The first half of BoJack Horseman’s final season, which premiered back in October 2019, did something remarkable. After years of half measures, false epiphanies, and depressing backslides, BoJack Horseman finally, actually changed. Following an extended stint in rehab and an honest reckoning with his worst self, the newly sober BoJack did his best to start a whole new life. At the top of the episode, BoJack says acting is “leaving everything behind and becoming something completely new” — and if that’s true, this new life is easily his greatest performance yet.
It’s easy to spot the physical signs of BoJack’s reinvention. In Middletown, where BoJack is now working as an acting professor at Wesleyan University, there’s no mansion, no convertible, and no booze. BoJack’s hair is shorter and grayer. His blazer has been swapped for a scarf and a sensible fall jacket. His TV shows, which once aired for millions, are now an afterthought; here, he’s nervous and obsessively rehearsing before his first day of teaching what is literally just a seminar of eight Wesleyan students.
Most of all, there’s the tenor of BoJack’s voice: still gravelly and sardonic, but lighter, more measured, and more even-keeled than we’ve ever heard it before. (It’s here that I complain, once again, about how ridiculous it is that Will Arnett has never even been nominated for an Emmy for his work on this show.) In every way, this is a new and improved BoJack Horseman.
The midseason premiere is basically a series of vignettes designed to acclimate the audience to BoJack’s new life as a professor. First come the jitters before his first class. Second comes the feeling of inadequacy when his advanced students quote legendary theatrical figures like Stanislavsky and Meisner. At an earlier point in this series, those obstacles might have made BoJack turn to a bottle. Here, he turns to his own unspoken but intuitive knowledge of acting and discovers he has a lot to teach his students.
A semester passes, with BoJack discovering everything he has to offer as a teacher (and discovering that several of his students should probably switch majors). His life quickly settles into a comfortable pattern: teaching classes, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and cheering for Hollyhock from the sidelines of her rugby games.
This brief state of contentedness can’t last, of course. We’ve known since the midseason finale that a reckoning is coming for BoJack’s many years of legitimately awful (and sometimes abusive) behavior. BoJack doesn’t know it yet, but those consequences are already starting to play out in his personal life. Hollyhock — who learned about BoJack’s horrific prom night with Penny at the end of the midseason finale — largely rejects BoJack’s heartbreakingly earnest effort to take an interest in her collegiate rugby career. Even without her knowledge of BoJack’s past, Hollyhock would have the right to be annoyed by her older half-brother’s clinginess. While she doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s clear that Hollyhock’s real beef is about what BoJack did to Penny.
But while BoJack doesn’t know what Hollyhock knows yet, he receives a brief, angry call from Charlotte at the end of the episode, which finally makes him realize that reporters are actively chasing down the story about what happened with Penny. The episode ends with BoJack seemingly on the verge of a full-blown panic attack, as he realizes that his unhappy old life is about to bleed into his promising new one.
The real question in these final episodes of BoJack Horseman isn’t whether BoJack’s past will come back to haunt him, because it already has. It’s what he’s going to do about it. In his new life, BoJack is happy. It’s a hard-won happiness that came, in large part, from the extensive time he spent in rehab and his continued commitment to Alcoholics Anonymous. But now that BoJack has actually achieved the life he wants, will he be willing to risk it by taking full responsibility for the mistakes in his past? Or will this just become another excuse to run away again?
• So: Where do we think this is going? My best guess is that BoJack’s inappropriate behavior with Penny will be enough to torpedo his career as a professor, which requires so much contact with young people around Penny’s age. It’s also likely to cast a shadow over his relationship with his student Amy, who also seeks help in BoJack’s Alcoholics Anonymous group by the end of the episode.
• Hooray! A Todd adventure! This time, Todd is challenged not to eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes, fails, gets a chemistry student to make him a replacement marshmallow, is gifted ownership of Wesleyan by the Willy Wonka-esque Willy Wesleyan, and then learns that “Willy Wesleyan” is just a test subject on LSD. You know, normal Todd stuff.
• Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles are still trying to work through Mr. Peanutbutter’s two-night stand with Diane. Mr. Peanutbutter’s proposed solution? For Pickles to form an actual, intimate relationship with Joey Pogo, and then have sex with him one time, so they’ll finally have betrayed each other in the same way. Also, Mr. Peanutbutter and Joey Pogo are the new co-owners of Elefante, the restaurant where Pickles still works. I’m sure all of this is going to work out great!
• Diane appears for literal seconds in this episode, but it sounds like her memoir still isn’t going too well.
• The extremely long, Stealers Wheel–riffing sign outside of Wesleyan: “MacArthur Fellows to the Left of Me, Nobel Laureates to the Right, Here I Am, Stuck in the Middletown with You.”
• Conspiracy, where Hollyhock and her rugby team celebrate their victories, is a real bar in Middletown. Looks fancy!
• Hollyhock is reading Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, a real and much-respected book on feminism and gender identity by Judith Butler.
• The BoJack-ified movies that are screening at Wesleyan’s free campus movie nights include RoboCock and Rushmole.
• A complete list of the other groups that meet in the same room where BoJack attends Alcoholics Anonymous: Reaganomics Analysis, Subatomic Anomalies, Basements and Basilisks, Lanais and Lizards, Hallways and Hamsters.
• The little snippet we hear from a Sam German Shepherd play, where two students argue whether cowboys or capitalism are the real America, is a pretty withering pastiche of the real Sam Shepard.
• Frankly, I think Glengarry Glen Ross could only have been improved by a line like “Hubba hubba, I’m horny for leads.”