WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MOST RECENT EPISODE OF CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a satirical dark comedy that deconstructs the typical romantic comedy and the typical romantic comedy protagonist. And, at the same time, it’s also something that is deeply existential, quite literally telling the audience that life has no meaning except that which we ourselves construct gradually over our lifetime:
“Because life is a gradual series of revelations
That occur over a period of time.
It’s not some carefully crafted story.
It’s a mess and we’re all gonna die.”
– Josh Groban, “The End of the Movie”
The central tenet of existentialism is “existence precedes essence,” meaning that nobody is born with a purpose, but rather we discover and/or develop our purpose due to our actions in life. Or, as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in Existentialism and Humanism, “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.”
Rebecca Bunch, however, defines herself through her role as a romantic lead character – as soon as she sees her former flame Josh Chan in New York, her world literally bursts into song. Rebecca – and later her friend Paula – sees her quirky and odd behavior as part and parcel of being the protagonist in a romantic comedy. But, as Josh Groban so helpfully pointed out, life isn’t like the movies. Life has no meaning to it except what we ascribe. And while Rebecca may want to be in a romantic comedy where everything works out for the protagonist, she’s actually living in a messy world where things happen for no reason or rhyme. Rebecca can’t accept what existentialism refers to as “the Absurd” – when finally confronted with her own actions from another person’s perspective, instead of seeing that there is no meaning, she ascribes a completely different meaning and makes herself into the villain of the story instead of the protagonist.
“I try to be good to others.
Treat my fellow men like brothers
That’s the story I’m the hero in.
So how come I can’t zero in
on why this song sounds so sinister?”
– Rebecca Bunch, “I’m the Villain in My Own Story”
Here, Rebecca is attributing her actions to being the “villain” in an act of bad faith. Instead of seeing herself as a person making bad decisions, she sees herself as something who was “destined” to be the villain rather than the hero.
“We’re told love conquers all,
But that only applies to the hero.
Is the enemy what I’m meant to be?
Is being the villain my destiny...?”
– Rebecca Bunch, “I’m the Villain in My Own Story”
Although Rebecca does try to change her behavior after this, she ends up reverting back to her prior bad faith of believing herself to be, as the second season theme song put it, “just a girl in love.”
“I can’t be held responsible for my actions.” Denying responsibility due to adopting false values is pretty much the definition of bad faith.
(If you think this is overreaching, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend itself makes a reference to feminist existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex in it’s pilot. The Second Sex even has a chapter titled “The Woman in Love,” about this very bad faith.)
By the third season, Rebecca has again twisted from thinking of herself as the romantic protagonist to “a woman scorned.” She even bases her look off of the female villains in those movies – without realizing, as Jarl points out, that those women all tend to die at the end of the film.
When confronted with the fact that not only does her life not have the meaning she thought, but that her own actions might have alienated those closest to her, she falls into a depression. This isn’t the first time this has happened either – in the first season episode, “I’m So Happy that Josh Is So Happy!”, when confronted with the fact that Josh and Valencia are moving in together, Rebecca falls into what could be called “existential despair.”
“My anxiety is so out of control that all I can think about is thinking about thinking about thinking about fixing everything I’ve ever done wrong and all of the ways I’ve already fucked up my life beyond repair.”
– Rebecca Bunch, “Sexy French Depression”
An existential crisis is often the result of questioning the very foundations of a person’s life – the meaning that they ascribe to themselves. Without Josh in her life (even as someone to get revenge upon), Rebecca is lost. In “I Never Want to See Josh Again,” she becomes completely isolated from her friends and family she created for herself. The very ground upon which she built her life has been pulled away from her.
“She was kind of plummeting off the mountain and grabbing at roots and trees and brambles, and the last thing she grabs onto is Naomi because she doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. But obviously the pathologies are not any different than they were. So there’s that little burst of hope, and then when that’s taken away from her, she really doesn’t know what to do. I think she feels she’s really out of options in that moment.”
Without hope, Rebecca turns to despair. She is free to choose any location she wishes to go, but her depression has made her unable to make any choice at all:
“The thing is, I’m just too tired to buy things or do things or get things or say things or face things.”
So she does the one thing that she knows will make all the choices go away: she tries to commit suicide.
Sartre wrote that once we realized the freedom of our actions, we had a choice to act in accordance with ourselves. We could deny our own freedom, believing instead in the determinism of the universe (acting the way we think we should act), or we could try to be “authentic.” What “authenticity” means is complicated and variable – for Sartre, you can’t become “authentic” by simply repeating patterns taught to you by your parents, the church, or the media. You must question who you are and learn to live with your own choices.
When Rebecca falls into despair, she gives into her worst impulses in an act of self annihilation. But there is a way out of despair – to see the possibility of hope.
“Lovingly to hope all things is the opposite of despairingly to hope nothing at all. Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.”
– Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love
And so, adrift in a sea of meaningless, without even a Dream Ghost to guide her, Rebecca chooses hope.