BoJack Horseman returns for the first part of its final season and holy hell do I want to see the rest of it.
There’s no summary. Just go watch the damned thing. I waited a month to post this, but I still want you all to watch it.
The characters are BoJack (Will Arnett), Mister Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul). The creator is Raphael Bob-Waksberg. There are too many guest stars to name.
BoJack Horseman is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and yet I fully admit that I didn’t enjoy most of the first season. The thing about the show is that it started out defying the usual tropes of sitcoms by having nothing in the show ever really go away. Things didn’t reset in this world the way they do, for the most part, in animated sitcoms like The Simpsons or Family Guy. Typically the only things that are permanent in sitcoms are when someone dies or gets married or marries a ghost. Hell, some shows write out major characters (like Chuck Cunningham) and then later pretend they don’t exist.
When stuff happens here, it lingers. They sometimes use the audience’s familiarity with sitcom tropes about resets and lost plot points to make us think that something that happened has been dropped, only for it to be revealed that it wasn’t. Instead, BoJack’s fame and wealth and sometimes pure dumb luck keep him from suffering the consequences at the time. We’ve seen BoJack do wonderful things (like returning a lost seahorse child) and terrible things (like leading his friend Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) to start using drugs after she got clean, resulting in her fatal overdose), and sometimes it felt like those things were forgotten. However, this season makes it clear that they weren’t. Moreover, these things are being remembered just as BoJack starts to remember them, because, as he puts it “I remember everything. I’m sober now.”
That’s what this show appears to be setting up for: The great sobering of BoJack Horseman the show. A big theme of last season was addressing the issue of whether or not people should be looking up to BoJack (or his character, Philbert) or using his depression and self-abuse as an excuse to feel better about their own personal failures. While ultimately BoJack acknowledged that he needed to be better and going to rehab, there’s still a question of accountability. At the end of last season Diane gave BoJack a talk about how there are no good guys or bad guys, there’s just guys and that believing that you’re bad is just an excuse to be bad. He counters that he’s asking to be held accountable and she says that “…no one is going to ‘hold you accountable.’ You need to take responsibility for yourself.” However, now that BoJack is ready to do just that, the world seems to be setting up to take him to task. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, but it really seems like they’re preparing to take down more than just their lead. They’re going to try and take down all the people that view him as something to emulate or something to use to excuse their own shitty behavior. I could be wrong, but as that would be the most amazing way to end a show this self-aware, I’m hoping that I’m not.
They also seem to be building a parallel plot that I can’t quite figure out how it’s going to tie-in to the central narrative. A company called Whitewhale, run by a White Whale named Whitewhale (Stephen Root), has begun acquiring almost all of the companies in America and has begun murdering anyone that gets in their way (because Congress made murder legal for billionaires… despite that being a state crime and not a Federal crime in most cases). It could just be a set-up for a plot with Diane trying to take them down, but I am willing to bet heavily that there’s a joke pending involving “Ahab” and “Rehab” that is dependant on BoJack’s newfound taking of responsibility for himself being what finally forces the public to demand the same of all our celebrities.
The end of the show kind of always had to be BoJack being destroyed. I mean, the opening sequence changes every season, but it always concludes with BoJack drowning and looking up through the pool as everyone looks down at him. Does that mean that he’s going to die at the end? Well, possibly. It wouldn’t shock me if the first shot of the last half of the last season is a tribute to Sunset Boulevard with BoJack lying in a pool narrating how he got to this point, only for it to be revealed that he’s now broke and cleaning pools for a living or something. I mean, with all this set-up, BoJack can’t be allowed to end without some form of consequences and BoJack has grown into the kind of person who will accept them.
Either way, the show was amazing, and I’m so sad it’s ending, but also so glad that it existed.
I got a request for a Halloween episode of BoJack and I cannot resist going into it.
Taking place in a world populated by humans and anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman is a show about an equine equity actor named BoJack (Will Arnett) who had a popular, but critically panned, show from the late 80s through the 90s. In this season, he is having a career resurgence on a new detective series. His closest companions are his feline ex-girlfriend and ex-manager Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his ex-roommate Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), his ex-ghostwriter Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and his rival and Diane’s ex-husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). BoJack is an alcoholic and chronically depressed in addition to a host of other vices. In the episodes leading up to this, BoJack had developed an opioid habit after sustaining a back injury, had started sleeping with his current TV co-star, and had just discovered that Diane knows that he almost slept with the daughter of a former flame.
This episode takes place over the course of 4 separate Halloween parties in 1993, 2004, 2009, and 2018. It turns out that in 1993, Mr. Peanutbutter mistook BoJack blowing him off as an invitation to host a Halloween party. So, he invited himself, all his friends, and his first wife Katrina (Lake Bell) over to BoJack’s house. Each of the Halloweens features Mr. Peanutbutter bringing a different wife/girlfriend (or his “Boo”) to the party. In 1993, he took his then-loving first wife Katrina; In 2004, he takes his second wife Jessica Biel; In 2009, he takes his then-girlfriend Diane; and in 2018, he takes his girlfriend Pickles Aplenty (Hong Chau), and yes that’s her real name.
At each of the parties, Mr. Peanutbutter screws up somehow, resulting in him causing a rift in his relationship. In 1993, it’s that he keeps abandoning Katrina to talk to other people against her request, resulting in her talking to Ben Stein and Tim Allen and becoming an adulterous and cruel ultra-conservative. In 2004, he fails to protect Jessica Biel from seeing a mummy, reminding her that she didn’t get the part in the Brendan Fraser movie (she auditioned for the role of the mummy). In 2009, he pressures Diane into going to the party even though she hates parties. In 2018, he talks about his exes to Pickles, including Diane, who is at the party. He realizes that all of the women he dates start out happy and fun, then end up being bitter and mean. Diane tells him that it’s because he keeps dating women in their 20s, while he’s now in his late 40s. They don’t change because of him, they just outgrow him. After Diane consoles Pickles and tells her that Mr. Peanutbutter does always love every woman he’s with, including her. She then reminds him that she’s so much younger than him by saying they’re gonna party more.
So, this episode definitely is something that has to be watched and re-watched to really make complete sense, because they constantly cut between the time periods to draw parallels between the stories. In a brilliant stroke, however, you can almost always recognize what year it is in any scene by what costumes people are wearing. The costumes are probably the best part of the episode, but more on that later.
One of the major themes throughout the show, and one that BoJack himself had recently elaborated on, is that there are no such things as happy endings. That’s because everyone in the show is so caught up in Hollywood (or Hollywoo as it is called in the show) that it tends to blur their reality and, in TV sitcoms, there can’t be happy endings. Because, if everyone’s happy, there’s nothing to watch. BoJack’s inability to ever improve himself in any meaningful way is tied to the fact that he is a sitcom character. However, this episode shows us that Mr. Peanutbutter suffers from the same futility of change, but in a different way. He can’t grow up, something that does NOT affect the women in his life. In each party, Mr. Peanutbutter acts essentially the same, even though it’s over a 25 year period, and each party ends essentially the same. The same is true for BoJack and Princess Carolyn. This is possibly the scariest theme in any of the things I’m going to go over this Halloween: That no one can ever really change for the better. All change is only temporary, because the show must go on, and we’re all the characters that have to become simpler over time so that the grand audience can follow it more easily. We’re leads in our own story, but that means we can’t ever be more than we are when we finally are being observed.
Note: I don’t believe the above, but the idea that maybe it’s true horrifies me.
What makes it worse is that we know how Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationships are going to go because we’ve seen what they’re like in other flashbacks in the show. Katrina will become abusive to him, but will say it’s because he never listens to her, the thing that he promises to do in this episode. Jessica Biel will become obsessed with her own fame, even claiming success from movies like Stealth, possibly because Mr. Peanutbutter can’t stop her from being reminded of her failures like he did in this episode. There’s an entire episode about a fight that occurs between him and Diane because he hosts a surprise party for her, even though he tells her that he won’t ever force her into another party. He never learns to listen to others, no matter how much he loves those other people.
The only other major revelation in the episode is that Todd only became BoJack’s roommate because he offered to hang out so BoJack wasn’t alone after his dad died. It adds a layer to their relationship off of such a simple act.
Also, I can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into all the costumes at the parties. There are three people who wear the same costume each year: Princess Carolyn who goes as Amelia Earhart, a roach who wears a Beetlejuice costume, and a moth who goes as a ghost, but eats more of his costume every year, finally finishing it off in 2018. Other fun costumes are dependent on the year. In 1993, there’s a costume of Ellie Sadler from Jurassic Park and a pair as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. In 2004, Jorge Garcia from Lost is dressed as Shrek, there’s a woman as a female version of Cast Away, Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles, three girls as the Plastics from Mean Girls, a Jack Sparrow, and a very untimely costume that’s a Bugs Bunny knock-off wearing a shirt for the movie “Space Jelly.” In 2009, there’s an octopus as Octomom and a cat as Keyboard Cat. In 2018, there’s a maiden from The Handmaid’s Tale and a Wonder Woman outfit. 2004 likely has the most timely references because the Jessica Biel plot is based more on costume jokes.
The best part about the use of the costumes is to remind us that even if we don’t change, the rest of the world does, but not in a meaningful way. Pop culture moves on, but people are people. Some people get older and leave, like Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) from 1993 and some new people come in, like Flip (Rami Malek) in 2018, but the way the party goes is still the same.
Overall, this is a great episode of the show and of television in general.
Given that I put one of the episodes of BoJack Horseman on my list of The Greatest Television Episodes while saying it was one of the best shows on television currently, it’s probably fair to say I’m a fan. It’s hard to say whether or not I love the show more after watching this season, but I definitely respect it more for its dedication to improvement. If this isn’t the best season of the show, it is damned close.
BoJack (Will Arnett) starts working on his new show, Philbert, which co-stars Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), a veteran TV actress who starts casually sleeping with BoJack. Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) deal with the end of their marriage, while Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to adopt a baby and produce Philbert. Todd Chavez (“Ya done f*cked up” Aaron Paul) has moved in with Princess Carolyn and is trying to make his asexual relationship work with Yolanda Buenaventura (Natalie Morales).
Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.
I truly loved this season.
On some level, BoJack knows that its fans trust it by this point and that it can coast a little and play off of some of the formulas it has set-up, knowing that we’ll still find the elaborate gags and surrealist jokes funny. However, what really sets this show apart is its dedication to constantly build upon them. It doesn’t just subvert established tropes, it subverts the subversion, then subverts that subversion’s subversion. Then, sometimes it plays things straight and the tropes that in most shows would be tired and overused are played out like it’s the first time and we remember why we loved those tropes in the first place. This season does all of that and more, but it tries to really blend the darkness and sadness that is constantly in the show with elements of hope and a lot more social commentary.
Part of the beauty of the show has always been that BoJack is aware of how sitcoms work, since he was in a notoriously formulaic one, which gives him an excuse to point out that his life is devoid of growth. But, after spending years having characters in the show telling us how television characters are hopeless because they’re stuck in a sitcom and are never allowed to grow, the series has also been showing their growth. It’s not always in a straight line, to be sure, and there are lots of setbacks, but that’s because that’s how growth actually works. Sometimes you’ll skip the gym because you had a bad day. Sometimes you’ll quit altogether for a while when you start to think that it’s not worth prolonging your life when you hate it. But, then, maybe, after trying enough times, you’ll be a little better. Then you’ll screw up again, but maybe you’ll be better after that. It’s not ever easy, it’s not always even a choice you can make, and life can, and does, kick you down for no reason, but it’s possible to get better. Even a show about characters that are supposed to be stuck in a cycle can remind us that growth really is possible.
Now, you might watch this season and think that I’m nuts and that BoJack is just going to reset after all of this or that he’s reset after the last season, but after re-watching seasons two and three recently, this season really does show that he’s grown. Yes, he is still unbelievably flawed, but he’s past the stage of believing that it’s everyone else’s problem and he’s past the stage of believing that it can’t be changed. Those are both steps towards improvement. Also, the “reset” in this season isn’t entirely his fault, as he is caught up in an addiction that is, sadly, all too realistically portrayed (though it culminates in him doing something unspeakable). At the end of the season, he does something that almost no one else will ever do and asks to be held accountable for all of the things he has done. Because of that, even more than all of the other things, I do get the feeling that he might be becoming a better person… or horseman, whatever.
Another thing I noted was that this show, like Rick and Morty, is often criticized for the fact that it has such a compelling lead that it glamorizes being a shitty person. This season finally makes one thing clear: Even BoJack hates BoJack. You shouldn’t like him for being shitty, you should like him for learning how to NOT be shitty.
Also, it’s not just BoJack that grows with the story. All of the supporting characters have been tested and have changed (except, perhaps, Mr. Peanutbutter, something the season directly addresses). Diane is probably the most notable change at the end of the season, delivering a short speech in the last episode which is both touching and devastating. Princess Carolyn, too, has grown, and shows exactly how much during one episode of this season.
The Good Place once said that it’s our connections to other people that make us want to be better, because we feel we owe it to each other to be better. I think that’s true and I think that’s what makes the characters on BoJack grow, because as the show has gone on their connections have been severed, altered, and repaired, but they’ve mostly deepened through moments of genuine connection, even if they’re rare. The reason why that can happen here, as opposed to most sitcoms, is because things don’t just get dropped. The plots carry on, with things that were skipped over for a season or two resurfacing to confront the protagonists. Hell, they still call it “Hollywoo” after the D got destroyed in season one. That’s really the biggest subversion about the show, particularly for an animated series.
The humor in this season is a step up from the last one, which I thought was a little bit of a drop from the previous ones. They really went back to embracing the “shotgun approach” to comedy that I loved from seasons two and three, where jokes can be puns, sight gags, but mostly brick jokes that are set-up with such subtlety that I sometimes just had to pause, go back, and trace all the steps in order to show the proper respect for how amazing it was.
Like I said, I loved this season. I was a little worried after the last one, but this one just blew me away. All the returning characters were great, all the new characters were great, and the world of BoJack just keeps getting simultaneously more absurd and yet more honest. It’s a reflection of the real world through a mirror that shows our true selves, which sadly are kind of shitty. Still, we can get better… mostly if we have shows that keep reminding us how to do so.
Oh, and one of the episodes is one of the best half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m adding it to the list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes tomorrow.
Okay, so, as I said in an earlier entry, I thought that Breaking Bad was essentially dead after season four’s final shot. You probably remember that the two episodes of the show on this list are both from season five. I freely admit that I was completely wrong on my prediction, and I am glad to have been so.
Felina is the last episode of Breaking Bad. People will argue that Ozymandias is better, and, in a lot of ways, it absolutely is. In fact, the only way in which this episode is superior is that it actually resolves one of the most complicated and character-driven shows of all time in a completely satisfying way. It’s not that you didn’t want more after the episode was over, and because of that we got Better Call Saul, but nobody felt like they desperately needed more. The show was over, it was a masterpiece. Roll credits.
Even the episode’s title is brilliant. It’s an anagram for finale. It’s a reference to the song “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, which Walt listens to at the beginning of the episode and which describes the plot of the final scenes. It’s a combination of 3 chemical symbols: Iron, lithium, and sodium, which are key ingredients in, respectively, blood, drugs, and tears (however, while lithium is used to synthesize meth, Walt never uses it within the show. However, it’s used to treat some mental health issues, including Walt’s possible undiagnosed chemo-induced bipolar disorder). Supposedly it’s also a reference to Schrodinger’s Cat, which represents an opposing thought experiment to the quantum model of Walt’s alias, Werner Heisenberg (kinda). While the last two are unconfirmed, the first two are definitely true, and that alone is worthy of respect.
Okay, quick refresher from last time: Breaking Bad is a show about Walter White’s decline and fall. Walter starts as a sympathetic guy with cancer who decides to partner up with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to cook meth so he can provide for his family after he dies. By the fifth and final season, Walter is no longer sympathetic. In fact, at the end of Season 4, you probably were on team “Please kill him now, cancer,” because he’d just done something unthinkable in order to motivate someone else to kill for him. He’d dragged his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) into it, even though he’d worked to hide it from his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). For the first half of Season Five, Walt manages to become a drug kingpin, amassing a fortune and piling up bodies everywhere. By the time of this episode, Walt has lost his empire. He has left his family, betrayed and been betrayed by Jesse, and tried to find a new life, but, ultimately, he fails. He’s even told that he should die by his own son. Dejected, he calls the DEA and tells them where he is. Then, he sees Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz on TV. These two, arguably, indirectly caused everything in the series.
They were Walt’s ex-girlfriend and best friend, as well as his partners when they founded Gray Matter, a successful pharmaceutical company. It’s not ever clarified fully what happened between them, but Walt ended up leaving the company and not becoming a millionaire, despite clearly being the most brilliant scientist of the three. When Walt sees them on TV, they deny that Walt contributed anything to the company. This motivates Walt to do one more thing before he gives in.
Walt holds the two of them hostage until they agree to give money to his family to make up for screwing him over. Then, he finds out that Jesse is still alive, but is being held captive by some of Walt’s former partners. Walt returns home one last time to try and help keep his wife out of trouble, finally acknowledging that he didn’t become a kingpin for the altruistic reasons that he said. It was because it made him feel alive.
Walt goes to where Jesse is being held. After a tense conversation with Jack (Michael Bowen), the one holding Jesse, Walt tackles Jesse to the ground and activates a remote controlled M60 Machine Gun, because sometimes television shows us exactly what we want even if we didn’t know we wanted it.
Walt then kills Jack as revenge for Jack’s earlier murder of Walt’s brother-in-law Hank. Walt then offers Jesse the opportunity to kill him, but Jesse chooses not to, before seeing that Walt has been shot by a stray round from the machine gun. Walt then gives Jesse the keys to a getaway vehicle, allowing Jesse to escape before the authorities arrive. Walt then wanders around the meth lab, smiling, until peacefully passing away from the bullet wound, surrounded by the one thing that really let him feel alive.
As I said, this episode manages to really finish the series. Part of it is that it mirrors the pilot in many ways. The show both begins and ends with sirens heading towards Walt. In the pilot, Walt fails to shoot himself, but, in this episode, dies by shooting himself. The bullet is implied by one of the final shots to be in his left lung, the same place that the tumor was found in the pilot. Both episodes were actually directed and written by Vince Gilligan, the show creator, something he only did four times. Walt’s even wearing the same basic outfit in both episodes.
I said in an earlier review that a great climax can overcome even a poor build-up. This show did the opposite. It has a solid climax, but it’s not overwhelming, and it didn’t need to be, because the build-up had been so fantastic. Walter gets a slight blaze of glory, but really, he gets a quiet death that he’d longed for on some level since the beginning. More than that, by choosing to save Jesse, which the episode indicates might not have been his plan the entire time, Walt slightly redeems himself, enough to make the audience feel that he’s earned this end.
Okay, so, this is the fourth of the add-ons, and unless something amazing comes on before I finish the last 22 entries of this list, there will only be one more. Given that I write this before Season 2 of Stranger Things comes out, I might already be setting myself up for failure, but this is probably going to be it.
BoJack Horseman, the show, is weird. It takes place in a world where humans regularly interact with anthropomorphic animals as if it’s just a natural part of existence. It also takes place in Hollywoo (the D gets stolen and then destroyed), a place that, regardless of which universe you’re in, is filled with so many fake identities and false personas that an animated talking horse isn’t that much different than some of the real people. Because of the setting being so distanced from reality, however, the show can address issues that most shows probably couldn’t without significantly more backlash. However, most of those are not fun issues.
The show follows the title character BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), a washed-up actor who had a long-running Full House-esque 90s family sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.” During the first season, we follow BoJack trying to get some of his fame back by releasing a ghostwritten biography. The human ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), is also the girlfriend, and later wife, of Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), an anthropomorphic dog that had a show that was essentially a rip-off of Horsin’ Around. We’re also introduced to the human homeless slacker who sleeps in BoJack’s house, Todd (Aaron Paul) and his agent/ex-girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy “I deserve more work than I get” Sedaris). The second season depicts him filming the role of a lifetime in “Secretariat,” and this season, the third, features him trying to win an Oscar for Best Actor (despite the fact that he actually had been replaced by a CGI version of himself, meaning he did no actual acting in the film).
Part of the theme of the show is the nature of happiness. BoJack, who, during the course of the series, has a fortune from residuals, gets a best-selling biography, and finally a starring role in the movie he dreamed of forever, is one of the most lonely and miserable people in existence. He is constantly either questioning why he isn’t happy, or finding a way to distract himself from being happy, usually with sex, drugs, and hijinks. He doesn’t connect with people, despite the fact that he keeps becoming progressively more popular. His relationships are shown to be self-sabotaging, his friendships consist mostly of him screwing other people over or doing selfish things that drive wedges between them, and his family, until the most recent season, consists only of his horribly abusive mother (whose backstory is actually even more tragic than BoJack’s, when revealed). BoJack almost always chooses to do the easy thing, or the selfish thing, and yet even when that’s pointed out to him, he never manages to really change himself (though, in the most recent season, he actually shows signs of being better).
This is made even more stark when he is paired with his counterpart Mr. Peanutbutter, who, like most dogs, is almost unwaveringly happy, even though he also has dark events in his past. While BoJack is intelligent and hesitates on almost anything, Mr. Peanutbutter tends to not think things through and blindly charge ahead on any idea, even insane ones, if he thinks it’s a good thing to do. Despite his hesitation, however, BoJack does often want to do the right thing. He’s not necessarily a traditional bad person, he’s just horribly weak. Many episodes end with his weakness or irresponsibility hurting someone, even if he didn’t mean to, and BoJack trying to avoid responsibility. This episode, however, goes the other way. And it does so with almost no dialogue, making it more impressive.
When the episode starts, BoJack is headed to Pacific Ocean City to promote his film Secretariat for the Pacific Oceanic Film Festival (a POFF piece… get it? Sometimes they don’t have to try that hard). As the festival’s name indicates, it’s underwater, and BoJack wears a helmet that prevents him from speaking. Meanwhile, all the underwater residents, mostly fish and sea-mammals, speak what sounds like gibberish to air-breathers. So, once he’s underwater, dialogue stops being a thing. Most of the citizens communicate with air-breathers by pantomime. BoJack first ends up accidentally causing a scandal, of which he is completely unaware, but we see in the background of the episode, by giving a thumbs-up, which is the most offensive gesture underwater.
He then sees the ex-director of the Secretariat film, Kelsey, whom he did not stick up for after she got dismissed for shooting a scene the producers didn’t agree with, and attempts to write her an apology note that is designed to avoid any personal responsibility. In the process of trying to give it to her, he ends up on a bus going out of the city, then gets caught up delivering the babies of a very pregnant, and, accurately, male, seahorse. After getting off the bus, now lost and without any money or way of communicating, BoJack finds that one of the seahorse babies has clung to him. The rest of the episode is a series of colorful and entertaining shenanigans while BoJack tries to return the baby. When he finally does, the seahorse dad is not particularly appreciative, at first ignoring him, then offering soup, then money. Finally, the seahorse dad appears to ask “what do you want?” and BoJack, suddenly without the purpose he had for the episode, does not have an answer. On the way back into the city, he manages to write a heartfelt, sincere apology-note to Kelsey that takes responsibility for his actions. When he finally gets it to her, however, the ink has blurred, because they’re underwater, and Kelsey leaves angrily. Just to drive home his failure, it’s then revealed that the helmets have a function allowing for speech, BoJack just didn’t know to use it.
Okay, first of all, any episode that manages to keep you entertained without dialogue is impressive. There are a few others on this list, and for good reason. They engage the mind in a way that being told something doesn’t. It allows us to project ourselves more completely onto a character, as well as to think more deeply by forcing us to interpret non-verbal cues. That’s always a good start. Putting our main character into an unfamiliar situation, both in terms of location and in actions within the episode is also brilliant. The latter, though, is really what makes this episode. BoJack causes a scandal in his usual fashion, but that’s put in the background. Instead, we focus on BoJack trying to do something good, for which he doesn’t seek attention or reward. He’s trying to return a lost baby, and he goes through some harsh trials to do it. He’s actually pretty heroic. He even manages to write a completely uncharacteristic apology, contrasting with everything he usually does. But, ultimately, he fails to deliver it, and, at the end, he’s still miserable, and by the next episode is unchanged.
Change begets change, but that only goes so far. A new job or a new city may be an opportunity to redefine yourself, but, deep down, you are still you, and changing that is harder. In this episode, they speed up the process by completely changing everything around BoJack, allowing his better angels to prevail, for once. And what’s the term for something else that has had everything around him changed? A fish out of water. Sometimes they do work hard on these.
This episode was going to be on the list if I just used the marketing for the episode, featuring Walter White (Bryan “I should have been Lex Luthor” Cranston) reading the title poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Run down to the bookstore and pick up a copy of all of Shelley’s works if you can, he was pretty amazing. The poem was written as a friendly competition between Shelley and poet Horace Smith, each about Ozymandias and the statue of him that was to arrive in Britain. The poem describes finding an ornate statue in the desert, and on the pedestal, are the most well-known lines:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Those words, when read right, are dramatic, threatening, and glorious. Cranston does them perfectly, however, it’s the next three words that he truly nailed in the ad.
‘Nothing besides remains.’
Cranston truly captures the simple truth of those words: Every empire will fade. The world will change and leave it behind. And that’s what we have in this episode.
Breaking Bad is a show about Walter White’s decline and fall. Walter starts as a sympathetic guy with cancer who decides to partner up with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to cook meth so he can provide for his family after he dies. By the fifth and final season, Walter is, by almost every standard, no longer sympathetic. In fact, at the end of Season 4, you probably were on team “Please kill him now, cancer,” because he’d just done something unthinkable in order to motivate someone else to kill for him. He’d dragged his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) into it, even though he’d worked to hide it from his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). I will confess that the ending of Season 4 had led me to believe that Breaking Bad was, effectively, over. That there was no more merit to the show. To tell you how wrong I was, two episodes of Season 5 are on this list.
During the first half of season 5, Walt pretty much continues to indulge his bad nature. He has a ton of people killed, kills a few himself, and is willing to tolerate the killings of others fairly freely. He even partners with the Aryan Brotherhood to help kill a number of people at once. The result? He makes $80 million dollars. As the first half ends, however, Walt’s brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), discovers that Walt is the kingpin “Heisenberg.” The second half starts with Walt’s cancer finally coming back, and Hank trying to find any way to prove that Walt is Heisenberg. Walt and Hank both play an elaborate chess match trying to determine whether or not Jesse will betray Walt for most of the season. Finally, Jesse sides with Hank, and tries to help Hank set up a trap to find Walt’s millions. Hank subdues Walt, just as Walt’s team shows up to kill Jesse. And, just before this episode begins, a firefight ensues.
At the start of the episode, Walt and Jesse have been hiding from the gunfire, Hank is wounded, his partner is dead, and Walt’s crew, led by Jack Welker (Michael Bowen) are perfectly fine. Walt begs for Hank’s life to be spared, offering all of his money. Jack responds by executing Hank, who refused to beg or negotiate, and stealing 6/7th of Walt’s money, before taking Jesse with him to “interrogate.” As Jesse is being taken away, Walt taunts him by revealing his role in the death of Jesse’s ex. Then, Walt takes what money he has left, goes home, and finds that his family will not run away with him. Walt steals his baby daughter, Holly, and starts to run.
As he talks to Holly, all she says is her first word, “Mama,” breaking Walt’s heart. Finally, Walt calls and plants fake information on a recorded call to exonerate his family from any connection to him, and leaves Holly to be returned to her mother. As the episode ends, Walter completely abandons his life for a new identity.
Nothing besides remains.
At the beginning of this part of the season, Walt seemed untouchable. He had millions of dollars, people supporting him, and the only crack was Hank’s suspicions which were tenuous at best.
Five episodes later, he has nothing, not even himself. His empire has crumbled. All that remains is Heisenberg, his criminal shell. At some point in the episode, every main character drops to their knees in grief, in reference to looking on his works and despairing, further driving home the comparison.
Ultimately, this episode was almost the climax of the series, despite not being the last one, because this really shows us what has befallen Walt for his hubris. We’ve followed his arc from sympathetic hero to outright villain, but now, we see all of him in one episode. He begs for the life of Hank, the man trying to take him in. He cruelly mocks Jesse as he is being taken away. He attacks his wife. He reveals his crimes to his son. He takes all the blame to save his family. He kidnaps his daughter and returns her. Finally, he surrenders his identity. All of these contradictory actions are taken but none of them ever feel wrong. That’s how well Walter White’s character was crafted. Because we had watched his rise and fall, both in terms of power and morality, we were able to see why he does everything. That’s the hallmark of a great character.
Breaking Bad is already on this list, although, this episode review debuted before the show’s proper entries. In another entry, I questioned whether or not there is a “bad” episode of Breaking Bad. This wasn’t actually the episode that I was thinking of (I was thinking of “A No Rough-Stuff Type Deal” with Marie’s kleptomania subplot, which is the dumbest thing in the entire series), but, I also remember hating this episode the first time I watched it. When I re-watched the series to build up to the finale, I actually found that I kind of liked it. I watched it again to write this review and I genuinely got something more out of it that I hadn’t before. So, I’m pretty mixed on this, and it looks like a lot of other people are too, since this is by far the lowest-rated episode of this show on any viewer-based polls. IMDB puts this as the only Breaking Bad below 8/10. It took me a while, but I figured out why, and, it’s actually pretty connected to the reason why people were so divided on The Last Jedi: Because Rian Johnson is a visionary to the extent that sometimes he forgets that people care about the context of his vision.
Alright, quick review: Breaking Bad is the story of cancer victim Walter White (Bryan Cranston) going from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to meth kingpin. His sidekick is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a drug dealer and user who is just as likely to screw something up as he is to save Walt from whatever predicament he’s in. The acting by the two in this show is top notch, winning 7 out of 10 possible Emmy awards during its run. At this point, Walt and Jesse have a high-producing meth lab under distributor Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). The show had been having a huge amount of action, tension, and character development in all of the episodes leading up to this, which is why this episode stands out so much: It’s slow and has no real character development. Granted, part of this is because the show was so far over-budget that they had to shoot this episode in a single location on no budget, but that only explains one of those things.
The episode starts with Walt having insomnia and staring at the smoke detector. It’s clear that he hasn’t been sleeping for a while. He and Jesse go to cook meth for the day, and while they reach the “official” goal, they still don’t reach Walt’s calculated yield. Walt, believing that there is something wrong with the process, becomes obsessed with a housefly he finds within the facility, worried that it will contaminate his immaculate facility. Walt falls off of a catwalk after trying to swat it, hurting himself, which also keeps him from sleeping. The next day, when Jesse returns, Walt insists that they kill the fly before they do anything. Jesse, believing that Walt’s insomnia is making him crazy, suggests they go outside for a bit, but Walt uses this as a way to lock Jesse outside while he tries to kill the fly. Jesse turns the power off from outside, then, when Walter agrees to let him back in, goes to get some flypaper and sleeping pills.
While the two wait for the fly to get stuck, they talk, and this is the meat of the episode: Walt brings up that he should be dead by now. This is a guy who had cancer, started down this path, ostensibly, because of his desire to help his family become secure before he died, and now, he’s talking about the fact that he’s lived too long. He thinks about when he should have died, and realizes it would have been after he had the money for his family, after his daughter was born, before his wife found out the truth, and before he had his expensive surgery. Walt is really asking “what is the point of still going forward?” He determines the best time would have been the night that Jesse’s girlfriend Jane died.
Walt then tells Jesse that he actually met Jane’s father randomly in a bar the day that she died, and wonders about the odds of meeting two connected people on the same day despite knowing neither before that. Essentially, Walter is pondering the show’s writing and the believability of such a coincidence. This is pretty unique, but also kinda dumb. It’s like when John McClane asks about the odds of the same guy in the same situation at Christmas twice in Die Hard 2: It’s pointing out the insanity of something that we already were agreeing to believe. That’s the opposite of convincing the audience to suspend disbelief, it’s ridiculing us for having suspended it. But, at least, it’s in character for both Walter and McClane, so it’s not too bad.
This also is kind of a weird moment for Walt because Jesse doesn’t know that Walt allowed Jane to die choking on vomit after an overdose (he could have saved her, chose not to). Walt almost admits to what he’s done, but ends up avoiding an actual admission. In the meantime, the pair keep trying to kill the fly before Walt finally succumbs to the sleeping pills that Jesse slipped in his drink. The fly then comically lands on Jesse’s shoulder and he swats it easily.
The next night, Walt still can’t sleep, and a fly lands on the smoke detector. Because f*ck you, that’s why.
Okay, here are the bad parts of the episode:
First, it seriously is slow. There’s very little action in the episode, and it doesn’t advance the plot of the series at all. It’s mostly about chasing a fly and talking, and there are a lot of long, lingering shots. Breaking Bad usually ends with me going “Wait, was that an hour already?” This one had me going “Gotta be almost done” like 5 times. This is not a good thing.
Second, by not having Walt actually say anything to Jesse about Jane, and by having him literally just contemplate stuff without ever trying to answer it, it avoids any actual character development, in an episode whose set-up says that it should have been almost entirely character development.
Third, it’s just ridiculous. The entire premise is that Walt is super-obsessed with killing a fly to the point of endangering himself and his lab. I get the allegory of it signifying Walt’s descent into madness and self-neglect in the name of making the best meth, but, this is Breaking Bad: It’s a show where the allegory has to be presented within a coherent story that works independent of that. Without the metaphor here, the episode is just weird. Shows like The Prisoner or movies like Mother! can do allegorical because they’re goofy from start to finish, and that means that the audience expects to be flexible. This show didn’t ever really do that before or after, so it falls apart.
Fourth, it’s just Jesse and Walt. Yeah, they’re amazing, but Breaking Bad had a lot of great characters and this episode featured almost none of them.
But, here are the good parts:
First, the dialogue is pretty awesome. It’s genuinely clever and the actors are, well, amazing. They manage to make everything seem believable, despite how ridiculous some parts are. Walt literally talks about when he should have died, and, in some ways, is talking about how the show should have ended already, but it comes off as deep, rather than just whiny. Also, it has the word “flysaber” in it, and that was hilarious. Actually, there’s a decent amount of humor in the episode, and most of it works. It’s just that Breaking Bad isn’t something I watched for the humor, so it doesn’t really help as much as they wanted.
Second, the cinematography was amazing. The shots in this episode are found only in this episode. The only other episode of the series where I thought the camerawork was this good was “Ozymandias,” which was another episode directed by Rian Johnson, only there it made everything so much bigger and more profound. Here, it’s making the mundane, a fly, into the foreign element and the viewpoint character at the same time. It really does work.
Third, and this is the big one, it’s the entire series. While doing these reviews, I’ve gotten used to trying to find episodes that embody an entire work, and this one actually does it, just not as directly as most. The episode’s premise is that Walt becomes obsessed with something and drags Jesse into it. Walt tries a methodical, scientific approach to the problem, and lashes out when they fail, while Jesse just doesn’t care that much and proposes ideas that would make everything worse. Both of them hurt each other in the process, Jesse goes between feeling bad for Walt and wanting to kick his ass, and Walt goes from thinking of Jesse as a tool to a partner to a liability to someone who he has ruined. It’s basically a microcosm of the entire show.
So, is it good or bad? Really, it’s gonna depend on what you look for in a show. Personally, I don’t like it as part of Breaking Bad because it’s just awkward in how it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the show. On the other hand, it’s a well-crafted hour of television, it just needed to be part of a different universe so it didn’t feel so out of place. It’s not like “Pine Barrens” from the Sopranos, where it’s just an odd circumstance that the characters are dealing with in the way they usually would, this is an entirely out-of-place episode within the framework of the show.
So, I wish I could give you an answer, but I don’t have one. I think it’s like The Last Jedi: You’re going to love this for what it is, or be pissed off that it is so different than both what was expected and what it’s a part of.
Okay, fine, if I have to give an opinion: This episode is bad.
If you are making an episode of a show, you still have to have to obey some of the core promises of the show. There are a ton of “anti-episodes” on this list, but they all work within the framework of the show. Rian Johnson even managed to do that in the other episodes of the show that he directed, so he knows, or can be taught, how to do it. This doesn’t feel like an episode of Breaking Bad, and that’s a fundamental sin against it. It’s like finding a Monet in a museum of Modern Art: It’s beautiful, but it’s not what you were there to see. If you’re the kind of person who would love that, then you’ll love this. If you’re the kind of person that would bother, then this episode will bother you.