Looking back, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been a show about the aftershocks of divorce. Way back in episode two, when Valencia taunted Rebecca by singing, “My father didn’t leave me,” I thought it was just a one-off joke. But the next episode next episode touched on Rebecca’s childhood again, addressing the effects of her father’s exit from her life on her relationships with men in the song “A Boy Band Made of Four Joshes.” By episode eight, we got a firsthand look at Rebecca’s chilly relationship with her mother Naomi (Tovah Feldshuh), whose disapproval had loomed large for weeks.
Now, in “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am!” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finally dives deep into the childhood trauma at the show’s epicenter. That’s heavy subject matter for an episode that sheds off its B-story and largely confines itself to two sets—the airplane from the end of the previous episode and Rebecca’s apartment—but, as usual, Crazy Ex tempers it with a healthy dose of silliness.
In this case, that much-needed levity comes in the form of a Dreamgirls-inspired number called “Dream Ghosts” featuring guest appearances from Amber Riley (Glee) and Ricki Lake. “Dreamghosts” introduces the Christmas Carol-esque conceit of the episode, in which a dream version of Rebecca’s therapist Dr. Akopian (Michael Hyatt) takes her on a journey through past and present to teach her a lesson about love. It’s a delightful musical number that recalls the best episodes of Community in its ability to break the fourth wall while maintaining a certain earnestness.
“You know the trope—in storytelling it’s a norm,” Dr. Akopian sings. “When a person’s in trouble, a manifestation of their subconscious appears in the form of a dream ghost!”
But even though the trope has been called out, the show doubles down on it nonetheless, exploring a young Rebecca’s surprise visit to her father’s house with Dr. Akopian as emotional guide. What present-day Rebecca remembers as proof that her mother interrupted her bonding time with her dad is revealed to be the exact opposite: her dad had actually asked Naomi to come retrieve Rebecca so he could have alone time. It’s an event that explains a lot about the series so far. Rebecca’s impulsive behavior, her resentment for her mother, and her pursuit of Josh all have their roots here. And true, this subtext was almost better left as subtext, but if it had to be depicted, this was the way to do it, with great performances from Feldshuh, Jay Huguely, and Ava Acres, who reprises her role as Young Rebecca.
Rebecca’s dream journey continues with a memory of her short-lived fling with theater in college. She slept with the director of a Moby Dick musical, ignoring a less attractive but kinder castmate in the process.
“I get what you’re saying,” Rebecca says to Dr. Akopian, rolling her eyes. “I should have seen past my superficial feelings for the roguish jerk to see the value of a nice guy like Peter.”
“Oh God, no,” the frustrated dream ghost replies. “Forget about the guys!”
The moral of the story, Dr. Akopian explains, is that Rebecca allowed her entanglements with men interfere with her love of theater. Quietly, it’s one of the most revolutionary moments in a series full of them. No one expected a show with the title Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to so forcefully make the point that women don’t need men to be happy but here we are.
The episode tends to lose energy during the scant B-story, in which Paula, Darryl, Greg, and Josh worry about Rebecca’s seeming departure from West Covina. And while the Dream Ghost trope makes for a fun musical number, an hour of dealing with its internal contradictions can be a little much, even for an often-fantastical musical comedy. But these issues just barely weigh down what is otherwise terrific exploration of the throughlines between childhood and quarter-life growing pains.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.