clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BoJack Horseman has given TV the most honest, brutal and necessary episode about depression

New, 21 comments

I’ve been waiting for something like this for years

BoJack Horseman season 4 Netflix

The sixth episode of BoJack Horseman’s fourth season opens with BoJack thinking, “piece of shit. Stupid piece of shit. You’re a stupid piece of shit.”

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the sixth episode of BoJack Horseman.]

Before the theme song gets a chance to play, BoJack has a cascading waterfall of negative thoughts. Each thought rushes into the next one, building up to the point where you feel anxious and sweaty just listening to his inner monologue. In those two-and-a-half minutes that BoJack is left alone with his thoughts, he berates himself for being a “worthless piece of shit,” avoids his family by going to a bar and getting drunk and, at one point, considers the upside to swerving into oncoming traffic.

Like any serious BoJack-centric episode, it’s an overwhelming amount of emotional information to handle at once. This isn’t the first time that BoJack has expressed his depressive mind. The show is built on the backbone of BoJack’s narcissism that accompanies his self-loathing. We have defined BoJack as a major depressive long before this episode, but making the decision to base the majority of it inside his head helps us explore the reality of his mental illness.

For anyone who battles depression in their own life, BoJack’s self-obsessed mantra is frightening and jarring — because it’s our own. I can’t speak to anyone else’s headspace on any given day, let alone when they’re suffering from a depressive episode, but I can talk about my own. When you’re depressed or in the middle of a depressive episode that doctors warn you to keep an eye out for, nothing and no one else matters. I describe it as a mental survivor kit; my brain is aware that it’s not operating the way it should be and to ensure that I don’t have a total breakdown, it ignores everything else.

That means for months on end, my mind is a minefield of explosive and negative thoughts. There isn’t a special method to ensuring the bombs don’t explode the second they’re touched. Instead, it’s a cataclysmic string of explosions that you have to power through. The only form of self-defense I have in those moments is to prepare for the worst by doing exactly what BoJack does: enlisting a never ending negative mantra that I repeat over and over and over again in my head to the point where I don’t feel like I deserve anything.

BoJack isn’t complicated, but he is depressed. The reason I cling to BoJack in a way that I don’t other characters who suffer from depression on other shows is because of the raw honesty his character is portrayed with. BoJack isn’t going to get better because of a new movie deal. He’s not going to move past his depression because he’s dating someone new. The desperate need he has for external validation, the “it’s worth it to be alive” affirmation he gets from friends and fans, can only go so far.

I understand BoJack’s need to feel like he’s not a monster and he’s someone to root for because I search for the same thing on any given day. I spend hours on Twitter because the little rush of happiness I get when someone likes something I wrote gives me a few seconds of a dopamine trigger. Like BoJack, I’ve tried every kind of external validation, from dating for the wrong reasons to taking on an abundance of projects that people may recognize me for, as a method of asserting my self-worth and prove my dumb brain wrong.

Nothing really helps, though. That’s BoJack’s broken beauty. He never gets better and he’s never going to get better. He can get help and that can help him navigate his day-to-day life, but he’ll never rid himself of the disease. Season after season, BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waskberg tries to give BoJack a chance to help himself and those around him but he never takes it. It’s not that BoJack doesn’t want to get better, but as I said in my review, the idea of leaving the warm safety blanket depression provides is hard to do. Even when we know that the world outside of the blanket fort we’ve built around ourselves is better than the dark hole we inhabit now, it’s crippling to try and lift the blanket, the only thing you know, off of yourself.

BoJack runs away from anything that feels good and I understand that: our disease-riddled brains have taught us since we were teenagers that if something good happens, the consequences that come with it could be too much for us. If everything goes wrong, it might be the last little push we needed to do something harmful and send us over the edge. That’s the most frightening aspect of dealing with depression: the simultaneous lack of control over what’s happening in your life and ability to take control over your life in a dangerous way.

The reason this episode is so important, both to the series and to myself, is because Bob-Waksberg doesn’t lean away from the true horrors of depression. He leans into it, which is something most other shows run from. BoJack’s worst moment in the episode comes when he throws a plastic baby over the edge of his pool that his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has taken comfort in while staying at his home. BoJack takes the baby from her hands and lobs it over the side of his house; his mother screams in agonizing pain.

“Do it,” is the only thought BoJack has before he launches the toy into the air, which is followed by “you stupid piece of shit idiot asshole,” upon seeing his mother on the ground, crying.

BoJack’s decision to throw the toy over the side of the house was a malicious one, born in the throes of a heated, passionate argument. Despite having control of the situation, he lost all control of what he was doing. There was only one thing on his mind and it was to hurt his mother the only way he knew how. It’s not until after he surveys the wreckage of his decision that he realizes the monstrosity of the act.

Again, I understand this. I have done similar things to people I love — and I have felt like the “piece of shit idiot asshole” BoJack felt like, too. The part of my depression that scares me the most isn’t that I’ll harm myself, but that I’ll push away everyone I love because of my inability to stop myself from acting like an asshole. BoJack gets this. It’s why he surrounds himself with people he doesn’t care about and runs out on those that he does. It hurts less to lose an acquaintance, someone you maybe knew for 10 minutes at a party, than it does to lose the one or two people who genuinely care about you.

Because when you’re in the midst of a terrible depressive period, it’s hard to believe that anyone can care about the person you are when you can’t even do that yourself.

The important thing to remember, even when it seems impossible to do so, is remembering that people do care. Even if they can’t understand what’s going on in your brain, you’re not going to lose them over your depression. That’s what I adore about BoJack Horseman. BoJack gets into fights with friends like Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, or exes like Princess Carolyn, but they never leave him.

When he needs someone at the end of the day, they’re just a phone call away. Relationships can be rocky and friendships tumultuous, but he’s never abandoned and, as cliched as it may be, he is loved. The BoJack Horseman that we know is a product of people’s love for him. He may not see that, but we can.

BoJack Horseman is a show that talks about depression, but it’s a series about hope. This episode, which is one of the toughest to watch, is proof of that. I have shown this episode to my closest friends and partner as a way of explaining what my brain is like on any given day and it’s helped them understand things a little better. It’s easier to see what I’m trying to explain than imagine what it’s like to live with this disease.

BoJack Horseman is one of the only shows that isn’t scared to talk about a disease that affects millions of people and, because of that, this episode is one of television’s most important to date.