Bojack Horseman: Music of Not Drowning

September 20, 2018

 

            Bojack Horseman is one of those shows that’s rather odd in premise, but the more you watch the more parts of it ring true. It begins with the titular Bojack Horseman, star of a famous 90’s sitcom who’s done nothing notable since, trying to get back in the spotlight by writing a memoir. To this end he hires ghostwriter Diane Nyugen, and as they begin working together (and afterwards) their lives become increasingly intertwined.

            There are other characters too—Princess Carolyn & Mr. Peanutbutter (yes, these are their names) are 2 to take note of—but I’ve always felt that at the core of the show is Diane and Bojack’s relationship, and how these two influence each other both positively and negatively.

            With that said, Diane isn’t in the episode we’re covering today. No, no, no—this one’s all about Bojack.

            Free Churro, the 6th episode of the show’s 5th season, has Bojack discussing his parents, their family life together, & his own life now at his mother’s funeral; what starts as a eulogy of sorts becomes something quite expansive as the episode goes on. That’s all the episode is—23 minutes of Bojack talking. But it works surprisingly well, namely because Bojack’s eulogy isn’t treated as a eulogy but a black comedy routine of sorts; plenty of humor and repeated phrases and themes keep it very interesting, despite it being quite different from what the show normally does.

            But that’s not the only thing that’s different. The show’s usual musical score (by composer Jesse Novak!) is mostly absent from this episode; it has very little music. Bojack’s words about how miserable his life was as a child, and how miserable his life is now, are accompanied by nothing but silence. Except, that is, for a few key places.

            The first is when the pianist plays a few instruments Bojack specifically asks for. An organ, a ba-doom-tish, that sort of thing. It’s the second that’s a lot more interesting.

            At one point, Bojack starts talking about parties his mother used to take him to as a child. Parties where his mother would dance gracefully for all her guests, always impressing them. These were the moments that Bojack would forget his mother’s cruelty and see beauty inside her, where his father, nasty as he normally was to his spouse, would leave the niche of his writing room to admire her dance.

            As Bojack brings up this topic, we hear our pianist playing the organ (yes, she can play both!), and It continues as he talk. then, Bojack stops for the first time since he started, fully reflecting on those past dances. The organ fades, and various strings and woodwinds, all in an all in an old-fashioned style, enter in its place. One thing is clear— this is the first time the music’s source isn’t our pianist.

 

            And then, as quickly as it arrived, it’s gone, and Bojack moves on to a different topic.

            So, why use music for that brief moment, a short reflection of the past?

            After leaving the memory of the dance behind, Bojack says something interesting about himself, his father, and his mother. “All three of us were drowning, and we didn’t know how to save each other”. Earlier, he said that for his mother, these moments of dancing were her moments of swimming instead of drowning, her little rebellion against the miserable experience her life had become.

            But it must go further than Bojack admits. When our music comes in, it’s during a happy time, perhaps the one time this family had some level care and respect for each other—all of them. It’s a time that’s long past, but still remembered fondly by Bojack, even though his mother never said she loved him, even with his father having been so absent, even with both parents now dead. Even though, every other time in their lives, they were drowning together.

            But this time, in the midst of the dance, they weren’t. For a moment the family could together put their head above water and see past their views of each other. They were able to momentarily breathe again, to experience a common connection. And perhaps that’s why there’s music. Because the one time you are all able to stay afloat together deserves more than silence. For each of them it’s a time of music, dancing, and, in the loosest possible sense, love. An audible memory of not drowning.

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©2019 by Eliana Zebro