WARNING: Post contains spoilers for Season 4 of Bojack Horseman.
Bojack Horseman has always been a show that is not afraid to explore the darkest parts of its protagonist and doesn’t shy away from the cultural issues of our times. It does so with a mixture of comedy and pathos that no other animated show has come close to matching. Season 4 is no different, and over the course of the 12-episode season we follow our main characters through some of the most challenging times in their lives.
At the end of Season 3, we left Bojack, who is wracked with guilt for his many, many transgressions, escaping L.A. for parts unknown. And he had a lot to feel guilty about. He played a role in the death of his young co-star Sarah Lynn. He engaged in a very inappropriate relationship with Penny, the barely legal daughter of his old friend and would-be lover Charlotte. He took a wrecking ball to basically every friendship he had, and he decided to run away from his problems rather than face them—a very Bojack thing to do.
In Season 4, Bojack continues to struggle with his own demons, not the least of which is his belief that there is something inside him that is intrinsically unworthy of love and friendship. He truly believes, largely due to the emotional abuse suffered in his childhood, that the bad things he does are wired into his DNA. And so it’s appropriate that his storyline this season prominently features both his mother, Beatrice, and Hollyhock, a daughter he never knew about.
When Hollyhock comes into his life, Bojack continues his quest to be a good person and he actually does a decent job of it—at least, it’s decent by Bojack standards. He comes to really care about Hollyhock, and he worries about her because she carries the same Horseman DNA that he does. In his attempt to be a better person for Hollyhock, he takes in his mother, Beatrice, who is suffering from advanced dementia.
Bojack’s struggle to come to terms with his relationship with his mother, who was emotionally abusive and neglectful throughout his life, is a hard road for him. But this season does an excellent job of humanizing Beatrice through flashbacks of her own terrible childhood. Two stand-out episodes that address Beatrice’s life are Episode 2 (“The Old Sugarman Place”) and Episode 11 (“Time’s Arrow”). The latter is a truly haunting portrayal of dementia from Beatrice’s perspective.
Another excellent (and important) piece of this season in Episode 6 (“Stupid Piece of Sh*t”), which is a painfully accurate representation of what depression feels like. We hear Bojack’s inner voice, telling him how worthless he is, feeding his paranoia and anxiety, and fueling his alcoholism. It’s an episode that anyone who suffers from this type of mental illness can relate to and it provides more context for why Bojack does the things that he does.
What Bojack Horseman is consistently great at is making its protagonist a sympathetic character despite all the truly shitty things that he does, and this season goes above and beyond in that department. At the end of the season, when Bojack learns that Hollyhock is not his daughter but his half-sister, the season ends on a hopeful note: Bojack may not be Dad material, but there’s a chance he could be a good brother.
As for the other characters, there were some high points and low points. I tend not to care for anything involving Mr. Peanutbutter, and his misguided, season-long foray into politics didn’t really do it for me. There’s something to be said for the way the show portrays the absolute idiocy surrounding American politics, and using Mr. Peanutbutter—who is in no way qualified for public service—was a decent enough choice, but I just can’t connect with the character in the way that I can with the others.
Diane’s storyline was a bit better. She’s trying to adapt to her new career as a blogger for Girl Croosh, a site that cares more about clicks than real journalism. It’s not a good fit for Diane, who actually cares about the issues facing the world today, and she struggles to write clickbait articles that go against everything she believes in. One of the greatest non-Bojack related parts of the season was in Episode 5 (“Thoughts and Prayers”), which was a scathing critique of Hollywood’s normalization of gun violence in a time when mass shootings are horrifyingly commonplace. It lambastes the perfunctory “thoughts and prayers” tweets from celebrities and politicians in the wake of disasters where direct action should be taken while at the same time exploring sexism and violence against women.
Diane’s storyline also showed the deterioration of her marriage to Mr. Peanutbutter, which has never been particularly great. Until now, Diane has done a decent job of deluding herself into thinking she’s happy with her husband, but Season 4 shows that façade cracking and eventually breaking completely.
Last season Todd came to the realization that he is asexual and this season explores that a bit, although it mostly focuses on Todd’s shenanigans, including another one of his ill-conceived business ideas: clown dentists. I wish that they had focused more on Todd’s exploration of his asexuality, which is something underrepresented in the media, but at least it was addressed. Toward the end of the season, Todd met another ace who seemed interested in him so perhaps next season will give us some representation of a healthy relationship between two aces.
Princess Carolyn’s story this season rivaled Bojack’s for the most affecting. Always the workaholic with terrible taste in men, this season we saw Princess Carolyn in a healthy relationship with Ralph and ready to start a family. It seemed as if her attempt to have it all would be successful and she would finally achieve her dream of being a mother, but she struggled with fertility issues and several miscarriages that eventually ruined her relationship and drove her to go on a Bojack-style bender during which she nearly ruined her career.
In a season where motherhood was front-and-center, Princess Carolyn’s story was a moving contrast to Beatrice’s. Beatrice never wanted a child and Princess Carolyn so desperately wants to be a mother but can’t do so biologically. At the end of the season, Princess Carolyn seems to open up to the idea of adoption, and I hope that she goes for it next season because I believe she would be a good mom and I trust the show to do an excellent job of exploring the experience of adopting a child as a single mother.
Overall, I really enjoyed Season 4 of Bojack Horseman. The strong points are much stronger than the weak points are weak and it’s worth watching for its portrayal of mental illness and dementia alone. Also, despite all the heavy stuff I’ve mentioned, the show is consistently laugh-out-loud funny and the same animal puns and visual gags that characterize the show’s brand of humor are out in full force in this season. As always, Bojack Horseman strikes the perfect balance between dark and light, which with the way the world is today is something I think we all need.