An Assault on the Patriarchy
From her father’s many derogatory comments, illustrating the accepted attitude of the time, to the episode spent framing America’s gun crisis as an issue of gender — “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns,” Diane says. “No?” Princess Carolyn replies — “BoJack Horseman” is unrelenting in its attack on America’s long-running patriarchal regimes.
There’s Ryan Murphy’s “American Dead Girl” series, Beatrice being told not to lift anything for fear of “rupturing your uterus,” Felicity Huffman’s repurposed empowerment program that becomes “Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy,” Beatrice putting Hollyhock on weight loss supplements, and so much more. Sly comments populate the season, and never do we go longer than a half-hour without a nod to women’s historically subservient role in American society. One could even argue that Princess Carolyn’s pregnancy-related relationship and professional issues are a commentary on the modern patriarchy, especially with the uncaring and oblivious doctor who casually informs her she’s lost the baby.
BoJack wants to be the victim, and he is, but not compared to his mother. Beatrice is beaten down by the declarations of her father, the dreams of her husband, and the demands of her son. The responsibility pushed onto her by a man who wanted to escape to California (and the many men who judge women for what they do with their own bodies) resulted in a child she didn’t want, who couldn’t heal her marriage, and eventually ended up a broken man, himself.
That same responsibility — what BoJack fears and what Beatrice came to resent — is exactly what other characters crave. BoJack’s literal disappearance for chunks of Season 4 allows more time to be spent with supporting characters, and we see how their goals and desires both conflict and parallel BoJack’s.
The Greatest Mystery of Them All
Diane wants purpose. Her job is rewarding lots o’ clicks over quality content, and she’s witnessing an election where celebrity influence runs amok. She ultimately wields it to her advantage, taking down “a candidate you can Jessica-lieve in” with a report on how much Jessica Biel hates avocados. But she also tries to find purpose in her marriage and ultimately decides al that striving with Mr. Peanutbutter is too much work. She wants what she does to matter, both professionally and personally, rather than just passing the time.
Princess Carolyn, meanwhile, is feeling time pass by all too quickly. In the most literal inverse of BoJack’s fear, Princess Carolyn wants children and can’t have them. Her latest miscarriage causes her to snap, just a little bit, torpedoing her relationship with Ralph and nearly her job, as well. BoJack helps preserve the latter, but Princess Carolyn — as encompassed by her devastating standalone episode — is left in the lurch, with no easy avenue toward solution (aside from getting back together with Ralph and considering adoption).
Diane wants purpose; Princess Carolyn wants children; but it’s Todd who best exemplifies the central question of Season 4: Where is BoJack? Well, where is Todd? Todd is trapped, and he’s working toward a freedom that can only be found within.
Todd wants to be free to do whoever he wants, but he’s not. His resistance to labels, which box him in, illustrate as much. He wants to be free from them, but acknowledges they help protect others (like Emily, who had a crush on him, but felt better when he acknowledged his asexuality).
Herein lies his struggle: Todd wants everyone to be happy because he’s inherently happy himself. He only feels bad when he upsets other people, or people like BoJack betray his friendship. BoJack doesn’t want anyone to be happy because he can’t be happy. He struggles to understand how everyone else manages to be happy and defaults to a belief that they’re just pretending or, more often, that there’s something wrong with him.
Todd and BoJack are the opposite side of the same coin. They’re both looking for freedom from pain. Todd wants to stop hurting others and be happy. BoJack wants the same thing, but, unlike Todd, he’s been raised to hate himself. Both need to accept who they are, and neither can keep falling back on the idea life is meaningless. BoJack has experienced too much loss, and Todd finds too much joy all around him. They understand the value of life, but they’re struggling to be free — to be themselves.
Season 4 focuses more than ever on that very tricky journey, for all of its characters. Its central mystery isn’t, “Where is Bojack?” It’s “Who is BoJack?” He’s trying to solve this world’s greatest mystery; the same one we all strive to answer: What is the meaning of life?
BoJack may not know where he is, but he’s making great strides.
“BoJack Horseman” Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.