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After so much looking ahead, BoJack Horseman turns its gaze to the ruins left behind

Screenshot: Netflix
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Down your street your crying is a well-known sound
Your street is very well known throughout your town
Your town is very famous for the little girl
Whose crying can be heard all around the world

- The Who, “A Quick One, While He’s Away”

The bifurcated nature of this final season of BoJack Horseman has changed the audience expectations of how a season of BoJack Horseman is supposed to progress. Typically, we start the action by setting the stakes (an Oscar campaign, a gubernatorial race, a new streaming outlet show), introduce a few broadly comic situations and one or two dynamically ambitious episodes, build it all to an emotionally devastating penultimate episode, and then spend the finale picking up the pieces and reassembling it for the next go-around. It’s an emotional roller coaster where the track is predictable, and the only question is how high and low the respective comedic and emotional beats will take you.

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Splitting the season in two smaller chunks—albeit with more episodes total—has changed the flow of things, and along with it the tone. In the first part of season six we’ve been without the stylistic experiments of “Free Churro” or “Fish Out Of Water,” and haven’t gone to the devastating extremes of “That’s Too Much, Man!” or “Escape From L.A.” There’s still been plenty of mayhem and emotion, but the tone feels more muted than it was before, less time spent on grand flights of fancy and severing the emotional arteries. On balance though, it’s been satisfying in a different way. It has the feel of a show that’s in its final season and it knows it, bringing in a wide array of familiar guest stars and finding a place of relative closure for its main characters.

But it’s come to the point that they’ve done all of that and there’s still an entire half-season left to play around, and BoJack Horseman doesn’t forget that time’s arrow is still marching forward. And if you told yourself that relative closure was the same thing as a happy ending, don’t act like you don’t know. Never a routine show despite a routine season pattern, BoJack has frequently delivered some of the most surprising moments I’ve ever seen on television, giving me cause to call the show an “evil bastard” on at least one occasion. Just when you’d think it was stepping back from that, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” swings a baseball bat into your gut at the very last minute. It’s a game-changing midseason finale, one that goes from the show building to BoJack’s redemption to asking the question if he even deserves it in the first place.

“A Quick One, While He’s Away” pulls that twist without even featuring BoJack once—another illustration of the “let’s do the show about the Horse, but this time without the Horse” concept. Or even without the entire main ensemble, as this is the first episode of BoJack Horseman where none of its five main characters appear at all. Instead, showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s script is about the people that BoJack hurt in his decades of self-absorbed self-loathing, a reminder that just because BoJack is forgiving himself for his actions doesn’t mean those actions didn’t happen. “The Face Of Depression” skipped the opportunity for BoJack to make amends to the people he hurt in favor of connecting with the people closest to him, and this midseason finale proves they were saving that for later.

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Screenshot: Netflix

There’s no shortage of people who could fit the category of BoJack victims, and “A Quick One, While He’s Away” picks two perfect examples to illustrate the damage left in BoJack’s wake. First is Kelsey Jennings, the director of Secretariat who was blamed for the Nixon Museum break-in and subsequently fired in “The Shot.” Since then she’s been in director purgatory, unable to find any substantive work beyond filming commercials immersive product placement journeys for streaming service Gronkle. It’s scathing commentary on media saturation, a symbol of how BoJack didn’t have to hurt people intentionally for it to still hurt, and another underlining of the show’s regular pointed observation that it’s always women who bear the worst of what this industry offers.

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Kelsey’s appearance is the most clearly constructed plot of the episode, Maria Bamford returning to the role in full force as her agent gets her in line to direct the next big superhero movie, Fireflame. (Her agent is Rutabega Rabbitowitz, Ben Schwartz making another welcome return.) She needs this job to work out for her, but she can’t ignore the bullshit excuses she has to make in the room—or, more pointedly, the misogynistic gaslighting the male executive directs to his female counterpart. When working with BoJack, she wanted to make something that was real, and she can’t subsume that passion, reinventing her original pitch to make the movie more true to the actual frustrating experiences of being a woman with power. It’s carefully calibrated and reasonably presented, but it’s still a primal scream, one that’s deeply satisfying to witness after so many dismissals.

Screenshot: Netflix
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On the other end of the success spectrum is Gina Cazador, BoJack’s Philbert co-star and ex-girlfriend. With the success of Philbert Gina’s been able to accelerate her previously unambitious career path, now headlining her own ballroom dancing action movie Balls To The Wall. It’s a degree of success that’s often denied to women in Hollywoo, and it’s great to see Gina finally clawing out of police procedural purgatory to number one on the call sheet. Yet it’s also uncomfortable to see the change, a recognizably rougher edge to Stephanie Beatriz’s voice as Gina keeps emphasizing that status and using it to insist on no surprises on set.

When one of those surprises pops up in the form of a hand on her neck and an on-set meltdown, it’s clear where that roughness comes from: BoJack’s metaphorical hands still grabbing her by the neck. After the events of “The Showstopper,” Gina buried the truth of the event and kept BoJack from confessing, refusing to let him be the most notable thing that ever happened to her. And while it was kept from happening in the public arena, it’s heartbreakingly clear that it might still be true privately. Not every BoJack Horseman tragedy plays out at the scale of a “D” ripped from the Hollywoo Hills, and not every problem is cured just because you keep it from the headlines.

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As hard as it is to see the damage that BoJack wrought on both these women, it’s even harder to witness their unintended consequences. Kelsey’s bold gambit pays off and she gets the Fireflame directing job, and when discussing potential leads for the film, Justin hesitates to recommend his own star. A pairing of Kelsey and Gina would be a triumphant ending for both of those characters after the price they paid for daring to care about BoJack Horseman, and “A Quick One, While He’s Away” yanks it away in excruciating fashion. It’s even more painful because in a series filled with awful men in positions of power, Justin isn’t that at all—he’s looking out for his movie and Kelsey’s big break, and doesn’t have any context for why Gina’s behaving the way she is to explain her behavior. And so Gina gets saddled with the career-killing label of “difficult,” and Kelsey turns to Courtney Portnoy as her potential lead. It’s a lost opportunity in a city littered with them.

Screenshot: Netflix
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While dealing with the damage both of these women have suffered, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” also focuses on the one who suffered damage she can’t come back from. Sarah Lynn’s mother still hasn’t accepted what happened to her daughter, and has been badgering the Hollywoo Reporter to look into it more. Here, BoJack Horseman crosses into full screwball comedy territory, ace reporters Paige Sinclair (Paget Brewster) and Maximillian Banks (Max Greenfield) getting to the bottom of what happened to Sarah Lynn the night she died. It’s room for fantastic wordplay as Brewster and Greenfield zip through wonderfully constructed 1920s transatlantic banter, a vivid humor that obscures how close they’re getting to the truth. The shadow grows over the show with each interview as BoJack backtracks the devastating extremes cited above, tracing Sarah Lynn’s rehab all the way back to New Mexico and a hauntingly familiar water tower.

The dynamic tone of that plot also stands in stark contrast to the other narrative running through the episode, and one that only raises the tension the longer it goes on. Hollyhock’s gone with her roommate Tawnie to New York City for the opportunity to see the city, and also to attend a party where she can potentially have her first drink. “If I’m gonna lose control, I don’t want it to be in front of people I know,” Hollyhock says in what is the most tragically in-character statement she could say. There’s something so innocent about Hollyhock, sheltered by a home life of eight loving dads and a bit of that Horseman gift for self-delusion. Every beat of her time in the city feels like a ticking clock towards something bad happening, some new disaster to shatter the fragile peace BoJack Horseman discovered in its last episode.

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Screenshot: Netflix

When the time comes, it’s surprising when it appears that the show does in fact want to preserve that peace. An anxiety attack in the presence of intoxicants—aftershocks of “lovin that cali lifestyle!!”—could have gone so wrong in this unfamiliar space, but thankfully it’s witnessed by Peter, a decent guy who recognizes the signs and talks her down with simple questions. (Peter: “Last name?” Hollyhock: “No, we’ll be here all night.”) It feels good that she’s met a new friend, one who won’t take advantage of her and just wants to spend some time with her on the fire escape. He admits that he can see where she’s coming from because had a similarly bad experience his first time around intoxicants, when his girlfriend got her stomach pumped after drinking too much bourbon during prom. Bourbon bought for them by this older guy, who also went with them to prom, and was living at the home of another one of his friends.

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And that’s where you realize it’s not the first time we’ve met Peter.

Six seasons in, it’s still remarkable that Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his writing team retain their grip on being able to surprise us. All episode and all season long, it’s felt like a reveal related to Sarah Lynn was what the final moments before the break were building to, from the first scene of “A Horse Walks Into A Rehab” when we learned no one knew BoJack was with her the whole time, and he deliberately lied about his involvement. If that reveal hit, it would be devastating, but it would also be in the public scandal context familiar to BoJack Horseman. We’ve seen it enough that you could predict how the beats would drop. Princess Carolyn would go into full damage control mode to manage the story. Todd, Diane, and Mr. Peanutbutter would rally to provide public or personal support. BoJack would release a full statement and formal apology, and it might mean something for his personal journey to embrace the guilt publicly and credit the horror of that night as what led him to get sober. And let’s be honest, as a male celebrity who did something questionable with a former costar, he’d be cleared in the court of public opinion after only a few days. This is still Hollywoo, after all.

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Except this isn’t the broad saturation bombing of a media expose. This is a precise tactical strike executed by Bob-Waksberg, taking the deepest-buried shame of BoJack Horseman and aiming it exactly at the person whose love and support he values more than anything in this world. BoJack said as much to Dr. Champ during his breakthrough at Bellican’s, and by taking the job at Wesleyan he’s allowed the protective distance carefully maintained between the two to fade. Now, she’s potentially privy to the sliver that drove itself deepest in BoJack’s brain, the confession he desperately tried to avoid for years and which Diane drew out from him in agonizing detail last season. Is there any context he can tell that story to make Hollyhock look at him the same way ever again?

And should there be?

Screenshot: Netflix
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“How do you make it right when you’ve made it so wrong, you can never go back?” BoJack asked a long time ago. The first half of this season seemed to answer that the only way was forward, for BoJack Horseman to cast off the person he used to be and take responsibility for his actions. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a cold dismissal of all that positive work, and a promise that the last half of the season will be a reckoning and not a reconciliation. This final season has upended the traditional format of BoJack Horseman, but in that transformation it does give us one advantage for the final stretch: we have no idea how this is going to end.

We’ll soon be home

We’ll soon be home

We’ll soon be home

We’ll soon, soon, soon be home

Come on, old horse

- The Who, “A Quick One, While He’s Away”

Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: It’s a crime that Paget Brewster hasn’t been on BoJack Horseman before this point, and she lands with a splash as ace reporter Paige Sinclair in the fast-talking career gal vein of His Girl Friday and The Hudsucker Proxy. Her collaboration with Paul F. Tompkins as the no-nonsense editor only captures a fraction of their Thrilling Adventure Hour Beyond Belief energy, and I’m hoping for more in the final batch of episodes with one of the umpteen characters he plays. Or at least that she embraces the world she’s found herself in and names a bunch of dogs.
  • Les’ Srant (Randy, I swear to God, I will come out from behind this desk): I didn’t complain about this in my premiere review, but I would like to express my unmitigated displeasure that the Emmys nominated BoJack Horseman for Best Animated Series on the back of “Free Churro,” and instead awarded it to The Simpsons. This is your periodic reminder that the industry is as stupid and ill-advised as BoJack Horseman portrays them, they are bad, and they should feel bad.
  • CHARACTER ACTRESS MARGO MARTINDALE! I almost hope this is the last time that we see her, because that shot of her making off with the monseigneur’s Alfa Romero is a moment of the purest joy for this agent of chaos. “When you get to heaven, look up Margo Martindale! I won’t be there, but my movies will be!”
  • We get the mid-season’s one use of the f-bomb from Gina’s co-star, who appropriates the same line that she threw at BoJack to devastating effect following her strangulation. It doesn’t land with the same impact as prior deployments, but reminding us of its first use makes up for some of that.
  • The drinking bird describes BoJack “as a rounder Brad Garrett type, but with a very forgettable face.”
  • “You confessed, your sins have been washed clean. This is Day One stuff!”
  • “I’ve got an eyeball for a highball.”
  • “Did you ever notice this music video takes place in a planetarium? And she died in a planetarium.” If he wasn’t a character in BoJack Horseman, Trey would make the ideal BoJack Horseman fan.
  • “Can you wait until you’re out of earshot to make your actual exasperated sighs, please?”
  • “I’m famished. Let’s find a place where I can get a glass with an olive in it.”
  • “Also in my version she’s gay, okay bye!”
  • “Who is he?”
  • Thanks for reading, everyone! I’ll see you back in January for the final eight episodes of BoJack Horseman.
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Screenshot: Netflix
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About the author

Les Chappell

Les Chappell is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. He drinks good whiskey and owns too many hats.