BoJack is gone and everything is worse now.
When I first started watching BoJack Horseman on Netflix I thought it was going to be a dumb show about a Hollywood celebrity that happened to be a horse. Boy was I wrong. It’s a smart and poignant show about a Hollywoo celebrity that happens to be a horse. Season 6 is a perfect way for us to say goodbye to our favourite characters and for them to say goodbye to each other. Raphael Bob-Waksberg expertly balances a show that deals with emotionally tumultuous topics like death, regret, love, family, and depression while leaving room for brevity and laughter. Season 6, Episode 4’s Surprise! is a perfect example of that balancing act in action.
BoJack, like many contemporary prestige (and non-prestige) television shows, splits its ultimate season into two parts. Part one was released at the end of October last year while part two was released at the end of January.
‘What is this, a crossover episode?’
So, let’s start at the beginning. The best place to start. We left season five with BoJack finally being checked into rehab for his crippling alcohol and drug addiction. In the new season we see his struggle with becoming sober (including climbing the literal ‘Metaphor Mountain’). Unlike the old BoJack, rehab BoJack isn’t giving up. We see a montage of BoJack’s failures that eventually transform into successes. He faces hurdles while in rehab, like going to a high-school party full of alcohol to get an escaped 17-year old mother back to the Malibu facility. During his time in rehab, we also learn of the tragic story of how BoJack became dependent on alcohol. It’s a brutal reminder that we can never escape our past. We can learn from it and try to grow from it, but we will always be moulded by it.
If I were to boil down season 6 to only one theme that would be it: you cannot escape your past. It’s reoccurring and ever-present in all the characters this year. From Mr Peanutbutter cheating on his fiancée Pickles (plus his relationship history more generally), to Diane’s struggle with depression and her perceived inability to reconcile her trauma from her youth with happiness she feels is undeserving for her with Guy, Princess Caroline’s search for career success while grappling with relationship failures and her newly formed status as a mother, to Todd’s quest to reconcile his relationship with his estranged mother.
What happened in the past may not be your fault or it may be entirely your fault; the one constant is you cannot escape it.
While each of our characters, major and minor (played exquisitely by actors such as Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins and Aaron Paul plus many, many, MANY celebrity cameos and guest stars) must all go on their own journeys of acceptance, the plot never deviates from our protagonist.
BoJack tries to move on from his past – he stops dying his hair, he remedies some broken relationships with people he hurt and even moves from Los Angeles to become a professor, except, unlike the name of his boat, he can’t Escape From LA, or what he did there.
Season 6 Part 1 ends with the cliff-hanger of two Hollywoo Reporter journalists following a lead on the death of Sarah Lynn at the Planetarium (which BoJack was there for) while simultaneously BoJack’s sister, Hollyhock LookUpTheLastNameBecauseItIsTooLong, finding out about BoJack’s inappropriate antics while he was in New Mexico. It’s a perfect set-up for Part 2 and it delivered.
The public’s mood towards BoJack quickly turns from empathy to hostility in the space of two television interviews when it is revealed he waited 17 minutes before calling an ambulance for his overdosing former co-star in order to cover his tracks. BoJack’s history with women and his inability to understand his power as a famous celebrity also lead to his downfall in the eyes of the public. His life quickly spirals out of control. In a soul-crushing scene Hollyhock writes to BoJack to tell him that she is cutting him off, after he worked so hard to cultivate a relationship with her. He becomes friends with the only person who will have him, an anthropomorphised version of misogyny itself, and he relapses after an encounter with a television executive from his old sitcom who wants to remove him entirely from Horsin’ Around.
None of the plot feels contrived for the sake of the script. Character development is built from the characters themselves and their relationships to each other: a hallmark of good television. If I were to have one criticism, the penultimate episode, where it appears BoJack has drowned in his old pool while under the influence – a masterful episode with a particularly harrowing poem, The View from Halfway Down – is somewhat cheapened by his miraculous recovery in the next episode.
This is only a minor criticism. The final episode still manages to hit you like you’ve driven into an intersection to get a prescription for painkillers. While each characters story arc closes happily enough (Todd has reconciled with his mother, Princess Caroline is married and Diane is moving to Houston while also having now become a successful young adult novelist), the realisation that not only is this end of the audience’s relationship with each of the characters but also the end of their relationships with each other (and especially with BoJack) cuts deep.
BoJack is gone and everything is worse now.