Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

BoJack Horseman pays it forward to the people who matter most

Screenshot: Netflix
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

“It’s the same house, the same city. Nothing’s changed. So how am I supposed to?”

It’s been observed in these reviews and elsewhere that BoJack Horseman has long since ceased to be the ensemble show that it was in the early going. Developments professional and personal have pushed BoJack, Diane, Princess Carolyn, Mr. Peanutbutter, and Todd far from the points where they were seeing each other every day and regularly participated in the others’ schemes. This change is arguably one of the most impressive developments that BoJack Horseman pulled off, not contriving reasons to keep people together but allowing them to grow apart, and grow more interesting as fully developed individuals in the process.

Advertisement

But in spite of how far they’ve grown from each other, there’s still a thread connecting them together, a thread that’s pulled expertly in “The Face Of Depression.” It’s the sort of episode that you can only do when a series is this far along in its life and looking at its end game, an episode that doesn’t trade on major plot developments or expertly crafted jokes—though it does have its fair share of both. Instead, what they’re trading on is history, relying on the audience to remember everything that these characters have gone through together and what it means for them to share a moment before the end.

Those moments couldn’t have come at a better time, as BoJack has ended his stay at rehab and returned to his house, and any feelings of it being home were purged along with the toxins in BoJack’s system. It’s home now to as many ghosts as the old Sugarman place, as artificial a place to live as the Philbert set it was unintentionally modeled after. (Jury’s still out on David Boreanaz’s house being any more inviting.) It’s so miserable that it forces BoJack out the door to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, greeted with the twin horrible specters of a honeydew-only plate and his first sighting of Sharona in thirty years. The first is a gorgeous execution of a running joke, and the second a brutal payoff to something the series has hinted at for a while now as she doesn’t give him a moment of consideration.

Screenshot: Netflix
Advertisement

Unable to spend time with those ghosts, BoJack starts reaching out to people again, first of all his former best friend. In what will become a theme, “The Face Of Depression” doesn’t give viewers a reconciliation or even try to pretend they’re still as close as they used to be. BoJack and Todd haven’t truly been friends for a long time, not since everything blew up at the end of “It’s You.” They reopened the possibility of a connection in “Hooray! Todd Episode!” but haven’t done much of anything to reconnect since then, even when they were technically working together during Philbert production. There’s not much else the two have to say to each other at this point, given they both agree BoJack was a huge asshole over the course of their friendship and the house reminds them of that.

In the end, it’s just a quiet meeting with unspoken acknowledgements, the sort of lunch Todd would have been thrilled with in the past. BoJack engages Todd about the project that are important to him, he offers some level of connection on a personal topic, and picks up the check at the end. The real payoff comes in the later moment at the airport, when BoJack hears something startlingly familiar in the voice of Maude the Cinnabon girl at the airport as she half-heartedly dismisses a suitor. The fog cleared from his head, he recognizes a parallel to someone else’s situation and encourages her to sign up for All About That Ace. It’s possibly the nicest thing he’s ever done for Todd—improv rescues aside—and all the more resonant because he’s done it without any expectation or even hope Todd will ever know how the connection was made.

Advertisement
Screenshot: Netflix

BoJack’s stop at the airport is the start of a cross-country journey to figure out what his next step is, and he follows Diane to Chicago to give her an in-person reassurance that he’s okay. It couldn’t be more appropriately timed as Diane is anything but, her writers’ block leading once again into a full depressive episode. Guy’s encouraging her to take a doctor’s recommendation for antidepressants, and she’s resisting because she took them back in college and they made her feel fat and less driven. “And then Dawson’s Creek got bad because there was no one to speak truth to power!” Diane argues, channeling the voice of every online television critic ever.

Advertisement

Once again, BoJack somehow knows exactly what to do in this circumstance. Last time Diane was severely depressed, she and BoJack pulled each other down into the doldrums, and he recognizes the signs clearly enough to not follow into this feedback loop. He knows Diane so well at this point, and knows that pushing her is the last way to get her to do something. So instead all he does is thank her for helping him get to rehab and stop listening to his own interior voice, getting her usually sharp mind to a place it can draw the parallels on his own. And even more sweetly, he cleans up the mess she’s made of the apartment before he leaves early that morning, and sneaks out the door without calling any attention to it. He knows better than anyone that when you’re suffering those little gestures can make all the difference.

Returning to California after another stop—which we’ll get to later—he swings by Princess Carolyn’s house to gift a painting in the best back-and-forth of the entire episode. (Princess Carolyn: “Look what Uncle BoJack brought you Ruthie, it’s a 1970s pop art interpretation of the Narcissus myth! Perfect gift for a baby.” BoJack: “Narcissus? I thought the painting was about me.”) He’s asking her for a favor, a move that could feel counterproductive under other circumstances, but absolutely befitting where their relationship has gone. He already apologized to her a few episodes ago, and it was an apology that he even admitted at the time was probably an empty one given how many times she’d heard it.

Advertisement
Screenshot: Netflix

Instead, he tells her exactly what she needs to hear. With the assistants’ strike resolved it’s time for Hollywoo to get back to work, which means her full days with a newly mobile Ruthie are coming to a close. She’s caught in her own desires to have it all, and BoJack reminds her of how much “all” fully is—and he’s got far less going on and is barely keeping it together. If nothing else, he’s always respected the sheer number of things that Princess Carolyn has done for him over the years, and here’s he’s finding another way to apply the lesson it took him forever to internalize: admitting you need help doesn’t make you weak.

Advertisement

A weather layover in Washington D.C. leads him to cross paths with his old frenemy, and somehow manage to redeem that character getting a bit of a bad hand this season. Mr. Peanutbutter going on tour as “the face of depression” and going on a tour with Joey Pogo is definitely the weakest development of this batch of episodes, as it doesn’t seem to be teaching him anything about his own mental state. His realization of being happy all the time as being a potential mask for depression is a great line delivery by Paul F. Tompkins but it doesn’t go anywhere narratively, and it comes dangerously close to making light of the major depression suffered by other characters on the show.

But none of that matters when he takes BoJack to see how the sweater and set of their respective shows are now on display at the Smithsonian—and BoJack grins and tells Mr. Peanutbutter that they’ve finally got their crossover episode. A running gag that’s been a part of the show since the beginning finally gets a payoff as BoJack walks through the front door and talks about their respective adopted teens, and Mr. Peanutbutter can barely commit to the bit he’s so happy. It’s so weirdly joyous to see them step into their old roles, and even moreso that it’s BoJack who pitches the idea and then wholly commits to it. Mr. Peanutbutter didn’t need an apology or reconciliation, just a grand gesture proving BoJack does in fact see him as a peer.

Advertisement
Screenshot: Netflix

And in all of those meetings with friends, he finds a way to pay it forward to himself. He goes to visit Hollyhock at Wesleyan—a meeting that finally gets that hug he didn’t know how to offer in “Ancient History” in a wonderful beat—and learns through it that there’s an opening for a drama teacher since the last one just got a job on a regional commercial. BoJack ending up a teacher is an unexpected direction for the series to take, but it’s one that squares with how far he’s come since the pilot episode, where he was so concerned with preserving his legacy with a book and a movie and an Oscar. This is the promise of a quiet life, close to his remaining, and little to no attention beyond the faculty newsletter.

Advertisement

It’s a life that would be intolerable to the old BoJack Horseman, but he’s not that BoJack Horseman anymore, a fact that’s smartly conveyed via character design changes as the episode progresses. He grabs a scarf from Guy’s coat rack to deal with the cold. He apologizes to Sharona at a later AA meeting—an apology far better received than his apology to Herb—and she cuts off the bad dye job for a short grey look. His trademark outfit is ruined on the plane, so he buys some new clothes. And in the most out-of-character move, he travels to a historical reenactment and enters a church, allowing the sermon to wash over him with the one message he’s left to internalize: truly letting go of the past by forgiving himself for the things he’s done.

The final montage set to “Take Me Down Easy” by James Henry Jr. could be a beautiful close to the stories we’ve seen play out over this season and series—and if you kept from tearing up during it, you’re a stronger person than I. Princess Carolyn’s finally able to acknowledge her life is better if she spends more time with Ruthie, and is smart enough to reach out so Judah picks up the slack at Vim. Todd works up the courage to call his mother and finally gets an outreach on All About That Ace. Diane’s realized that gaining some weight and admitting Dawson’s Creek was bad is a small price to pay if she can feel happy once again. Mr. Peanutbutter’s made a friend he trusts to solve the problems with his fiancee. And BoJack sits alone with the aftershock of a moment of community and grace, staring ahead, looking for the first time as if he can forgive himself for the person he was.

Advertisement
Screenshot: Netflix

Of course, there’s still nine episodes left, including a midseason finale that could go in any direction, so this isn’t likely to last for anyone. But the “The Face Of Depression” is a true moment of grace that needs to be valued for what it is, in a world that so seldom lets anyone have it.


Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: YouTuber Echo Gillette makes a big impression as Maude the Cinnabun-ny with her big ideas about the cinnabungalow and the weary way that she deflects questions about having sex. And it’s a win for representation, as Gillette is openly asexual herself. I’m very excited to see her interacting with Todd in the back half of the season.
  • Judah and Princess Carolyn successfully negotiate an end to the strike that both sides can live with. Terms include recognizing all birthday parties in a once-a-month grouped celebration, and that assistants will be upgraded from garbage to recycling with the possibility of being up-cycled into the professional equivalent of a seatbelt/license plate purse.
  • Princess Carolyn’s coffee cup: Peaches Carpenter.
  • Diane’s at least outwardly excited about her book of personal essays. “I mean, who am I, Sloane Crosley?” BoJack: “Who’s Sloane Crosley?” Diane: “Good point, who’s Sloane Crosley?” BoJack: “Yeah, who is Sloane Crosley?” Diane: “Exactly.” (Even she doesn’t know.)
  • BoJack mentions he wants to go somewhere that isn’t winter, and Hollyhock and Tawnie throw out some suggestions: California, Florida, Arizona, some parts of Texas. I see what you’re doing there, BoJack Horseman.
  • BoJack’s not kidding about that painting being priceless: its real-world equivalent broke auction records last year with a $90.3 million price tag. But Princess Carolyn’s suggestion to “tape it back together and call it a Rauschenberg” will go a long way to making up the difference.
  • BoJack cites offers from other colleges: UCLA, USC, UTI. And his competition is Raven Symone. “She’s circling around, portending my doom?! She’s gonna swoop down and peck out my chances?! That’s so... like her.
  • “Stewardess? I think the preferred term is ‘flight servant.’”
  • “What do I look like, the Wesleyan Argus?” If only it was called the Wesleyan Equus, that would be the best pun of the episode.
  • “It was nice of you to bring Panda Express for everyone.” “...Yeah, everyone.”
  • “Please stay on the line for a survey that directly determines whether or not I get fired!”
  • “Looks like you found some solace in our show. Stay if you like. In thirty minutes, we start over.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Screenshot: Netflix
Advertisement
  • Today in Wesleyan signs:
Screenshot: Netflix
Advertisement

Share This Story

About the author

Les Chappell

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