BoJack Horseman is the quintessential addict. He gravitates toward whatever will numb him, anything that will make him forget his existence. But he also won’t accept that he has a problem. He’s not an addict; he’s got back pain. He’s not hurting people as much as he’s hurting himself. BoJack Horseman is a man coping with being dealt a hand he sees as being obscenely unfair by any means necessary.
His mother hated and emotionally abused him, while his father was absent and negligent. His predatory advances on a teenage girl took place while he was trying to cope with the loss of a woman — a fellow addict — whose death is partially his fault. But in his eyes he’s still the victim, despite his fame, success and wealth. Despite the hurt he’s inflicted upon the people in his life.
This makes BoJack a sadly relatable person to anyone who’s dealt with an addiction, or is currently battling one. The show’s struggle, which is brought up in a snippy self-aware moment from Diane, is painting BoJack as a relatable figure without letting him be an excuse for people’s own wrongful behavior.
“If Philbert [a character played by BoJack in the fifth season] is a way for dumb assholes to rationalize their own awful behavior, then I don’t want the show to come out” Diane says. Characters like that might be a thing in pop culture right now.
Hollywood often romanticizes addiction. It turns assholes into difficult geniuses; it’s a sign of oddball creativity; it’s something that helps complex people deal with what others think about them. But this is all bullshit. Drug addiction is an epidemic that limits people instead of setting them free.
Let’s get serious
This season of BoJack Horseman treats addiction as such, choosing to focus less on the Bojack’s ridiculous adventures while high, and playing up his inability to get ahold of his addiction to prescription painkillers. That’s a scary thing about this lifestyle: It’s often fun, right up to the point that it’s not.
If BoJack Horseman’s fourth season was about his desperate need to redeem himself. The show’s fifth season is about complacency. BoJack has spent years trying to become better than he is, often asking his closest friends to constantly tell him he is good. BoJack is now dealing with the fear that he can’t change.
He tries to stop drinking by giving himself limitations on how often and how much, and fails. He tries to stop abusing drugs, and then harms himself to give himself an excuse to continue filling his body with opioids. He tries so hard to become a good person, but falls short so heartbreakingly often that his last self-saving move is to live in a constant hazy fog and aimlessly coast.
“You’re the last person to figure it out,” BoJack tells Diane in one episode. “I’m not going to change.”
This season culminates in BoJack’s most hopeless moment, but it’s also the most realistic portrayal of an addict the show has illustrated. The show has always been bleak, but fans who find realistic depictions of addiction upsetting may want to pace themselves through the last few episodes.
The fifth season hones in on the self-loathing that comes with every failed attempt to stay sober. We don’t get to see BoJack on his drug or alcohol-fueled binges; instead, we’re treated to the moments just before. We have a front row seat to BoJack’s hard fought struggle to not open up the bottle of painkillers or drink at three in the morning.
This season doesn’t glorify his relationship to drugs, nor does it give “dumb assholes” a way “to rationalize their own awful behavior.” BoJack’s depiction as an addict is raw and authentic.
People who haven’t dealt with addictions often think the all addicts are chasing a high; an elated, manufactured joy. That might be true for some addicts — everyone has a different story — but many addicts are just trying to survive, or want to make the world disappear. The ideal state is mindlessness. It’s a last ditch, desperate attempt to stop all the intrusive thoughts that remind you how badly you’ve messed up, how terrible of a person you are and how you’re broken. Season four showed us what it’s like inside Bojack’s head, and what it’s like when the demons won’t calm down without being medicated away.
BoJack’s fifth season does a terrific job of portraying that facet of addiction. BoJack isn’t just unhappy — he’s in constant anguish, and he doesn’t have any other effective tools to help himself. It’s an effective rebuttal to the idea that people who abuse drugs or alcohol are just weak, rather than individuals who require ongoing treatment for both their physical and mental pain.
Bojack is disappointingly predictable — handing off his responsibility to other people or avoiding the situation completely. He’s not ready to face what he’s done, but this time, no one will let him get away with just being BoJack. Honestly dealing with his mistakes for the first time just pushes him deeper into his addiction. It makes you empathize with BoJack a little more, but it’s important to not let him off the hook. We need him to be better, and it’s upsetting when he’s not. But he’s the only person who can make the sort of changes that will stick.
Takes time, but it’s worth it
As a cartoon, BoJack Horseman has the unique ability to showcase the immediate impact of BoJack’s reliance on his drugs of choice — this season, opioids. He flashes back and forth between his present state and a drug-induced one, unsure of where he is or what he’s doing. But none of that matters. His friendships don’t matter; his career doesn’t matter; his relationship doesn’t matter. All he cares about is achieving tranquil nothigness.
The lack of drama makes for less entertaining television at first, but the sacrifice also creates one of the more honest depictions of what day-to-day addiction looks like for many people. The beauty is in treating BoJack, the celebrity, Oscar-nominated actor, as someone who isn’t special. He’s like everyone else struggling with an addiction, trying to do better and deal with his own issues.
It takes a while for BoJack Horseman’s fifth season to find its voice, which is a constant issue for the show. The first few episodes feel aimless, with the exception of one Princess Carolyn-centric episode. Once it picks up, though, BoJack finds one of its best seasons to date, and that’s largely because of how it traces the arc of addiction. This feels like the first season that BoJack’s addiction isn’t just a tool to tell a story, but is the story.
It’s an unflinching portrayal of someone trying to cement who they are, and who they can be, all while struggling to determine out how much of their real self is just a side effect of their drug use. BoJack Horseman’s fifth season is difficult to watch, but it’s also one of its most necessary and important seasons.
BoJack Horseman has always been relevant, but BoJack has never felt more important.
BoJack Horseman’s fifth season is available to stream on Sept. 14.