Season 5 of BoJack Horseman premiered this weekend on Netflix. It’s full of the usual dark humour and animals doing drugs we’ve come to expect from the show, as well as new developments, twists, and a lot of really excellent experimental episodes.
Riley: Hello Gita! This weekend we watched Season 5 of BoJack Horseman. I had a lot to do this weekend, so I got up early on Saturday aiming to watch half of it and then finish it later. Instead I watched the whole thing and felt vaguely sick from feelings-heavy cartoons, sort of the emotional equivalent of eating a whole bag of salt and vinegar crisps. How about you?
Gita: I always end up bingeing BoJack Horseman by accident.... except this time. I successfully divided it into two chunks: watched half on Friday, and half yesterday, although I ended up staying up late to finish it because I had procrastinated folding my laundry to watch it. Oops. There’s something about the way this show presents its bad feelings that makes it hard to stop watching.
Riley: To that end, I was taken by how much of this season referenced things from earlier seasons. A lot of previous plotlines come back to matter a lot. It feels like a very “made for Netflix” choice in that anyone watching the show can easily go back and catch up/remind themselves, which isn’t necessarily true of things that air on television proper. The callback to the stuff in New Mexico felt especially relevant these days.
Gita: The latter half of the season revolved around the slipperiness of holding men who behave badly accountable for their actions. BoJack himself has been abused by his parents, and he tends to lean on that when he’s called out for hurting people. It’s true that things like Sarah Lynn overdosing and his old girlfriend moving on from him have hurt him, badly, but he also hurts people in return very frequently. He can both be in pain and be the reason for other people’s pain at the same time, which was a very welcome piece of commentary I thought.
Riley: Agreed. I’ll admit to being a little tired of everyone’s constant rehashing of how terrible they are. It’s one of the show’s strengths, for sure, but it also felt a little like—sorry—beating a dead horse. I felt like people did slightly less terrible things this season and instead thought more about the terrible things they’d done previously. As such it was less dramatic to me, and more of a slow-burn emotional impact. Things seemed a little more internal overall.
Gita: The impression I got at the end of the season was that if that this was the last season of BoJack, I would be okay with that. I think I’m also kind of over the constant rehashing of BoJack’s bad behaviour—I know he’s a bad guy!—and him going to rehab to get sober felt like a fitting conclusion of the arc he’s been on. I’m not sure that I want, or need, to see his struggle to recovery. It’s enough that he admitted he needed help and decided to make a change in his life.
Riley: The parking lot of the rehab place scene was really killer. It felt really understated but very very real. BoJack’s whole opioid addiction really struck me, as someone who’s had a family member struggle with that during my life. It starts off being so justifiable and then spirals out, and realising you need help for this thing that initially came from a doctor, or realising the ways you’re abusing it, is so insidious and something a lot of people have grappled with.
It was interesting to me how it was different than BoJack’s usual substance abuse.
Gita: Yeah, I thought that was interesting too. Usually when BoJack starts drinking or bingeing on substances, he really goes all out. The show directly calls to your attention how far gone he is. In this season, watching him chomping on pills became background noise after a while. It wasn’t until Hollyhock pointed out to him that he didn’t need the pills that I realised how often he had been using them.
Riley: I was so glad to see her come back and to explore the weird way he’s part of her life. I found the part in the first episode where he calls her really late so moving.
Gita: Well, she’s the only family he really has? Especially now that his mother is dead. What did you think of that episode, by the way? It seems every season there’s a more experimental episode, and the one where he performs a eulogy for his mother was basically just an extended monologue.
Riley: Oh man, I have so many thoughts about that episode. There were a lot more experimentally structured episodes this season besides that one. I loved the structure of Episode 2, where Diane goes to Vietnam, and Episode 7, where the therapist and her wife talk about their day with all the weird characters. But Episode 6 was just astonishing to me. I watched it again last night in fact. They had such success with the silent underwater episode in the Season 3 that I’m sure inspired these riskier episodes, and I was amazed that they were all so solid and didn’t feel gimmicky.
I will now monologue on Episode 6, haha, if you want.
Gita: Hahah! Yeah, I also liked the second episode, and I think overall the episode with the therapist and her wife was my favourite. But please tell me what you thought about Episode 6, which didn’t grab me at first. We can chat about that after.
Riley: As someone who comes from a theatre background, I was immediately taken by how theatrical/one person show-y it is (having written way too many 30 minute monologues for theatre festivals in my day). It’s a really unusual structure for television, so I thought that was great. I love the way BoJack himself used the space theatrically, like when he acted out his dad watching his mum dance.
It took me a repeated watch to get more out of how the episode starts with BoJack’s dad’s kind of ridiculous riff besides the obvious callback to it being “good” that his mum taught him about disappointment, but reflecting on it later what really moved me was how it demonstrated their shared (or BoJack’s learned) tendency to just talk at the world to make sense of it.
In terms of the monologue itself, there were so many things going on narratively. I was intrigued by the way he used his mum not being able to answer to ask questions, but they were all negative questions: it could easily have been framed as “Mum, don’t knock if you love me” but instead it was all asking for validation for things he already knew about her, sort of just double-checking one more time that she really felt the way she did. Of course thematically that meshes with the content and this idea that now their relationship really will never get better, even though he knew it wouldn’t.
The constant referencing of TV narratives as a way to find meaning was also really interesting to me, because of course that’s what we the audience are doing watching this season, especially in this season’s focus on being bad people. And I was really taken with the weird forced humour—so many of the jokes aren’t funny, or they feel forced, when BoJack says them alone, but in the context of the show’s dialogue it always feels smart and snappy. By writing the way they always write in this stripped-down structure it felt pathetic and sad and disingenuous. This is of course another of the themes of the monologue—BoJack is so exposed but he’s not really seen.
I didn’t love the last beat, when it’s not really his mum’s coffin—it felt like a big shrug, but then that really fits the tenor of the whole monologue too. And it had so many excellent lines: “to feel your entire life like you’re drowning, with the exception of these moments, these very rare brief instances in which you suddenly remember you can swim.”
Gita: That line you reference was maybe the moment when I finally found myself in the rhythm of the monologue. I am not a theatre person—I have dated too many cis straight male actors to ever be a theatre person—so at first, the theatricality of this episode was a turn off. It’s a meandering monologue, and I was already feeling a bit fatigued of BoJack’s “no one loves me” routine. But as it went on, and as BoJack fails both to connect to his audience and his mother, I found my footing. He’s just desperately trying to connect to someone, and even a room full of strangers will do at his level of desperation.
Riley: When I consider it as this idea that he would see this room full of strangers, who when the audience sees them it’s obvious they aren’t there for his mom, but that didn’t register to him or even terribly matter, really elevates that from a kind of rote punchline to proof of how sad the whole thing is.
Let’s talk Episode 2, though, which was also great (and probably better).
Gita: Man, Diane’s whole arc this season broke my heart! She’s finally finding herself as a writer, although not in the way she expected. She made the True Detective parody thing that BoJack is starring in into a good show. But she’s also more or less lost everything, and all her closest relationships are ones that are complicated and painful. And it all starts when she goes to Vietnam and realises that she’s even so disconnected from her own culture that she can’t find any respite in visiting the country she’s from.
My mum is from India, and I’ve never been. Watching this episode was basically an expression of all my worst fears of what might happen when I finally visit.
Riley: I liked the way it was structured like a blog. I was going to screencap what her boss says to her at the beginning about the website needing “younger words” and tweet it at you with the caption “us,” but I thought it might be a bad look from your editor.
Gita: Yeah all that stuff was honestly way too real. Diane’s churning out content to feed the blog gods!
Riley: I love their website! I also now very much want a treadmill desk.
Gita: I also do? What’s happened to me.
Riley: I agree her arc this season is really good. I loved her work on the tv show and then her fears about it, and the way she gets BoJack to admit about the stuff in New Mexico, even though it’s very “plot-y.” The episode with the Halloween party did so much for her character even though it’s about a lot of different people. Speaking of which, I feel so bad for Mr PeanutButter’s girlfriend!
Gita: Oh Pickles. Please get out of there, girl. She’s way too good for Mr Peanutbutter. I think this season called attention to his bad behaviour in a really strong way. He’s way more similar to BoJack than anyone would really admit. He just hurts the people in his life in a very different way. His proposal to Pickles rather than telling her that he cheated is emblematic of how he can’t admit to himself that he hurts people. And that denial of self is what causes all his relationships to self destruct.
Riley: She could definitely do better.
Gita: By dating almost anyone else.
Riley: It was interesting to me how a lot of the secondary female characters—her, Gina, the therapist via the episode about her story—are just “normal,” non-fucked-up people? They don’t have all the torture and ambition that BoJack and friends do, but by just being...people, they’re so much better than our main cast. It probably helps BoJack and co. feel more exceptional and thus further justify their shittiness.
Gita: And it’s not like they’re not complicated, or that their lives don’t have ups and downs. Gina has a distinct arc, and ambitions and desires. But she doesn’t let her failures define her self worth or her life, which is in direct contrast to BoJack.
By the end of the season I was on team Gina. I want to see what she said when she won her Emmy.
Riley: It was so intense when they do that interview, and she tells BoJack she doesn’t want him to be “the most notable thing that ever happened to me.” This season has such a BoJacky take on MeToo stuff: that, Todd’s sex robot’s rise and fall, the episode where BoJack becomes a feminist icon... It shows how men sort of bumble into these things—both stardom and terribleness—and what the effect of that is on everyone else.
Gita: Placing that commentary in contrast to the show BoJack’s making, which is a spot-on parody of all the Bad Men Behaving Badly shows I’ve come to hate, was really interesting to me. I mean, BoJack is a show about a bad man behaving badly. It asks the audience to question why we’re entertained by these narratives, why we want to see these men redeemed, and for me at least, made me ask myself why I’m invested in BoJack and his wellbeing. Obviously I want someone who hurts people to be held accountable and to get better, but what does it say about me that I derive entertainment from these rises and falls?
Riley: A lot like BoJack’s funeral monologue, it kind of turns things back on the audience and why we enjoy the show, without ever being too meta.
Gita: It reminded me a lot of Nanette, which I watched and enjoyed but didn’t wholly come away agreeing with. Have you seen that?
Riley: I have, and also didn’t come away wholly agreeing with it, in part because I have a trans comedian friend who has said all these things to me for years, so I was like, “Yeah, I know.” I think it’s always dicey trying to the pull the, say, Spec Ops: The Line trick of giving me only one way to interact with your thing and then tell me I’m bad for interacting with it that way. (That said, I love Spec Ops.)
Gita: Yeah, it felt a little “shame on you for laughing,” which, while it made some cogent criticisms of comedy as a form that I agreed with, did not overall charm me. BoJack feels different though, and I’m not sure why.
Riley: I’m excited to see where the next season goes. Are we going to get sober BoJack? Do we want sober BoJack? Who are we if we don’t?
Gita: At this point I’m less interested in BoJack’s recovery than the recovery of the people around him who he hurt. Next season give me a little hope for Diane.