The final episodes of BoJack Horseman teach us how to live
BoJack Horseman, Netflix
by Kelsey May
Last night, I finished watching BoJack Horseman, and as much as I wanted to be grateful for the show’s mellow close, I still think BoJack should have died. The ending would have been more impactful and profound had he died, but instead, he was resuscitated, and he lived. The second-to-last episode (“The View from Halfway Down”) was brutal and brilliant; its animation was terrifying, the dreamlike quality of his last moments was relatable, and the content was gold. I was weeping as it became clear that Diane would not save him, that no one was coming because the family who lived in his house was now presumably filming in Saskatchewan. BoJack was doomed, and it was too late to escape the consequences.
The last episode opened with an emotionally-devastating sequence of shots of BoJack’s body in the pool, the destroyed house, and Sarah Lynn crying on the still-playing Horsin’ Around episode. The montage should have continued with more painfully poignant scenes, but instead, it moves onto a hospital room where BoJack is being revived, despite the ridiculousness of that being a possibility since the family who found him was not supposed to be in L.A. Furthermore, BoJack doesn’t even sustain brain damage or any long-term effects from drowning. So the question is why: why did the writing team decide that he should live? Why wasn’t the last episode a funeral for BoJack? The four other main characters’ arcs could have resolved despite BoJack’s death, or perhaps even been improved.
The writers chose to sacrifice the better ending (BoJack dying; the audience having to grapple with loss and grief of a character who certainly did it to himself but who they were rooting for to recover and stay sober and find happiness) because to let BoJack live sends a message of hope, solidarity, and promise to the show’s most precious audience: those who relate to BoJack.
BoJack’s character represents a myriad of sins, traits, and all-too-common lifestyles: alcoholism, addiction, inability to form meaningful relationships, aggression, self-pity, partying to escape self-loathing, familial trauma and abuse, predatory sexual relationships, depression, hard drug use, supplying alcohol to minors, enabling others with addictive pasts, prescription drug abuse, and sexism. The genius of BoJack Horseman isn’t that the show glorifies these struggles; it’s that it humanizes the person going through them and showcases the consequences of such destructive, self-centered, broken behavior. BoJack “deserves” crucifixion, but the show offers him redemption, and this is its merit.
BoJack lives and gets to try to live well for the first time in his life. His near-death drowning dream imparts a truly life-or-death wisdom about the meaning of life; everyone he knows who has died did so after living an unfulfilling life, and even in death, their lives were unsatisfactory. Crackerjack died in service to his country, a pointless, inglorious waste of a young man, as all death in war is (a controversial but accurate opinion). Beatrice lived in the belief that she was superior to everyone, but her vanity was in vain. Herb Kazzaz was rich and gave philanthropically and found peace in making a difference to others, but ultimately, he died alone and unhappy, unwilling to forgive and enjoy friendship because of his pride. Even earning and then giving millions away couldn’t replace the longing to be close to others. Corduroy Jackson-Jackson, such a minor character in the show, died from autoerotic asphyxiation; he chased sexual pleasure to his death, certainly not the way we should hope to live and die. Butterscotch died unhappily estranged from everyone he cared about, hoping that his legacy (his unsuccessful book) would be enough for him, but it wasn’t. Secretariat, combined cleverly with Butterscotch, lived for sport and the thrill of competition, yet he had cheated and taken steroids to try to achieve his goals, and he killed himself after being found out. And Sarah Lynn, the show’s most tragic character, was miserable, unhappy, and ultimately unloved, despite trying to find meaning in entertainment, fame, partying, getting high, and performing.
The episode doesn’t overtly answer the question “But what else is worthwhile to live for?” Instead, it implies it with the final episode, where those BoJack loves are finding happiness, joy, comfort, and satisfaction in taking responsibility for their actions, in cultivating gratitude for the present moment, in communing with others, in giving and receiving love, in friendship, in family, in helping others, in living well. And BoJack is learning how to do the same.
It’s noble to sacrifice a better ending (“kill your darlings” is sage advice) in order to offer solace and hope to others, and for that, I applaud the writing team, especially Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Thank you for allowing for nuance, for flipping off the black-and-white norm of morality. Thank you for saving BoJack and for offering a path forward to those who have made mistakes. Thank you for shedding light on so many taboo issues and for allowing for forgiveness. And thank you for your wisdom, for giving viewers meaning in life and death: “You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.” I still think BoJack Horseman should have died, but I’m glad, truly glad, he lived.
About the Author:
Kelsey May is Editor-in-Chief of Hyype, Coordinator of the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition for Grand Rapids Public Library, and the host of WYCE’s Electric Poetry. Find her at kelseymaywrites.com.