“BoJack Horseman” Season Four Shows New Sides of Characters
Issue   |   Tue, 10/03/2017 - 23:39
While it did not surpass last season’s popularity, the end of season four presents one of the series stronger finales.

Netflix’s favorite alcoholic horse returned last month with its highly anticipated fourth season. Through its previous three seasons, “Bojack Horseman” has left me heartbroken almost as many times as Amherst has, which is saying quite a lot. When I first started watching, I never expected a vulgar, adult-oriented cartoon to be so relatable on topics such as anxiety, depression, abortion, sexism and generational trauma. This season, BoJack and the rest of the Hollywoo residents go through harrowing ordeals in which they somehow manage to reach both their highest and lowest points in the series so far, making it the show’s most uneven season since the first. The season is at its strongest point toward the end, however, and those highs are the highest the show has had so far.

Ultimately, this season feels like the beginning of the second chapter of “BoJack.” The status quo was broken at the end of last season as we see the main characters split up in several different directions. BoJack left Hollywoo and Princess Carolyn got a caring boyfriend and became a manager again. Diane started work at a Buzzfeed-esque blog and Mr. Peanutbutter started a campaign as governor of California. The first half of the season sees the characters navigating their new lives and dealing with the negative consequences of their relationships. Their separation creates a very noticeable absence of the main cast’s brilliant chemistry at the beginning of the season, and the banter is sorely missed. I considered the relationships between the main cast to be one of the best parts of the explorations of their character, and to have them separated for most of this season felt a little disappointing.

For most of this season, the characters stay firmly entrenched in their own intrapersonal and marriage issues. The lampoons toward celebrity culture are surprisingly toned down this season in favor of political satire. The season was written during Trump’s presidential campaign and it definitely shows. The jabs toward an incompetent leader turned popular through appealing to the people’s fears are apparent throughout Mr. Peanutbutter’s gubernatorial campaign as he competes with his truly qualified but slightly spineless opponent. These jokes were honestly hit-or-miss: most jabs are predictable, and only one episode (the fifth one of the season, which takes place entirely in Mr. Peanutbutter’s house) really lets these jokes find their stride. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, as usual, have ideological disagreements about the campaign and are forced to question the stability of their marriage. I have never been a fan of Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane as a couple, and it was satisfyingly frustrating to see them fail to confront their problems directly.

The animal puns and background humor remain this season, especially with Princess Carolyn relaying her wild movie pitches to her clients. It is sometimes easy to forget that “BoJack Horseman” is a comedy, what with the bleak themes, but “BoJack” has always been great when it embraces the cornier side of its world set-up.

Speaking of Princess Carolyn, she gets the rare chance to build a new life for herself this season. Her boyfriend Ralph Stilton has moved in with her and they are eagerly anticipating conceiving their first child, hypothetically named “Philbert.” Princess Carolyn has always been the second most compelling character after BoJack; I have always wanted her to be as happy in life as she is successful at her job, a theme that’s commonly explored in today’s media. However, this season sees her coming to terms, yet again, with the practicality of her grand plans for happiness. Episode nine, in particular, focuses on a day in the life of Princess Carolyn narrated by a distant descendant, and is the closest thing this season gets to an “experimental” episode akin to “Fish Out of Water” from last season.

BoJack, as a character, is at his most vulnerable this season. After running away, he still has to deal with all the old problems of his depression, alcoholism and cynicism, but this season the stakes are lower — or, depending on how you look at it, higher — because he is dealing with family. A teenage girl arrives at BoJack’s door alleging to be his daughter. This character is a warm, somewhat awkward presence: you can see traces of BoJack in her, particularly in her self-loathing tendencies, but you can also see a fundamental intelligence, goodness and impressionability about her. It’s only natural that BoJack thinks he needs to save her from himself, yet also cannot resist trying to be her father. Also, BoJack’s abusive mother, now suffering from dementia, ends up under his care.

The season is truly at its emotional strongest when it focuses on the Sugarman/Horseman family. It is relatable, human and traumatizing. We get to see BoJack handle non-Hollywoo related problems, where he cannot use his ego to cause destruction for himself publicly. We get more to the root of his self-loathing than we’ve ever been this series, and we see his family history, which ultimately explains even more about his character. The last two episodes of this season affected me emotionally to a point where I was nearly uncomfortable. I almost did not want to finish the season, because I was afraid of how much I would relate to the sadness happening on screen. Although I appreciate the show’s existential themes, there is no denying that you have to be in the right mood for it.

This is not the best season of “BoJack Horseman” — that would probably still be season 3 — but it is the best exploration of the title character. With a few character worthy exceptions, the Hollywoo stories are not as strong, the chemistry between the cast is worse and the political satire pervades a bit too much of the humor. However, this season’s ending was the series’ absolute best. BoJack’s story manages to be both utterly depressing and utterly uplifting in the most visceral ways this season. The end of this season broke me, so I won’t say anything about it here. I got the sense that he was trying, for the first time, to show that he isn’t broken and that he can build a better life for himself. One of the geniuses of this show is that its characters have good intentions, but, like for all of us here in the real world, nothing ever goes according to plan.