Bojack Horseman, Suicide, and Sad, Happy Endings

by thethreepennyguignol

Ever since Bojack Horseman came into being, people have been trying to predict just how it would end. Spoilers ahead, for the final season and finale.

And, you know, since this was a show that dealt so intently with the severe mental health problems, substance abuse, and traumatic past of its leading man, a lot of people thought that it was destined to end one way and one way only: with his death, most likely by suicide. It’s never a theory I’ve particularly liked – given how many of this show’s fanbase struggle with mental illness reflected within this character, to have him end up dead by his own hand seemed like an almost irresponsibly hopeless ending to a show that has, amongst all of its sadness, found a great deal of hope for the grind of recovery and getting better.

Well, I’m pleased to say at least this: the show decided to skip out on this ending, after all that. Bojack doesn’t commit suicide, nor does he die by the show’s final episode; as the last outing concludes (and I sit on my couch lightly dabbing my tears away with the remnants of a packet of crisps and pretending that I’m fine, totally fine), he’s still with us, with the characters we’ve come to know over the course of these last six years. The second-last episode saw him grappling with a near-death experience after overdosing and nearly drowning (and fuck me, if you want an episode to just slam that big red Existential Dread button in your brain, this is the one for you), but he makes it out the other side, alive (at least, in my reading of the show). And you know what? I think it’s the perfect ending.

Because Bojack Horseman has always been about one thing more than anyone else, and that is the legacy of the choices we make and the things we do. Whether it’s the long-lasting impact of Bojack’s family history, his own failure to accept his previous failings, or his self-flagellation in the face of what he percieves as his own lack. It’s hard to tell a story, I think, about someone who has done as many truly awful thing as Bojack Horseman, and to be unforgiving on that awfulness, but still to treat this character with compassion and allow the audience to connect with him in a sympathetic way, but this show, consistently, has understood just how to do that.

And a major part of that has been making Bojack deal with the mistakes he has made in a way that feels as though it has real consequence. For example, in this season, his fledgling relationship with his younger half-sister, Hollyhock, came to an end, when she discovered about his previous indiscretions with women around her age and decided that keeping him in her life just wasn’t good for her anymore; it’s a devastating reveal, but one that feels totally earned, an unflinching acceptance that no matter how much we enjoy spending time with this character, he is still toxic for many people around him.

Even the relationships that populated the show, many of which were deep and compassionate and caring, have drawn to a close or taken on new shapes by the time it finishes; Diane, his one-time best friend, confronts him about a phone call he left her on the night he nearly died, which put preventing his apparent suicide squarely on her shoulders. She is angry, she is hurt, she is grateful that he is alive, but she can’t get over the pain of what he put her through. Whether things between them are over for good, or just for now, whether his choice was made out of malice or not, it has ripples, and those ripples are out of his control. The show is not interested in making Bojack suffer eternally for his percieved crimes – in fact, by the time we finish here, life seems more comfortable for him than it has been in a long time – but it’s also not interested in diminishing the effect those choices have had on the people around him, either.

And that’s why I love their choice to skip out on the obvious death ending so much. Because it would have provided a finality to all of that legacy. With Bojack dead, he can’t deal with the impact, the good, the bad, the all of it, of everything that he has done and been through. And yes, it’s true that many people who struggle with addiction and mental illness and childhood trauma attempt or commit suicide – it’s not a subject the show has tried to dance around or ignore.

But letting Bojack Horseman live beyond the bounds of his own show feels so much more powerful to me than taking the obvious option of a curtain call with a dead lead. To let him live is to continue to allow him to grapple with the impact of his life choices, instead of deifying him post-life into something that he never was. The ending we get here gives us a chance to appreciate this character in everything that he is and was – all the bad, all the good, and all the propensity for change, and for turning it all around again. Instead of turning him into a tragic figure in his death, they keep him the real one he has been all along. And hell, for a cartoon horse-man, that’s one hell of an achievement, isn’t it?

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, pleaseconsider checking out my other writing on mental illness, and, if you’d like to support my work here on the Guignol, you can do so over on Patreon!

(header image via Collider)