What may seem like an episode lacking a universal thread is really an episode that investigates our differing senses of how the world really works. Most important, “The Judge” examines how those views tend to crash together in conflict.
Let’s start with the comically absurd. This episode’s C-plot involves the backwards logic of Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd forming a company of clown dentists. It is, of course, a ludicrous notion that shows how much someone can be disconnected from the reality of “how the world really works.” Hence, Mr. Peanutbutter’s financial advisor constantly trying to tell him what kids really like. But really, this distraction exists to show how awful he is, all as a setup of getting him back into the political game as a hype man for Woodchuck, cynically believing that they only way to stop a sideshow is with a sideshow.
Meanwhile, the episode’s B-plot treats conflicting worldviews a little more seriously, with Princess Carolyn meeting Ralph’s wealthy family for a holiday dinner. He’s desperate for the visit to work out, and in that spirit, doesn’t actually want Carolyn to mention that she’s pregnant. He is reacting to something he intrinsically knows, but is afraid to articulate: His family won’t approve of his cat girlfriend one bit. But when they arrive, the Stilton family wears that outward kindness of the “well-mannered,” all while sliding into casual anti-cat prejudice as it if were all some harmless parlor joke. Oh, and it turns out “the holiday” is also all about hating cats. Ralph defends the tradition — “It’s just an old story about one bad cat, it’s not about every cat!” then, right on cue: “Death to all cats!” — and then keeps trying to chide it away. As he tells Carolyn, “It’s kind of like church, you say the words so many times you forget what they mean.”
What I like about this analogy is there’s no one-to-one comparison. It’s shades of Confederate history, religious dogma, and plain old ignorance of our divisive history, and Ralph keeps trying to ignore the fact that these things are telling. He thinks that’s just how the world is (and how is family is) and that they have to grin and bear it because the alternative means trying to change something that’s too big to confront. Of course, his family finally shows their true colors by insisting that his cat girlfriend only be temporary, and that’s when Ralph fights back. (I want to take a moment to mention how damn good Raúl Esparza is in this role. He has such a vocal range in all his performances — compare this to what he did in Hannibal — and I love how he imbues Ralph with so much humanity and personality.) As Ralph fights for his new family against his old one, we see Carolyn’s small smile and it makes me realize how much this show is sometimes willing to break down barriers. Ever so often, it shows us how maybe, just maybe, we can be better. These two give me so much hope. But true to the heartbreaking realities of BoJack Horseman, that hope also fills me with more fear.
Along those lines, the bulk of the episode’s “that’s just how it is” theme rests with the A-plot, which deals with Hollyhock dating a young intern (Hannibal Buress!) on BoJack’s new show. This would be the show he accidentally joined, assuming it was some NCIS rip-off drama, when it’s really a reality show that’s blissfully titled Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy! But Hollyhock dating someone automatically spurs on Bojack’s interest to undermine a new potential relationship. It’s less about overprotective parenting and more about the way his desire reflects his views of how the world works, along with his constant fear of intimacy. Again, BoJack’s problem is that his original hardwiring makes him think the rest of the world is just like him.
But Miles keeps seeming like a good dude. He calls Hollyhock back, he spends time with her, he doesn’t treat her like trash. He makes her feel good. Diane asks BoJack, “Why is it so hard to believe that someone might logically like your daughter?” and he can only exclaim, “Because she’s like me!” When Diane suggests an open conversation as a resolution, BoJack responds, “No that’s too Diane-y! … If I can somehow prove to her what a jerk Miles is, then she’ll have to like me more by default!” before he triumphantly declares, “That’s the BoJack way!” That may all seem cartoon-y, but that’s the real-deal psychology of someone who has grown up the way that BoJack has. All directions lead to conflict and competition.
It, of course, manifests horribly. BoJack has one of the saddest fights with Hollyhock as he explains that Miles probably has superficial interests, echoing her fears about being overweight compared to the bikini-clad girls of Booty Academy. Just when you think he couldn’t make it any worse, he throws back at her, “Well, you’re the one who said you were a blob!”
As it turns out, Miles really likes Hollyhock … which makes it all the more horrible when his crappiness is revealed. But he’s not terrible in the way BoJack thought he would be. Miles knows that BoJack doesn’t want him seeing Hollyhock and tries to work out a deal, saying that won’t talk to her if BoJack passes his (terrible) script to an agent or manager. It is the expression of the most crushing part of Hollywood dynamics: Even seemingly good people are willing to throw each other under the bus for a chance to get ahead.
We don’t expressly know if BoJack takes the deal, but we do know that Miles stops calling Hollyhock. And from there, BoJack feels Hollyhock sliding into her inherent BoJack-ness, with her even saying, “Do you ever get the feeling that to know you more is to love you less?” Terrified for her, he counters with the best dadlike speech he can offer, but it’s already too late. Because there’s the speech, and there’s the truth around the speech, and then there’s the way secrets lay their effects in plain sight. Hollyhock doesn’t know what really happened with Miles, so she can only project her worst fears.
Those fears seep into her, but how will they manifest? Well, we know that she hasn’t organized all that loose change into some mere quirk, but more into an OCD-like tick. Even more heartbreaking, when asked if she wants to go get ice cream, she responds, “I’m actually not hungry.” And so, we get the first sense of a possible eating disorder. Oof.
Again, it’s all proof of a show that understands why the simplest, most everyday hardships are the most dramatically devastating. Like everything in this episode, it all comes from the simple effect of people thinking “that’s just how it is.” I can think of nothing more normally brutal.
Best Jokes and Other Notes
• “And if I’m famous for anything it’s that I cannot lie.” “Yeah, I guess that would be the one thing.”
• “They got a whole area designed to look like downtown Toronto. That’s where they shoot the stuff that’s set in New York.”
• The kangaroo gesturing for the tip after stomping on the hood.
• “Now I know why so many people like being homeless!”
• “Would you like me to punch you in the belly real quick so you remember what it’s like to be alive? That’s a rich person thing.”
• “Doggy doggy … [sigh] what now?”
• FROGGER GAG!
• BoJack’s lightbulb-being-out gag is utterly fantastic. It feels insane to me that I’ve never seen that before.
• Love the way we learn that Diane has been getting massages to avoid being put in the same orbit as Mr. Peanutbutter’s crazy ideas.
• The actual mean-joke target: all of us! “So making TV is, like, a full-time job?? Then why is it so bad!??! I just assumed people weren’t trying.”
• The moment that made me happiest: Jessica Biel’s amazing, power-hungry arc. She’s quickly become one of my favorite characters.