“You can live your whole life like it’s a puzzle, put together from the pieces of different sets. Your whole life is full of these pieces that don’t quite fit. But at some point, you start to think it’s you. You’re the piece that doesn’t quite fit. And you spend so long with that feeling that the feeling becomes your home. And it can be jarring when you discover one day that you suddenly don’t feel that way anymore. At first you don’t trust it. But then gradually, you do.”
If asked to pinpoint the most important moment in early BoJack Horseman, the moment that’s reverberated throughout the entire series and set us on the path that’s led us to where we are now, I would place it in season one’s “The Telescope.” More specifically, the flashback moment where steely network executive Angela Diaz told BoJack point-blank that his career depended on not fighting the decision to fire Herb Kazazz as Horsin’ Around showrunner, and BoJack made the decision to keep his mouth shut. It was the start of BoJack turning more heavily to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, the start of his constantly shifting the blame to other parties, and the start of making himself the most important person in the room as a defense mechanism. It’s the moment that confirmed Herb’s accusation of him as a “selfish, goddamned coward who takes whatever he wants and doesn’t give a shit about who he hurts,” an accusation echoed years later in Biscuits Braxby’s incisive interview.
At the end of that pivotal moment, Angela told him “This was a good conversation. Productive. If you’re lucky, I’ll never talk to you again.” Now at least two decades later, it’s time for a second conversation in “Angela.” And she proves herself right that he’d be lucky to never hear from her again, because doing so shatters the shaky ground that BoJack has found himself on in the wake of his disastrous interview. It’s all the crueler because it’s also an episode where the sense of finality is growing ever stronger. Everyone else in the BoJack Horseman ensemble is the closest they’ve ever been to a happy ending, and BoJack winds up in the dark place where it all began.
Not that there’s much brightness to BoJack’s life at this point, unless you count the rainbow horn and white body paint. Devoid of anyone who can offer their better judgments, he’s leaning into the way everyone looks at him and has gone into business with Vance Waggoner to make Horny Unicorn. And it looks a lot like he’s fallen back into bad habits now that he’s got his own private trailer again: he’s drinking from a water bottle that he’s pretty quick to cover up once anyone shows up, and there’s a worrying absence of stars when he looks at it. It’s a rough backslide to witness, but it doesn’t feel like a decision Raphael Bob-Waksberg and company made just because drunk BoJack is easier to write than sober BoJack. The last two episodes stripped away everything that BoJack relied on in his sobriety, everything that made his choice mean something, and everything that filled the void he’s always felt inside. And as much as we may be pulling for him, at the end of the day his self-loathing always triumphs over his self-control.
In that dark place there’s no reason for BoJack not to respond to Angela’s invitation to her home, which takes him to an even darker place. James Bowman’s direction and the animation team construct a truly loveless affair for Angela’s mansion, the sort of home that’s purchased after a career that required the excision of everything else in your life, and that it’s only not haunted by virtue of the fact that no one else has lived there for very long. And while Angela herself has lost some mobility, she’s lost none of her cold sense of control, greeting BoJack with his long-loathed recognition and batting him around with the implication he only called him over to do some chores.
Of course, there are more ulterior motives behind Angela’s decision. BoJack’s fall from grace has turned the old Horsin’ Around episodes radioactive, and the network wants to find a way to still turn a syndication profit. The solution? Follow David Chase’s Untitled Horsin’ Around Knockoff showrunner plan and do the show with the horse, only this time without the horse, and digitally remove BoJack from every episode. And once again, Angela knows exactly which nerve is the rawest, and persuades BoJack to sign away whatever rights he had to Horsin’ Around by arguing people get to see Sarah Lynn’s performance. If you didn’t have a sense of finality before this, you do now, because as much as the drugs and depression BoJack has had one constant all series: being “The Horse from Horsin’ Around.” Now, it’s his excision from the final cut of Secretariat all over again.
You’d think that’d be the end, that BoJack wouldn’t have any more to lose from that point. Except he stays for one drink that turns into many, and Angela takes one more thing from him: his illusion that keeping his mouth shut was the right call. Turns out that it wasn’t, that her position at the network wasn’t as unassailable as she made it seem all those years ago, and that if BoJack had pushed back she likely would have had to cave. The casual tone of Angelica Huston as she waves it off as one bluff in a career full of them stands in stark contrast to Will Arnett’s shattered one, the truth BoJack told himself that he was saving the show laid bare as a lie. In that moment he can see the future he could have had, while we in the audience see the mess of the path he chose. And as Angela so coldly reminds him, any excuses or blame shifting or even blind rage doesn’t mean a damn thing:
“You play these games of ‘if I hadn’t done this, if I wasn’t so that,’ but you did, and you were, and here we are. Here we are! Because we did what we had to do. So, what do you have to do now?”
It’s absolutely heart-rending to witness BoJack fall so far after being so close to happiness, and it’s a special twist of the knife that the same person was responsible for both developments. Writer Shauna McGarry also gave us last year’s episode “The Face Of Depression,” an episode that Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff pointed out on Twitter this week would have been the “nice ending” for BoJack Horseman. And while she’s undoing all of her good work with BoJack in “Angela,” that energy is also turned to reinforcing the good work she did for everyone else, providing the final directions that would let the dysfunctional supporting cast find their way to a happy ending.
In Princess Carolyn’s case, it’s a new opportunity that could take her far beyond her current station. Lenny Turtletaub’s production company is trying to improve their reputation after two decades of executive sexual harassment, and her reputation for success is exactly what he wants to help female-centric production company Girltletaub. (Lenny: “Someone who can be more professional and less... Moonves.”) Pulling off the assignment will require a pitch of the highest caliber to be delivered the next morning, a tall order complicated by Judah having a gig with his band Spectrum of Engagement and not being able to help pitch ideas all night. And Princess Carolyn doesn’t take long to question her capabilities, starting to wonder if she has any dreams left to speak of.
In a moment of doubt, it’s Judah who gets through to her, finally redeeming himself for concealing the VIM/Vigor merger a few seasons back: “If there’s one thing I know about this business, it’s never underestimate what Princess Carolyn can do by herself.” Her decision not to take Turtletaub’s offer and move ahead with production on her own is a wonderful culmination of the past six seasons, the journey to be fully in control of her own life. She didn’t need Rutabega to form her own agency, she built VIM from the ground up. She didn’t need Ralph to have a family, she adopted Ruthie and grew into a kickass single mom. After all these heartbreaks and setbacks, she is in a place where she can make the decisions—including the decision to go see Judah’s awful band, only to realize he made a similar decision and went right back to the office.
And it leads to a very sweet moment in her office where the guitar stops playing but the lyrics don’t stop coming. A romantic pairing of Princess Carolyn and Judah came as a surprise to me, and not just because I was holding out some hopes for a Ralph reconciliation by the end—regardless of what “Ancient History” told us. But taking a look at it, it does make sense. They’re two people who already spend almost every waking hour in close proximity, who would rather work than do most anything else, and who manage to do that work well together. Even if it feels a little rushed, the presentation makes up for it, a quiet confession and an equally quiet smile before the two go back to work.
A simple gesture is enough for Princess Carolyn, but Todd needs something more than that as his mother continues to dodge a painful reunion. With the housewarming caper falling apart, the shenanigans need to go to the next level, and there’s only one person you can call for that: the woman whose “sage, buttery voice simultaneously comforts you and fills you with dread.” I am thrilled to be proven wrong on my midseason statement that we only needed one more scene of Character Actress Margo Martindale, as she’s in top form helping Todd stage a phony kidnapping in exchange for a hundred Frito pies. It brings her whole insane character arc full circle, as she’s determined to right the wrongs that began so long ago when she tricked Todd into playing an addictive video game and ruined his rock opera. (And yes, saying it all together like that, it all sounds kind of ludicrous.)
Character Actress Margo Martindale’s involvement is the high point of the scheme, as it resolves itself fairly quickly once an anxiety attack sends Mrs. Chavez to the hospital with heavy shades of the BoJack Horseman pilot. Unfortunately, it’s a weak resolution that owes itself to the pacing issues that have cropped up occasionally in this split final season. While Todd’s relationship with Jorge made an impression thanks to their divergent personalities and Jaime Camill’s performance, Mrs. Chavez is largely a non-entity and her issues with Todd were introduced too late in the game to pay off in a satisfying way. And while it’s nice to see the two of them bond over ill-advised ideas, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did to see him and Maude drop their duffel bags in their own apartment.
In a more rewarding reunion, we get our first communication between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter since the events of “Surprise!” Diane thinks she glimpses him at her first official Ivy Tran book signing at Da Books—emphasize that first word and you get maybe the best Chicago joke all season—and it turns out to be a cardboard cutout advertising the book he’s written. Or rather, the personal memoir he’s written about his struggles with being Sad Dog, which he finished in an entire weekend because it turns out writing is easy. It’s a blow to Diane’s ego that could send her spiraling, having finally found her peace in Chicago and now about to upend everything so Guy can follow his ex-wife to Houston and still be close to Sonny. (It also didn’t do much for your hardworking reviewer’s ego, but we can save that for the comments.)
But there’s no spiral that occurs—maybe due to the antidepressants, but more likely to the fact that she and her ex-husband keep talking. I was genuinely upset when it was clear that Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s marriage had come to an end, because for all the bad parts theirs was a relationship where you could see the good and the way that they balanced each others’ extremes. And you can see that connection as they stay on the phone together, acknowledging the ways that they’ve moved on from each other and the things they learned since then. It reaches the level they were play-acting at in “The Dog Days Are Over,” pretending a newly divorced couple could have a mature conversation. And it leads to one of the most beautiful interactions in BoJack Horseman history:
Diane: “I feel like if we met each other as the people we are now, things would be totally different with us.”
Mr. Peanutbutter: “Yeah, but if we hadn’t met each other until now, we wouldn’t be the people we are now.”
It’s mature enough that you almost feel worried that they might be having second thoughts about their divorce, and undo their good work the same way they did in “The Stopped Show”—at least until Mr. Peanutbutter calls them equally accomplished authors and Diane forces the umpteenth smile on her face in place of screaming at him. An important part of growing is to recognize the way that some people will stay the same.
The fact that everyone else has come so far only reinforces how painful the final beats of “Angela” are, as BoJack returns to exactly where he was at the beginning of the series. Stuffed full of enough alcohol and pills to numb everything else, watching Horsin’ Around reruns for the umpteenth time, and sprawled on the couch of a big empty house that’s about as loveless as Angela’s mansion. Only this time that’s all there is, no one left at the end of the episodes but him, staring at the Xerox-of-a-Xerox reflection in the black mirror of his TV screen. BoJack tried for so long to live his life by the rules of television, and after rerunning all his bad decisions, he’s found himself living one of the medium’s old rules: at the end of the episode, we’re right back where we started.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: If you put anyone against Angelica Huston for a competition, that other person is going to lose. Huston returns to Angela with every last bit of gravitas, unflinching confidence, and cutthroat business sense that left such an impression on early BoJack Horseman. There’s no glimpse of mercy or reconciliation in her, only the sense that this is one last pound of flesh she needs to claim to meet her goals.
- McGarry is also responsible for the magnificent Tuca & Bertie penultimate episode “The Jelly Lakes,” which won an Annie Award recently and which I know you’ve all watched because you’re good little boys/girls/other that support quality animation. Also winning an Annie in the same ceremony, “The New Client” from the first half of this BoJack season.
- Also getting a happy ending? Character Actress Margo Martindale, saved from a lengthy prison sentence by the intervention of indie director Nicole Holofcener. Holofcener may not have gotten to direct FireFlame—which is good, since she says “ugh” to superhero movies in real life—but she’s replaced that opportunity with the acquittal-worthy idea to direct Martindale in Classroom Warfare as the mother of the teenage student with whom Catherine Keener has an affair. Otter judge is right, that does sound good.
- How gorgeous were those shots of Chicago at night? The chance to get out of Hollywoo for a bit has always done the BoJack animation team a favor.
- “And that’s the end of a sexist, fatphobic anecdote in which I was so desperate to get out of the rain, I slept with a plus-sized woman!”
- “You don’t want to go slow and steady?” “What am I, a tortoise?”
- “I hope you like barbecue!” “I hope I don’t need another abortion because those are hard to get there!” “Wait, what?” “Just trying to think of Texas things.”
- “You know what they say about Susans?” “...They’re lazy?” “Suddenly, you’re desperately seeking them.”
- “The truth is that none of it matters and the truth is it all matters tremendously.”
- “That’s quite a story. But you’ve killed a lot of people.”
- “Buckle up, buddy. Your life is about to start.”
- Today in Chicago signs: