Netflix dropped another season of BoJack Horseman this weekend. As is tradition, I watched all of it all in one go without realising. While Kotaku's managing editor Riley MacLeod, intern Chloe Spencer and I had some problems with the fourth season's execution, we all still love this weird, depressing, hilarious show. So we sat down and talked about it.
Gita Jackson: Hey folks! We all watched BoJack this weekend, and for once I didn't come out of that experience in a horrible depression fog. How about y'all?
Riley MacLeod: True! It actually ends really hopefully, which I think is kind of a first for the series.
Chloe Spencer: I didn't find this season as depressing as other seasons. It seems like BoJack is finally starting to find some sort of peace, or is at least working his way towards it.
Gita: This new season of BoJack felt a little more grounded than the previous three. There was a lot less "excesses of Hollywoo(d)" stuff and more small, sad human moments. Let's take it from the top!
Riley: It made sense to me that four seasons in, the narrative of 'BoJack sucks' had kind of run its course, so they needed to branch out. The storylines didn't intersect as much as they usually do, which didn't always work for me, but at the same time it moved BoJack and his crappy behaviour away from the center of the action, which I think was a very needed change.
To start from the actual top, the Todd being asexual and dealing with that stuff was really interesting to me. It's not something I've seen handled in media in that way before, especially his struggle to come to grips with it.
Chloe: Yes! I like how this season focused more on other characters such as Todd and Princess Carolyn and the developments in their lives.
Gita: Todd's asexuality was brought up at the end of last season, and I was happy that we got back into it in a non-special episode-y way. He doesn't come out as asexual and have it all figured out. At the start of the season, he's not even sure if he likes the term.
Chloe: How they portrayed Todd's exploration of his asexuality was not only interesting, but I think it's also important to address. I haven't seen a lot of shows with ace characters, or shows where they discuss asexuality.
I like how Todd learned more things about the ace community the more he got involved in it. In one of the episodes with Courtney Portnoy, he confused asexuality with being aromantic. And I like how his conversations with other ace people helped him to not only get information about asexuality, but he built a network of support.
Todd in the past has been a character who has always been supporting other people and being kind to them. It was nice to see this season that other people were helping and caring about Todd.
Gita: Yeah, Todd gets to end the season one step closer to being a self-actualized person and not a funny freeloader. He even kinda, sorta, got asked out by Yolanda Buenaventura from the Better Business Bureau. By being out of BoJack's orbit, he got to work on himself.
Riley: The Todd episode (aptly titled "Hooray! Todd Episode") really gets at that too. That said, some of the pacing of the season felt off to me — the stuff about BoJack's alleged daughter Hollyhock and the drugs, for example, or Princess Carolyn and Ralph breaking up.
Chloe: That Princess Carolyn/Ralph breakup felt rushed to me. I was honestly surprised that Ralph didn't come back or try to contact her again before the season ended.
Riley: The Hollyhock thing felt like a device they just had to throw in to have a conflict to wrap stuff up. We didn't really see it until it was a problem. And to be honest, I didn't exactly understand the fight between Princess Carolyn and Ralph, and I was surprised when they actually broke up. In some ways it felt like an effort to inject the usual sad BoJack stuff into a season that kind of wasn't going in that direction.
Chloe: That's a good point. I mean, they were in a serious relationship and had made plans for further down the road. I could understand Princess Carolyn being upset with Ralph for how he reacted, but I don't understand why Ralph wouldn't reach out to her again.
Gita: I'm not actually surprised that Princess Carolyn sabotaged her happy life at the very last moment. Her being with Ralph did almost seem too good to be true for a character who is so ruthlessly self interested.
Riley: Self-sabotage being a pretty regular theme on the show!
Gita: But I definitely agree with Hollyhock's departure being rushed.
Riley: I did like getting to see more of BoJack's family's past, though. That second episode, where we see his mother Beatrice's past, was a killer.
Chloe: I liked how it showed why Beatrice is the way she is.
Gita: Overall, the theme of parenthood was what tied this season together. BoJack is dealing with possibly being a father and the trauma he inherited from his mother.
Princess Carolyn is trying to become a mother. For BoJack, the ultimate conclusion the show comes to with how he relates to Hollyhock is that maybe the scars in the Horseman family run too deep. At the end of Beatrice's story, we understand exactly why she is how she is — just a long history of abuse — but even if she and BoJack come to some kind of peace, the damage has been done.
Chloe: Exactly. I don't feel bad for BoJack when he struggles to empathise with his mother; I feel really conflicted about how to feel about Beatrice. A part of me feels awful that she went through those experiences, but then another part of me is like, "She didn't have to take out her emotions on her child."
Or, I don't know if emotions is the right word so much as it is her disappointment with how her life ended up.
Riley: That whole arc, and the idea of having to take care of a parent you're not close to, was really uncomfortable for me, as it's something I think about a lot.
I used to work as a social worker for the elderly and in particular LGBT folks taking care of their parents, and I heard a lot of stories of people being sort of trapped with parents who were cruel to them and how stressful that was.
A lot of my clients would feel guilty for wanting to put their parents in a facility and go back to the lives they'd built for themselves, and they were often shocked when I'd tell them it was ok to do that. How we deal with biological families that aren't the sunny ideal we like to imagine they should be is complicated, and it was intense to watch BoJack struggle with the realities of that.
Chloe: I guess by looking at Beatrice's story, we can see that there was a cycle of abuse in the family that passed down through the generations. Beatrice's father was horrible to Beatrice, and Beatrice in turn was horrible to her son.
I think part of BoJack's apprehension at becoming a father isn't just because he realises he doesn't have the capability or desire to do it, but he's afraid of becoming like his parents. When we come to the conclusion of the season, I like how BoJack sort of recognises why Beatrice acts the way she does, but the show demonstrates that he doesn't have to feel bad or guilty about how his relationship with his mother turned out.
I feel like in narratives on television and in films, we see a lot of pressure on children to maintain good relationships with their parents, like it's their responsibility.
Gita: It's important to note that not only was Beatrice's dad horrible to Beatrice, her mother also lost her son in World War II and Beatrice's dad had her lobotomised because she couldn't get over it.
She was traumatised as a child in very specific ways that made it hard for her to truly love anyone, even her children. The penultimate episode, that takes place in Beatrice's memories, was the strongest of the season for me, and also left me with the most complicated emotions.
With Princess Carolyn and Todd, I feel like they're both on the upswing. I get where their arcs are going, even if there's some bumps along the way. BoJack is less lost than before, but he's still lost.
Riley: Interestingly, it felt like Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter had a different kind of arc — they had the same problems they have always been having about their careers and their marriage. I loved Diane's new office though, haha, and I couldn't stop staring at the story tracker.
Gita: Diane's new office weirdly hit close to home.
Riley: Diane's handgun article said, like, 531k on the board, and I was like, "There's no way that's concurrents, right?"
Chloe: The exploration of Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter's marriage was super interesting to me. Honestly their dynamic has frustrated me since the show's beginning.
I don't know what it is, but I think it's just that Diane supports him a lot, and his antics really take a toll on her emotionally. And he doesn't seem to recognise that, and he keeps doing the same things over and over again.
Gita: Well, Mr. Peanutbutter is also kind of the only person she knows who tries to get her to have fun. If you're the kind of person Diane is — high strung, smart and really self-involved — that kind of guy is really appealing. When PB remembers she exists, he tries so, so hard to make her happy. The problem is she kind of doesn't want to be happy.
Chloe: I was frustrated during the scene when he built the library for her in the final episode. She had this sort of fantasy about having a library like Belle from Beauty in the Beast, so he thinks it would be a great gift for her, naturally.
Riley: Yeah, it felt like another fight that was tonally off to me. Like, in the episode in a past season where he builds her a ball pit, there's a whole lead-up that gives it payoff, and this was just kind of out of nowhere.
Gita: Yeah, I buy the reason why she's upset, but not the situation in which this fight happens.
If anything, she needed to call him out on only remembering she exists when it's convenient for him. She spends the whole season supporting his totally inane run for governor, and then he tries to make it up to her by making all these sweeping gestures.
But a new house and a Hawaiian vacation are not going to make up for totally neglecting your wife for a year.
Chloe: And this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened, either, where he's neglected her and tried to make up for it. I was so worried that this season would end with another kind of, "Well our relationship has problems and we don't really communicate well, but at least we love each other."
That seemed to be the takeaway message in previous seasons, that this kind of dysfunction and miscommunication was just their version of normal. But when Diane finally compares their relationship to one of those magic eye posters and said she was so tired of squinting, I don't know why but I felt so relieved.
I guess relieved that in the future, it wasn't going to be another season of them doing this sort of thing and watching them be miserable but try to work things out.
Gita: I've been ready for them to break up for a while, but what else does have Diane have? Other than her job?
Chloe: Not a lot. I guess she has a friendship with BoJack, and kinda-sorta with Todd?
Gita: BoJack is also so toxic for her, though. The first time they hang out this season, they go on a days' long bender!
Riley: Overall it seemed like most of the characters were moving out of those toxic relationships, or at least trying to find toxicity less valuable, and that was really cool. I might be wrong, but in the bender episode they don't end up hurting anyone really, right? Like it's kind of a good thing — they miss everyone else trying to eat each other.
Chloe: I would hope that if Diane chooses to stay in this marriage by the time next season finishes, she does it for reasons other than "Without this marriage I don't have anything."
I don't think that's enough of a good or really healthy reason for her to stay with him. I am just glad that she admitted to being exhausted, because I think at that point, I would be too.
But going back to the entire scope of the show, as you were saying, Riley, overall characters were moving away from toxicity. And I liked seeing that in this season, that more characters were focusing on themselves or creating distance between each other as they found necessary.
Riley: Yeah, it seemed like the characters who were usually the most stuck started to move forward.
Looking at it now, Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter really didn't change at all, and Princess Carolyn kind of changed for the worse with that script, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out, even if it felt like kind of a plot device — I might be wrong, but is this the first season that didn't revolve around filming a show of some kind?
There's the Ms. Taken movie, but it's really a background plot.
Gita: Yeah BoJack isn't even acting this season. He spends a year away from Hollywood and doesn't do anything at all when he comes back, despite getting a lot of offers.
As a whole, I don't know if this season was weaker than the others, but I do know it didn't make me want to die. I think there is some value in a show like BoJack hitting an emotional middle rather than a high high or low low.
I actually don't think I can do something like the BoJack season three finale again. Like, emotionally I felt so spent.
Riley: Yeah, in some ways it was weaker, but it was also...easier to survive, haha.
Gita: At the end of this season, it was sad and well, BoJack is a broken person, but the tiny thread of Hollyhock being able to be a sister to him... it felt good. I don't know that he deserves it entirely, but it felt good.
Chloe: Right. That felt like it ended on a turning point. Like even if things aren't entirely ok right now, maybe — just maybe — we can expect things to look a little better for BoJack in the future.
Riley: Yeah. Honestly it wasn't my favourite season, but it felt good. I feel like I have to watch it again to really incorporate it into my sense of what BoJack is, you know what I mean?
Chloe: I am glad that it didn't end on an entirely depressing note. As you both were saying, I don't know how many more depressing season endings I can take.
Gita: BoJack Horseman has been trying, for a long time, to be a functional person. Or horse. Even if it doesn't feel entirely earned, I'll take it.