“Yeah, well, what are you gonna do? Life’s a bitch and then you die, right?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you keep living.”
“But it’s a nice night, huh?”
“Yeah. This is nice.”
Like many comedy pilots, the pilot of BoJack Horseman is a shaky affair that’s still a few episodes away from figuring out exactly what the show would be. But one hint of the dark comedy and the personal darkness that would grow to distinguish the show is there early on, when BoJack’s watching his Horsin’ Around DVDs post-anxiety attack and gets to the series finale. In that show’s finale, the Horse dies of a broken heart because the children didn’t appreciate him, he’s gone forever, and after nine years the kids are getting handed over to Child Protective Services. “We might have gone a little dark on that series finale,” BoJack says, in an understatement for the ages.
That series finale is visible one more time in BoJack Horseman’s own series finale, blaring on the TV as the family who purchased BoJack’s home returns to find that same horse face-down in the pool. Not as a consequence of a broken heart, but a consequence of being born broken and never truly learning how to put himself back together. And the darkness of Horsin’ Around’s finale is a darkness that feels bright in comparison to BoJack Horseman, a show that spent the last six seasons transcending its first impressions to make its case as the best show on television.
But to make that case, you also have to make your closing argument. A series finale is always subjected to the heaviest scrutiny, and I predict “Nice While It Lasted” won’t put a neat bow on this tragicomedy for all the fans. I can see a vocal group of people who think that “The View From Halfway Down” should have been the series finale, leaving BoJack’s survival and remaining hopes for redemption an unanswered question. I can also see a camp of people who were turned off by the dark depths of this last batch of episodes (even by BoJack standards) and would rather treat “The Face of Depression” as their series finale, BoJack and everyone around him in a place where they figured out the things that screwed up their lives the most. And there’s plenty of things still on the table that were left unresolved: plot threads like what Hollyhock said in her letter, unresolved fan theories like whether or not Sarah Lynn’s stepdad abused her, the lost hope of one last Vincent Adultman appearance.
But a finale being imperfect is arguably perfect for BoJack Horseman, and “Nice While It Lasted” is the right bittersweet close for this bittersweet series. This final batch of episodes wasn’t BoJack Horseman in its prime, too much packed into the early offerings and some stories that didn’t get enough room to breathe. But the last two episodes were at the emotional and experimental peaks of the series, and “Nice While It Lasted” is a comedown that manages to level things out to a sense of melancholic peace. It’s an ending but it’s also an ending that gives a sense of new beginnings and something different, that even while the show won’t continue the lives it’s followed will.
Showrunner and finale writer Raphael Bob-Waksberg hits the ground running in “Nice While It Lasted,” giving you a fast-forward explanation of what happened in the wake of “The View From Halfway Down” and confirming that BoJack didn’t drown after all. Unfortunately, not dying does means he has to answer for the fact that he was in a house where both he and David Boreanaz have the same level of ownership. Which is to say, none at all. He’s charged with breaking and entering, convicted by the court as much as the public opinion, and sentenced to 14 months in prison. And through it all, he’s playing second fiddle to the young boy who becomes a national sensation for getting the “BoJeebies” at seeing this washed-up actor washed up in his swimming pool. That’s the unkindest cut of all: that even in his most public fall from grace, there’s still someone there to overshadow him.
It would be simple to end the series with BoJack getting out of prison and trying to adjust to a new life, but Bob-Waksberg finds a better twist to give BoJack a weekend release for a wedding. With only one day out of prison, it gives you the sense of being a fish out of water (no, not that one) as BoJack gets thrown into an unfamiliar setting and has to absorb everything with the full knowledge he’s going right back in after he does. And by setting it at a wedding—more specifically the wedding of Princess Carolyn and Judah Mannowdog (holy shit, I just got that)—it produces the perfect environment for a reunion with the rest of the main cast who frankly don’t have any reason to see him ever again.
Bob-Waksberg knows which bases he has to cover, and paces the finale so the resolutions happen in escalating level of importance. First off, there’s BoJack’s ride to the wedding courtesy of Mr. Peanutbutter, who is simultaneously the best and worst person to see when you’re getting out of jail. (Mr. Peanutbutter: “I sentence you to life... filled with my friendship!” BoJack: “If this is my only other option, I choose prison.”) Always the silliest and most cheerful of BoJack Horseman’s main cast, there’s no real resolution that needs to happen in this dog and pony show, any resentment over the other’s success far in the past. And as much as BoJack might be annoyed by Mr. Peanutbutter’s constant enthusiasm, that annoyance feels half-hearted by now, BoJack quietly glad to be back in an old routine.
While there’s no big resolution that needs to happen between BoJack and Mr. Peanutbutter, their conversations do show that Mr. Peanutbutter’s found himself in a good place. Birthday Dad continues to be a success—evidently winning a Nobel Prize for Television that was created just for it—and he’s taking the show seriously instead of forcing another relationship. He’s going to therapy and realizing some truths about himself, ones couched in his usual pop culture analogies but also ones that feel right for the character. (“Is my problem with women any movie directed by Christopher Nolan? Because, yes, women are involved, but it’s really never about the women. It’s about me.”) If never in a bad place, he wasn’t always in a good one, and it feels like he’s found a comfortable niche at last.
And the episode keeps him in the realm of the thoroughly ridiculous with one last grand gesture. Deciding to use his Birthday Dad fame to give something back to the city, he rights the wrong that he took credit for all the way back in season one’s “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story” by replacing the D in the Hollywoo sign. Only once again he chooses the sign company that’s never not taken his banner directions literally, and they follow his directions “Give this whole town the ‘D’! ‘D’ for Dad. Birthday Dad, that is!” to the letter—the wrong letter. Everyone starts referring to it as Hollywoob without batting an eye, Mr. Peanutbutter threatens to “strongly consider” hiring a new sign company in the future, and the circle of life continues.
One last running gag is our goodbye to Mr. Peanutbutter when he promises he won’t be distracted by Erica’s latest noteworthy aspect of character or presentation, and we then cut to BoJack alone on the wedding party floor. (An interesting addition to the finale, cuts to black between scenes as if it’s marking space for commercials.) But he’s not alone for long, as Todd grabs him quickly and demands they go out onto the beach for the fireworks. It’s a sweet gesture for Todd to make, so attuned to BoJack’s moods after years of cohabitation that he can see the crowded room might not be the best place for his old friend. And it’s surprising because it’s Todd who makes the move to reach out, given that the last time he saw BoJack it was turning him away from his housewarming party because he didn’t want anything to go wrong. It wasn’t exactly a “Get the fuck out of here and never come back,” but it felt implied.
It’s an odd place for the two to find each other, both aware of how much space there is between them and how much there always was. As Todd told Maude, they were best friends for years, but not out of any sort of connection, just because Todd showed up at BoJack’s house one night and BoJack told him he could stay as long as he wanted. But that first gesture meant that Todd always wanted to believe that BoJack secretly had a good heart and was capable of being the “new BoJack” that was promised after rehab, and he’s fast to encourage BoJack through all his self-doubts over what happens when he gets out of prison for real. Todd’s no longer the innocent and trusting sort he was all the way back in season one, but he remains the most fundamentally decent person of the series, always happy to help those who need it.
And Todd even manages to give BoJack some good advice, smartly driven by the final season arc that led him to find his calling and reconnect with his mother. From spending all his time with kids he’s able to reinterpret the lyrics of the Hokey Pokey into a motivational speech, and from the awkwardness of trying to find some common ground with his mother he acknowledges the way that people and relationships change. It’s taken every crazy adventure under the sun, but through the course of BoJack Horseman, we’ve gotten to watch Todd Chavez grow up and become his own man. And one last time, he gets to be the goofy foil to his former (question mark?) friend, proving that old adage about the mouths of babes.
With those interactions wrapped up, it’s time for BoJack to meet the woman of the hour. After a rough go of it in seasons four and five, Princess Carolyn had arguably the smoothest storyline of anyone in season six, rebounding early from the complete exhaustion of “The New Client” to do what she does best and get her shit together. And the bride is glowing on her special day—or rather, the hyper-produced industry version of her special day designed as a meet-and-greet—as her adorable toddler daughter runs around and her new husband prepares the contracts for their newest women-centric film, 11 Angry Women. (BoJack: “Not twelve?” Princess Carolyn: “You gotta leave room for a sequel.”) We the audience were always convinced of Princess Carolyn’s awesomeness, and now it’s clear she believes it at a level even deeper than the way she believes everything she tells her clients.
She also has some surprising news to deliver to BoJack, as Horny Unicorn is approaching release and is getting some positive buzz. With the paparazzi and the public no longer shunning him, it’s laying the groundwork for a comeback story. Wrong thing to say, as BoJack starts to think about the opportunities that Horny Unicorn could give him once he gets out of prison, and how he’d be an idiot not to take advantage of that chance—and Princess Carolyn’s eyes widen as she remembers the last time he had that train of thought. It’s the one ominous note of the finale, even more so that BoJack admitting to Todd how afraid he is of relapsing. His first addiction will always be the spotlight, and it’s all the more dangerous for the way he’s never acknowledged it.
Thankfully Princess Carolyn is able to hit pause on that development for now, as the music shifts and we get a quiet moment on the dance floor between the two. At the start of the day, BoJack admitted he was terrified that the wedding would be a disaster, and now he sublimates that fear into telling Princess Carolyn that it would be more of a “sitcom disaster,” going through the tropes and beats he’s so intimately familiar with it. And by remaining in the realm of the hypothetical, it gets to the place of vulnerability that they’ve only let each other see so rarely. Princess Carolyn admits that some doubts still existed, and BoJack gets to give his blessing in a way that’s truly perfect:
Princess Carolyn: “Well, I guess I’m afraid of losing some part of myself. I’m afraid that if I let someone else take care of me that I’m not really me anymore. I’m afraid of getting too comfortable, you know, going soft. I’m afraid that this could be the best thing that ever happened to me and if it doesn’t make me as happy as I’m supposed to be, that means I’m a lost cause.”
BoJack: “Yes, all those things could be true, but on the other hand, what if you deserve to be happy and this is a thing that will make you happy? And maybe don’t worry about whether you’ll be happy later and just focus on how you’re happy right now?”
Princess Carolyn: “Oh, is it that easy?”
BoJack: “No. But you’re here because, at some point, Princess Carolyn thought this was a good idea. And I think we oughta listen to her. Because she’s the smartest woman I know.”
Everything about that interaction is beautiful: the direction by Aaron Long, the dialogue by Bob-Waksberg, and the delivery by Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris. It achieves all the symbolism of the grand gesture without the need for that gesture, a moment of acceptance and finality that’s free of any bitterness or regret. It is, quite simply, closure. BoJack and Princess Carolyn truly were the great loves of each others’ lives, and in the end, letting each other go is exactly the happy ending they needed.
If that resolves the love story of BoJack Horseman, the final act of “Nice While It Lasted” goes to what could have been that story in another world. BoJack finds Diane on a roof reminiscent of the one where they had so many heavy conversations all those years ago, and they have what will likely be their last conversation, one that starts out jagged and gets even rougher. Everyone else is able to see BoJack and feel like they’ve gotten some peaceful closure, but the closure Diane is after is anything but. Remember how defeated BoJack looked back in “The View From Halfway Down” when he realized that he’d called Diane and it went to voicemail? Well, it turned out that he ignored the advice he’s been giving himself since the pilot to stop leaving voicemails while drunk, and he left one for Diane. A voicemail that blamed her for not picking up, and for indirectly blaming her for whatever he was going to do after he hung up.
Looking at the way his face twists at this reveal, you know exactly what his internal monologue is in that moment, because you’re likely whispering it to him too: “You goddamned stupid piece of shit asshole.” Alison Brie wrings so much emotion out of this reveal, the clear feeling Diane’s listened to that voicemail a hundred times and rehearsed what she’d say when she finally saw him again a thousand times. No one in the series has born the weight of BoJack trying and failing to be better than Diane, and the scars are as visible as the bruises on Gina Cazador’s neck. It’s one more instance of BoJack not understanding the power he has over women, and one more thing you can’t forgive him.
But if Diane doesn’t forgive BoJack, she doesn’t let him end her either, and where once she’d run away she tries to make a better decision instead. Living in Chicago and trying to be long-distance with Guy as a short-term fix didn’t work, so she wound up moving to Houston and marrying him instead. Both the audience and BoJack are clearly expecting the opposite news, so the moment Diane flashes her ring comes across as an unexpected joy. She’s cities and careers removed from the woman BoJack reluctantly hired to write his memoir, a Texan author, wife, and stepmother. That Diane is now relocated to the memory of her “LA years,” a character design and a character that bears little resemblance to the woman we see before us.
It’s remarkable personal growth to witness, and it has one more component: growing apart. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this night was the last time we ever talked to each other?” BoJack says half-seriously. Diane doesn’t respond for a moment, and you can see the weight of that silence. That moment is the true finale of BoJack Horseman, the knowledge that this friendship that has stretched throughout the series, powered so many heartfelt discussions and ugly fights, is finally drawing to an end. BoJack Horseman and Diane Nguyen aren’t the people they were when they first met, and they’ve both grown so much as a result of each other. But they both know that if that growth is to continue, it has to be apart. So for one last time they can sit on a roof, share a kind of story of something stupid that happened in prison—seriously, whose favorite movie is The Family Stone?—look up at the stars, and remember all the moments that led us to here.
And in that moment, all the moments that could come next are there as well, Catherine Feeny’s “Mr. Blue” playing as BoJack and Diane look up and around but never at each other at the same time. Maybe BoJack will talk to Diane after this night, and maybe he won’t. Maybe Princess Carolyn will agree to represent him again once he gets out of prison, and maybe she’ll refer him to Gekko Rabbitowitz. Maybe Mr. Peanutbutter will pick him up the next time he gets out of prison, and maybe he’ll have to call a Cabracadabra and ask to crash on Todd’s couch. Maybe Horny Unicorn will be a hit, maybe it’ll be a flop. Maybe he’ll wind up at Bellican’s within 30 minutes of leaving jail. Maybe he’ll be sober for the next 30 years. Maybe he’ll panic upon being confronted with freedom, try to rob a Chicken 4 Dayz, and be back in his cell in 30 seconds.
In the end, we don’t know the answer to any of those questions. And that’s ultimately the answer that we need. Life isn’t something that we can carve into 30-minute portions and expect a resolution at the end of that run time—or even at the end of 77 of those portions. Life isn’t something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end easily sorted into three acts. Life is funny and tragic and unpredictable all at the same time, life is a series of choices and consequences that pay off or come back on us in ways that we’d never expect. Life is a series of meaningless distractions and important developments, and we have to figure out the difference. Life is a series of closing doors, but it’s also a series of opening doors: opportunities we can take advantage of, feel good about passing up, or come to regret years down the road. Life is complicated, it is messy, it goes in every direction possible. You can always screw it up, and you can always make it better.
No show on television understood that better than BoJack Horseman.
And it was, indeed, nice while it lasted.
Series Grade: A
- Lifetime Achievement in Voice Acting: In a rather brilliant move, no one beyond the five main characters says a line in the finale, which allows me to grant this category’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul. All of them have done such tremendous work over the last six seasons, taking these characters who could have been so ridiculous (and were on many occasions) and turning them into real people whose hopes, dreams, and decisions mattered. I’ll go to the mat with anyone arguing this show is the best work they’ve ever done in their respective careers.
- Not that limiting the main cast keeps the episode thin, as Princess Carolyn wasn’t kidding about her industry wedding being the social event of the season. Attendees I spotted include Quentin Tarantulino, Henry Winkler, Amanda Hannity, Vanessa Gekko, Naomi Watts, Sextina Aquafina, Charley Witherspoon, Pinky Penguin, Jurj Clooners (fresh out of prank rehab), Lernernener DiCapricorn, Mitt Dermon, Bread Poot, Jake and Maggot Gyllenhaal, Mila Kunis (eating a sandwich), Abe Ziegler, and Ziggy Abler. It’s a wonderful way to pay off this show’s history of bizarre characters and brilliant guest stars.
- Talk about a fair trial: BoJack’s jury of his peers include Beyonce, Daniel Radcliffe, Wallace Shawn, Tilda Madison, Sandro, Neal McBeal the Navy SEAL, a dancer from the Philbert pilot, his one-night stand from “BoJack Hates The Troops,” Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s original avatar, and a mantis shrimp.
- Not one mention of Hollyhock all episode. Whatever her letter said to BoJack, that’s alongside Jesse’s letter to Brock in El Camino (speaking of other work by this insanely good cast) as a message we in the audience aren’t privy to. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but BoJack had to pay a price for his behavior, and that feels like the proper exchange rate.
- Interestingly, no use of the word “fuck” in this half-season after Gina’s coworker used it in “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” Check out my colleague William Hughes’ essay on why that turned out to mean so much more for its absence.
- Hollywoob has some other happy endings scattered throughout. A billboard for FireFlame is visible from the diner window, revealing Gina did get to play the lead in that film after all, and Courtney Portnoy’s appearance a couple of episodes ago was foreshadowing her as the villain of the film. (The ostensible love interest too, if that detail of Kelsey’s survived the studio notes.) And one of the beginning papers indicates that Wanda was in a second coma—a nice explanation for why we haven’t seen her since season two—woke up a second time, and went on to become the president of Gronkle.
- BoJack is putting on a production of Hedda Gabler in prison. “It’s not Strindberg, but, you know, we’re having a good time.”
- Mr. Peanutbutter is right, you should always pack a spare suit when you go to prison.
- Cabracadabra drivers riding drone thrones to unveil the B! I hope Todd got some residuals.
- Best recurring joke payoff of the finale? BoJack tries honeydew at the wedding buffet and it turns out he likes it. Prison changes a horseman.
- “Schlesinger, if you have time to fashion a shiv and organize a jump on the rats in Block C, you have time to learn your lines, okay? Priorities.”
- “Honestly, I thought it would be with nobody because I wasted all her best years.” “Turns out her best years are now!” “Well, joke’s on me. I couldn’t even waste the right years.”
- “Are all of your breakthroughs phrased like that?” “Um, are all of my breakthroughs a British prog-rock band from the ‘70s? Because yes.”
- “Hey, Jennifer Jason Leigh! Have you met regular Jason Lee? You’re my two favorite Jason Lees. Discuss.”
- “People have short memories. It’s the best and worst thing about people.”
- “You sounded happy. Or lightly sardonic, or glibly nihilistic, or however you’d describe that thing you get that’s the closest to the emotion normal people call happy.”
- “I dunno. Maybe it’s everyone’s job to save each other.”
- “I think there are people that help you become the person that you end up being, and you can be grateful for them, even if they were never meant to be in your life forever.”
- “I don’t want to lie to you. It’s only kind of funny.”
- “You kind of made your own bed on that one.” “Story of my life.”
- There’s always more show, until there isn’t. Thank you to everyone who’s read and commented over the last few years, everyone who’s followed this marvelous diamond of a show from beginning to end, and who took the time to weigh in with your thoughts. It has been an honor and a pleasure to cover BoJack Horseman more than anything else I’ve done here at The A.V. Club, to write far too many words about it and still be reminded of the hundred background jokes I missed. I’ll see you in syndication.
- Today in Hollywoob signs: