“BoJack, tell us every bad thing you ever did.”
“...This is gonna be a long night.”
A show with as much knowledge of television tropes as BoJack Horseman is no stranger to the device of the bottle episode. On more than one occasion it’s found the value of shutting its characters away in one location, turning up the pressure to force them into emotional breakdowns and reluctant resolutions. Season three’s “Best Thing That Ever Happened” is the best example of the series doing this with the dissolution of BoJack and Princess Carolyn’s relationship in the swiftly declining Elefante. Season four’s “Underground” took the concept a step further, sending Mr. Peanutbutter’s entire house toward the center of the earth and taking a full party to the edge of fire-scorched madness.
“Sunk Cost And All That” doesn’t technically qualify as a bottle episode, given that the action is split between two sides of the United States. But it does earn the distinction of “bottles episode,” limiting its acton to one location on each coast, a restaurant in Hollywoo and an office in Connecticut. And while that two-for-one deal is another likely consequence of BoJack Horseman running out of time to tell its story, each half pulls its weight and gets that story to where it needs to be in its final hours. It clears the table of some major pending reveals and resolutions, and it sets the stage for BoJack to finally own up to the things he’s done.
The East Coast action picks up immediately in the wake of the past two seasons, as BoJack passed out in the wake of his devastating phone call with Charlotte. If there’s one positive of this circumstance, it’s that it’s occurring in the company of his old friends, who are able to drag him back to his office and push away inquiries from his students. Unfortunately, that requires a quid pro quo for him to explain why he fainted in the first place, which means that the truth of what happened in New Mexico has to be revealed for the second time to Diane and the first time to Todd and Princess Carolyn.
The truth has spent so long buried inside BoJack that it’s a surprise how anticlimactic that reveal is and how quickly everyone is willing to move past it. In fact it becomes an afterthought, as Diane is so attuned to media scandals after years of Crooshing it that she knows it can’t be the full story. All it does is throw some more rust on his already tarnished reputation, given that his weak excuse that nothing happened with Charlotte has the advantage of being true, and buying alcohol for minors is only a misdemeanor under New Mexico law. (Look it up!) Instead, it’s a canary in the coal mine—a gag that I’m surprised BoJack hasn’t used at this point—that there must be an even worse story out there.
To figure out what it could be, it’s back to the drawing board—or the whiteboard rather, the permanent “Professor Horseman” caption now expanded to “Bad Professor Horseman Stories.” It’s a callback to “It’s You” and the wonderful game of spotting just who Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter thought were deserving of Oscar nominations, only this time it’s a list of BoJack’s mistakes great and small. This is the sort of thing designed to reward the long-time viewers, remembering exactly how many times BoJack’s screwed up and even throwing in a few we haven’t seen on camera. And when Todd and Diane make their own additions to the list, it’s a reminder of the cost so often incurred by remaining BoJack’s friend.
Back in Hollywoo, the focus is on the opening of Elefino, the reimagining of Elefante brought to us by the triage of Mr. Peanutbutter, Joey Pogo, and Pickles. It’s a restaurant as ill-conceived as you’d expect, the three of them only able to be fixated on one aspect of the dining experience and not consider how they’d go together as a cohesive whole. Pickles brought in the idea of small plates for a personal dining experience, while Joey Pogo locked into lazy Susans for a fun experience—only for no one to connect that small plates don’t handle being spun around. Mr. Peanutbutter for his part had the brilliant idea of putting his face on the menu, a detail amusingly dismissed and discarded by other restaurant attendees.
Off to the side of the main dispute, Mr. Peanutbutter spends most of his time going around in circles with Paige and Max, who have tracked down who they ostensibly think is BoJack’s best friend—a misconception he’s perfectly happy to take on face value. Jonny Sun’s dialogue and Amy Winfrey’s direction keep this in the lighter territory, constantly spinning around the ugly truths that the reporters are digging for. You can tell this is where the danger lies, not because Mr. Peanutbutter’s an idiot but because he’s too damn trusting. Even without being distracted by Pickles and Joey’s fights, Mr. Peanutbutter’s incapable of writing off BoJack completely—his blowup in “Let’s Find Out” an aberration in their relationship—and genuinely thinks that the hints he drops to the reporters are signs of BoJack doing the right thing.
The details eventually make their way over to Wesleyan, and once the reporters’ focus is apparent the whole tone of things change. Diane’s smart enough to connect the dots, and with the floodgates opened BoJack finally reveals the entire truth about that night—and if you were waiting for the impact of his truth, you get in the way both Diane and Princess Carolyn’s expressions widen and waver at that reveal. These are the two women who know BoJack better than anyone, and even after all his shittiness he’s can still surprise them in the worst way. The moment where BoJack tries to take a step back and join the end-of-year superlatives is brilliant direction by Winfrey, framed in the doorway between Diane and Princess Carolyn as they try so hard to be happy in that moment.
Back at Elefino, there are tables turning in the literal and metaphorical sense. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m not a fan of the Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles relationship, largely because it’s felt like a doomed cause from the start. If the two stay together it feels counterproductive to the series’ trend of gradual change, that Mr. Peanutbutter learned nothing from his past three marriages or his acknowledgment of not liking himself after sleeping with Diane in season five. And the revenge sex solution to their fight telegraphed its eventual results from the first minute it was suggested, something where consequences are apparent to everyone except the two people who came up with it.
All of those hints make the eventual hookup of Joey and Pickles in the Elefino walk-in freezer feel like an inevitability, but somehow it manages to pull some emotional payoff out of the result. For starters, it helps that Hilary Swank and Julia Chan are able to pack a lot of familiarity into their conversations despite only meeting a couple of episodes before, bonding over their respective love of the most trivial things. They’re on the same level of ridiculousness together, and they clearly make a better couple than Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles. (Plus, there’s the wonderful background gag that their lovemaking was so energetic it thawed out most of the contents of the freezer.)
And to his credit, Mr. Peanutbutter faces up to the inevitability of it. As chipper and random as he is, he’s also an old dog who’s been through more than one heartbreak in his life, and isn’t going to stand in the way of a relationship that clearly makes more sense. It’s a wonderful little moment as he lets Pickles go, and then sinks back down into his stool with only his face on the menu to keep him company. Well, for a moment at least, as a passerby brings “Sad Dog” to life and BoJack Horseman brilliantly pays off this running gag.
Mr. Peanutbutter isn’t the only one who’s ending up alone. What “Sunk Cost And All That” makes clear is that BoJack no longer truly has the support system he relied on once upon a time, as his one-time friends no longer have it in them to support his mistakes. Todd sees BoJack’s vengeful streak coming out as he suggests digging up dirt on the reporters and decides right away he wants no part of it, excusing himself until “new BoJack” comes back. And when BoJack panics and takes Princess Carolyn’s suggestion to deny everything he can, Diane leaves the office to go finish the adventures of Ivy Tran because she can’t be complacent in his half-measures and prevarications anymore. You get the feeling that it’s almost a good thing for BoJack Horseman to be this close to its endgame, because it’s running out of reasons to keep its main cast in the same orbit.
Except, of course, for those held together by reasons no outsider would understand. I’ve cited “Best Thing That Ever Happened” a few times this review, partly because it’s one of my favorite episodes of the whole series and partly because it shows how vital the relationship between BoJack Horseman and Princess Carolyn is. Last episode I made the argument for the importance of Diane’s character to BoJack Horseman, but when it comes to the most important relationship on the series, they take that award without question. The history between the two is so loaded, vibrant, and scarred that any time they interact it elevates the episode around them. Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris pack so much into every conversation, and they do so here as well—particularly when BoJack asks that recurring loaded question of what is she doing here:
Princess Carolyn: “I have loved you for 25 years and I never loved anyone better. That kind of love, you only get it when you’re young and stupid. I’m not gonna get it again. And when I tell my daughter the story of the great love of my life, I want it to have a happy ending.”
BoJack: “Is it possible you letting me go is the happy ending?”
That’s a brutal interaction to witness, but one that’s fully in keeping with where BoJack spends the episode. His angry outburst about digging up dirt on the reporters aside, he’s acting like this is a fight that he’s already lost, and regardless of where things go whatever good work he’s done is being undone. And for that reason he agrees with Diane’s approach of full honesty, trying to validate whatever faith that anyone has left in him to do the right thing. It’s the right way to end an episode where everyone is emotionally done, and the only thing left is for the last one out to hit the lights.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: There’s no easy wins this week, so I’m going to award it to the double act of Julia Chan and Hilary Swank for taking two ridiculous characters and managing to give some heft to their relationship, and leaving you happy these two crazy kids found each other. It’s absurd yet heartfelt, which is BoJack Horseman’s ethos in a nutshell.
- Full list of BoJack’s sins: Penny, abandoned/wrestled Herb, stole Hollywood “D”, closed all-you-can-eat fro-yo place, didn’t act in Secretariat, tanked Ethan Around (twice), blew up taffy factory, got Dr. Champ fired, ruined lizard funeral, made fun of Katy from Spanish 1, lied about “getting” Radiohead, pretended giant Todd head was passenger for carpool lane, took muffins from Navy seal, slept with ____ and ghosted her, hit deer with car, broke into Nixon Library, ruined integrity of Booty Academy, threw up on Elle Fanning in bounce house, stole Daniel Radcliffe’s fruit basket, habitual bad tipper, lied about dating Natalie Portman, Scott Wolf vendetta, sneezed on Marisa Tomei, keyed Kenan Thompson’s Kia, fobbed Elon Muskrat’s Tesla, Gina.
- Additions by Todd: Slept with Emily, destroyed my rock opera, left me in prison.
- Additions by Diane: Fired me while writing your book, broke into my house and made a mess and stole my favorite jacket, also stole my scarf, told Mr. Peanutbutter about “Cry-Anne.”
- Paige and Max’s constant sifting and winnowing is obviously hiding some form of affection between the two, and it’s again a testament to how good this show is that it can take two people so knowingly goofy and still leave you bummed out when Max is left alone at the Elefino valet station.
- “Just goes to show, you never know how much time you have with someone. So you should always say the bad stuff first.”
- “True too, we showered together one night when the tank broke and the hot water was scarce, but other than those mild inconveniences, the fact-finding mission went as fine as the print at the bottom of a contract.”
- “I can proposition some young men on set. That should end well.”
- “Okay, let the cat out of the bag so my curiosity can kill it.”
- “Manual labor featuring me is not a productive collab.”
- “No, they were closer than thieves! They were thieves, actually. They broke into our house together, like great friends do, and stole our clothes! Ask Diane, she never got that jacket back. But she was able to find another one shortly thereafter that looked exactly the same.”
- “Exactly like dim sum, but with white people food, so it’s more accessible.”
- “Oh my God! They’re all making out out here! Go back to your dorms! You have rooms!”
- “I think the party’s over.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: