A lot of TV shows will attempt zany conceits, from format shake-ups, to exotic locations, to live episodes. But if we’re being honest, there often isn’t a lot of meaning behind those choices. They’re often conceits for conceits’ sake. But the best television shows know there has to be a deeper reason that ties into the larger thematic impetus of the show (the best examples of which all seem to be from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). And I’ll admit, for a good portion of this episode I was genuinely worried we were getting a conceit for conceits’ sake. But I should have had remembered that BoJack Horseman is one of the best shows on television.
A therapist and mediator sit at a dinner date. They are black, female, and married to one another. They begin to tell the stories of their crazy day, but because they can’t speak out directly about their clients per confidentiality, they don’t use real names. So the therapist speaks of “Bobo the Angsty Zebra” and “Diana Princess of Wales,” who are of course just BoJack and Diane (I’ll be using their real names to keep the recap cleaner). BoJack’s mother has died and he wants comfort but he has no idea how to ask or show weakness. Diane tries to reach him about it, but he pushes her away. Then when he pushes her away, he asks why she’s not helping him. It’s his classic insecure anxious attachment. When Diane complains about this to her therapist, she reminds Diane that she is “not responsible for the dysfunction of others,” and to try and get some space while he goes through this.
Meanwhile, the mediator tells her story — “a B-story, if you will,” to make the TV terminology all the more clear. And it’s all about Todd (or Emperor Finger Face) and Princess Caroline (whom she scathingly calls “a tangled fog of pulsating yearning in the shape of a woman”) getting in a fight over their living together/working together situation. It’s an absurd fight over a stick of string cheese. It even goes through mediation to arbitration, but the real point is more to “make jokes” as it compares to the serious nature of the other story, while showing a genuine kind moment between them. Even if they hang a hat on it, it’s classic B-plotting.
Back with Diane, telling BoJack she needs some space causes BoJack to launch into her therapist’s office to tell her off, because “therapists are manipulative leeches!” And of course, BoJack instantly talks to her because never has anyone needed therapy this badly. At the end of the hour, he’s positively glowing: “Are you my new best friend?!?!” But he can’t actually admit he needs therapy or help. He’s too proud and too much like his father. So he reasons it away with his ego, just seeing it all as having the perfect (one-sided) conversation with someone who helps him.
Then Diane tries to put up a boundary by saying BoJack can’t see her therapist (of seven years at that). That she needs something of her own. But her therapist is stuck in a position where she needs to help those who ask for it, so she inadvertently sides with BoJack. (PS a therapist would never, ever say they could help one client more than another.) Diane leaves, furious. But BoJack also isn’t ready to accept the idea he’s actually in therapy, so he quits and comes back to Diane to tell her in classic egotistical fashion, “I’m not someone therapy works on. I might be too smart.” But this confrontation just comes back to the same crux: BoJack can’t talk about his mom while demanding support. “You’ve learned nothing!” she screams, but BoJack just wants to commiserate the way they always do. And that’s when he says the words that make Diane more angry that she’s ever been in her life: “We’re the same.”
The relationship between BoJack and Diane is critical to understanding this show. Why are they friends? Because they are both smart and see the same problems in society. But Diane is a decent, respectful person who never lets her skepticism destroy that decency. And her dysfunction is completely within the normal ranges of human behavior. But BoJack? Sure, he is trying to do better, but he has the abject capacity to be a monster without thinking, and a monster of malice when he is thinking. He is dysfunction itself. So they are most definitely not the same.
And with that, Diane furiously runs into the writers room, pushes Flip out of his writer’s block and then writes BoJack’s confession about almost sleeping with a teenage girl into the show … and she writes it verbatim. BoJack stares back at her in disbelief as he says his lines. He realizes Diane knows the dark secret. And she stares back, making it clear she’s going to have this “conversation” in the most soul-crushing way possible. Flip asks how Diane came up with this, and she answers coldly, “It’s a story I heard once. I just changed all the names.”
And that’s how the conceit becomes the theme. For the stories we tell have incredible power, most of all to the authors and those in their proximity. It doesn’t always have to be a “true story,” but often authors are communicating deeply personal notions through their writing. Often there is something confessional, heartbreaking, and painful at the core. And so often, they will take others’ heartbreak and put it on display, but just “changing the names,” which only protects them from legality and the others from the public. But for those who know the story behind the story? They know. And it can be so much more complex and painful to deal with. Especially when they watch those stories go out into the greater world, where they become something new … and yet not at all.
Best Jokes & Other Notes
• I think I like Flip better as a Dolphin? But this episode clarifies him as Raphael Bob-Waksburg’s evil-twin idea of a showrunner. Sometimes he’s used to convey the normal human fears of, “Everyone thinks I’m a brilliant genius but I have no idea what I’m doing!” But Bob-Waksburg also is clearly using him to call out a lot of crap writing too. Diane asks Flip, “Is he a ghost or not a ghost?” And Flip responds, ”Exactly!” But Diane makes him decide it’s a ghost because it’s a clear symbol for what the character’s dealing with. This gets at something I talk about all the time which is the way insecure creatives hide behind vague bullshit. They want the audience to play guessing games because they have no idea how to actually say something clear (or are afraid to). I see this a lot in independent film festivals with movies that go nowhere. Diane later asks him, “What’s haunting Philbert?” and he can only answer, “Society!” So yeah, Flip has no idea what he’s doing.
• It’s worth mentioning that this episode can’t help but tap into the emerging “black-woman therapist” trope, which is actually a matter worth bringing up. It’s not that it’s some insidious thing, especially as we have to give more credence and validation to the experience of black women. But the trope doesn’t really address that. It more comes out of this strange inclination to treat black women like sage, noble figures whose main job is to teach us to overcome our own bullshit. Like anything, it kind of comes down to giving any character their own rounded agency and humor, but mileage varies.
• Awwww, Mr. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread thinking his parents were on a farm <3
• “INT. SUB.”
• “That’s a very healthy way to grieve!”
• “I can’t eat while I’m terrified! That’s why I’ll never know the taste of Count Chocula!”
• “Ahhh! I’m emotionally naked!”
• “I believe it’s pronounced … ront?!”
• Best Bit-Part Animal: All of them but Todd. THAT HAND FACE CREEPED ME OUT.
• This Week’s Actual Mean-Joke Targets: Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard.
• Moment That Made Me the Happiest: The entire discussion of therapy in general. I’m gonna get real with you. For years, I thought I didn’t need therapy. I thought I was good. And at my most young and naive, I’ll even admit that I thought I was too smart for it, like BoJack said. I laugh madly about that now, because I had some real deep shit I was running from. But we all have that real deep shit. And starting therapy saved my life. I mean that. So if you’ve ever been on the fence or afraid? Don’t be. You have no idea of your ability to transcend the person you are right now.