In the downtime between new seasons of BoJack Horseman, the biggest news about the show was that its animation team successfully unionized. It’s a development that I applaud wholeheartedly, as this is unquestionably one of the hardest working teams in the entirety of animation, with the staggering level of character designs, background gags, and increasingly ambitious sequences that go into your typical episode. They deserve every bit of recognition and protection they deserve, and it’s just unfortunate that they’re getting those benefits so late in the game and so close to the end.
With that development occurring while season six was in production, it’s hard not to see life imitating art in the events of “The Kidney Stays In The Picture.” The aftereffects of BoJack’s inadvertent revolution have now spread throughout the industry, every assistant demanding their fair share, and the industry goes to dark and cold places to claim what it feels are its property. It’s only part of what’s going on—the shortened season means a much busier episode than usual—but it’s this satire that lands the hardest. (That, and Princess Carolyn’s riff about vanity cards at the end of shows being cut off on streaming services. That one felt very personal.)
Earlier this season, I dismissed “Feel-Good Episode” and its take on media monopolization and evil oligarchs as going too broadly against a large target. This on the other hand is BoJack Horseman operating in its ideal satirical gear, the understanding of Hollywoo culture that reduces everything to a transactional state and where the demands of egos are the primary beast to be sated. Assistants are after a perfectly reasonable goal to not be treated like garbage, and the minute that’s in front of power players like Lenny Turtletaub it immediately shuts negotiations down. (“Respect? Do they respect how we’ll have to work through our rage issues? On our spouses and children? That doesn’t seem fair.”) A strike goes into effect the next day, and within less than 24 hours Los Angeles is transformed into The Walking Dead, no one able to make a single reservation or answer their voicemail without someone else’s help.
As the conflict develops, you can see the degree to which those in power will go to maintain that power and dismiss obstacles. Lenny and Princess Carolyn form a devious team, practicing a divide and conquer strategy trading on the fact that being an assistant is the worst job in the world. A few promises to leadership is all it takes to cripple the effort, offering deliverance from taking a cactus to the head from Shirley MacLaine for scheduling a meeting with the wrong Steve McQueen, or the opportunity to run development for Saoirse Ronan’s production company Saoirse and Rescue. The energy levels here are once again BoJack at its best, and the aforementioned animators are on fire giving a dark and mysterious air to these backroom deals.
And when it looks like the darkness will wash over and crush this nascent rebellion, Princess Carolyn somehow finds her soul again. Taking us back to the era of “The BoJack Horseman Show,” we remember that Princess Carolyn used to be an agent once upon a time, suffering through everything from hosing down a tapioca/vomit-soaked BoJack to finding apology bikinis that pinch just right. She had to claw her way up from nothing and take the advantages exactly when she could, and she can’t find it in her heart to shut that door on anyone else—even on an assistant as awful as Stuart.
Her solution, is as you’d expect, perfect: not crossing the picket line herself but finding the right person to put that picket line together. In the first time I’ve stood up and cheered a returning character since Character Actress Margo Martindale washed up on the beach, Princess Carolyn’s former assistant Judah returns (complete with heavenly backlighting that is entirely appropriate to the occasion) and the negotiations begin in earnest. In a world as mercenary and self-centered as Hollywoo, it’s the closest we’ve seen to getting a fair deal.
“The Kidney Stays In The Picture” gives BoJack viewers exactly what they want there, and it gives them what they didn’t even know they wanted with Todd’s plot. Todd’s had a genuine chance to grow up this year by accepting the job of Ruthie’s nanny, and now that journey takes an unexpected step. Or stepfather rather, as Jorge Chavez shows up on Princess Carolyn’s front door with unfortunate news about Todd’s mother. It’s a left-field development, as while we’ve learned a lot about the childhood of various BoJack main characters, Todd has always been something of a blank slate. We knew something of his early life with Emily and we know he showed up at one of BoJack’s parties and never left Otherwise, who Todd was has always been less interesting than where Todd was going, failing upward and becoming more of a legendary figure with every nonsensical journey.
This particular caper drags Todd back to reality though, as he learns the kidney he just sold for sock puppets is desperately needed to save his mother’s life. What ensues is a typical Todd caper, but with the atypical grounding in reality that Jorge provides. Todd drags Jorge to Chicago courtesy by pulling a Weekend At Bernie’s, but once it looks like its going to turn into shenanigans to enter Whitewhale, Jorge finds the racial and hot dog prejudices to exploit to get them to the belly of the beast and get Todd’s kidney back. It changes the tone of things in an interesting way, Todd unable to luck his way through the whole thing in his normal fashion—at least until the very end. Todd’s atypical last name has never been commented on save some mild surprise from Princess Carolyn all the way back in season one’s “Say Anything,” and this is a brutal payoff once you realize how much white privilege plays a role in Todd’s ability to walk away from anything unscathed.
A caper this heated is naturally going to bring stuff to the surface with Todd. Even though getting into Todd’s history wasn’t on most peoples’ short list of mysteries BoJack Horseman needed to cover before the end, it works. Obviously we know that Aaron Paul can handle the heavy stuff—El Camino was a nicely timed reminder of that—and he’s more than up to giving Todd some further layers as he voices his frustrations at impossible standards growing up, and his genuine belief that he’s happy in the life he’s living. And we even get one more layer when Todd decides not to go see his mother post-surgery, a move where “cold” is the only word for it.
If all of that activity wasn’t enough, there’s still the fallout of Dr. Champ falling off the wagon in the end of “A Little Uneven, Is All.” BoJack sends his hungover therapist (or therapy horse, a subtle but legally important distinction) home to clean up and get his head back on straight, and on his own journey home he sees Pastiches’ On The Wagon van parked right outside dive bar Bellican’s. Pulling into the bar that he’s so frequently warmed a stool at, he has to watch Dr. Champ proceed to ignore all of his own advice and down a never-ending parade of margaritas.
The flipped status quo forces BoJack to be the responsible one, not only for Dr. Champ but for himself, and the end result is more of a test than anything he had to go through in therapy. Even when Dr. Champ gives him an out of letting him stay at rehab to keep him under control, he can’t accept that because he’s past the point of taking an easy out at the expense of someone else. The resulting diatribe is another great Will Arnett performance in a series that’s never longed for them, as BoJack somehow cracks the progression of the person he’s become:
“Okay, you got me! My parents gave me an internalized self-hatred of horses, so my horse body is a prison that I can never escape. This manifests as rotten behavior because I subconsciously believe I deserve to be punished. But being famous, I’m never punished! So I act out even more. And since this pattern is so woven into my identity, it is unfathomable to me that it could ever be curbed. So instead, I drink! So the only way I can progress is to return to my life as a sober man and finally hold myself accountable for my actions, past and future... Oh my God, is this what therapy is?!?!”
The breakthrough leads him to make another hard decision and implode yet another personal relationship. Only this time it’s for someone else’s benefit, as he checks Dr. Champ into the rehab that’s literally next door to Palisades, and Dr. Champ blames him for ruining his life. Sam Richardson’s done great work all season as he tried to steer BoJack to a better place in life, and the betrayal and rage in his voice stands in stark contrast to his cheerful confusion at repeatedly getting the check he asked for just minutes ago.
Yet this time, it doesn’t have the familiar feel of someone heaping blame on BoJack Horseman for the shitty things he’s done, The vodka bottle getting into Dr. Champ’s hands was a complete accident, BoJack did everything he could to stop it, and after it happened he took full responsibility for keeping Dr. Champ safe. He doesn’t know what Dr. Champ is dealing with or the consequences of this decision. He knows only that he did the best he could with a bad situation.
In the end, Dr. Champ managed to do what he set out to do: he proved to BoJack that he’s got to be responsible for himself. And knowing that he can’t be responsible for two peoples’ sobriety at the same time, he shuts another door and leaves Palisades for good.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Cast Jane The Virgin’s Jamie Camil as a paternal figure in any project and it’s a guaranteed chef’s kiss from me. He transitions from the flightiness of Rogelio de la Vega to the stern practicality of Jorge Chavez without batting an eye, though he still retains some of the former’s theatricality that fits well with the caper energy. He’s a welcome foil for Aaron Paul as the two rehash their old arguments and finally come to an uneasy truce. And his delivery of what the name Chavez means is wonderful. “C for cerebral! H for high-minded! A for analytical! V for voracious! E for efficacious! Z for zealously practical!” (Though Todd’s right, that last one is a bit of cheat.)
- Mr. Peanutbutter’s mostly a non-entity this episode, save for a meeting with Joey Pogo where he excitedly pitches that Mr. Peanutbutter take his Sad Dog momentum and join him on a campaign to raise depression awareness. The best part of his scene is the moment where they wonder how they can schedule a meeting about it with no assistants, while standing five feet away from each other.
- It was a little disappointing to not see Princess Carolyn remember her old assistant Laura from “Old Acquaintances,” if only for the missed opportunity of a Rachel Bloom appearance. But sadly, it’s not clear if Princess Carolyn ever internalized what it meant that she held Laura’s promotion back because she was too valuable in her current role.
- Convenience of Todd’s kidney being in Chicago aside, it does give us an update that Diane isn’t getting any of her writing done and is living off the checks that Whitewhale hasn’t stopped sending her. And it also provides one of my favorite Alison Brie line reads when the security guard tries to eject her from the shopping center parking garage: “Okay fine, I’ll buy a pretzel.” Guard: “Or you can just leave!” Diane: “No, now I want the pretzel.” (Guy would also like a pretzel.)
- Callback note: BoJack’s ride home from Palisades is a Cabracadabra fleet vehicle.
- “And they even let the birthday boy pilot the airplane! … There were no survivors.”
- “Am I being inconspicuous?” “Yes, minus the yelling.”
- Lenny, when asked what joke he’s laughing at: “You wouldn’t get it. It’s about Zsa Zsa Gabor and, eh, no longer appropriate in today’s climate.”
- “Are you ready for introductions, or are you still processing the whole ‘being kidnapped and dragged across state lines’ of it all?”
- “Can I get anyone an imperial stout? The barley was sourced from Portland, Maine but the brewery is in Portland, Oregon.” I’d drink it.
- “But I should have realized: you’re white.”
- “I remember everything. I’m sober now.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs (#BUTTCANO edition):