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BoJack Horseman Recap: Zero Expectations

Bojack Horseman

Planned Obsolescence
Season 5 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****

Bojack Horseman

Planned Obsolescence
Season 5 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: NETFLIX

In this tremendously funny and “traditional” episode of BoJack Horseman, it would be easy to look at its multiple zany plots and see them as disparate threads. But part of what makes the show so remarkable is its knack for tying its threads together with a common theme. This episode tackles the way we try to guard ourselves in situations of emotional intimacy — often, by fostering zero expectations for what will happen within them.

First, there’s Mr. Peanutbutter’s budding relationship with Pickles (oh, my God, the name-choice). Since they’re both gregarious, flighty personalities, things start moving quickly. Neither Mr. Peanutbutter nor Pickles sees the problem, but when Pickles encounters Gina (BoJack’s iron-willed, unemotional co-star) in the bathroom, she ends up getting the advice to take it slow and have caution. So, of course, Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles blindly listen to this sage random advice and try to have a “not-date” with one another, which just comically pushes them deeper into their issues.

They start by going to see a viewing party of the the space station getting blown up. This is because of its “planned obsolescence,” which plants the idea that things have a finite timeline because of the very nature of how they’re built. When Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles overhear Diane’s new podcast discussing this very event, the connection becomes concrete when she says it’s a giant metaphor for her marriage. Try as he does to avoid talking about it, Mr. Peanutbutter ends up admitting to Pickles that he still has feelings for Diane. But as Mr. Peanutbutter lets loose about his messy hang-ups, he goes on about how there’s no good time when you meet someone you like. Pickles worries outright, “But what if I’m like the space station?” The truth is they can’t know. They can only be in the now. So they kiss as the metaphor blows up in the sky above them. Call it delusion, but it’s all on the table. They’ve accepted the moment.

Some aren’t so lucky. Todd prepares to meet Yolanda’s family, but she worries that they won’t be accepting of her asexuality. Her dad’s an erotic literature author, her mom’s a porn star, and she has a twin sister who is hell-bent on getting sexual revenge on her new boyfriend. Yeah, it’s absurd, but it’s also a pointed commentary on how weird it can be to be asexual in our hyper-sexual world, a world in which everything is constantly telling you that you aren’t normal like everyone else. Even Yolanda’s father proudly declares, “We’re just so happy you finally found a he, she, or object to have sex with!” Of course, in classic Todd fashion, the night turns into a madcap adventure, but this time it’s in the form of a full French farce (be still, my heart).

After the upstairs/downstairs hijinks fall away and Yolanda admits the truth of her asexuality — followed by “one thorough but respectful conversation later” — everything seems so much better. But, for Todd, it’s not. He asks Yolanda why she still lied about him going to college and she tries to hide her shame w/r/t him. So Todd has to break up with her. Yolanda hasn’t accepted him and the only thing they have in common is their asexuality. Which of course just leads to her deeper fear: She’s afraid there isn’t another asexual guy in the world who is right for her in all the other ways she needs (which just highlights all the terrifying fears of having a sexuality that relegates you to such a small grouping of the population). With that, Yolanda drives away without really saying goodbye, for it is the only way to manage her expectations.

But the real devastation of the episode, of course, belongs with BoJack’s story. His relationship with his co-star Gina is built on her aforementioned “zero expectations” philosophy. They have sex, but she’s detached. She doesn’t care about the show. She walks around all day with her headphones in her ears, off in her own little world. Which of course gets right at the heart of BoJack’s insecurity. Sure, he can’t commit to anyone or show love, but it hurts him when people don’t show love back (hence the allure of fame). But the moment BoJack finds out what Gina’s listening to, and that she’s into musicals, she gets embarrassed. BoJack immediately seizes the opportunity by teasing her, “Hey look at that! Found an emotion!” But it’s a deeper well than he realizes. Gina tells the story of when she first saw Kernel of Truth when she was six, which instantly made her want to be a Broadway star. She listens to it now because it reminds her of a time when she was less jaded, when she could do anything, and as she speaks, you see that kernel of truth still inside her: hope.

At first, BoJack keeps teasing, “I didn’t know how much this meant to you! And that makes it even funnier!” But it soon turns into a non-zero-expectations gesture when BoJack asks showrunners Flip and Carolyn if Gina can sing the Kernel of Truth song on the show and they agree to an audition. BoJack tells her, “I know you don’t want me doing anything nice for you because I’m not your boyfriend and you’re a sentient wall of spikes.” Sure, the gesture isn’t all that nice because it breaks boundaries, but it also taps into the kernel that Gina’s still holding onto. After a little bit of thinking, she decides to go with BoJack’s plan and audition, “So I don’t have to wonder, right?

When the audition finally comes, the scene gets quiet. There’s a slow, cinematic zoom-in on Gina as she puts herself on display. We see the whole range of feelings and vulnerabilities. Some notes land. Some don’t. Her voices cracks. There’s even the exact moment when she realizes she’s not good enough, but presses on. The second it gets to the last note she just keeps saying “sorry” over and over again as a single tear comes out. She sees herself out. Carolyn and Flip lay into BoJack for being cruel and subjecting her to that, but he responds, “I thought she would be good! And I’d like to be judged solely on my intentions this time!” But all this does is unspool Gina’s irrevocable, intrinsic problems of living a dream adjacent. Yes, she guards herself, but the kernel of truth is the thing she holds onto to get herself through it. And when she can no longer wonder? There’s no more engine. And the real pain of letting that die is too crushing.

Which brings us to simple truth behind the “zero expectations” philosophy: we’re just guarding ourselves from pain. It doesn’t always need to be trauma and lobotomies. It can be the simple everyday pain of feeling hopeless. Which is often why some people feel better “always wondering,” because that means they can hold onto their hope. And maybe Gina would be happier giving up and doing something other than her dream adjacent. But maybe not. Either way, the notion of giving up only exacerbates BoJack’s deepest fear with his depression, plainly visible on his face at the end …

The worry that it will all be like this forever.

Best Jokes & Other Notes

• “He doesn’t have a problem committing, in fact, he just got out of his third marriage!”

• “It’s confusing; that means the show is daring and smart!”

• “Like that date I found at Mark McGrath’s pool party? Because, oh, boy, not a date.”

• “Once again, my life has been worsened by a brush with musical theater.” (Important note: I love musical theater.)

• “That’s a lot of great information that I was already privy to!”

• “It really puts the ‘um’ in ‘yum.’” / “Yeah, no, I noticed in the marzipan.”

• All the things that they’d never say on a date. The perfect unenthused payoff to the Lady and the Tramp gag.

• “I’m a producer, I can’t just sit around having conversations all day!” This really is the best show about Hollywood. Sorry, Hollywoo.

• Best Bit-Part Animal: Cab Gecko.

• This Week’s Actual Mean-Joke Targets: 21 Pilots and Taylor Swift’s nonsense grudge, and, good granola, the Courtney Cox-thinker joke.

• Moment That Made Me the Happiest: I won’t lie, it was the culmination of the French farce using the McGuffin of the grandmother’s lube … which is a sentence I never thought I could think, let alone say.

BoJack Horseman Recap: Zero Expectations