You have to give BoJack Horseman credit: it’s hard to think of a weirder way for a show to be consistent. The previous episode “Stupid Piece Of Sh*t” was a journey into the deepest parts of BoJack’s psyche, and it was one of the darkest episodes the show’s ever produced. Now with “Underground,” there’s a journey into the deepest parts of Hollywoo, and it turns out to be one of the weirdest episodes the show’s ever done. We’re going from the metaphorical depths to the literal ones, a world where the fire is God and a drone orgy up for negotiation.
In keeping with BoJack’s long-standing sense of narrative flow, despite the complete ludicrousness of circumstances none of them are unexpected. The fracking well that Mr. Peanutbutter authorized in his front lawn a few episode ago has done more than imperil his marriage, it’s weakened the ground so much that the house goes collapsing into a sinkhole. (He weakly tries to brush it off: “At least we know no one is specifically at fault. Well, except for San Andreas.”) The timing couldn’t be worse, as it happens to be the evening where he’s hosting a dinner for his key fundraisers and where BoJack’s finally worked up the nerve to talk to Diane for the first time since he’s been back in town.
Things are turned up a notch when Governor Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz digs down to save them personally—the bridge to Hawaii costing California most of the funds it allocates for disaster relief—and “Underground” gets to play out the campaign in miniature. The gubernatorial campaign hasn’t provided as much material this season as expected, with plots focused less on campaign events and more on what it’s meant to Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane’s marriage. Now BoJack Horseman finally devotes some time to Peanutbutter versus Coodchuck-Berkowitz, allowing their differing strategies to play out and using the party attendees as a control group.
Or rather, an out-of-control group. “Underground” comes off as a mix of a bottle episode and a reality show, placing a group of crazy people in one place and repeatedly turning up the tension. Writer Kelly Galuska assembles a great bag of archetypes here, threading it with recurring gag characters like the guy who orgasms every time the power structure changes to the parrot who’s swayed by whoever spoke most recently. Pinky Penguin gets to throw out his usual hysteria and a few digs at network TV with all the terrible shows he’s picked up, from Mombie (a family sitcom where the mom is a zombie) to The Frack Shack (“It’s New Girl meets fracking!”). And for a little bit of BoJack celebrity schadenfreude, Zach Braff appears as himself, desperately seeking a valet to return his Prius. It’s a stew with all the perfect ingredients for mass hysteria.
It also gives us plenty of room for the glorious psychotic and career breakdown of Jessica Biel. Raphael Bob-Waksberg said that when he had Biel on the show last year, she encouraged him to go even deeper and meaner on the jokes at her expense. That advice was heeded, and it’s almost un-Biel-evable that she’s this willing to suffer slings and arrows. In the span of one episode she’s beaten up as “attempted movie star,” “future hard Jeopardy question,” and “less famous Michelle Monaghan.” And that’s not even mentioning the fact that she lights Zach Braff on fire mid-monologue after a few days without moisturizing, going full Melisandre on the party attendees. You wouldn’t think anything could match Character Actress Margo Martindale in terms of an actor poking fun at themselves, but this is a re-Biel-ation.
Against these forces of nature, the political structure breaks down far too easily. Woodchuck is the one offering the reasonable approach, the one that requires the hard work—at least until someone twists his words into telling them what to do. And Mr. Peanutbutter is the crowd-pleasing candidate, the one who’ll never tell anyone what to do because it may jeopardize them liking him so much. Once again Andre Braugher flourishes as he plays the one sane man in a world full of crazies, and Lake Bell flourishes as Katrina can’t help but manipulate the room in Mr. Peanutbutter’s favor even when it’s at the expense of their food supply. It compresses the campaign storyline nicely, random points systems and quick mob mentality showing just how easy it could be for an unqualified candidate to take over—and just how much of a disaster that would be.
BoJack wisely decides early on that he wants no part of this disaster, retreating to the quiet of the master bedroom with every bottle of booze he can scrounge up. Here’s where Diane finds him and joins him in a bender reminiscent of their “Yes And” shared spiral. As with all of their interactions, their respective benders only last for so long before their keen understanding of each other takes over, and Diane finally takes BoJack to task for not calling her all this time he’s been in Hollywoo. In each reunion of season four—BoJack and Todd in “Hooray! Todd Episode!” and BoJack and Mr. Peanutbutter in “Stupid Piece Of Sh*t—BoJack’s shied away from reuniting with Diane, and he gives full heartbreaking voice to the reasons why he didn’t:
“I wanted to be better when you saw me again. And I thought I could be, somehow. But I’m not. And even if I did get better, the best I could ever be is still just some other version of me.”
What keeps BoJack Horseman such a powerful show, even moving past its brutal honesty and absurd humor, is the fact that it understands the relationships between its main characters so well. You can argue which of the relationships is the most important or well-developed, but the relationship between BoJack and Diane is the one most deeply ingrained into the series, the two on identical wavelengths with how bad the world can get. BoJack’s been trying to do better this year, genuinely try to be better, and regardless of how well he does that little voice will tell him it’s not good enough for Diane.
Diane, for her part, knows that if she waits around for BoJack to fix himself he’ll never be there, because that’s exactly how she is too. For all the silliness in the scenario this is a powerful episode for Diane, from the “I REGRET EVERYTHING!” scream when confronted with the threat of death to her most outwardly emotional breakdown in the run of the series. With BoJack she doesn’t have to be the tough advocacy blogger or the supportive wife, she can openly admit that things suck and that it’s tough to deal with a lot of the time. She welcomes him back because despite everything that’s happened between them, their respective brokenness fits together to make things a bit less broken for both.
Then again if you want to put things back together, you can also find yourself a colony of giant ants and negotiate a deal with their queen. Princess Carolyn and Todd are cut off from the majority of the action as they were in the guest house at the time of the sinkhole, and their separate journey leads them to an underground kingdom. Somehow, the fact that this kingdom exists doesn’t feel at all out of keeping with the breadth of the BoJack Horseman ecosystem, the undersea expansion in “Fish Out Of Water” now stretching out to beneath the bedrock—complete with a quick glimpse of a dinosaur skeleton on a skateboard. The series never plays these expansions as freakish, slightly alien but operating on the same central logic. At this point I wouldn’t rule out a giant aviary next season, Cloud City-style.
The resolution of the stories could potentially feel like a quick fix, except that said fix also happens to be the best punchline of the entire episode. One mention of the fact that they came from a Beverly Hills party, and Queen Antonia’s antennae shoot straight up in alarm at the fear of gentrification. Forget fracking-induced sinkholes, soldier demands for orgies, or even the hunger of the fire: the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of affluent assholes driving up property values and bringing the Whole Foods in. And “Underground” validates that concern, given the minute the house—or rather the quickly collapsing shell of the house—is above ground again, everyone immediately brushes off their ordeal and the passing neighbors mutter about reporting it to the HOA.
“Underground” is a largely ridiculous episode of BoJack Horseman, though there are a few important developments that spring out of it. Diane tries to break out of her pit and reconcile with Mr. Peanutbutter free of angry sex, and Mr. Peanutbutter acknowledges her truth that he’d be a terrible governor. And we even get a moment of all five of the main characters together, in what I believe is the first time since “Zoës And Zeldas.” There’s little resolution beyond discussion of Ethiopian—as mentioned many times before, everyone’s story has drifted apart over the seasons—but could something more meaningful happen down the road? Stranger things have happened, many of them in this episode.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: RuPaul as Queen Antonia. I’m not even going to try to describe why this is amazing. Some things need no explanation.
- Also in incremental plot developments: Diane suggests BoJack look into a mutual consent form for adoption to figure out who Hollyhock’s real mother is.
- I believe this is the first time we’ve gotten an up-close look at Todd’s prison tattoos from “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story,” and you can see how he’s modified them to be less gang-centric: “LA Kings” and “Skinny Jugheads.”
- Princess Carolyn kept her old apartment despite moving in with Ralph, “in case.” Uh oh. Goddamn it BoJack Horseman, let her be happy.
- “Sometimes life is like the second season of Friday Night Lights. You gotta push through and hope there’s better stuff ahead.” I love it when BoJack Horseman writes jokes that feel like they’re made for me and me alone.
- “Uh oh, too much sad booze for you. Where’s the happy booze?”
- “The People of Underground have a new god, the fire. And for my crimes I will be fed to its ravenous flames. My only hope is that the meat of Zach Braff proves lasting, but I fear by daybreak, there will be no Braff meat left.”
- “Can we please return to the surface world? All my favorite clouds are up there.”
- “Quiet, sky rodent! To the shovels!”
- “We are never talking about any of this ever again.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, in memoriam graffiti edition: