Midway through “INT. SUB,” one character cuts off another’s narrative with a complaint: “I’m think I’m having a hard time following the story because of how weird you made the characters.” It’s the latest instance of BoJack Horseman going meta with an acknowledgment of its own oddness. The show is simultaneously bright and colorful and populated with characters that have jokey names, and it’s also capable of the rawest demonstrations of rage and grief. Yet somehow, the two tones never work in opposition. If anything, they make the show better: its inherent weirdness makes it easier to both counteract its emotional beats, and amplifies them thanks to the incongruity of its setting.
That idea of shaded storytelling, and using inherent weirdness to hide some deeper truths, is subtext made text throughout most of “INT. SUB.” Characters recounting the events of an episode is nothing new for BoJack Horseman, with “Stop The Presses” standing as the most memorable example. This time, however, the story is being narrated by two people who are outside our central team, and they’re shading the story with aliases of increased nonsense. And while they’re making it weirder than usual, with the background we have it’s easy to follow to its expected conclusions.
The delivery of this framing device is a pleasant surprise, showing BoJack’s other storytelling trick of playing multiple long games remains in effect. When we met Diane’s overly talkative therapist in “The Dog Days Are Over,” I didn’t even mention it in my review as it was nowhere near the best joke in the episode, and I didn’t think it was worth chiding the show for an underwhelming use of Insecure’s Issa Rae. Now Dr. Indira returns to have dinner with her wife Mary Beth (Wanda Sykes) at Sandro’s Place, and over dinner we see that her inability to adhere fully to doctor-patient confidentiality is a trait that runs in the marriage.
Dr. Indira’s first move is to recast BoJack as BoBo the Angsty Zebra—and subsequently recasting the entire series with a revamped intro, which you can add to the list of arguments for why Netflix should disable its “Skip Intro” feature. It adds an early degree of fun to the episode, anticipation for when the next swap is going to come up and further heighten the bizarro feeling of this parallel universe. Diane becomes Princess Diana, Mr. Peanutbutter becomes Mr. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, and Gina gets a gender-swap complete with mustache. The clear highlight is Flip becoming Flippy the dolphin, his recent case of writers’ block conveyed through a series of desperate whistles and clicks. (Background joke icing on the cake: all of his writer’s room notes simply read “EEEEE.”)
Beyond the cosmetic changes, most of “INT. SUB” is a standard BoJack Horseman plot, albeit one that furthers the season’s renewed investment in the connection/conflicts between BoJack and Diane. Still unable to process his feelings about his mother’s death, BoJack is simultaneously refusing to talk about it and making it clear how badly he should talk about it. And while Diane has a better track record than most at getting him to say what’s on his mind, she’s still reeling from her open questions about the tape recording Ana played for her in “BoJack The Feminist.” Their respective broken qualities aren’t fitting together, and at this point they could use some help working through their issues and hitting middle ground.
Any hope that Dr. Indira could be that middle ground falls apart though, as BoJack tries to call her out and winds up her patient. (Or “new best friend” as he’d put it, still refusing to admit that he’s participating in anything approximating therapy.) If Diane was more in the wrong back in “The Dog Days Are Over,” BoJack is so clearly in the wrong here, blatantly ignoring her request to let her keep Dr. Indira for herself. And it’s made all the worse by the fact that BoJack isn’t being rude or knowingly abusive, he genuinely can’t recognize that in denying his own problems he’s just creating a bunch of new ones.
Mary Beth’s narrative, meanwhile, is a lighter counterpoint to the seriousness of BoJack and Diane’s conflict. (And we know it’s the lighter counterpoint because she tells us that, one of a few lampshade moments that the episode could have stood to cut out.) Her task as a corporate mediator is to settle a string cheese-related dispute between Todd and Princess Carolyn—or rather, “Emperor Fingerface” and “Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning In The Shape Of A Woman.” It’s a staggering bit of visual nonsense more associated with an Adult Swim series, something birthed out of the deepest depths of Lisa Hanawalt’s sketch book and rendered with maximum loopiness by director Aaron Long. And it’s also a nice indication of the difference between Indira and Mary Beth, the latter more likely to go crazy with her aliases but better at biting her tongue before saying the first syllable of the real name.
While thinly justified, it’s a conceit that allows the sequence to have a lot of fun. Hanawalt, Walker Farrel, and their creative team have a blast with the exaggerated visual designs of both characters, opened for plenty of gags as they go beyond their usual physicality. Similarly, credited writer Alison Tafel gets to go a nonsensical place, with insults that are only personal in this instance (“You literal knucklehead!” “That’s a solid diss coming from a gas!”) The two approaches culminate in a heated discussion that’s one of the season’s best flights of fancy yet, a debate about which foods are fair game that’s sure to spark many a debate with viewers.
The extra degree of weirdness is also necessary here because as far as BoJack plots go, this isn’t as complicated a fight as some others on the series. The relationship between Todd and Princess Carolyn is a largely transactional one—Todd gets a crazy idea and Princess Carolyn tries to monetize it, Princess Carolyn has a task and Todd finds a way to screw it up—only broken up by some clown dentistry and post-miscarriage bender synergy. Their fight is brief because, weirdly, their transactional way of thinking clicks better than most pairings on this show, and they can easily see past their initial bitterness and talk things out. And the reveal that Todd had the cheese in his pocket the entire time—and missed grabbing it on two prior occasions—is the perfect beat to show how silly this fight was.
If there’s a point to make against “INT. SUB,” it’s that the best part of the episode comes when it dispenses with its framing device. Diane, incensed at BoJack’s callous attitude towards therapy and drawing an equivalence between their problems, takes advantage of Flip’s writer’s block to craft a new scene. On the heels of BoJack’s observation that he’s losing track of when he’s playing Philbert and when he’s BoJack, Diane plows a submarine right into those boundaries by taking his confession and setting it to dialogue. It’s as rough to hear it scripted as it was to hear it organic, especially with the loaded meaning. If BoJack won’t talk to her, Diane will put literal words in his mouth, and make him say the things he’s too unaware or too cowardly to admit. (Plus, before the revelation, it’s fun to see what the show’s dynamic is, raising hopes for a later season five episode to be straight-up Philbert.)
“I’m sure you helped them in ways you’ll never know,” Mary Beth reassures Indira shortly before they depart the episode. Ironically, she’s right, in that her insertion into and subsequent departure from the story has forced a tipping point. If actions speak louder than words, Diane’s repurposing of BoJack’s confession—and subsequent glances the two exchange after Flip calls cut—is about as loud as it gets. They know enough of it to know that things have changed between them, and not for the better. And it’s an open question if knowing the full story is going to help.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Issa Rae and Wanda Sykes work together flawlessly as Dr. Indira and Mary Beth, switching between stories in a way that makes their marriage feel lived-in from the opening scene. The quick aside about Mary Beth not liking Indira’s hairstyle—sorry, Dr. Underwear’s hairstyle—is a particularly great detail.
- It would have given away all of the best jokes to see it in BoBo’s opening credits, but I do hope that that the BoJack production team swapped out all of the characters for their alternative versions and we get to see that at a later date. (Also a bit surprised that they didn’t record yet another version of the theme song for the closing credits, but I suppose Bobo, angst, and zebra aren’t the easiest words to set to music.)
- Mr. Peanutbutter finally realizes this week that his parents aren’t on a farm, unintentionally taking all of the love and support that BoJack was very clear he totally didn’t want.
- Callback: Dr. Indira and Mary Beth attend couples counseling from Dr. Janet, who was introduced in “Love And/Or Marriage” as the therapist for Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter.
- Great sight gag in Mary Beth’s story where Todd’s office gentleman is transformed into the couch, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-style.
- Pecking order of Hollywoo actresses: Jessica Chastain takes the roles Amy Adams says no to, Bryce Dallas Howard takes the roles Jessica Chastain says no to. Jessica Biel is most likely about five or six rows down from there.
- Gina was once on a show called Murder Stoppers, where production shut down due to Nick Nolte refusing to leave the trailer. “He wasn’t even on the show! He was just in one of our trailers and we couldn’t get him out.”
- “It’s so tough being Princess of Wales. Like, I can’t be all things to all whales!”
- “I can’t eat while I’m terrified! That’s why I’ll never know the delicious crunch of Count Chocula.”
- “So when Jerry Lewis mistook me for the valet, he was carrying so much pain that I could never fathom, and that realization allows me to forgive, not for his sake, but for mine.”
- “Gah, emotionally naked!”
- “Who else would I get to keep my keys cold?”
- “It’s just good to have someone to talk to.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: