Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) moved to Westview, New Jersey in hopes of starting a new life with the person she loved, there was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom). She’s an over-stressed lawyer who, like Wanda, confidently believed that she could will a new life for herself into existence simply by telling people that she’d become a different person.
Ridiculous as the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend often was, its story was always rooted in Rebecca’s genuine love for the people around her, and her larger process of coming to terms with some longstanding neuroses she needed to see a therapist about. Though it was billed as a comedy, the show also made an effort at multiple points to convey how, even though Rebecca was ostensibly the protagonist, she’d done more than enough messed-up things in pursuit of a man that she became the true villain of her own story. Toward its series finale, WandaVision began circling around a similar conclusion about its own titular heroine, but never quite got around to spelling things out or really having Wanda face the consequences of her actions. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend got to this important point much earlier in its story and with much less wiggle room for its central character at a time when she was doing some genuinely unhinged things.
Rachel’s major reason for moving to West Covina, California in the first place boiled down to the fact that after years of being apart, she was still madly in love with Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), who she’d dated for a few months as a teenager. Though Rachel had no business in West Covina, Josh being there (and her being unhappy in New York City) was all it took to convince her to pack up her things, and relocate, all of which were wildly irresponsible things to do for a man who wasn’t even really checking for her like that still. But in West Covina, Rachel quickly made new friends and began cobbling together a new chapter for herself, all the while lying to people about her motivations; eventually, Josh did come back into her orbit, figuring that the pair could become pals once again. Clueless a person as Josh generally was, he had no idea the lengths Rebecca was willing to go to in order to “accidentally” show up places he would be in hopes of re-igniting their old flame. Rebecca, by contrast, was always very aware of the wildness of her actions, which is partially why she would confide in people like her colleague Paula Proctor (Donna Lynne Champlin), who could understand that she really didn’t mean Josh any harm.
Though Crazy-Ex Girlfriend’s musical flights of fancy often skewed fantastical, the show always treated its songs as representations of what was going through character’s heads rather than actual things they were saying. But much in the same way that Wanda’s Westview Hex warped those trapped within it to become supporting characters in her domestic fantasy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend very smartly depicted Rebecca as a chaos agent whose presence encouraged other people to act on their more reckless impulses. Sympathetic and often encouraging as Paula was of Rachel’s decisions, things like her plan to convince Josh to leave his girlfriend Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) were quite villainous, and it wasn’t until one of Rebecca’s earliest ploys to ensnare Josh nearly worked that she stopped for a moment to consider whether what she was doing made her the bad guy.
After a surprising kiss made clear that there was some degree of attraction between Rebecca and Josh, in a fit of guilt he felt compelled to confess what happened to Valencia, and planned to take a trip to Hawaii to think about his actions regardless of how his confession played out. Rebecca, trying to grease the wheels a bit, lied to Josh about having broken up with her own boyfriend, and after a conversation with Paula, resolved to stop Josh from telling Valencia what happened in hopes that the kiss might be the beginning of their new relationship. Given how guileless Josh generally was, there’s a good chance that had Rebecca stopped him and said she also “just so happened” to be on her way to Hawaii, it’s likely that he would have fallen for her ploy. But instead, she missed him by mere moments, and when Josh told Valencia about the kiss, she was none-too-pleased about it — though she forgave him all the same, mainly because those kinds of things weren’t what got at her insecurities.
As Rebecca stopped to consider how she’d recently pawned a number of her valued items (including a family heirloom) in order to buy a plane ticket to chase a man, she can’t deny that she’s wandered into a dark place in pursuit of Josh. “The Villain In My Own Story,” a song featured in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s season one episode “Josh Is Going to Hawaii!”, deconstructs and plays with a number of the tropes present in romcom narratives to comedic effect. But while Rebecca daydreams about herself being an evil witch plotting to murder Valencia, envisioned as a Kate Hudson-type princess, the song repeatedly lands on the conclusion that Rebecca is, in fact, the bad guy at hand. Funny as the song is in the moment, it would come define a lot of Rebecca’s characterization in the series as it explored some of the deeper sources of her neuroses and compulsive behaviour.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend made no qualms about calling out its heroine for her bullshit, and in doing so, set itself up to be a much more honest exploration of her personality and the consequences of her actions. When Wanda pops up next in the MCU, it would be very interesting if it somehow involved a magical music number, but frankly more surprising if it centered on holding Wanda accountable for the mess she made in Westview.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is now streaming on Netflix in Australia, and WandaVision is streaming on Disney+.