BoJack Horseman’s spectacular fourth season was also, somehow, its darkest. It examined the ways familial trauma can echo through time, trapping us in disastrous cyclical behaviors no matter how much we want to move past them. But by the season’s end, we were gifted one of the series’ rare moments of hope: a new sister in young Hollyhocks, perhaps a glimpse of the first functional family member and friend that BoJack’s has ever had. Which leaves us only with one question: Where can it all go from here?
Navigating a character’s evolution in a long-running television show is incredibly tricky. BoJack is practically defined by his selfishness, blunt honesty, rampant alcoholism, and abject sensitivity as a result of his deep wounds. And here, for the first time, he is genuinely trying to do better. But, to work, a character’s evolution cannot be cheap or sudden, it has to be earned. And it’s amazing to see BoJack come at his life in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheap bargain plan or workaround. He’s really trying to do it, but it’s still so damn hard. Sure, BoJack’s only drinking the allowable amount of his marked-off vodka bottle, but crushingly, waiting until 12:01 every night to do so. He has his newfound relationship with Hollyhocks, but can’t help calling her in the middle of the night just to tell her he favorited her Instagram picture, seemingly unable to wait until their weekly phone conversation (good for her for putting up boundaries). He even wants his co-star to hang around after sex and even listens to her (kind of). He’s desperate for the people around him to be close so that he does not feel alone.
BoJack is grappling with how insanely hard it is to be alone when you’re no longer trying to run or push people away. He’s spent a lifetime with negative voices in his head, and when you’re not displacing them with a bottle or by lashing out at others, they fill your head in a way that can be omnipresent and crushing. (Remember last season’s episode where we actually saw how much of his inner thoughts were self-hate?) So we usually make negative choices because they are easier. They numb the pain or make us feel like we’re somehow right in our battles against the world. But when you’re recovering and finally undoing those bad behaviors, it’s still difficult to let all that pain back in. So often, you just find new things to try and displace.
BoJack’s current displacement is his fixation on the shitty characterization of his shitty character in his shitty new TV show (the one he agreed to do as a favor to Princess Carolyn at the end of last season). He’s playing Philbert, an alcoholic detective who’s obsessed with his dead wife, in the kind of moody junk that populates so much TV these days. BoJack’s trying to genuinely be more careful in how he comes at this one (again, he’s trying to change) but his quiet disdain leads to clashes with showrunner Flip McVicker over the direction of the character. But as BoJack presses on it, everyone keeps advising him to just let it go: Flip, his manager Princess Carolyn, even his co-star who finds the show just as dumb as he does (but still has to pay her mortgage). As Flip tells BoJack, “everyone’s fine with it but you.”
There are a lot of people just trying to be fine in this episode. Princess Carolyn is trying to put a brave face on her adoption attempts (the handoff scene to her caseworker is amazing). Similarly, a newly coiffed Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are trying to be fine with the awkwardness of their divorce-paper handoff. And Todd’s trying to be okay with his new asexual relationship, even though he’s beginning to realize they may not have all that much in common other than their asexuality. Everyone’s trapped in a system, being pushed into situations that bother them deep down, but afraid to speak. But the things that are really bothering us always have a way of erupting.
With BoJack, his real issue isn’t about his precious integrity as an actor, or even the fact that the showrunner is making him do a nude scene, but the way this new character strikes at the ghosts within himself. BoJack puts his fears about Philbert perfectly: “He’s a drunk, he’ s an asshole, I don’t want to be … him.” It’s everything he’s trying to be more than right now. So, no, he doesn’t want to be “fine” with it. But Princess Carolyn holds him to it, because he can’t promise something and then lord his misery over her. Instead, he has to just keep it together for ten weeks and finish the show. So BoJack tries to be fine. He sucks it up and does the nude scene. He even makes jokes and invites the whole crew over for a party at his house.
In the final scene, BoJack finds himself carbon copy of the episode’s opening, only this time he’s had a few drinks and telling a lame self-congratulatory anecdote. Flip then comes to him with a mea culpa, saying thanks for doing the work today. He even tells BoJack not to be worried about the similarities of the character saying, “Remember, it’s not about you, it’s Philbert.” But it is him. It’s always going to be him. And while BoJack’s ready to grow, he’s realizing the world never really wants you to grow. It wants you to be who they think you are. It wants you to say your line. Hit your cue. Be drunk enough to entertain some friends, but not drunk enough to ruin a take or come in late to work. It wants you to just “be fine” with everything happening.
No matter what burns around you, or deep inside.
Best Jokes & Other Notes
• “For people who don’t know their computers already have built-in clocks at the corner of the screen!” [gestures to right where the clock is on your computer]
• “I can talk to you and also judge these women’s bodies at the same time”
• “No, I’m sensitive about my penis area!”
• “I brought my own spinning chair and everything!”
• “But that’s a great note about the lighting. I’ll take a look at that.”
• Is it me or does the character of Flip feel like one of the rare tonal misfires on the show? It’s normally so good at presenting an ironic tone, but this character (and it honestly might be Rami Malek’s performance) has this straightforward, strange dramatic delivery that comes off as genuinely gross, genuinely selfish, and genuinely weird. I don’t know, comic timing is hard and Malek’s great, but I’m honestly not sure what to make of it and I feel like it throws off the scenes given how they’re written.
• Best Bit-Part Animals: Snake operating the boom and mantis-hooker seasoning her john.
• This Week’s Actual Mean-Joke Target: David Boreanaz and his design sense.
• Moment That Made Me the Happiest: I can’t believe there’s an actual conversation on a popular television show that’s discussing the validity/differences between asexuality and aromance. Good on them.