I’ll admit it: I wasn’t the biggest BoJack Horseman fan when it premiered. The first season didn’t immediately speak to me, and it took multiple friends to convince me to stick it out. I’m glad I did, and never more so than right now.
As soon as I realized what this episode was doing, I got really excited. An old-timey cartoon homage that creates a beautiful underwater world, all in service of one awesome joke, illustrating how easily miscommunication can make even the best of intentions fall short? Plus an adorable baby seahorse to boot? Forgive the pun, but let’s dive in.
Ana Spanikopita sends BoJack to the world’s biggest underwater film festival to promote Secretariat. Unfortunately, ex-Secretariat director Kelsey Jannings is also attending. Faced with the thought of seeing her, BoJack panics: Not only will he have to have an awkward confrontation, he’ll also have to do it underwater.
(The design of the underwater world, by the way, deserves a huge shout-out. All of Lisa Hanawalt’s design work is gorgeous and clever, but as with New Mexico last season, it’s always fun to see how things look outside of Hollywoo. Things sound different in this environment, too. Much of the episode is done like a silent film, which really lets the visuals shine.)
When BoJack gets to his hotel room, he realizes two things: a confrontation with Kelsey is inevitable, and he will have to make it through without the help of cigarettes or alcohol. After he successfully avoids a hallway run-in, BoJack goes down to the festival lobby where press events are underway. He notices Kelsey sadly trying to drum up interest in her movie, so he tries to write her an apology note, but she disappears before he can give it to her. In the background, we notice that a big BoJack-related scandal appears to be breaking — the thumbs-up sign is a big no-no in Pacific Ocean City — but clueless to it all, BoJack chases after Kelsey. In doing so, he falls asleep on the bus and winds up far from the city, where he has to help a male seahorse give birth. As he starts his long walk back to the festival, BoJack realizes that one of the baby seahorses clung to him, so he reluctantly decides to find its dad.
BoJack doesn’t have any local currency on him, so he’s forced to steal seahorse milk from a shark-owned convenience store. The shark goes chasing after BoJack and the baby seahorse, forcing them even further from Pacific Ocean City, the film festival, and the chance to make things right with Kelsey. They find themselves plummeting into deep ocean (in a sequence that brings to mind the Rock Bottom episode of Spongebob Squarepants), and BoJack chases the baby seahorse through a neon seascape.
They follow what they think is a current into an undersea factory. Luckily, it’s the freshwater taffy factory where the seahorse dad works. (This sequence leans hard into old-timey cartoon tropes.) BoJack saves the baby seahorse from being crushed into taffy, and though he raises the ire of the factory owner and guards, he’s unable to reunite the baby with its father.
Cornered by the guards, BoJack falls out of the factory window, only to remember that he can swim underwater. With baby seahorse in tow, he goes flying toward the seahorse dad’s house, where it turns out the kid wasn’t even missed. The seahorse dad invites BoJack in for dinner, and even offers him money, but BoJack doesn’t want any of it. The dad seems to ask, “What do you want?” but BoJack doesn’t know. Has he ever known?
BoJack leaves, jealous of the seahorse family, and catches a cab back to the hotel. While in the cab, he writes a new note to Kelsey — this one much more heartfelt than the previous ones. He’s too late to attend the premiere, so he goes back to the hotel just in time for the festival’s opening-night party, where he learns that Secretariat was a huge hit. As Kelsey leaves the party, BoJack runs after her cab, but by the time he reaches her window, his soggy note is runny and blurred. Kelsey speeds off without knowing what he wanted to say.
BoJack Horseman seems to be experimenting a bit with form this season, first with a flashback episode, and now this nearly dialogue-free episode that played like a Merrie Melodies cartoon. The jokes are broader and more physical than usual, but it works. I really like it when a show as heady as BoJack leans hard into the fact that, despite its emotional arcs, it is still a cartoon.
The episode doesn’t do much to move the plot forward, but I don’t think that’s the worst thing. We get hints that BoJack may be thinking about a family of his own. We see him wrestling with a desire to have good things for himself, even as he knows he’s been an asshole. Of course, we’ve already had most of this information: BoJack feels bad about the way he’s acted, so he seeks external validation that he’s not a bad person. But remorse is a wasted emotion on BoJack, since redemption is rarely given and largely portrayed as pointless.
Not everything has to be about the bigger character arc, and it’s hard to critique such a blissfully ambitious episode. And, oh my God, that final joke. Come on.
- BoJack Horseman is peppered with so many throwaway jokes, it really bears rewatching. (See: the fly waiter sticking his finger in soup in the background of the first scene.)
- How come BoJack has to wear an oxygen helmet underwater, but fish can live on land just fine? Does it matter? Probably not.
- Blackfish-ish. Naked and Filleted. Whatever that Mr. Peanutbutter commercial for Seaborn was. Underwater TV rocks.
- Do the Right Thing 2: Do The Thing More Right
- The undersea bus driver’s wheel is on the right hand side. Is Pacific Ocean City basically the United Kingdom in the world of BoJack?
- I love the blobfish bartender so much. Honestly, all the fish character designs are just awesome. The jellyfish lady, the sardines, the octopus driver…