BoJack Horseman ends its fourth season on its most genuinely hopeful note

Image: Netflix

After season three of BoJack Horseman concluded, Raphael Bob-Waksberg told UPROXX’s Alan Sepinwall that he felt the show had reached the end of one part of its story and it was time to move onto another one. “I am looking to move the story and character somewhat. I want each season to feel new and special. I don’t want it to feel, ‘Oh, more of this.’ I’d rather err on the side of blowing up everything and being like, ‘Why did you do that? There was more story to tell there.’” And so, even with my ingrained skepticism to most bold showrunner proclamations, I went into season four with an expectation that the show would be trying something new.

Season four definitely did have the feeling of trying something new, and at points it didn’t work. On balance it’s the most fractured season of BoJack Horseman, missing the central entertainment thread of memoir/movie/awards that held prior seasons together. It’s also moved away from some of the core character interactions that drove the prior seasons, even starting out with a premiere that didn’t feature BoJack at all. (One with a joke I’m so upset I missed.) The impression that ran through much of the season was that the show had ceased to be about one thing and was now about a lot of other things.

But that fractured element was also one that rang true to what the show had become. Season three was the shattering of the status quo, the impression that BoJack had collapsed to rock bottom and pushed away everyone in his life. To suddenly pick things up with the old gang back together—BoJack bumming around c-list celebrity life with Princess Carolyn as his agent and Todd as his roommate— would be worse than lazy, it would be disingenuous. What makes BoJack Horseman so compelling is its brutal honesty, its willingness to treat its incredibly silly characters with the utmost seriousness, to follow bad decisions and show you the ramifications of those bad decisions.

Image: Netflix

And that brutal honesty was still on full display this season. BoJack meeting Hollyhock and coming to terms with his deep family issues. Princess Carolyn approaching parenthood and reeling from potential infertility. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter pushed to the breaking point by the stresses of the gubernatorial campaign. Todd’s exploration of what it meant to be asexual. If the stories had to be split, they were all still able to stand up on their own merits, and were still supported by the brilliant absurdity and inspired cast. If season four of BoJack Horseman had some issues, those issues didn’t keep it from maintaining its place as one of the best shows on television.

“What Time Is It Right Now” is the right close for this season, and also sets an interesting new precedent for the series. Most BoJack Horseman finales tend to be a combination of tying up loose ends, setting up new storylines, and providing an emotional comedown after the penultimate episode spent half an hour stabbing viewers right in the feels. There is all of that, but there’s also something more, something that previous finales have kept more ambiguous. A real sense of growth and the feeling of taking a step in the right direction, and a moment that may well be the most moving thing seen in four seasons that haven’t been restrained in tugging heartstrings.

The one story it does tie off definitively is the creepy clown dentists, who have now gone rabid after Vice Chancellor Laughing Gassy got into a brawl with an old raccoon. Todd and Yolanda’s journey to shut them down maintains the wackiness—the Mouse Trap-style contraption to capture the clowns is particularly inspired—and it also finds a way to make the clown dentists even creepier by mixing their story with a bit of The Walking Dead imagery. And the solution that Todd arrives at to apply the zombie run ethos is one that’s completely fitting with the logic of this world. The clown dentists were always more of a joke than actual characters, so it’s hard to feel like they needed any closure more substantive than this.

Image: Netflix

Despite their ridiculousness, the clown dentists help to further both of Todd’s ongoing narratives. First, there’s the fact that when he has the right partner, like BoJack early on in Newtopia Rising or Emily with Cabracadabra, his flow of bad ideas can be filtered and turned into something with merit. And then it follows that by showing he may have found the right partner, as Yolanda suggests they should get together sometime in a non-professional capacity. Todd’s upfront about his asexuality—proving how far he’s come this season—and she’s similarly so, a reveal that takes him aback in a good way. The camera then pans out, the season’s running gag of Todd’s look becoming a fashion statement in Hollywoo driving home a final reveal brilliantly: no matter what he may think, he’s not alone.

The reality of being alone is one that Princess Carolyn’s still having a hard time dealing with, continually getting sloshed at Vim until Todd turns things around on her with one of her patented “you need to get your shit together” pep talk. (Wearing a wonderful sash that says “Head Of Pep.”) Todd’s bad at doing that—as of course we can expect—but his babblings manage to get her out of her head long enough to realize once again she has to try. Princess Carolyn’s been through a lot over the last few episodes, but she’s not a BoJack or Diane who can spend months wallowing in her pain. Sooner or later she was going to get her head on straight, and it doesn’t feel forced that this is what does it.

She’s also getting her head on straight in a way that works for the show, with What Time Is It Right Now very excited at the prospect of doing Philbert. The sea of websites that entered the original streaming content market without having the foggiest idea of what they were doing—remember how much money Yahoo Screen lost?—is a good direction for BoJack Horseman to take for its fifth season, getting back into the nuts and bolts of media production and providing an easy target in the process. And putting Princess Carolyn in a a producer slot finally justifies all the agent/manager double-talk the series has deployed, and moves her to take on a different role in the series.

Image: Netflix

More importantly, it reunites the relationship I’ve previously counted as the most fascinating and charged in the series. Of the missed interactions in season four, BoJack and Princess Carolyn sniping at each other was missed the most. At the same time though, it was the right decision not to force them together or contrive a resolution for the purpose of reunion. Both of them had to go to their lowest points to realize that they need each other—not in the romantic sense, but in the sense that they understand eachother at a level that most people never achieve. This reconciliation between the two feels entirely earned and of a piece with what they know about each other, the best of the moments this season where BoJack’s able to admit his faults and keep open the possibility of starting something new.

But as one relationship starts to mend itself, another is falling apart. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are now free of the campaign and on the hunt for a new house, wanting to start “the rest of their lives together.” Yet when that possibility comes up, both hesitate to do so. The campaign arc never reached its full potential, but it did bring to the forefront how comfortable they’ve become at deflecting their core issues. Small wonder both leap at the option to take the Hawaii bridge from the I Love California amendment for a vacation. And small wonder that the bridge is as disastrous as expected—that much distance not easily covered, and finding a way to make California traffic even worse.

Despite getting off to a rough start, the story levels out nicely as they decide to junk it halfway through and hang out at the Thrifty Lodge. Eating deli sandwiches and watching the sunset, the two feel genuinely comfortable with each other in a way they haven’t felt all year. Even the fact that Diane tried to prepare a gentler sexy night for the two and fell asleep waiting from him isn’t a tragedy. It’s a sweet moment of understanding between the couple, one that makes you think they’ve weathered the storm and will come out stronger as a result.

Image: Netflix

Except this is the point when you realize that there’s still five minutes left in the episode, and that sinking feeling enters your stomach. They finally make their way home and Mr. Peanutbutter surprises her with his recreation of the Beauty And The Beast ballroom, acting on a story she told him on their trip—and she can’t even maintain the illusion of not being upset by it. Mr. Peanutbutter gets angry about it, and for once it feels justifiable as he gets more into his feelings than we’ve seen since possibly “After The Party.” This wasn’t a big gesture for the sake of big gestures, it was because he genuinely wanted her to be part of his life and not leave it, a fear that instances like her post-Cordovia disappearance can’t have helped but reinforce. But as justifiable as his reasons are, it doesn’t change the truth from all the way back in “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story” that Diane doesn’t like having these big gestures sprung on her, and he chose to selectively forget that.

It’s a rough fight to witness, and even rougher when Diane appropriates Jessica Biel’s metaphor of the Magic Eye poster, leading to her second breakdown—and first non-alcohol-based one—of the season: “I’m so tired of squinting.” “What Time Is It Right Now” is an episode that’s laced with ideas of new beginnings, and it feels so probable in this moment that a new beginning for these two might not be one where they’re together. For the longest time we’ve looked at Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter as a couple where their differences offset, where they bring out the best in each other, where they genuinely do love each other and want to make things work. “What Time Is It Right Now” doesn’t contradict any of that, it simply puts adds one more truth to the pile: sometimes, even that isn’t enough.

Image: Netflix

The idea of things not being enough is one that’s clearly weighing on BoJack Horseman, once again in an empty house and retreating to his Horsin’ Around DVDs in regret. Things are screwed up with Hollyhock and her fathers won’t let him even talk to her, saying he’s not her dad—and they don’t know how right they are. “Time’s Arrow” dropped a bombshell on viewers with the reveal that Hollyhock’s biological father was Butterscotch, and it’s a bombshell that hits harder once you consider the narrowness of the reveal. We as a viewer know the truth about Hollyhock, but BoJack doesn’t, and the one person who could tell him is likely back deep within her dementia.

The way he comes to that reveal is a masterfully layered joke. After his rant to Princess Carolyn about mysteries and random details, you expect he’s going to remember the Horsin’ Around episode about DNA with special guest star O.J. Simpson lawyer and DNA expert Barry Scheck. (Voiced by Rob Morrow, who played Scheck in American Crime Story, in what’s potentially the greatest meta gag BoJack Horseman ever pulled.) But instead it’s an offhand reference to Matthew Perry that leads him to recall Hollyhock talking about the Saturday Night Live sketch “Chandler’s List”—which would be an amazing gag on its own—and the distinctive pink envelope she mailed to the adoption agency.

Diane said a very long time ago that you’re responsible for your own happiness. And for once in his life, BoJack Horseman takes that responsibility, and the jagged depressive images inside his head are reformed into something else. He waits in line at every non-Fiji Water-offering government building internment camp in Los Angeles to get the information, goes to San Francisco to do the same thing until he gets an answer, and then takes the unprecedented steps of getting a Facebook account and going to Wichita. It’s not about him in this moment, not some scheme to make Hollyhock love him again or to bamboozle her dads. She came to him for one piece of information, and even if she never talks to him again, he wants to make sure she gets it.

Image: Netflix

And she wants him to know he got it, calling him from the airport on her way to meet Henrietta for the first time. Their conversation is as frank as you’d expect from the relationship they’ve built, with a bit of casual sarcasm on both parts giving way to an earnest discussion. He apologizes for not doing a better job as a guardian, and she acknowledges she wedged her way into his life in the first place. She reiterates her original statement about not needing another dad, and he slumps back in acceptance.

And then she stops everyone right in their tracks: “But… I’ve never had a brother.”

I’ve watched this scene at least a dozen times at time of writing, and every single time it gets me choked up. Each season to date has ended with a near-impenetrable expression on BoJack Horseman’s face, staring forward at something: staring out from Griffith Park, gasping for breath post-jogging collapse, mane blowing in the desert winds as wild horses run past. And this ending seems no different as he looks out from his balcony with his eyes wide, but the expression gradually changes into something else, something so powerful in its simplicity. For the first time this episode—this season—this series—BoJack Horseman looks happy.

When I reviewed the season three finale last year, I asked one question at the outset: does BoJack Horseman have a happy ending? And amidst all the darkness, the heartbreak, the years of pain and neglect and the struggle of trying and failing to be better, season four provided an unexpected answer: maybe it can. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to come without its own share of other pain and mishaps. But if you do the work, you try to be better, you try to overcome that voice inside your head, and you help the people close to you, sometimes you get something you never thought you deserved.

Stray observations:

  • Seasonal Achievement in Voice Acting: I cannot say enough good things about Aparna Nancherla’s work this season. She brought Hollyhock to life from her first appearance and across this season made viewers fall in love with her right along with BoJack. That final conversations implies that despite her eight dads’ wishes, she’s going to keep him in her life, and I hope like hell BoJack Horseman does the same.
  • Achievement in Voice Acting: With Philbert heading into production, we’re likely going to get more of Rami Malek next season, which based on his early performance as the serious Flip McVickert should make everyone happy. And given that grimace on BoJack’s face when he starts to read the script, it’s likely this production will have plenty of entertaining hassles.
  • No Character Actress Margo Martindale this season. That is a colossal disappointment. Maybe she really did die in the great Escape From L.A./Cartindale Cargo tanker crash.
  • It turns out that Butterscotch did publish a book after all, The Horse That Couldn’t Be Broken. Between that and the now open reveal of Hollyhock’s parentage, I wonder if we’ll get into more of what made Butterscotch who he was next season.
  • I can’t get over how great that BoJack/Princess Carolyn reunion was. Toss-up on best moment between BoJack agreeing to do the project because of all she’d done for him or BoJack telling her that she’d be a good mom.
  • I went back to “Hooray! Todd Episode!” and verified that Yolanda was present at the ace gathering Todd attended. Good to clarify how she knew that detail about Todd going into this.
Image: Netflix
  • “And then, it dawns on him. His partner isn’t a ghost. Or is he?”
  • “Call me four out of five dentists, because I agree!”
  • “Oh, man! Can I get a shellfie? That’s like a shellfish version of a selfie.”
  • “If the clown dentists catch you, they will bite you! And they have very healthy teeth.”
  • “I know what you think: ‘BoJack Horseman has a Facebook account?’ Obviously, I didn’t, because the Internet is for nerds.” Tell that to your Twitter account, BoJack.
  • “Because otherwise, it feels like you’re a guest. And unlike the talking candlestick in the aforementioned Disney film, I don’t want you to be that.”
  • “It is literally the worst part of anything it’s ever in. It’s like the Jared Leto of fruits!” Preach, Hollyhock.
  • That’s it for season four. Thanks to all of you who joined what is the most exhausting and exhilarating part of my professional year. Netflix willing, I’ll see you again for season five.
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Image: Netflix

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