BoJack Horseman Recap: Fight the Power(less)

Photo: Netflix
Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman

Thoughts and Prayers Season 4 Episode 5
Editor's Rating 3 stars

I can’t believe I wrote an entire recap about Hollyhock’s hunt for her mom without connecting it to the larger narrative of BoJack’s own mother. Of course that’s where it was going. I also can’t believe this episode actually addressed my points about BoJack’s lying and his reasons for doing so. (For those curious, I do stop and do each write-up between episodes.) But to that, I want to point out that BoJack saying the words, “I just don’t want to have a relationship where we lie to each other,” is a huuuuuge sign of improvement for him, even if it comes with the modifier of “that was like 15 minutes of lie.” But right now, there is a far more dire issue to talk about.

Because this episode is all about feeling powerless.

We all know that BoJack is one of the worst, most incapable people in the world. But why? What is it that closes him off and makes him weak? What corrupts him? And in turn, what can possibly redeem him? Well, it always goes back to his original hard-wiring. BoJack’s parentage was instrumental in being the architect of his pain. His father’s sense of failure fueled BoJack’s desire for acclaim and his mother’s lack of love and constant scolding did a real number on him, but the simpler truth is this: Not being loved by a parent, or someone who should (or used to) love you, is one of the most painful things a human can experience.

That’s why BoJack has spent his entire life looking for the love he never got. He inherited broken systems and behavioral models, all fueled by the false belief that he could somehow get his mother to be proud of him and love him. As reality kept beating him down, what he sought instead was to redeem his sense of powerlessness. Ever notice how his Horsin’ Around ego boosts feel like little drug hits that allow him to relax? If you feel powerless, then you feel weak and afraid, but with a momentary sense of power, you feel like you aren’t going to die for a damn second. And so, BoJack chased Hollywood dreams, flirting with anyone and anything that could adore him, all to give himself a momentary sense of power. That’s also why he has gone a decade without visiting his mother, because doing so would put him right back in that terrified childhood place.

With desperate urging from Hollyhock, BoJack begrudgingly tracks down the retirement home where he left his mother. (It takes a while because, in the years since, he’s forgotten the name of the place.) When he and Hollyhock arrive, however, he discovers that Beatrice has dementia. She even seems to have a specific block in recognizing him.

The second this happened, my heart fell out my butt. This show seems to have an uncanny way of playing into my specific heart-pangs: My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and so much of my defining childhood was spent with her sputtering around the house as I, in part, helped look after her. I remember every look, scary moment, and strange occurrence as if it was seared into my brain. I can talk about watching her lose her mind and wrestling with it. I can talk endlessly about the differences between dementia (a symptom) and Alzheimer’s (an actual disease). To all that, I just have to say that this plot is already zapping me in a place that’s painfully familiar. And it’s also zapping BoJack.

Hollyhock remains largely unaffected. For her, the retirement home is just a place to learn what she can through her first real connection to her grandmother. But for BoJack, it taps right back into the feeling of powerlessness. He cannot earn anything from coming to visit his mother (“If I’m not even getting credit, what’s the point?”) and he cannot even tell her all the things he wanted to say (just like he missed the chance with his father). But when a moment of TV watching reveals that Beatrice only recognizes BoJack when he’s on his old show, he has a two-pronged realization: The first is that she was lying to him about hating the show, and the second is that he can use that recognition to throw everything back in her face and escape his feeling of powerlessness. It backfires, of course, and the whole scheme ends with Beatrice getting kicked out of the home. Since she doesn’t have much time left, BoJack and Hollyhock decide she’s going to live with them. Thus, BoJack resigns himself to the idea that maybe once, just once, he will get that chance to tell off his mother … but the truth is that BoJack doesn’t want to do that at all. Like everything, it’s not the problem itself. It’s the problem that’s created by the problem.

Speaking of which, it may seem weird that the B-plot of this episode is a mini-meditation on guns, Hollywood, and gender dynamics, but it makes perfect sense given that it’s also about feeling powerless. Diane realizes that holding a gun makes her feel so much more powerful when dealing with patriarchal bullshit that she faces on a daily basis, which seems especially true of anything that has to do with fear. To quote Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” The issue soon spins out into the political arena, where Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter take out the aggression they tried to compartmentalize into the bedroom (“Fill my chamber with your powerful bullets!”), and the debate ultimately lands on a killer indictment about what happens when a mass shooter is a woman. Men, who have been using guns to make themselves feel big and powerful for years, suddenly seize up in terror at the idea of women having their level of menace and power. And so, “one productive legislative session later,” they finally pass strict gun-control laws. Cue Diane: “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns.”

It all comes back to a simple question: What do we want in place of feeling powerless? Often, it is simply to feel safe, whether we’re walking down the street or with people who supposedly love us. So why can’t BoJack simply express that? Well, expressing a desire for safety and comfort would be met with ridicule. That’s why he’s been on edge and defensive for his entire life, always ready to throw back a barb that’s twice as sharp as any thrown his way. Look closer and you’ll see what’s fueling that reaction: BoJack wants to not hate himself as much as his mother hated him. More than that, he wants whatever love is, for it is something he’s never really had. But as long as he keeps looking for cheap external answers to those inherent needs, it will never come.

Best Jokes and Other Notes

• “I am so sick of real-life gun violence getting in the way of our stories that glamorize gun violence. Why does this keep happening?”

• “Yeah, thoughts and prayers.”

• At this point, the Courtney Portnoy tongue twisters feel like an escalating series of dares for Amy Sedaris — and she’s clearly winning.

• “Ahhh, did I rob a gas station?!”

• “There has been another mass shooting. I am totally unqualified to cover a news story this important, but as a straight white male, I will plow forward with confidence and assume I’m doing fine!”

• “Why are you holding in that thin hard book?” “It’s not a book, it’s a DVD case.”

• I love that bears still speak bear.

• The actual mean joke target: “Seeing my mom is like seeing a Terrence Malick movie. Every ten years or so it’s bearable. But any more than that and it starts to get annoying.”

• The moment that made me happiest: When we see that BoJack still has his old Horsin’ Around sweater, but his gut now sticks out of it.

BoJack Horseman Recap: Fight the Power(less)