“Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses … Isn’t that true, Henrietta?”
Said aloud, the BoJack family motto sounds like it’s as true a statement as anyone can make. For one, it’s a pillar of logic, as science tells us, that time can only move forward. Heck, it even seems like a good piece of metaphorical advice for all those genuinely trapped in regret. But for Beatrice, none of those words are true at the episode’s opening. Who is Henrietta? Well, right now she is a girl with her face blocked out. And as for time’s arrow? Well, Beatrice is not marching forward at all. Instead, she is back with her youngest self, in a sea of faded-out white, alone with her past.
Yes, it is time for Beatrice’s episode. We had a feeling this was coming, but it still arrives with an aching thud of weight beyond contemplation. We start with Beatrice as the happy child, one perhaps yet untouched by the true horrors of her mother’s lobotomy. She plays on the schoolyard, but is soon teased by Clamilia Bloodsworth for being overweight and is kicked off the slide. These are the kinds of scarring traumatic incidents that many children face, but Beatrice suddenly has to fight the same shit on two fronts: Her father is just as concerned with her figure, and there’s nothing worse than feeling like your bully is right. To make matters worse, she suddenly has scarlet fever, which reveals her “sickness” within. She looks into the hallway, frightened by her father yelling at her mother, scolding the woman for letting her child get sick. The mother, we don’t even see. She’s only a shadow. An obvious metaphor of her former self. She cannot even respond.
We flash-forward to Beatrice’s late teenage years. Corsets. Debutante balls. All the makings of a culture on the way out with the changing era around it. Why, she even talks back to her father with notions of feminism and rolls her eyes at his bullshit. But as much as Beatrice is trying to be above these social pressures, she’s still clearly infected and driven by them. She’s so sure, in her wrong-headed teenage way, that the only way to overcome something is to “beat” it.
Beatrice keeps phasing through her memories littered with the people she can’t entirely remember. She meets the awkward Corbin Creamerman, a young goat who is all nervous sweat and clumsy words. So, of course her father wants Henrietta to marry Corbin and form a business alliance. Even in 1963, money still makes you have to align like royalty …
Enter Butterscotch Horseman. We suddenly remember he has the same voice as BoJack (Will Arnett) and now that choice makes even more sense in the echoes of time. The two play a game of give and take. Beatrice makes fun of his book idea (that’s about nothing) and Butterscotch nails her upper-crust dissatisfaction. Oh dearie, he’s come in like a breath of fresh air, completely outside the trappings of her house. It’s not that she believes in him, it’s just that he hates the same shit — and more important, he’s an excuse to rebel. He even nakedly baits her with a dare: “But I suppose daddy wouldn’t like that would he?”
After their hookup, Beatrice feels Butterscotch was just a fling and ends up going for a mandated walk with Corbin. Sure, he’s still dorky, but it turns out he’s actually into his business and quite thoughtful. In truth, he’s kind and he believes in himself. He and Beatrice even share a genuine understanding of their world. But right when they’re about to have a connection, Beatrice immediately barfs right in his face. (The comic timing on it is perfect.) She is, of course, pregnant. And also, of course, Butterscotch wants her to have an abortion. We see a quick flash of a doll burning in fire, unsure of what it means. She simply says she can’t do it, but what’s the alternative? Still preoccupied with the notion of rebellion, Beatrice and Butterscotch imagine a future where they escape their trappings and go off to a better life in California. It is the story of hope, and so they ask themselves, ”Isn’t that how the story goes?”
Moving forward again, they are in a small apartment in San Francisco and baby BoJack is crying. The simple, innocent, helpless cries of a mere baby, incapable of expressing what is really bothering him. But these cries turn into fodder for his parents to argue. Two parents who came together not out of love, but out of spite for the world around them. And so, inevitably, that spite turned them against each other. Butterscotch even turned on the Beat writers he so idolized, chastising them with a sudden conservative streak, all because he felt rejected by his liberal heroes. He still begrudgingly holds to a ridiculous idealism, not understanding what he’s even rebelling against. He screams, “You want me to work and get paid for it like some kind of slave?” (“That’s the opposite of slavery!” Beatrice retorts.) But she cannot keep holding this wound for him, just as she cannot keep handling her baby’s screams. She takes a drink and downs some pills, just for a moment of peace, but then she turns with that familiar horrible mother voice we’ve come to know and says to her helpless newborn son, “You better be worth all this!”
“Well, you’re not.” With that, Beatrice takes the memory transition on cue and says those words to Young BoJack. He’s still innocent, wide-eyed, and desperately craving the attachment he needs. His family’s daily routine has become something bitterly toxic. They’re still having the same fight, as if time itself has stood still. Butterscotch even declares, “Maybe if the baby stops crying … ” and Young BoJack must interject, “I’m not a baby, I’m six.” But it doesn’t matter. It was never even about his cries. It was about their decision.
In the end, Beatrice gets what she wants and Butterscotch accepts a job at her father’s firm. But like the cries, it was never about that. Nor was it about Corbin. It was about the pain of a loveless life. There was never love to build between these two. Only the wrong kind of hope. The hope for escape. The hope to outrun. The hope to never, ever have to deal with the thing that really bothers us at our core.
Finally, we move forward to Henrietta, still with that scratched-out face. It seems she was a young maid in the Horseman house. She was young, kind, and enthusiastic, utterly untouched by the pain of the home. Beatrice scolds Henrietta over nothing, so Butterscotch asks her to be a little nicer. A seemingly innocent request, but Beatrice also sees the heart of it. Of course Butterscotch likes Henrietta. She makes him feel like a big strong man, helping her as she’s studying for nursing school. And so he can feel better about himself. He can flirt end on end.
Before this scene continues, Beatrice’s memories and cognition start firing fast and furiously. She’s with adult BoJack now, and it’s worth noting how he’s actually much nicer to her in this scene. (Perhaps because it’s only three years after his show was cancelled.) Yes, he’s still sarcastic but he’s not mean. He’s actually a lot like Hollyhock in this moment. But Beatrice is tries giving her father’s painting to him — clearly an attempt to rid herself of the specter of her father, the monster who still haunts her. But Beatrice can’t say those words. Instead, she praises his sense of morality, declaring him to be “a man who knew what marriage meant!” as we get a quick flash of him shaking his lobotomized wife. Oof. Yes, this is her model. Her hardwiring. The thing she’s supposed to be. An idea that’s almost too grim to bear, and yet, in the darkest way, that’s her happiest dream of nonexistence.
With a flash of a cigarette, we move yet again. This time, Butterscotch is confessing that he got Henrietta pregnant and she wants to have the kid. Tears in his eyes, he pleads with aching sincerity to his wife, “I know you hate me B, but God, just think of the poor girl.” He doesn’t want Henrietta to be like them. And Lord knows, neither does she. So Beatrice talks to Henrietta, at first sensitive to her having fallen for Butterscotch, commiserating about how he probably told her that she “reminded him of his dead mother.” It seems Butterscotch was also trapped in his own parental curse.
The second Henrietta holds up the sonogram and tells Beatrice, “It’s a horse,” it suddenly dawns on us … this is why she’s been saying Henrietta all this time. She is Hollyhocks’s real mother. BoJack is her half-brother, not her father. And in that moment, Beatrice coerces Henrietta into the devil’s bargain of payment for school in return for letting the baby go, telling her with passion, “You don’t want this.”
Then … we don’t move forward. We move back. And then forward. And all over, the sequence piling and changing in a montage of every direction. The youngest Beatrice gets scolded by her father as all her possessions are burned. He blames the scarlet fever and tells her, “Your sickness has infected everything.” We learn that it was her stuffed horse doll, her “baby” that was thrown on the fire. It’s not merely that this had to happen. It is his callousness. His ungodly, unspeakable lack of understanding for what this act will mean to her. He can only scold her with, “Remember what we say about crying: Crying is stupid!” and then, “Don’t let your womanly emotions get the better of you … You don’t want to end up like your mother, do you?”
It’s one thing to suffer the inhumanity of being lobotomized, a cruel enough act on its own, and it’s quite another when you hold it over a child as a threat. Beatrice’s young baby is now gone, gone like the brother she had. This is the heart of her trauma. All the memories of babies, alive and dead, wanted and unwanted, pile up together: the burning of the toy, the birth of BoJack, the birth of Hollyhock. It’s the same moment of torture again and again, all of these memories being “taken away” from her.
The baby toy being burned is the cruelest reversal of Citizen Kane imaginable. Because for Beatrice, that moment is not something lost in the pursuit, but something abjectly taken from her. And there stands her father, the monster of all monsters, the kind of cruel man who doesn’t even know it, lording over her. He even has the gall to say, “One day this will all be a pleasant memory.”
And so, it is simple: Beatrice is angry because she has enough to be angry about for 1,000 lifetimes. To actually face the truth behind that anger would be like getting burned in the fire of 1,000 suns. To cry and cry and cry for every possible day. But it is so much easier to cast that anger at others. Throwing it down, down, down, even to her children.
It is in this moment that Beatrice comes back to the present, confirming that she has really been out of it this whole time. She’s confused. She doesn’t know where she is. She needs help. And BoJack could help, but too much damage has been done for that. So instead, it all gives way to one last lie.
BoJack tells her a story about where she really is. He tells her she’s in Michigan, back in the Sugarman family lake house from episode two. He tells her that the night is full of stars. A dull happy look comes across her face. We don’t know if she’s really there in her mind’s eye, but she sure wants to remember. “Can you taste the ice cream?” He asks, and that’s when you have to remember the crushing truth behind this innocent question: Beatrice wasn’t allowed ice cream. And so, it gives way to the real lie, the one where Beatrice looks to the side and responds, “It’s so … delicious.” I welled up.
For this is two sad, broken people sitting in a sad, broken room, lying to themselves and saying, “It’s okay.” It is not okay. It is most definitely not fucking okay. None of it is okay. And yet, they feel they must press on because of the tragic echo of their family decree that “time’s arrow marches on.” But it’s not a straight arrow. It doesn’t just march forward. No, its lies and concealments and half-truths are piled up like a car accident. The biggest lie of all being that we have to ignore the center of human experience itself: pain. At the center of depression is pain. At the center of anxiety is pain. At the center of regret is pain. At the center of disease is pain. But they’re not allowed to feel that way, so they must cast it out. Here is the truth: Time is not a straight arrow, for if pain exists, no one has experienced it that way in all of human history. Time’s arrow is a spinning compass. A noose. A sea of hell fire and demons.
And the hour of reckoning is now.
• The running gag about “The Next Morning” and so on that’s illustrated through book covers.
• “At least Evers’s death means no one else will be assassinated this year, 1963!”
• “Poor people find that terribly gauche.”
• The horse jumping at the debutante ball
• The mid-memory scrambling of the grand hotel sign and the “hat in hand.”
• “Ohhhhhhh, she got herself pregnant.”
• The actual mean-joke target: life itself.
• The moment that made me happiest: I’ve mentioned throughout this season that my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, so there’s been a crushing sense of familiarity to all of this. For most of my life, I couldn’t help but sit back and wonder what she experienced in her mind during those years. In truth, we cannot know. But so much of this episode built toward some kind of understanding. Even if that understanding unleashes a nightmare dreamscape of hell beyond what we could possibly imagine. But if that does not give you the most outrageous, crushing sense of empathy for those living with dementia or mental illness, I don’t know what can.