“There’s no such thing as bad guys and good guys! We’re all just guys! Who do good stuff, sometimes. And bad stuff, sometimes. And all we can do is try to do less bad stuff and more good stuff. But you’re never going to be good! Because you’re not bad! So you need to stop using that as an excuse.”
Those words, blurted out by Diane towards the end of “The Stopped Show,” are a far angrier version of another statement she made several years ago on the roof of her then-husband’s house. She argued then that there was no such thing as what a person was “deep down,” and that what mattered in the long run was what that person did. There’s no category that any one person falls into, no way to paint anyone with a label that completely encompasses them. You can screw up time and again, and still find the strength to do the right thing. You’ve just got to buckle down and do it.
It’s a workmanlike approach to morality that’s the latest candidate for a BoJack Horseman mission statement, and a fitting cap to the events of the past twelve episodes. Season five of BoJack Horseman felt lighter on the standout moments that have come to define the series, the true heights of experimentation and emotional devastation you can point to in previous seasons. There wasn’t an episode that approached the visual and narrative audacity of “Fish Out Of Water,” and nothing that packed as much emotional heft as last year’s one-two punch of “The Old Sugarman Place” and “Time’s Arrow.” It had its stylistic leaps, but even in the case of something like “Free Churro,” there was a muted quality to its experiments that kept them from vaulting into the upper tier.
But judging it for not having those achievements is only a reflection of how hard it is reach that level. And if you wanted to make an argument that this was the best season of BoJack Horseman yet, I might be on your side. Season five is arguably most consistent the show’s ever been, one where—some overt lampshading aside—the wackiness and seriousness struck the perfect balance, writers and animators at the top of their game. And while other television shows may react to their advancing age by making things more cartoonish, BoJack Horseman became more real. Not only did it hold its characters to account for what they did, it held its audience to account for potentially drawing the wrong lessons from its story, and it held itself to account for telling that story in the first place.
“The Stopped Show” closes with a focus on one of the major themes of the story, the awfulness of powerful men in the entertainment industry. While it’s an element that’s always been part of BoJack’s world, its toxicity was readily apparent from the premiere as Flip objectified and berated actresses, and only grew more apparent with the Vance Waggoner debacle and Diane’s marginalization on the Philbert set. The third act only made it worse, as BoJack abandoned the idea of being better and fell into a drug spiral that culminated in nearly strangling Gina in front of horrified onlookers.
It turns out that BoJack’s relatively okay after the events of “The Showstopper,” his ascent of the staircase not a coma or psychotic break but just the next mental stop before he winds up on the couch. He’s rebounding from another awful thing he’s done, chiefly because he doesn’t have any memory of doing it. It’s an early disappointment that it doesn’t steer away from the more major consequences implied by the end of the previous episode—that last glance at the balloon feels anticlimactic in context—but getting to see BoJack more like his usual self only makes his discovery of what he did all the more effective. And to his credit, he’s fully cognizant of just how bad this is, and just where it belongs in his personal hall of shame.
Princess Carolyn and Flip fighting to cover up that awful thing is bad enough, but the true power of the story is Gina’s reaction. BoJack’s willing to come clean and take the blame, and Gina stops him from doing so, knowing that even if he falls on the sword it’ll cut her throat in the process. Her understanding of her fragile position, and the sacrifice she’s going to have to make to keep it, leads Stephanie Beatriz to combine rage and grief in peak BoJack Horseman form: “I don’t want you to be the most notable thing that ever happened to me.” It was easy to laugh at how over-the-top Vance Waggoner’s various controversies were, and easy to laugh at the flippancy of BoJack’s newfound “woke” status. This, by contrast, is a crushing reminder of the world’s imbalanced power dynamics.
But BoJack not having to pay for his crimes doesn’t mean a reckoning is coming. And what a deliciously ironic reckoning it is, the fact that a website called What Time Is It Right Now becomes the latest target of the #TimesUp movement. The appointment of Henry Fondle to the position of CEO was a disaster waiting to happen, ascending to an executive role despite not having a single executive thought—or any thought for that matter. And despite openly propositioning everything in front of him, all it takes is notices of low power to tip someone off that he’s not on the up-and-up, triggering Ronan Farrow levels of outrage and getting him ousted from the site. (Along with several female executives, proving Gina’s understanding of Hollywoo power dynamics is right on target.)
Beyond playing out as a further expansion of the season’s themes, it’s also an opportunity for a full reset for BoJack Horseman. Fondle’s ouster means that What Time Is It Right Now’s board decides to return to the site’s core value of letting people know what time it is right now, and Philbert gets the axe. Every member of the cast is free of their contracts, and Todd’s tossed out of his cushy new office alongside his robot. It’s a smart move, as while Philbert was a great framing device for the season and a unifying thread to get the cast to interact, it’s not the sort of thing that can sustain the series long-term. BoJack thrives on new scenarios, and this ensures we won’t have more of the same next year.
It also gives Todd one last moment of grace, as rather than allow Fondle to take a position with Disney-Fox-AT&T-AOL-Time Warner-PepsiCo-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joes (he’s been ousted, so of course he’s learned his lesson) he takes his creation out to a field and goes for an Of Mice And Men reenactment. Compared to some of Todd’s other finale moments—being saved from an improv cult, admitting his asexuality—it’s much quieter, but there’s a weird contentment to witnessing Todd take ownership of his creation. In its way, it proves he’s the luckiest member of this ensemble, able to shed his executive suit like snakeskin and walk off to whatever crazy caper beckons him next.
For everyone else though, they’re locked into new opportunities that may not be fully considered. After a season of disappointments on the adoption front, Princess Carolyn finally gets a break when Sadie recants her decision and decides she wants to give Princess Carolyn the baby. Unable to break away from the Philbert “strangle hiatus” damage control, Princess Carolyn can’t go to Eden immediately, a move that leads Tracy to get real with her: “Look, if you can’t do this, don’t do this. … I’m just saying, not everyone is supposed to be a mother.”
Now, Tracy’s an awful person—as is her long-lost twin brother Stuart, a reveal that they’re both so unable to grasp it removes any doubt it’s true—so it’s hard to put much stock in her opinions over a character we’ve grown to empathize with heavily over the course of five seasons. But there’s an uncomfortable glimmer of truth in her words. Earlier Princess Carolyn told BoJack that getting a baby would make things less hectic for her, and even coming out of his opiate haze he could tell she was kidding herself. As much evidence as we’ve seen that she probably would be a great mother, what we haven’t seen is evidence that she’s willing to compromise her fast-talking manager career if necessary. It’s not impossible to have it all, but she’s never internalized it’s more difficult to have it all at once.
But a lot of that also comes from ingrained BoJack skepticism about happiness. So it’s all happening fast for her, and she’s gripped with terror for the next steps: what parent isn’t? And in keeping with the theory that it’s what you do that matters most, she made the choice to tear out of her office once Philbert was canceled and catch the first plane to Eden, rather than fight with Flip to keep the series alive. After seasons of heartbreak, seeing her hold the newborn baby girl Untitled Princess Carolyn Project is a genuinely sweet moment in a series that’s often in dire need of them. It’s not going to be an easy road, but when she had to choose between her career and her new family, she was able to make the hard call.
Someone clearly not doing the right thing is Mr. Peanutbutter, who still hasn’t admitted to Pickles that he and Diane hooked up in the wake of the Philbert premiere. Diane cautioned earlier this season that Mr. Peanutbutter was going to have to grow up, and after so long of dodging the angst that pervades the series, he’s now in a position where no show business analogy is going to get him away from his bad feelings. (Diane: “You cheating on your girlfriend is not the same as Rob Schneider’s surprise party!” Mr. Peanutbutter: “You’re right, this is way less sad and involves way more people.”) And rather than own up to it, he falls into a sequence of bad choices: another round of angry sex with Diane, blurting out the feelings he still has for her, and then proposing marriage to Pickles rather than admit the truth.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Mr. Peanutbutter said when he offered Diane a ride home and put the whole thing in motion. Truer words were never spoken, and they don’t make him look good. For so long we’ve seen him as more well-adjusted than BoJack, fully capable of making a bad decision but always cognizant of the possibility of hurting people. Now, because he can’t face up to the fact that he’s going to have to upset someone he cares about, he’s maneuvered himself into an impossible position, entering a fourth marriage with only the faintest understanding of why the first three failed. The only bit of good news is that the stage is set for a chaotic wedding storyline in a potential season six, because there’s no way that this is going to end well.
One can only imagine what Diane’s reaction will be to this, especially now that she—unlike her ex—is dwelling in her own awfulness. GirlCroosh is pivoting to video, because of course it is, and Stefani’s asking Diane to be their public face: “Every woman under 40 will tune in to hear what you have to say! And possibly women over 40, but we have no way of knowing, because they’re invisible to our site metrics.” But in a year where refusing to acknowledge a problem was rampant, Diane’s owning all of her failings and saying no one should listen to her. This has been a great season for Diane, beginning with her Vietnam excursion and continuing throughout her Philbert journey, spending a lot of time with how messed up she is without the Mr. Peanutbutter comfort zone. She’s gone through a lot and done things that weren’t exactly on the level, and all of it just makes her feel more realized. Maybe she’s a flaming garbage barge, but she’s also much more than that, even if she can’t see it.
And if she’s a flaming garbage barge, there’s another fire in the harbor, and the tide has brought it to her door. The renewal of the relationship between BoJack and Diane intertwined perfectly with the season’s themes, so of course he’d come to her doorstep and beg her to hold him accountable, and beg her to turn him into one of those men. That’s where we get that statement, the acknowledgment between the two that it doesn’t boil down to public opinion or arbitrary morals. It’s all about making a choice. And in that moment where he grabs into his coat for a fix, he makes one. He looks at that handful of pills, stops for a moment, and both his and Diane’s faces shift. And in the next scene, they’re in the car—headed for the same rehab facility Dr. Hu credited for his regeneration after Sarah-Lynn died.
No one’s naive enough to think that rehab is going to solve all of BoJack’s problems—not BoJack, not Diane, and certainly not the viewing audience. But there’s something in the acknowledgment and the decision, an internalization of all the lessons he’s been told over the years. Diane telling him you are the things you do. The jogger telling him you have to do it every day to get easier. Todd telling him that he is all the things that’s wrong with him. Cuddlywhiskers saying you have to give everything up to be happy. All of those things revolve around one theme, owning what you are and what you’ve done, devoid of self-pity or cries for attention. The old saying is that admitting you have a problem is the first step, and after dodging the implications time and time again, BoJack’s admitted it. And speaking of steps, if there is a season six of BoJack—unannounced as of time of writing, but I can’t fathom Netflix not renewing it—twelve steps to recovery is a readymade framework for a twelve-episode season.
Ever year, after walking through the emotional minefield of this series, stepping on landmines and jack-in-the-boxes in equal measure, I ask the question: is there a happy ending for BoJack Horseman? And in the final moments of “The Stopped Show,” Diane driving away from the facility to Anne Walker Farrell’s stunning direction and the gentle rhythm of “Under The Pressure” from The War on Drugs, it feels definitively like I should stop asking it. Because I don’t think it’s ever going to get an answer. If Diane’s right and there are no good guys or bad guys, it feels like there’s no happy endings or sad endings. BoJack Horseman may never give us what we want in that regard, any more than it’s going to give it to BoJack. I guess we’ll just have to be content with it being a contender for the best show on television.
- Seasonal Achievement in Voice Acting: In a season of sharing the wealth, we’re splitting the award like a family crest, and the metaphorical separated-at-birth twins are Stephanie Beatriz and Rami Malek. Gina was a great character, a working actress with a stoic mentality towards her second-tier career who allowed herself to open up and got scarred by the corrosive effect of getting close to BoJack Horseman. And Flip was every bit as pretentious and unpleasant as he needed to be to eviscerate the myth of the “genius” male showrunner.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: MADtv’s Daniele Gaither returns to voice chinchilla TV personality Biscuits Braxby, and it’s worlds apart from Gaither’s last notable appearance. Braxby does indeed make news fun, the sort of banter-filled Oprah-eqsue host who can make you feel like the center of the universe when she talks to you, even if you know deep down she’ll forget you the instant the conversation is over.
- The MSNBSea crawl has been missed this season. Highlights: Black Panther Slays At Box Office, Film Also A Success; Linkletter, Garfunkel Enthusiasts Open Museum Of Fine Arts; Owner of Blue Toyota Camry Left Lights On In MSNBSea Parking Lot; US Military Ends Refugee Crisis By Bombing All Refugees; EPA CPA Tapped For CVS CEO; Panda Gunman Eats Shoots Leaves.
- Flip’s suggestion for shopping Philbert around: “What about that website where you go to pay your parking tickets? Or, if we’re really desperate, TNT.”
- “You need us like a fish needs a bicycle in Portland, Austin, Boulder, or Minneapolis-St. Paul.” “You are out of order!” “Fine. Switch Boulder and Austin, and move the Twin Cities to the front.”
- “I’m about as deep in contractions as an apostrophe!”
- “You guys have a real flirty energy! Like Matt Lauer and those magazine cutouts he now interviews in his kitchen.”
- “Look, obviously men should not be engaging in predatory behavior at the office. But I’m worried now the pendulum’s going to swing too far in the opposite direction, and they’ll be held accountable for that behavior, which is not ideal.”
- “And now you’re here. And I hate you. But you’re my best friend. And you need me.”
- That’s it for season five! Thanks to everyone who followed along with my latest excursion into the unique world of BoJack Horseman. Here’s hoping we get to do it all again next year.
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