Over the past few episodes, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has delved deeper into Rebecca Bunch's (Rachel Bloom) mental illness. But as the CW series has fearlessly followed its lead character as she hit rock bottom and begins to recover with a brand new borderline personality disorder diagnosis, it's not leaving the struggles of the people who love her behind. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3 is doing its part to strip away some of the fear that comes along with supporting a friend who's going through a tough mental health issue. According to star Vella Lovell, who plays Heather, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn't providing any answers as to the "correct" reaction to a suicide attempt like Rebecca's, because there simply aren't any.
"There’s no right way to handle this," she says, speaking over the phone in early December. "No one else can do that journey for Rebecca. As much as her friends want to help, it’s her journey."
Because of the stigma that surrounds the topic, people may not feel qualified or prepared to step up and help a loved one, even if their situation is less extreme than Rebecca's. And of course they're balancing that desire to help with their own human response. Per Australia's Suicide Hotline Victoria, common reactions to a loved one's suicide attempt include anger, shame, guilt, fear, avoidance, and minimization.
You can see many of those emotions in Rebecca's friends in the episode that tackles the aftermath of her suicide attempt. Josh feels shame, because he thinks it was his fault. Paula is afraid to leave Rebecca alone for a even a few minutes. Nathaniel avoids seeing or talking to her because he's processing some repressed memories of a similar incident with his mom. And Valencia and Heather are throwing themselves into their own projects — a social media campaign and a relationship, respectively.
Lovell says that there was a scene cut from the "Josh Is Irrelevant" episode where Valencia calls out Heather for using her budding romance with Hector to distance herself from what was happening with Rebecca. It's the same thing Heather accused Valencia of doing with her social media campaign — sorry, her "movement."
"She’s almost just as distracted as Valencia is, just in a different way. It’s hard to fully experience when a friend is going through [a mental health crisis] in such an intense way, so you maybe fall back on your own coping mechanisms, which I think for Heather is to detach," says the actor. But she brings up the moment when Rebecca takes too long in the bathroom and Heather is ready to break down the door with her emergency ax as proof that "when push comes to shove, Heather will be there."
"It takes kind of a second for her to activate sometimes," Lovell says. "That moment with the ax, she’s like, 'I will cut the door down. I didn’t know we were at that point.'"
That ride-or-die friendship between Rebecca and the rest of her girls has manifested in some bizarre and heartwarming ways, setting up a soft place for Rebecca to land when she stumbles. To Lovell, the formation of the show's "gurlgroup4evah" has been "an unexpected delight," especially since none of the four women had previously known the benefits of having a tight group of supportive ladies.
"You think [the show] is about this love triangle or this romantic comedy, and this odd, beautiful, strong female friendship has emerged," she says. "I think females supporting other females is incredibly important, and we have to do that for each other. Especially with the current climate, if we don’t do that for each other... people aren’t going to make room for that if we don’t do it ourselves."
Speaking of the climate, I have to ask Lovell about the strangely prescient timing of the show's season premiere and its big number, "Let's Generalize About Men." On Oct. 5, The New York Times published a piece reporting on several accusations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades levied against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein that would prove to be a tipping point for society's desire to expose and punish accused predators. On Oct. 13, a new episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired, ending with a Pointer Sisters-inspired music video wherein the four core women "take one bad thing about one man and apply it to all of them." In addition to being a total earworm, the song seemed to parallel the #metoo movement and near-daily news of women speaking out (and finally being heard) regarding their abuse at the hands of powerful men in show business, politics, tech, and big business.
"There was this collective urge in America to generalize about men, and to be like, 'Are you serious? This one too?'" Lovell says, adding that the show's musical comedy medium allows them to contribute to discourse in an interesting and unexpected way. It's fine by her if the '80s homage has become a rallying cry for women who are just done. "There’s a real urge in times like that to just lump [men] all together and let your rage out," she says. And if you can do it in coordinated, shoulder-padded neon skirt suits, all the better.
The occasional rage-fest has to be healthy for Heather, who isn't known for expressing many emotions. But Season 3 has challenged her to "actively participate in her life and really be present," according to the actor. There's more to come there in the second half of the season. Lovell promises a lot of "growing up" for Heather, following her being officially being kicked out of the community college she's taken comfort in being a perpetual student at, and, of course, helping Rebecca through her recovery.
Her big number so far this year was the inspirational musical theater song, "The Moment Is Me," which was deliberately the complete opposite of the kind of music the audience can imagine Heather being interested in. Lovell loves the "push and pull" of Heather's relationship to the world. "You can’t be over everything in your own life or you won’t ever do anything," she says. Yet Heather's deadpan personality means she's never going to look as jazzed about life as those musical-theater dancers leaping behind her in her pivotal song.
Still, Lovell talks about Rebecca's tumultuous arrival in West Covina as the first push Heather had to really think about her life and how she's been living it "a little outside herself." So it's not surprising that her roommate feels the kind of affection for Rebecca that leads to her brandishing a lethal weapon at a bathroom door. Through their friendship and others, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is going to keep chipping away at the emotional and mental barriers that can hold people back from truly connecting with their friends whenever things get bad.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.