“Where’s BoJack?” The question at the center of Netflix’s Season 4 marketing efforts is treated differently in the series itself. Yes, at the onset of the new episodes, BoJack is missing. No one knows where he is; not his former roommate, Todd (Aaron Paul), not his former crush, Diane (Alison Brie), not even his best friend, Channing Tatum (no footage found): The would-be Oscar nominee and former TV star isn’t even in the first episode, sans for a botched voicemail recording heard by Diane.
But Season 4 tackles its central query from an aptly existential angle: Where is BoJack? Throughout Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s excellent animated series, BoJack has always been drifting. Facing and fearing a confusing world, he’s trapped in a circle of meaningless self-destruction. He drinks and parties as means to relieve pain, even when those same habits cause more harm.
His life is a mystery he desperately needs to solve, and Season 4 reframes the events of past seasons as honest, but failed efforts to crack the case. In Season 1, he looks for love in all the wrong places. Season 2 finds him trying to ignore his problems under a false veil of positivity, while last season sees him discover the shallow rewards of unearned recognition. He’s tried to fill the gap in his soul with work, shortcuts, and other people, but Season 4 sees him taking the time to examine just that: time, and its ravaging effects on the mind.
Time, Time, Time
Days fly by at the speed of life in Season 4. The opening episode picks up three months after BoJack disappeared and runs through events over the course of a month. Updating the audience on past events — Mr. Peanutbutter is running for governor, and Diane is writing for a blog called Girl Croosh — and progressing the current story, Episode 1 speeds through 30 days in less than 30 minutes.
Episode 2 goes even faster. Whole seasons pass as BoJack renovates his grandfather’s house. From all that time, he learns not to build a mosaleum to the past and decides to move back to Los Angeles in order to move forward with his life. But Season 4 continues to toy with time’s elasticity, from the 10 days spent trapped in Mr. Peanutbutter’s collapsed house during Episode 7 to the false future presented in Princess Carolyn’s tragic solo tale in Episode 9.
Ultimately, BoJack gets a pass. Time cuts him some slack and instead of forcing early fatherhood upon him — or robbing him of decades as a father — the woman he thought was his long-lost daughter turns out to be the sister he needs right now. BoJack’s father was Hollyhock’s father, not BoJack, as she proves to be the baby Henrietta gave up for adoption on Beatrice’s insistence. In the final scene of Season 4, Hollyhock calls BoJack and says, “I never needed a dad, but I’ve never had a brother?”
Framed as a question and answered in BoJack’s excited smile, the line drives home his progress. While BoJack admitted earlier in the season how terrified he was of being responsible for another human life, a sister — a family member he’s not responsible for, but can still be friends with — is exactly what he needs. Hollyhock is like a baby step toward a better life; toward maturity, accountability, pride, and happiness. She’s not a lover he can drive away or a daughter he can screw up. She’s just…present, in his life, for good.
The Best Episode of Season 4
The relationship runs in direct contrast to what we saw in the penultimate episode — the season’s strongest entry, and one of the best “BoJack” episodes to date. Episode 11 dives head first into BoJack’s mother and her fractured relationship with time. Dementia-afflicted and nearing her death, Beatrice had responsibility thrust upon her before she was ready, and she — as well as BoJack — paid the price.
Beatrice was a child raised to dislike her father and, later, men in general. Her dad burned all of her things when she got sick, including a doll she thought of as her baby. He also subjected Beatrice’s mother to a lobotomy because, to paraphrase a direct quote from the series, as a man, he wasn’t conditioned to deal with women’s emotions.
Whether the distrust and dislike was as bluntly evoked as the series’ dialogue (a.k.a. Beatrice’s memory) made it out to be, or just horrifyingly scarring in its intentions, the next two major men in her life did equal damage. BoJack’s father knocked her up, proposed because of the pregnancy, and then spent the rest of his life mooching off of her family money and cheating on her. Then came BoJack, an innocent child who nonetheless served as a living reminder of Beatrice’s sacrifice. He wasn’t worth it — not to her, not at that price.
Beatrice was a woman who had a fling — just like BoJack’s many, many one-night stands — and it cost her more than it ever cost her son. She became bitter and angry, living and unloved life. Could she have handled it better? Perhaps, but Season 4 emphasizes the damaging role institutionalized sexism plays on framing Beatrice’s hopeless perspective.