Back in September, Netflix aired a very famous TV show! Season 5 of Bojack Horseman hit the streaming giant on September 14 and it was…well, it was everything you expect of Bojack at this point. Bojack himself had a new project to distract from his guilt. Princess Carolyn tried to keep producing/managing while keeping Bojack in line. Diane tried to rediscover herself following a divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter, who dives back into the dating game. Todd had possibly the most Todd season yet.
At this point we go in knowing it’s going to be good. Really good. The kind of show that deserves all the awards yet never even gets nominated. Season 5 was no different (hopefully except for the award thing, come on, Emmys). This was also a self-aware season questioning the very appeal of its main character. It was funny, powerful, and remarkably creative.
In short, put another terrific season in the bank for Bojack Horseman. We’re Bo and Katie, and we’re here to talk about what stood out to us throughout season 5.
It Went Full Meta
While definitely focused on character-driven storylines and a barrage of jokes packing every frame, Bojack Horseman has never shied away from socially and politically relevant topics. Sometimes they last throughout a season, such as Diane’s fight against Hank Hippoppalous as a representation of the #MeToo movement. Other times they just use it as a gag for one episode as they did with gun control, abortion, child stardom, and many, many other topics. Safe to say that if something is culturally relevant, this show has at least one episode about it.
For season 5, Bojack went meta and tackled itself. Why not? Bojack has become a socially relevant show exemplative of one of the biggest discussions in fandom right now: Rick Sanchez Syndrome.
Even if you haven’t seen Rick and Morty, you probably know who Rick Sanchez is. You likely know he’s a massive jerk. You’ve probably heard from at least one person how he has a heart of gold buried beneath all his asshole behavior, and this rarely glimpsed good side makes you root for him despite all his toxic, abusive, immoral behaviors. He loves his daughter, he loves Morty, sometimes he does the right thing, and you think one day he’ll become a better person.
Uh oh, this sounds familiar.
Bojack the character represents this idea even more than Rick Sanchez ever has. He’s an awful man who consistently violates the most basic guidelines of good ethical and moral behavior. Name a bad thing, Bojack has probably done it. Yet Bojack Horseman shows us enough glimpses of someone better that we still root for him. His childhood had such an abusive shaping of his personality that we sympathize with his faults. He shows a consistent desire to be better.
Since he is the star of the show, we root for him through everything. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg decided to tackle this issue head on and ask whether, like Bojack, we were just using the character’s moral complexity to justify his awful behavior. Or even worse, whether we used him to justify our own behavior.
This question creates the foundation of an impressively meta season 5. Bojack stars in a gritty drama named Philbert starring an awful detective who basically represents him. They even film on a set that is literally Bojack’s house recreated. As an opioid addiction blurs the lines between the show and reality and sends Bojack spiraling out of control yet again, the show bluntly poses an important question:
Should we root for Bojack Horseman?
When do we cross the line between relating to bad men on TV and apologizing for them? At what point is the audience wrong to do so? This question comes up a lot these days, with shows like Atlanta even throwing in comments directly about Bojack Horseman and whether we can feel comfortable rooting for him anymore.
Season 5 was a direct rebuke of the idea that just because someone shows the occasional good side, they must be a good person. It was direct rebuke of Rick Sanchez Syndrome and all the fans who miss the point about characters like him. You’re not supposed to cheer for these characters to stay the same. Bojack Horseman is not okay as he is.
Diane delivers most of this message in what might be our favorite season yet for her character. After Philbert premieres and Bojack takes the very RSS-like message away from the show that it’s okay for the character of Philbert to be terrible because everyone is terrible, Diane bluntly points out, “That’s not the point of ‘Philbert,’ for guys to watch it and feel OK. I don’t want you or anyone else justifying their shitty behavior because of the show.”
Yeah, could it be more obvious how this applies to Bojack Horseman or Rick and Morty?
In the end, she finally convinces Bojack to enter rehab and begin the long road towards true change. Because those moments deserve to be supported. Not the drinking, not the pain pills, not the brutal assaults on his co-stars. Bojack should only be supported when he actually tries to be better. As Diane points out, he never really makes that commitment.
Philbert is used not just as a meta examination of Bojack as a character and show, but also of the abundance of shows and movies that unabashedly encourage the audience to justify and apologize for awful men. Season 5 asks why so many TV watchers seem to side with characters like Rick Sanchez, Walter White, Rust Cohle, and other obviously awful people.
Bojack Horseman also sets itself apart (from the herd? pack? reaches… for… horse pun….) in its consistent refusal to offer easy answers. Its fifth season not only functions as a deconstruction and fundamental questioning of televised antiheroes, but keeps walking forward to address a much harder question: what to do with them. Bojack does bad things, and knows he does bad things, and—on some level at least—he wants to be better. He’s riddled with guilt, trauma, mental illness, and addiction. He has the potential, when he’s able to reach beyond his own issues and deep-seated myopia, to be kind: a “good person.”
But very often… he doesn’t. And that gap between intention and reality forms the backbone of Bojack Horseman. You can care for someone and still hurt them with your actions. You can want to help someone and be unimaginably cruel. You can, in Bojack’s case, love someone and literally enable them to death.
“I spend so much time feeling bad,” Bojack tells Diane in a blowout fight and the (arguable) thematic climax of the season. “I’m the one who has to live with this. I’m the one who has to deal with the guilt every day… I’m the one who has suffered the most, because of the actions of Bojack Horseman.” It’s both an identifiable and repellant bit of self-pity, both true and wildly self-absorbed. And to Bojack Horseman’s credit, it’s interested not simply in Bojack’s own self-deception, but in how the people around him deal with and choose to move (or not move) forwards.
In the season’s final two episodes Bojack finally is shaken out of his self-delusion and subsequently demands punishment. He first attempts to castigate himself in a live, on-air interview and—when his victim prohibits it—he turns to Diane, asking her to excoriate him in a public takedown.
Bojack, of course, simply wants a clean slate. He wants a simple atonement: apology, punishment, forgiveness of sins. Diane—and the show—won’t give him that. He says he simply wants to be held accountable, but Diane calls him out. “No one is going to hold you accountable,” she says, “You need to take responsibility for yourself.”
It Spoke Truth About Hollywood Forgiveness
It wasn’t just characters like Bojack tackled head-on in season 5. The show also went after the very survival of real men like him in Hollywood who continue to thrive and succeed despite their awful behavior. At the least, Bojack Horseman has always poked cynically at the fraud morality allowing men like Mel Gibson to simply vanish for a few years and come back like nothing ever happened. This season they went after them.
This is most obvious in “Bojack the Feminist,” which centers around a character named Vance Waggoner. Plainly put, he is Mel Gibson. He goes on very racist rants based on Mel Gibson’s rants. After disappearing from the public spotlight for a few years, he comes back to star in Philbert as Bojack’s partner. Basically the only conversation he has with anyone revolves not around reformation, but whether enough time has passed for people to forget his past behavior. There’s even an awards show called the “Forgivies” used to all but publicly exonerate Waggoner of his past behavior.
Why does Hollywood allow this? Raphael Bob-Waksberg uses season 5 to ask about this, too. Honestly, what actors do we love that have pasts like Waggoner? How successful has Gibson been throughout his life despite his terribleness? This question relates not just to audience investment in characters like Bojack, but real people like him.
It was fascinating to us watching this show play out in the weeks directly after Louis C.K. made his “comeback” at the Comedy Cellar at the end of August. It reads as a direct statement, and counterpoint, to the concept that crimes and harassment become negated over time by the perpetrator’s own sadness. Bojack is very sad about the things that he’s done! He is suffering for it. But that’s irrelevant to the people that he’s hurt. What about their sadness? What about their trauma?
And it stands as an obvious roadblock to self-betterment, to being that “good person” Bojack always says he wants to be. Everyone’s sad, season five of Bojack Horseman seems to tell it’s star. That’s not a free pass on your actions, or your responsibility for taking the initiative to clean up your own mess.
We also thought this season did a good job calling out the authenticity of the apologies coming from Gibson, Louis C.K., and the countless men like them. It called out the people who excuse stars like Waggoner for bare minimum effort. Just say you’re sorry so we can make money again! It doesn’t matter if you mean it!
It’s all part of a cynical, capitalistic calculation flying in the face of the progressivism Hollywood likes to congratulate itself over. They will jump on the chance to present themselves as champions of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and so forth. The next day they make a thousand excuses why none of those people could be cast, or why they keep signing up stars who have abusive histories against them.
Of course not all of Hollywood is bad or cynical or dishonest. Too much of it is, though, and season 5 of Bojack made a point of calling out them out
It Went After Prestige TV
Alongside using Philbert to examine Bojack’s character and the justification of his behavior, season 5 also used the show to do a seriously funny takedown of prestige dramas. It might be our favorite part of the season? Picking one favorite part of any season of Bojack Horseman proves very difficult.
We say this as two people who watch and enjoy a lot of prestige dramas (Bo has certainly reviewed enough of them for The Fandomentals); they’re often ridiculous. Self-importance seeps into every second of some of these shows. They often try so hard to be deep, edgy, and borderline inaccessible. Like, it Means Something if you understand the show, even if there isn’t nearly as much to understand as the writers think.
Whether it was the whiteboard in Flip McVicker’s office outlining the season as they filmed it, the opening theme that couldn’t possibly mock True Detective more, or the absolutely perfect dialogue and cinematography during the filming scenes, Bojack totally gets prestige drama. They completely nail the indulgent, overly-metaphoric, often gratuitous atmosphere surrounding prestige TV.
Between the sillily dramatic and metaphoric dialogue, plot points involving a dead wife and dead partners and ghosts, and the eventual conclusion of the season with a nuclear attack, Philbert couldn’t be a bigger callout of the often snobby and self-important world of prestige TV. Or its fans, by the way. We can’t pretend we don’t sometimes glorify prestige TV to a fault. Unless, perhaps, you haven’t yet heard the gospel of The Leftovers?
If you’re wondering just what kind of shows Bojack is calling out, consider Princess Carolyn saying Philbert is “confusing, which makes it daring and smart.” Looking at you, Westworld.
Similarly, alongside using the character of Philbert as a meta examination of Bojack Horseman and its titular character, he is also used as a bit of a takedown of the tortured, white, male antihero so often starring in prestige dramas. He checks every box. Of course, he’s basically just Bojack Horseman himself. The drinking, the violence, the hallucinations, the gloomy mood, the inability to speak in anything but metaphors, it all paints a very familiar picture. We know this character all too well. We might even be a bit sick of him.
Add in the constant focus on sex and nudity, the planning out of pretentious montages, the references to Nietzche…yeah, we think we’ve seen Philbert before. We’re pretty sure this was how season 2 of True Detective was written and filmed.
It Was a Bit More Positive
Let’s get this out of the way right now before we delve into this topic: Bojack ends the season badly. He ends it going into rehab after nearly choking a costar to death while filming. He ends it pathetically using Philbert as an excuse for his crappy behavior. Is this his low point? We think it’s debatable, but definitely a contender.
Overall, though? We think this was a better season for a lot of characters. After season 4 dropped a lot of the supporting cast to their inarguable low points, season 5 inspired hope for their futures.
We think the characters who most stood out from a positive standpoint were Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter. Who knew divorce could be such a good thing? Both start off the season miserable. Diane can’t stop crying and takes a trip to Vietnam to discover her ancestral roots. Mr. Peanutbutter ends up rebound-dating a new character, a pug named Pickles (we LOVE Pickles). It’s obvious neither is remotely over each other.
Thing is, for the first time both start truly accepting who they are and where they go wrong in life. Diane, especially, stops tip-toeing around confrontation and starts imposing her own wants and needs on her life. She directs most of her newfound attitude towards Bojack. After 4 seasons of letting Bojack pile his problems onto her as a form of inadequate therapy, she stops accepting him and starts challenging him on it. While perhaps a bit passive-aggressive, we love how she uses what was supposed to be an empty “consultant” position during Philbert’s production to write a scene confronting Bojack about the incident with Charlotte’s daughter, Penny.
Diane also uses Philbert as a way to strike back at a lot of really sexist ideas and make a show directly confronting men like Bojack. Damn it, we’re going meta again.
Mr. Peanutbutter, while falling into familiar patterns that will likely blow up in his face next season, also begins recognizing his mistakes in the past. Yes, he and Pickles move way too fast. Yes, Mr. Peanutbutter obviously still loves Diane, to the point of cheating on Pickles with her. His engagement with Pickles is almost definitely an awful idea.
Can we at least give him credit for recognizing how he ruined past relationships? We think so. You can’t change for the better until you recognize what needs changing. Mr. Peanutbutter, at the very least, begins this process throughout season 5. He even has an episode dedicated to an annual Halloween party at Bojack’s and the annual blow-ups he has at said party with his new girlfriends.
Incremental progress is still progress. We want to root for the poor guy.
Princess Carolyn and Todd continue the theme of self-reflection aimed towards improvement, as both struggle throughout the season with deciding just what they want out of life. Princess Carolyn, especially, arguably has her best season yet. Though to be honest, we tend to feel that way every season? More on this topic later. We think everyone can agree that they end the season better than they were going in.
At the very least they are clearly better off than they were in previous seasons. Even Bojack’s awfulness was a different awfulness than before. He seemed genuinely interested in helping Gina’s career, for example.
We often wonder what the end point of Bojack will be, and whether these characters are heading towards true healing. We felt optimistic about them when season 4 ended. We think we feel even better about them after season 5.
It’s Still Getting Better
So, back to the topic of Princess Carolyn and whether this was her best season. A question begging the bigger question about all of season 5 compared to the previous 4. If we’re honest, this is something we talked about during and after the season. Is Bojack Horseman really getting better every season? Or is it just a consistent quality continuously building atop itself as we grow more and more invested in it?
Of course, we can debate the various subplots and main plots from season to season and how well they mesh. Sometimes characters enter and exit each others’ orbits in cleaner fashion than other seasons. Fans criticized Mr. Peanutbutter’s run for governor for feeling detached from Bojack, for example. Overall, though, we always walk away from each season feeling it was better than the one before. Why is that?
We’d like to posit a third possibility: that Bojack Horseman becomes better each season because of the intensity of the show’s own memory. As much as any show we can think of, Bojack Horseman’s characters carry their past around with them, and choices from three to four seasons ago still reverberate through the present.
A terrible choice that Bojack made near the end of season two at first seemed simply designed to provide the impetus for a last-minute, season finale reconciliation. But it bubbled up again at the close of season three, and functioned as a central core of the conflict throughout the entirety of season five. Bojack’s relationship with his parents is similar: absent for long stretches but always percolating beneath the surface, ready to burst up again with the smallest poke from the contemporary events in his life.
This goes back to fact that Bojack Horseman is goofy and silly, filled to brim with animal puns and CEO sex robots. It would be so easy for its mishmash of tones to feel jarring, especially as it moves from those things into the sudden intrusion of something deep and personal and sad. But despite that, maybe because of that, Bojack Horseman feels like such a human show (about animal people). The silly and the serious sit side-by-side, becoming increasingly more intermixed. The longer you live the more complicated you get, and Bojack Horseman lives by this principle. Everything about a person matters, the good and bad, the solemn and the funny.
It is this deeply human foundation that allows episodes like “Free Churro” to not only exist, but work on every level it tries for. This blending of the absurd and the real defines all our lives. Bojack maintains this fundamental understanding of humanity on all levels.
Diane says it best in this season’s final episode: there aren’t “good” and “bad” people, just people who do lots of good and bad things, and they… add up. Her show’s embrace of this idea is ambitious and deeply rewarding, creating a show that only gets stronger with time. There is no real separation from season to season. Nothing happens solely for one season and then goes forgotten. It’s all part of the same long journey. It makes every season feel like a genuine treat, every bit as good or even better than the one before.
So…when does season 6 get here?
Images Courtesy of Netflix
Mrs. Maisel Remains Marvelous
Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.
Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.
Landing the Joke
What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.
Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.
Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.
Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.
Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.
While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.
In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.
And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.
Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.
However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.
Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.
She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.
In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.
Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.
An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.
Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.
He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.
However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.
Was that Political? It Sounded Political!
Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.
There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.
I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.
The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.
Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.
More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.
Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.
Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.
There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.
I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.
There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?
I have a feeling they will.
Images courtesy of Amazon
Castlevania’s Final Two Episodes Are Heartbreaking and Perfect
It’s very rare that I call anything, especially a series completely flawless, but in the case of both the final two episodes of Castlevania and the series as a whole, they’re something truly without equal in the world of video game adaptations. Not only did the second season improve on the first, it completely perfected it to please both new comers and gaming veterans alike for an experience that is unmatched in quality story telling, faith to the source material, and just an overall thrill ride with tons of drama and excitement.
In keeping the essence of a perfect season it is only natural that both the climax and concluding episodes be the best of the entire season. The last two episodes are equally action packed and emotional spectacle, as well as a cathartic and bitter sweet farewell as we say goodbye to some of our favorite characters. Though only for a bit, as season 3 was already announced.
Now, the big question about season 3 for me is, which game will it be based on, 0r will Warren Ellis decide to go with something completely original? If he goes the game route, he’s got a few choices to pick from. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness would be the most logical, as it takes place only a few years after the third game and follows the rivalry between Hector and Issac. He could also the show take back to the original Castlevania and introduce Simon Belmont.
Finally, he could skip ahead a few hundred years and bring us the most beloved stories in the series and introduce Richter Belmont, Maria Renard, and the return of Alucard in Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the night. Both are considered the epitome of the series experience. He could also turn the clock and return to days of Leon Belmont, as the character was mentioned several times this season. If he decides to go for original content, no doubt we will see more Carmilla, which I’m totally on board with.
With all that in mind, I love what I’ve seen with this series: the characters, the gorgeous animation, the powerful story telling, and the love for the game that’s clear among everyone involved. I’m excited for the future of the series. While it is a shame that the game’s original developer Konami decided to squander one of many of their best game series, we can at least find solace that it will live on in this anime.
This is it, the final battle, and it begins where we left off: Dracula’s castle is now on top of the Belmont estate and his generals are still locked in a battle with the remainder of Carmilla’s forces that were transported with the castle. The moon becomes blood red, and it seems that Dracula is no longer amused by this betrayal. Our trio rises from the library as Sypha uses an ice pillar to help them ascend the broken staircase in front of the castle. On their way up, we get a nice portrait of Leon Belmont, hopefully a foreshadowing for the series. Sypha cleverly tosses the ice pillar away as she doesn’t want to flood the basement and destroy the library. We need more people like her in the world.
The three make their way into the great hall of the castle and suddenly all vampires’ attention is on them. In this fight, we get to see Sypha unleash her magical potential, Trevor’s fighting prowess and whip work, and even a nod to the many familiars and forms Alucard controls in Symphony of the Night. In the background, we are treated to fan delight as one of the best versions of a recurrent theme from the soundtracks of the games, Bloody Tears, plays triumphantly in background. Everything about this scene, which takes up half of the episode, is amazing and exciting. The three work as a single force: Sypha distracts them with magic, Trevor takes them on one by one, and Alucard overwhelms with sheer might. This maybe the last time we see them fight together but damn if it isn’t the best. Did I mention how awesome this rendition of Bloody Tears was?
If I had to choose a favorite part of this battle it would have to be Sypha’s duel with the Indian vampire. Her constant, fluid adaptability with her ice magic was impressive to behold. As was Alucard’s duel with the Geisha-esque vampire and the moment when Sypha saves him. I love Sypha, and I’ll just stop myself there. While the three are battling to get to Dracula, Issac is doing his best to defend his master from the armor clad vampires. It is this moment that we see the tragedy of Dracula, as Issac prepares to give his life for what Dracula represents. Instead, he transports Issac using the mirror to a distant desert, to spare him from a cruel fate.
The rest of the episode follows the fight against Dracula. All three play a part in it, but Alucard does most of the heavy fighting, including the eventual death blow. The fight is actually quite one sided as neither Trevor or Sypha can do much to damage Dracula, still their efforts are not in vain and make for some amazing fight sequences. Even the scene where Trevor’s punch to Dracula in the face was like hitting a wall is pretty hilarious. Yet it seems only the morningstar whip can really do any damage. There’s a couple of nods to previous Dracula fights in the game as well, like that giant meteor that appears in several fights.
Eventually the one on one fight between Alucard and Dracula leads to his childhood room, filled with toys, drawings, and children’s things. It is here that we at last see what humanity remains in Vlad Dracula Tepes and are treated to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in anything I’ve watched in a long while. “It’s your room. My boy. I’m-I’m killing my boy. Lisa, I’m killing our boy…We painted this room, we made these toys. Your greatest gift to me, and I’m killing him. I must already be dead.” Our hearts are filled with the pain of Dracula’s final realization of what grief has done to him, what monsters we are all capable of becoming.
It’s in this moment that Alucard drives a stake into his father’s heart. Trevor removes his head and Sypha burns the ashes once and for all. We mourn the passing of one of gamings greatest foes, but we also mourn a son killing a father who indeed loved him. In the end, what little humanity was left in Dracula shined out. A perfect end to a perfect episode.
Most of this episode serves as an epilogue and a view of things to come for the series. Alucard wanders the castle, witnessing the damage the assault had caused, especially Sypha’s spell wreaking havoc in the clock tower gear room. Apparently Alucard was going to return to sleep but not while the castle is abandoned with all of the science and knowledge of the centuries. He plans now to stay and watch the castle since Sypha, you know, broke it. Trevor gives him the Belmont library; as above so below, it is all Alucard’s to guard, a home. The two share a beautiful moment of real friendship and a hope for better days.
Next up is Issac, who is confined to wander a new desert. He frequents an oasis nearby and is quickly harassed by several horsemen led by a scarred man. They plan to either sell or eat him which prompts Issac to attack them, flaying them bit by bit in violent fashion. The significance of this sequence is a new madness in Issac. After realizing he could have an army of undead now at his disposal by using his forge master skills, he begins to make one.
We return to Sypha and Trevor and their plans for the future. Sypha plans to return to her people but only for a short while. Life with Trevor was far too exciting for her to stay with them. There’s more evil to be destroyed, the night hordes remains, as well as Carmilla and the corrupted church. Their adventures are not over. Especially the big one that we see coming, a marriage between the two.
Hector and Carmilla appear next in Breila with her surviving order. It’s clear now that once she gets back on her feet she will raise another army. With Hector now her slave, she has an unlimited supply of reborn demons. Poor Hector gets a glimpse of the punishment he will pay should he disobey her.
The final goodbye between our trio is sweet and heartfelt. It may not be in the stars that they meet again but surely the memory of their fights will keep the friendship going for eternity. As we know, Alucard is always on a friendly basis with the Belmonts in the future. What kills me is the final scene. Alucard, now alone, explores the castle that is now his. Full of life and memories but now, like his father, dead and hollow. He returns to his father’s study and is plagued by the ghosts of a happy childhood. The season ends with him weeping, mourning his family.
I hope you all enjoyed this season of Castlevania, and hope to see you all when season 3 rolls around!
Images Courtesy of Netflix
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