BoJack Horseman & Loss

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

*Spoilers ahead*

It’s become common knowledge that BoJack Horseman has become an anomaly in of itself: starting off as a seemingly normal albeit crude show about the titular alcoholic horse, voiced by Will Arnett, no one could have possibly guessed how the Netflix original would become not only one of the funniest shows on TV but also one of the most depressing. 

It’s assumed that if you’re reading this that you’re familiar with this show but if not, here’s a quick synopsis: in a world where humanoid animals and, well, humans live side by side, BoJack Horseman takes us to the city of Hollywoo where our eponymous, culturally forgotten protagonist attempts to reclaim the fame he had during the 90’s and make a come-back.

With support from characters such as his feline manager Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), homeless but wholesome friend Todd (Aaron Paul), ghost-writer and kindred spirit Diane (Alison Brie) as well as sitcom “rival” Mr Peanutbutter ( Paul F. Tompkins), the show avoids putting all its eggs in one basket and diversifies its cast to show a truly varied world with a whole host of interesting perspectives.

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While this setting sounds like one that would be rife with laughs, and it definitely does so with its twenty jokes per minute attitude, the satirical series has hit on a lot of hard notes over its run, none more so than in its latest season that aired last Friday. With all the promotional material revolving around the absence of our lead, “where is BoJack” being the tagline, many assumed this would leave a void in the show and though it didn’t, it gave viewers their first taste of a season revolving around loss.

Last time we saw BoJack, he was over-encumbered with grief even if it wasn’t apparent: having lost one of the last people to care about him via a drug literally named after him, pushing away all of his loved ones and his acting going without academy recognition, one of the few things the sombre lead ever thought he was good at, it wasn’t looking good. Ruining everything around him, it’s not until given some harsh love that BoJack finally realises what’s causing all of this – it’s him.

You can’t keep doing this! You can’t keep doing shitty things, and then feel bad about yourself like that makes it okay! You need to be better! … No! No, BoJack, just stop. You are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid. It’s you. All right? It’s you. – Todd

Season 4 sees BoJack on what can only be seen as his last life-line and life isn’t making it any easier: episode two sees him return to his grandparent’s home while flashbacks reveal to us how the grief and torment he has faced have been inflicted by a mother who faced the same. In addition to this, a fly who he befriends named Eddie is a mirrored version of BoJack, eventually revealing to have lost his wife and explicitly stating that he wants to die. This moment hits home as an ultimatum of sorts – BoJack can continue with his downward spiral alone or return to the place that has been described as a “tar pit” by the show. He may have a choice but much like a Telltale game, this illusion of having a real say only entertains this idea of having control.

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When he eventually returns to Hollywoo, it seems like the characters there have found this out all too late. Mr Peanutbutter and Diane’s marriage is hanging on by a tether, their only moments of intimacy arising from hatred-fuelled actions which stems from the two of them feeling lost and having no way to get out: our favourite Labrador Retriever is being made to run for Governor, a role he admits he has no idea about, while Diane finds herself in a workplace where her hard hitting pieces are given less priority in comparison to click-bait pieces about sex. When she finally gets the chance to do what she wants and reclaim some command, she threatens to ruin the only good thing that has ever happened to her and time will only tell if that’s the case.

One of the few upbeat things about last season was Princess Carolyn’s story-line, seeing the pink feline becoming the strong woman she always was capable of being but never had the chance to. With a new rodent love interest in the shape of Ralph Stilton, it seemed like no matter what challenges that our anthropomorphic ensemble faced this time, we’d still have one bit of positivity throughout.

It feels like that’s exactly the case, at least from the start as the couple try for a baby but as Carolyn finally meets her partner’s family, resulting in this universe’s equivalent to animal racism, as well as her own paranoia, this all eventually ends up as more of a 500 Days of Summer kind of segment than a rom-com kind. The fact that Carolyn still soldiers on, and has her actions set up what’ll no doubt be the premise of Season 5, shows that while she’s faced negativity for years, she isn’t about to let the pit drown her, meaning we don’t end up with a show full of BoJacks.

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There’s plenty of other characters moments that add to this loss, BoJack’s mother could be a whole piece in of itself, but it’s worth noting that while most of these characters have little say in what’s happening, it’s not all bad. Todd has consistently been the ying to BoJack’s yang and while it seemed like his negativity would rub off on our lovely beanie wearing buddy, it thankfully hasn’t.

Struggling with accepting his asexuality, Todd finds himself not being able to cope with this revelation from last season’s finale but as the show progresses, one of the oddest story-lines revolving around clown dentists and dentist clowns culminates into one of acceptance and romance. If this is the first mainstream representation of asexuality then it’s hard to think of one done better than seen on this show.

BoJack is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally complex characters and shows in TV, easily sitting alongside the likes of The Sopranos and Tony, and loss has played a huge part in making him who he is – for better of for worse. However, as this season draws to an end and we see our final shot of him before another year long wait, we see a smile: something as rare as an eclipse and one that feels just as important for our protagonist. Much like the disastrous political year that the show clearly parodies, BoJack somehow keeps hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel no matter how bleak things may seem.