Spanning six seasons, Netflix’s first original animated series BoJack Horseman finally came to an end last January. First dismissed as yet another adult animated show much like The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers, BoJack Horseman grew to be revered as a brilliantly dark, thoughtful show that doesn’t pull any punches when discussing social issues. Despite some of its blind spots (whitewashing one of its few key characters of color, Diane Nguyen), it’s proven to be one of the best animated shows of the decade, or even of all time. However, like all good things, it must come to an end.
Major spoilers for the entirety of the show follow. Read at your own risk.
“BoJack Horseman is over, and everything is worse now.” is now an oft-repeated sentiment by the show’s fans, parodying a quote from the episode “Free Churro”. As several fans bemoaned, creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg reportedly had plans for one more season before Netflix announced that the then-upcoming 2019 season would be its sixth and final one. It’s not surprising that many felt like the ending was rushed — many of the show’s questions were answered within the span of sixteen episodes, some messier and more ambiguous than others.
A big question that has always accompanied the show is whether redemption is possible for people who have “made [something] so wrong they can never go back”. BoJack has hurt people that matter to him in ways that are difficult, or even impossible to overlook. While the show’s answer is seemingly “yes”, it has numerous conditions to redeeming oneself and requires atonement. For instance, the show quickly deconstructs BoJack’s efforts to turn over a new leaf: when an exposé about his bender with Sarah Lynn is about to be published, BoJack’s vindictive and self-victimizing streak returns, resulting in his friends stepping away from him.
The show also doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing the long-lasting effects of BoJack’s actions on his victims. Penny Carson and her mother and BoJack’s ex-friend, Charlotte, are still grappling with BoJack’s impact on their family and relationship. Gina Cazador has seemingly developed PTSD from BoJack’s opiate-induced assault on her, earning herself the “difficult” label from directors and fellow castmates. Sarah Lynn’s death hangs over much of the later half of the show; this resulted in the suspicious circumstances around her overdose and even BoJack’s pattern of having power over women coming out in the open. While BoJack has gotten better through rehab and a new environment, the ghosts of his past still have a very real hold on his present and future.
As the seasons progressed, many episodes became more experimental in terms of structure and animation. The aforementioned “Free Churro” was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Animated Program; it mostly consisted of BoJack delivering an eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Other notable episodes include “Fish Out of Water”, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” (and its season 6 equivalent “Good Damage”), “Downer Ending”, “The Showstopper”, “Time’s Arrow”, and “The View From Halfway Down”. Many of these episodes dealt with darker themes and conveying things like depression and dementia. “The View from Halfway Down”, in particular, was praised for its astonishing attention to detail and nods to previous episodes.
While many of the episodes revolved around the life of the titular washed-up actor, it wasn’t uncommon to find episodes dedicated to other members of the show’s ensemble. By moving away from its protagonist, BoJack Horseman gives its main supporting cast better characterization and insight into their motivations and deepest desires. While the first season mainly dealt more or less with BoJack and Diane’s relationship, by the sixth season the viewer has spent a considerable amount of time with the ensemble cast. As a result, we thoroughly feel how BoJack has hurt them and how that drove them to re-evaluate their relationship with him.
‘Closure is a made up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets. It, like true love and the Munich Olympics, doesn’t exist in the real world.’
Nice while it lasted
Regardless, the show has always put an emphasis on moving forward. Even in the first season, BoJack tells a distraught Diane: “Closure is a made up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets. It, like true love and the Munich Olympics, doesn’t exist in the real world. The only thing to do now is just to keep living forward.” The final season shows key figures from his life moving on with their lives, some without him: Diane notes that she’s glad to have known him, Princess Carolyn gently declines to represent him anymore, Hollyhock has cut ties with him, Todd continues to keep his distance, and Mr. Peanutbutter offers some semblance of companionship for him.
The finale of the show feels markedly anti-climactic; the time skip lands on a relatively unremarkable day for BoJack. He’s out on a temporary release for Princess Carolyn’s showbiz wedding, rather than it being his first day out of prison. There’s a few loose ends yet to be tied up: Penny’s decision with the reporters and Hollyhock’s letter, to name a few. But BoJack Horseman insinuates that this is the closest an anthropomorphic show could ever get to real life: You don’t get closure for everything. The only (and best) thing to do now is to appreciate the memories you’ve shared, and keep living forward. Ironically enough, it seems that the show’s final bittersweet morale is a message to us, too.