Undercut

Spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 5

Image result for diane nguyen haircut bojack horseman vietnamThe teaser at the end of last week’s letter was “Diane got hotter.” It was a reference to Diane Nguyen, Alison Brie’s character on BoJack Horseman, the fifth season of which dropped on Netflix last week. And it’s true. She did.

The new do makes its overdue Hollywoo who’s who debut in episode two (as Princess Carolyn might say). In a fit of divorce, Diane chops her hair off. The result is a brief, layered bob, with a close undercut peeking out on the left side that silently mouths college lesbian. “It’s a whole new fun me,” Diane tells Bojack, unconvincingly, crediting her therapist for suggesting she break out of her routine. Later that night, after finding out that her ex-husband Mr. Peanutbutter is rebounding with Pickles, a cute, ditzy bulldog waitressing at Elefante, Diane will impulse-buy a ticket to Hanoi, where she ambivalently plays tourist, pretends not to speak English, and runs into Laura Linney.

A haircut might be the quickest way to reboot a body. It is a basically substractive exercise. There is more of you, because there is less of you. You get to be what’s leftover.

I got my first undercut three years ago, back when I was still a boy. I remember postponing the appointment in order to attend my grandfather’s funeral. This was the Chinese grandfather; like Alison Brie, I am a white girl renting an Asian name. I think I thought it would be gauche to upstage the death rites by coming out as having an alternative hairstyle. The whole family would be there—the spear side, evangelical and enormous—and I was worried they would disapprove of what was in fact a not uncommon urban men’s haircut. It hadn’t yet occurred to me I had a secret.

I actually had to get a new suit—my old one was from high school, and far too small for all the weight I had put on in college. There’s a picture of me in this new suit, with a beautiful dull-violet tie. I look okay, really. I’m wearing the same large chunky glasses frames I have now, which I’m remembering I had just purchased a month or two before. Maybe that was the fear: that too many simultaneous changes to my face would signify my apostasy, which everyone already knew about but no one wanted to bring up. The wrong haircut could unkin me altogether.

It was not very sad; my grandfather was quite old, and we were never close. I think I cried only once, very briefly, on the drive to the plot, when our car passed a headstone where a ribboned Cozy Coupe was keeping vigil. It rained at the burial. Little drops of metaphor.

BoJack Horseman season 5 has several high-concept episodes, some back-to-back, but the one you may have already heard about—even if you roll your eyes every time some stan tells you, “BUT IT’S REALLY ABOUT DEPRESSION, BRANDY”—is the funeral episode. Aside from the cold open, “Free Churro” consists entirely in BoJack’s eulogy for his mother Beatrice, who has passed away offscreen. (The title refers to the gratis choux pastry given to BoJack by a sympathetic Jack in the Box employee on his way to the funeral.) It’s a marathon for Will Arnett, who also voices BoJack’s father in the cold open flashback, making the episode a true tour-de-force monologue.

Beatrice was an awful mother: neglectful, abusive, capable of infinite disappointment. BoJack’s eulogy is more of a roast, and he sheaths his grief in jokes, throwing some lines to the casket at the front of the room. “Nothing to contribute?” he cracks in his mother’s direction. “Knock once if you’re proud of me.”

My mother, who is not dead, just got on a plane out of LaGuardia to return to where she lives. This weekend was the first time I had seen her in over two years. The wound is only just beginning to scab. It’s like you died, she told me when she first found out about my transition, cruel like a child. It is a truism, even among those who believe, as my family does, in the immortality of the soul, that mourning is inherently selfish, a rite for the living, not the dead. What a thing it is to be buried alive.

I suppose we kill each other in our heads all the time. “Do you want to see Dad?” my mother texted me me in anticipation of this weekend. I wrote back that I had no interest, and rode the high of soft parricide.

The eventual thesis of “Free Churro” is that the death of a parent is like the cancellation of an underwhelming TV show. BoJack’s example is Becker, the Ted Danson sitcom that ended in 2004. You grieve the possibility of things being better than they ever turned out to be. The force of this realization is swiftly undercut by episode’s final kicker: BoJack opens his mother’s casket only to discover he’s been monologuing in the wrong funeral parlor. The dead are never there when you want them to be. In this, every dead person is a parent.

I couldn’t do anything this week. Writing, cooking, none of it. I spent a few hours looking for a new dress. There were so many reasons to be anxious about my mother’s arrival. I wondered if she was just doing it to make herself feel better. I was afraid she would feel I was attacking her. I was resentful that I wasn’t going to get to attack her. Somewhere, I was ashamed. I wasn’t ready for an audience. I wasn’t done yet. New hair would have been nice.

When I returned to New York after my grandfather’s death, I got the undercut. It was really just a fade, and nowhere as close to the scalp as I cut it now, weekly, over the bathroom sink, a hand mirror in one hand and in the other the men’s clippers I bought that fall, peeling off the bits of my head I don’t want anymore, like garlic skins, a bloodless fantasy of self-harm. But I loved it. Texting a picture to a friend, I wrote, “It’s the first step in my slow transformation into a New York lesbian.” I was joking, of course.

Anyway. Diane got hotter.

Next week: Are you the husband or the wife?

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