‘BoJack Horseman’ Season 6: Inside the Beginning of the End of Netflix’s Best Series Ever
The first eight episodes of “BoJack Horseman’s” sixth and final season are now streaming, and see its title character experience a reckoning of sorts. [Warning: Minor Spoilers]
The first eight episodes of BoJack Horseman’s final season (the second half is due in January) bring with them a welcome if unfamiliar sense of cautious optimism. BoJack is sober now. And he’s trying more sincerely than he ever has to grow up, make amends, and stop hurting the people who care about him. Being sober means no more hiding from the guilt of past transgressions at the bottom of a bottle; he remembers everything now and struggles to live with it. Sarah Lynn, his mother’s death, what happened in New Mexico, Herb Kazzaz—it’s a lot, though he’s trying.
But that nascent hope comes tinged with something else: the lurching sensation that this time real, lasting consequences are coming for him, the kind Princess Carolyn can’t make disappear. And it isn’t as if we can say he doesn’t deserve it.
There are reporters doggedly sniffing out the circumstances of Sarah Lynn’s death; his half-sister, Hollyhock, is about to find out how he abandoned an alcohol-poisoned teenager and made off with an old flame’s daughter on their prom night. (Not even the worst thing that happened that night!) BoJack can no longer distance himself from two of his most painful mistakes. No matter how he course-corrects now, there’s no more road left for him to run.
Through fame, money, and plain luck, BoJack has often walked away from disasters that leave others in ruins. In the first scene of season six, we learn he lied on the night of Sarah Lynn’s overdose, not only to police, but straight to her mother’s face. He casts himself as a good samaritan who showed up to help but arrived too late, omitting that the two were on a cross-country bender and that it was BoJack’s heroin that killed her. In the eighth episode, a young man at a party in New York tells Hollyhock about his years-long abstinence from alcohol. His reasoning begins to sound horrifically familiar, until we realize this is the kid BoJack left to wheel his semi-conscious date into a hospital alone four years ago, after forcing him to lie about where she got the alcohol.
The series has never forgotten or excused BoJack for these mistakes—his guilt often drove him to drugs and alcohol, enabling more mistakes, more guilt, rinse, repeat—though his perspective naturally minimizes their impact on peripheral characters, like Sarah Lynn’s mom or Penny’s friend in New Mexico. Season six brims with more hard-earned hope than any season yet, but it’s also a reckoning for BoJack, as these connections and more begin to seize space and demand consideration. The intro’s animation changes to reflect that: instead of snapshots of BoJack’s current life, it becomes a carousel of memories that haunt him, each attached to a person he’s betrayed: his ailing mother Beatrice, Horsin’ Around creator Herb Kazzaz, ex-Secretariat director Kelsey Jannings, Charlotte and her daughter Penny, his Philbert costar Gina, and above all, Sarah Lynn.
The starry sky that hung over the Griffith Observatory the night Sarah Lynn died colors the bottles of alcohol BoJack sees while in rehab, reminding him what’s at stake. It’s also her photo on the front desk clerk’s wall of Polaroids that pushes him to start taking sobriety seriously. It’s a melancholy but effective way to close a cycle that this season sheds light on: Sarah Lynn became drunk on vodka she found in her surrogate dad BoJack’s dressing room as a kid, paralleling BoJack’s early exposure to booze from his own parents. For both, as children, it was a way to be closer to adults who withheld affection. And for BoJack, at least, it became a crutch he used to connect with people—at parties as a shy teenager and on set as a nervous young actor, often at the cost of alienating someone who already liked him for who he is.
BoJack Horseman has often argued that people (and horses, cats, dogs, and Todds) are too unpredictable and vast to be defined by trauma, anger, or regret. It doesn’t offer these memories to “explain” BoJack’s psyche as much as it does to contextualize it. For so long, BoJack’s believed he’s broken because he keeps hurting the few people who genuinely care for him. But the show itself has never quite agreed. In its final season, it reiterates that no one gets through life unscathed, but no one is irrevocably broken either—everyone is wounded, fragile, difficult, uncertain, and often convinced we are alone, despite how universal those feelings really are. Few TV shows are more compassionate about those parts of ourselves, thus few are more essential.
BoJack’s recovery goes far from easily; he lashes out at fellow patients (including an undercover Jay Hernandez “researching the role” of a Super Mario addicted to painkillers—for a movie directed, of course, by Zack Snyder) and struggles to stop deflecting and start taking responsibility when called out. He also grows overly attached to the rhythms of rehab, an insular bubble less like real life than summer camp. His reluctance to leave recalls The BoJack Horseman Show creator Cuddlywhiskers’ seclusion in Ojai—itself a form of selfishness, as Diane remarked in season three’s “BoJack Kills.” (Though what Cuddlywhiskers said in response resonated just as truthfully: “It takes a long time to realize how truly miserable you are, and an even longer time to see it doesn’t have to be that way. Only after you give up everything can you begin to find a way to be happy.” BoJack brushed him off at the time but I wonder what he’d make of that advice now.)
Even when BoJack is earnestly trying, he learns, terrible mistakes can still happen. BoJack tosses out another patient’s water bottle full of vodka, only for it to land in an incoming crate, then into his doctor’s hands. The doctor ends up blackout drunk but, remarkably, BoJack doesn’t run from the aftermath. He stays by his side and checks him into another rehab. More miraculously, even after his doctor wakes up and berates him, the remorse he feels doesn’t drive him to drink. It’s one of his first truly selfless acts this season.
These are big strides for him, as in how he makes amends with a hairdresser, Sharona, whom he got fired off Horsin’ Around years ago. She makes fun of his mane (“What color is this, Sharpie?”) and convinces him to wear his natural gray. Now that he looks the part of a more mature BoJack, he flies to Connecticut to visit Hollyhock, whose interaction with a friend at Wesleyan reveals more emotional wisdom than BoJack’s scraped together all his life. He tries to mediate a fight between the girls and dispenses what he sees as truisms for their benefit: “People will disappoint you,” “some wounds never heal,” “words are meaningless.” Each sounds like an excuse for defeatism compared to what Hollyhock actually tells her friend: “You do this thing where you don’t think you can ever be forgiven, so you don’t apologize, but I can’t forgive you if you don’t say you’re sorry.” The friend apologizes, the rift instantly heals, and BoJack is left agog.
Of course, BoJack Horseman has always reserved as much empathy for the people most closely affected by BoJack’s self-destructive spirals. In this final season, it’s a joy to see that their worlds have kept turning without him. The second episode, “New Client,” illustrates the overwhelming have-it-all pressures of new motherhood with heartbreaking acuity. Animators bring to life dozens of harried Princess Carolyns at once, each performing one of the tasks on her endless mental to-do list. Her new baby’s cries serve as the metronome coordinating the Carolyns’ movements. But they’re also a siren that never goes off, wearing her down until she passes out. It’s a startlingly effective device, better at conveying an interior sense of chaos than any since season four’s “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” which voiced BoJack’s self-loathing mental monologues aloud. It may even be more harrowing.
“Feel-Good Story” finds Diane on the road filming news segments with a cameraman named Guy. We meet the buffalo for the first time in this episode, yet we’re enamored within 26 minutes as he and Diane spark a romance more authentically human than most live-action features achieve in 90-plus minutes. (The show’s writers are that good.) Mr. Peanutbutter and his new fiancé Pickles nearly break up over his infidelity, but Diane and BoJack do their part to patch them up—another uncharacteristically selfless act for BoJack, ditto how he gets a cute barista to sign up for Todd’s asexual dating app later. Ditzy, social media-obsessed Pickles might have been an easy target for another show’s lazy jokes. But here, she’s granted the emotional complexity to become a sympathetic character.
The season brings highs and lows to each of these characters’ lives, each realized with the show’s signature blend of raw emotional insight and silly, goofball humor. (A favorite Todd joke from this season: “Assistants are like Deadpool movies. I couldn’t just stop at one even though I probably should have.”) It’s hard to guess what sort of ending BoJack himself might deserve. He may be doing the work to overpower his demons, but he still owes a debt for his most unforgivable mistakes—one that weird pair of His Girl Friday-style reporters will soon track him down to pay. Yet for these eight episodes about growth and setbacks and the up and downsides of realized dreams, the show has never been more optimistic. It’s a bittersweet beginning of the end. But that’s only fitting for a show this true to life.