Back in the 1940s, the Sugarman summer home in Michigan played host to a sad tale of a son lost in the war, and the family troubles that ensued. Decades later, BoJack ends up there after driving away from LA. As the months pass, he reluctantly accepts a neigbhour’s help in fixing up the old place.
BoJack Horseman is never afraid to experiment with different animation and storytelling styles, and in this episode, it’s the latter that gets the attention. The Old Sugarman Place tells two parallel storylines – one about BoJack’s current breakdown and escape from responsibility, and the other about his family’s tragic past.
Let’s focus first on what we learn about the Sugarmans. Joseph and Honey Sugarman and their two children Crackerjack and Beatrice were a reasonably happy family – at least Crackerjack died fighting in World War II. Devastated at the loss of her beloved son, Honey becomes increasingly unable to cope, leading to a car accident, a nervous breakdown, and an eventual ‘cure’ in the form of a lobtomy – possibly the darkest thing to happen in the show since the Chicken-4-Dayz episode. All the while, the young and impressionable Beatrice is by her mother’s side, and ultimately she takes away the lesson that shapes her adult life: “Love does things to a person, terrible things. Beatrice, promise me you’ll never love anyone as much as I loved Crackerjack”.
It’s a minor spoiler to reveal it now, but we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Beatrice this season. Given how hateful and negative she is, it’s important for us to get this first look at what shaped her. The Beatrice in the flashbacks is an earnest, innocent little girl, somewhat restricted by the patriarchy and always second-fiddle to Crackerjack in her mother’s affections. That in itself is already quite sad, but it feels both what happened to Honey, and the advice she gave Beatrice, are ultimately what set her on the path of becoming so cold and abusive towards her own son, BoJack.
In the present day, BoJack seems about to drop everything and run with the wild horses, but hesitates at the last minute after getting a call from Diane. Although he doesn’t answer the phone in time, it seems to divert him – instead of running away from everything, he chooses instead to revisit the old family home. As summer turns to winter, BoJack shivers in a corner of the dilapidated house, watching a TV dramatisation of Sarah Lynn’s death.
After a few failed attempts to fix up the Sugarman house, BoJack attracts the attention of a neighbour, Eddie the dragonfly. As the months pass, they fix up the house together, but BoJack’s attempts to help Eddie overcome his own tragic past only make matters worse. This entire sequence is a little odd and unsettling – not only does it play in tandem with the flashbacks to the 1940s, but it spans the entire emotional range from the depths of Eddie’s sadness to the ridiculousness of BoJack and Eddie being chased by a pair of crabs.
Ultimately, however, the chapter is closed by another phone call. BoJack finally calls Diane to apologise, and the ease with which the two friends just slide back into conversation seems to be enough to snap BoJack out of his dark mood and convince him to return to LA.
Would BoJack have been happier if he had joined the wild horses? Something in the pure simplicity of their lifestyle certainly spoke to him, perhaps resonating with the advice Secretariat once gave him: “Don’t you stop running and don’t you ever look behind you. There’s nothing for you behind you. All that exists is what’s ahead.” BoJack had the chance to run away forever, but he didn’t take it – and now that he’s going back to LA, he will certainly have to face up to at least some of the things he’s done.
- BoJack stops in a diner with a cow waitress similar to the one in Hollywoo. The diner also uses Sugarman sugar, which comes with a picture of young Beatrice on the wrapper.
- BoJack gets 47 calls from Diane. 47 is of course “the number” that is said to crop up more often than any other in TV (an obviously self-reinforcing trope).
- The posters at the hardware store include one asking “Need a Screw?”.
Summary – The Old Sugarman Place: “Why, I have half a mind-”