It says something about BoJack Horseman’s maudlin reputation that a finale that finally acknowledges the crumbling of a relationship, can also be viewed as “hopeful.” And yet, after a season that is the show’s darkest yet, the characterization is a correct one.
The finale of season 3 saw BoJack retreat in hopes of finding peace; its season 4 premiere opens with him still missing and Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) frantically reaching out to him. Even as she aims to contain the political ambitions of her endlessly optimistic husband (played with new nuance this season by Paul F. Tompkins), her mind is still on where BoJack might be, and how long he’s been gone.
The timeline on this season is fuzzy – how long has BoJack been gone? When will he be back? – but for a very deliberate reason. This season, we learn more about how BoJack’s family plays into the morose and hapless persona he inhabits. Both the second episode and the season’s penultimate episode dive into this family history in an ambitious and revealing way. Last season’s standout “Fish Out of Water” demonstrated a commitment to interesting storytelling that is continued in “The Old Sugarman Place” and “Time’s Arrow.” Through the season, we learn that BoJack’s fatalistic nature is more generational than originally thought, and there’s a worry that future generations will carry that burden as well.
To that end, credit where credit is due to Aparna Nancherla for a remarkable turn as Hollyhock, BoJack’s suspected daughter. She made a brief appearance in Season 3 inquiring about her paternity; the exploration of that question over the course of this season reveals a great deal about each of Horseman’s fears, motivations, and ultimately their capacity to care about one another. The material is heavy at times, and Nancherla holds her own beautifully in expressing it. I hope we get more of her in seasons to come. Credit also goes to Amy Sedaris, whose Princess Carolyn also explores both hopeful and dark territory as she seeks to build a life with her mouse boyfriend Ralph. Her material, too, carries an emotional burden previously unexplored in her character- and she, too, holds it well.
This season will likely also be remembered for its commentary on gun violence and Hollywood’s strange relationship with it. “Thoughts and Prayers” features conversations about how gun violence incidents affect box office takes, but also delves into the gendered nature of this frightening phenomenon. As incidents in Las Vegas unfolded not long after the season dropped, it was invoked countless times by my friends and colleagues. Just as with Season 2’s “Hank After Dark,” “Thoughts and Prayers” managed to comment meaningfully on a newsworthy societal issue in a timely fashion. South Park can do this effectively with its quick turnaround, but shows with a longer timeline doing so in a relevant and timeless way is more rare- making this episode an achievement.
Lest you believe that BoJack has lost its funny after all I’ve shared, I draw your attention to the mayoral (and, for a brief moment, ski) race between Mr. Peanutbutter and his opponent Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz, cameos from celebrities like Zach Braff and a surprisingly funny Jessica Biel, and more exploration of Todd “Has This Ever Happened to You?” Chavez’s light-hearted view on the world. His admission early in the season, “I never know if I can handle things. That’s what makes my life so interesting!” might make it to a cross-stitch over my desk. Even in a season that presents so much deep and touching material, there are plenty of reasons to smile, laugh and as we learn by the final shot, hope.