“They say obsession biologically lasts four years at most but science doesn’t apply to us.”
Rebecca Bunch isn’t just “crazy,” she’s caught in a disastrous cycle that stems mostly from her childhood. That truth has largely been sidelined this season for a more zany take on Rebecca’s love life. It’s been fun and all, but that extra layer of tragic depth is what made the first season a masterclass in cringe comedy. Last week, the show largely worked out the plot kinks while introducing new elements. Things were looking up. Then, between episodes, the writers must have taken a look at a season one episode or two and remembered just what show they were working on. Tonight’s outing wasn’t just season 2’s funniest episode yet, but the first one to cut Rebecca as deeply as before.
Rebecca and Josh started things off doing just dandy, posting statuses about and pictures from their relationship on everywhere from Waze to Draw Something. They both feel invincible as if any issue in their lives will just evaporate just by being in love. Naturally, that brought us into the Soul Train influenced “We’ll Never Have Problems Again.” Like last week’s “So Maternal,” this was yet another catchy, well-written parody song that felt a bit too much like an aside. Even if they’re fun, I’m getting a little sick of the songs that are more like extended cutaway gags than outright musical numbers. We go from Rebecca’s apartment to a bubblegum colored soundstage with Rebecca and Josh wearing tacky heart PJs. It makes the song feel less like an immediate piece of character development than an opportunity to indulge clever lyrics. Even so, it was still plenty of fun and subtly laid the foundation that would guide the rest of this episode with a line denying that people follow the cycles of their parents.
The crux of this story centered on our favorite pair of kissing idiots going back to Scarsdale for one of Rebecca’s cousins’ bar mitzvah. This trip comes at just the wrong time, as Rebecca is particularly delusional about how powerful she and Josh’s love is. It’s at the point where Valencia isn’t even mad at her for taking her ex back, again. She’s so worn down at this point that she simply warns Rebecca that Josh is all over the place emotionally. In fact, courtesy of some Father Brah wisdom, Josh is starting to realize that this relationship is starting to define his life. With all those heavy emotions in their baggage, they decide to shack up with Naomi (Tovah Feldshuh), Rebecca’s stern over-sharer of a mother.
I cannot tell you how much I’ve missed Naomi. Her balance of frank humor and tough love lead to some of last season’s most confusing, funny, and heart-tugging moments. Rebecca and Naomi worked out some deeper issues last time around, but the two still butt heads now. Naomi comes right out of the gate calling Josh (whom she’s never liked) an oriental while launching into some verbal sparring with Rebecca that launches right over his head. I was really impressed with how the tension here was handled. We weren’t back to square one with Rebecca flat-out hating her mother again while not dropping the tension between them. Rebecca is clamoring for Josh to take in her aggravation at her home, pointing out the spots in the floor that she cut grooves in with her nails. Josh isn’t taking the bait, though, he wants to give the place a chance and decides to help Naomi with a late-night errand.
By the next morning, Josh and Naomi have become thick as thieves. In fact, Naomi seems almost as obsessed with our resident dreamboat as Rebecca is (in a more motherly way). Rebecca was horrified by the notion that Josh could be fitting more into her home that she is, resenting him more and more as the bar mitzvah carried on. She even managed to find some common ground with childhood rival Audra Levine (Rachel Grate), who seems just as dissatisfied in her marriage. We’re also introduced to Rebecca’s old Rabi, Shari (Patti LuPone), and her reaction to this lead into one of the season’s strongest musical numbers.
“Remember That We Suffered” is one of the season’s first numbers to really masterfully work itself into the context of the scene. It’s a Fiddler on the Roof esque dance circle with everybody at the party, singing about how any fun Jewish activity is drenched in the guilt of having been hunted down during the Holocaust. Finally, we’re not just watching characters sing, we’re seeing Rebecca’s perception of them. In actuality, all of these guys are having a grand old time, but she views them with this cynical eye that short changes them all. Rebecca doesn’t just have disdain for herself and her mother but the entire identity her home life carries. Shari notices this and calls Rebecca out on it, making her realize exactly why she’s mad at Josh. This interaction between the two was so strong, that I wanted a little bit more from Shari. Hopefully she returns in the future, as in sure Rebecca was no picnic in Hebrew Schoo. Josh doesn’t take her guilt bait, as he knows he’s doing the right thing, and the two of them head home on somewhat sour terms. At least, for now, as Naomi suggests a way to fix everything to Josh on the way out.
For the first time in a while, I genuinely liked Josh. For so long he’s been reduced down to a guy so dense and childish that it’s hard to understand what Rebecca sees in him. However, watching him make such a genuine effort to get along with everybody at this retreat was the Josh we’ve been missing. He may not be the brightest bulb, but he’s a genuinely good person, and in theory, that’s enough for Rebecca.
Way back in episode 3, I gushed over the scene in which Rebecca dropped pregnancy news on Josh, only to then discover that she wasn’t pregnant. It was pure manic chaos, with a hundred different emotions flying at once. Somehow, this episode topped it. We end with Rebecca going back to see Dr. Agopian (Michael Hayatt) and finally starts to arrive at a breakthrough. She begins to talk about how being with Josh won’t define her happiness and that she needs to take time for herself. Hyatt was nothing short of brilliant here, listening in shock as Rebecca finally started making sense. Her relief and pride ramped up with her patient’s every word. This was it, Rebecca had finally made the revolution that she’s needed to make for the whole show. She finally grows up and stays that way for a whole two seconds before Josh bursts through the door. He’s got the family ring with him, and Agopian’s absolute horror proposes to Rebecca. Of course, she explodes into a yes, and we’re back to the cycle again.
At one point, Naomi tells Josh that he’s “softened Rebecca’s edges.” Ironic, because this was the episode that finally sharpened Season 2. Rebecca is so filled with self-loathing that she commits permanently to the very thing she was having a breakthrough to avoid, during her breakthrough. That’s deranged even by her standards and I cannot wait to see what mayhem it brings to the final three episodes.
Note: We’ll talk about the Deryl/Pemberton reconciliation subplot in more detail next week when it becomes more relevant, but it was a little disappointing to see Pemberton’s soft underbelly come out so quickly. It was well-executed, but I wanted a little bit more time to soak in everybody’s aggravation over having a boss that makes them work in the workplace.