BoJack Horseman Season 5: What Does it Say? Does it Say Stuff? Let’s Find Out!
Writing about any season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman is extremely hard, at least for me. Not because the show doesn’t offer much to write home about, but because it offers a bit too much. BoJack doesn’t just tell stories, it attacks your brain with an emotional barrage that leads to a depressive catharsis. Writing about BoJack is essentially writing about yourself. About what speaks to you, what parts you identify with. The show, and its wonderful cast of characters makes sure that wherever you are in your life, you’re almost certain to identify with a lot of characters, on various different levels.
This is because BoJack (unlike the titular character) never takes the easy way out. It tears down some of the same tropes I’ve talked about in my Better Call Saul post in a brutal way. It dangles our expectations of progression, betterment in front of us like the proverbial carrot, and then takes them away just when the characters see the light. Very much like a lot of us in life, the characters in BoJack aren’t getting better or worse… but different. Impossible to truly rate.
This is also why writing about the emotional impact of the show is hard for me. It’s revealing. Writing about shows is usually a way to do something independently of who I am, write about some sort of connection, a subjective experience of the work itself, but not a subjective experience of my own damn life. The trouble is, BoJack forces introspection. It makes you think about your own life in the context of what’s going on on-screen. It frustrates you, not just because of the characters’ misgivings, but because it makes you question whether you’d have acted any better. Sometimes, it’s even a question of whether you have acted any better.
Probably the hardest thing for me to watch personally, was the aftermath of Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s breakup which ended the previous. Having gone through a break up not that long ago myself, I found myself identifying with Diane thoroughly throughout “her” episode, where she leaves for Vietnam to rediscover herself and get over Mr. Peanutbutter.
The episode hit me like a ton of bricks, if I’m to be honest. Just like Diane, I left for a different place after my breakup, albeit in a more permanent fashion. Just like Diane, I told myself that it would be easy. Just like Diane, I have to face the fact that it never was going to be easy, accept my new reality, and move on. The episode left me in a bit of a cathartic shock for a while, and even though entire seasons of BoJack have left me in weird moods, a single episode has never left me in a “TOO REAL FOR ME” state like this one did.
The thing is, breakups are but a fraction of what this season of BoJack is about. Sitting here 2 days after finishing it, I can’t even wrap my hand around just how much the show was able to deal with and deconstruct in 300 minutes of airtime. I will only highlight what stood out to me the most to avoid turning this piece into a novel.
Let’s start with the most “2018” of topics deconstructed by BoJack, in the show’s take on the impunity famous people have, which is very current, given that many of the men accused in #MeToo are now returning to the spotlight without bigger issues. The first real tackling of this issue comes with Vance Waggoner, a Mel Gibson inspired character who just can’t stop doing idiotic, racist and sexist things. The show lampoons Hollywood using BoJack’s new show-within-a-show Philbert (which itself lampoons the overly complex, dark TV we’ve been getting for a while now) and its search for a co-star. Lines like “It’s been three years, he’s going to be a great comeback story.” and “Come join our project, it’s going to show studios that you’re a changed man!”. Waggoner isn’t a changed man, though, and when another scandal occurs his publicist sighs and says “There goes another two years.” Waggoner is never going to stay out of the spotlight forever, because everybody loves a comeback.
That episode, however, also takes the opportunity to remind us that BoJack is not that different from Waggoner. As he tries to get ahead of a PR crisis of his own, BoJack turns into a clueless, virtual signalling self-proclaimed feminist. By the end of the episode, we’re reminded of his encounter with Penny on her parents’ boat. We root for BoJack because he’s a comeback story, and even though he is a fictional character… perhaps we shouldn’t? This show isn’t afraid to ask that question of its viewers, and the answer is about as murky as… anything in it.
BoJack goes further down the rabbit hole as he gets addicted to painkillers after an on-set accident, caused in no small part by his giant ego, all the while he develops a relationship with Gina, a breakout co-star on his show. Eventually, his addiction starts impacting his life, as he starts confusing reality with the show he’s on, which makes him choke Gina way too hard while filming a particular scene. Of course, the footage of this leaks out and the characters end up having to manage a PR nightmare.
The choking incident once again returns to the topic first touched upon in the Waggoner episode. Even though BoJack should (and wants to) be punished, he won’t. This time, because Gina herself doesn’t want the incident to be talked about. As she says, she finally gets her big break, but if BoJack comes clean, she will forever be know as his victim, rather than the talented actress she is. BoJack, once again, gets away with it.
That, I think is part of the issue for BoJack as well. He wants to be punished, he seems to long for some kind of reckoning for his bullshit. Yet, his privileged social position and the fact that so many other people depend on him leave him immune to consequences. This season, we see the best and worst version of BoJack. We see BoJack trying to care for people, and even succeeding at times, but we also see BoJack T-boning another car just to get another painkiller prescription. We see BoJack deliver a heartfelt, complicated eulogy about his mother in an amazing single-monologue episode, only to find out that he didn’t notice he was in the wrong room.
Every single character gets this treatment as well. We watch as Princess Carolyn tries to adopt a child, yet see her throw that to the wayside anytime a phone call from work comes her way. Mr. Peanutbutter has a moment of wonderful introspection, realizes that it’s time to grow up, and just when he has the opportunity to show his maturity, he falters into his old habits. Diane tries to be supportive of Mr. Peanutbutter’s new relationship, yet sleeps with him at first chance. Strangely enough, the most mature character in this series suddenly becomes Todd, who lucks his way into an executive job and holds it down with surprising competence.
By the end of the season, BoJack and Diane’s friendship becomes strained, while the show most of the characters worked on gets canned due to a sex robot (you’ll have to watch the series to find out what that means). Everything seems to be falling apart around the characters… and it’s very tough to say whether that’s even that bad of a thing.
The question of “good” and “bad” is also explored heavily in this season. Diane tells BoJack that he has to stop thinking of himself in those categories. One kind act doesn’t make him a good person. One bad one doesn’t make him necessarily bad. It just makes him… him.
That’s the wonder of the show. While many other shows make these questions simple, BoJack layers them, and never seems to stop. It also sprinkles them with a brilliant comedic backing, that breaks the tension in perfect moments. Despite getting heavier with every passing year, the mastery of quick quips and visual gags is still amazing, and always caters to the story, rather than distracting from it.
Given all of this, it’s really no wonder that the show featuring the most human characters and stories stars a cast of anthropomorphic animals.