I want to take a moment to appreciate Todd Chavez. This achingly sincere dummy has been a fixture of BoJack Horseman since the beginning, but even though he may have started as BoJack’s couch-surfing punching bag, Todd has slowly morphed into one of the most secretly important characters on the whole damn show. “Hooray! Todd Episode!” showcases that importance, all while making some really important statements about our rights to personhood.
On one level, there is the simple fact that Todd is a tremendously funny character. He has so many gems in this episode and we should celebrate Aaron Paul’s exasperated line deliveries (“That’s a terrible thing to say to a baby!”). I love his performance here just as much as I love Jesse from Breaking Bad, and that’s saying something. But on the larger functional level, Todd serves as the show’s mirror character, a.k.a. the one that other characters don’t take seriously and feel like they can say anything to, consequence free, because Todd won’t push back. As a result, those characters show us who they really are (even a decent character like Diane rarely considers Todd’s feelings). And as much as Todd puts up a good, likable front, the overall effect is quietly devastating. When Courtney Portnoy talks about what it feels like to be “completely unseen” in public, his eyes light up with heartbreak, for he knows exactly what it’s like. But she chides his feelings away just like everyone else does, and feeling dejected, he goes back to trying to please everyone.
This dynamic is so important. Todd, like everyone on the show, has inherited a broken system of reward. Meaning he’s learned the “wrong” way to get love and attention and that is by being a pathological people pleaser. It’s a Superman complex of sorts: Todd has an unhealthy sense of responsibility and eagerness to take care of people, along with the inability to say no. Why, he’ll even show up every night to a concert just to play one note on a triangle! But the tricky thing about broken systems is that they are never completely broken. Todd has gotten so many good things out of being a people pleaser and, like Mr. Peanutbutter, often lucked his way into good fortune.
The problem lies in understanding balance and limits: Todd doesn’t know how to say no or let people down, and so when he fails people, he feels hurt and dejected. But what does the broken system of reward tell him to do to fix it? Why, he has to try even harder to help the person! He has to please even more, more, more! It’s all on him for not doing better! And so, he keeps feeding into a system of minimal, incomplete reward that can only lead to more eventual heartache.
All this directly ties into Todd’s relationship with BoJack, whose return to L.A. is met with trepidation and mixed feelings. Todd tells us that not talking to BoJack was “kind of working for him,” and to a degree that’s true. Todd has freed himself from the most toxic relationship in his life, but he’s still struggling with the people-pleasing habits that govern his entire personhood. This all reaches a crux with the reveal of Hollyhocks (Aparna Nancherla!), who is most likely BoJack’s biological daughter. Of course, Todd gets pulled into a scheme of trying to find out whether Hollyhocks and BoJack are a DNA match, and his endless responsibilities begin to contradict each other. (Especially as what he’s doing with Diane, in trying to distract her from the news, is impossible to do.) But he will keep shuffling the truth farther down the line rather than deal with it and disappoint someone in the moment. What is most impossible of all, however, is the fact that he doesn’t know how to deal with the moral center of Hollyhock’s request. He wants to help her, and yet he fears subjecting Hollyhocks to the wrecking ball that is BoJack. There is no right answer, no right way to help her, and Todd has no idea how to deal with such a glaring contradiction to his worldview.
But then, in a rare but well-earned moment of catharsis, Todd beings to make choices for Todd. He realizes he has to let Hollyhocks and BoJack’s decisions be their own. When he faces BoJack’s apologies and offer of friendship, he holds off, setting limits and barriers and articulating that he’s not going to tolerate the old dynamic, all while still letting BoJack know that it’s still good to see him. In the end, he lets go of all the other responsibilities that have been asked of him. Instead, he attends his first asexual group meeting, all to actually help deal with the thing that he’s been dealing with internally. This is a courageous act of self-care. Because for Todd, someone who has been taught a broken system of always being selfless, there is no bigger feat in the universe than treating the self. And with that, we cut to the bookend of the triangle-playing concert opening and (with what I’ll argue is a superior version of the Good Will Hunting ending) he fails to show up to hit his one note.
As the lion conductor then says, “Good for him.”
At that moment, I smiled ear to ear. Especially because we’re three episodes in and I feel like the show is firing on all cylinders. These seasons often build up to giant heartbreaking moments, or bring out specific episodes of unique narrative approaches (like the underwater episode), but this is the most laser-targeted I’ve seen BoJack Horseman on a purely episodic basis. After the season premiere, I argued the genius of the show was how it was so deeply aware of the psychology of its characters. Now we’ve seen three straight episodes that dive into certain characters and how they approach the relationships around them, first with Mr. Peanutbutter’s wanting to have it all, then with BoJack’s family scars, and now Todd’s really embracing his right to personhood.
All bringing them closer to their truest selves.
Best Jokes and Other Notes
• “Wow, this must be what I look like to a starving shipwreck person!”
• Mr. Peanutbutter’s tour bus is the Peanutbusser.
• “Todd, don’t distract Mr. Peanutbutter with your weird pocket cheeses.”
• That epic string of Courtney Portnoy puns ending with, “You know Mr. Taken, from the Taken movies, this is his niece!”
• There’s a million great cat puns on Princess Carolyn’s bookshelf.
• “And here I thought Channing Tatum was a good neighbor for picking up my mail.” I feel like all the Channing Tatum love is outright deserved.
• “Want me to draw a picture from memory, what is she, like eight feet?”
• The actual mean joke target: Nobody! The best I can come up with is “I loved half of your moviessssss!” but that’s actually a pretty good percent.
• The moments that made me happiest: the earnest delivery and ethos of “For Christ’s sake, this isn’t just a newsroom, this is a family!” and BoJack’s subtle, sad facial reaction when Todd tells him there’s no blow.