BoJack Horseman is depressed.
This isn’t news to even casual viewers of the series. It’s been apparent since the very beginning of the series, even if the show made more of an effort then to mislead viewers on how deep that depression goes. It’s not a wall he’s erected to keep people away from him, nor is it a front he’s presenting to earn pity points. It’s a deep and genuine black cloud that hangs over him every day, motivating his addictions, his projects, and his mistreatment of the people he loves. Everything he does is to try to blot out that pain, trying to feel pleasure in spite of it or at the very least even himself out to neutral.
But until “Stupid Piece Of Sh*t,” we’ve never gotten the full perspective of just what it feels like for BoJack to be as depressed as he is. All we see is the actions he undertakes and the repercussions of those actions, but we only hear his external explanation for why he does what he does. Now we get to see the internal version of those explanations, as we spend a few days inside BoJack Horseman’s head. And as expected, it’s a bad place to be, and by design one of the hardest episodes to watch of BoJack Horseman—a series full of episodes that are, by design, hard to watch.
What makes the events of “Stupid Piece Of Sh*t” so hard to watch is the near-constant pace of it. BoJack’s depression manifests as the little voice inside his head, constantly berating him for the decisions and insulting him with every other sentence. I’ve talked about this with friends of mine who grapple with depression, and they’ve agreed the tone and pace are completely accurate in their portrayal. Eat cookies for breakfast? Go to a bar instead of going to get milk? Spend the day parked on the side of Mulholland Drive (no, not that one)? That little voice’s dictation is always the same, that you never stop being garbage and what you do is never good enough. Small wonder he’s as drunk as he is all the time, because at least then he can spend time trying to remember the existence of the Brooke Shields classic Suddenly Susan.
As hard as it is to hear BoJack’s internal voice, it’s even harder to see what it looks like inside his head. BoJack Horseman’s gotten increasingly comfortable inserting other art styles into its episodes—the digressive stories of last season’s “It’s You,” Voice-Over Actor Keith David’s story of Todd’s heroism in “Hooray! Todd Episode!”—and now they’re on the main stage. And if the earlier drawings created an idyllic storybook feel, these are the etchings of a desperate mania. It’s a series of jagged caricatures that look less like they were drawn than carved on the inside of BoJack’s skull, Herb and Penny and Sarah-Lynn and what he did to them ingrained so deep he can never cover them up.
“Stupid Piece Of Sh*t” shows what BoJack thinks about himself, and it’s also brutally honest about what those thoughts make him do. The presence of Bea in the house is turning up the heat on all the resentments he’s left simmering for decades, particularly with her newfound fascination with a baby doll Hollyhock bought her. It’s an item that for BoJack is pure catalyst, because in his mind there’s no motivation for this that’s acceptable either she’s deliberately mothering this child to rub BoJack’s own terrible childhood in his face, or she’s so blanked out that she doesn’t remember any of said childhood. And once again, his orange juice-chugging rage comes out, ripping the doll from her arms and waving it around in what’s probably the most vitrolic moment he’s had in the entire series:
I know! What if for eighteen years straight I just tell it how worthless it is every day, how it embarrasses me, how my life would be better if it was never born?! Would that be a good idea?! Probably, right?!
And BoJack’s internal voice, that’s spent so much of his life telling him these exact same things, tells him one more destructive thing when he jokes about throwing the baby over the balcony: “Do it.” He does, and after it does there’s no assurance that it was the right thing to do, no validation coming from the voice even when he follows its directions. Just the refrain about his disastrous existence. It’s like the tar pits Charlotte warned him about so long ago, dragging him down whether or not he struggles.
Such relentless negativity needs a heavy counterbalance, which BoJack finds in Mr. Peanutbutter for the second main character reunion of the season. It’s good to see the two of them returning to be each others foils, both in the sillier moments of Mr. Peanutbutter trying to get the scent of Beatrice and the more somber moments at the bar when he’s asking BoJack about his daughter. (Well, slightly more somber: “She’s new, right? Or was she always part of the gang?”) But while Mr. Peanutbutter cuts the tension in these scenes, he also makes it worse when he suggests BoJack just not do the things he does to “BoJack” things up. It calls to mind Gretchen’s exhausted rants to Jimmy in You’re The Worst season two: even with BoJack Horseman regularly demonstrating Mr. Peanutbutter’s capability for deeper emotions, he’s got no way of understanding the miasma inside his frenemy’s head.
And BoJack is either unwilling or incapable of explaining that miasma to anyone else, not giving Hollyhock any substantive explanation for his actions beyond the “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse. It’s another sad consequence of depression, the way you can convince yourself for one reason or another that keeping your pain to yourself is the right choice, that no one would understand it. And it’s a decision that regularly has lasting concerns. Hollyhock admits she hears her own voice picking away at her from time to time and asks if it’s just some “dumb teenage girl thing,” and BoJack does what one episode prior he promised he’d stop doing, and he lies to her. It’s a wrenching close, and even worse because after what we’ve seen it makes sense that he’d do it. If you’ve lived with that voice your entire life, and could make someone else believe it goes away, wouldn’t you?
That’s some terrifically dark stuff, which the episode’s b-story manages to liven up by introducing one of the grandest Hollywoo productions in a while. The collapse of Ms. Taken means Courtney Portnoy is searching for new representation and more positive coverage, leading to the return of Rutabega Rabitowitz. Ben Schwartz’s commitment to Rutabega’s smarminess is always a fun flavor in BoJack Horseman, here as the delivery system to produce a wedding (#TortneyChortnoy) in only four days. It’s an exercise in coming up with the most topical and buzz-worthy wedding details, from Jaden Smith reciting poetry to using the kids from Stranger Things as ring-bearers. (I don’t know if references like the latter are included at the request of Netflix or not, but if they are, kudos to BoJack’s writers for managing to keep them feeling organic.)
The prospect of being in a sham marriage also delves deeper into Todd’s asexuality, and it’s great to see BoJack Horseman continue to explore the different dimensions of that spectrum. It continues to tread this largely unexplored territory respectfully, using an ace meeting to discuss some of the possible relationships that can exist in the spectrum without limiting the categorization. And while there’s still plenty of confusion on Todd’s part—largely nautical in nature—it’s confusion that’s more intrinsic to Todd’s general scattered headspace as a person. He’s defining what he wants for himself, and in the process learning how to say no to the endless stream of requests that his friends direct his way.
The degree of this plot also means that we’re getting Princess Carolyn back in a business mentality after most of the season has focused on her quest for parenthood. And while it’s great to see her humming away on a way to keep Meryl Streep in the game—up to and including trapping her under a box—it also raises the same old concerns about her ability to balance work and home lives. Rutabega, still a garbage person, doesn’t help much when he’s willing to go home at six when Princess Carolyn’s trying to get another all-night session going.
Thankfully, there’s the wonderful Judah there to remind her and the audience of a key point: she’s not Rutabega and never will be. She walked away from being like that when she left him in the lurch in “Out To Sea,” and from all signs this season she’s making an effort to balance Vim and Ralph in equal measure. She’s possessed of empathy alongside her organization skills, positive traits will translate well into motherhood—a motherhood that, as her pregnancy test confirms, is on its way. It’s a flicker of hope in an episode where that emotion is in short supply.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: It feels odd to for once to not even consider the show’s cornucopia of brilliant guest stars, but Will Arnett is sublime as BoJack’s internal monologue. He carries this show so completely, and especially carries this episode in the way he wrings every last bit of pain and self-loathing out of the script. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the best work of his entire career. (Apologies to Gob Bluth, Devon Banks, Steve Wilde, Chris Brinkley, Chip, and Batman.)
- Closing track: “Blood In The Cut,” K.Flay.
- Diane shares all of her unhealthy sex life details with Roxanne, and then proceeds to completely ignore her in favor of offering Todd marriage advice. Come on Diane, this is the woman who performed your wedding ceremony!
- Bea curses at BoJack as a “worthless waste of my husband’s jism,” which BoJack takes as validation that she knows who he is after all. Yet she’s calling him Henrietta again in the next breath. Either her dementia comes and goes with rapidity, or Hollyhock might not be the only previously unknown Horseman out there.
- It turns out that Felicity Huffman owns the house directly underneath BoJack’s, and for the past fifteen years has been subjected to a sea of lit cigarettes, beer bottles, scripts where the lead actor is female, and regurgitated cotton candy. “Who you think has to deal with that?” BoJack: “I assume your maid or gardener or something?” Felicity Huffman: “Well, yeah. But it’s still super-obnoxious.”
- That looks like Mr. Peanutbutter’s Hollywoo Heist, a.k.a. a bimonthly curated box of snacks from “One Trick Pony,” on the Vim conference table.
- “But Courtney, more importantly, audiences are going to adore your tour de force performance as the forceful denim-clad court reporter in The Court Reporter Sported Jorts, the jet-setting jort-sporting court reporter story.” Okay, you can stop now, BoJack Horseman.
- “It’s always nice to be included in a sentence someone says.”
- “Is it possible the baby got dipped in brandy at some point? Or cigarettes, or regressive ideas about immigrants?”
- “BoJack Horseman! What is this, a will.i.am-style endorsement video?”
- “It was a nautical wedding. We just really like boats.”
- “We are doing to this wedding what Rob Durst did to that lady and what Fred Durst did to his career.”
- “If I die, know that I have seen heaven and it is Meryl Streep’s rose garden!”
- “I choose words very carefully, with an eye towards precision and expediency. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed that.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, internal monologue edition: