“Okay, when you put it all together, it looks bad.”
It’s a testament to the storytelling powers of Raphael Bob-Waksberg and the BoJack Horseman writers’ room of just how much dread has been running through this final season. With so many sins left unanswered for in BoJack’s torrid history and so many examples of the show pulling out the rug at the most agonizing moment, it felt like BoJack’s road to redemption in the first half of the season was built on the shakiest ground possible. Every episode is another chance for BoJack to fall off that wagon it took him so long to climb onto, to make one bad decision that would prove the show right on its regularly stated ethos that broken things tend to stay broken.
“Xerox Of A Xerox” the relapse that we’ve been dreading, but in yet another testament to Bob-Waksberg and company, it’s not the expected bender. No, instead of drugs or alcohol, it’s something even more insidious, with “It feels good to be part of the conversation again” replacing the “Well, I guess one drink wouldn’t hurt.” It’s a cruel episode that teases you with the prospect of a way out for our antihero, a chance that BoJack might get that last chance of last chances and still manage to be okay. And then it not only sees BoJack botch that chance, it connects all the dots to once again make the argument he’s never deserved any of those chances in the first place.
Back in “A Quick One, While He’s Away” I predicted that if the Sarah Lynn story made its way to the front page, BoJack had an obvious pathway to damage control in the time-honored tradition of the penitent interview. That theory proves true as in the wake of the Hollywoo Reporter’s story, Princess Carolyn gets an interview scheduled with Biscuits Braxby, who previously helped managed the fallout of BoJack’s attack on Gina in “The Stopped Show.” (She makes news fun!) It’s your standard boilerplate Hollywoo interview, one that a frustrated Diane can pick out the beats of, a sad sack routine that gets to being sorry without getting to anything important.
But remarkably, the whole thing does feel real—even to the BoJack Horseman audience, who’s seen much more of BoJack and knows far more than the MBN audience. There’s some early wobbling as he fumbles the heroin explanation and almost breaks a big rule to not get defensive early on, but it transitions to something genuine. His apology for being involved with Sarah Lynn’s death matches all the genuine guilt we’ve seen him express, and admitting publicly to his broken raised-by-television perspective of life is borne out by five seasons worth of mistakes. It’s the most encouraging thing to happen to BoJack in the last few episodes, a sigh of relief that they’ve managed this crisis.
Unfortunately, it feels like it may have been managed too well, and the Philbert set may not have been the only fake part of the stage. In line with Todd’s worry last episode about “old BoJack” not being far from the surface, BoJack’s excitement at nailing that interview is of a piece with Jimmy McGill’s excitement in the Better Call Saul season four finale, right down to both of them claiming they could see the Matrix in the heat of the moment. It was disingenuous for the future Saul Goodman, and it feels disingenuous here too, less about being genuinely contrite than it was playing the game. And that feeling continues in the wake of the interview’s success: it doesn’t take long before BoJack goes from relief at getting to keep his teaching job to being pleased it did better than the Birthday Dad finale.
So of course BoJack agrees to Pinky’s frantic request to do a second interview, but the tone quickly turns. Rather than asking for some Hollywoo party anecdotes, Biscuits turns the conversation to ask some more pointed questions about BoJack’s personal life. The jovial expression fades quickly as she rattles off a list of things he did that weren’t illegal per se, but were decidedly problematic: He slept with the president of his fan club. He took teenage girls to their prom. He accompainied a teen mom out of rehab to a high school party. He dated a woman who woke up from a 30-year coma. He was in a relationship with his agent’s assistant. It’s an awful list of details, all of it served up behind the scenes by a vengeful Dr. Champ and Paige Sinclair determined not to have PR undermine her journalism.
And witnessing what those reveals do to BoJack is even more worrisome than his earlier egotistical rebound. Aaron Long’s direction perfectly captures the vibe of the uncomfortable interview, with Biscuits fully in control and BoJack’s slipping away the longer he talks. When confronted, his first reaction is to lash out in an ugly diatribe about how human beings are “stupid, hungry, horny little goons” and there’s nothing to the idea he has power to abuse. When Sarah Lynn comes back up in conversation, he doesn’t hesitate to stick the knife in Sharona on national TV, burning whatever bridges he rebuilt in “The Face Of Depression.” There’s an ugliness to Will Arnett’s voice here that we haven’t heard for a while and sounds even worse for its absence, an ugly conviction that because everything around him sucks it means that he has to fight back. If he compared himself to a Xerox of a Xerox before, this is looking a lot like a copy of old BoJack—lines a little more blurred, but you don’t have to squint to make out the original.
Biscuits draws up an ugly pattern when she pulls these together, and it’s a pattern that’s necessary to acknowledge. The creative team of BoJack Horseman is fully aware of the flaws of its central character and has gone to great lengths to hold up his behavior as deplorable, and spent a considerable part of season five holding themselves responsible for telling such a character’s story. The first half of this season was about a potential redemption for BoJack, purging the drugs from his system and leading to a place where he could forgive himself for who he was. And what these two interviews make incredibly clear is that while what he’s done is commendable, it didn’t repair or excuse everything. He treated his addictions and not his personality, admitted his powerlessness but kept from looking at his shortcomings.
Princess Carolyn, so attuned to the rhythms of Hollywoo, knows that there’s no real coming back from this, and advises BoJack to think carefully about how he’s going to spend his last hours in a good spotlight. The decision he makes is a surprising one, drifting back to the Laugh Shack where he and Herb were struggling stand-up comedians all those years ago—and where Herb sketched an outline of BoJack with liquid paper on the back of the wall. It’s an odd choice at first glance given that for someone so consumed with his past, BoJack almost never talks about his comedy career or treats it as days that he’s particularly nostalgic for. We’ve never seen him pitch a special or even try out new material, his comedic beats reserved for chewing out the foibles of those around them.
“Xerox of a Xerox” finally dwells on that for a bit, and it gets back to an idea not hinted at since the flashbacks of season one. Those 80s standup days may have been the happiest days of BoJack’s life. Free of the emotional gulag of growing up with Beatrice and Butterscotch Horseman, and still removed from the expectations and consequences of Horsin’ Around celebrity. Any of his dreams of celebrity were still just dreams, and he didn’t have to even think about having power over anyone because power was just a green light at the end of the dock. It was possible to have a moment of quiet, away from all the doubts and fears, and you just had to get on stage and see if you could make a crowd laugh.
So it makes sense that even despite all of that, he’ll take one last shot at getting up on the stage, using the five minutes before the interview airs to workshop a tight five. And in all the dread for what’s coming, it’s possible to see there is at least one way that BoJack has grown, as he spins his sobriety for laughs and talks about not knowing what to drink at a restaurant. For once, when he’s telling jokes to a crowd, he’s not pausing after every punchline to ask them “Do you get it?” He knows that in the morning, he’s the one who’s going to get it.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: I hate to repeat myself in this category, but Daniele Gaither follows her work in “The Stopped Show” with a second award for her portrayal of Biscuits Braxby. So much of this episode is driven by the context of those two interviews, and Gaither keeps the real and fictional audiences riveted, a tone that goes from warm and understanding to full inquisitor.
- Shoutout to the exterior of The Laugh Shack,which sports the signatures of not comedians but the majority of the BoJack Horseman creative team. How many can you identify?
- Mr. Pickles gets an offscreen text from Pickles saying that they have broken up forever. My dismissal of that relationship is validated.
- Diane’s trying to hold to her position of keeping BoJack’s troubles as far away as possible, but that opens up a potential rift with Guy when she asks to meet his son. Sonny turns out to be a sullen teen who dismisses her outright, confidently claims his parents are getting back together, and immediately starts crying when she says they won’t. (More ominous, Sonny’s observation that Guy has a thing for damaged women and things end once they get better.)
- We also get an adorable scene of Todd and Maude’s date night as they come to the decision to move in together, albeit a decision that takes a long time to reach since subtlety and Todd aren’t the best of friends. (And neither are Todd and BoJack anymore, given his desire to avoid the interview.) They also weigh starting Treme together. Maude: “It’s really smart. It’s about New Orleans and jazz and Hurricane Katrina and drugs and John Goodman.” Todd: “Sounds exciting.” Maude: “It’s not!”
- Poor Dr. Champ, still far off the wagon despite his stay at Partridges. That joke about his being a therapy horse and not a therapist (“a subtle but very important legal distinction”) wound up having some real teeth to it. Also poor Roxy, who gets the short end of the stick in her friendship with Diane until the very end. (Diane’s explanation: “I don’t understand what her job is and it’s too late for me to ask.”)
- Judah wears a baking sheet vest and wraps Ruthie in bubble wrap. Best babysitter ever.
- “Why do you talk like that? We’re from Fresno.”
- “And this will keep you from talking with your hands, which can be construed as aggressive.”
- “No, you’re right. It was mostly the heroin.”
- “And that’s why the band Chicago is not one of the top ten Chicago bands of all time.”
- “That’s nothing. And possibly anti-Semitic.”
- “Malibu is for pretentious, rich douchebags.” “That’s Beverly Hills. Malibu is for pretentious, famous douchebags.”
- “A person who doesn’t think about others, a person who puts his own needs first. And over and over, other people get hurt, not necessarily because he means to hurt them, but be cause he just doesn’t care. This person I’m describing, is it a different person, or is it you?”
- “...Yeah. It’s me.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: