And so does his mother
Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
BoJack Horseman isn’t lovable, but I never stopped rooting for his redemption. BoJack Horseman’s fourth season gave even this narcissistic, loathsome, selfish man that moment. But it came in an episode that, ironically, had little to do with him.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 4, episode 11.]
We learn in BoJack’s fourth season that his mother, Beatrice, is suffering from dementia. We see Beatrice’s slow slide into a foggy prison, trapped in the anguished past she fled decades before. We learn about her strenuous relationship with her father, the man who lobotomized her mother and tossed Beatrice’s favorite doll in the fire after a bout of Scarlet Fever, nothing she shouldn’t let her “womanly emotions” get the better of her. We get a peek into the beginning of her relationship with Butterscotch Horseman, BoJack’s father, and how quickly that disintegrated into hate.
In Beatrice’s memories, we came to understand why she was the bitter person seen in prior seasons, why she treats BoJack like dirt and why BoJack carries the enormous chip on his shoulder about the ways in which the world works.
The episode, appropriately titled “Time’s Arrow,” is Beatrice-centric and lets us empathize with one of BoJack Horseman’s most interesting and important characters. The near-tragic history of Beatrice and BoJack’s story, of the toxic father figures in their lives that pushed them to their breaking points, is crucial to one of the episode’s most important scenes at the conclusion. Beatrice pushed BoJack away because he represented all of her failures and all who had pushed her to become someone she hated. BoJack, in turn, pushed his mother away because she reminded him of why he should hate himself.
The Sugarman house from episode two.
Beatrice and BoJack’s storylines are intertwined; one can’t be redeemed without acknowledging the pain they’ve inflicted on the other.
The episode ends with BoJack and his mother in a nursing home as he sets her up with a team of doctors and caretakers who can pay attention to her around the clock. Despite his ill feelings toward his mother, BoJack will always love the woman who raised him. Yet the guilt of handing her over to the care of strangers, and admitting his failure to help her, eats away at him. As BoJack stands by a window with his mother in a wheelchair, he visibly struggles with leaving her in a facility outside of Los Angeles, and walking away from her, once and for all.
Then Beatrice has a moment of lucidity. She doesn’t know where she is, but she recognizes BoJack and admits she’s scared. Beatrice wants BoJack to comfort her and, after years of neglected abuse at her hands, he doesn’t know how to do it, but he tries. He lies, telling his mother that she’s at the old Sugarman family house in Michigan. That’s where Beatrice grew up. It was introduced in the series’ second episode.
BoJack then lies to Beatrice about many things — the stars in the sky, the taste of ice cream, anything that might bring her some comfort before she slips back into dementia. And while BoJack is a chronic liar, this time he’s not lying to get something. Beatrice, who was never allowed to have ice cream, cocks her head to the side and admits she can taste it, adding that it’s delicious. That also is a lie.
BoJack Horseman and Beatrice in her room at the clinic.
Beatrice knows she’s lying, and BoJack reckons with lying to his mother just moments before, but this is the only way they know how to give each other comfort. BoJack didn’t have to lie to his mother; he didn’t even need to stay with Beatrice after dropping her off with the clinic doctors. But the fact BoJack gave his mother something she never gave him as a child — attention, comfort and care — delivers his redemption.
I’ve been waiting for BoJack to have his redeeming moment for years. Every time he’s gotten close, he wastes the opportunity on an act of selfish desire. Like, attempting to sleep with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter. Or getting loaded with his former cast member and friend from Horsin’ Around, Sara Lynn, right up until she dies from an overdose. BoJack desperately wants to be good and do the right thing, but he’s never proven capable of it. He consistently makes the wrong decision out of fear of facing his true self.
In this episode, however, BoJack does the right thing — and it hurts him. It pains BoJack to watch his mother deteriorate. It anguishes him try to reconcile the conflicts in their relationship and be a better son to her than she was was a mother to him. But ultimately, he does, and that’s what makes BoJack’s arc so emotionally fulfilling and therapeutic.
When BoJack Horseman’s fourth season debuted earlier this year, I wrote:
For all of BoJack’s worst qualities, he was never dishonest about his true self. BoJack is the first person to admit his flaws and, what makes his tale even sadder, is that he wants to change but can’t figure out how to do so. That’s what makes us want to root for him to survive, and to win — there is a little piece of BoJack in all of us. He confronts the self-realizations that we might be too scared to do ourselves.
For the first time since the show debuted in 2014, it feels like rooting for BoJack is going to pay off. I finally have real hope for BoJack’s future.