Thursday, September 14, 2017

REVIEW: 'BoJack Horseman' - Princess Carolyn Receives Several Pieces of Tragic News in 'Ruthie'

Netflix's BoJack Horseman - Episode 4.09 "Ruthie"

On one awful day, Princess Carolyn deals with rejection, deception and loss. BoJack and Diane try to track down Hollyhock's birth certificate.

"Ruthie" is the most devastating episode of the season so far. It's such a brutal spotlight for Princess Carolyn. It succeeds because of its strong and intimate focus on a very bad day in her life. Sure, updates are given on the various subplots the other characters are involved with - BoJack and Diane searching for Hollyhock's mother, Mr. Peanutbutter helping Woodchuck with the campaign, and Todd's new clown dentist business. But they are all told through the prism of Princess Carolyn's interactions with them. They each have a place in her life that only further complicates this day. Of course, things are seen from BoJack's perspective a little bit as well as he deals with bureaucracy at the local courthouse in searching for Hollyhock's birth certificate. But that's just necessary in order to set up that final phone conversation between Princess Carolyn and BoJack that reveals the truth about this structure for the episode. All of the events of "Ruthie" are being told to the audience through a class presentation of Princess Carolyn's great-granddaughter, Ruthie (voiced by Kristen Bell). She's just narrating the events of her ancestor to her class for an assignment. It makes all of this seem hopeful. That no matter how bad things get for BoJack and Princess Carolyn in the moment, it's still going to turn out alright for them. They will still be remember long after they're gone. Their lives will still have meaning. They still existed for a reason. But all of this is revealed to be much more complicated than it initially seems.

For the entire run of the series, Princess Carolyn has wanted a family. She's been very focused on her career but she was eager to find someone to start a family with as well. She always feels the pull to be with BoJack even though she knows he can't give her what she wants. That's what made it so great when Ralph came into her life. She finally had someone she could connect with. For the first time, she could imagine having a life and a family with this other person. It was all blissful. This season has explored her attempts to get pregnant. "See Mr. Peanutbutter Run" saw her get pregnant on accident but lose the baby a month later. It was a burden she carried all by herself. She didn't let Ralph in on what was happening with her until it was already over. That forced an honest conversation between them that only strengthened their desire to have a family. It's been a lot of fun to see what they are willing to do in order to achieve their goals. They have this whole future mapped out for their lives already. It just needs to happen. And a few episodes ago, it was revealed to be successful. Princess Carolyn got pregnant again. It was such an uplifting and victorious moment. She felt like she was getting closer to what she had always wanted.

That's what makes it so devastating to watch when she has another miscarriage. The show got our hopes up only for them to come crushing down once more. Princess Carolyn was doing everything right. She listened to her doctor. She avoided all of the things that can put the pregnancy at risk. And yet, it came to the same conclusion. It's even more devastating that she has to deal with all of this on her own. It's a convenient plot point that she has to go to this doctor's appointment by herself. Ralph is too busy trying to invent a new holiday to become more successful in the greeting card business. Of course, that leads to a great visual gag of all the possible options on a whiteboard - I really enjoyed Take Yourself to Work Day. But it isolates Princess Carolyn so she once again needs to handle a miscarriage by herself. It's so emotional and heartbreaking. That moment where she is alone in her car crying just hits so hard. Princess Carolyn always presents herself as this confident and in charge person who can put movie and TV packages together so quickly. But here, her vulnerability takes center stage as she's left to deal with all of this traumatic news.

It's not just the news about the miscarriage either. This is a horrible day for Princess Carolyn that is going to change everything for her. Courtney Portnoy fires her as her manager. Too many failures have been happening for her to keep that job. And then, she learns that the precious heirloom necklace that has been in her family for generations is a fake. It broke on her and the jeweler was able to catch it right away. That's heartbreaking because she cares so much about this piece of jewelry that is easily worthless. When she loses it later on, she still needs to desperately search everywhere she has been in order to find it again. It still holds so much personal significance to her because of what it represents for her family. But then, she also learns that Judah withheld information from her about a possible merger with Vigor. That was a decision he made last season without consulting her at all. He knew that she just needed time to figure things out. She was able to land back on her feet and emerge even stronger in this business. But it was still a betrayal. It came from her closest confidante in this world. She has to fire her second-hand man in this business. So in the end, she has nothing and feels so depressed.

But it's also so personally destructive that Princess Carolyn is keeping all of this from Ralph. She doesn't want to break his heart. She only wants to deliver him good news. This has been a good relationship for both of them. But now, it's going to be absolutely devastating. She deflects and avoids him for as long as possible. She feels ashamed for not telling him. But she finds comfort in drowning her sorrows in alcohol. She still has her old apartment to retreat to in order to deal with her feelings. But it's her choice to handle all of this on her own. It's a burden she doesn't have to carry. She's felt secure in this relationship in the past. But it's in moments like these that show her willingness to still push Ralph away. She would still deal with all of this on her own. That's the devastating action that may tear them apart. It's not the fact that she's suffered another miscarriage. She's revealed to have lied about a bunch of things. She kept this apartment. This is actually the fifth miscarriage that she's had. But it's still fundamentally her actions that push Ralph away. She would rather grieve alone. She doesn't want to give up on having a baby the natural way. She truly believes she can do it. Her mother had twelve children. She should be able to have at least one. It's what she truly wants more than anything else in this world. But in the end, she may have to explore other options. That's just not a reality she is ready to face quite yet.

It's a dark headspace for this main story. Mrs. Teach-Bot even points that out to Ruthie in her presentation. The presence of Ruthie in all of this makes it seem like there's going to be a hopeful ending. That all of this isn't just complicated and depressing for Princess Carolyn. In actuality though, Ruthie isn't real. The audience isn't getting an actual glimpse into the future to see the futility of the actions in the present. Instead, it's just Princess Carolyn's own imagination creating this scenario in order to feel better about the situation. She finds comfort in thinking about this distant future that she'll never actually get to see. It fills her with hope that this reality is still possible. Her darkest days won't break her if this is still the future. It's a coping mechanism that she only shares with BoJack though. At the end of this day, he's the one she's talking to on the phone. She has no one else. She has pushed them all away. She needs to talk about things with another person. BoJack is comforting but still incredibly selfish. He would much rather talk about his own day with the hassle of waiting in line at the courthouse. To him, that's just as annoying and horrible. He has no idea how tough things have gotten for Princess Carolyn. There's still the hope that things will eventually get better. But this is still a bleak ending for her. One that seems like a pivotal turning point for her story. Perhaps she'll realize that she'll need to change some things in order to obtain her dream. Or perhaps she'll double down in her efforts to get pregnant and actually carry to full term. Either option is still possible. Princess Carolyn is still living in this bad day. The ramifications of it still need to play out in the immediate future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ruthie" was written by Joanna Calo and directed by Amy Winfrey.
  • Diane questions why BoJack brings her along for this journey to the courthouse to find Hollyhock's birth certificate. BoJack explains that Hollyhock got distracted by counting her teeth. That's a weird explanation that probably hints at something more going on inside Hollyhock's mind. It feels like it's foreshadowing some big twist that's about to occur.
  • It's also amusing that Diane is more of a celebrity at the courthouse than BoJack is. He's used to a certain amount of celebrity. Yes, it's been damaging to his perception of the world and what happiness means for him. But it's a level of comfort he is used to as well. Meanwhile, Diane is just very appreciative when she meets someone who actually read one of her articles for Girl Croosh.
  • It's interesting that BoJack isn't even successful with his venture to the courthouse. He just spends the entire day waiting in line. He doesn't even get to see the files he is after. So, no progress has been made at all in finding Hollyhock's birth mother. It's clear that the season is setting up a big reveal with that story as well. It's just a little curious as to when it's going to happen.
  • So, is this the end for Princess Carolyn and Ralph? It's definitely possible. They've been a good couple. He's been a healthy guy for her to be dating. He's been a vast improvement on the other guys she's been with whom compromised her in so many ways. And yet, she still chose not to let him in. So, that could only further highlight her own trust issues.
  • There are several good visual jokes in this episode as well. Everything on Ralph's board of potential holidays is great. So are some of the signs at the courthouse. In particular, I enjoy that one says "No Loud Talking" while the one below it says "No Quiet Whispering."
  • Princess Carolyn to Todd: "This is horrifying and looks illegal but you better be cutting me in for ten percent."
  • BoJack: "What's the point in being famous if you still have to wait in lines?"

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.