BoJack Horseman‘s first season changed completely with its eighth episode, “The Telescope.” To that point, BoJack had been what most people expected: a funny, often weightless satire of Hollywood culture, relying on a mix of animal humor and tales of immaturity and failure to carry itself through each half-hour episode. There are hints of something darker and much more personal early on, but it’s not until “The Telescope” introduces us to Horsin’ Around creator Herb Kazzaz that the show’s pathos comes into focus. For the first time since that episode – which featured BoJack wrestling a cancer-ridden Herb – “Still Broken” returns BoJack and his friends to Herb’s mansion, and again captures the existential dread that rests at the heart of BoJack Horseman.
Legacy is something we all think about as adults; what will be our lasting mark on the world, the one contribution to society and the people we care about, that will keep our names lasting into eternity? It’s a silly pursuit, of course: the simple fact is the overwhelming majority of us will not be remembered in any significant way by the world. Our legacy really rests in the hands of our family: be it by last name or life-long friendship, the people we surround ourselves through life are really the ones in charge of our memory. BoJack as a whole, is an exploration of what happens to people searching for a legacy they can’t find: be it BoJack, Todd, Diane, or Princess Carolyn, BoJack is about people searching for their purpose in life, trying to make a lasting mark in a town without a memory, detailing the selfish pursuits of our protagonists as they attempt to have a profound impact on their lives, and those around them.
Herb’s funeral brings this conversation to the forefront again for BoJack; there are many disappointments in his life, but BoJack always clings on the possibility of redemption, the chance that if he ever manages to keep it together, he might be able to set things right with the world and be remembered as a legend. With Herb, however, there is no chance at redemption: after his cancer went into remission, Herb dies when he crashes his car into a peanut truck, instantly killing him because of his severe peanut allergy. There’s no chance for BoJack to make things right, to reconcile with the man who made him famous, and who BoJack let get ridiculed when he was outed as gay: and as he struggles with that fact, he tries to find meaning in Herb’s life in order to bring himself some inner peace.
Yet, sometimes in life there is no resolution: as Law and Order: SVU star Henry Winkler so eloquently puts it: “There’s no shame in dying for nothing – it’s why most people die.” BoJack can’t accept this fact, though: how could Herb just die without ever publishing his book (which turns out to be terrible) or having the Horsin’ Around reunion special they always wanted? Unlike the comedy he starred on, there’s no easy resolution for something so complicated and damaged; as hard as he may try to bring his co-stars together, their ‘family’ is irreparably broken without its paternal presence, time having severed any meaningful connection they had with each other (plus BoJack slept with Bradley Hitler-Smith’s mother, causing a divorce in their family). There is no chance for Herb to secure his legacy, and be remembered by everyone as the intelligent, caring man he always was: BoJack sabotaged that, and “Still Broken” uses that unresolved conflict as stark reminder of the finality of death, and how it often comes without the philosophic enlightening we often hope it will.
“Still Broken,” despite its wonderful sense of humor, is an extremely sad episode of BoJack Horseman; the solemnity of Herb’s passing is not forgotten by writer Mehar Sethi, with a script that inserts nearly every prominent minor character in the show’s brief history in one room, breaking up scenes with occasional flashbacks to two important moments in time: filming the pilot for Horsin’ Around, and what happened in the aftermath of Herb’s shaming and subsequent firing, severing the family’s connection to each other and driving everyone into life-long battles with depression and insecurity. Centered around a treasure hunt that is explicitly written to be a massive disappointment (to both participants and audience), the external plot of “Still Broken” exists to reinforce the ideals of BoJack’s spiritual journey throughout the series, giving voice to the reasons why BoJack so desperately clings onto a life and a family that died three decades ago.
Although “Still Broken” features a pretty pedestrian plot that only leaves Herb’s mansion in flashbacks, there’s a lot of important moments sprinkled through this episode, all bringing back the haunting themes of the first season’s latter half, that the opening hour of BoJack‘s sophomore effort have only visited in passing. From the presence of Charlotte (who pops up from Santa Fe to smoke a cigarette with BoJack, and laugh at his dreams of her living in Maine) to the return of his Horsin’ Around children and their depressing lives, “Still Broken” is a reminder that there’s often no neat resolution to life – and when that random moment comes and it ends, our name only lives on inside those that truly carry our memory with them. When that fades away, so does our legacy: like the beautiful (fake) sunset young, drunk Herb and BoJack look at on the set of The Love Boat, memories are fleeting, indefinite, and beautiful, in their own haunting way. But every sunset fades; as BoJack tries to reconcile that fact within himself, BoJack Horseman as a whole once again finds its pathos, and delivers a knockout story at the heart of an otherwise predictable episode of silly, weightless subplots.
– Creepy things we learn about Sarahlynn’s stepfather; he was a bear who home schooled her, which mostly consisted of “photography lessons”. She also recognizes the taste of bear fur. This may be the darkest story line BoJack has ever breached, and I’m not sure I need any more of it, as cleverly as its disposed here.
– There’s a shark trying to surf next to a human; the human running away in fear might be the saddest single moment of the whole episode, oddly enough.
– Joelle Clarke has somehow become British and now works as a theater actress (inspired by Herb, as we see in a flashback): she’s also quite liberal with her use of the dreaded c-word, which she drops to hilarious effect on Sarahlynn.
– Princess Carolyn and Todd each get stuck in their own pointless plots: Todd find Urkel’s Transformation Machine and briefly becomes cool, and Carolyn spends the wake telling fake stories about her friendship with Herb.
– Sarahlynn fighting “that Pakistani girl who keeps winning Nobel Peace Prize awards” (aka Malala Yousafzai) over one of her awards is a great gag.
– I think it’s safe to say the casual appearance of Charlotte in this episode is a major hint towards events to follow later this season. Given she’s voiced by Olivia Wilde, I hardly think it’s the last time we’ll see her.
– Also hoping its not Stanley Tucci’s last time on the show; Herb is such an important character to BoJack‘s story, especially in death.
[Photo via Netflix]