The previous episode of BoJack Horseman was a real heartwarmer, as BoJack overcame his personal demons and to embark on a new, happier life as an acting teacher in Connecticut. The halo effect even extended to the people in his immediate orbit: Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Mr. Peanutbutter.
None of those characters appear in this midseason finale, which comes with a darker message: Even if you outrun your demons, there’s a real chance they’ll catch right back up with you. BoJack Horseman is also a series that has, over the course of six seasons, managed to build out a whole world full of characters. Many of those characters are women who have entered and been dropped from BoJack’s life — usually after being hurt or discarded by him. And just because we haven’t spent a lot of time with them lately doesn’t mean they’re not out there, doing their best to heal from their own traumatic experiences at the hands of Hollywoo’s most beloved horse.
If the previous episode was designed to make audiences wish for a better life for BoJack, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is designed to remind us that BoJack might not deserve a better life after all the people he’s hurt.
Take Kelsey Jannings, who has been in “director’s jail” since she reluctantly agreed — at BoJack’s urging — to break into the Richard Nixon Library to film a scene for Secretariat back in season two. As a result, Kelsey was fired from Secretariat, and none of BoJack’s subsequent attempts to make amends did anything to fix the damage he did to Kelsey’s career.
In “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” we learn that Kelsey has since been reduced to shooting commercials — excuse me, “immersive product-placement journeys” — for the fast-food chain Chicken-4-Dayz. She gets a pitch meeting for a female-centric superhero movie called Fireflame, but only because the dumb, cynical studio executives are eager for the P.R. boost they’ll get from hiring a female director. As usual, Kelsey is too smart and too principled for the material she’s getting. After a disingenuous pitch about an empowered female superhero who is beloved around the world, Kelsey storms back into the office and gives her actual take on the character: “The rules are different for women. If you’re a woman and save the day, nobody loves you. They take you for granted. Or worse, they resent you. They try to punish you. The more powerful you are, the more they try to take your power away.”
That’s also a lesson being bitterly learned by Gina Cazador, BoJack’s former Philbert co-star and lover, who cut ties with him after he strangled her on-set in an opioid-induced haze. At the time, Gina decided not to expose BoJack’s attack, believing — probably correctly — that the ensuing media frenzy would derail her acting career by reducing her to “the girl that got choked by BoJack Horseman.”
But even after cutting ties with BoJack, Gina suffers from the aftermath of his attack. On the set of her new movie, she has a PTSD-induced outburst after being touched in a similar way by her co-star, and she storms off the set. She’ll never know it, but the consequences are career-altering: The director, Justin Kenyon, steers Kelsey Jannings away from hiring Gina to star in Fireflame, describing her as difficult. (Instead, it looks like the part will go to Courtney Portnoy, the vain, vapid actress at the center of some of BoJack Horseman’s best tongue-twisters.)
But those are bridges BoJack burned a long time ago. The most painful reminder of his mistakes will probably come via Hollyhock: His last surviving family member, and a tender spot in the armor he wears against the world. On her trip to New York, Hollyhock encounters a character you almost definitely haven’t thought about in a while: Pete “Repeat” Pocket.
Back in season two, Pete was part of the prom group that BoJack supplied with alcohol. Pete’s date ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, and BoJack convinced him to say he didn’t know where the alcohol came from before abandoning the couple at the hospital. “I was pretty traumatized for a while,” he tells Hollyhock, with the episode cutting to the credits just before he reveals BoJack’s name.
And that’s where this first half of the final season of BoJack Horseman ends: Right at the moment when Hollyhock’s image of BoJack is about to be transformed forever. It seems likely that the final half of the final season of BoJack Horseman, which arrives in January 2020, will serve as a kind of reckoning for BoJack and the people whose lives have become enmeshed with his.
For now, the series leaves viewers to contemplate the problem for themselves. Based on his arc over these eight episodes, I’m convinced: Against all odds, BoJack has changed. But his personal growth, while legitimately moving, doesn’t just wipe all the collateral damage off the board. Does he deserve this new shot at happiness? And if not: What will happen to him?
• In yet another sign that real consequences for BoJack are on the horizon, the real story of Sarah Lynn’s death is also being pursued by a couple of fast-talking reporters, Paige Sinclair and Maximilian Banks, who bear more than a passing resemblance to His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns. (If the homage wasn’t already obvious enough, Paige’s absurdly accommodating fiancé, Baxter Bellamy, is named in honor of the actor who played the same role in His Girl Friday.)
• Character actress Margo Martindale is back! “When you get to heaven, look up Margo Martindale. I won’t be there — but my movies will!” she tells the Mother Superior at the convent. And then she peels out in a stolen cherry-red Alfa Romeo.
• That’s Broadway star Audra McDonald as Mother Superior, who happened to play the similar role of Mother Abbess in the NBC live production of The Sound of Music in 2013.
• In a subplot that’s been running in the background since the season six premiere, we finally see a poster for Zack Snyder’s Super Mario Bros. adaptation, which features Jay Hernandez toting two assault rifles in a red cap and overalls. Hey, it couldn’t be worse than the last Super Mario Bros. adaptation.
• The walls of the Gekko-Rabitowitz are plastered with the posters for Flight of the Pegasus 3 and Flight of the Pegasus 4 — a franchise that almost starred BoJack Horseman, as well as Lernernerner DiCapriocorn and Some Lady. By Flight of the Pegasus 4, DiCapricorn has been replaced by Some Other Lady.
• There’s also an unlabeled poster featuring an action hero that looks a lot like The Punisher if he was a rabbit. Gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that he’s The Bunisher.
• During Hollyhock’s adventure in the streets of Manhattan, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of graffiti that reads PIZZA RAT — a reference to the real-life viral video “star,” who might be an actual walking-and-talking rat in the BoJack Horseman universe.
• More misspelled names on takeout coffee cups: Rutabaga Rabitowitz is written as “RUDE BAGEL,” and a cup labeled “VANGUESSA” is presumably intended for Vanessa Gekko.
• The list of celebrities people say they’ve spotted in Alcoholics Anonymous includes the viral-video star IKEA Monkey.