In the first two episodes of BoJack Horseman, there’s been a conspicuous lack of Diane Nguyen. She’s still been a part of the story, roped into BoJack’s search for Jameson and throwing Princess Carolyn baby name suggestions, but those all interactions took place over the phone and with the implication that she was a long way from Hollywoo at the time. It’s all the more noticeable as Diane is coming off her best season, a season that took her to Vietnam and back in a desperate search for meaning, a season that forced her to question the path of her career and end of her marriage, and a season that made her truly reckon with just what it meant to be friends with BoJack Horseman.
With “Feel-Good Episode,” we get our explanation of where she’s been—and also face the possibility that this arrangement could become more permanent. Season six is fast shaping up to be the season of moving forward, setting each of its main characters on a new path for their lives that may not have a lot of resemblance to their old ones. Even though the methods they use to get there are less elegant than they could be, it does its job of getting Diane to a point where she realizes just how little there is keeping her from jettisoning her old life to start a new one.
“Feel-Good Episode” lets us know right away that the reason we haven’t seen Diane is the same reason a lot of characters disappear from BoJack’s ecosystem: she’s actually happy. GirlCroosh’s pivot to video (ugh) means that Diane gets to be on the road, filming a series of expose videos that allow her to wage social justice in the name of getting clicks. She’s even got a new relationship with her cameraman Guy (Lakeith Stanfield of Atlanta and Sorry To Bother You), who’s able to debate politics and woo her with fake keycard mixups. It extends the positive feeling of the last time we saw her at the end of “The Stopped Show,” where it felt like she was leaving BoJack on his next step and off to one of her own.
If she’s in her element to start, she’s thrown into one much colder when Guy takes a week to handle some business in Chicago: “the Second Windy Muddy Big Shoulder City by the Lake.” It’s always fun to see what the BoJack Horseman team does with a different setting, and the production designers do a great job of capturing the feeling of Chicago in the various shots. Some of the jokes are obvious ones, such as knocking the thinness of New York pizza, and bears and bulls in their respective team jerseys walking outside Portillo’s stand-in Parmadillo’s. And then there’s the abject brilliance of the Chicago Baby Humans game, its mascot “stumbling around like the furless, featherless dolt he is.” Simultaneously a perfect translation of this human/animal world, and thinly veiled shade against racist mascots, it’s a rare gag where I had to take a moment to collect myself afterwards.
Those jokes were at least easier to swallow than seeing Stefani accept an offer to sell GirlCroosh to international conglomerate Whitewhale, absorbing it into a Fuddruckers/Dow Chemical-funded, Univision-based, Gizmodo-branded ‘mist’ of advertorial. While the monetization of Internet media is definitely worth calling attention to (and not at all a plot that’s too close to home, why would you say something like that, that’s just crazy talk) there’s a broadness to this that doesn’t measure up to similar societal commentary from the show. Case in point, Jeremiah Whitewhale himself: Stephen Root is a national treasure and it’s a joy to welcome him into the BoJack Horseman family, but he’s only missing a monocle and top hat to be more of a robber baron caricature. BoJack can often go broad and make it work, here it doesn’t click.
That feeds into the main weakness of “Feel-Good Episode,” in that despite some good caper vibes as Diane and Guy try to dig up some dirt on Whitewhale, that part of the episode never gets off the ground. Compared to Diane’s similar crusade in “Hank After Dark,” it’s missing a social commentary more incisive than “corporations are bad,” or an emotional investment beyond Diane’s general social justice warrior energy. And the episode seems to know it too, as Whitewhale brushes everything away by saying none of it matters legally. There’s of course a chance for legalized murder by the rich to play a part down the road, but in the moment it feels like a lazy satire on our current political hellscape.
But then again, for Diane and Guy—and for the episode at large—it was never really about striking a decisive blow against capitalism. Instead, it’s about their relationship and trying to figure out what if anything it means now that they’re not on the road anymore. All credit goes to Alison Brie and Stanfield for building a likable rapport from the start of the episode, a relationship that feels lived in even though it’s the the viewer’s introduction to it. You can hear the joy they have in spending time with each other, and the tension of arguments that grow more and more familiar the longer they have to think about things that aren’t Whitewhale.
And like any relationship, it’s something simple that manages to blow the whole thing up: Guy buys her a coat to deal with the frigid Chicago winds, and the need for said coat mushrooms into a whole argument. It’s one of the most painful arguments to witness because you can tell where both parties are coming from. Yes, Guy should have figured what boundaries he wanted to draw with Diane and his family and friends before introducing them. And yes, Diane could have just bought a coat herself rather than suffer in silence—the exact same coat he did—but she can’t even make a concession to her own comfort if it means staking a commitment first.
“I don’t know why I should suffer because you have this idealogical objection to feeling good,” Guy says in a moment of frustration, a frustration that does seem to have permeated a lot of the Diane character. An early review of this season by The Spool’s Gena Radcliffe criticized Diane for a “dour self-righteousness that is damn near insufferable,” and while I don’t agree with that I can see some truth in the sentiment. BoJack Horseman has worn Diane down over the last few years, bearing the brunt of the show’s commentary on how society treats women, and it’s made her harsher in the process. Somewhat unfortunately, she’s also the cast member with the most self-awareness of her damage, which she uses to push Guy away in one of Brie’s most heartbreakingly sincere deliveries:
“I feel so shitty all the time, I feel like the whole world is pushing in on me all the time. Except for you. … I can’t be with you if you’re the only good thing in my life. It’s too much pressure. I’m sorry.”
Thankfully, self-awareness cuts both ways, this time helped on by a letter from BoJack in rehab working out his frustrations with the process and Beverly taking his clearly labeled snacks. While the device of those letters is a bit on the nose to convey the theme of Diane’s travails, it does hit home to remind Diane of what the audience already knows. Once upon a time she took a chance to move from Boston to Los Angeles, and while there was a lot of bad things that came out of that there was also some good in it. Why not take that good—even if it’s just the knowledge of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich—to a place where there’s something else good, and take the chance of it being better?
“Feel-Good Story” doesn’t have the same punch as the last Diane spotlight episode “The Dog Days Are Over,” but that’s also because Diane herself isn’t carrying as much baggage as she was at that point. She’s put her marriage with Mr. Peanutbutter to bed, she’s reconciled her relationship with BoJack, and she’s figured out the type of work that makes her feel fulfilled. She’s in a better place than she’s ever been to jump to something new, and set to the gorgeous vocals of Fialta’s “High Above Chicago,” she’s ready to give it a shot.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Again, Lakeith Stanfield is fantastic this episode. Grounded and smart enough to match wits with Diane, yet guarded enough to hide how he feels about her behind story pitches and hypotheticals. I’m excited he’s evidently going to be around for a while longer. And it’ll be interesting to see how Diane, who’s always been open about never wanting children, reacts to being introduced to the son who’s clearly very important to him.
- Also in encouraging Diane news, she’s still got a book in her head despite once acknowledging it would never happen: One Last Thing And Then I Swear To God I’ll Shut Up About This Forever: Dispatches From The Front Lines Of The War On Women: Arguments, Opinions, Reflections, Recollections, Razor Text. (“Yeah, I kinda got lost in the middle of it and couldn’t find a way out.”)
- We go from NPR to The New York Times with Michael Barbaro providing Diane’s ringtone this season: “Today, here is what you need to know about people, who still use their phone to call other people.”
- Awfulness of capitalism aside, it is good that WhiteWhale acquired Disney-Fox-AT&T-AOL-Time Warner-PepsiCo-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joes, if only for the sanity of reviewers like myself and our copy editors.
- The pigeons jockeying for position on the statue outside of the Art Institute is a nice touch.
- Diane’s desktop icons: ruffdraft_copy.doc, rbg_ftw.jpg, kai_ryssdal_fanfic.doc. And she still has the same tab open from buying her IKEA furniture out.”)
- Despite hating what the company stands for, Guy is excited to see a new super-expensive skyscraper coming up in Chicago. “In your face, Dubai!”
- “Diane, I love that you still eat sandwiches.”
- “Well, best be quick about it, you unholy apparitions!”
- “Are spirographs the new fidget spinners? The answer eludes me at every turn.”
- “When you put out stories of us being evil or callous or whoever the bad guy in Harry Potter is, people think our business is uncompromised by morality and our stock goes up!”
- “Also, am I crazy, or have I gotten really good at writing letters?”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: