The world’s most existentially tormented horse returns for a fourth round, with promises of even more kooky animal characters, even more off-the-wall antics, and even more lessons about self-loathing and the burdens of fame! But as BOJACK HORSEMAN learned through its oft-loathed first season, zany innovations and emotional shock don’t impress nearly as much if you don’t get big laughs at the same time. A high bar, sure, but adult animation demands such scrutiny; the genre’s progressed so much during its comparatively short existence that any show wanting to be a big name has to bring the best of both worlds. BOJACK’s always struggled more with being funny than being sad or poignant, so imagine my relief when the first episode’s arc involves the passage of legislation that, on top of funds for a bridge to Hawaii and vapes for babies, creates a rule that the Californian governorship may be determined by a ski race.
BOJACK’s satire has consistently impressed me since the second episode took on military service and patriotism, and the satire this time around hits the usual beats. Hollywoo is still a slovenly pit of dead dreams and celebrity still destroys all those who touch it. Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign offers surprisingly few comparisons to Schwarzenegger or Trump, though it’s clear that some lines were written post-election. After losing the race to incumbent governor Woodcharles Couldchuck-Berkowitz, Mr. Peanutbutter says, “Of course Woodchuck was gonna beat me, he went to Dartmouth! Where’s the candidate for regular schmoes like me, who went to Northwestern?!” But it’s the dumb jokes—the animal puns, the slapstick, the Todd episode—that play out naturally this season, demonstrating a mastery of their signature formats and the ability to mock/break out of those formats. We get baited by a few frames of a self-aware decade stereotypes montage, Princess Carolyn’s tongue twisters have reached new levels of complexity, and Todd achieves his final form as the owner of a clown-operated pediatric dentistry office in the woods.
Todd had to move on after this stoner metal band sued for the naming rights to his other idea
At this point, the cast of supporting characters is so developed that the show is creeping into ensemble territory. The main deep dive this season concerns BoJack’s mom, Beatrice, but before exploring that, I’d like to examine the subplot of BOJACK’s most likable character, Princess Carolyn. We watch Princess Carolyn’s relationship with a mouse hit grounded, realistic speed bumps like uncomfortable parent meetings, anxiety towards sharing space, and tragic miscarriages. This plays against her increasingly absurd managerial career—which now includes even more tongue twisters thanks to new hire Courtney Portnoy. What sticks out the most is just how quickly Princess Carolyn switches between crushing the ridiculousness of showbiz to calling out desperately for love, for children, for meaning in her life. She pulls Meryl Streep out of retirement to direct a movie in which Meryl plays every role, just so her retirement party doesn’t fall on the same weekend as her client’s wedding to Todd. When Todd backs out due to realizations surrounding his identity as an asexual, she plows forward with her other projects and winds up forcing BoJack into a webseries for WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com. She tackles all of this with resolute aplomb, but even her immense strength falters when yet another pregnancy fails. Far and away the most admirable of BOJACK’s cast, Princess Carolyn needs a spinoff greenlit yesterday. It could be about her having to fire Brian Warner’s boring bandmates; call it Princess Carolyn Cans Marilyn Manson’s Bland Band Companions.
[Note from Crossfader Photoshop Department: Nope.]
Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s marriage also withstands a severe beating, though their final scene of the season might indicate that they’ve sustained a fatal blow. Watching Diane’s morals clash with PB’s need to be liked always provides enjoyable sparks of conflict, and this time around, there seems to be a heavy focus on pushing Diane in position to wind up with BoJack. They spend comparatively little time together this season, save for an intimate, booze-fueled pity party held in PB’s house after it falls into the earth due to a fracking-related earthquake. I’m not sure how to feel about this; I’d finally been convinced that Diane and PB are a good couple that deserves to work out after the end of last season, and it felt nice to see such vastly different characters make love work. But if you look at everything they’ve put each other through, you really do have to squint to see the beauty.
The be-all end-all feelings bomb of this season dwells within the 11th episode’s jaw-dropping depiction of Beatrice Sugarman’s life, and it just might be the series’s best episode. We learn around episode eight then Beatrice is no longer the poison-tongued crone that could easily have been BOJACK’s main antagonist, but a confused old woman suffering from dementia. Her eyes are glazed and unfocused, and she can’t recognize her own son. She does, however, recognize Hollyhock, BoJack’s daughter who came to find him after growing up in an adoptive household run by a polygamous octet of dads. She calls BoJack Henrietta, which was the name of the maid in his childhood home. Beatrice seems to be not much more than demented until Hollyhock gets sent to the ER, and BoJack finds out that she’s been slipping amphetamines into Hollyhock’s coffee to slim her down. An enraged BoJack rushes to throw her into the worst nursing home he can find, and just as he’s about to leave, she calls out his name.
This is also the secret ending to DREAM DADDY: A DAD DATING SIMULATOR
Image Source: Screenshot
In flashbacks, we learn about what happened to Beatrice growing up. We learn that her brother died fighting in World War II. We learn that her mom suffered PTSD afterwards, and her dad—who in his own words “was never taught” and “will never learn” how to handle emotions—responds by lobotomizing her. We learn that she was denied ice cream, instead given sugared lemons as a “healthy girl snack.” She was denied books, so that more of her energy could go to her developing body. All of her possessions were burned in front of her when she got sick, only to be subsequently told that “crying is stupid.” So she grows up, meets a wannabe beatnik author named Butterscotch at her debutante ball, and chooses to break her father’s mold by running off with him. But bonds formed by spite don’t last, and the moment it gets tough, Butterscotch turns cold on her. She’s left with nothing but the life she brought into this world, so she chases her pills with liquor and orders BoJack to be worth it. But BoJack could never be worth it, not after enduring what she has. Yes, we can hate her for filling her child with nothing but an unquenchable desire for approval and her own bitterness towards the world, but now it must be understood that that’s all she was ever given. BoJack understands, and takes pity on her using one of his only emotional tools: deceit. He tells her she’s back at her childhood home, surrounded by her relatives, eating the ice cream that her father denied her all her life. Beatrice delivers her last lie, her final lie, the lie that left me weeping and brings tears again as I type this: “it’s delicious.”
Before this season BOJACK was simply excellent—now, it is necessary. On top of everything I’ve already written, there’s still so many jokes worthy of laughter, points worthy of thought, and heartbreaks worthy of sobs in this season that I haven’t even touched on. This is peak BOJACK, this is peak television. Watch.