Throughout countless adventures filled with “goofy whimsical messarounds” from BoJack Horseman’s wacky sidekick Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), the unsettled debate on his ethnic background based on his last name has lingered. It’s a query fueled by a constant stream of references that have registered as clues to his connection with Mexico or Latinos in general.
Finally, in Episode 6 of the first half of the show’s final season titled “The Kidney Stays in the Picture,” the answers have turned up and there’s plenty to unpack. Voiced by Mexican actor Jaime Camil (“Jane the Virgin”), Jorge Chavez, a dark-skinned, bearded, and stylishly dressed Latino, interrupts Todd’s sock puppet rendition of Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” to inform the beanie-wearing manchild that his mother is in a coma.
Jorge married Todd’s mother and gave him his last name 25 years ago. He raised him as his own, which may explain his advanced knowledge in throwing a proper Quinceañera, but 10 years ago mom and stepdad kicked him out, disappointed by his lack of ambition. Todd has never experienced pushback from the world and tends to fail upward; conversely Jorge has endured hardship, not unlike many immigrant parents.
As soon as Jorge recites an acronym for his family name (“C” for cerebral, “H” for high-minded, “A” for analytical, “ V” for voracious, “E” for efficacious,” and “Z” for zealously practical), it’s immediately clear that speaking in “big words” defines him. On a deeper level, his flourished vocabulary serves as defense mechanism to demonstrate assumptions about him and his education are incorrect. He likes serious books and SiriusXM.
If he’s ever belittled or underestimated based on his accent, his complexion, or his personal history, he’ll counteract it with intellect. To think Jorge has to over-perform, over-dress, and constantly prove his interests and aspirations are not limited to what the white mainstream expects of him is disconcerting, but a reality for people of color. Todd, on the other hand, can’t be bothered to know what “perspicacious” means.
Banding together to recover Todd’s kidney in order to save his mother, stepfather and stepson later attempt to crash a Whitewhale Consolidated Interests party using Diane’s identification card. It’s when one of the sharks at the door refuses to believe Todd’s last name is Nguyen that the adorably silly dude drops a revelatory line, ”That’s racist, people don’t always look like their last names. For example, I’m white and my last name is Chavez.”
Not only those that moment vanish any doubts about Todd’s racial identity, but also challenges the presumption that having the last name Chavez should reflect any physical stereotypes associated with Latinos. Though he’s admittedly Non-Hispanic white, Todd could have also been a white-passing Latino. Culturally, however, his identity is likely more blurred than simply Caucasian, having had Jorge as important part of his upbringing.
Wielding bigoted clichés in his favor to enter the headquarters, Jorge makes himself look disheveled and grabs trash pretending to be part of the janitorial staff. In Spanish he explains, “I’m here to pick up the trash.” Responding to the security shark’s reluctance he doubles down: “Let’s avoid this uncomfortable moment and let me into the building, please.” His trick works. Jorge plays the part; those attending the festivities believe work is the only reason why someone of his background who speaks Spanish would be there.
Once on the other side, Jorge refers to his tactic as practical and logical, but that statement doesn’t come without a tinge of sorrow. It means he’s painfully aware of the way people see him and has learned to brush it off. Instead of letting that crush him, he tries to manipulate that to his advantage when applicable, like when on a mission to steal back an organ. He doesn’t expect the white man’s world to offer compassion, thus he adapts. Expectedly, when they are caught inside the facility, only Jorge faces consequences.
Written by filmmaker Minhal Baig (“Hala”), who surely brought her personal experience as the child of Pakistani immigrants into the mix, the episode acutely contrast Todd’s privilege with Jorge’s worldview derived from his status as an outsider to the dominant establishment. We don’t need the specifics of what he’s gone through to comprehend how this country has weathered his perspective.
“I raised you as my own flesh. I was tough on you because I expected big things from you,” says Jorge in a poignant speech that’ll ring familiar to those nurtured immigrant households where the stakes for your future carry the suffering of those of came here to provide it. Retaliating, Todd accuses him of being mean, but the world has been mean to Jorge, and Todd can’t see that because he’s reveled in unearned privilege.
In Todd’s defense, when he advocates for his alternative version of happiness, he’s speaking for those children of immigrants who don’t abide by what they consider outdated parameters of success. Jorge’s life has been rooted in practicality and the pursuit of stability, so he probably wishes Todd had become a doctor or an engineer. To him, anything short of that represents utter disrespect for his sacrifices. It’s heavy stuff.
Defeated, Jorge throws in the towel to the tune of, “I wanted so much for you, Todd. I wanted to push you to be your best self. I see now that I failed you.” For parents like him, having a child follow a career in the arts or an unorthodox field feels like a betrayal—even more so here because Todd is the epitome of unconventionality.
Fractured as their bond may be, Todd still claims connection to the Chavez lineage even if it’s through his prideful reluctance to speak to his mother. Some of what Jorge taught him — and maybe even some of his attitudes towards life — stuck with Todd, for better or worse. And there’s still another half season to further explore that.
Profound and hilarious like “BoJack Horseman” often is, the episodes goes beyond merely addressing the origin of Todd’s last name, but comments on many of American shortcomings when it comes to people that have been otherized. Jorge summarizes pithily in one key phrase: “Nothing came easy for me, it took hard work, focus, discipline, to get me where I am today,” he says. “Things didn’t just work out, but I should have realized…you are white.”