BoJack is cynical and sad, but deep down he thinks he knows the key to his happiness is his old friend, Charlotte Moore. To an even greater extent than he’s done with Princess Carolyn and Diane, BoJack puts Charlotte on a pedestal. It’s easy enough, when he hasn’t seen her in decades, to indulge in long, trip fantasies about their shared lake house in Maine and their adorable children.
This episode pulls no punches in shattering not only that fantasy, but more generally, the fantastical notion that BoJack is even capable of being happy. The first step toward this realization is understanding he can’t be happy in Los Angeles. So he sets out to rekindle his friendship with Charlotte in New Mexico. And when he leaves town, he leaves, even suggesting Princess Carolyn should let his fires burn instead of trying to put them out.
At first, this episode is nothing special. It’s BoJack being BoJack, running from his problems to exploit other people’s personal space and emotions with his trademark lack of self-awareness. We’ve seen this all before. But something shifts as we realize this isn’t just a splurge on a boat and a weekend getaway for him, it’s a full-on soul searching extravaganza two months long and counting.
When Charlotte’s daughter Penny doesn’t land her dream prom date, BoJack takes it upon himself to accompany her, which obviously isn’t at all creepy. It doesn’t take long for him to become the immature adult, buying liquor for Penny and her friends. The gang ditches prom early, and not long after, Penny’s friend Maddie pukes and passes out from the alcohol.
To be clear, had the episode ended right here, it would have been awful enough. A grown adult getting a high school student sick and then abandoning her at the hospital is disgustingly irresponsible. He stresses repeatedly he’s the adult in charge, but he is incapable of acting like it.
BoJack and Penny head home, at which point the 17-year-old suggests having sex. He shuts her down firmly, but that relief turns out to be very short-lived. After a heart-to-heart with Charlotte and a one-sided kiss, BoJack returns to his boat, dejected and forced to leave New Mexico the next day.
This time when Penny solicits him, he doesn’t turn her away. Again, she is 17. They’re not even undressed yet when Charlotte walks in, but what they’re doing is clear. She sends him packing with a threat to call the police if he’s not gone in half an hour.
And with that, BoJack’s lovable loser status is gone, probably for good. Some mistakes are too big to laugh off. As a viewer, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of rooting for him and thinking he can change. This incident makes clear he actually is a bad person who has done bad things and will continue doing them without regard for others, even children. It’s a variation on his schtick meant to totally throw us, and it works.
This episode is so jarring not only because of the horrific content, but because we have no break. Sure, there are the usual sight gags and animal puns, but there’s no substantial diversion from BoJack’s awful decisions. No adorable antics from Todd or Rutabaga-Princess Carolyn romantic updates. BoJack can’t escape, and neither can we.
He won’t redeem himself for what he’s done, certainly not in the finale but probably not even in the run of the show (which will extend at least for another season). It’ll be interesting to see whether BoJack can maintain its charm now that they boldly went for the jugular and shredded any last hope for its title character.
At one point BoJack asks Charlotte if she still believes Los Angeles is a tar pit. Wisely, she says no, people are the tar pits, not the places they inhabit. BoJack, specifically, is a tar pit. He is the one with dark, sludgy insides that latch onto people and harden around them. It’s his actions that eat away at any traces of optimism and happiness and kindness he might have had left.
Having damaged a family beyond belief, BoJack serenely rides his boat back to Los Angeles atop a flatbed. Nothing’s changed. His house is a wreck. His friend is still crashing, unable to stop drinking and confront her husband. After two months away, he’s still the same horse with the same old problems.
It’s a gripping, sad penultimate episode in a strong second season, and it seems like there’s no neat resolution in sight, in the finale or afterward. BoJack hasn’t earned one.
Julie Kliegman is the weekend editor for TheWeek.com and a freelance journalist based in New York. She’s written publications including BuzzFeed, Vox, Mental Floss, PolitiFact and the Tampa Bay Times. Tweet her your favorite SpongeBob GIF.