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Warning: Massive spoilers ahead for the entirety of BoJack Horseman.
On January 31, one of Netflix’s first-ever original series aired its final batch of episodes. BoJack Horseman, which began in 2014 long before Netflix entered its current era of constantly unveiling new original series, came to a close with the second half of its sixth season, and in some ways, it’s a miracle the show lasted so long. Reviews among critics who watched just the first six episodes of the first season were almost universally poor, and just last year, its sister show Tuca and Bertie was controversially canceled after just one well-received season.
Anyone familiar with BoJack Horseman, though, knows that the show finds its footing from episode seven forward. The seasons following those episodes have ensured BoJack Horseman’s standing among not just Netflix’s best original series, but one of the best TV shows of the 2010s.
This legendary standing exerts a lot of pressure on a show: It needs to end just as deftly as it has developed. And BoJack Horseman had no shortage of themes and plot points to address: The show has long been about a (horse)man who, for decades, has continued to cause emotional (and occasionally) physical damage and trauma to the people around him, particularly women. Though the show started in 2014, by the time the #MeToo movement emerged in late 2017, the series’ titular character had come to encapsulate the exact kind of man against whom the movement exists: A powerful, wealthy, famous entertainment industry figure whose own mental illness and self-hate manifested as abuse toward people with less power, often people doing all they can to break into the industry.
In real life, figures including Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have watched their careers crumble due to their horrific actions. Weinstein’s trial is ongoing, and Spacey’s career has come to a striking halt. On BoJack Horseman, though, the titular character’s actions remained out of public view up until this most recent half-season. Even when BoJack, in a drug-riddled rampage, almost killed his Philbert co-star Gina Cazador on set toward the end of season five, video of the event was passed off as intense method acting rather than an actual violent outburst.
“I don’t want you to be the most notable thing that ever happened to me,” Gina memorably tells BoJack as she pushes him to not publicly admit that he physically assaulted her. It’s a common refrain among the women who have suffered abuse at the hands of powerful men. Once the public knows a woman is an abuse victim, her story, her talents, and her ingenue come second to her status as a casualty of the abuser.
Toward the end of the first half of season six (Netflix released the first eight episodes of season six in October and the final eight on January 31), Cazador returns for an episode, and viewers see the extent of the trauma Bojack inflicted upon her. On set for a new movie she’s filming, she panics whenever she reaches the lowest position in a dance scene with her co-star – it’s too similar an angle to the one at which BoJack strangled her. Her inability to power through the scene loses her the role. Meanwhile, BoJack is finally getting sober, appearing to piece his life together and be mentally at ease, far less likely to cause harm to those around him. But what does his health mean if his victims are still suffering?
In the final half of season six, BoJack’s dark history becomes public. The first half of season six all but pulled the curtains over viewers’ eyes: Then, it was so exciting to finally see BoJack sober and mentally sound that it was easy to forget that he still needs to apologize to his victims, to actually right his wrongs (if at all possible). The second half of season six makes it clear that BoJack hasn’t reckoned with his past; he’s just put it in the rearview mirror and excised the demons – alcohol, self-loathing – that previously kept his horrible past at the front of his mind. The show has long asked, Can we escape our past?, and as BoJack’s mistreatment of women such as the long-established characters Sarah Lynn and Penny Carson come into public view, the show seems to say, No: Our pasts will always catch up with us.
In BoJack Horseman’s final stretch, BoJack has effectively been canceled. Finally, the show holds its titular character accountable: As he drives around Hollywoo(d), random people sneer, snicker, and throw milkshakes at him. Friends including Todd Chavez and even his own half-sister, Hollyhock M-M-G-R-Z-H-F-M, cut him off. It’s enough to drive BoJack back to his first drink in roughly a year, after which he goes on yet another BoJack bender (this one involving breaking and entering).
BoJack Horseman has become known for the visually intense, trippy, surreal penultimate episodes of its seasons, and “The View from Halfway Down,” the series’ second-to-last episode, might just be the most powerful episode in this category. After BoJack’s bender, he finds himself at the precipice of death, stuck in a decaying room, and then theater, with other dead significant figures from his life, including Sarah Lynn, Herb Kazaaz, BoJack’s mother, and his father in the form of Secretariat. Toward the end, Secretariat reads a poem including the following line, which gives the episode its title: “Before I leaped, I should’ve seen the view from halfway down.” The implication is that, though BoJack has always wanted to die, now that he’s on the verge of doing so, he wishes he could climb back up.
And that he does. At the show’s end, BoJack isn’t dead – he’s alive, in jail for breaking and entering, living a life divorced from the people and things that have mattered to him the most. BoJack Horseman posits that death isn’t the ultimate form of suffering – it’s living through a fractured existence that hurts the most. So when the series’ final episode focuses on BoJack’s first post-sentencing conversations with the show’s other four protagonists – Mr. Peanutbutter, Todd Chavez, Princess Carolyn, Diane Nguyen – it’s clear that, save Princess Carolyn, BoJack will be talking to these people for the last time, that his punishment is a life without the people that have long given him a sense of reality.
In the show’s final scene, BoJack sits atop a roof with Diane. Throughout the series, BoJack and Diane’s many rooftop conversations have provided crucial insights into the characters’ headspaces, the consequences of BoJack’s actions, and the points that the series’ creators intend to make. It’s a perfect setting for the show’s end: Diane acknowledges the trauma of her friendship with BoJack, the two thank each other for their roles in their lives, and realize this will be their last conversation. BoJack’s life isn’t over, but all that he knew of it is – and that, BoJack Horseman deftly posits in its final run, is the price of admission.