The Old Sugarman Place is a terminally underrated episode of BoJack Horseman, and comes in Season 4, Season 3’s only competitor as BoJack’s best season. While Stupid Piece Of Shit and particularly Time’s Arrow steal the headlines, there’s an insular charm to The Old Sugarman Place. It has only a minor bearing on the continuity, revolves around a character we […]
The Old Sugarman Place is a terminally underrated episode of BoJack Horseman, and comes in Season 4, Season 3’s only competitor as BoJack’s best season. While Stupid Piece Of Shit and particularly Time’s Arrow steal the headlines, there’s an insular charm to The Old Sugarman Place. It has only a minor bearing on the continuity, revolves around a character we never see again and mainly serves to set up the backstory for Time’s Arrow. It’s not the most BoJack Horseman-y episode in the series, but it is one of their most unique and the most impressive.
The episode starts with BoJack up at his grandparents place, trying to get away from his LA life and his role in Sarah Lynn’s death. Partly out of ineptitude and partly as self inflicted, self pitying punishment, BoJack makes no attempt to salvage the old Sugarman place and instead sleeps curled up, shivering in the run down shack. Meanwhile, we see the events of the past playing out in real time, with the story of BoJack’s young grandparents (voiced by Matthew Broderick and Jane Krakowski) shown simultaneously for BoJack.
The animation is less showy than Stupid Piece Of Shit, The Showstopper or Good Damage, but also far more fluid, never taking you out of the moment.
The two narratives have opposite trajectories, yet still manage to peak at the very same moment. In the past, we see BoJack’s grandparents in their storybook marriage, until their son Crackerjack dies in the war. Honey, BoJack’s grandmother, does not handle his death well, and with her husband Joseph offering zero support, subsequently has a breakdown.
BoJack, meanwhile, is at his lowest ebb as the episode begins, but as he starts to rebuild the old house, he starts fix himself too. There’s no tangible self improvement taking place at this stage, but BoJack climbing out of his pit of self pity is at least a kind of self improvement.
His initial attempts fail, and while he’s no longer wallowing, he’s only replaced his sadness with anger. It’s not until Eddie the fly starts to help him out that he actually starts to improve the house, and BoJack starts to pick up as Honey Sugarman nosedives.
Eddie isn’t as funny as guest characters like Vincent Adultman or Sextina Aquafina, but he might just be the most important guest character the show ever had. BoJack’s relationship with Eddie is symbolic for how has lived his entire life; first he refuses the help, then accepts it while keeping Eddie at arms length, pretending it’s all about the house rather than simply admitting he likes Eddie’s companionship. Eddie then gets dragged into a zany scheme, and then there’s the kicker…. BoJack decides his own curiosity is more important than Eddie’s vulnerability and everything falls apart.
It’s not always curiosity. BoJack’s selfishness has a wide range of motivations. The only constant is that the selfishness is always there.
Here, BoJack discovers Eddie hasn’t flown for years, and decides its his job to help (make, really) Eddie fly again. He doesn’t understand that it could be painful for Eddie to relive any traumatic memories – because he represses his own with drugs or alcohol – or that not flying might be a special way to honour his wife – a concept BoJack would likely find dumb.
This theme of selfishness and memory is present in Honey’s story, only flipped. Bea, BoJack’s mother, is the key character of Season 4, and it’s safe to assume the events of this episode are her earliest memories. Just as BoJack’s selfishness unearths painful memories for Eddie, Honey’s selfishness engraves painful memories for Bea.
Honey’s selfishness is driven by grief at the loss of her son, frustration at the nation celebrating the conflict which stole him from her, and desperation at her husband’s lack of support. A more justified selfishness than BoJack’s, perhaps, though that matters little to Bea.
Honey goes out on the town, taking Bea with her, getting drunk and making a scene before forcing her young daughter to drive her home. Joseph is outraged by all this, but rather than offer any help to his wife, he simply has her lobotomised. BoJack is very much Joseph’s grandson; if a thing can’t be fixed or is too inconvenient to fix, he would rather damage it further until it stops bothering him.
This is where another parallel comes in. The episode ends with Honey’s lobotomy, which sets up Bea’s childhood trauma, provides the groundwork for the season and ultimately leads into Time’s Arrow. Before this happens though, we catch up with modern day BoJack. He’s ready to leave and go back to LA, but just as Joseph destroyed Honey (and with it, his marriage and Bea’s childhood), BoJack destroys the house. Eddie runs out, distraught, just in time to see a wrecking ball swing through all the work he and BoJack had put into it. The house no longer had use to BoJack, and admitting that he cared about it is beyond him, so he had to destroy it.
The links between the two narratives, two trains passing each other on the tracks, seventy years apart and heading in opposite directions, are superbly crafted and manage to hit the same notes without ever being repetitive.
The real genius of The Old Sugarman Place is that you can lift it out and the story continues largely untouched. If BoJack simply got bored and went back to LA, the rest of the series can continue without any deviation. It’s far from just a filler episode though, and is a metaphor for the show as a whole. BoJack starts it off broken. He gets help from strangers who benefit little in return, and in fact suffer because they tried to help him. BoJack does not thank them for their help, but instead actively blames them for any mistakes made along the way. In the end, BoJack goes right back to where he started from and it was all for nothing. BoJack is The Old Sugarman Place, both the episode and the building.
BoJack has a lot of fantastic episodes, but The Old Sugarman Place is frequently left out of the discussion, despite it’s greatness.