Grappling with Meaning: A Reflection on the Final Season of BoJack Horseman

Spoilers through the BoJack Horseman series finale ahead.

I think each and every BoJack Horseman fan would agree that when we sat down to watch the first episode of the show, we didn’t have the slightest idea what we’d actually be getting ourselves into. An insightful look into the human condition is one way to put it. An emotional roller coaster is another. A deeply moving and thought-provoking TV-viewing experience that leaves a profound impact on its audience is how I’d put it. Regardless, I think each and every BoJack Horseman fan would also agree that we’re extremely grateful for the journey.

The final season of BoJack Horseman sees BoJack on a path to recovery and redemption as he attempts to have a fresh start, which begins by checking himself into rehab in the season 6 premiere, “A Horse Walks into a Rehab.” What starts as a non-serious stint turns into him overstaying his welcome as he realizes he’s afraid to go back to his old life and truly see if he can start anew. Despite that nagging fear, we do see tangible signs of his progress and self-growth in noticeable moments throughout the first half of the season. We see it in his blunt self-reflection in “The Kidney Stays in the Picture” when he admits, “I think I’m special and that the rules don’t apply to me.” We see it when he cleans up Diane’s apartment when he visits her in Chicago. We see it when he finally gives Mr. Peanutbutter the crossover episode he’s always wanted in “The Face of Depression.” Most notably, once BoJack finally does leave rehab, we see it when he fights off any temptations to drink and channels his desire to start a new chapter by taking a job as an acting professor at Wesleyan University where his half-sister, Hollyhock, goes to college.

Yet, despite BoJack’s progress and genuine intention to change, it’s painstakingly clear that both he and the audience can’t simply forget all the shitty things he’s done. As evidenced in the season 6 opening theme song, we see how BoJack is haunted by his past, one of the overarching themes of the final season. Now, just when he’s finally breaking his pattern of horrible behavior, here comes his ugly past with a malicious grin, cornering him with nowhere to hide, albeit rightfully so. It comes in the form of fast-talking reporters, Paige Sinclair and Maximillian Banks, who dig into the details surrounding the death of BoJack’s Horsin’ Around co-star, Sarah Lynn, in the mid-season finale, “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” In true BoJack Horseman form of presenting certain episodes using different storytelling styles, this particular episode focuses only on recurring female characters who’ve been affected by BoJack, including Hollyhock, fired Secretariat director, Kelsey Jannings, and his former girlfriend and Philbert co-star, Gina Cazador. We see how Gina especially is still struggling with her trauma, echoed in the final utterance of the word “fuck” in the series, as though a haunting, inescapable memory.

In the following episode, “Intermediate Scene Study w/ BoJack Horseman,” BoJack is determined to prove to himself he’s a changed person who’s more than ready for a new beginning. He practices his introduction to his new acting students by repeating, in a fitting parallel to this point in his life, “Acting is about leaving everything behind and becoming something completely new.” It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s not enough that he’s sober now and that he hates the person he used to be. When the truth comes out that he played a huge part in Sarah Lynn’s death, he knows each of his attempts to start over is all for naught. In “Sunk Cost and All That,” he tells Princess Carolyn, “This place was supposed to be a fresh start for me. Rehab was supposed to be a fresh start. But no matter how many starts I get, there’s always the same ending. Everything falls apart and I end up alone.”

His last tie is severed in the episode, “Angela,” when former network executive, Angela Diaz, asks him to sign away his rights to Horsin’ Around. She explains that the Horse will be digitally removed so that the show will simply become Around. (Someone even took the liberty of editing the Horsin’ Around theme song to make it the Around theme song). Angela also drops a hard-hitting, universal truth that to me perfectly sums up one of the main existential themes of BoJack Horseman, “It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that matter? The truth is none of it matters and the truth is it all matters tremendously.” In a seemingly pointless search to find meaning in life, it’s true that anything at all can be meaningful because we’re the ones who give things meaning. We define what’s most important to us in our lives.

However, with BoJack’s legacy gone, he seems to have absolutely nothing left now. As we see in the previous episode, “Horny Unicorn,” Hollyhock has cut him out of his life, which serves as the catalyst for his relapse. In the final scene of “Angela,” BoJack watches his old Horsin’ Around screen test, where we see how nervous he was with his acting career about to take off and his former best friend, Herb Kazzaz, assuring him, “Buckle up, buddy. Your life is about to start.” A new start filled with exciting possibilities of becoming a star, juxtaposed with the chilling final image of a broken shell of a horse-man staring back at him in the reflection of the television screen.

This leads into the incredible penultimate episode of the series, “The View From Halfway Down.” Fans have dissected and lauded this surreal episode extensively, myself included, and there’s a great article diving into the making of the episode that I highly recommend (if you haven’t read it already) titled An Oral History of How BoJack Horseman Almost Killed BoJack Horseman. That said, one moment I want to refer to specifically is, coincidentally, my favorite part of the episode, which is the final sequence. At one point during BoJack’s phone conversion with Diane—which, of course, like everything that happens in the episode, is not actually real—he asks her what he should do knowing that in real life he’s drowning in the pool, and this Diane voice replies, “BoJack, it doesn’t matter.” Up until that point, what has always seemed like such a futile, hopeless and even terrifying fact to accept—that ultimately nothing matters—now has this comforting and even freeing connotation to it. It’s startling and calming all at once, and he accepts his fate and finds peace in those final moments of the episode as everything goes black. We’re presumably left to believe he’s dead, that is, until the credits play out to cleverly reveal he’s still very much alive, capturing the show’s overall theme of hope that shines through despite its dark moments.

This brings us to the series finale, “Nice While It Lasted,” in which BoJack is simultaneously hopeful yet restless about what his future will look like once he gets out of prison. He wonders about staying sober, the possibility of what’s to come of his acting career and essentially what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. When it all comes down to it, though, it really doesn’t matter what he does next, as long as he avoids falling back into his same toxic patterns. What matters is, as Diane states, “Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you keep living.”

BoJack and Diane in the pilot,”BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story, Chapter One” and the series finale, “Nice While It Lasted” © Netflix

I didn’t even mention the final character arcs for Princess Carolyn, Mr. Peanutbutter, Diane Nguyen and Todd Chavez in this post, and that’s really for the sake of length, as I could easily devote an entire blog post to each one of them. As you can tell, I absolutely love talking and writing about this show, and not to beat a dead horse (har har), but I wish to reiterate that, like Diane, I’m grateful to have known BoJack. I’m grateful to have been invested in the world of BoJack Horseman since September 2016 when I first started watching the show and genuinely fell in love with it from the very first scene. There’s so much to admire and take away from BoJack Horseman. Its ambitious storytelling is unparalleled. Its animal puns, tongue twisters, sight gags, satire on Hollywood culture and fascinating universe of humans coexisting with anthropomorphic animals are all forever entertaining. Its relatability with its honest portrayal of mental health, depression, addiction, trauma and so many other heavy topics are beyond moving and powerful. I’m so grateful for this journey with these wonderful characters and all of the heartbreaking, astonishing, overwhelming, incredible truths the show explores about what it means to be human and finding meaning in our lives. So, once again, I’ll say: Thank you, BoJack Horseman. I’m happy to have known you.

Read my other BoJack Horseman posts:

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