After a strong start to season three, “BoJack Kills” gives us an episode of BoJack Horseman that falls into the category of “like one of those season one episodes.” As a show, BoJack got off to something of a shaky start, its commitment to playing the long game with its satire and depression narrative meaning that its brilliance wasn’t clear in its early installments. Plots were less consequential, the digs at Hollywoo muted while it still had its D present, and the background details like burnt ottomans and blackmail schemes didn’t land as well with an audience who hadn’t yet learned to keep their eyes open.

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While it manages to leap some of those hurdles—there’s enough hints about awards season and cracking marriages to check the serialization boxes, and the Hollywoo satire cuts deeper every season—there’s still an inconsequential feeling that hangs over most of what occurs in “BoJack Kills.” It’s BoJack and his people going off on various adventures that, on balance, are simply detours that have little to do with any of the season’s central narratives.

Not to say those narratives are uninteresting on their face. In the midst of his Secretariat PR campaign BoJack finally acquiesces to Jill Pill’s requests to check in on their old The BoJack Horseman Show coworker Cuddlywhiskers, and retrieve a letter describing their affair’s sordid details. (“It was years ago. It was quite beautiful and disgusting all at once. I remember it fondly and horribly.”) One thing leads to another, and before you can say “Black And White And Dead All Over: An Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface Mystery” there’s a dead killer whale stripper in Cuddlywhiskers’ pool and a text message incriminating BoJack. It’s a definite high-stakes enterprise, one that could challenge BoJack’s sense of security and potentially open up a darker side of his regular benders.

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Except, it never fully gets to that point. The eventual twist ending to the murder—that “BoJack” is the nickname for a strain of heroin being pushed by BoJack’s former costar Goober—feels largely anticlimactic, devoid of any real connections to either the Academy Award story or ambivalence on their shared Horsin’ Around history. BoJack tries to find both, but in each case they get brushed off as soon as he brings them up. Similarly, the resolution to the Cuddlywhiskers story that places him on an Ojai retreat that everyone just forgot he owned ties things up too neatly. All the action of this episode, despite its ties to the larger world of BoJack, feels oddly contained in a “resolved in 30 minutes” way that the show is typically smarter about avoiding. There’s ominous promises about the emptiness of an Oscar, and BoJack and Diane are slightly more depressed and uncertain than they were at the start, but both of those things were obvious directions for the story to go regardless.

There are a few saving graces to the episode, starting with the cold open for Whale World. “BoJack Kills” comes from writer Kelly Galuska, who also gave us last season’s incisively brutal “Hank After Dark,” and his fusion of strip club and water park is peak BoJack Horseman surreal discomfort. Its ability to be simultaneously Blackfish and Striptease is something no other show could do, poking at both the objectification of women and the exploitation of endangered species in the same breath. And as Whale World’s proprietor/spokesperson/number one customer, Goober’s glee—and Fred Savage’s glee in getting to voice the darkest timeline version of himself—is clear in every energetic pitch: “You and your loved ones are gonna get moist!” His energy levels zip through every legitimate concern about his enterprise, and it’s both uncomfortable and delightful to witness.

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The acceleration of the mystery plot also creates the first substantive pairing of BoJack and Diane in a while. The two haven’t interacted in any great depth since Diane moved out of BoJack’s deck chairs, and it turns out that it’s by design on her part. While BoJack’s been pushing his lows away with the shiny gold trophy on the horizon—one of which he gets to heft at Cuddlywhiskers’ house, explaining why Hilary Swank got so jacked—Diane doesn’t have that. All she has is a list of empty validations to give her husband and a job that means she increasingly uses the word “hashtag” in conversation. She’s more productive than she was in her post-Cordovia purgatory, but that doesn’t mean she’s any closer to figuring things out.

One of the most noteworthy bits of BoJack as time goes on is the evolution of Diane from unrequited love interest to BoJack confidant, the two of them simpatico with each others deepest doubts and darkest lows. This also means that their conversations wind up being the most sincere moments of the entire show, and Alison Brie hammers home the latest mediation on how to figure out what you want: “It’s not about being happy, that’s the thing. I’m just trying to get through each day. I can’t keep asking myself ‘Am I happy? Am I happy?’ It just makes me more miserable.” That’s some dark shit, and a welcome note of desperation amidst the wackiness.

Speaking of wackiness, her husband is up to his usual tricks, which feel more usual than they should. The episode’s description on Netflix says “Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd get into a stinky situation with the skunk next door,” and there’s essentially nothing else to the story beyond that logline. We don’t even get to see the skunk, just our usual gang of idiots doused in his stink and begging Princess Carolyn to fix it. As BoJack astutely noted in the first season finale, the two are so equally enthusiastic and distractable that they amplify those qualities in each other. Mr. Peanutbutter’s behavior becomes even more doglike—rubbing the scent on all his furniture, shaking off marinara sauce—while Todd smokes a joint and blithely stumbles through the house in his underwear. BoJack Horseman is expert at taking stock sitcom situations and putting the right twist on them, but this plot lacks those twists and comes off as inconsequential.

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It’s the lack of immediate consequence that keeps “BoJack Kills” from landing as hard as other episodes, the feeling that it’s mostly setting the table for future episodes when the real disasters take place. Mr. Peanutbutter even lampshades that setup that once Princess Carolyn asks him why he has all of these spaghetti strainers in his apartment: “I’m sure it’s gonna pay off at some point!” His more serious comment to Princess Carolyn about how he and Diane are five fights away from a divorce is ominous enough, and specific enough, that I think a fight counter needs to be incorporated into the stray observations. The groundwork for those future fights is all over the place, warning bells triggered with Diane’s offhand comment about how she can’t imagine having kids and Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface revealing her geolocated tweets are an easy way to figure out where she is.

Again, there’s a lot of pieces to like in “BoJack Kills,” but that doesn’t mean that said pieces add up into a realized whole of a story. BoJack Horseman is a show that plays the long game—and we love it for that—but that doesn’t mean each move in that game is always so smooth.

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Stray observations:

  • Of course, the real mystery is why any of you would put spoilers in the comments and murder our anticipation of future episodes! So, you know:

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  • Diane/Mr. Peanutbutter Fight Counter: 1
  • Achievement in Voice Work: UnREAL’s Constance Zimmer does some great work as Skinny Gina, the killer whale stripper who is all too eager to give away confidential information to her customers before—and after—deciding that she’s said too much.
  • Diane’s ringtone is now NPR’s Terry Gross with Jonathan Lethem. And her caller ID for Mr. Peanutbutter is “Husband.” (Ouch.)
  • Young people these days communicate with a mix of text messages, eye rolls, and dick pics.
  • BoJack attends a Non-Demoninational Winter Day Pageant as part of his campaign, which is gloriously PC. “It doesn’t mean God and and it doesn’t mean pray/Unless that’s what you want but who are we to say?”
  • Diane bluffs her way into reading her own rights by allegedly organizing “an Emily Van Camp live-chat talkback on Snapchat.” They need to get Van Camp on this show in some capacity, because that’s a name the writers have too much fun with.
  • “Sadly, you can call me LL Cool J because I am in the house.”
  • “The Academy does not look kindly on murder. Rape, they don’t seem to have a problem with.”
  • “Goober! That guy never went home! Except for that one episode ‘Goober Goes Home,’ but that was because were on a softball team together and the ‘home’ in question was home plate.”
  • “All those perky, well-adjusted people you see in movies and TV shows? I don’t think they really exist.”
  • “BoJack don’t tweet emojis.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:

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