For five seasons, BoJack Horseman has been toying with the question of whether BoJack Horseman can turn his whole life around. What this episode asks is, What if he did?
I suspect many viewers have watched this season a little nervously, waiting for the moment when BoJack might be driven back to alcohol by a spasm of self-loathing, or a nerve-jangling encounter with someone he hurt in the past, or by the sheer weight of the temptation to pick up a bottle. In the past, a vitriolic rant like the one he received from Dr. Champ in the previous episode is exactly the kind of thing that might spark a relapse.
But after the events of last season — which saw BoJack hitting yet another low point in a lifetime full of low points — he really, genuinely seems committed to being better. The flaws are still there, but they’re a lot less glaring, and he’s better at tamping them down. And BoJack’s recovery is aided by his decision to remove himself from the vapid, celebrity-worshipping side of Hollywoo that has always encouraged his worst habits and instincts.
In “The Face of Depression,” BoJack actually remakes himself — trading his dyed-black mane for a shorter, grayer haircut, and swapping his usual jacket for something softer and more collegiate. If it wasn’t clear from the previous episodes, BoJack really is changing: Doing his sincere best to atone for the sins of the past while piecing together a happier future.
In this episode, his soul-searching takes the form of a cross-country journey. Everyone he visits is someone he has hurt over the course of the series, and every trip includes an apology or an attempt to do something nice. In Los Angeles, he has a pleasant lunch with Todd, and actually shows real interest in Todd’s life. When he runs into Sharona, the Horsin’ Around hairdresser who was unjustly fired under his watch, he apologizes for his lack of courage in the past.
And the farther he gets from Hollywoo, the better things seem to get. He stops by Chicago to see Diane, and goes to Connecticut to visit Hollyhock in college. It’s there, alongside his half-sister-cum-surrogate-daughter, that BoJack also figures out a life that could mean something to him away from the Hollywoo grind. We’ve seen BoJack explore different possibilities than being a Hollyoo celebrity before, from the drug-induced dream about the life he could have had with Charlotte to his ill-conceived return to an old Horseman family home in Michigan. But nothing has ever seemed as plausible or achievable as the possibility that he could become a drama professor at Wesleyan — all the way across the country from the mistakes he made in the past, coaching young actors with no panic about his own fading celebrity.
You can imagine “BoJack moves to Connecticut to become a teacher” being a wonderful (if not uncharacteristically optimistic) ending for the whole series. In fact, this episode is full of what could, theoretically, be happy endings — almost all of them sparked by BoJack’s decision to live a newly generous and relatively selfless life. During his travels, BoJack realizes the woman who works at the airport Cinnabunny is asexual, and makes a possible love connection when he gets her to try Todd’s asexual dating app. He gives Diane a supportive ear in the midst of her depression, and cleans her house on his way out the door. When he runs into Mr. Peanutbutter in Washington, D.C., he even good-naturedly improvises a version of the Horsin’ Around/Mr. Peanutbutter’s House crossover that Mr. Peanutbutter has desperately wanted for decades.
And when he heads into Old Town Horseberg, which seems to be the horse equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg, he seems more comfortable with himself and his past than we’ve ever seen before: surrounded by horses, and reveling in the community around him instead of his own ego.
I’m not a total sucker. I’m aware that there’s still one more episode in the first half of BoJack Horseman’s last season, and that everything being so good is almost certainly just a technique BoJack Horseman is using so it can twist the knife harder when everything gets so bad. And as good as it feels to see BoJack turn his life around, I can’t honestly make the case that he deserves to escape the consequences for some of the awful choices he has made: his awful prom night with Penny, or his role in the death of Sarah Lynn (and the subsequent cover-up), or when he attacked Gina on the set of Philbert.
And I’m glad the show is handling those story lines with the proper weight instead of pretending they never happened so they can fast-track BoJack’s redemption story. But there’s also a part of me that wishes we could just leave BoJack Horseman in that old church in Horseberg, where BoJack can bask in the pleasant anonymity of the horses around him, and where the overarching message is “peace be with you.” Does he deserve that kind of peace? Maybe not. But there’s a part of me that wishes he could have it.
• In another uncharacteristically happy turn for BoJack Horseman, Princess Carolyn realizes that her old assistant Judah is the best person she could ever have in her corner, and hires him to be her new chief of operations.
• I’m not entirely sure why, but I was particularly moved by the scene of BoJack happily taking a selfie in front of the U.S. Capitol. I think it’s because we’ve so rarely seen BoJack when he’s not obsessively fixating on his public image, which might normally have prevented him from doing something so endearingly dorky and touristy. It also makes me wonder where, and to whom, he plans to text it.
• Probably an ominous sign that the text on the top of the four faded Philbert posters spells, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
• A complete list of the BoJack-ified cities on the flight board: Albuturkey, NM; Baltimole, MD; Cowgary, AB; Dallas/Ft Woof; Ft. Laudersnail; Nashvole; Otterwa, ON; Fillydelphia, PA; Pittsbird, PA; Salt Lake Kitty, UT; San Crowse, CA; Secattle, WA; Vancougar, BC. (And maybe on that list: Chicago-O’Hare and Phoenix, AZ.)
• The sign posted outside Wesleyan University: “A rich history of creativity, originality, and critical thinking. Also Michael Bay.”
• Pop-culture relics in the BoJack version of the Smithsonian: Lucy and Desi’s divorce papers, Steve Urkel’s clothes and glasses, and what I’m pretty sure is the stuffed body of Eddie from Frasier.
• Princess Carolyn and Lenny Turteltaub’s coffee-shop cups read “Peaches Carpenter” and “Leggy,” respectively.
• Princess Carolyn tells Ruthie a version of the Amelia Earhart story that ends with Earhart soaring off happily into the sun, echoing the apocryphal happy spin on Earhart’s life that she saw in her favorite movie as a child.
• Diane says Dawson’s Creek got bad when she stopped using LiveJournal, and I know her sign at the end of the episode (jokingly) contends that it was always bad — but I would really love to hear which season and episode Diane would pinpoint as the beginning of the downward slide.
• BoJack, bitterly complaining about Raven-Symoné circling the Wesleyan teaching job he wants so badly: “That is so … like her.”
• Of course Mr. Peanutbutter and Joey Pogo’s depression P.S.A. uses the Papyrus font.
• Of course the fruit platter at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is nothing but honeydew.