Screenshot: Netflix

Four-plus seasons in, the greatest strength of BoJack Horseman is the understanding of the way things do and do not change. On one hand (or hoof, paw, or pseudopod depending on who you’re talking to) is the long-standing ethos of the show that broken things stay broken, and that people don’t change without a lot of time and effort—if they ever do. But on the other limb is the truth that the things around them do. Goals and relationships shift over time, and it’s impossible to take for granted that something or someone you knew is going to stay the same forever.

“Ancient History” is one of the best illustrations of that ethos in some time. With Philbert’s production in the rearview mirror, the BoJack Horseman ensemble is asking the question of what’s next. In the case of BoJack, Princess Carolyn, and Todd, the answer at first appears to be returning to an old relationship, getting back in touch with someone who was good for you once upon a time and seeing if you can rekindle what was once there. For the trio in question it’s an unpleasant acknowledgment that people drift apart, and sometimes the reasons for drifting apart aren’t going to change either. And at the end, all three of them can only end with a weary sigh—and in one case, something even more drastic.

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That doesn’t mean that these reunions aren’t a treat to witness for the audience, as all of them are beloved members of the supporting cast. Hollyhock is back in Los Angeles following her first year at Wesleyan, making a special one-night stop between Connecticut and Kansas. Emily’s dropping by the What Time Is It Right Now offices to bemoan her latest failed sexy firefighter relationship. And when Mr. Peanutbutter gets the idea to option a greeting card for his latest project (working title of Birthday Dad, other details to come later) Ralph Stilton is the only person to call if you want the rights. It’s a solid cross-section of BoJack’s bench, all players who bring out the best in our main cast.

Yet in the time between seasons, things have changed. BoJack and Hollyhock can still bond over her shared love of junk food and laying on the couch, but they’re still doing it in BoJack’s house, a house that Hollyhock previously had to leave in an ambulance thanks to Bea’s drugged coffee in “lovin’ that cali lifestyle!!” As prepared and open-eyed as Hollyhock supposedly was when she tracked her supposed father down, nothing can prepare a teenager for the vortex of emotional pressure that is BoJack Horseman. Her experiences left her with a touch of PTSD, and the minute BoJack’s pills come out, she jumps on them as a threat and tosses them down the garbage disposal. It’s a disastrous move, but also one that’s completely in keeping with Hollyhock’s damage, and threaded with the lovable clumsiness that made her such a great character last year.

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Screenshot: Netflix

What follows is another excursion through the various neighborhoods of Hollywoo, a mirror of their first expedition to find Hollyhock’s mom in last season’s “Commence Fracking.” And if their first excursion had a lighter caper feel about it, there’s something ugly about this. BoJack heads back to Dr. Hu for an oxypretsilcortizoid prescription, only to find that he got clean (regenerated, if you will) after Sarah-Lynn’s death. BoJack has Hollyhock break into Gina’s house to look for a stash, and then fumbles his way through a phony declaration of commitment. And then he drags Hollyhock to a late-night deal, barely avoiding the world’s most avoidable police sting. There’s little in the way of fun, only increasing desperation—and BoJack’s needling that Hollyhock is the reason they’re spending her one night in town doing this.

That clear meanness is what poisons the entire event. BoJack tried his damnedest to be a father figure to Hollyhock, and after the previous events of this season, this is the only family he’s got left and arguably the only person he values. Now, he’s dragging her into clearly dangerous situations, and when she makes a reasonable observation—he doesn’t seem to need those pills for his back—he lashes out that she doesn’t understand what it’s like to live in pain. For anyone who fell in love with Hollyhock and the good influence she had on BoJack last year, it’s heartbreaking to witness. If any one of Hollyhock’s dads saw even a fraction of this evening, they’d beat BoJack to death in his own living room. (Or David Boreanaz’s living room. Or the Philbert set. It’s unclear these days which is which.)

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The reunion of Princess Carolyn and Ralph is a bittersweet one to witness, as we left that relationship on far more broken terms. Even more than Hollyhock, Ralph was good for Princess Carolyn, able to help her towards the work/life balance that’s eluded her for so long, supportive and understanding in all the right ways. And the flickers of that dynamic still exist, the easy chemistry between Esparza and Amy Sedaris there even as they stumble over the dual meaning of the name “Philbert” when Princess Carolyn brings him up to speed on her career. Unlike watching Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter try to pretend to be a mature post-divorce couple immediately post-divorce, there’s a sense that time has healed the wounds inflicted by the events of “Ruthie.”

Screenshot: Netflix

And then life rips those wounds open again, as Tracy calls Princess Carolyn to inform her that there’s a last-minute single mother in labor, and it’s first-come-first-served to claim the infant. Of course Ralph’s fundamental decency drives him to offer to assist, and of course there’s a tension that rises up when he points out this is one of the options he suggested before she coldly shut it—and him—down entirely. Of all the relationships that have broken over the course of BoJack, this one hurts more than others, yet is also the one where it’s easiest to assign blame to one person. The fact that Princess Carolyn tells Ralph he shouldn’t have listened to her, and then lashes out when he tries that, feels a lot like she’s jerking him around. Even in her distressed state, it’s hard to think she’s being fair.

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But at the same time, her argument makes sense with what we know about her as a person. So much of Princess Carolyn’s life is about moving forward, figuring things out herself, and making her own choices as to who does and doesn’t fit into her life. The plan she made with Ralph didn’t work out, and when it failed she made a new plan, and the clear differences between those two plans makes them impossible to reconcile. The fact that arguing over those plans with Ralph causes her to lose another potential child—yet another sad twist of the episode—doesn’t invalidate that plan, it’s just simple bad timing. And losing that child doesn’t mean she’s going to come up with a new plan that includes him, regardless of whether or not it makes sense. (Though she will let him wait with her for the taxi, throwing a bone to the romantics in the audience.)

The frustration that maybe things could work out also plays heavily into the third relationship of the episode. Todd and Emily were established as being on good terms back in the season premiere, but at the time they had relationships to fall back on: Todd had Yolanda, and Emily had a revolving door of sexy firemen sharing her bed. At this point though, neither of them is in a relationship, and they’re once again crashing against the fact that Todd’s asexuality is the main reason why they aren’t. In its own way it’s more frustrating than Ralph and Princess Carolyn’s situation, as you can identify only one obstacle, but that obstacle is one that’s completely insurmountable.

Screenshot: Netflix

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Not that Todd isn’t going to try. The third act of a BoJack Horseman season is usually when Todd’s mad experiments take the jump to their next level, and he may have topped himself with the creation of his sex robot Henry Fondle. It’s what you’d expect if H.P. Lovecraft or H.R. Giger took an amateur robotics course, all lube hoses and dildos on dowels, and a never ending list of “sexy” catchphrases courtesy of Todd’s Speak & Spell. Yet there’s also something weirdly innocent about it, going past Todd’s technical ineptitude to showcase his inexperience and disinterest in all things sexual. It’s exactly what he’d consider as the solution to all their problems, and the right bit of levity to thrust its way into an episode full of tense social situations.

It’s a levity that’s necessary when you see Todd try to explain what things could be like if they were in a relationship, a setting that’s so ideal the fact that it can’t happen makes it all the more heartbreaking. And if there was any doubt, Todd’s look off to the side when Emily suggests that maybe there are some asexuals who could enjoy sex dismisses it more than any verbal response ever could. BoJack Horseman’s great treatment of asexuality continues to have an unbroken track record here, not compromising either Todd or Emily’s alignment at the expense of their feelings.

In the end, an episode full of revisited connections leaves the parties feeling more alone than before, the melancholy of “Last Hurrah” by Vetiver a fitting accompaniment. Todd’s swiping through Emily’s new asexual dating app with only Henry Fondle for company. Princess Carolyn takes a taxi home with only a car seat for company. And BoJack promises to the departing Hollyhock to not take pills unless he needs them, and then plows his Tesla right into oncoming traffic. Well, as shitty as he was to her, at least he’s not lying.

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Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: Splitting the award up yet again for nostalgia’s sake. It’s a treat to have Aparna Nancherla, Raul Esparza, and Abbi Jacobsen around, and even though things are on shaky ground across the board, here’s hoping they remain in the show’s ecosystem.
  • Evidently Philbert’s first season ends with the reveal that Philbert murdered Fritz after Fritz murdered his wife, Philbert and Sassy proclaim their love for each other, and a nuclear missile strike hits Los Angeles. Artistic statement, or renewal-challenging cliffhanger? As Flip would say, “Exactly.”
  • The moment where Hollyhock looks like she’s expecting a hug and BoJack doesn’t reciprocate. :(
  • Interestingly, Princess Carolyn still hasn’t disclosed to anyone—even Ralph—that she only pushed for Philbert to get made because it was named after her unborn child. With season one now in the can, it’s an open question if that part of its origin will ever come to light.
  • “What the hell are goofberries?”
  • “Emily is here to see you.” “Blunt?” “Well, she is a little curt.” “That’s my Emily!”
  • “You okay? You look like you’ve just seen a Ghost In The Shell screening and you’re Scarlett Johansson’s publicist.”
  • “Hey, I almost went to the movies! It’s not my fault there’s nothing good at the 8 p.m. hour. 9:00 is too late, 7:15 is too early—when am I supposed to eat dinner?” Diane = my spirit animal.
  • “Why do Los Angeles people think everyone understands your local references?”
  • “This story specifically? Even the eight dads part?”
  • “Stop me if you’ve heard this one: What?”
  • “Listen, if I were a cop, I’d have pancake breath from the precinct’s weekly pancake dinners! But I don’t, so clearly, not a cop.”
  • “What about if marbles were cube-shaped so they don’t roll away as much?” “No dice.”
  • Today in Hollywoo graffiti:
Screenshot: Netflix

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