Bojack Horseman Season 4 Review: The road to redemption is forever

September 14, 2017

Emmy-nominated adult animated series Bojack Horseman returns to Netflix for a fourth season, and shit just got even darker. For the new season, the series deviated from its classic sitcom structure, and made a major shift in focus from Bojack's zany antics, fueled by emotional immaturity and laced with self-loathing, and zeroed in on Bojack's humanity. We all know Bojack hates himself, and the past three seasons have carefully illustrated his destructive cycle of depravity, self-loathing, and unfruitful attempts at redemption. The past seasons led us further and further down Bojack's internal downward spiral, until we came to a wall at Sarah Lynn's death. For Bojack, this devastating event was too much, and even he couldn't come up with a good excuse to wash his hands of the guilt as he realizes his self-destructive behavior has gone far past the bounds of booze-filled benders and petty crime and vandalism. Thus season three left us with a suicidal Bojack at his all time low, driving out of LA and off of a cliff just before he stops to see a horde of horses galloping in a desert valley. 

But season four, while not abandoning the elements of self hatred and resentment that Bojack's life orbits around, offers up a deeper look into Bojack's path to self improvement, and potential for a second chance. 

A pivotal new character introduced in the new season serves as the vehicle to really hone in on Bojack's growth and emotional journey. Hollyhock Manheim-Manheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack, a 17-year old teenage horse girl adopted by eight fathers in a "committed gay polyamorous relationship", comes to Los Angeles in search of her birth mother. Her only lead is Bojack, whom she bears strong resemblance to and suspects is her biological father. 

For a Bojack who's just come back to LA after a year and a half absence and whose friends have all severed their ties with him, Hollyhock represents every potential for a better life. Not only does she know nothing of his traumatic and selfish past, she's someone that can depend on him, needs him even. She gives him the opportunity to be the father figure that he couldn't be to Sarah Lynn, and to distance himself from the broken family life of his own childhood. She's someone that he can not only prove that he is good to, but prove to himself that he hasn't inherited his cold, detached mother's inability to love and squandered every potential for good in his life.

And for the rest of the season, Bojack focuses his efforts on his relationship with Hollyhock, as the ultimate quest for redemption. We zero in on Bojack, exploring his past in the wall that he's created between himself and the people in his life (He rarely interacts with the other members of the cast during the season). Meanwhile, everyone else is struggling in their own rite to build the lives that they want to live. Princess Carolyn deals with problems with conception and the frustration of not being able to negotiate her way into a solution ("It's just hard to need people" S4 EP9). Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter struggle to put away their differences and navigate their marriage despite their own slew of insecurities and baggage that they bring to the mix. Todd searches himself amongst the facility and convenience of labels. The characters, even without Bojack's toxicity in their lives, struggle to find happiness and fulfilment. Meanwhile, Bojack has to face his problems at the source, in the physical and emotional space between his mother and daughter. 

Hollyhock represents all these things, especially because of how good she herself is. Bojack considers himself as poison, and as having come from a lineage of poison, but Hollyhock, in all her teenage gawkiness, is sweet and wholesome. And on some subconscious level, Bojack believes that if he can father something even halfway decent as Hollyhock, perhaps all is not lost. 

But just because Bojack may be maturing, it doesn't mean he's learned his lesson for good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Bojack's quest to better himself is not made any easier with his new revelations. And the writers of the show refuse to give us an easy out. The "Piece of Shit" (Ep 6) episode expresses to us just how deeply ingrained Bojack's self-destructive habits are and we are invited into the messy internal affairs and psyche of Bojack's everyday. 

These episodes also reflect the fresh creative direction that Season 4 took as well. 

VISUALS of Ep2, 6, 9, 10

The blasts into the past are heart wrenching, as we realize that depression and brokenness doesn't lie within Bojack, nor does it end with him. It starts somewhere unknown, and it bleeds into us all. As Princess Carolyn puts it, "But life isn't just stories...life is just life...and that's so unfair". The series flits between the individual narratives of the main cast, hardly after connecting the A, B, and C stories, to point out how disappointment, anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction pervades all our lives and relationships.

But the series ends on a hopeful note. Hollyhock leaves LA to be with her eight adopted dads, and Bojack makes a successful last ditch effort to find Hollyhock's mom. In the last sequence of the season finale, Hollyhack is about to board the plane to visit her biological mother, and she says to Bojack, "I never needed you to be a dad. I'm going to be fine. I told you from the beginning, I have eight dads. But...I've never had a brother". We leave on a finale closeup of a grateful and hopeful Bojack, that while he couldn't be the father he wanted to be, perhaps there's room for him to be good elsewhere. In a role that he never imagined himself to be in. We leave on the note that when we can't meet our own expectations of happiness, it calls for new expectations, and that second chances don't mean consecutive failed attempts at the same life, but an entirely new life and new take on happiness.