“I do love you, by the way. As much as I’m capable of loving someone. Which is never enough. I’m sorry.”
The inherent risk in any long-term relationship is that by opening yourself up to one person, you’re also opening yourself to be hurt more than anyone else can hurt you. You’re trusting them with a lot of yourself, trusting that they’re going to support you and look out for you. That can be a strength, but it’s also a threat where if things go south and a fight ensues it’s going to be ugly in a way that no other fight is. They know all of your weaknesses and know exactly what to say to hurt you, and more likely than not have a quiver stored up of things that they’ve thought better of saying in happier times. And even more dangerous, you have the exact same thing.
The fight between BoJack and Princess Carolyn that forms the action of “Best Thing That Ever Happened” is one of those fights. This is an episode that pays off close to three seasons of watching the up and downs of BoJack Horseman’s two main characters, three seasons of sniping and support and hookups coming to an ugly head. Their professional relationship is shattered, and by the end it appears a foregone conclusion that personal relationship is going the same way. It’s the sort of episode you watch with breath held and through a couple fingers, just waiting for the next words that can’t be taken back.
In keeping with the structurally diverse impulses of season three, “Best Thing That Ever Happened” is BoJack Horseman’s first bottle episode, taking place within the walls of Elefante. After the series of mishandled deals in “Old Acquaintance” that screwed up BoJack’s involvement with Flight Of The Pegasus, Jelly Belle, and Ethan Around, BoJack—with a bit of prodding from Ana—has decided it’s time to seek some new representation. It’s a rough move but it’s also one that’s certainly justifiable, given that even with Gekko Rabbitowitz double-dealing Princess Carolyn bears her share of the responsibility for the way things panned out. Both parties know what’s coming, and they prepare or duck in ways we’d come to expect: BoJack reading from cue cards that are intermixed with his jokes for the roast of January Jones, Princess Carolyn using fake calls from kings and 23rd anniversary cakes.
But once the firing becomes official, the tone of the episode changes almost immediately, shock and hurt feelings giving way to deep cuts. From the very beginning of BoJack Horseman the relationship between BoJack and Princess Carolyn has been its most complicated, Princess Carolyn’s early assurance that personal and professional lives are kept separate long since thrown out the window. Time and time again she’s stood up for or stood with him, and time and time again he’s disappointed her. Season one’s “Say Anything” gave us the first serious example of this codependence, and “The BoJack Horseman Show” flashbacks reinforced the pattern would repeat itself in vicious cycle manner. The latter becomes even more relevant with the cold open’s return to 2007 and Princess Carolyn going back to BoJack against her better instincts, a wistful plea not to break her heart going unanswered.
With the professional relationship terminated, there’s nothing keeping things from getting personal, and they get there. This is over two decades of frustration, resentment, and hurt feelings coming out to play, and both of them know exactly what buttons to push with each other and with what words to cut deepest with in some of the nastiest insults directed on BoJack Horseman:
“You’re right, BoJack. This is for the best. I no longer have to lug your talentless, self-centered, self-sabotaging, dead-weight carcass of faded talent around my neck.”
“You’re thrilled to have me out of your life? Know what I think? You like being there to rescue me. You like it when I’m a mess, because it makes you feel good about yourself.”
“‘BoJack, you wasted my thirties!’” “…I never said you wasted my thirties.” “Didn’t have to. You’re always saying it.”
“You say you want professionalism? Bullshit. You want a mommy you can slide your dick in. Is there a single woman you’ve worked with who you haven’t tried to groggily thrust yourself into?”
The energy of the fight is perfectly paced, going from highs and lows as the participants get angrier and more exhausted with each other. They trade blows as Princess Carolyn’s lingering hostility to Ana finally boils over (“Paws not claws! Paws not claws!” BoJack yells to little or no effect). Then realizing how bad things have gotten, they move to a literal and metaphorical cool-down in the restaurant freezer, where the insecurities that both of them live with every day become the focal points. If the first half of the episode is about causing damage, the second is about being damaged, the melancholic flicker of better times trying in vain to make it all worthwhile.
Keeping to the bottle episode structure, none of the other BoJack Horseman main characters or regular supporting players appear, leaving only two leads to carry the action—which they do flawlessly. It bears repeating that both Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris are doing the best work of their career on this show (apologies to Arrested Development and Strangers With Candy fans, it’s true), and the interactions of their characters brings out something extra, be they impersonating or flirting or screaming at each other. There’s something different that enters their voices as they bicker, an edge that can only come from decades of familiarity and a weariness that comes from repeating the same mistakes nearly as long. Both have a right to be angry, both are as tired of this conflict as the other, and both are without the ability to break it off.
If the voices didn’t sell you on everything falling apart between them, the fall of the house of Elefante does the same. “Best Thing That Ever Happens” hangs the lampshade on the fact that BoJack purchased Elefante in season one as part of a feud with Mr. Peanutbutter and since then has been an absentee landlord at best. The overworked manager Sandro (Paul F. Tompkins having entirely too much fun with a gloriously over-the-top Italian accent) mistakes Princess Carolyn’s dismissal for his own, goes on a rant of biblical proportions, and leads the walkout of the staff. As the conflict progresses the episode’s background is full of visual details to show the restaurant and relationship falling apart in tandem: chefs and servers walk out, meals are ruined, and the décor begins to resemble BoJack’s house the morning after a party. It’s another testament to BoJack Horseman’s design team that they go to all this trouble, when they could have just shut BoJack and Princess Carolyn in the restaurant alone and that would have been enough.
Background and foreground converge in the episode’s third act, where the important detail of a restaurant critic present turns into something that both BoJack and Princess Carolyn can deal with in lieu of the fallout. (The fact that it all still doesn’t earn the restaurant a good grade—and the reveal that the critic is just a blogger with an absurd reviewing system—is just the perfect mordant BoJack Horseman twist.) As we know from “Out To Sea” Princess Carolyn’s self-aware enough to know that fixing other people’s problems is her way of dealing with personal crises. For all the mean things BoJack’s said to Princess Carolyn this episode, some part of his brain still recognizes how many crises she’s helped him through enough to reinforce her self-confidence. And after that, he gives her the words she was really looking for. This is amazing work from lead designer Lisa Hanawalt and company, the perfect mix of pauses and looks and wide eyes when BoJack’s confession comes out. It doesn’t change a thing and neither follows it up, but the meaning is undeniable.
This debatable success and collective exhaustion leads them to some form of rapprochement over a drink, proving that it’s hard to shake all that history in one moment. For one moment, it looks like the sort of “moving forward” that BoJack Horseman has always tried to paint as one of the better solutions to life, admitting that maybe they can try being friends now and Princess Carolyn proposing a middle ground solution to the reason they met tonight in the first place: “Just give me six months and then you can go. I promise, I’ll never ask anything from you again, but please, give me six months.” It’s a desperate and honest plea, not a business request but a genuine request for a friend for help.
And BoJack says no.
Coming on the heels of his confession of love or something like it, and his promise to try to be friends, this is the gut-punch cut to black to end them all. And once again, like any decision made by BoJack Horseman, it’s an open question which of his darker sides is driving it. Is he doing it because he genuinely believes that he needs to make a clean break for both their sakes, hurting her to help her down the road? Is it a selfish move to retreat behind his walls after an evening where he’s been more honest and open than he is at any other given time? Or is it the same vindictive pettiness that led him to allow half a million dollars for charity to go up in flames, punishing her—consciously or subconsciously—for getting close enough to hurt him where it matters?
It could be any one of them, and sadly it doesn’t matter. The damage is already done. BoJack’s taken Princess Carolyn’s last olive branch and snapped it over his knee. And when that level of damage happens, as anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship knows, there’s no reset button.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Grace And Frankie’s Baron Vaughn provides some Netflix synergy as Elefante’s waiter, who injects some levity into the increasingly loaded conversations that BoJack and Carolyn are having. Best moment: “I don’t want to be a chef! I want to be not on fire!” He also says he hates Mondays, so I assume he’s a big Andrew Garfield fan.
- Surprising no one, samanthagoestorrestaurants.tumblr.com is indeed a real website. Its design is low-budget, weird, and deeply unsettling.
- While Todd’s not featured in the episode, the opening credits are once again updated to reflect the next stage of Cabracadabra and its staff of former Whale World employees. (Speaking of Whale World, at one point Goober’s trial is visible on the TV over the Elefante bar.)
- This episode has some great digs at 2007 programming, from BoJack’s complaint about how The BoJack Horseman Show relied on the already tired mockumentary format to the pull quote from someone who knows a thing or two about terrible shows:
- When Luis Guzman says that you’re too portly for TV, it’s a personal insult.
- I hate most all Ryan Murphy shows with a passion, but I would watch every episode of the steampunk reimagining of Harriet Tubman/Tub-Man’s life with BoJack as the Underground Railroad conductor.
- “I ordered a few feel-better pizzas to feel better. It did not work. Then I sprinkled happy pills on them, and washed it all down with a ‘Please, God, make my pain go away’ vermouth and ice cream float. Somehow I feel worse.”
- “Critics are the worst. That’s my review of critics. Two thumbs down! Four percent fresh! One star! You all eat a flat butt!” I resemble that remark.
- “I was a pink lady in my high school’s production of Grease.” “Were you Rizzo?” “No, Jan.” “Then don’t waste my time!”
- “You are loved by millions!” “That is not a compliment. So is Kim Jong-un and Teri Hatcher.”
- “That rich family loved Italian food. And champagne fountains. And cocaine. And private jets. And screaming at each other. ‘Who threw my cocaine in the champagne fountain?’”
- “Just cause you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it. I’m good at driving sober, but I don’t relish the opportunity.”
- “I assure you, the animated GIFs with which I describe this encounter shall be scathing!”
- “You told me you were too tired from pretending to be nice all night, and I needed to leave you alone.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, cookbook edition: