If part one is any indication, Bob’s Burgers’ fourth season got the finale it deserved. This year we’ve seen tremendous character growth, a willingness to take chances with format and theme, and the enduring commitment to telling TV’s best puberty jokes. In “Wharf Horse (Or How Bob Saves/Destroys The Town—Part I),” all of these elements are at play, particularly the middle one. The episode not only delved into a plotline that came with ramifications for the way Bob’s Burgers fundamentally operates, it ended with a murder mystery. Ostensibly, this cliffhanger will have to be cleared up in next week’s finale. It would have been braver for them to leave it hanging until next season, but that’s not Bob’s style. Between Mr. Fischoedor and Bob, I think both parties are staying put.
At the end of its sixth season, The Simpsons introduced the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” plotline at the end of its sixth season. By that point the show long had been a cultural phenomenon, an animated juggernaut that had transcended mere cartoon status. Bob’s Burgers is not there yet, and with an animated market as saturated as Fox’s current wheelhouse, it would be difficult for them to ever reach Simpsons ubiquity. But this murder mystery plot is something, a turning point for a the best animated show on TV after its finest season to date.
It feels lazy to compare Bob’s Burgers to The Simpsons, but it’s something I’ve done more than once. A big part of it is that I think of Bob’s on that level. It may not be as “important” to global culture as The Simpsons continues to be, but its commentary on the struggle of the middle class and its portrayal of coming-of-age insecurity are worthwhile bonuses to the poop jokes, the burger board, the guest stars, and just about every damn thing that comes out of Linda’s mouth. Every time Bob’s Burgers takes chances like it did last night, I feel the show is one step closer to its ultimate greatness, a place where it’s not considered niche and its relevancy to bigger topics is appreciated. And where a global pop star writes a birthday song for Tina Belcher that retains sing-along status 20-some years later. A recapper can dream!
What last night’s episode did right was to perfectly meld subplots into the A story — something Bob’s has been playing with all season, seemingly weighing the pros and cons of doing away from B stories at times. Of course, it’s ideal when they can all play into each other. Felix Fischodeor (Zach Galifianakis) returns to the show with a dream of turning the town into a beachside playground for condo-dwellers, essentially the real estate equivalent of the “high-end” bathroom he slaved over for Bob. His brother doesn’t want to sell the Wonder Wharf in order to facilitate this development — one that would include a high-end burger joint, Bob’s Bistro on the Beach with the Burgers, or so Felix promises Bob. And so Bob, the least persuasive person on the show, becomes the one to convince him to do so, using the rich stage musical tradition of singing for one’s supper (see below). This is, of course, until the cloud of greed passes by Bob’s field of vision, no longer obscuring the nostalgia he feels for the Wharf.
This internal feud is represented by Bob’s loved ones: Linda, who is swayed by the promise of a better life; and Tina, who chains herself to the Wharf’s carousel in protest of destruction. The latter certainly represents Tina’s inability to grow up completely; she has a hard time leaving behind her childhood as her emotions careen toward adulthood. The carousel is a big part of that, while for Bob, the Wharf’s destruction forces him to examine his own life and actively choose to make it better. But he doesn’t necessarily think it’s all been bad; when it all comes down to it, he loves his family and his life. But by leaving off with a cliffhanger, in which Bob’s existence is up for stakes, the writers are acknowledging that doing the right thing could blow up in Bob’s face. Isn’t that the heart of Bob’s Burgers, really? Rooting for the underdog. Making the Belcher rich would ruin the show, but then again, so would killing Bob.
Bonus: Two one-liners from “Wharf Horse” that cannot be ignored
“Does putting a band-aid on a fart make it go away?” — Felix (please make him a regular!)
“You can’t just leave a kidnapping to shop, this isn’t Florida!” — Mr. Fischodeor