As I said after the season premiere, the ideas at the center of BoJack Horseman can be summed up in one statement: Whatever you worship will never be enough. Though not an exact quote, it’s the message that David Foster Wallace famously delivered in a 2005 graduation speech, and it goes a long way in explaining why the characters on this show are they way they are. Lo and behold, in this episode we hear BoJack say the very words, “You should give up on looking for enough, because it will never be enough.”
His comment is, of course, the kind of half-answer that defines BoJack’s trademark cynicism. He doesn’t have enough therapeutic understanding of mental health to really understand what he’s after, what he’s actually lacking, and how to find balance within it all, so to him, all advice just leads to “give up.” But that’s not what he actually does, does he? No, that’s not what anyone really does. Instead of trying to consider what we really want and fear we won’t get, we manage, we displace, we bargain with ourselves and others. And, in the case of this episode, we lie. At center of the three major plots of “Commence Fracking” are three very different kind of lies, made for three very different kinds of reasons, but are all, in effect, for want of the same thing.
Starting with the main plot, we finally get to the meat of Hollyhocks and BoJack’s budding relationship. I will say that it’s immediately welcome to learn that Hollyhocks isn’t looking for her biological father — since her eight adoptive Dads are more than awesome enough to replace him — but that she’s looking for her mom and needs BoJack’s help to do it. Despite pretending not to be interested, you know there is a part of BoJack that is inherently upset by this. He’s the kind of person who can’t stand anyone who wants something from him, but he also can’t stand someone doesn’t want anything from him either. In many ways, it’s his deepest issue and likely goes back to his unloving mother we saw in episode two.
And so BoJack works with Hollyhocks, cramming through his list of bad ex-girlfriends and one-night stands from 18 years ago. Along the way, he effectively shrugs at his demons, malice, and wake of destruction. Most enlightening is the fact he slept with the head of his fan club. When Hollyhocks registers dismay, he responds with indignant sarcasm: “Yeah, oh my God, what a monster! I slept with someone who loved me more than anybody else and dedicated her life to knowing things about me and caring about me. How could I be so shallow?!” Which, of course, reveals the most immense shallowness in the world: He only cares about her surface-level love for him and never once considers his actual effect upon her because his love is a one-way street. Things don’t go much better when BoJack later needs to distract this superfan, and they quickly fall back into the old dynamic where she asks Horsin’ Around trivia while they have sex. (Yikes.)
Still, their efforts to find Hollyhock’s mom end in vain. She’s heartbroken and it goes beyond mere Freaky Friday fantasies, revealing two painful truths: 1) Hollyhocks wants a mom and will never get to have that reality, and 2) that wanting a mom means her dads were somehow not enough. (There’s that word again, “enough.”) Hollyhock’s youth does not allow her to realize the first doesn’t make the second true, nor helps it her understand that it’s okay to want a deeper understanding of selfhood. But as she cries — a.k.a. the one thing BoJack cannot do and thus a trigger for him — she tells BoJack, “They’re really good dads, I should get back to them,” and suddenly all of his broken machinery kicks into gear. He can’t let her leave, but he cannot open up and simply tell her this, so opts for The Grand Lie: He tells her that there is another (fake) mom out there they can still track down. It is the lie that can never end well. In fact, it is the lie that guarantees it will not end well. But that does not matter, because it is a lie born out of fear. It is the fear to be alone, to see anything outside of the moment around yourself, the belief you can just keep pushing it down the line and outrun it, instead of actually facing the loneliness and emotions within your small flicker of a heart.
Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn and Ralph Stilton have a very different dilemma of intimacy. They are committed to each other, but the episode begins solemnly as they sit in a doctor’s office and get bad news: It’s going to be difficult for Carolyn to conceive. Their reaction is “throwing money at the problem” and some well-timed sex during ovulation. Meanwhile, Carolyn yells about the idea of “Philip,” a perfect clarinet-playing metaphorical son who transcends all limitations. She imagines a day when Philip will look up at them, then say the perfect thing that shows wisdom beyond his years. Do these moments exist? Maybe. But child rearing surely comes with a lot of difficult moments, too. And so this lie is the one of the hyper-idealized future, the one that allows Carolyn and Ralph to push through the limits around them to embrace what they hope will be the end of the rainbow. There are ways in which this is an innocent lie and there are ways in which it is not, but like all lies, they will ultimately have to face what motivates it.
Lastly, there is Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, where her endless avoidant lie of “supporting” his gubernatorial campaign hits a passive-aggressive breaking point. Diane wants things to “go back to normal” precisely because they, as a couple, have avoided their deeper issues and enjoyed the geniality of non-confrontation. But Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign makes that impossible because it requires that she either “just be a wife,” or go to war with her husband over their political beliefs. When she demands he drop out of the race and they finally start arguing, it of course ends with an angst-ridden rekindling of their sex life. (And Diane’s cries of “Frack me, Mr. Peanutbutter, frack me!”) Is this is a healthy outlet? We’re not sure yet, but it sure as hell is an outlet of displacement, along with a place where they can exercise their emotional frustrations with each other. In the end, it’ll only really matter if it leads to a deeper realization.
At the center of these three lies is the notion of avoiding conflict in the moment. BoJack cannot open up. Carolyn cannot talk about her deeper fears of parenthood and infertility. Diane cannot tell Mr. Peanutbutter the truth about his faults and delusions. But more than that, these three characters fear losing the love that their current situations provide, and so they do not speak up to work through it. These lies are about the nexus of intimacy, selfhood, and most of all, the strange motivating urges that we can barely admit to ourselves. But as with all lies, in time they catch up with us.
Best Jokes and Other Notes
• “I hope there’s no murderers out there!” “Yes, everyone hopes that, all of the time.”
• “That was the whole story. She was the president of my fan club. And then I had sex with her. And then I didn’t think about her for 18 years. Aaaaaand here we are.”
• “Good news, the results are in.” “Oooh!” “Bad news, the results are bad.”
• “This is not a conversation between an employee and her superior, this is a conversation between a friend… and her superior.”
• “No, it’s a dad bathroom thing.”
• “Tonya Harding? She said sleeping with me was the worst thing she ever did.”
• “I wanted to apologize to you for being an asshole then… and also now.”
• “Don’t you dare, Robert Blake gave me that mug!”
• The actual mean joke target: “And so the movie finished Mars Attacks without him, and since no one ever found a body, my client Tony Tromboni has been making movies under the name Tim Burton ever since!”
• The moment that made me happiest: The brilliant “it’s another flashback episode” fake-out at the beginning. The flashback to 2007 worked so well in season three, but going back to that idea? Oof. It never, ever works. The same would be true if they went back to the underwater episode.