“I know who you are.”
“Everyone knows who I am! I’m Hank Hippopopalous! Who the hell are you?”
Dropping an entire season all at once has made watching a series one episode at a time a quaint notion. Netflix in particular drops a new series almost biweekly, and it increasingly feels like the only way to keep up with the cultural conversation like you would with a weekly show is to mirror the show’s release and take it all in at once. Since these shows are also made with their full release in mind, how individual episodes hold up is less important than their overall effect on the season. BoJack Horseman is more attentive to the episodic small picture than most binge-watching shows, but it still has an overall narrative thrust that keeps things moving towards the finale, and also, the show is addictive as hell. What I’m saying is, I got several “holy shit episode seven” texts the first day BoJack dropped, and all I wanted to do was speed through and get to what they were talking about. But reviewing and watching one at a time made that impossible, and so I waited with bated breath for whatever this seventh episode was about to throw down.
But I couldn’t have anticipated “Hank After Dark.” It’s an incredibly bold episode, not just because of its subject matter, but because of its ensuing commentary and the fury with which it condemns Hollywood. (Interestingly enough, “Hank After Dark” just missed the six-episode cutoff for Netflix’s press screeners.) As Diane tries to defend BoJack as “not the worst” by naming others who might qualify, she rattles off a list of men who exist both in BoJack’s reality and our own: Mike Tyson, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Christian Slater, Woody Allen, and Bill Murray. The only fictional one she names is Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall), a beloved late-night host who has had at least eight of his former assistants make dark accusations against him. Writer Kelly Galuska deliberately avoids getting too detailed on Hank’s case, but the basic facts make it even more clear which real life men Diane left out: revered late night host David Letterman and America’s surrogate dad, Bill Cosby. Hank’s alleged involvement with his former late night assistants, serial offenses, and position as America’s “Uncle Hank” makes him hew closest to Letterman and Cosby’s scandals, but it almost doesn’t matter who specifically he’s modeled after. For BoJack Horseman’s purposes, Hank Hippopalous is first and foremost an amalgam for all the rich dudes in Hollywood who can get away with whatever they want.
The ensuing media storm, the rage that someone dare bring up events that have always been just a Google search away, and the resigned “what can you do” shrugs are all too familiar. Like Diane said, there have always been powerful men in Hollywood who have been accused of horrific things, only to have the accusations slide mysteriously out of the public consciousness so profitable careers can march on. Also, since most of these horrors usually involve beating and/or raping women, the public discourse gets uncomfortable fast, making it near impossible to have anything resembling a real public conversation. As we see in “Hank After Dark,” bringing all this up devolves into cable news screaming matches and gaslighting from “Titpuncher” dot com so quickly that the actual issue gets lost in the muck.
As is unsurprising from BoJack at this point, “Hank After Dark” nails the escalating absurdity of the situation. Protesters hijack BoJack’s book tour to yell at “uppity cooze” Diane. Wanda panics over what Diane speaking out will do to Mr. Peanutbutter’s new game show. Talking head Cardigan Burke (Rachael Harris) and Keith Olbermann’s alter ego anchor Tom Jumbo-Gumbo sputter about his set, taking Hank’s word at face value and wondering what the hell this Diane’s problem is, anyway. The editor of Manatee Fair (a perfectly crisp Christine Baranski) is at first interested in helping Diane, “a woman who’s talking out of turn about a man,” until she talks to her bosses at AOL-Time Warner-Pepsico-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joe’s and shuts it down. “It’s just not a good time,” she says, but the message is clear. It’ll never be a good time to question the kind of power Hank’s reputation has. Galuska, who actually started in television as a Letterman page, impressively manages to tell this heavy story at a steady rate of a dozen jokes per minute.
But the hardest job Galuska has is fortunately one she does well. Women who speak out against powerful men are often caught up in the shuffle, discredited, and discarded—and even the well meaning men in their lives can miss the point. Diane wants a purpose, and there’s no doubt that stumbling into this fight makes her feel more useful and self-righteous than she has in a while, but the most devastating moments come when her husband and friend tell her to pack it in. “You can’t beat this guy,” BoJack says with a shrug. “I asked you to not make a big thing of this,” Mr. Peanutbutter pleads, sad puppy eyes activated. It doesn’t even matter if they think Hank did the things he’s accused of, really. BoJack just wants it to go away, and Mr. Peanutbutter’s worshiped the guy ever since he was a pup. However well meaning they are, the end result is the same as everyone else: shut it down, Diane.
The fights with Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack turn more personal, and they’re just about the only notes that strikes false in the episode. BoJack’s admission that the book’s success doesn’t help him feel less betrayed by Diane is an important one, but there’s not enough room here for it. The same goes for Mr. Peanutbutter sadly wondering when it ever mattered what he wanted. Again, it’s a big moment for his character, and Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s resolution in “After the Party” definitely didn’t shut the door on future confrontations like this, but his self-pity is unflattering in the larger picture of what “Hank After Dark” tackles.
The episode ends with Diane sitting in the airport with her mammoth Toblerone bar, waiting for her plane to Cordovia where she can maybe find something that will make her feel worthwhile—and a man tells her to smile. It’s the perfect note to end on: frustrating and deeply depressing and maddeningly realistic, all at once.
- Many thanks to Vikram Murthi for stepping in for yesterday’s episode, featuring some light autoerotic asphyxiation material, because why not.
- [No spoilers in the comments, thank you and good night.]
- Meanwhile, in Todd’s Wacky Misadventures: Todd and Cordovia’s resident tyrant switch places Prince and the Pauper style. There are some excellent asides on the news, but this story mostly works thanks to Aaron Paul’s commitment to…whatever that Cordovia accent is.
- Wonder if we’ll see Lake Bell as Mr. Peanutbutter’s awful ex Katrina again, because I would like to, please.
- How can I make my ringtone Christine Baranski offering me a Joe-Joe?
- Do yourself a favor and rewatch all the MSNBSea segments so you can read all the chyrons. (“take a job at msnbsea, they said. you can write novels on the weekend, they said….”)
- “Your book said you like apple fritters. So my question is, do you think Israel has a right to defend herself? And what part should the U.S. play as an ally?”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, starring Scott Wolf and Matthew Fox: