We’re only looking at one episode of Bojack Horseman this week, simply because episodes five and six are so dense, and need a lot of attention each. In the case of ‘Thoughts and Prayers’, it’s due to the episode’s topical satire, but there are also some important plot developments we’ll get to later. Bojack has a history of tackling social and political issues, and this season takes on perhaps the bravest topic yet; gun violence. Or rather, media responses to gun violence. It’s taken as a given that mass shootings are a bad thing, so none of the humour is aimed in that direction.
The skewering begins immediately, as Lenny Turtletaub (J. K Simmons) laments a recent mass shooting. ‘Where?’ he asks. But ‘not geographically, what’s the location?’. The outrage only comes once it’s revealed it occurred in a shopping mall, which is a problem for upcoming action flick Mis-Taken, the entire third act of which ‘revolves around Cortney Portnoy shooting people in a mall!’. Turtletaub is outraged real violence is getting in the way of his film violence; when his assistant tries to explain that that’s kind of a vicious cycle, he shuts him up. It’s a lot more blunt than Bojack’s satire usually is, which sets the tone for rest of the episode’s discussion; a whole lot of worrying about the movie, and a whole lot of shallow sentiments about ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the victims (that phrase actually becomes a great, scathing refrain that underpins the whole episode).
The plot gets quite a bit more dense once Diane gets involved. After Cortney resolves a potential assault by drawing a firearm, Diane becomes a gun nut, and writes a very successful article for Girl Croosh about it. The resultant surge in women getting carry permits leads the episode to a discussion about the media’s attitude to women. A Ryan Seacrest Type is joined by A Billy Bush Type to crack the obligatory period joke, congratulate these gals on their ‘hobbies’, and plough forward with the confidence of a straight white male. The points are sharp, but their delivery is once again blunt.
So far, the actual government have been spared from the satire, but they come into play once a woman commits a mass shooting, which spurs a congressional hearing on the matter. This short scene is by far the sharpest, and by extension funniest, satire in the whole episode. Diane gives a speech about women only feeling safe when ‘the men around them allow them to be’, and gives congress a choice; fix your broken, misogynist society, or ban all guns.
They ban all guns.
Aside from this final scene, this is the weakest of the show’s topical episodes. “Hank After Dark” and “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” keep their humour sharp, and ground the story in the personal arcs of the characters at the centre of it all. “Thoughts and Prayers” does neither of those things; the humour is not humour so much as a list of blunt talking points. It also sacrifices character for the sake of those points. Princess Carolyn is practical, and very good at her job, but given the subject matter she’s dealing with, she just comes across as ruthless and cruel. Only Todd seems to realize how awful it is that she’s trying to spin mass shooting in favour of a film; one might expect that kind of callousness from the likes of Rutabaga Rabbitowitz, but not from Princess Carolyn.
Much more deserving of screen time in this episode is Bojack and Hollyhock’s plot. After immediately (and hilariously) admitting he was lying about ‘Carla Mercedes Benz-Brown’ being her mother, Hollyhock decides she wants to meet her grandmother. Bojack hasn’t spoken to Bea since her phone call in season two, but regular flashbacks have made it very clear that the Horseman Household was an abusive place for young Bojack. That Bojack is a complete jerk to her is not surprising, but there are a few other surprises. For one thing, Bea recognizes Hollyhock, and tells her she looks ‘just like him’, referring presumably to Bojack. But here’s the kicker; she doesn’t recognize Bojack. She mistakes him for some unknown ‘Henrietta’. Dementia has set in, and it’s clear that this is no longer the woman Bojack holds a grudge against, but that doesn’t stop him. After a cruel attempt to get her to recognize him goes awry, Bea gets removed from her care home, and comes to stay with Bojack and Hollyhock.
Perhaps Bojack went a little overboard this episode, but from what we know, he has every right to hold a grudge. We’ve also seen glimpses of Bea’s own abuse at the hands of her father in ‘The Old Sugarman Place’, though, so perhaps we’re building to a more complicated portrait of their relationship. Whatever the case, Bojack has an opportunity here to either step right back into the darkness of his old self, or finally let that go and try to be something new. I’m sure he’ll do a little of both, but if previous episodes are any indication, there’ll be plenty more of the former. I’m already dreading the penultimate episode.