overnights

BoJack Horseman Recap: Losing Numbers

Bojack Horseman

The Amelia Earhart Story
Season 5 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****

Bojack Horseman

The Amelia Earhart Story
Season 5 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: NETFLIX

“You know what ‘from’ means? It means you don’t have to be there anymore.” With these terse words, BoJack puts the notion of escaping your hometown into plain English. For all those coming to Hollywoo, it makes sense. They’re coming to escape something, to seek fame, to forge a new identity that will allow them to leave their “from” behind. But the truth is, where we’re from is something that will always be a part of us. Because it helps define the “why” we are the way we are in the first place, along with all the things we’re still trying to escape. And it is with this understanding that we go home with Princess Carolyn to North Carolina.

She has a secret motive: adoption. There’s a young pregnant girl from her hometown and she’s unsure if she wants to be a mother. And so Princess Carolyn has returned to court her prospective child. The episode mixes in flashbacks and we come to understand young Carolyn: a girl who spoke with a Southern twang, living in an over-crowded guest house with her family on the property of wealthy foxes. Carolyn’s family is “the help,” you see. And her prized possession that allowed her to escape from all this? One ratty VHS copy of The Story of Amelia Earhart, an old movie from the golden age of showbiz — one that avoids the tragic finale of Earhart’s life story by having its heroine fly gloriously into the sun as it proclaims, “Now we don’t need to be sad when we think about her later!” And so, like Amelia, our young Carolyn secretly dreams of flying away — in part to get away from her drunk mom and her litter of siblings — while still dutifully telling others that she really just wants to be as good a housekeeper as her mom. A rebel she is not.

Of course, she’s also drawn the attention of the young male fox that lives in the home of her rich employers. As they flirt, she advises him to go and seize his opportunity on the football team. We cut back to the present: Carolyn, her accent now gone, presses the young mother with determination, hell-bent on getting her own “yes.” Carolyn busily handles all her calls from BoJack, Todd, Diane, etc., as a production stunt is making them needy and she sweet-talks their egos, all while finding every way she can to help and impress the young mom, even assisting her in selling her clothes. “You can sell people anything if you just sell people the idea they’re not being sold to!” Carolyn tells her. Which is, of course, exactly how she’s trying to get the woman’s child.

Back in Carolny’s past, things are going poorly. Her mother angrily berates her for getting college pamphlets, telling her that life is like a roulette wheel and the ball lands where it may. But here Carolyn is, thinking she’s a winning number. Her fortunes suddenly turn when her flirtations with the rich fox end in pregnancy (and we suddenly understand how the two story lines are related). Surprisingly, her mother is ecstatic. She knows the foxes are a good family and will do the right thing, so “that boy’s stuck with you now!” This is the best thing that could have happened in this small town of theirs. Of course, it doesn’t matter if Carolyn dreamed of college. Those who can only remain “from” find the best options of a contained world.

And so, Carolyn sits in the office of the father fox (Daveed Diggs!), receiving a speech about what her new life will be like as a rich, Southern socialite, including all her untoward passive-aggressive duties: something that may be someone else’s dream, but it isn’t hers. In other shows, this would all be setting up the big choice she had to make to follow her dreams. Because other shows would focus on exploring the life we choose and the nobility of following your artistic passion … but BoJack Horseman is more honest than that. Carolyn was perfectly happy to go along what what everyone else around her wanted. She was ready to marry him.

But then life chooses for her. A miscarriage, of course, the very thing that’s gone on to plague her. The same gut-wrenching thing that has been true for so many couples in the world. After blaming Carolyn, her mother finally relents, “It’s not your fault. We just got losing numbers.” And so Carolyn gets to go to UCLA, but only as her consolation prize. That’s the whole thing. We often look at our life choices as these grand, purposeful decisions, but often they’re simply part of the hand we’re dealt. Mama Carolyn wasn’t entirely wrong; circumstance drives so much. And life’s roulette wheel keeps spinning.

Even now, in Carolyn’s present, the young mother gets a surprise proposal from her deadbeat boyfriend and Carolyn’s hopes are perhaps dashed once again. She makes one last effort to sway the young mother, who finally snaps. She (rightly) calls out Carolyn for being a bullshitter — someone who has just been trying to sell and sweet-talk her way into this. Carolyn doesn’t deny it, but insists she can give the baby a great life. But the mother retorts, “You think you’re better than me?” Recognizing her stalemate, Carolyn leaves, telling the young mother to do what she wants, because you can’t “live your life for anyone else.”

With that, we get one last flashback of Carolyn leaving for college, facing that same dilemma. Because, at the last second, her mother has a change of heart. You can sense the fear in her, the simple desire not to be left alone, no matter what it costs her daughter. But Carolyn has to leave. She can’t live her life for someone else, and thus she flies off into the California sun. But we’re left to reflect on two bits of crushing irony. First: isn’t Carolyn still just living her entire life for others? Whether for Bojack or her clients? How many times has she failed to create a life of our own, thus creating a Catch-22 of how this same action left her alone, time and time again? And the second bit of irony comes when you recall the real story of Amelia Earhart. She didn’t fly into the sun. She was lost, never to be heard from again, even as she may have called desperately for help.

She was alone.

Best Jokes & Other Notes

• Based on the sign in the back of the BBQ joint (of a pig woman on all fours, showing where the meat comes from), I think we have confirmation that the food people eat in the BoJack universe comes from other animal people. The cannibalistic implications of this are terrifying.

• “His name’s Strib. Short for Dennis.”

• “Normally, I LOVE questions, because they’re good for pondering!” We don’t really appreciate how good Aaron Paul is on this show. His character is amazing. Especially with follow-up lines like, “We’ve been through this Todd. Lakes don’t have emotions!”

• “Kerri Strug? You need to update your references” / “When the world sees the likes of Kerri Strug again I will adjust accordingly!”

• It seems like we have confirmation on where that “family heirloom” necklace came from (stolen from Evelyn) and the lie meant to keep her at home. She still wears it now, a symbolic albatross.

• I love that bears don’t talk in this universe. Or maybe they’re just speaking bear?

• “We don’t have stars like that! Too much light pollution … and heavy pollution.”

• The UCLA pamphlet, “So you’ve bruined your life.” Perfect.

• Best Bit-Part Animal: Giraffe with four neck-pillows

• This Week’s Actual Mean-Joke Targets: I didn’t actually spot one?

• Moment That Made Me The Happiest: Dolly Parton’s “Just Because I’m A Sheep.” She’s a sheep in this universe, everyone!

BoJack Horseman Recap: Losing Numbers