Thoughts: BoJack Horseman's trauma and comedy cocktail still has bite
BoJack Horseman is a strange, strange thing. Honestly, it's insane it even exists; it is at once an absurd comedy about an alternate universe Hollywood run by anthropomorphic animals and a touching, psychological analysis of its title character. Season 4 may be the most bizarre and most touching the series has ever been.
When we last left BoJack he had suffered the loss of a close friend, and it was unclear how this would affect him. The season quickly (and wisely) moves away from that climactic event to instead establish the season's arc. Season 4 largely focuses on Bojack's family, notably his aging mother, Beatrice, and a horse who may be his estranged daughter, Hollyhock.
Though initially Hollyhock comes across as an arbitrary plot device, the character becomes an interesting counter to the show's typically nihilist tone. An adopted daughter of eight gay dads, Hollyhock is convinced BoJack is her biological father, and thus she tracks him down for information. She's clearly been loved and appreciated by her parents, giving her an optimistic attitude, but as frustrations foment against BoJack, she reveals a more troubled side that reflects her biological family's anxiety.
Hollyhock allows BoJack to explore his paternal side, which is a little more convincing this time around compared to his relationship with Sarah Lynn. This storyline is presented alongside BoJack's struggle with his abusive mother, a juxtaposition that offers important context. The difficult subject of familial trauma is presented with surprising grace, with each member of the Horseman family given a probing look. One episode features a flashback to Beatrice's youth, where she is seen struggling with an overly critical father. The scenes are contrasted against BoJack's own current-day life where he tries to reconnect with his childhood home.
Throughout the season, it is convincingly explained that BoJack's issues are not new; they're the result of generations of trauma. Coming to grips with this allows him to bond with Hollyhock in a way that he hasn't before. The season wraps with an uncharacteristically happy ending, but it's well-deserved.
Horseman has traditionally been an ensemble show, but Season 4 offers very little for the extended cast to do. Mr. Peanutbutter runs for political office and struggles (once again) with his marriage to Diane, but there isn't much growth for either character. We even leave the two standing once again on the precipice of divorce. Todd explores his asexuality, his big reveal last season, but is otherwise relegated to an uninspired B-plot about marrying a young blonde starlet for publicity. The most promising arc involves Princess Carolyn struggling to give birth to a child with her boyfriend Ralph, but it ultimately devolves into yet another "character becomes a trainwreck" plot. Briefly returning to Diane, one episode even manages to cram feminism and gun rights into one ridiculous episode sandwich, with less than stellar results.
Overall, Season 4 does a good job establishing the series' strengths: BoJack's story is strong and incredibly well developed, showing his nuances in better light than before. It also reveals its weaknesses, which tend to show up whenever the ancillary characters are given too much screentime. But overall, the show remains truly unique in its ability to dwell on serious subject matter with finesse and deliver some of the best gags on television at the same time. It manages to be both heartwarming and infuriating, just like the character in the title.