Bojack Horseman and the Legacy of Recovery

by thethreepennyguignol

With only one half-season of Bojack Horseman remaining, I fully intend to spend as much time as humanly (and horsenly) possibly talking about it. Bojack Horseman is one of the best shows of the decade, one of the most consistently brilliant, insightful deep-dives into trauma, abuse, addiction, and mental illness, not to mention a magnificent vehicle for Noted Character Actress Margot Martindale to spin her winsome charms over the nation at large. The last half of this season drops at the end of January next year, and I’m already a little sad to think that it’s going to be over all too soon.

But! These eight episodes have given me a good sturdy dose of stuff to analyse, so let’s enjoy a little overthinking on the subject of Monsieur Horseman once more, shall we?

Last season ended with Bojack finally going into rehab, and much of this half-season revolves around his actual attempts to get sober and improve himself – both as his own person, and for the people around him. After five seasons of watching his aggressively destructive issues play out, there’s something that almost feels like a relief in seeing him genuinely try to get better. I got sober myself a couple of years ago, and, like it has with so many profound issues before, the show manages to find a way to explore the pain of having no way to scrub the bad stuff from your memory, with the growth that comes from responsibility that you’ve been trying to avoid in pitch-perfect tone. As an audience, we’ve invested so much in Bojack, seen the lengths of the trauma he has to overcome, and seeing him do that is just…it’s a lot, in the best way possible.

And, at the close of the seventh episode of this season, it seems like our titular More-Horse-Than-Man has finally earned some contentment. He is happy in himself, it seems, sober and ready to move forward. But to allow the show and his character to end on that note would be antiethical to so much that Bojack Horseman has put forth over the course of these last six seasons, and that final episode is there to remind us of that.

Because the last six seasons have seen Bojack hurt a lot of people. A lot of people. Aside from the actual physical attack on his partner last season, he’s encouraged addiction, substance abuse, and career-ending mistakes from the people around him, not to mention innappropriate physical relationships with younger women and just general all-purpose assholery to the people close to him. We’re presented with people dealing with immense trauma from his actions, the same trauma that has crippled him for such a long time – people who had to go to therapy, people losing jobs, people dying and the people left to put their lives back together in the aftermath.

If there’s a quote to sum up these eight episodes, it’s this one, from CS Lewis: “mere improvement is not redemption”. Bojack is improving himself, and it’s a gift to see his pain begin to transform into something a little more comfortable and liveable for him; after all, we’ve seen where it’s all come from, we’ve grown with him, we root for him to get better because he represents so many of the problems we have ourselves. But treating the pain in himself doesn’t mean he’s fixing the pain that he has caused other people, and I think that’s perhaps the most vital thing the show has had to say to date so far.

Bojack Horseman has never been a show that flinches away from the brutal reality of what mental health problems and addiction can do to a person – there has been no smooth upward trajectory for our lead, and, instead, a whole lot of backslides and mistakes and fuck-ups that have changed people’s lives for the worse. And this is a reality that it would be really pleasant to just forget about; that sobriety comes with the erasure of the problems and pain you caused when you were active. But the only way out of what Bojack has done is through the mess he has made, and the show has set up for a compelling final run with the reminder of what is yet to be dealt with.

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(header image via Den of Geek)