“You’re a stupid piece of shit. But knowing that makes you better than people who don’t know they’re stupid pieces of shit. Or is it worse? Breakfast!”
With that opening line of narration, we go inside the mind of BoJack Horseman and there we stay for an entire episode. It’s easy enough to understand the idea that BoJack hates himself, but now we’re witnessing the pervasiveness of his self-hatred on a second-by-second basis. Every thought reveals a rats’ nest of chaotic logic, a soul ruled by the constant fear that something bad is going to happen. BoJack tries to fight that fear, not with understanding or trust, but by bracing himself against hope by putting up walls and defenses. It’s no accident that when he sees himself in his mind, he pictures a wide-eyed boy who is constantly being scolded by his own adult voice. We know what that voice really is, though. It’s his mother’s voice. Even as an adult, Beatrice’s voice is connected to his self-image.
The idea that parents define so much about our lives is often dismissed as Freudian bullshit, but the simple truth is that of course our parents affect our hard-wiring. How could they not? They write our original definitions of love, reward, attention, and meaning itself, which is precisely why this episode allows us to connect all the horrible dots of BoJack’s behavior.
We’ve always had a good look at BoJack’s depression, but what I love about “Stupid Piece of Shit” is how it gives a look into BoJack’s crippling anxiety. Every moment he is gripped by fear, his very existence becomes a minefield. Every wrong step can lead to doom. Again, this is the effect of his mother. As a young boy, he wanted love, but Beatrice punished him for every single thing that he did. Nothing ever worked. He tried so damn hard and yet he will always “BoJack it up.” This is why he projects himself as an awesome smart guy, instead of the loser that he criticizes in his head. It’s why he’s attracted to sycophants and people who worship him. It’s all a mutant, horrible attempt to counterbalance his self-image. It’s all a way of grabbing onto some small sense of power.
But it never works because it doesn’t fix what’s really wrong. It’s just a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Once his anxiety gets to be too much, BoJack sinks lower into a toxic state of acceptance, highlighting the awful relationship between anxiety and depression: When you get tired of being afraid, of battling the voice in your head, you take everything you’re feeling as incontrovertible truth. (When a passerby yells, “Use the shoulder, asshole!”, BoJack immediately thinks, “He gets it.”) And so, he turns to alcohol! He drinks simply to quell the horrible voices inside his head. It is just another mutant form of acceptance, all of which goes back to the lack of his mother’s love. BoJack later asks himself, “Am I jealous of a doll?” as if it’s the most outlandish thing in the universe. But he’s not seeing the simpler truth of of his feelings. Given what’s happened to him, he has every right to be jealous of a doll.
There is nothing wrong with that feeling. It is the simplest, most meek expression of a basic desire. But BoJack cannot own this desire because the concept of wanting love has been beaten out of him by that very same relationship with his mother. Mr. Peanutbutter will later tell him, “Everyone deserves to be loved,” and that is absolutely true. Every human being is born deserving of love. But our understanding of that fact, along with our ability to embrace and trust it, can get corrupted by the events of life. By people who don’t love us. Or when we screw up so badly we lose that love. The latter is certainly something BoJack has done, but that behavior stretches back to what Beatrice did to him as a child. He simply doesn’t believe that he deserves love.
Coincidentally, my stepmother wrote a book about the devastating pain of family secrets. People often keep these secrets because they feel like the truth is too hard for others to bear, but by doing so, everyone ends up feeling the space around that truth more acutely. And without a reason to understand this pain, they make up reasons. They believe it is their fault. The original source of the Horseman family trauma was Beatrice’s mom being lobotomized, but Beatrice inherited that pain and never loved BoJack because she couldn’t go resolve it. Rather than express the nature of this trauma to her son, she let the fallout land on him. Meaning BoJack still blames himself and says, “This is why mom loves doll more than you.”
We see all of this echo through BoJack’s fear about Hollyhocks. When she inquires about the voices of self-hatred and doubt in her own head, she asks, “It’s just like a dumb teenager girl thing and then it goes away, right?” He only knows how to lie, especially about something like this. And so, he tells her yes. It’s a devastating moment, but perhaps not as hopeless as we think.
The reason BoJack is still trapped is because he’s playing a rigged game. His mother is a toxic person, but his distance from her is simply an attempt to outrun that toxicity. He’ll only get the real distance he needs by separating himself from the desire to earn her love. He needs barriers, understanding, and non-toxic expectations. Just like there’s no real way out of anxiety and depression, there is only the daily act of self care. Even then, there is a world of difference between BoJack’s demons and Hollyhock’s, enough to suggest that she might be okay. After all, she’s grown up with secure, loving parents. The point is that telling someone that self-hatred goes away doesn’t have to be a lie. It just takes doing the work and reopening the oldest wounds. But first, you have to learn to free yourself from the rigged game.
Best Jokes and Other Notes
• “Forget it Jake, it’s Suze-town!”
• “Is my house on a slant or something?”
• “Today?! That’s today?!”
• “I feel like you’re getting really hung up on the boats thing.”
• “We want one of those Stranger Things kids to be the ring bearer … they’re still little right?”
• “Welcome to the nightmare, non-sexy version of Three’s Company that my life has become.”
• “… scripts where the lead character is female …”
• The B-plot focuses on the lies of marriage and Caroline’s own relationship to prospective motherhood. It ends with her being told, “Thank God you’re not a mother, you would be hilarious at it,” and it turns out she’s actually pregnant. Luckily, Judah is right there with some level-headed and much-needed affirmation … BUT WHAT THE HELL IS IN THAT WOODEN BOX?
• The actual mean joke target: “We are doing to this wedding what Rob Durst did to that lady and Fred Durst did to his career!”
• The moment that made me happiest: The beat when Diane asks about this mysterious Roxanne character and “yeah, I’m not doing anything.” Such great meta-commentary.