Bojack Horseman : the dynamic portrayal of the reality of depression


Bojack Horseman has not been as heartbreaking as it usually is so far this season. I’d thought that was a side effect of Bojack becoming less of the main focus of the show, and more an equal part of the ensemble; there’s just a lot more things to talk about now then how empty he is. It turns out, the series has been comparatively lighter because it knew it had ‘Stupid Piece of Sh*t’ waiting in the wings.

There’s a lot of dialogue here that might have passed as a joke a couple of seasons or even a couple of episodes ago (lines such as: ‘You don’t wanna stick around, eat breakfast together?’ ‘Great pitch, love your energy! It’s a pass’). But this isn’t funny. It’s uncomfortable, it’s saddening, and it gets very, very dark. It’s no secret that Bojack is struggling with, among many things, depression, and the show has never shied away from exploring the impact that has on his life and relationships. Until now though, that exploration was entirely external, always showing us the damage without really getting into the cause. This episode delves deep into Bojack’s psyche, narrated as it is by the voice of Bojack’s depression. The title refers to the phrase that voice repeats to Bojack all day, as it tells him to do something, then berates him because that was a stupid thing to do (like cookies for breakfast, or going to the bar instead of getting milk). Almost every decision Bojack has to make brings with it a horrendous spiral into all of his anxieties, rendered on screen in manic scribblings. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but it’s an incredibly accurate portrayal of its subject. The nagging voice in Bojack’s head that never lets him win is relentless, and upsetting though it is, it gives us a way of understanding Bojack’s actions that lets us sympathise with him. Because it’s unlikely we would under any other circumstances in this episode.

In the previous episode we got a very good glimpse of the resentment Bojack holds for his mother, but now that they’re living together that frustration comes to a head. After leaving Hollyhock to eat breakfast alone (which clearly hurts her), he comes back to find that she’s given Bea a doll as a stand in for the baby she’s been mumbling about for a little while. This is a problem for Bojack, because his mother actually seems to care about the doll. Events spiral pretty catastrophically from here; Bojack gets jealous of the doll, his depression tells him that’s stupid, that riles him up, he explodes and throws the doll off his porch. His depression even tells him to do it, but the look on Hollyhock’s face is enough to quickly change that tune.

It’s not funny. It’s actually horrendous to watch in a way that even Bojack’s much worse screw up in ‘Escape from L.A’ was. This was just a moment of cruelty, and Bojack knows it. Not wanting to sour Hollyhock’s impression of him, he sets out to get the doll back; but not before another drink. To find the doll, he runs to Diane for help, but settles for Mr Peanut butter after deciding Diane doesn’t need to see him like this. This adds some levity to an otherwise incredibly bleak plot-line; watching him engage in ‘smelling humour’ as he catches the scent of the doll, and then perusing through the streets of Hollywoo is a welcome bit of slapstick.

So too is the subplot for the episode. Desperate to gain traction after the failure of Mis-taken, Courtney Portnoy hires a new agent, and it’s Princess Carolyn’s worst nightmare; Rutabaga Rabbitowitz. It’s great to have Ben Schwartz back on the show, but his character is a sleaze that Princess Carolyn parted ways with seasons ago. Brought in to oversee Todd and Portnoy’s sham wedding (#TortneyChortnoy, in case you were wondering), he does admittedly put on a good show. Even the Stranger Things kids are in on the festivities; that is, until they’re upstaged by Meryl Streep’s retirement party. Queue elaborate and hilarious plan to make that not happen; convincing Meryl to hold off that retirement, and direct a film in which she also plays every character (‘Are you suggesting a Nutty Professor 2: The Clumps type situation?’). That ‘convincing’ takes the form of ‘packaging talent’ in one of the nuttiest capers Hollywoo has ever seen; infiltrating Streep’s Rose Garden to trap her in a box with the contract for the film.

The plot is largely a distraction from Bojack’s bleak ordeal this episode, but it’s some of best fun ever had on the show, and it’s final scene makes an important character point. As Judah astutely asserts, Princess Carolyn is NOT like Rutabaga; she turned her back on that life, she can balance her work with her family, and she’s going to be an excellent mother. Judah’s assertions are very timely, as the positive pregnancy test in Carolyn’s bag once again shines hope in that direction.

But hope is not the order of the day over at camp Horseman. At least, not real hope. Hollyhock, feeling rejected by Bojack’s constant running away, finally tells him that it makes her feel bad. When he tells her that he’s just like this, that it’s not her fault, the most crushing revelation of the whole episode emerges. Hollyhock tells Bojack about the voice in her own head, the one that keeps telling her that people don’t like her, that they’re right to not like her. And she asks him if that voice goes away.

When Bojack says ‘yes’, and lies to her, it’s truly heartbreaking. Not only because the entire episode is evidence to the contrary, but also because there’s nothing else for him to say. If you had a chance to convince someone they’d be okay, wouldn’t you take it? Knowing that it’s a lie hurts, but knowing he couldn’t have possibly told the truth cuts so much deeper. As a wise little girl once said; ‘that’s too much, man’.

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