Bojack Horseman doesn’t get a pass.
He isn’t a good guy, he isn’t a bad guy. He is just a guy, who occasionally does very shitty things. This time, he went far enough, and pushed enough people away, to realize that he needs help to get better.
Bojack Horseman has grown enough as a show to make statements on current social issues, and also on whether Bojack the character deserves any sympathy.
During an understated moment, midway through the season, Bojack’s dad, Butterscotch, tells him how you cannot depend on people. The only person you can depend on is yourself. And even though Bojack’s mother wasn’t the best person to be around, she was a good mother for teaching her son that important lesson.
Bojack has learned not to depend on people. But he still wants to be liked by others. There is a massive discrepancy between what Bojack actually is and how he wants to be seen. That’s something he has to deal with in his latest TV show, Philbert, because the main character is dark, noirish and does shitty things as well.
It didn’t have to be this way. Bojack was in a better place last season, having become a stable mentor for his half-sister, Hollyhock, and provided some comfort to his mother in a rare moment of clarity between bouts of dementia.
But Bojack doesn’t get to be normalized. He doesn’t get to say it’s okay to be broken, because it lets the viewers who are broken off the hook as well. Diane says it best when she says that, if Philbert the show makes it okay for assholes to normalize themselves and their behavior, then she didn’t want to be on the show anymore.
Being Woke isn’t Enough
In this season, Bojack directly addresses the Me Too movement, and the progressive, SJW mindsets deriding sexual predators in Hollywood.
Being a man and speaking up against a Mel Gibson type means that Bojack gets applauded by an audience of chickens. However, when Bojack himself steers into irredeemable territory by assaulting his girlfriend and costar, Gina, on set during a painkiller-induced haze, Gina refuses to let the potential controversy derail her burgeoning career. She refused to let Bojack be the biggest thing that ever happened to her. She wanted to be known for her work and her career instead.
Bojack begs Diane to destroy him by doing an expose, because he wanted to be held accountable. But she wouldn’t, because only Bojack could hold himself accountable.
At this point, Bojack isn’t a child, or even an young adult finding himself anymore.
He is an adult in his mid-fifties. He needs to embrace the help that therapy, and later, rehab brings.
The show also takes a more comedic approach with the ascent of Henry Fondle, sex robot, to WhatTimeIsitRightNow.com’s CEO role, despite having no credentials whatsoever. He is taken down when a junior executive speaks out against his proclivities and the company’s female employees are, in turn, let go as it scales back its operations in response.
How to Change, and Let Others Change Too
Two major developments in this season include Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter going their separate ways, and Princess Carolyn trying to adopt a baby. Diane embraces the loneliness that divorce brings, in order to learn how to survive alone again. Mr. Peanutbutter, on the other hand, runs after the next shiny thing and immediately gets into another relationship with another impressionable twenty year old, Pickles Aplenty.
Mr. Peanutbutter tries, alternatively, to be more tough and to grow up beyond dating twenty-somethings that leave him as they mature into more fully-formed beings. He tries to be the mature one for once and break it off with Pickles before things get too serious. But he relents and asks her hand in marriage instead.
Princess Carolyn, on the other hand, finally manages to adopt a baby by the end of the season, even though she hasn’t fully made peace with the fact that she is still bullshitting her way into getting what she wants without fully realizing the consequences. She may not be ready to give up career momentum to spend enough time with her baby to raise and nurture her. As Bojack says in the season’s standout sixth episode, you have to do the hard work of getting better every day, and that’s harder than it sounds.
Everything is Worse Now
This season does a great job in handling grief, as always, in two episodes. The first deals with Diane’s divorce as she tries to find herself in Vietnam, and the second deals with Bojack giving an eulogy for his mother, Beatrice.
I talked a little bit about Diane’s sojourn in an earlier article. It’s a sweet, heartfelt reflection on learning to lead a solitary life after being together with someone for a long, long time. But it’s the sixth episode, Free Churro, that elevates Bojack Horseman to masterclass status.
Bojack breaks down several times as he alternates between his hatred for his mother, and his vain attempts to reconnect with her over the years.
He agonizes over the idea that her last words to him were ‘I see you’ and he never would have the chance to make things right with her again, or even with his father, who had passed away years earlier.
Beatrice had delivered Butterscotch’s eulogy, and said, ‘My husband is dead, and everything is worse now’. And Bojack couldn’t help but echo the sentiment when he said ‘my mother is dead, and everything is worse now’.
What humanizes Beatrice, however, is that even though she spend a lifetime mostly drowning, there were moments, such as the times she went to a ball, that she would take flight in dance. And what humanized Butterscotch, was that he still forgave her when he remembered how he felt when he first saw her, and realized that she was trying her best to do what she could given her circumstances.
The show addresses the escapist nature of entertainment in this episode, too, when Bojack says that he watched the whole series of Becker because he hoped that his relationship with his mother would get better. That he would perform grand gestures and that would make everything okay. But he needed to be dependably good, without screwing up, and for a person like him, that was very, very hard.
Is Bojack Supposed to Get Better?
At this point, it’s hard to tell. In the third season, Bojack stopped himself while hovering on the brink of suicide after losing Sarah Lynn. In the fourth season, he seemed to accept the vagaries of adulthood and parenthood to varying degrees. He isn’t a bad person, per se, in the fifth season. He is happy for his girlfriend, and even goes beyond his normal grand gestures, which include stealing the D sign from Hollywood in the first season. But he ends up doing shitty things regardless, and ultimately hits a giant reset button when his show gets cancelled.
Bojack’s fifth season is great, but overall, it’s perhaps the third best season of the show. It’s still hard to top the highs of season three, and season four stands out simply by the virtue of being uplifting and mature in a series mired in ugliness and depression. The fifth season drags most major characters through their paces, forcing them to confront major flaws and daring them to get better. Todd gets an interesting story too, but he doesn’t stand out as much when he doesn’t play off the main cast.
I can’t help but mirror Diane’s exhaustion and relief as she drives off into a tunnel after dropping Bojack off at rehab. Despite everything Bojack did to her and to others, he is still her best friend, and she cares for him. She hopes, as do we, that he gets better. But he probably won’t.
I sincerely hope that Bojack doesn’t waste away at a retirement home like his mother did, or die of an overdose like Sarah Lynn did. But at the rate he is burning through people in his life, there might be no recourse left when it’s all said and done.
It still makes for great television, of course. And I will be there, next year, like everyone else, to see Bojack get into another trainwreck when he gets out of rehab.