Warning: this post will be full of spoilers for the series finale of BoJack Horseman. Please read only if you have seen the entire series, or if you don’t care about spoilers.
Well, we did it, y’all. We watched the entirety of BoJack Horseman. For those of us who haven’t turned to a life of drugs and alcohol to cope with the tremendous sadness this cartoon brings, killed ourselves, or quit watching or reading anything ever again for fear we will be made as sad as showrunner Raphael Matthew Bob-Waksberg clearly wants us to be, a number of delightful fan analyses of the show are at our disposal. This is one of them, and it’s in direct opposition to a great many of the fan analyses online today.
First of all: if you are part of that weird subculture of BJH fans who believe that Hollyhock’s letter to BoJack was a suicide note, and that her phone had been disconnected because she was dead, kindly exit my blog via the O or X buttons on your phone or computer. Come the fuck on.
A more-respectable and well-discussed take on the series finale is that BoJack Horseman’s downfall is a commentary on what holding men accountable looks like in the post-#MeToo and #TimesUp sociopolitical climate.
BoJack has spent the entire series–and most of his life before the series–very blatantly preying upon women in inappropriate, uncomfortable and, in Sarah Lynn’s case, fatal ways. He has sex with the now-adult actress who played his young daughter on his hit sitcom. He enters a relationship with a woman who has been in a coma for thirty years. He provides alcohol to minors on prom night, then sexually engages with one of them: the daughter of an old flame. While attempting to reconnect with said daughter, following her to her private Midwestern college, he goads his TV daughter into relapsing on drugs and alcohol, then supplies the heroin with which she fatally overdoses. He makes his sister spend several hours following him around Hollywoo trying to find opioids, which he has become addicted to. In a drug-induced stupor, he strangles his girlfriend and TV costar, after completely losing touch with reality and simultaneously fearing that she will out him for the person he is (not-great, see above) and/or take his drugs away.
BoJack Horseman is an adult male actor who had sex with the president of his own fan club.
Eventually, two reporters out him for his, well, see above. Yeah, I get the #MeToo and #TimesUp parallels. I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. I can still see the red flags.
But trying to politicize BoJack Horseman takes away from its greater message: that life is fucking awful, indeed you are fucking awful, fucking awful things happen to great people and bad people, and great people can also be bad people, and everything in between. This isn’t a show about a guy who does terrible things for five straight seasons, then smartens up and becomes a college professor only to be #MeToo-ed because that’s our new way of dealing with predatory men. This is a show that simply knows what all of us are afraid of, and preys upon those fears in such a way that we are forced to address with some profoundly uncomfortable truths about the human condition.
So what are we afraid of?
We are afraid that not-evil people can have not-evil reasons for doing evil things.
One thing that makes BJH a great #MeToo show, even if that isn’t what the show is necessarily trying to do, is that BoJack is not portrayed as an evil man. He is not the antagonist; he’s the titular character and primary protagonist. However, this is still a show about him doing terrible things to people he loves–but all of these terrible things can be traced back to self-serving motives, not sadistic ones.
Running away from one’s own awful self is a recurring theme in BoJack Horseman, an impossible but elusive goal that especially BoJack will do anything to achieve. Consider BoJack’s Smiths song-esque relationship with Wanda Pierce, whom he meets after she has come out of a thirty-year coma. While Diane is quick to point out that this effectively makes her a twenty-year-old trapped in the body of a fifty-year-old, BoJack dismisses this; he is attracted to her not explicitly because she’s mentally youthful, but because she has no idea who he is.
A bit harder to explain in this respect is BoJack’s actually predatory relationship with actual youth Penny Carson, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Charlotte Carson. Charlotte embodies everything BoJack wishes he could’ve been good enough to end up with, instead of moving to Hollywoo and becoming a public spectacle. When she rejects him, he turns to her daughter. Is he exploiting her? Oh, completely. Without a shadow of a doubt, if you are trying to sleep with the teenage daughter of someone you are in love with, for any reason, you’re exploiting that teenage daughter.
Is he trying to, or is he trying desperately to run away from himself? He’s trying to run away from himself.
We are afraid that it doesn’t matter if you don’t try to be a bad person, you can still hurt everyone you care about (and you will).
BoJack Horseman has done a terrific job of really driving home the mantra impact before intention. At no point in the series does BoJack really intend to hurt any of the women he has hurt–and he spends quite a bit of time towards the end of the series trying to really hammer that fact into everyone’s heads. In the beginning, it works. Following his first (and more heartfelt) interview with Biscuits Braxby, in which he portrays his un-sober self as a drug-addled mess who was hurting everyone he loved without trying, and presents himself in the present as a sober and beloved college professor, people all around Hollywoo come up to him sharing stories of sobriety and survival.
Unfortunately, BoJack has not rid himself of his addiction to running away from how much he hates himself, and goes for a second interview. This time, Biscuits has armed herself with a litany of information on BoJack’s numerous transgressions, and forces him to admit to a pattern of behavior in which he has repeatedly groomed young women and abused the power he has over them–to the extent that he has cost one, whom he essentially helped raise, her life.
BoJack denies the power he has over women, arguing that he doesn’t even have any control over himself, so how can he have control over these women?
Doesn’t matter. He does have power over these women. He fucked their lives up. That’s the point.
We want to live in a world where the only ways people can hurt you come from trying to hurt you. If a middle-aged actor tries (and maybe succeeds) to sleep with a seventeen-year-old, the president of his fan club, or his TV daughter, it’s because he’s a sick creep who wants to hurt women and fuck, basically, young girls. We can easily justify retaliating against people who are like that. But that’s not where BoJack is coming from. He really doesn’t have a lot of control over his actions, because his entire locus of control revolves around running away from how much he sucks, and he’s running away by doing the very things that make him so toxic to other people.
He feels bad about who he is and what he’s doing, which makes him do terrible things to people, and that’s almost worse than if he were just a sadist who wanted to abuse women.
We are afraid that it has to hurt to be real.
Let’s segue to Diane for a minute here. In the series finale, we see Diane smoking a cigarette on top of the roof at Princess Carolyn’s wedding reception. She explains to BoJack that she’s not really the same person she was in L.A., she likes Houston, and she’s happy. She also explains to BoJack that she is deliberately ending their friendship. She isn’t mad at him, but she can no longer keep putting herself in a position where he feels obligated to reach out to her whenever he needs saved. While I appreciate the sort of empowering taste in the mouth that this leaves behind as the final scene to the series, this is really more of a metaphor for Diane’s wider choice to be happy.
Diane, for most of the series, has kind of been a thoughtful, feminist counterpart to BoJack’s very masculine excess. While she’s not doing a bunch of terrible things to other people, she’s doing a bunch of terrible things to herself, including maintaining her friendship with BoJack. She does terrible things because she’s miserable, just like BoJack, but without the “predatory sexual behaviors” thing. Or the opioids thing. Plenty of other bad stuff, though. Slowly, she learns that she can choose to not be so fucking miserable all the time, and we see that growth take hold towards the end of the series.
Diane actively resists treating her depression throughout the series and especially once she gets to Chicago to live with Guy. She feels like she needs to be miserable in order to internalize and correct the misery she sees in what she’s writing about and reporting on. How can one not be miserable, in a world with as many terrible things as ours has? Does choosing to be happy, despite the terrible things we all struggle with every day, necessarily mean condoning those terrible things? For Diane, up until the end of the series, the answer is yes, it does.
And then something changes. She gets into a really healthy, supportive relationship. She leaves L.A. She takes her antidepressants and accepts that they make her gain some weight. She puts aside her idea for a “navel-gaze-y book of anecdotes” (as Princess Carolyn so aptly puts it) and begins authoring a series about a teenage girl detective. We’ve seen Diane go from being a depressed jacket-clad writer of miserable current events, constantly miserable, the pit that good things fall into–to a teen lit author, married, successfully treating her depression with medication.
And I think this is something, to a degree, that we are all afraid of doing ourselves. We don’t want to lose our edge. We don’t want to get fat and be okay with it. We don’t want to look at how miserable the world is and be able to turn our back to it.
We don’t want to look at people like BoJack and cut them off in self-preservation. We want to say that we will do something about it.
We are afraid that we are so terrible that all our friends and family actually thrive when we’re away (or, even worse, we are so insignificant that nothing will actually change when we’re gone).
So, BoJack survives nearly drowning in his former pool, only to awake to a police officer in his hospital room, explaining that he has been charged with breaking and entering. The sentence–14 months in a maximum security prison–is an obvious nod not just to the crime he committed (which was awful) but also to all of the other transgressions he’s since been outed for. A year later, he is invited to Princess Carolyn and Judah’s wedding, and he (and we) get to see what everyone’s gotten up to since last we left our heroes. (Because this is not a show where the protagonist is the hero.)
Princess Carolyn and Judah are happily raising Ruthie, with Judah taking more of a parenting role leaving Princess Carolyn to continue working and growing her company. Mr. Peanutbutter is continuing to work on Birthday Dad, and Todd is ostensibly doing Todd Things, having previously moved in with Maude. Diane is… happy? (That’s weird.) Everyone is doing pretty well. Except for Diane and Hollyhock, everyone seems to be okay with forgiving BoJack and remaining friends with him whenever he gets out of prison. BoJack has been a real presence in all of these people’s lives the entire series–and, yeah, it’s usually in a bad way–but it’s been in a good way before, too. Even Diane, who pulls the trigger on ending her friendship with BoJack, admits that she is very happy that they were in each other’s lives when they were.
What preys the most on our fears is that we will have to live with the terrible things we’ve done, and those will be very mentally significant to us–and perhaps significant enough to damage our reputations or our relationships with other people–but actually that we ourselves are so insignificant that we can do these awful things, and then go away for a while, and nothing changes when we come back. Everyone will be doing just fine without us. Everyone will be doing the same or better.
Have y’all ever left your hometown, come back, and everything’s more or less the same? The people you knew from before who stuck around are still just sort of doing their same thing? Or maybe there are people who have left and gone onto better and brighter things? Yeah. It’s like that, but way worse, because it almost feels like it’s your fault.
It’s your fault. It’s your fault.
It’s all your fault.
It’s all your fucking fault.
You weren’t even trying and it’s all your fucking fault.
You stupid piece of shit.
That’s what BoJack Horseman is about. It’s not about #MeToo. It’s not about politics. It’s about how much you, and I, and most of your friends, fucking suck.
None of these fears have anything to do with the post-#MeToo, post-#TimesUp political climate. None of them. They existed before #MeToo, or hashtagging technology. Our fears that we are just terrible and our friends and family are really better off without us have existed long before, probably, the wheel. And, if you read interviews with Bob-Waksberg, this was not intended to be a political show. Could this show and its themes–most notably the reputation-ruining of men who do awful and violent things to women–exist without #MeToo? No, it couldn’t. But to say that this means that the show is about the #MeToo movement is to do it a great and very limiting injustice.
I think everyone knows a BoJack and, to an extent, that BoJack is you. We have all done terrible things we’re not proud of. Most of us didn’t do them because we wanted to hurt someone. But we hurt someone anyway, and we have to live with that for the rest of our lives.
And now, so does BoJack.
Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you keep living.