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Bojack Horseman - Princess Carolyn, Working Woman

Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) from Netflix’s Bojack Horseman is a role model for Working Women everywhere. She’s constantly fixing problems for her clients and friends, giving pep talks, and dominating in her field. But why is it so hard for her to accept help from others? Is she happy with her life by the end of the series? Watch this video for our look at Princess Caroyln’s story.

TRANSCRIPT

Princess Carolyn: “What would make my work/life balance even on point-ier? Then it hit me: more work!” – Bojack Horseman S6 E10

Bojack Horseman‘s Princess Carolyn is the spirit animal of the working woman today. This tireless Hollywoo agent-turned manager lives to work and she’s sensational at her job. But for many years her workaholism wreaks havoc on her personal life and comes at a great emotional cost. Through this character, Bojack Horseman shines a light on the hard trade-offs and persistent inequalities that continue to plague modern working women.

Over time, though, as she figures out what she’s really looking for at the office and at home, her story sends the reassuring messages that it’s okay for work to be a huge part of your sense of self and that you can find a customized work/life balance that works for you. Here’s our take on the incomparable Princess Carolyn and the complexities of the contemporary career woman.

The Working Woman Trope

Princess Carolyn’s story does justice to both the rewards and the pitfalls of the working woman character type. Like the most inspiring working women on screen, she embodies the power in pouring so much energy into doing what you love and being the best at it. She’s essential and ubiquitous, enterprising and indefatigable, always rational and cool in a crisis.

Mr. Peanutbutter: “I need your help. I’ve done something bad, very bad.”

Princess Carolyn: “Put the corpse on ice, I’m on my way.” – Bojack Horseman, S3 E3

Princess Carolyn brings unbridled drive, passion, and creative problem solving to what she does. Princess Carolyn’s habit of speaking in unbelievably long, punny tongue twisters echoes her vigorous mind that’s always in motion and the zeal with which she performs any task. Princess Carolyn’s excellence at work is all the more impressive considering she clawed her way up from nothing through sheer force of will.

Bojack: “So you’ve gone from daughter of a maid to head of your own company.” – Bojack Horseman, S3 E9

For all that the show relishes what’s great about Princess Carolyn’s professional drive, it also never sugar coats the hardships and tough choices she faces precisely because she’s a working woman.

Look at the emotional labor she performs for the clients who seem to be helpless without her. Much of her time is spent building people up, managing egos, and offering a sympathetic ear. Emotional labor often falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women, and all this thankless work must be squeezed in around handling a mountain of actual business. Adding to PC’s impossible workload is the fact that she’s usually surrounded by male incompetence.

From the beginning, her career has been an uphill battle against ingrained and institutional sexism. She starts as an assistant to a sleazy agent who offers her no opportunities for advancement.

Marv: “Oh again with this I want to be a female agent thing. They don’t even have a word for it! Agentess… Agenttrix.”

Princess Carolyn: “It’s just called agent Marv!” – Bojack Horseman, S3 E2

It takes more than a decade before she can graduate to becoming a high power agent herself. Yet, even then, her achievements often go overlooked or unappreciated. But while it’s not fair that she has to constantly be better than the men around her just to stay afloat, this unyielding pressure does contribute to PC’s ability to operate on a higher level than the rest. Being a career woman who’s lasted as long as she has, at times Princess Carolyn struggles to balance to savvy cynicism that’s a job requirement in her industry, with retaining a compassionate side.

During the assistants’ strike in season six, she and Lenny Turtletaub villainously bribe and manipulate the strike leaders to maintain the status quo, so that agents won’t have to stop treating entry-level workers like garbage. But in the end, it’s the memory of her past as an assistant that brings her to do the right thing, by connecting the strikers with the supremely competent Judah. So as much as she’s been shaped by working in a sometimes-dirty business she managed to avoid becoming that cautionary tale of the hardened career woman who’s lost sight of the bigger picture.

Most centrally, Princess Carolyn embodies the fundamental struggle that working women have been trying to figure out ever since they entered the office: work-life balance.

Princess Carolyn: “You can get me a date for tonight. Actually, make that three dates. Who knows when I’m gonna get another night off?” – Bojack Horseman, S3 E5

The career woman character type is usually painted as so devoted to her job that she lacks any semblance of a personal life. This is a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma, is she alone or struggling in her relationships because she’s always put her career first, or does she throw herself into her work because she’s trying to avoid the messiness of her lackluster private life. If the working woman does have a family, her commitment to her job is often framed as a major source of marital tension.

Barney: “This is so not great!”

Robin: “I’m sorry that I have to work while I’m here. It’s called being on assignment!” – How I Met Your Mother S9 E23

And for those who do achieve some balance between parenthood and motherhood, inevitably some compromise at work is necessary. All these depictions get at hard truths that apply much as ever in our world today. “Having It All” remains elusive. All too often women are actually punished for trying to have it both ways or forced to make a difficult choice about what they value most.

Bailey: “Tucker gave me an ultimatum. The fellowship, or our marriage.” – Grey’s Anatomy S5 E24

But in spite of the reality as Princess Carolyn confronts, today this character type must also perform the perfect, effortless appearance of “Having It All.” This is the root of Princess Carolyn’s rivalry with Vanessa Gekko, who is naturally gifted at this performance.

When things don’t come so easily the career women often feel pressure to hide her struggles. As we see in Princess Carolyn’s difficult journey toward motherhood. We eventually learn she’s experienced the devasting pain of five miscarriages, but she keeps this a secret, even from her supportive partner Ralph Stilton, until they’re breaking up.

Princess Carolyn’s instinct to conceal her true desires reflects the way that women who work fear that they’re seen as falling short if they don’t have families by a certain age. In Set It Up, hotshot reporter Kirsten turns down all invitations to baby showers and weddings, because she’s self-conscious about being single. But when she gets engaged, she suddenly feels comfortable attending these events. Kirsten’s words expose that no matter how amazing a woman is at her career, in society’s eyes this will always pale in comparison to that ultimate ideal of female achievement: being a wife and mother. Through this lens, Princess Carolyn’s sadness at not being able to have a baby takes on a new significance, it’s as if she feels that she’s failed at the job of being a woman.

Princess Carolyn: “My mother had 12 kids, my body was made for this, we just gotta keep tick tick ticking.” – Bojack Horseman, S4 E9

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

One of Princess Carolyn’s greatest strengths in her job is that she knows how to spin a good story. She works in an industry that creates stories on screen, and her domain is carrying this over into the real world as she helps clients craft public narratives of their lives. On a personal level, PC has modeled her whole life on a story. When she was young she would religiously watch The Amelia Earhart Story for inspiration. So Princess Carolyn imagined herself a pioneering woman who would one day soar to great heights, reflecting the power in envisioning a bright future for yourself and then manifesting it.

Spinning stories is actually a fundamental part of how we all cope with reality. As Joan Didion writes, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We live entirely…, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” Over time though, Princess Carolyn’s talent for making raw material into whatever she wants it to be backfires on her.

Princess Carolyn: “If you spend a lot of time with stories, you start to believe that life is just stories – and it’s not. Life is life.” – Bojack Horseman, S4 E12

If you’re always shielding yourself by seeing what you want to see, eventually you start to forget that the truth matters. In the season four episode “Ruthie,” which is framed by Princess Carolyn’s great-great-great-granddaughter telling the story of her ancestor persevering it’s revealed that Ruthie is a figment of PC’s imagination, an escapist coping mechanism that our heroine falls back on in stressful times. And this tendency to avoid unpleasant truths comes through in her love life.

Princess Carolyn: “When we first met I was looking for something in my life, and I wanted it so badly that I made myself believe you were it.” – Bojack Horseman, S2 E4

Just look at her season one boyfriend Vincent Adultman, who everyone but Princess Carolyn can see is just three children stacked on top of each other, or her season two boyfriend, the married Rutabaga Rabitowitz, who brazenly manipulates her. And despite how obvious it is that she and Bojack are a bad match romantically, in season six, she reveals that the reason she stands by him so long is that she needs to believe in a beautiful narrative of their shared past.

Princess Carolyn can also be restricted by our culturally prescribed narrative of who the career woman is. She subconsciously conforms to the popular idea of this character type as unemotional, independent, and tough-as-nails. Yet while this helps Princess Carolyn make sense of her life by fitting it into familiar narrative terms, her belief that she shouldn’t depend on anyone leads her to push people away and repress her extreme emotional pain. In season four, her breakup with Ralph, the best boyfriend she’s ever had is largely due to her clinging to this unrealistic, damaging idea of total self-sufficiency. Even when she, at last, finds happiness with Judah, she fears losing a part of herself as she settles into a happy marriage.

Princess Carolyn: “I’m afraid that if I let someone else take care of me, that I’m not really me anymore. I’m afraid of getting too comfortable, you know, going soft.” – Bojack Horseman, S6 E16

So ultimately, it’s not her ingrained storytelling habits but opening up to new, unconsidered possibilities that frees Princess Carolyn to live her best life. She learns to be the author of a new story, rather than escaping into clichéd fantasies or accepting the limited narrative options presented to her.

Work/Life Balance

Refreshingly, the solution to PC’s woes isn’t work-life balance in the traditional sense, at least not meaning that she must be devoting equal hours and attention to both spheres. Her journey is about accepting that she is a career woman first and that the version of “balance” that’s right for her is weighted more toward time at the office than being at home.

Vanessa Gekko: “I don’t think you actually want perfect and serene and enough time to finally catch up on The Good Wife. Stop kidding yourself Princess Carolyn, if you really wanted the simple life you’d have a simple life.” – Bojack Horseman, S2 E9

Work is where Princess Carolyn is most empowered most herself. Being a mom doesn’t come as naturally to her.

Princess Carolyn: “Work makes sense to me, and I’m good at it. I don’t feel that way about my baby.” – Bojack Horseman, S6 E2

But when first she’s deciding on a name, the joke that she’s going to call her daughter “Untitled Princess Carolyn Project,” foreshadows something important. Ironically, cracking the new motherhood code comes from thinking of it as another job. In fact, she’s already been playing the mother for years before adopting Ruthie, since she’s constantly taking care of everyone around her.

The next part of the process is finding the right support system. Early in season six when PC is trying to do everything herself. At last, she can’t avoid the fact that the rigid, go-it-alone narrative she’s bought into for so long is not sustainable. She learns one of the working mom’s key lessons: that it’s all about the team you cultivate to support you. Her life starts to improve when she finds the perfect full-time nanny for her family, Todd, even though he’s not the one most might choose based on a resume. She also recruits her former assistant Judah to be her company’s new chief of operations, thus taking a lot of the more tedious work, that’s been sucking up her time, off her plate.

When her relationship with Judah grows into a romantic partnership, the match is fitting, it captures how merged her career is with her intimate personal self. Judah is her right hand at the office, he knows her completely, and admires the deeply strong, resourceful person she is at work.

In Judah, she also finds someone who takes care of her for once. This calls back to a comment Bojack makes earlier in the season about the big thing missing from PC’s life.

Bojack: “You are producing a show, running a company, catering to your clients, raising a child, a Todd. You need your own Princess Carolyn to take care of you.” – Bojack Horseman, S6 E7

Finally, the last step towards a work-life balance that works for her is learning to draw boundaries. This comes through in her endpoint with Bojack, who has long been one of her most high-maintenance, exhausting, unappreciative clients. After she’s cleaned up his messes for years, he finally has a screw up too big for her to fix. This frees her to at last to draw a dividing line between their personal and professional relationship, as she makes it clear she’s no longer interested in representing him.

All of these strategic moves allows her to rediscover her joy at work. For much of the show, she reveals the very relatable truth that a workaholic can become so focused on just doing the job that they lose sight of their why.

Princess Carolyn: “Don’t give your whole life to this job. Because if you do, someday someone will finally ask you what you want and you’ll realize you don’t even know anymore.” – Bojack Horseman, S6 E14

The show underlines this in season six, when she gets the chance to run Lenny Turtletaub’s new female-focused studio division, Girtletaub, and seems to blank on why she even wants this opportunity. When she decides not to do the straightforward thing and to instead go her own way, this represents liberating herself from work just for work’s sake, or work on someone else’s terms.

So Princess Carolyn’s endpoint sends the important message that work-life balance isn’t one size fits all. She finds the specific solution that’s best for her, one where she spends most of her time at the office, but isn’t dragged down by annoying busywork or people wrangling, and gets to enjoy quality mother-daughter time.

Princess Carolyn: “Your first task is to clear my schedule every third Friday. I’m taking them off to be with my daughter.” – Bojack Horseman, S6 E7

Princess Carolyn’s workday consists of constantly thinking about and facilitating the dreams of others, and it genuinely seems to give her a thrill to help them succeed. But over time, it emerges that Princess Carolyn herself is the true star in her field, for her resourcefulness, her fierce loyalty, and her trademark feline ability to land on her feet. And this is perhaps the most valuable quality for anyone who hopes to succeed professionally. God knows it’s hard out here for the working woman, but if we can take our hits and keep going, we won’t just get that promotion, dream job, or perfect work/life balance, we’ll earn it.

Rutabaga Rabitowitz: “Woah woah woah, Carolyn we just-come… Carolyn.”

Princess Carolyn: “My name is Princess Carolyn.” Bojack Horseman, S2 E12