a part of her. These “mind songs” are her way to work through her uncertainties, the answers were there are all along; Rebecca just needed to share with the person she loves and trusts most in the world to realize it. It is fitting that the final song is a reprise instead of a big number, Rebecca is no longer alone in this space.The first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend started with Rebecca is a work-appropriate blue sleeveless dress that transformed into one with more sparkle and flair. This wasn’t a Sabrina style magic twirl change, but an upgrade made in her mind. Rebecca doesn't need spells to swap out an outfit, and while none of those particular costumes seemed to work, by the end of the finale, Rebecca is satisfied.
When she sang "I'm Just a Girl in Love" as the Season 2 theme song, red and pinks dominated in a retro number that saw her lean further into the Josh fantasy. The color of love is back in the present-day scenes of the finale at the Valentine's Day open-mic night, in both the heart-decorated bar and Rebecca's choice of floral dress. But this isn't a case of Rebecca putting all of her happiness in a romance basket, instead, she has transformed her love fantasy into something tangible. The mind songs are now real, Rebecca is ready to sing.