This article contains spoilers for BoJack Horseman seasons 1–4
The fourth season premiere of BoJack Horseman didn’t feature the title character at all. On the one hand, it was an impressive demonstration of how fully developed these characters, and their world, have become. The phrase “supporting cast” does not apply to what is clearly an ensemble show, which pulled off a spectacular season premiere without BoJack himself or, for that matter, Todd. He finally gets his moment under a very bright spotlight in episode 3, but first: where’s BoJack?
The Old Sugarman Place picks up immediately where the season 3 finale left off — BoJack has pulled over his car after an aimless, desperate drive, and seemingly has an epiphany as he spots a group of horses running. Clearly, he’s starting to understand on some level: the goal is to move forward. So obviously, he’s going back to Hollywoo to mourn Sarah Lynn, reconnect with Diane, try to make things right with Todd, and figure out what’s next in his career, right?
Nope. First he notices that Diane is reaching out to him, and begins blocking her. He’s going to continue to ignore her several attempts to reach out to him for a while, in the vain hope of “being better.” It’s worth noting that he is not merely continuing his narcissistic cycle of pushing people away, but that he genuinely wants to improve himself, specifically for Diane. This ongoing journey is going to intertwine with Diane’s own journey of self-discovery, and Mr. Peanutbutter’s ineptness, and inability to please her.
But more on that later this season.
Next stop: Michigan, where BoJack creeps us all out and things get extremely dark, at the abandoned, decrepit childhood home of his abusive mother, Beatrice.
BoJack Horseman has always had many facets; last year, show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg told Vice: “I still don’t know if we’re telling the story of, ultimately, BoJack’s redemption or more of BoJack bottoming out.” In this season, the show embraces an element it has been flirting with since season 1: tragedy.
This episode’s set is home to generations of Sugarman trauma — the kind that is passed down through generations, the kind that leads a mother to tell her grown son “you were born broken.”
While ghosts from his past frolic and mourn, giving the audience an entirely new perspective on the awful history of BoJack’s parents and grandparents, BoJack decides to patch the old place up with a lot of help from a dragonfly named Eddie (or, more accurately, Eddie does all the work; BoJack is pretty much in the way).
As the reconstruction continues, it becomes increasingly clear that nothing in this house is worth saving: BoJack is actually conducting home improvement on his mind and heart, while simultaneously trying to save old Eddie, in whom he sees a fellow broken soul.
BoJack’s mother, like her family, was indeed broken long before he ever had a chance. Her carefree, fun-loving older brother Crackerjack (guest Lin-Manuel Miranda) went off to fight the Nazis, and didn’t come home. This crushed her mother beyond repair, which led her to tell a young Beatrice that love is poison, and make her swear a solemn vow to never love anyone as much as she had loved her son. Bea makes that promise, and as we all know by now, she kept it; and that toxicity affected everyone she came in contact with, particularly her own son BoJack.
As all this is happening, Bea’s father Joseph refuses to deal with emotions — his own, over the loss of his son, and in particular, the distasteful, confusing emotions of the women he shares his life and home with. He does a masterful job of ignoring and disrespecting them, and when it becomes too much for him to deal with, he does something truly horrific to his wife, which leaves her damaged beyond repair — damage that is passed directly to Beatrice, who will later share this misery and horror with her own family, in her own way.
As BoJack and Eddie rebuild the house and bond with one another, the ghosts of Beatrice’s childhood play out a history of a family defined by humor, music, love, and a healthy dose of patriarchal sexism. One nazi’s bullet changes everything and soon, all that’s left is the toxic sexism. Beatrice’s mother is so deeply shattered by the loss of Crackerjack, that her clueless husband decides the only way to restore her peace of mind — perhaps more importantly, his own heartless peace and quiet — by trying to remove her memories in the most grotesque, heartless manner imaginable. You’ll need to give yourself a moment to remind yourself that these are anthropomorphized, cartoon horses, this moment is very real, very dark, and incredibly human.
The Sugarman family is truly broken, the line cursed; thankfully, BoJack and a now old and dying Beatrice are all that’s left. Well, that and the Old Sugarman Place, which Eddie and BoJack successfully restore to it’s pre-war beauty.
Eddie has ghosts of his own, and BoJack’s attempts at getting to the roots of them via some probing questions do not lead to successful bonding — rather, he pokes the firefly one too many times, and Eddie nearly kills them both in a murder/suicide. BoJack manages to save both of their lives, and decides enough time has gone by. Sarah Lynn is gone, he has mourned her (and watched the TV movie, starring Paul Giamatti wearing a horse mask), and it’s time to return to Hollywoo.
BoJack may not be better, but his old family home is. So, naturally, he brings in a wrecking crew to raze the old ghost house, before telling Michigan to suck a dick, dumbshits. Time’s arrow marches on. Now, it’s time for BoJack to catch up with old friends, foes, and for all of us to find out what’s new with Todd.
This article was originally published on Medium.