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Sight Unsound: Bojack Horseman and the power of silence

30 November, 2016 — by Ted Wilkes0

‘Fish Out of Water’ is the fourth episode of Bojack Horseman Season 3. It uses the trope of the silent episode as a novel way of exploring some of the more prominent themes that run throughout the entire series. Let’s find out how in this week’s Sight Unsound.

Bojack Horseman is equal parts tortured soul and utter bastard. He is brash, single minded and at times pig headed. However, at the centre of every bad decision he makes is the crippling loneliness he feels and a desire to find a connection with another person.

More importantly though, both Bojack and the world of Hollywoo surrounding him, are loud. It always seems that once Bojack has found himself caught in a bind he always attempts to talk, or more likely shout, his way out of the problem.

The silent episode is nothing new. Joss Whedon used the trope to great effect in Buffy during the episode ‘Hush’. However, Whedon did this out of a desire to hit back at critics who said that the show was relying too heavily on dialogue in the show, rather than for explicit narrative purposes, or to explore the characters in new ways. The silence that descends on Sunnydale is used to heighten the powers of the monster of the week, and it’s Buffy and the rest of the gang’s mission to return their world to how it used to be.

However, in ‘Fish Out of Water’ it’s the world itself that Bojack is at conflict with and as he’s unable to change it, he has to adapt and thus grow within it.

Bojack horseman

At the beginning of ‘Fish Out of Water’ we learn that Bojack hasn’t been underwater since his mother tried to drown him. He, rightly so, has a fear of the very adventure world that he is heading into, making it all the more frightening and giving him a strong emotional motivation to reject the transition he is about to go through.

Not only is the underwater world a chance for the writers to showcase some of the great visual animal gags that are peppered throughout the series, but will be a manifestation of all of Bojack’s fears tenfold. Firstly, he is now literally isolated in a bubble all on his own and is unable to talk to others. He has lost the special skill he has on dry land of being able to talk his way out of any problem he faces and must find new ways to work through the conflicts he finds.

Also, he is unable to turn to his usual crutches which help him mask his problems as he discovers that he can’t drink or smoke. This damage is only made worse as when he turns on the TV in his hotel room he discovers that, unlike him, his arch frenemy Mr Peanutbutter has seemingly been able to navigate this world and land a lucrative deal promoting seahorse baby milk formula.

Bojack horseman fish out of water

At the festival he discovers that Kelsey Jannings is also there to promote her new film. Bojack hasn’t spoken to Kelsey since he got her fired as the director of Secretariat, an action that he has been deliberately repressing for some time. Noticing her in the lobby of the hotel he attempts to write her a letter, which he believes will help heal the rift between them.

After several attempts he finally settles on a draft. However, it is a poor attempt at an apology and we get a sense that Bojack doesn’t really mean a word of it. It’s simply another representation of Bojack’s rather large ego. Although he is no longer in Hollywoo he is as close to it as he can be when in a foreign land. Bojack has to venture further into his adventure world before he’s able to grow beyond the defences that he’s put in place to shield him from his own neurosis.

After being forced onto a bus and falling asleep at the back, Bojack is confronted with a theme that we have seen throughout the series, and another strong fear for Bojack – family. Bojack has an odd relationship with the family unit. He appears to be at his happiest when he is pretending to be a surrogate father in Horsin’ Around, but seems to reject the idea that he could be a father himself.

Bojack horseman horsin' around

As Bojack wakes up he finds that his fellow passenger, a male sea horse, is about to give birth. He assists in delivering the children, but one is separated from his father and Bojack has to reluctantly attempt to return him.

During his journey in the adventure world he faces many hardships, but the greatest of these is when he is forced out onto a ledge as he tries to escape from the taffy factory. He is faced with a frightening expanse of water and has an infant under his care. The two things which we know terrify Bojack the most. However, he finally conquers his fear and is able to swim away from those who are perusing him. He becomes a master of this adventure world and is able to almost gain a superhuman control over it.

Despite Bojack learning valuable lessons and showcasing himself to be an adequate father figure we are robbed of having him conclude his act of kindness. When he returns the child, the father doesn’t seem all that happy as Bojack arrives at the door, and there are smaller clues throughout the episode that there is an abundance of children under the sea. We get a sense that if one went missing he wouldn’t really mind. It seems this was just another adventure that Bojack has embarked on which was ultimately meaningless. What is interesting is that Bojack can’t even claim any reward at all for his actions as he is unable to even cross the threshold to celebrate within the family home, rather he just loiters at the door when invited inside.

BoJack Horseman Season 3 premiering on Netflix on July 22, 2016. The series stars Will Arnett, Aaron Paul and Amy Sedaris. (Photo Netflix)

Finally, with his quest over Bojack begins his return to the ordinary world. In the back of the taxi he uses the tools that he has gained in his adventure world to craft a much better note to Kelsey than he wrote in the beginning; now able to explore the psychological change that he has gone through and push beyond his ego defences to allow his subconscious to be momentarily exposed. It’s interesting that he uses the wrapper from the seahorse formula as the paper on which he pens the note, literally joining the experience that he had with the lessons that he has learnt during the narrative. Without having one he would not have been able to have the other.

Noticing Kelsey leaving in a taxi Bojack chases her down and showcase his mastery of the environment he learnt during his escape from the taffy factory to catch up with the car. However, as it was with the reunion with the father there is no grand reconciliation with Kelsey as the salt water has washed away the words that Bojack has penned. It seems that no one except him will ever know about the journey of self-discovery that he has just been on. Another ‘pointless’ act that he has completed.

In the closing frame we are given one of the greatest laughs of the series which the whole episode has been building to. However, it also serves a narrative purpose. As this is still sitcom we cannot allow for our characters to fully embrace their spiritual change, else risk them overcoming their neurosis and thus complete their narrative arc, which must be a never ending struggle for so as to provide future material. Bojack’s action at the end resets his character back to how it was at the beginning of the episode and allows us the pleasure of watching him try and tackle his demons again next time.

Bojack 6

So what do you guys think? Is ‘Fish Out of Water’ the best episode of Bojack Horseman to date? Are there any other examples of the silent episode trope that are worth exploring or do you have any other things you would like us to explore on this channel? Also, don’t forget, you can like and subscribe for weekly Sight Unsound videos.

Bojack Horseman and the power of silence
Bojack Horseman and the power of silence

‘Fish Out of Water’ is the fourth episode of Bojack Horseman Season 3. It uses the trope of the silent episode as a novel way of exploring some of the more prominent themes that run throughout the entire series.

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