The reason BoJack Horseman is agonizing to watch is because he never learns.
BoJack is trapped in a cycle of making the same mistakes, hurting the very people he vows not to each season. BoJack is obsessed with himself and his own sadness, desperate to figure out why he feels so hollow. He wants to be both loved and left alone, adored by millions while sitting at home, stewing in his own self-hatred and wallowing in his paralyzing self-doubt.
BoJack isn’t a happy person and, as anyone who has ever dealt with major depression knows, it’s easier to find comfort in the blanket of nothingness, making the same mistake over and over again to continue the cycle of normality.
In BoJack Horseman’s fourth season, BoJack deals with some of his hardest personal challenges yet. They force him to put others first and — for someone with a raging narcissist complex, crippling alcoholism and general unhappiness — that turns out to be more difficult than he thought. Giving BoJack a personal hurdle that doesn’t revolve around his career gives the show a refreshing obstacle. The challenge BoJack faces this season is very much about becoming a better person; seeing if he can be more than the jaded B-list celebrity he’s become over the past decade.
When it comes to BoJack’s personal arc, the show shines. The fourth season includes two of the most haunting and devastating episodes the series has ever produced. One in particular focuses solely on BoJack’s depression and how it affects his day-to-day life; rife with bleak honesty about how painful, constant and overwhelming living with depression is. Anyone who has ever suffered through a major depressive period will find it difficult to watch. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg touches upon the insecurities and emptiness that BoJack has dealt with his entire life using a new format that feels even more intimate and heartbreaking.
But BoJack’s incredible arc isn’t enough to save the show from some of its lowest moments. Whenever BoJack isn’t on screen, the season struggles. It relies far too much on filler episodes and the charisma of second string characters we couldn’t care less about. I spent one particular episode questioning why it was even included. It doesn’t accomplish its goal of moving the story forward, third-tier characters are introduced and whisked away without a second thought and the setting is beyond ridiculous.
Even the characters we are invested in — Princess Carolyn, Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane — flounder without BoJack. Their problems, which are heightened and confronted in the fourth season, aren’t the issue. From marital issues to self-discovery, it’s almost comforting to watch a cast of characters with everyday, run-of-the-mill problems that have solvable solutions. It’s the lack of ownership that these characters take in their own issues that leads to an insatiable craving for BoJack to return.
For all of BoJack’s worst qualities, he was never dishonest about his true self. BoJack is the first person to admit his flaws and, what makes his tale even sadder, is that he wants to change but can’t figure out how to do so. That’s what makes us want to root for him to survive, and to win — there is a little piece of BoJack in all of us. He confronts the self-realizations that we might be too scared to do ourselves.
“I know that I can be selfish and narcissistic and self-destructive, but underneath all that, deep down, I'm a good person and I need you to tell me that I'm good, Diane.”
“You didn’t know me. Then you fell in love with me. And now you know me.”
“One day you’re going to wake up and realize that everyone loves you, but nobody likes you. And that’s the loneliest feeling in the world.”
BoJack’s ability to vocalize the insecurities that haunt him the most has always been what’s made the show special. That’s why it isn’t until the new season’s sixth episode that BoJack Horseman begins to shine. The first five episodes — with the exception of a wonderful second episode — are superfluous. It’s hard to care about people who aren’t willing to admit their own faults and choose to put the blame on everyone around them. It’s hard to root for people who remind you of yourself, but who aren’t willing to jump into the deep end and confront what you don’t want to.
From the moment the sixth episode begins playing until the season’s finale, it’s classic BoJack Horseman, and I binged it with fervor. Those episodes contained the honesty, heart and hopefulness that I want to experience when I watch BoJack. Getting through those first few episodes, however, is harder than I thought it would be. I just didn’t care about these characters I’ve spent three seasons desperately rooting for. Without BoJack represent someone with even deeper, unsolvable emotional issues, it’s easier for Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter, Princess Carolyn and even Todd to get trapped in the same vicious cycle of self-obsession that BoJack could never escape.
They need BoJack to remind them how not to behave. Without him, everyone turns into the worst versions of themselves. It’s surprising just how uninteresting that is.
Still, by the end of the season, I was more than satisfied. BoJack had been given one of his best storylines, he grew as a person and I felt like we were given a voyeuristic view into his own head. His past was explored in more depth, his familial relationships were addressed and, like any good season of BoJack Horseman, I walked away unable to stop thinking about what I’d just watched.
This season of BoJack Horseman isn’t as easy to binge as the first three, and nor should it be. It becomes emotionally overwhelming and exhausting, prodding you to take breaks whenever possible. The second time I watched the season, I limited myself to a couple of episodes a day and I found that to be a much more enjoyable and healthy way to watch it. BoJack goes to some dark places this season, that often hit a little too close to home. He goes from his worst to his best in the span of six episodes and, for the first time, I wasn’t sure I wanted BoJack to receive the redemption he’s so obsessed with capturing.
Now, having time to think back on it, I’ve never wanted BoJack to succeed more. The finale gives him a vision for a hopeful future he’s never had before. For the first time in his life, it isn’t about him — and he’s more than okay with that. Unlike BoJack’s ex-girlfriend Wendy, we knew BoJack’s character going into the fourth season, and we were given the opportunity to know him better than ever before.
I’ve never loved a character more than I do BoJack after this season, flaws and all.