Television

I See You: Let’s Talk BoJack Horseman Season 5

This post contains major spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 5.

I’m forever floored by BoJack Horseman. I’ve already written a couple of posts lauding the series, first by discussing some of its existential themes based on the first three seasons, followed by discussing season 4 and the innovative ways the show tells stories. I also talked about the show on my podcast, Storytelling Saga, shortly after season 5 was released on Netflix last year. As of this post, the first half of the final season is up, and the remaining half drops on January 31, 2020. I’m hardly ready to say goodbye to this show, but as BoJack says in the critically-acclaimed episode, “Free Churro,” “You never get a happy ending, ’cause there’s always more show. I guess until there isn’t.”

In season 5, BoJack is now starring in a new TV show called Philbert, and we quickly see how the lines blur between BoJack Horseman and his character, Philbert. BoJack makes it clear in the first episode of the season, “The Light Bulb Scene,” that he doesn’t want to be Philbert, as he becomes increasingly paranoid that the two of them are so similar, right down to the fact that the set looks exactly like his own house. More importantly, though, he hates how all the bad stuff Philbert’s done feels like a direct reflection of all the bad stuff he himself has done in his own life.

This story thread eventually leads to an intense and eye-opening argument between BoJack and Diane in “Head in the Clouds.” It’s a particularly riveting scene in which Diane is beyond frustrated and disappointed and wanting BoJack to see that he shouldn’t feel okay about his terrible behavior. It’s also a meta-commentary on the series itself to remind viewers that BoJack, like Philbert, is indeed an antihero. We’ve seen him at his lowest lows in all of his self-destructive behavior and how he ultimately hurts the people he cares about the most. Still, when BoJack says Diane made him feel that as screwed up as he is, that’s okay, and now he’s okay, she replies, “I don’t believe that’s true. And I don’t think you believe it’s true. I think you want me to tell you that you can be better.” And she does believe that in spite of everything, he’s not a lost cause, but at the same time it’s up to him to finally take control and hold himself accountable if he truly wishes to be better.

I’ve mentioned how I find BoJack and Diane’s relationship to be one of the most compelling of the series, since they’re so similar in many ways, yet every now and then there’s this underlying tension simmering between them that rushes to the surface as we saw in that explosive argument. That said, a nice moment that stood out to me between them in season 5 is in “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos.” This is yet another clever episode storywise as we see Mr. Peanutbutter and his significant other at the time—Katrina, Jessica Biel, Diane and Pickles, respectively—attend Halloween parties past and present at BoJack’s house. The moment that struck me is when Mr. Peanutbutter persuades an already anxious Diane to introduce herself to a distracted BoJack, who’s on the phone with his mother, learning that his father had just died. Diane goes up to him, trying to get his attention, and he becomes annoyed at the interruption only to momentarily lower the phone to say, “Baby Bjorn Borg.” She gets excited as he was the only one to accurately guess her costume when no one else could. To me it’s the perfect example of showing that he gets her in a way no one else does, highlighting the depth of their friendship as we see it grow and change with each season.

As I’ve also discussed in my previous posts, one of the many things I love about this show is its innovative storytelling methods. A fun one this season is in “INT. SUB” in which Diane’s therapist, Dr. Indira, and her corporate mediator wife, Mary-Beth, serve as the framing device for the episode as they each recount stories about their clients by comically changing their identities. In Dr. Indira’s retelling of events, we see BoJack as BoBo the Angsty Zebra, Diane as Diana, Princess of Wales, Mr. Peanutbutter as Mr. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and Princess Carolyn in a brief appearance as Priscilla Crustacean. Meanwhile, Mary-Beth shares about her frustrating mediation experience between Todd, known in her story as Emperor Finger-Face, and Princess Carolyn, a Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning in the shape of a woman. Completely ridiculous, and I absolutely love it, just as I love all the silly humor and word play and background gags peppered throughout the entire show.

“INT. SUB” is a visually hilarious episode yet, as always, one that deals with heavy subjects as BoJack secretly sees Dr. Indira behind Diane’s back in this pseudo-cheating story, only for BoJack to abruptly declare he doesn’t need to, as he puts it, be friends with Dr. Indira anymore. In other words, once the little false narrative he’d been telling himself shatters into reality that the real reason he’s there is to get help, he immediately jumps ship. It only strengthens Diane’s urging that he needs to realize for himself that he has to get help. It also serves as a wake-up call for Diane when BoJack claims that she and him are the same, spurring her to churn out new pages of a Philbert script that forces BoJack to relive the very words he once said regarding the infamous incident in New Mexico, “How do you make something right when you’ve made it so wrong, you can never go back?”

Undoubtedly, though, the standout episode of the season, and for that matter one of the standouts of the entire series, is “Free Churro.” The simple premise of BoJack delivering his mother’s eulogoy is executed brilliantly as we’re taken on an emotional journey through this heartbreaking monologue. Most notably, BoJack attempts to make sense of his mother’s last words to him, “I see you,” all the while interweaving stories of his late mother, his late father and his old show, Horsin’ Around.

It’s especially fascinating to hear BoJack’s stream of consciousness as he ponders those three words and their various interpretations. He suggests that maybe she meant that she literally sees him, sitting there, like an object and nothing more, or perhaps that she meant it in an ominous way, that she sees right through him for who he truly is. On a gentler, much more uplifiting note, he confesses that he’d like to think what she meant was that she sees him in the sense that she’s there for him and he’s not alone. As he says, “It’s an odd realization that it’s the thing you’ve been missing, the only thing you wanted all along, to be seen.”

Sadly, of course, he comes to the numbing realization that she had merely been reading the sign, ICU, making it all the more tragic when he says, “My mother is dead, and everything is worse now. Because now I know I will never have a mother who looks at me from across a room and says, ‘BoJack Horseman, I see you.'” This also makes the final image in the episode, “The Showstopper,” of BoJack staring at the giant balloon version of himself all the more chilling. It’s as though he’s looking into his own agonizing soul, and he can’t escape it because it’s right there in front of him. I see you.

We also witness BoJack throughout the season taking painkillers after a stunt on set goes wrong, but when his half-sister, Hollyhock, visits him in “Ancient History,” she throws the pills down the sink upon her trauma resurfacing from unknowingly being drugged by BoJack’s mother in the previous season. After all the zany antics play out of BoJack trying to get more pills, he finally confides to Hollyhock that maybe he doesn’t need them as much as he claims, and she makes him promise not to take pills again unless he absolutely needs them. And we all know what happened next.

Another moment that struck me in that particular episode is right before Hollyhock leaves to head back to college, she tells BoJack, “I love you,” and he noticeably doesn’t say it back. The hesitation of him wanting to respond is palpable, yet there’s so much weight to that non-response, especially since throughout the past five seasons, we’ve seen BoJack struggle with feeling like he’s not deserving of love, that he’s broken and awful and never enough. It’s all the more a breakthrough for him when he finally decides to enter rehab in the season finale, “The Stopped Show.” While it’s not a cure-all by any means, it is a necessary step to allow himself to finally be better and feel happy.  As viewers, we’ve definitely seen him at his worst, so he can only go up from here.

Again, I’m not ready for this show to end, but when it does wrap up next year—and we all know it most certainly will not be in a neat little bow—in spite of all your flaws, we see you, BoJack, and we believe in you.

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