Friday, September 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'BoJack Horseman' - The Past and Present Haunt a Michigan Home in 'The Old Sugarman Place'

Netflix's BoJack Horseman - Episode 4.02 "The Old Sugarman Place"

BoJack goes off the grid and winds up at his grandparents' dilapidated home in Michigan, where he befriends a dragonfly haunted by the past.

The "Where in the world is BoJack Horseman?" mystery was a prominent part of the promotional campaign for this season of BoJack Horseman. The third season ended with him escaping from his life in Los Angeles once more. But it was unclear where his next destination would be. He could run off with the herd of horses he found in the wild. Or he could be somewhere completely new doing something completely different. The premiere provided no answers or teases as to what's been going on with BoJack. It instead focused entirely on the characters still in Los Angeles as they kept moving forward with their own lives. Diane is spiraling out a little bit without BoJack around. But Mr. Peanutbutter, Todd and Princess Carolyn are doing just fine without him. In fact, they may all be better off without him which has always been one of BoJack's greatest fears in this world. He has always lived with the assumption that he is poison. He is destined to destroy the happiness of everyone who comes into contact with him. He entered this world broken and keeps breaking things the longer he is alive. That's the mentality he was raised with and it's still the mentality he is operating under. It's tragic in its own way. BoJack is a victim of his circumstances with no easy way to pull himself out of them. He has to be aware of it in order to grow. But so far, he has shown such reluctance to ever change because he keeps repeating the same patterns over and over again.

And now, "The Old Sugarman Place" does reveal where BoJack Horseman is and what he's doing. He didn't run off to be with the other horses. He looked down at his phone to see Diane calling and when he looked back up they were already gone. They were already destined to run away from him not knowing he was ever there in the first place. BoJack just wants to disassociate with everything he has known because he doesn't want to do anymore harm. He's closer with Diane than anyone else but he's still declining her calls. Instead, he retreats to his own world for a bit. It's amusing to watch the cold open play out as an epic road trip for BoJack. It's just a simple montage with no dialogue whatsoever. It's amusing to see him try to fuel up his car with gas only to realize that it's an electric car. He's stealing power and needs to make a break for it after getting caught. There are so many possible destinations for him to venture off to. He sees the world captivated by the mystery of his whereabouts. It's a national news story. Why it's a national news story is never really explained. It's just important for BoJack to feel like there's nowhere for him to escape without being recognized by someone. He's on the news. So, he just wants to hide out in his family's summer cabin in Michigan. It's a place he hasn't been to in years. No one has by the looks of the place. But it's the one location that seems to mirror his exact feelings at the moment.

BoJack is broken and this house is broken as well. BoJack has no aspirations to fix the place up. He just wants to live here and suffer when the winter months come along. He wants to wallow in his own misery while not destroying anymore lives. He does have to make the occasional trip to the hardware store - named Hammerhead Hardware - to fix the broken sink or floorboards. But BoJack has no idea what he's doing. He doesn't have the expertise to fix up a house. He's just as adrift in Michigan as he was everywhere else in this world. He seems to accept that. He's keeping his identity a secret even though the Hammerhead employees, Tamara and Tamera, recognize him immediately. He doesn't want to be the actor from a hit '90s sitcom who was there when a former pop star died. He doesn't want to relive that experience. And yet, he still gets pulled into watching the miniseries adaptation of that story. He's furious that Paul Giamatti was cast to play him in this story. From the looks of the adaptation, it doesn't seem to be all that serious about the material either. It's basically just Giamatti singing the theme song to Horsin' Around after hearing that Sarah Lynn has truly passed away. Meanwhile, the real BoJack is suffering in the middle of winter not willing to accept any help that comes his way regarding this home.

That's where BoJack starts to pull himself out of this spiral. His next-door neighbor, Eddie, just wishes the Sugarman house would be torn down already because it's horrible to look at. After months of BoJack and Eddie yelling and complaining at each other, they start working together on the house. BoJack doesn't realize it but he's helping Eddie through his own grief as well. It's actually fun for the two of them to team up on this project. BoJack finds a new friend who has no expectations for their friendship. Eddie has no idea who BoJack Horseman is. He's just curious if BoJack is related to Joseph Sugarman who actually owned this house. That's BoJack's grandfather on his mother side. This is a house no one has been in for years. But now, it's holding so much significance for the main story. Fixing it up gives BoJack purpose once more. He discovers a friend who is willing to help him even though he is clearly dealing with his own pain and existential crisis as well. Eddie has lost his wife and has a fear of flying. Those two are probably connected. BoJack keeps pressing to figure out what connects the two. He finds reasons to keep Eddie coming over to help repair the cabin. Even after the project is complete, BoJack needs to find something else to do. It's a simple gesture that is actually quite good for the both.

And yet, the deeper BoJack digs and the more personal he gets with trying to help Eddie the more it actually starts to hurt. It's helpful when they go on an elaborate search to find the last missing piece for the renovation. But BoJack purposefully falling off a ladder in the hopes that Eddie will fly to catch him just reveals the true sadness and despair within him. This show has so often addressed dark subject matter such as depression better than most live-action series. That continues throughout "The Old Sugarman Place" in both the story of the present and the past. For Eddie, flying is a reminder of the day he lost Lorraine, his wife. She flew too high and got sucked into a plane engine. And now, BoJack has forced that memory onto him which makes him only want to die too. He flies to that height once more and tragically starts to fall. Both he and BoJack survive because they land in the nearby lake. BoJack brings Eddie back to life even though he really wants to die. This is the moment that ends their friendship. Both of them are ultimately too broken and want different things. BoJack wants to help but is incapable of giving Eddie the one thing he really wants. All of this pushes BoJack back to the world in Los Angeles. To him, it's simpler to joke around with Diane about a guy hitting on a barista about his upcoming webseries he got crowdfunded that's basically Girls but from a male perspective. That's the world he knows. So, he's returning to Los Angeles seemingly the same BoJack as before. It's unclear if he really did learn anything from this whole experience. He's back to being the jerk who doesn't care about anyone else. He no longer has any attachment to this house and is fine with it being torn down and leaving Eddie for good.

Of course, this cabin also highlights the generational history of emotional instability and destruction within BoJack's family. It's clear that he has no idea that all of this happened long before he was born in the same exact space he is currently occupying. He just walks past all these monuments having no awareness of their significance. It's fascinating to see the stories of the past and present happening at the same time. In fact, they bounce off each other in interesting ways. They both convey the overall sadness that humanity has felt for a long time. These aren't unique feelings or emotions to BoJack. His family was broken a long time ago. In fact, this is important context to have because it informs so much of Beatrice's behavior later in life when she has BoJack. It has always seemed like she never cared about him. He was the son who broke everything in her life and never amounted to anything that excited her. But now, it's clear that that behavior was learned from seeing her mother, Honey, experience the pain of losing someone she loved dearly. Beatrice had an older brother, Crackerjack, who died fighting the Nazis. His death broke Honey. She too wanted to go back to being happy and normal. She just had no idea how to do it and almost killed Beatrice as a result. She put her family in danger. The only solution at the time was to get half her brain removed. It's a surgery that traumatizes her and the entire family. It removes part of her personality so that the only advice she can give Beatrice is to never love someone like that so she never has to experience this pain. That's such a profound statement that rings throughout the generations. BoJack is the adult he is today because of that lesson. And now, the audience becomes aware of it and has new context for his upbringing. But BoJack is still in the dark not knowing if he has really changed at all from his new adventure.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Old Sugarman Place" was written by Kate Purdy and directed by Anne Walker Farrell.
  • Eddie references that he helped BoJack fix up the cabin for the last eight months. BoJack was there for the season to change before Eddie even started helping too. So, BoJack has been gone from Los Angeles for awhile. So, it should be fascinating to see how that timeline syncs up with everything going on with Mr. Peanutbutter, Diane, Todd and Princess Carolyn.
  • The sign heading into this town in Michigan reads: "Welcome to Harper's Landing, Michigan. Where families used to vacation before the popularization of air travel to more exciting places!" That's a fitting description and also means something since BoJack is traveling there by car for the first time in 25 years.
  • Tamara and Tamera are right to wonder if BoJack is the missing BoJack Horseman. BoJack carefully deflects the question but has to speak up when he's disregarded as being too fat or not fat enough. Of course, Tamara and Tamera also think the donkey they work with looks like BoJack as well. So, BoJack is never really in danger of being outed while he's in Michigan.
  • The show makes terrific use of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jane Krakowski and Colman Domingo's musical talents. It's joyful and upbeat the first time the Sugarmans perform before taking the family picture. But things quickly turn to melancholy at the later performance at the barn as the characters reflect on all that they have lost over the years.
  • In other amusing voice casting, Matthew Broderick plays Joseph Sugarman who is all about running his business despite the sugar rationing while hitting on his attractive assistants all the time and Paul Giamatti really does play himself playing BoJack Horseman in the FX miniseries of the Sarah Lynn story.
  • Joseph Sugarman: "It's only ghosts here in the winter." That's such a sad but poignant statement to make that reflects on what BoJack currently is at the moment. He is nothing more than a ghost in that moment who isn't doing anything to try to survive in this world.

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.