In “Cross talks,” two (or in this case, three!) writers sit down to discuss a book, movie, TV show, or piece of art they both feel strongly about. Sometimes they disagree; other times, they’re in perfect harmony. Here, Arts & Culture Editor Tara Joy ’20, Contributing Writer Jesse Sandler ’20, and Editor in Chief Emmy Hughes ’20 discuss the first half of season 6 of the iconic Netflix TV Show “BoJack Horseman.”
Tara Joy: Okay! Who has thoughts about BoJack Horseman? You guys have both been watching this show for a while, right?
Jesse Sandler: Yes.
Emmy Hughes: Yeah, I’ve been watching it since I was a senior in high school.
TJ: I’m asking because I started watching it like a month ago. I always sort of intended to watch it, and a lot of people have recommended it to me, but whenever too many white men tell me to do something, I become a little wary. Truly—if a bunch of white econ majors told me to register to vote, I would be like, “Actually, voting’s for suckers, and I believe in the divine right of kings.” I knew I would end up liking the show, in the way that I like every show about sad, funny people being sad and funny, but I also thought it was going to be kind of self-indulgently miserable. And I was surprised by how much that’s not really the case.
EH: Well, I think these types of depressing narratives about Hollywood always feel a little masturbatory in some ways. But in this case—and in this season especially—there was deep criticism of Hollywood. For example, the episode where the Hollywood assistants all go on strike—it didn’t feel so much like people making art about themselves for themselves in the same way as other Hollywood-made stories about Hollywood.
JS: I feel like one of the ways in which “BoJack” does excel compared to other similar shows is that it’s much more self aware.
EH: I guess maybe the whole “Philbert” thing in the last season—when BoJack takes the role of the lonely, alcoholic detective named Philbert in a TV show—is an example of BoJack acting in a parody of his actual life. Both BoJack and Philbert are perched on the precipice of their own destruction. This is definitely a moment of clear self-awareness and where the narrative of the show mirrors the narrative of the show within the show.
TJ: Yeah, because they really emphasized that “Philbert” was just a self-indulgent male fantasy about performative misery, and then also the character Philbert and the actor BoJack are kind of indistinguishable.
EH: So in this current season, where did you see that kind of recognition?
JS: I don’t know that this is necessarily an example of self-awareness, but one thing that really stuck out to me about this season was the way that the show approached the corporate takeover in the first half of the season, and Jeremiah Whitewhale. I mean, the scene that really stuck with me was the whole bit where it was signed into law that billionaires could legally murder people.
EH: What did you guys think of that? Because I had negative thoughts.
TJ: Wait, really? Tell me!
EH: So I thought the show was doing a really beautiful job criticizing corporations and the way in which they allow a little bit of dissent to take place within their structure, so that seems like they’re cool and with the people, when in reality they aren’t at all. But then—and the friend I was watching this with made this point—the murder line took it too far, made it unrealistic.
TJ: I don’t know if I agree, because it basically is legal for billionaire CEOs to kill other people and get away with it. And I think that what you said still holds true—the episode does still have some very sharp commentary on the way that in real life, corporations have really mastered the use of this very progressive and social justice-aware rhetoric in a way that is so hollow but makes them seem like they care about the world.
EH: Even in tandem with the legalizing of murder.
TJ: Yeah, even with that. I mean, that bit definitely wasn’t subtle, but it still felt true enough that I thought it worked.
EH: Yeah, you’re totally right that corporations murder people in real life, just not in such explicit terms. I think some of the main cultural criticisms of this show are not as exaggerated, in comparison to real life, as I would like to think they are.
JS: I think that the show does a really interesting—if depressing—job in the way that they portray the media or the political landscape. I have this hypothesis that one of the reasons the show works so well is that they’re tackling these really complex issues in a way that is very suited to the medium of animation. And the reason for that is that you could have a similar show in which you had live actors, but it would be much harder to take. Some of the themes the show is concerned with, with live action, would just be too uncomfortable. Whereas exploring them with these cartoon characters puts it right on the precipice of acceptability, where you’re barely able to hang on, as a lot of these really dark and terrible topics are addressed.
EH: I do feel like as I have watched the show progress, in the beginning it felt like some of the darker themes of the show were used as fuel for the comedy, and I think since then it’s kind of flipped on its head, and the comedic aspects are all just breaks from the extremely dark narrative. For me, that was a really good switch in terms of the quality of the show.
TJ: Well, I basically watched the whole show in one go, and I agree that it’s changed a lot from the first season, but Season 6 feels very different even taking that into consideration. It feels like we’ve seen moments in the past that looked like they could have been transitions for BoJack. He’s made forward movement, or at least something approaching forward movement in the past. But especially by the fifth season, I was like, “I’m not sure how many more times I can watch him backslide,” Especially when the people who always suffer the most when BoJack messes up are the women around him.
EH: Every single time!
TJ: So I feel like he has made some progress before, and because this is the last season, I was really curious about how they would make another step forward feel meaningfully different, but it does really feel meaningfully different. I think that the most obvious change is that BoJack finally quits drinking, which he has never tried to do in the past, even when he tries to improve his behavior in other ways. The choice to send BoJack to rehab did help this season feel both fundamentally different from and a logical progression of the past seasons.
JS: I agree with what you said earlier that it becomes very hard over the course of the show to always feel like you’re on his side, and you see him make really, really small steps and then just backslide terribly. But I think one of the things that was an interesting choice this time was that it feels like his biggest mistake of the season—when he flings a bottle of vodka out of the window and his therapist ends up drinking it and relapsing into alcoholism—is a complete accident. One of the main issues that BoJack struggles with throughout the show is that he has this extreme preoccupation with things that he’s done incorrectly in his past. But in this situation, he was really on top of the mistake that he made from the get-go. He immediately realizes that he’s caused Champ to fall back into alcoholism and really tries to take as many steps as he possibly can to rectify the situation immediately.
TJ: It also feels important that it still ends kind of poorly, where Champ is furious at BoJack and tells him he’s ruined his career, and it doesn’t send BoJack spiraling in the way that it would have earlier. But also, to be fair, the whole situation literally wasn’t his fault—he was just trying to throw away alcohol.
EH: That’s the thing! In this situation BoJack can avoid that level of guilt, but that’s because there genuinely is no guilt he’s really truly implicated with. Whereas his return to substances in the past and his feelings of guilt are because of things that he actually is responsible for.
TJ: On a related note, I think another moment that felt important to me in terms of his character development is when BoJack goes to an AA meeting in L.A. and sees Sharona, the makeup artist he got kicked off the set of “Horsin Around” several years back. He sees her, and she tells him that she’s actually been doing okay since she was fired and she’s gotten sober, and BoJack still insists on apologizing for doing something terrible to her. And that feels very different from what he would have done in a previous season, because in a previous season he would either would have spiraled about it or would have decided that, because she was fine, and he was absolved of any need to feel guilt about his actions. So that felt like an actual moment of progress.
EH: I think that’s what makes the final episode so rough. The idea that all of the work that’s been built up over the course of this season could come crashing down was very difficult for me. Especially because in that situation, it would be something outside of his control from his past coming back to haunt him.
TJ: At this point I feel a lot of affection for BoJack, and I really want him—I mean I want everyone to have a happy ending. And I actually do think there will be a happy ending.
EH: You think? I have this fear that he’s gonna die.
TJ: Oh god. No, I feel like he’ll retire on a mountain somewhere.
JS: I can envision an ending which is almost more neutral than happy or sad, but in the context of the show, neutral feels very happy, because we’re so inundated with sadness. I think for him to just retire quietly and do his own thing out of the public eye would feel like a real victory.
TJ: It’s hard because I want happiness for BoJack, and I really care about his character and have become so invested in his journey, but also he has done a lot of objectively terrible things and not faced real consequences for them. I don’t know, at some point there needs to be a real reckoning.
EH: I think in some ways we’re forced to recognize our own complicity in this, because sometimes I remember that he choked Gina—
JS: And nothing happened.
EH: It was horrible! And in this season we saw some of the lasting effects of that event on Gina, who seems pretty traumatized in a way that is affecting her acting, so presumably that will come back in the next season.
TJ: I think it will, yeah.
EH: The conversation between Kelsey Jannings and the other director about how Gina’s not easy to work with anymore because she’s so jumpy—it just sucked. And that is BoJack’s fault, so why do I still want hope and happiness for him?
TJ: He’s just done so many—he almost slept with a 17-year-old! That’s not really forgivable!
JS: I think he’s such an emotionally charged character. Because when you do the logical exercise of laying out the bad things he’s done, and the relative consequences that he’s faced for his behavior, there’s an astronomically large gap. It’s very interesting to consider how they make him such a sympathetic character nonetheless.
TJ: Well it’s because he feels so bad. He is so miserable, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s not facing actual external consequences, he’s just beating himself up.
EH: Switching from BoJack himself, let’s talk about some of the more minor characters in this season. Princess Carolyn had some interesting episodes.
TJ: Princess Carolyn is the only character who seems like she might be ending this half of the season in a good place. At least comparatively.
JS: She had that whole arc of serious nervousness over her relationship with her child. I was very pleased with that arc, because I felt like it was one of the only really raw fictional depictions of something maybe similar to postpartum depression, that I think I’ve ever seen on television.
TJ: I think it’s the second episode, where her nanny quits and she’s trying to organize a bunch of stuff, and there are all these shadow images of her doing a lot of things at once. It was so stressful to watch but a really effective visual depiction of motherhood.
JS: As far as the visual style with those shadow Carolyns, I thought it was really cool—something me and Tara have talked about before is the ways in which a lot of women’s labor goes unrecognized. Those visual effects—while it was really disorienting and claustrophobic—were a really good way of explicitly visually depicting all of the different types of labor that are going on at once. And it was just impossible to ignore because it was so visually overwhelming.
EH: I also really liked the stuff with Vanessa Gekko and the idea of “Women Who Do it All.” Motherhood was the expected role for women, but now it’s not just motherhood, it’s motherhood and career at the same time. It’s almost like women having careers isn’t a means of making them more autonomous, it’s just a way of making them have more work. It frustrated the hell out of me, but in a good way.
TJ: There are a lot of side plots on this show that address womanhood in a really frustrating but sharp way. I mean, so many of Diane’s side plots, for one.
JS: Diane’s character makes me think about the ways in which people who are deeply flawed or have their own issues lean on each other. And there’s this very specific fear of what it means to have someone like BoJack, who’s so deeply flawed, kind of completely give up their moral compass to take on someone else’s, and then that person is also deeply flawed. What does it mean to have someone be the source of all moral direction in your life when they also don’t really have it fully figured out?
TJ: And then in the other direction, it feels like Diane is keeping BoJack around because he makes her feel better about herself. He’s definitely more of a mess than she is, but she’s still a pretty big mess. There’s a really good scene in this season before Diane moves to Chicago where she tells BoJack that she can’t move away without knowing he’s going to be okay and BoJack tells her “That’s not a friendship, that’s a hostage situation,” and tells her to leave.
EH: That was such a good moment.
TJ: But also it makes me sad for them to be apart, I want them to stay friends together. But they don’t have a healthy friendship at all.
EH: It’s so codependent.
JS: I’m wondering whether a more beneficial ending for their relationship would be that they are able to work through their trauma and stay very close, or whether they completely split from each other.
TJ: My hunch is that they will not be so close when the show ends. I do ultimately think there will be a happy or happy-ish ending for most of the major characters, but for the show to have earned it there has to be some bittersweetness there, because there are a lot of consequences that are yet to come. And I think that the show is smart enough that those consequences are definitely coming. I think that for Diane and BoJack, that might mean that they’ll find emotional balance and it will be apart from each other.
EH: I’m completely with you. Thinking through all the tangible things that have to come to the forefront in the second half of the season, and all the guilt and trauma that people are gonna have to reckon with, it does not make sense that it will all get perfectly resolved. Things don’t coalesce in a happy way.
TJ: No, but I’m so excited to see how they will eventually coalesce.
Emmy Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesse Sandler can be reached at email@example.com.
Tara Joy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.