BoJack Horseman and the Cycle of Abuse
So last weekend I sat down and remembered that BoJack season 5 had released onto Netflix. Being relatively new to the platform I thought that meant one episode was released and would have slow releases over time. No, apparently it means that all the episodes are released and you can watch them all.
One or two episodes wouldn’t hurt, I noted on Saturday. By the time Sunday rolled around I had gone through the entire season and was a bit drained, but still the interactions and story arcs between the characters had kept me hooked and dragged me through the entire bender. I hadn’t recorded my weekly show so I decided to take the week off and not record.
I don’t have a problem, really.
But, the show isn’t for everyone. It uses comedy as a pointed look at the worst parts of how things are for those caught within a perpetual cycle of self-inflicted wounds brought on by less than optimal decision making. If you prefer your comedy with a higher proportion toward the happy face, and less toward the tragic and woeful one, then the show may not be for you. For those folks I’d recommend Buddy Thunderstruck if you haven’t seen that one before.
However, for those who like a cerebral comedy with flawed characters in a flawed world it is well worth the watch. For those of you who have watched it, or if you don’t plan on watching it so you don’t mind spoilers, please continue to read the rest of the article for my thoughts about the fifth season. But be wary, like the show the way I am reviewing this may get a bit ‘too real’ near the end.
The theme of the season is similar to that of previous seasons. In his new role of Philbert, BoJack begins going down his road to addiction once again. This accelerates when he gets into a stunt accident and starts to abuse opioids. In the meanwhile, Mr. Peanut Butter and Diane are working through a divorce. Princess Carolyn is found trying to juggle becoming a mom through adoption while maintaining her busy manager life. Tod is working through his asexuality and his desire to seek out meaningful relationships and ends up stumbling into successes as he usually does. This makes for chaotic hijinxs when a sex robot he created to lower the sexual burden of himself to potential mates becomes a central employee to the company he gets roped into.
Its themes seems to revolve around the cycles of abuse and a company called “What Time is It?”. One may think that sentence has unrelated concepts. However, the more I thought about it the more it seemed odd that a company would be so large and prominent in the sky line that performs such a simple function as telling people the time. So what I believe this means is that people are confused to what time it is in the world because of how little the world itself seems to change in that time’s passage.
This is highlighted in an episode that has multiple Halloween parties from different times in Mr. Peanutbutter’s life running in parallel with one another, each with a different mate. Characters in this episode have to continually reference what time it is as otherwise it can be easy to get lost because of how little things have changed about the behaviors of the characters despite the passage of time.
We see this in real life when we see the internet trope of “It’s 2018, [insert horrible thing we thought we left in the past but actually did not stay there]”. I guess in a world like this, it’s little wonder people have to wonder what time it is in the heads of their fellow man.
Or perhaps this like a camera man leaving their coffee mug in the shot and I’m overanalyzing. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the most revered episode of the season.
I loved this episode, about half way through the episode I started to realize that we hadn’t changed scenes for the last 12 minutes. In a world of adult animation that has an issue of jumping from scene to scene at a frequent pace (Family Guy *cough cough*), one where an entire episode takes place in one scene is a refreshing standout. As I watched other reviews of the season I noted a lot of other reviewers liked this episode as well, all for their own different reasons. And I have my own too, thus this section.
We learn alot about BoJack’s relation with his recently passed mother and his long passed father in what can be described as a 22 minute auto-biographical stand up routine given at Mrs. Horseman’s funeral. To be clear this isn’t the first sort of experimental standout episode the series has done. One episode took place under the ocean without any dialog whatsoever in an earlier season. It relied only on visual communication and simple emotive sounds, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon expanded into 25 minutes. At the end of that episode Bojack learns he could have used a button to talk in his underwater gear the whole time, subverting the premise.
Likewise, ‘Free Churro’ also had a ending that made the entire meandering journey that took place beforehand ultimately a tragic waste. When he finally opens the closed casket to look at his dead mother at the end, he takes pause. He then looks out to the audience he had been speaking to to find a bunch of chameleons staring at him silently and blankly. Bojack then has to ask if he is in the correct parlor.
Now the questions that came to my mind on this was: how did he not notice? I mean, he was looking at the audience the whole time when he was talking wasn’t he? Wouldn’t he see the reptiles he was standing before and ask himself if he was in the right room before giving his long speech?
But upon further thought, and a second watch, I realized this was intentional. The premise of Free Churro is that BoJack is demanding to be seen, but does not see. An emotion line in his monologue is his mother’s final words “I see you” and what it means. He notes she wasn’t looking at him when she said it. He later realizes they were in the intensive care unit and that’s what ICU stood for. This is when he gets emotional on not getting attention from his parents before he sees into the casket himself, and finally sees his audience.
So in essence a blind horse who cannot see the audience before him is demanding to be more seen himself. His mother never saw him, and likewise BoJack never sees those around himself either. In that essense the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
But at least he got that free churro.
The Press’s Role in the Cycle
Diane at the end of the season comes to a realization when it comes to her relationship with Bojack. This epiphany, for those who write non-fiction stories such as myself is a powerful message to take home. It comes after the beleaguered horse had a drug fueled assault against a colleague in production. After nearly choking his co-star to death he finally scared himself into realizing he was on his cycle of destruction again. He threw himself at Diane to do what she does. To write a powerful take down piece so what he has done would be exposed to the world. So that he can repent to the world for the pain he caused and thus he carries with him.
And Diane does what she felt was the best course of action. She said “no”.
Because in that moment she realized that it didn’t matter. That if she agreed, she would merely be part of the cycle. She would be the one to show that the abuse occurred to the world and get it out there, but the world would behave as it always does when a popular person is scandal laden. Even worse, so would Bojack, for this horse has been on this literal dog and pony show before, in fact he’s been through four seasons of it.
That experience means he’s just going to play his character arc, like the actor he is. He will work to redeem himself from the physical abuses and harm he has done to others, while behind closed doors continues to abuse himself. As if doing damage to his own body with his drug abuse is a form of self punishment. However, that will just cause him to abuse others so that he can continue to abuse himself.
Diane knows then she’ll just have to do another piece on Bojack, and the cycle continues.
Instead she lets him know that if he wants to change, he has to fix himself, and to take charge of fixing himself. Demanding that society demand he change is never going to make him change. Because as an actor and a performer he has the skills to manipulate his audience into accepting him, and thus in that manipulated feedback loop he will feel redeemed simply because he was able to trick people into seeing himself as redeemed.
So the season ends there, with BoJack getting ready to enter a drug treatment facility. Diane plays it to him straight, and they agree he may never be a good person, but he’ll never know if he doesn’t really try.
I find myself asking that question of myself with particular events that occured this month. Writing some grandiose take-down piece is not going to stop people who are going to abuse other creatures from doing it. So maybe the best thing to do is to ask them to fix themselves, not because some mob is angry at them to, in gamer terms, ‘get good son’. Instead, they can try to do better for their own sake and to those they directly harm by their acts.
Their action or inaction in the face of this has consequences, which they own. It’s not our job as fans to babysit grown adults. Unless those adults are into the whole adult diaper thing, I guess. You do you, but also thank you for engaging in activities that effectively harm nobody and no creature.
Tragic growing reverence
In that, I feel the reason that this show has been received very well as a dramatic comedy within the furry fandom goes well beyond its anthropomorphic characters. It can be seen how easily this
colt cult of celebrity is growing beyond its corners in Hollywoo(d). In our ever connected world, and as the narrative creativity that is powerful in that town of glamour expands, the pressures found in their world is spreading to those of us who have the ability to be creative on our own platforms.
YouTubers, once the radical youngsters who were going to change the way celebrity culture worked could not change the pitfalls of idolatry captured in the wishful heart of the fan. The kind of fan who sees BoJack for the role he played in the 90s, a kind and loving father. The kind of fan who probably couldn’t understand that he was not as he was portrayed on TV. The closest real life equivalent being Bill Cosby.
Similarly, those who put on a smiling face on a YouTube camera are seen in a similar light as those on ‘actual platforms’. People will see what they want to see out of the characters on the screen. The things that happen off screen may subvert those expectations. And the larger the gap in subversion, the larger the denial can be in that it could be true. Furry has come to realize this in September 2018 as strong allegations with evidence of heinously, egregious acts against animals has been noted against several furries who who all participated in a channel plastered with such abusive activities— in this group was one individual who is a popular fursuit Youtuber, Kero the Wolf.
Despite how shitty a day that was for many in the fandom— to learn that people in our own group could work so actively against the welfare of animals we contribute so much to, sadly, I can report that none of us got a free churro from Jack in the Box.
It should be noted at this time, Kero has made claims that the group chat log was manipulated to put him in there with those other deviants, and his fans have come to a very voracious, and sometimes vicious defense of their idol.
In the end, I really do hope that the BoJack show doesn’t go for too many more seasons, despite how well written and addictive the show is. Because if BoJack’s cycles continue to hold such cultural relevance, it is probably because those cycles of abuse in our own communities may not have improved by much either.
Sadly, the character BoJack doesn’t believe he’s going anywhere in his words, indicating to the audience: “There’s always more show.”