This story contains spoilers for the second episode of BoJack Horseman Season 6.
Even when they’re technically anthropomorphized cats, women still can’t have it all. Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris), the long-suffering Hollywood agent on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, has learned this repeatedly over the past five seasons. She’s navigated wobbly relationships, fertility struggles, and, of course, the complications of working with the series’ titular washed-up actor. At the end of Season 5, Princess Carolyn finally got the baby she’d long wanted and feared she could never have. In the first half of BoJack’s sixth and final installment, released Friday, she’s seen tackling a new hurdle: the demands of single motherhood.
“The New Client,” the second episode of Season 6, begins with Princess Carolyn in familiar territory—busy on the set of a new production. Afterward, the ever dutiful agent rushes home to take care of her baby but ends up being late to relieve the nanny, who scolds her for not prioritizing the child and angrily quits. “She is your client now,” the nanny says. Later, Princess Carolyn is judged again—this time by the other working mothers who’ve also been selected for Manatee Fair magazine’s extravagant “Hollywood Women Who Do It All” photo shoot.
In recent years, women’s untenable workloads have been the subject of countless studies, books, and news stories. BoJack Horseman uses Princess Carolyn’s story line to interrogate the seeming impossibility of work-life balance for many women—and for working mothers in particular. Though it focuses on a character with relative financial comfort and career stability, “The New Client” effortlessly weaves Princess Carolyn’s struggles into the show’s ongoing critique of the capitalist entertainment industry. In the past, BoJack has taken aim at greedy studio executives, mega-conglomerates, and wealthy celebrities, and the new episode also nods to the recent writers’ strikes that have shaken up Hollywood.
While BoJack’s satire of broken institutions can be broad and allegorical, “The New Client” takes a more individual approach to Princess Carolyn’s situation. As it has in the past, the series communicates an element of her interiority—her simultaneous weariness and desire to be a superwoman—with inventive animation. In Season 5, a conflict mediator described Princess Carolyn as a “tangled fog of pulsating yearning in the shape of a woman,” after which the show depicted the cat as a hologram composed of yarn to represent her conflicting desires. In some of the new season’s most affecting scenes, BoJack shows Princess Carolyn literally fragmenting herself to get through her daily routine: One shadow figure completes menial tasks, another answers business calls, and one comforts the crying baby.
These colorful apparitions first materialize the morning after the nanny quits, when Princess Carolyn is forced to bring her infant daughter to work. The silent, dutiful efficiency of each shadow cat is jarring, especially when juxtaposed with the original character’s obvious exhaustion. The effect is amplified by the episode’s sound design: Princess Carolyn shakes a maraca to calm her baby; the baby wails; the phone rings. Overlaid onto one another and looped, the noises meld into an overwhelming, disorienting cacophony.
The result is a multidimensional portrait of Princess Carolyn’s fatigue, and of the unreasonable demands made of working mothers. BoJack organically builds on its thoughtful treatment of a character whose story lines skew tragic: For example, a Season 4 episode titled “Ruthie” reflected on Princess Carolyn’s then-implausible quest to become a mother by fast-forwarding her journey into the distant future. That episode also foreshadowed the eventual name of her baby, who spends much of “The New Client” being called “Untitled Princess Carolyn Project” because the agent hasn’t had the time or mental bandwidth to properly christen her.
Referring to a child as a “project” might sound cold or distant, even if the baby’s confusing moniker plays into an amusing B-plot. Like the episode’s title, though, the interim name offers insight into one way a woman like Princess Carolyn might begin to make sense of her new maternal responsibilities—by thinking of the baby in terms that feel more intuitive to her. At the Manatee Fair photo shoot, another woman uses a technology metaphor to explain the secret to her success. “I just think of myself as having multiple apps running at the same time,” she says. “I have my mom app, and my career app, and my wife app, and my yoga-body app, and they’re all just constantly going, all the time.” Though her voice cracks as she speaks, she attempts to project a polished image for the other women in the room.
Indeed, BoJack seems to understand how performative the job of trying to “have it all” or “do it all” can be. During the photo shoot, Princess Carolyn’s fellow honorees quickly find themselves agreeing to plan a grand “Do It All Ball” to celebrate just how well they’re balancing everything in their life. Wanting to keep up, an already overworked Princess Carolyn agrees to help organize the event with her former nemesis Vanessa Gekko. Shadow cat figures multiply in the background.
If the episode recognizes the toxic role that peer pressure can play in reinforcing burnout culture, it also takes time to consider the private moments of solidarity that can arise between women. When Princess Carolyn later confesses to not yet feeling what she’s “supposed to feel” for her baby, Vanessa Gekko offers straightforward affirmation: “Do you love all your clients’ projects? … No, you don’t. But you take care of them and you keep them alive because that’s your job, right? So now you’ve got a new job.” This slightly depersonalized mind-set seems to free Princess Carolyn from the shame of not immediately excelling at motherhood in the way she excels at her career.
It’s a short conversation, but Princess Carolyn’s and Vanessa Gekko’s willingness to be vulnerable with each other kickstarts the former’s very gradual path away from seeking perfection. BoJack resolves some of Princess Carolyn’s dilemma as the season goes on—she doesn’t decide to just work harder, or to sleep less, or to Pinterest self-care her way into an ever more productive lifestyle. She insists on making changes to her work life, keeps trying to mother the best she can, and lets herself revel in the joys of doing just enough.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
Hannah Giorgis is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers culture.