BoJack Horseman argues Parenthood Should Be A Choice
A horrible mother, a strong-willed woman, a horrible person, a debutante, and the one who never asked to be a mother– all those phrases describe Beatrice Horseman. BoJack, her son, the only living person to remember her says:
“Beatrice Horseman was born in 1938, and she died in 2018, and I have no idea… what she wanted.”
Beatrice’s big tragedy is that she never got a chance to go after what she wanted. She never even had time to evaluate and figure out where she wanted to go in life. She was raised into a life where no one asked.
Who is Beatrice Horseman and why does she so trapped? It all began when she was a child, and her problems began far before she could fully understand them.
Beatrice had a brother Crackerjack who died in the war. Her mother broke down, and her father lobotomized her mother Honey when Beatrice was a young girl. She warned her daughter to never love others as much as she loved her son because he died. Her father, Joseph Sugarman, was emotionally abusive. Beatrice then turns into an abusive mother.
If we look back, her present behavior comes from her upbringing. We see later that Beatrice is mad at BoJack for what giving birth to him did to her body. Beatrice was a little chubby as a kid, as many kids are, and her father was overly critical of her weight. He even went so much to prevent his daughter from eating ice cream, he said eating sugar and lemon was a better snack for girls.
When she gets Scarlett Fever, her dad says he’s glad that she lost weight from the fever. He’s outlandish, sexist, overly rude, and selfish. He also has no moral backing for his actions. He holds onto gender roles and rejects emotions for no foreseeable reason; he is a two-dimensional character. We can only assume that his father was terrible as well, and he makes a terrifying villain. None of this excuses his actions. However, we don’t understand why he does the things he does. He also blames his wife for not knowing that her daughter has Scarlett Fever and for not protecting her. The role of a woman is to be a good mother, he says, but he is ironically a terrible father. He says weird things like this:
“Now, stop making books your friends. Reading does nothing for young women but build their brains taking valuable resources away from their breasts and hips.”
She also makes the wrong choice, unintentionally, the first chance she has to break away from her parents. She attends a debutante party and chats with party crasher Butterscotch Horseman. He scorns the life she is born into and is different and attractive, and they have a one-night stand. Then she gets pregnant.
Beatrice marries Butterscotch and plans to raise BoJack with him because she thinks they can have a life together. She bases this on a romanticized picture that Butterscotch paints for her. The time her father burned a favorite doll haunts her, so she decides to have and raise the child out of fear and fantasy.
She never thinks about what she really wants out of life. She has passions, but her parents present marriage into a wealthy family as the only option. Therefore, she never gets to consider putting her career or other interests over finding a man. Things seem black and white to Beatrice. There are two groups: the high society that her parents live under and the rebels. She rejects the societal choice: ice cream businessman Corbin Creemerman. Beatrice chooses the rugged Kerouac-loving stallion instead thinking he’ll give her the a viable alternative to her father’s choices. But she is wrong. She learns that Corbin wanted to challenge his father’s ideas and do his business his way. He also had passion and talent. But pregnancy means that things are too late for her. That one night now determined her future. Butterscotch talked the talk, but his words came out horse crap.
The show stresses that we cannot run away from our problems. We have to look for solutions based on what we want. Beatrice is a perfect example. Running away from her emotionally abusive father led her to another abusive man. Butterscotch’s abuse is not Beatice’s fault. The mentality her father ingrained in her kept her from seeing other options as viable.
BoJack Horseman constantly reminds us that we can’t run away from our problems, and Beatrice models that ideal like she’s working for Cosmo. She learns that running away from her emotionally abusive father led her to another abusive man. She gave up her dreams for a man, so when she meets a woman with dreams to become a nurse, she encourages her to choose her career.
When Butterscotch gets the maid pregnant, he begs Beatrice to talk to her.
“Don’t throw away your dreams for this child. Don’t let that man poison your life the way he did mine. You are going to finish your schooling and become a nurse. You’ll meet a man, a good man and you’ll have a family, but please believe me you don’t want this. Please, Henrietta, you have to believe me. Please, don’t do it I did.”
Beatrice went to Columbia College. Her father wanted her to find a husband there. We do not know what Beatrice studied, but we do know she was passionate about civil rights, justice, and lessening economic disparities. She was critical of the social class she grew up in and of her father’s business.
She reminds me a lot of Diane, they both have the same passions, but Beatrice got stuck in a life she never wanted. When she decides to marry Butterscotch, she follows is a romanticized idea of marriage and a family and is thus stuck there.
Time’s Arrow challenges the idea that things happen for a–presumably good–reason. Beatrice and Butterscotch actually wanted different things out of life, but they din’t get a chance to end their relationship. Beatrice accepted the consequences of her choices, and her acceptance of the life she chose limited her for the rest of her life.
Beatrice says that later in life Henrietta will meet a good man and have a family. Is Beatrice projecting here?
She chose not to think about if she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom because Butterscotch told her life would be idyllic and she wanted to believe him. She never made a conscious decision to be a parent, let alone a good one. She didn’t see her child as a living creature who deserved love. She was never taught about loving another person. Instead, she saw BoJack as something that ruined her life. It is fortunate that her son never becomes a father.
At the end of the series, Herb says BoJack is a:
“Husband to no-one, father to no one (that we know of) Standup comedian, actor, crippling alcoholic, a talented charmer, a stupid piece of shit.”
It is joked about that BoJack paid for several women to get abortions. The horse certainly spread his seed, and he could have gotten a woman pregnant who ended up either raising or putting up a child for adoption. It is no surprise when Hollyhock tells him that he might be her daddy. Hollyhock forces BoJack to become responsible for another human, and as we see in Stupid Piece of Sh*t, he uses this to fuel his self-hatred further. He ditches her to get drunk. So, fatherly responsibility isn’t going to fix BoJack.
His lie that the voice in her head goes away would probably come back to haunt her when she realized her father suffered the same way. He is relieved when he realizes that Hollyhock is his sister instead. Once he realizes he has no obligation to be a parent, their relationship actually improves. The show never argues that parenthood makes anyone a better or less selfish person. It is clear BoJack makes a terrible parent.
BoJack’s experiences with children are rarely good. He gives four-year-old Sarah Lynn that harrowing speech not to stop dancing. But that doesn’t stop his desires or curiosity about having children.
But he dreams of an alternate world of marrying Charlotte and having a daughter. It is a beautiful image of what could have been. We don’t know if it could’ve been that good. The idealist in me wants to believe that, though it wouldn’t have been all sunshine and rainbows, it would be better for him. If BoJack thought about it and decided to leave LA, he could have been happier. But when he meets Charlotte’s family and real daughter, Penny, he gives her teenage friends alcohol, leaves an overdosed teen at the hospital unaided. He then agrees to and almost has sex with Charlotte’s daughter after Charlotte rejects him. I could go on, but BoJack takes horrible care of himself and even worse care of others.
Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are other characters who deal with children. Diane has an abortion and the two seem just not to want kids. Their relationship as a couple has been tumultuous, but they also have good times. Oddly enough, I would argue that the episode where Diane has an abortion is the best the two have gotten along and the healthiest day we see of their relationship. We also see that their lack of interest in having kids is completely unrelated to the state of their marriage or their desire for love. They both marry and remarry a couple of times in the show and put effort into their marriage when they’re together. Being in a loving and stable relationship and having a partner to lean on and live life with is important for both of them. Having children is something that neither of them wants out of life.
Diane does end up marrying Guy, who has a teenage stepson. It was fun watching them bond. Sonny is a pretty well-adjusted teen, and she doesn’t have to parent him. That is all Guy.
Diane also has a heart for helping kids, and people who are struggling. She cares for a boy in Cordovia only for him to die. She worries about her neglectful parents and wants to use her trauma for good and to help others in similar situations. Diane ends up writing a middle-grade mystery series about a Vietnamese American girl named Ivy Tran because she enjoys it. She says she wishes that she could have read a novel like this growing up. It could have helped her. Although she doesn’t help children through motherhood, Diane helps kids in ways she didn’t expect. BoJack Horseman shows that you don’t have to give up your passions to be happy. She helps others by doing things that she loves rather than sacrificing what she wants. By realizing her passions, Diane can help kids around the world. Kids can look up to her and have hope for the future. Ivy Trans is a gift that keeps giving, she creates a world that she wishes she had as a kid.
Instead, she watched BoJack’s Horsin’ Around as a kid, a show that simplified life’s problems into 30-minute segments. The show put real kids on set for hours a day, performing for an audience of people who do not care about them. A good parent could have helped Sarah Lynn realize her passions and encouraged her in her dream to become an architect. Instead, she was raised by money-driven parents and negligent producers who contributed to her low-self worth and addiction. Sarah Lynn deserved so much better.
This show would be pretty skeptical of all parents if it weren’t for Princess Carolyn. She is the one major character who desperately wants a baby. She famously says:
I compulsively take care of other people because I can’t take care of myself.”
Out of all the characters, surface-level Princess Carolyn would not want kids. Women in fiction who focus on their careers usually lack a desire for children. Work and children are two separate areas of life where one can succeed. A woman chooses one or the other. Princess Carolyn cares about her career more than anyone else. She works long hours, does almost everything for the job.
When we look at Diane, she works hard when she is passionate about something, but she cares much more for the social impact of her work and gets little of her value from the work itself if it is not meaningful. She also spends a considerable portion of her time on her romantic relationships.
For BoJack, the work is the means to an end too. BoJack puts a decent bit of his self-worth into work. He is willing to put effort into work if it makes him feel good about himself, gives his life purpose, and makes him look good, but he gives up if it doesn’t serve him. His work never fully fulfills him, because each project ends and then he has to do something new. He keeps looking for a meaningful role, but he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. Work can’t make him feel better about himself, which is why he also spends a significant amount of his time trying to feel better about himself and numb the pain through drugs, alcohol, and sex. Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd put their effort into wacky hijinks and work seems to just happen to them.
Princess Carolyn, in contrast, spends the majority of her time working. She rarely dates or puts effort into romantic relationships, even though she wants to have a child. She is good at her job, so she puts all her time and energy into work.
It is only when Princess Carolyn leaves an environment that promotes working hard and selling anything that she is challenged. This is when she visits a pregnant woman named Sadie who lives in the same rural town she grew up in. Her hometown was a place where she she started out, and it humbled her even when she doesn’t want to be humbled.
Princess Carolyn tries to impress Sadie, but she learns that outside of Hollywoo, people aren’t flattered easily. Sadie calls Princess Carolyn out. Princess Carolyn insists that Sadie does what she wants and doesn’t decide based on her boyfriend or the baby. Princess Carolyn insists that she knows best, and though she has good intentions. The reality is that Sadie could give her child a good life if she wanted to be a mother. There isn’t a better way of life or one right way to be a parent, but you have to want and choose to care about your kids and put them first.
“I just want to give your baby a better life”
“Better than what. Better than a sky for of stars?”Princess Carolyn and Sadie
Princess Carolyn has to let go of her ego. She treats taking care of a kid like a business deal, but Sadie doesn’t fall for her tricks, just like a child wouldn’t. Princess Carolyn is called out for her flaws, before adopting a child, and I found this important. Princess Carolyn is one of my favorite characters, and she is certainly tenacious, but I did wonder if she’d be a good mother. She ends up spending a lot of time on her career after adopting Ruthie and she ends up marrying Judah, who is just as job-focused as she is. Her acceptance of Sadie, and realizing that what she wants might not be best for Sadie. She has to understand someone else’s needs and put them first.
I felt hopeful after that scene, if her daughter is different from her if she doesn’t have that work-loving ambition, Princess Carolyn will love her all the same. Unlike her mother, she can accept someone’s dream is not hers. Her child will grow up and become an individual and find purpose in a lifestyle that might be different from her mother.
By recognizing that her child won’t always do what she wants, Princess Carolyn will be a better mother than hers was. I found that role models help. Beatrice Horseman lost everything that she loved, but she had no role model. Princess Carolyn is inspired by Amelia Airheart to pursue her dreams, and she always worked for what she wanted. She knew what she wanted, which can be rare, but she always made the best of a bad situation. It is how she grew up. She will raise Ruthie and pass her values into her. I like to think that Princess Carolyn became a good mother.
Still, her self-reliance is a trademark of her character, she pushes a loving boyfriend away. She’s also been through a lot, she knows that she wants a baby and is willing to go through anything to get there. In the episode Ruthie, Princess Carolyn imagines her great-great-great-granddaughter telling her class about a day in her life. It is revealed in “Ruthie” that she had five miscarriages. She isn’t longing for an idealized fantasy, she wants something and goes after it. She does enjoy the work she does and she names a tv show Philibert after a baby she lost. The show becomes a pseudo child for her. It becomes clear though, that the show isn’t what Princess Carolyn wants. She wants a real child, a real person to love and to carry on her legacy. It is only when her work baby dies–Philbert gets canceled–that Princess Carolyn finally gets her real baby. Princess Carolyn chooses to have a baby because it is what she wants, and she makes sacrifices to get there. Princess Carolyn and her goals are amazing, but the show makes it clear that not everyone should follow her example. When BoJack contemplates his life in a dreamlike state in “The View From Halfway Down” he talks about sacrifice with the important people in his life.
BoJack: “When we grow up in a house that does that we internalize this idea that being happy is a selfish act, but sacrifice doesn’t mean anything.”
Sarah Lynn: “Yes it does.”
BoJack: “Sacrifice? In the service of something greater, maybe, but just in and of itself? What’s the good in that?”
Beatrice was convinced that she was giving up herself, sacrificing her happiness for a husband and child. She feels that marrying Butterscotch and raising BoJack was her sacrifice to life, but this notion limits her. In reality, she does not give anything to BoJack. She emotionally abuses him and makes him feel small and worthless. She clings to the societal convention that people shouldn’t divorce, but there is no heart behind that conviction. Her father burned her doll as a child when she gets sick, and he tells her it is a good thing. Giving up the good things is never the answer. Beatrice made a sacrifice raising BoJack, but she never wanted to be a mother of Butterscotch’s child. He doesn’t want BoJack either, and they are both miserable. Her mentality about sacrifice isn’t good for anyone.
There is never a message that there is a greater cause that makes sacrifice worth it. Beatrice’s father’s misogyny is shallow. He only cares about money and surface-level appearances. Beatrice continues this cycle and remains miserable because it is the only thing she knows. She feels unable to love BoJack because she feels like her ability to love is gone, like her doll in the fire.
If we look at Diane, she never gave up her passion for anything else. She ended her marriage with Mr. Peanutbutter because she didn’t want to live always squinting to see what makes her happy. She wanted to be happy and to be the best version of herself. By following what she is good at (writing) and what she enjoys, Diane helps others in a brilliant but unexpected way. The same is to be said for BoJack. He never becomes a father in the traditional sense, but he helps coach young actors at Wesleyan and later actors in prison. He turns out to be a great coach, and he gives to something bigger than himself. His acting is no longer just something to boost his ego, and he doesn’t have to put hours into something he hates for the sake of doing good. He genuinely loves helping people and uses his experience to his advantage. BoJack also has made the decision to change and do good by the people around him.
When Princess Carolyn finally adopts Ruthie, life becomes busier, but she is in a good place to have a child. Soon afterward, Judah tells her that he loves her and they get married. Before her marriage, her friend Todd also helped her out and babysat. She can handle this and she wants a baby. Although things might not always be the same, Princess Carolyn trusts her past self made the right choice.
Choice doesn’t necessarily make things better in BoJack’s world–people often make terrible ones–but the central message is that you have to both accept and embrace the decisions you make. When Beatrice makes Henrietta give up her daughter, it is easy to see her as cruel. We know Hollyhock was raised by loving parents, but we don’t know if giving up the baby was the right decision. Henrietta wanted her baby more than Beatrice ever did, but she also wanted a baby for perhaps the wrong reasons. She still cared for Butterscotch and hoped he would be a good father and romantic partner. Beatrice knew the truth.
So, when it comes to decisions and sacrifice, the series affirms that thoughtful and careful consideration are important. People who are unable to receive the facts are at a disadvantage. Beatrice is here when she decides to marry Butterscotch. It is important to take what we know and work with it.
We can’t predict the future, but we can learn about our situation now and decide on those factors. At one point, BoJack asks Princess Carolyn why she is an agent and she says that she is good at it. She keeps working and finds she wants to be a manager, a similar role, instead. We should look at what makes us happy, our strengths, and think about what makes us happy in real-life rather than grasping for ideals or our imagination. At the end of the series, BoJack responds to Carolyn’s concern about doubting herself. What if her marriage to Judah doesn’t work out? Well, that’s just life–we make choices and figure things out.
” No, but you’re here because at some point, Princess Carolyn thought this was a really good idea, and I think we oughtta listen to her because she’s the smartest woman I know”
Have you watched BoJack Horseman? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.