“The Only Way Out is Through”: Exploring the Emotional Complexities of BoJack Horseman in its Fourth Season

*DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers for the new season of BoJack Horseman. If you have yet to watch the new season, please watch it, and then come back.*

Upon first glance, BoJack Horseman seems like a goofy, Family Guy-esque series—how could a show about a talking cartoon horse possibly get any deeper than this? However, as the show progresses further along, it becomes more twisted and emotionally complex, making it one of the best and most compelling shows in television

By the time viewers get to the fourth season, BoJack is recognized as a deeply troubled and toxic character within the context of all of his previous wrongdoings. He is no longer the same self-deprecating wash-up who wants everyone to love him; instead he’s forced to face his toxicity while it swallows him whole.

As a result, the season begins with BoJack once again disappearing from Los Angeles, this time for an entire year. Diane, who has had an extensive and complicated relationship with BoJack up until this point, constantly leaves him voicemails. At first, they’re all casual, asking how he’s been or if he’s okay.  But gradually, as tension rises in her life, especially while she grapples with Mr. Peanutbutter’s clumsy governor campaign, she tells BoJack how much it hurt for him to tell her how much he needed her before disappearing. Also, with Mr. Peanutbutter’s optimism driving his campaign,  it upsets Diane further as BoJack often added some much-needed cynicism to her life. Now that he’s gone, Diane feels even more out of touch in the superficial “Hollywoo” world, along with the insanity that surrounds her.

Meanwhile, this is the season where even the supporting characters get the most change and growth. Todd is coming to terms with his asexuality in a way no TV show has ever explored before. Princess Carolyn is finally in a fulfilling relationship that’s not with three kids stacked in a trench coat—but it still comes with its complications. We are also introduced to new supporting character Hollyhock, a young horse girl who shows up to BoJack’s vacant house, who recruits Todd to find out if he is her long-lost dad. When BoJack finally returns from his refuge at his family’s abandoned Michigan summer home, he reluctantly agrees to help Hollyhock find out who her mother is, which proves to be nearly impossible considering how many women he has slept with.

While we see BoJack facing many of his demons externally in previous seasons with his drinking, drug abuse, and all around awful choices, this season exposes the inner workings of his blatant depression and anxiety, particularly in the episode Stupid Piece of Sh*t. Here, viewers actually hear what his mind sounds like, which is a cacophony of self-hatred and nihilism. Throughout the episode, he constantly lets Hollyhock down, which causes him to drink himself silly at the bar, or to sit in his car far from his home, where his wave of anxious thoughts intensify. This shows that BoJack now constantly thinks that he’s toxic to everyone he touches, so he naturally reverts back to his old ways of accepting his awful behavior and, therefore, failing to improve. By knowing that he’s going to inevitably let Hollyhock down, he immediately resorts to self-destruction.

He eventually learns that Hollyhock has the same kind of self-hating thoughts, and she innocently asks if it’s just a stupid teenage girl phase that will eventually go away. BoJack, realizing he’s not alone but also that he actually cares about her a lot, lies and says it eventually goes away. This is a major turning point not only in BoJack and Hollyhock’s relationship, but also in his slow character development.

Viewers also finally get the entire background story of BoJack’s mother Beatrice, and why she mistreated him throughout his entire childhood. While Beatrice had a controlling manipulative father, a tragically lobotomized mother, and a lousy marriage, it still didn’t justify or excuse her abuse towards her son, nor could it take back the miserable childhood she gave him. Even as she is going through dementia and falling apart, BoJack wants to tell her how much he hates her. However, when she finally remembers him in a brief flash, he can’t help but be soft to her. This is the reality of a complicated maternal relationship: despite his strong, bitter feelings towards her, he is well aware of her fate, and chooses to comfort her instead. While it’s far from forgiveness, it shows that BoJack has another dimension to his character: he wants to be good, even if it’s allowing his antagonists to have a moment of comfort.

Meanwhile, the often unconventional and complicated marriage between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter finally comes to serious blows, something viewers have been expecting since the first season. Tensions are higher than they’ve ever been, evident by Diane’s escalating dissatisfaction and distaste towards her husband’s effortless endeavors, and his polar opposite happy-go-lucky attitude. But while their relationship is on the brink of destruction, it’s also the closest the two have ever been, especially when they find out that they lust after each other the most during their worst times. This ultimately defines how they’ve stayed together so long: Mr. Peanutbutter can charm and keep Diane happy when times are good, because that’s what he’s good at; and Diane keeps herself afloat on Mr. Peanutbutter’s charms as well as the lust she feels after fights.

What finally throws them over the edge is when Diane realizes he’s never going to truly understand her and meet her needs. Their relationship really only works when Mr. Peanutbutter is in his element and charms Diane with his overwhelmingly wholesome love for her, but he attempts to bend over backwards for her with something he thinks she wants, even if it’s not what she truly wants. This is ultimately how they will always fall apart and why they can’t be together: they both want entirely different things out of their relationship that neither of them can keep giving.

Parallel to this, Princess Carolyn and her seemingly perfect relationship with Ralph experiences turbulence. Much like Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane, their relationship is at its strongest when times are good, when the two meet eye-to-eye on decisions (which is more often than Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane), such as having children. However, PC has some demons of her own that she has actively withheld from arguably one of the best partners she’s ever had, and this causes her to eventually push him away. Ralph’s family expressed their distaste towards cats, and in turn, PC, and PC is unable to communicate with Ralph about her struggles with having children. Ever since the first season, it’s been a well-known fact that PC has always wanted to have kids, and this season brings to light the built up tragedy she has gone through over the years with her inability to want something she can’t have. This, ultimately, is what also destroys what she has with Ralph.

Even Todd, the character often used as comic relief, experiences an important change. While Todd isn’t the first ace character to appear in media, he is one of the first ace characters to be canonically out and exploring his identity. BoJack paves the way for proper asexual representation in a way no mainstream TV show or movie has ever done before. Once Todd accepts himself as an asexual, he grapples with the uncertainty of forming meaningful relationships or even marriages with people who may want things he can’t offer. But this may be the happiest arc in the entire season, because while he struggles with his sexuality, he finds many accepting spaces. During the last episode when he has a meeting with Yolanda the axolotl and she asks him out, the camera pans out after she leaves and comically shows everyone in the diner dressed as Todd. This, in a sense, reveals that there are more people willing to accept him than he thought there was.

This is the heaviest, and also the most well-rounded and emotionally compelling season of BoJack Horseman yet. Every bit of tension that was slowly building up over the past three seasons finally explodes. It used to always be BoJack going through the most dynamic changes, and while this season still focused on his struggles, it was also about the supporting cast going through changes of their own, both uplifting and tragic. The season ends with the feeling that many ends are slowly being tied and season five could very well be the last of the goofy, cynical and thought-provoking show. The real question is whether it will end with BoJack finally knowing what will truly make him happy, or if he will continue to fall back into his tendency to spiral downward.

Rating: A+

(Feature image: ShadowMachine)


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