Readers of the blog might already be aware of my love for BoJack Horseman (here’s a link to my previous post about the series), so I jumped right into binge-watching season 4 when it came out this weekend. It’s a show that takes the term ‘dramedy’ to its most extreme, especially with the ending to Season 3 showing us what has so far been BoJack’s rock-bottom. There’s a lot that happens in Season 4 and a lot of topics discussed to varying degrees. However, what stands out about this season is that it takes a specifically inward look at the inhabitants of Hollywoo. It’s also what makes it, in my opinion, the most visceral and emotional season of BoJack Horseman to date.
Although I personally felt that the start of this season was a little rocky, there were some aspects of the first few episodes that stood out to me. Firstly, his absence from episode 1 showed viewers that life simply moved on with BoJack in people’s lives. It helped to solidify the standpoints of each character after the end of season 3, in that it revealed only Diane was really suffering without BoJack around. Princess Carolyn could focus on her life outside of managing celebrities without having to clean up BoJack’s messes and Todd could explore his sexual identity without BoJack taking him for granted. Not being financially tied down to BoJack gave Todd a new lease of life and it was a nice change for the little goof-ball. Plus, points to the show for exploring asexuality in a way that doesn’t reduce the character-in-question to the Sheldon Cooper-esque caricature.
That being said, I missed BoJack and Todd. I couldn’t help but think something was missing from season 4, and I think it was the lack of Todd and BoJack’s polar opposites clashing in charming ways. Todd always had a way of lightening the mood when BoJack would get depressed. Todd is very much the anchor in the series, as shown in episode 3, ‘Hooray! Todd Episode!’, where he’s spread thin in dealing with everyone else’s issues. Yet, Todd’s story is often swept to one side. It’s a shame, but it makes narrative sense. The characters in BoJack Horseman, as much as they rely on Todd, don’t care about him enough. I only hope that Todd gets the recognition he deserves at some point.
On a different note, politics. Something BoJack Horseman always accomplishes with great humour is discussing the cultural, social and political qualms of the day. 2017 has been one dumpster-fire of a year in a lot of ways, giving a lot for season 4 to sink its teeth into. Most notably, the environment (i.e., the fracking episodes), the US political system, and the mainstream media. Mr. Peanutbutter stands in for the unqualified celebrity-turned-politician in this season, turning him into a polorising, populist political adversary. Sound familiar? In place for us, the viewer, is Diane, whose fatigue of the political sphere literally invading her home feels very sympathetic in the current climate.
Then there’s Princess Carolyn. Now in a committed relationship with Ralph, their difficulty in trying to start a family explores a topic many would rather not discuss. For the first time, as teased during the final few episodes of season 3, Princess Carolyn is no longer the lady-in-charge of everything Hollywoo-related. If anyone deserves to get it all in BoJack, it’s probably P.C., but that’s not how this show works. Ever. As you might expect, P.C.’s relationship begins to hit rocky ground and we’re left on a semi-cliffhanger by the end of the season.
So, what about BoJack? Well, if he hit rock-bottom in season 3 with the death of Sarah-Lynne, he sunk to a level of villain in season 4. As the old adage states, things get worse before they get better, and this becomes the backbone for BoJack’s narrative this season. There’s a new light in BoJack’s life, in the form of Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack (I had to copy and paste the surname from the wiki). She’s BoJack’s lovable half-sister, who spends much of season 4 thinking BoJack is her biological father (as opposed to her gay, adoptive poly-amorous fathers back home). But to offset the naive, wonderfully chirpy and optimistic Hollyhock is BoJack’s mother, Beatrice. Yet, she’s no longer the frightening, emotionally inept woman we saw from previous seasons in BoJack’s flashbacks. Instead, we’re met with a frail, old, dementia-suffering mother who, if anything, shows BoJack to be more of a villain than ever. In fact, Beatrice’s story was, for me, the most heart-wrenching plot point in season 4. What the show does well with its characters is contextualise them. No one is a hero, and no one is a villain. Everyone operates in this fuzzy, confusing middle ground where we, as viewers, decide for ourselves who to root for. For Beatrice, we see her upbringing and all of its traumas, especially her mother’s decline after the death of her son in World War 2. None of it excuses her for her behaviour or her treatment of BoJack growing up, but it puts the right amount of jigsaw pieces together.
Meanwhile, BoJack doesn’t really seem to belong anymore in Hollywoo. He potters from location to location just trying to be there, in the midst of everyone else’s lives. But, he does try to truly redeem himself in Hollyhock’s eyes after being accused of giving her weight-altering drugs. He succeeds, and the season wraps up in an uncharacteristically bright note. We see BoJack smile for the first time. Truly smile, and the subtlety of the animation is perfection. Even in the most heart-shattering season of BoJack Horseman yet, we’re left feeling there’s still happiness waiting for our protagonist. Somewhere.