‘BoJack Horseman’s’ Final Season Doesn’t Get a Happy Ending, but Finds Something More Profound
It was never really an option to grant the show’s equine antihero a happy ending—but in closing the story, the Netflix series gave all of its characters something more profound.
As I watched the end of BoJack Horseman, I couldn’t help but think about the way it began. In the series premiere, our equine anti-hero sits across from Charlie Rose for an interview. A few years later, the real-life CBS anchor would be one of the earliest public figures to face a #MeToo reckoning following allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women. (Rose apologized when the accusations first broke, but denied the accuracy of some of the claims; he had always thought he was pursuing “shared feelings,” he said.) BoJack Horseman’s Hollywood satire has been uncanny from the beginning—but the #MeToo movement made its perspective even more vital and interesting. Going into its final stretch, though, the show faced a predicament: What kind of ending does BoJack Horseman actually deserve?
BoJack’s list of offenses is long and harrowing to consider—and although he’s made numerous attempts at self improvement, he always seems to find another rock bottom. In the first half of Season 6, which debuted in October, BoJack finally checks himself into a rehab facility; the final stretch, which premieres on Jan. 31, finds him teaching acting at Wesleyan University, at least until the reporters who began sniffing around at the beginning of the season close in.
I won’t spoil exactly what happens to BoJack or any of his friends here, but that said, this final batch of episodes delivers on all of the surreal contradictions that have made BoJack Horseman great. Despite some rushed pacing, each character’s ending feels earned—and more importantly, the same can be said for the relationships they each choose to have with BoJack going forward. Because as much as the show is about BoJack, the lives of the people who surround him have, in many ways, become just as important.
Pretty much every character on BoJack Horseman has spent the show’s nearly six-year run searching for happiness. BoJack’s former ghostwriter, Diane, has had to forge her own path through depression. His one time on-again, off-again girlfriend Princess Carolyn often feels inadequate no matter how much she accomplishes. And even Todd, the youngest and most cheerful of the bunch, has spent years trying to figure out who he is and what he’s actually meant to do in this world. With each passing season, though, BoJack’s story has grown a little darker than his friends’—and his offenses have become so severe that even those closest to him have wondered whether they should stick around. Because of that, giving BoJack the happy ending he’s desperately sought was never really an option.
But one of BoJack Horseman’s greatest idiosyncrasies is that, despite its animalian cast, it’s extremely humanistic—so there was never much of a chance that BoJack would meet a flatly miserable end, either. Instead, the series lands somewhere in the middle. Rather than give BoJack a happy ending or even a redemptive one, BoJack Horseman grants him self-possession—and perhaps even contentment.
It’s hard to overstate how intensely all of these characters have fixated on the idea of “happiness” over the years. When Diane and BoJack first meet at a party during the premiere, Diane says, “Parties make me anxious in a really broad sense. Like, look at that guy! He’s having fun! Why haven’t I figured it out?” BoJack, meanwhile, has desperately wanted to be a good person—and to be seen as a good person—at which point, he’s long believed, he’ll finally be happy. But he also often doubts his ability to be happy at all—especially thanks to his mother, Beatrice, who once told him that he came from a long line of depressives and, therefore, was doomed to a life of unhappiness.
Depression is a crucial element to Diane and BoJack’s bond—especially since Diane has long been willing to criticize BoJack in ways others are reluctant to do. That becomes especially important this season, as BoJack chooses how to navigate his own public moral reckoning. It feels like no coincidence that Diane has such sway in BoJack’s decision; she was, after all, the person he first asked in Season 1 to tell him he was a good person. But as she would tell him years after they met, “There's no such thing as ‘bad guys’ or ‘good guys.’ We're all just guys who do good stuff sometimes and bad stuff sometimes. And all we can do is try to do less bad stuff and more good stuff. But you're never going to be good, because you're not bad.”
With that speech, Diane never meant to absolve BoJack of his existential worries, but to dispel the delusion that had long allowed him to call himself powerless against his darker impulses. It was a call for him to own his actions and take responsibility for himself. That’s never been easy for BoJack, and this season is no exception to that rule. But the real triumph of these final episodes was years in the making.
Although this show’s funhouse mirror-like reflection of the entertainment industry has proven prescient—the writers composed Season 5’s #MeToo-like plotline well before allegations even broke against Harvey Weinstein— its conclusion does not feel at all didactic. BoJack Horseman has been written with too much depth, too much empathy to be perceived as a mere rhetorical device. The show’s ending doesn’t feel prescriptive, like some kind of allegory for how we “should” handle men like BoJack, and in the end, the series makes no real judgment about what kind of ending BoJack or any of these fallen figures “deserve.”
On another show, declining to answer these questions might feel like a whiff—an abdication of the writers’ responsibility to make meaning out of all the debauchery and devastation they’ve depicted. But that’s not the case here—because BoJack Horseman was never about those things. It has always been, and remained to the end, an unflinching examination of its central character’s psyche, as well as the ways his surroundings can reflect and even encourage the nihilism he displays. Although the show clearly does not want us to root for its central character, it’s never been interested in absolutely condemning him, either. Instead, the series, especially in these final episodes, considers the ways in which each character—especially BoJack—chooses to take responsibility. In doing so, it seems, they find contentment. Whether or not BoJack deserves that is, somehow, beside the point.