“Life’s a bitch and then you die, right?”
Sometimes our endings aren’t endings. Instead, as is the case in the sixth and final season of the tremendous Bojack Horseman, they’re bookmarks placed in a series of events that mark a character’s journey through life. If we are to believe that Bojack (Will Arnett) did indeed make it out of his hallucinogenic version of purgatory from the penultimate episode and did ultimately go to prison for trespassing and then to Princess Carolyn’s (Amy Sedaris) wedding where he sat on a roof and spoke to Diane (Alison Brie), then we get to have a semblance of hope that this isn’t really the end of his story. It’s an end to a chapter, sure, a weighty one where the damages wrought in the pages were slippery and insidious. What makes Bojack Horseman such revelatory television isn’t that it’s showing us a person’s capacity for change. Instead, it’s the defiant resolve to challenge the idea that when a broken (horse) man comes crying for forgiveness, that we don’t always have to accept it. In a world that grants toxic men constant benefits of doubt and in which known, proven abusers still get to have high profile careers, it’s a welcome, necessary change of pace to see not just that people can grow and learn from their misdoings, but that the victims of the wrong doings get just as much control over the narrative as the person in the position of power.
A lot of the laughter of Bojack was vacuum sealed out of the final season – to it’s ultimate benefit. The humor still remains and some of the wordplay and background visual gags were some of the best the series have ever had, occasionally allowing viewers to decompress momentarily as everything got heavier. Considering the show has never shied away from darker thematic issues, there’s no whiplash inducing tonal shifts. Instead, whenever the story grows gloomy or meditative or even, in the last moments, bittersweet and hopeful, it’s earned and adds significance to the overarching storyline.
Our protagonist (a never better Arnett) has run out of lifelines and it’s finally time for him to face the music.
While Bojack understandably stands center stage in the last few episodes, there’s still enough time for the supporting characters to be given as much closure as reality can gift them. Princess Carolyn may have the happiest as she and her assistant Judah (Diedrich Bader) get married in the finale. Though surface level she has the tidiest of ends, there’s enough lurking underneath about her willingness to play the game in giving handouts to ill behaved men and her vulturous instinct to seek out young talent that gives her story just enough edge so that it isn’t a fairytale departure from the regular tone, though one could argue she deserved it most of all.
Among the greater, overarching storylines, it was some of the smaller character driven beats that hit the hardest. In particular, Dianne’s story finally seemed to reach its natural culmination. There was no foot stomping declarations, just little moments of self-acceptance, love and motivation that reached past some of the darker themes of the season to really put pressure on my heart. Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re missing or, rather, what you’re hoping to witness on screen to feel validated until it happens. In the case of Bojack Horseman this feeling, of all things, came when Dianne made the choice to go on antidepressants and gained weight while on them (a deterrent to her choice of not originally taking them). She wasn’t the same size, but was fundamentally happier and her life was finally improving. As someone who battles constantly with self-image and whose own relationship with medication has, unfortunately, linked itself with my weight, it was refreshing to see the results in narrative form and, better yet, see someone thrive despite initial hesitancy.
What then made the Diane story soar greater still was introducing a hard learned but necessary lesson for many of us who wish to be storytellers – who believe we have something to say and if we don’t then we aren’t real artists – that if we’ve suffered, dealt with anxiety, depression, and everything in between but can’t put pen to page to illustrate it, then what on earth was all of it for? If Diane can’t novelize a life full of overbearing parents and high school bullies, if I can’t whip together essays about damaging self-image and crippling anxiety, then were those life lessons and speed bumps merely wasted time? Yes and no, the show seems to answer. Emotionally punishing perhaps, but still worth something in the end. To then pivot and show that a person can still achieve their dreams even if those dreams manifest themselves differently than initially imagined (a YA novel perhaps instead of a hard hitting memoir) is poignant. It’s a reminder that life can’t always go the way we expect it to and our paths are inevitably going to be bump ridden and wheel rusting, but that we can make something of it and find beauty along the way, no matter the stumbles.
It’s the focus on unpredictability, on life’s inability to give us an easy answer, that makes the sixth and final season such an emotional wallop as it deviates from the well-worn narrative trajectory we’ve all become so used to over the years – especially when it comes to troubled, damaged men. Bojack wasn’t a good person at the start of the series and despite his many, many attempts to atone for his misdeeds, find solace in his want to heal and being given a chance at a second beginning with newfound sobriety, he still wasn’t truly good at the end. But instead of damning him to eternal pain or dismissing him as clearly “bad”, the show ended with a level of complexity it’s become known for, offering no easy answers but instead turning the question on the viewers instead. The show wants us to grapple with Bojack’s traumatizing upbringing and his careless behavior towards the women in his life; we take stock of his addictions and see how they played afoul with the lives of others. We are well aware of his enormous ego and his crippling insecure need to be loved which directly led to the death of a young woman he should have been able to protect. “Bojack ” vehemently refused to allow us answers or endings that felt safe and the ambiguity in the end as Bojack and Diane talk – maybe for the last time – is far from superfluous.
There’s so much grief to be unburied in the final season of the series – so much of which has been about deep seated loneliness, trauma or heartache – a large net for a show that started out about the washed up career anthropomorphic horse stuck in his own hellish arrested development and holding on to his success from a decades old family sitcom. In the penultimate episode “The View From Halfway Down,” Bojack dines with lost ones such as his mother and Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) while he deals with past demons and potential oblivion in a presumed fantasy, until realizing he may be dying after drunkenly falling into his old pool. It flashes back to the opening credits, where after being dragged through a fever dream haze of burnt to a crisp memories and the shadowing end of a bottle, Bojack floats below the water, staring up at Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) concerned faces. The character has been suffocating for a long time and in the haunting “The View From Halfway Down” we come face to face with a Bojack who is realizing with horrifying clarity the damage he’s inflicted.
Similarly to The Good Place, Bojack Horseman in its final season is about reckoning with every aspect of yourself while dealing with life and death and the realization that one doesn’t come without the other. In “Bojack” the reminder comes with a newfound want to heal and live.
There will always be strong motives for a broken person to behave badly – but there’s never the justification to hurt others, no matter the baggage that drowns you. Bojack Horseman understood this at its very core, implementing the idea over the years so that when Bojack continuously made mistakes and hurt others, he was held accountable. In the end, he’s been in jail, he’s lost his connection with his half-sister, his friendships with Todd and Dianne are forever changed and who knows if he’ll be able to ever bolster his once thriving then dying career. The what if’s are what keep him and the series alive though, because life isn’t so much about healing from the past or looking to the future for a brighter, well lit road, but about living in the moment, taking stock of what’s important, and working as hard as you can to be better, kinder, more empathetic and more whole. It’s about being present and accepting the losses felt, the injustices done, pain wielded and dreams fought for. For a character like Bojack, the most important thing once the apologies have been delivered is to keep living, day by day.