*A note: There are no specific spoilers for the show below, but discussions of some themes and general plot lines. Avoid if you haven’t watched, and want to go in as a blank slate. …But then why did you click in the first place?*
Through its first two seasons, Bojack Horseman has two basic methods of destroying its audience emotionally. The first is to come at you in a frontal attack. Introducing us to Bojack’s mother, to Diane’s family, Diane’s depression sinkhole, Princess Carolyn’s loneliness— these are the themes they tell us will be at the center of a given episode, and then they deliver. Hard.
The second type of episode is the one that comes at you from the side. The ones that set up such elaborate, genius, pun-based farcical constructs that when the punch lands, you never saw it coming. Or maybe you totally see it coming, but only because it lulled you into thinking you know what’s happening in front of you, you think you’re in on the plan. You know there’s a surprise waiting under the mask of the Scooby-Doo villain. Only with Bojack, the surprise is never Old Man Jenkins; it’s your own mortality. Fun surprise, right?
Season three is comprised almost entirely of the latter. And now, they’ve added another layer because almost every episode this season is so high-concept, and of such a DIFFERENT concept for each installment, that it’s almost impossible to ever get acclimated enough to a tone to get comfortable. One of the most dismally upsetting plot lines in the show’s entire run (although that’s really a qualifier that could be applied to just about every single plot line) is the elaborate ruse constructed around Character Actress Margo Martindale and Todd’s unfinished rock opera in season one’s “Zoës and Zeldas.” We know what’s happening through the entire episode: that Todd is afraid of success, and Bojack is afraid of other people’s success, and that this will not end well for either. When the whole farce involving Margo Martindale is revealed, the payoff of that insane setup is so satisfying, it feels like the punchline to the entire episode. And that’s why the the realization that (unlike in most comedies) the punchline isn’t the end of the episode; it’s not the relief. It’s the peak of the rollercoaster, and we’re all about to plummet into a terrifying depth of introspection.
That is all of season three. It might not be the best season, or your favorite season. I don’t know if there is a “best” season, because each is so different. And maybe that’s the key— that its third season is as strong as any other, because it’s never trying to keep up with itself or even outdo itself. It’s always the same show, but never afraid to be totally different. And not only is season three different from past seasons, but every episode is different from every other. And one or two episodes then may feel disjointed, but really, it’s just overwhelming.
The fourth episode of the season is what is for sure the most brilliant nearly-non-verbal episode of television since (or probably including) Buffy’s “Hush.” Through a half hour of almost entirely physical comedy, the show will wreck you worse than you would ever expect. It’s the highest concept, and maybe lowest point for Bojack. And then they follow that up two episodes later with one of the most spectacularly twisted takes on the issue of abortion ever put on television. That’s not hyperbolic. It is unique, and demented, and beautiful. It puts the personal in a context of public entertainment and image, which is, I suppose, a pretty solid encapsulation of the entire point of this show.
So the only advice I have for season three, if you haven’t binged it yet, is don’t. Take it slow. Not to savor it, necessarily, but to protect yourself.