Spoilers for S3E4 of BoJack Horseman follow
Quick breakdown of what’s happening here: these are episodic recaps of Season 3 of BoJack Horseman. The plan is to recap two episodes at a time, but we might rev it down to one at a time for particularly weighty episodes, and this show has a history of suddenly dropping extremely weighty episodes. The plan is to release about three recaps a week with the goal of having them all up in two weeks. We’ll see if I can pace myself.
Episode 4: Fish Out Of Water
This was a twist. BoJack is celebrated for its attention to detail. Small asides from early episodes are resolved with a punchline episodes later. Paintings, books, and televisions in the background of shots are filled with puns and gags. Animals do animal things in funny ways. Still, the show has always been grounded in its witty dialogue, where the lauded voice actors can give weight to a consistently excellent script. For the meat of the episode,”Fish Out Of Water” abandons dialogue entirely.
“Things are different down there,” Ana says presciently while prepping BoJack over the phone for a trip to the Pacific Ocean Film Festival. He doesn’t like being underwater, not since his mother tried to drown him in a bathtub at age 22. Unfortunately, Cannes is out for BoJack’s Sartre critique and Sundance because of Robert Redford and The Horse Whisperer. The last words BoJack hears before his failed escape from the submarine come from Ana, who tells him not to sweat a potential run-in with fellow POFF-atendee Kelsey Jennings, the director of Secretariat until BoJack’s erratic behavior got him fired.
“Luckily you won’t have to talk much because you’ll both be underwater.”
She’s right – BoJack, along with every other lung-possessing creature in the ocean, is wearing a diver’s helmet, an inverted fishbowl that fucks BoJack in a variety of painful ways. He can’t figure out how to get liquor, tobacco, or food into his body through the helmet, or how to even prevent it all from dispersing into his watery habitat. He can’t talk to the sea creatures surrounding him at press events through the helmet, even if he could understand their garbled fish-talk. Perhaps worst of all, he’s stuck alone with his own thoughts. We are too, in what I believe is the first BoJack episode to stick us with only his perspective.
After silently struggling with which outcome is more painfully awkward, BoJack stops dodging Kelsey, who is promoting her film Billie Jean King Is Not My Lover at their hotel too, and tries to give her a very BoJackian handwritten apology. He accidentally ends up on a bus out of town before he can give her the note, and the majority of the episode follows BoJack trying to get back to his hotel in time for Secretariat‘s showing at 8 p.m. without permanently damaging the newborn seahorse that has attached itself to BoJack.
Without dialogue, the show falls back on its typically great artwork to tell the story, and the art here is outstanding. The whole world is tinged a claustrophobic shade of blue, but the colors pop even more than they usually do, particularly in the deep-sea anemone-bouncing scene.
The animation shoulders the narrative burden in interesting ways too. When he writes his apology to Kelsey, his handwriting appears on the screen beside him in real-time while his crumpled drafts float away behind him:
“Kelsey! Long time, no talk. So anyway, you’re the Kelseyist! Smell you later, BJ”.
The score is similarly fantastic. The track is in the background for almost the entire episode, an ever-morphing collection of alternatively watery and brassy synthesizer, whistles, tropical guitar strums, burping bass, clicking percussion, bright piano, the tempo synced to the on-screen action.
At the end of the day, there are two main narrative takeaways. BoJack actually tries to apologize! That’s very rare, something that’s previously been reserved for the back half of the seasons. The other is that BoJack is reminded of his dream in Season 2 of having a child of his own. The episode shows pretty conclusively that he’s not a natural father, and he sure didn’t have a successful childhood of his own, but in the end, he does a passable job of getting the little seahorse home to its indifferent but effective father.
I wish I had more to say about this episode, but it really just needs to be watched to be fully appreciated. It’s unexpected, engaging, colorful, and musically brilliant. The only complaint I have is that it feels like this episode is a “break” episode – one used to pleasantly change the pace for viewers who are in the middle of a few intense episodes. I feel like “BoJack” hasn’t really hit its stride yet this year, and this episode takes us away from whatever momentum the show had been building up to this point.
I don’t know if any of the narrative threads introduced here will continue through the season, but if I had to pick one, I would expect the fatherhood inclinations of BoJack, which have been there for a while now, to make a resurgence. We’ll see if he finds a partner to share that with. For now, we’re just left to consider how good the “BoJack” crew is at ending episodes on a strong note.
The last song is “Sea of Dreams“by Oberhofer, and it’s pretty spot on.
Mr. Peanutbutter’s Seahorse Mix commercial is better than “Hollywoo Stars”.
BoJack picks up a racy copy of Master Bait at Tide-U-Over Mart. Fish puns!
Tom Jumbo-Gumbo broadcasts simultaneously in sea-speak and English?