Friday, September 15, 2017

REVIEW: 'BoJack Horseman' - Beatrice Is Trapped in the Trauma of Her Mind by Her Disease in 'Time's Arrow'

Netflix's BoJack Horseman - Episode 4.11 "Time's Arrow"

In 1963, young socialite Beatrice Sugarman meets the rebellious Butterscotch Horseman at her debutante party.

There's been a fair amount of melancholy hanging over various stories in this season of BoJack Horseman. It's a different emotion for the show. It means the season is building less to big, destructive twists that show how dark and selfish BoJack is capable of being. Instead, it's revealing that even with the best intentions there is no guarantee that life will give one what they always want. Princess Carolyn wants her own baby but seems destined to fail every time she gets pregnant. BoJack wants to tell his mother off before she dies but she is never lucid enough for it to really mean anything. Hollyhock wants to find her mother but it's a mystery that may forever be lost in time. Of course, the audience gets to see the full tapestry of these characters' lives. We've seen glimpses into the previous generations that show all of the heartbreak that led to the person BoJack is in the present. We are aware of every twist that is now coming. We know who Hollyhock's mother is long before BoJack and Hollyhock figure it out. And yet, there's a sadness to these big reveals. It's information that the characters may never actually know. They will never truly understand another person and the struggles they've dealt with. They simply have their own perceptions of each other. That can be quite destructive as well. It creates barriers between them where they can never possibly understand or connect. It's tragic in its own way. BoJack really wants to be happy in his life. But the closest thing he can possibly get is providing momentary glimpses of hopefulness for the people around him even if he thinks they don't deserve it.

As expected, "Time's Arrow" is entirely about BoJack and Beatrice. It's not a big moment of clarity where the two of them are able to battle it out with full awareness before Beatrice dies. That was certainly the expectation heading into this episode. BoJack was mad at his mother because of what she did to Hollyhock. He's potentially lost their new relationship which means so much to him because of her. He was willing to dump her into the worst possible nursing room he could find because that was the fate that she deserved. He felt such anger towards her. The only reason he took her in during this time of need was because he was told she doesn't have much time left and he wanted to tell her that she was a shitty mom before she died. That's the future he was holding onto. He was just waiting for the day when she was lucid again. It was only after he was abandoning her in this new home that she recognized him as BoJack. But it's not as much of a revival as one might expect. She doesn't have her full memory again moments before she dies. The reality of the situation is so much more complicated than that. This episode instead just delves into her mind to show how she is fundamentally trapped within it. The disease is progressing quickly and affecting her memories. She's jumping back-and-forth between the present and various moments of the past. It again allows the animators to make some really interesting and compelling choices. But there's still that melancholy hanging over the proceedings.

It's tragic to spend this entire episode delving into the life that Beatrice lived. It was tragic at the start of the season when the show gave the backstory to the Sugarman lake house in Michigan. It was a tale full of loss and depression. It helped explain Beatrice's actions over the years. She didn't want to love because she didn't want to suffer any kind of loss. But here, her jumbled mind is still taking her back through the years. The faces are starting to disappear. Events merge with one another. Time moves quickly and with tragic precision. This is Beatrice's mind as she's now experiencing it. It's not a factual record of these events as they happened in a linear way. Instead, it's just jumping from one place to another. One moment, she's a child again being picked on by bullies. The next she's a young adult home from college with big ideas about saving the world when she gets swept off her feet by Butterscotch Horseman. Everything is moving very quickly. She is experiencing the totality of her life in a matter of minutes. That's just so depressing to watch. It's a story full of the desire to find and be loved. She wanted it from her mother and Butterscotch. There are moments where it is good and healthy. But this is a story that highlights the tragedy of her life and just how destructive these relationships became over time. She lived a life full of unhappiness and resentment. That defined the mother she ultimately was. And now, it's done so much damage to BoJack.

BoJack being conceived was the action that brought Beatrice and Butterscotch together. Beatrice getting pregnant after one night of passion led to the creation of this life. They escaped to California together. But love quickly turned to resentment. Beatrice hated that her husband couldn't provide a life for her and the family while Butterscotch felt unappreciated for his efforts to write the next great novel. They stayed together but hated each other. BoJack was a victim of that hate. They were always directing it at each other but BoJack always got hit in the crossfire. Even when he left the house, this pattern continued. It got to the point where Butterscotch cheated on Beatrice with their maid, Henrietta. That explains why Beatrice has been so cruel to BoJack this entire season. She hates Henrietta because she's this young, attractive girl in their household who is a distraction for Butterscotch. She gets pregnant. It's up to Beatrice to resolve this situation. But it also highlights the circle of abuse within this family. Beatrice felt the pressure to keep her baby and form a family despite her father's objections to the life she wanted. Meanwhile, Beatrice is cruelly taking the choice away from Henrietta. She will give the baby up for adoption in exchange for her college tuition being taken care of. That's the grand story of this family. It's rattling around in Beatrice's mind. She's kept it to herself. And now, she's reliving it over and over again. But she's incapable of sharing it with anyone else. She no longer connects to the present world. It's tragic because BoJack and Hollyhock never got the chance to experience this life with her.

But all of this is still leading up to that moment where Beatrice is seemingly in the present again and recognizes BoJack. It's a moment that makes him stop in his tracks. He's so angry at her. He's said so many hurtful things to her during this trip to the nursing home. But in this moment, he sees her as this fragile old woman who has no idea what's going on. He's always seen her dementia as a ruse in order to get attention. He hasn't wanted to treat her well. And yet, he does exactly that here. He paints a nice fantasy for her to relax into. Suddenly, this horrible room in the nursing home isn't the worst place in the world. Instead, BoJack shows his mother kindness by taking her back to the Sugarman lake house in Michigan. He paints a picture of it being a nice summer night with the family all around enjoying the stars and music from Crackerjack. It's beautiful. It's also the one moment of this episode that doesn't fall into the fantasy. This season has shown a lot of different animation styles in order to get into the way the characters view their own lives or pasts. But here, the audience and BoJack stay in this moment. We stay in the nursing home room. We aren't transported to this pleasant picture by the lake. We don't get to be a part of the fantasy. This is a nice gesture for Beatrice and no one else. It's BoJack proving that he is a better person. It makes him change his outlook on life a little bit. He doesn't walk away from this having a greater understanding of the life his mother has lived. He'll tragically never know what truly happened over the years. There's still hope that he'll learn that Henrietta is Hollyhock's mother. He still wants to do right by her. But this is also the best he can possibly get right now too. This moment of happiness is basically all the resolution he will ever receive with his mother. She'll never be the person she once was. She'll never be the woman who raised him and criticized him for always taking everything. This is the only kind of peace he's going to find in this situation. It needs to be enough. It has to be enough. But will it be for BoJack? He seems changed by the kindness he does. But there's still one episode left this season and anything could happen.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Time's Arrow" was written by Kate Purdy and directed by Aaron Long.
  • Throughout this entire episode, Henrietta's face is violently destroyed with jagged black lines. On one hand, it could be the show still keeping her identity a secret. But on the other hand, it plays into the tragic setting of this episode. Beatrice knows what she looks like but her mind has created this image to show her lashing out at this woman who potentially destroyed everything good in her life.
  • Beatrice only remembers the faces of the people important to her life story. Everyone else is just a blob. She knows that other people must have been there to experience these events as well. But she has no recollection of what any of their faces looked like. That's tragic in its own way while highlighting the damage of this disease. Her memories are just as confusing as the present.
  • Is Beatrice actually going to be staying in this horrible nursing home? Or will BoJack reverse his decision and bring her back home with him? It really could go either way. He's still mad because of Hollyhock being in the hospital. But he's also nurturing in a way that this environment simply couldn't be for her.
  • The traumatizing events of Beatrice's life were traumatizing in the moment. They never ultimately defined her entire existence. But now, the memory of her father burning all of her belongings after she got scarlet fever is a destructive action that sums up everything for her. It's traumatizing because it defines everything her life represents.
  • So, BoJack and Hollyhock aren't father and daughter but half-siblings. The show plays into that narrative with glimpses of Beatrice and Henrietta giving birth side-to-side. They are events happening decades apart. But they follow similar patterns. It's all just building up to the tragic moment where Beatrice takes Hollyhock away before Henrietta can even hold her.
  • Joseph Sugarman to Beatrice: "Stop making books your friends. Reading does nothing for young women but build their brains, taking valuable resources away from their breasts and hips."

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.