Major spoilers for the fourth season of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman.
At the end of its third season, Bojack Horseman seemed to reach its climax.
After 37 episodes that gave us a general sense that something was bound to give, the show went ahead and killed off Sarah Lynn, who was always a problematic source of comfort for Bojack. Nevertheless, he loved her, and her death was a blow that defied following up.
In the season three finale, Bojack seemed poised to run with a team of wild horses — but he doesn’t. Instead, in episode 2 of season 4, he runs back to his estranged mother Beatrice’s childhood home, itself a venue of unnameable trauma. He drinks himself into a stupor. He tortures himself by watching Sarah Lynn specials. He’s almost drowned by a disgruntled neighbor. So: more of the same for Bojack? It sure looked like it. As far as “resolutions” go, watching him spiral so early into this new season registered as both bizarrely fitting and a little anticlimactic, especially given the year-long wait to see him running towards a more hopeful place.
As the rest of the season pushed on, however, that falling-into-place feeling seems to crystallize: if Sarah Lynn’s death was Bojack’s climax, all 12 episodes of season four behave like its falling action.
I’d credit this, in large part, to the other characters steadily breaking away from the tangle of each other’s lives and going beyond their supporting roles in the Bojack Horseman story. It’s refreshing to see how these characters develop — in season four, they’re finally forced to confront the anxieties of their singular lives.
To Diane, Bojack has always functioned as something of an emotional crutch. She sees damage in him that matches her own and finds comfort in that. Without him around, Diane’s feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction in her marriage become magnified. In “What Time Is It,” she finally tells Mr. Peanutbutter she’s “tired of squinting” — of looking for any reason to stay with him, no matter how much of a good boy he might be.
We see Todd in peak form: sure, we still get zany misadventures, but we also see Todd cut himself some slack (“Bojack, we haven’t talked in like a year, and that’s actually been kind of working for me.”) He’s finally getting the affirmation and support his ex-BFF never gave him, and as a result, begins to develop a better sense of who he is.
Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn (PC), who had defined herself as a savvy, do-anything career woman who could sell anyone on anything in Hollywoo, is thinking about family. This season, she is decidedly more vulnerable, because she has room to be. She looks at Ralph Stilton and sees a reason to look beyond the bubble of her career. With him, she finds an answer to “Where else would I go?” that doesn’t begin and end with Bojack somehow. And though PC doesn’t get to take refuge in Ralph to the end, she learns something valuable because of him: she’ll do anything for Filbert.
As for our main man? Despite his rough start, he seems to make a concerted effort to change: in “Time’s Arrow” he sits by his dementia-ridden mother’s bedside, and swallows his own poisonous resentment to tell her everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Bojack, in this heart-wrenching moment, wins the medal for Best in Character Development, blowing everyone else out of the water, easy.
This season, Bojack Horseman seemed cleanly split five ways: we see this divide most blatantly in “Underground,” where everybody stands side by side for the first time since season three — and it couldn’t be a more jarring sight. These characters have been living such separate lives that to see them together feels like a crossover episode. After Sarah Lynn’s death and Bojack’s disappearance, the ties that bound these characters to each other seemed to break.
Here, we witness the start of a brand new show: in which everyone’s stories continue, but this time, without Bojack to return to again and again. Everyone’s doing their own thing now. What a way to start.