Major spoilers ahead for BoJack Horseman.
The end of an era is here. Netflix’s BoJack Horseman has come to a close after six incredible seasons. The animated comedy–which is more of a heightened, character-focused drama when it comes down to it–told the
tail tale of the titular horse-man, a former 90s sitcom star-turned-Hollywoo washout attempting to get his life together, and failing spectacularly at that over and over again. I recently wrote about the final season overall (admittedly in rather vague language so as not to spoil curious viewers about the spectacular storytelling in this last batch of episodes) but the series finale itself, “Nice While It Lasted”, deserves a closer inspection. Spoilers ahead.
Before we get into the final episode of BoJack Horseman, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help to set up the last half-hour storyline and provide some context for it. Despite spending most of Season 6 in rehab–either literally or, through mentoring and teaching and patching up fractured relationships, metaphorically–BoJack once again falls back into old habits. He survives a scandal from his past as the death of Sarah Lynn and his part to play in it comes to light; he actually fares better in that dramatic tangle than he does in a resulting $100 million lawsuit from the Xerox Corporation, leaving him homeless, destitute, and counting on the kindness of friends and strangers alike (which in Hollywoo amount to the same thing). One such ghost from his past–Angela, the former network exec in charge of Horsin’ Around–calls him in and offers him a backend buyout for an edited re-air of those sitcom episodes, which will run without his name, likeness, voice, or anything related to him ever appearing in them. It’s a check he has to take, even if it means essentially wiping out the only meaningful thing he ever did in his life. Unsurprisingly, he falls off the wagon at Angela’s behest, leading to a bender that finds BoJack breaking into his former home, watching the DVDs of Horsin’ Around (including his never-before-seen audition tape with former friend and colleague Herb Kazzaz), and ultimately going for a late-night inebriated swim…
There’s a good chance that many BoJack fans out there will posit that the series’ penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down”, should have been the final one. That episode saw BoJack in a dream state / death transition conversing with influential characters from his past, some of whom he never actually met. And while certainly cathartic (and downright horrifying at times, featuring some standout animation and effects work), the episode ends with a question mark: Is BoJack Horseman actually dead?
If the writers had gone all Sopranos with it, that’s where we would have been left dangling: A final shot of the title character floating facedown in the pool of his former Hollywoo home, a la Sunset Blvd. But seeing as Raphael Bob-Waksberg opted to go for more of a finale befitting The Shield, this was neither BoJack’s metaphorical sunset nor swan-person song. The finale, “Nice While It Lasted”, starts out with a rapid-fire montage that catches us up on the state of things and plays with our expectations a bit. There’s a series of teases meant to toy with us before telling us that, nope, BoJack is alive. He was found mostly drowned in the pool of his former home by the precocious son of the family now living there; that kid went on to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame for coining the “BoJeebies” he felt upon finding the failing if not flailing celebrity. But that’s just the tip of the insult iceberg; not only is this kid getting the spotlight as BoJack is relegated to a minor headline in the tabloids, the revived horse-man is then convicted by a jury of his peers (which is one of many “pause and inspect” scenes in the series overall) and sentenced to 14 months in a super-max prison. That penalty seems pretty harsh for drunken breaking and entering, but it’s also penance for a litany of sins that BoJack has tallied up over the years.
Prison is an interesting place to put BoJack. Much like The Shield put the villainous Vic Mackey behind a desk in that series finale, BoJack Horseman puts their own antihero in a contained, controlled space where he shouldn’t be able to do too much harm to himself or others. In fact, BoJack leads a group of theatrically inclined prisoners in a production of Hedda Gabbler; “
It’s important to note that the only characters who have dialogue in the series’ finale are the core members of the BoJack story: Bojack himself (Will Arnett), Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), and Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie). They appear in that order, and it’s important that they do. These are the people who are closest to BoJack, the ones he’s hurt the most and the ones who are always there to support him regardless of his behavior. And they’re presented in the order of difficulty in patching up their relationship.
Take Mr. Peanutbutter, the unfailingly optimistic and likeable dog-man, even when his own unaware misogyny gets him into hot water. He and BoJack are best friends by circumstances only, not on any deep emotional level. Mr. Peanutbutter is there to pick up BoJack from prison–just as he had been there to give the penniless performer a place to stay, previously–get him a new suit (or two), and escort him to the wedding where he promises not to leave his side. Except Mr. Peanutbutter makes a side trip to unveil a new HollywooB sign to his adoring fanbase in response to his new hit show “Birthday Dad”, and he does leave BoJack’s side at the wedding, almost immediately. In the car ride there, however, the two shared a moment of self-reflection, a progressive step forward in becoming functioning adults, and that’s honestly all we need for resolution between these two.
When it comes to Princess Carolyn, we need a lot more. She and BoJack have been through a lot together, perhaps the most of all the character pairings on the show, even if much of it was done off-screen and in their past. Turns out it’s Princess Carolyn’s wedding (or rather a cleverly engineered networking event for top-tier HollywooB talent and executives disguised as a wedding) to super-assistant Judah Mannowdog that BoJack will be attending, with well-founded fears and anxieties of somehow fouling the whole thing up. He doesn’t, which is a nice sigh of relief. Instead, the two talk about the positive buzz surrounding BoJack’s last project, “The Horny Unicorn”, though Princess Carolyn cuts him off before he gets too carried away with ideas of a comeback. They share a dance, chatting about how funny it would be if a sort of “sitcom disaster” happened and only BoJack could save the day, a conversation that turns more earnest by the minute. They’re each admitting to the other than their time together was meaningful, but it’s come to an end, definitely romantically and probably professionally. They’ve grown apart, and Princess Carolyn is more capable now than ever before. It’s the closing of one chapter and, rather than the starting of another, acts as a fork in the road where they’re concerned.
At this point, when he’s essentially deprived of sitcom drama in the real world and a chance to play the hero, BoJack’s dark tendencies could easily be influencing him, so it’s a nice reprieve when Todd comes to rescue him and take him out of the social scene for a spell. The two watch the party’s fireworks display while on the beach. Todd, as childlike as he has ever been throughout this series, rides on BoJack’s shoulders for a time. But in a moment that shows how much he’s grown up, Todd states an astounding revelation to BoJack, something he discovered within the lyrics of the “Hokey Pokey”, of all things. (I love that a philosophical underpinning of BoJack Horseman comes down to an interpretation of this silly song.) Turns out, it’s not “all about” the Hokey Pokey itself; it’s all about “turning yourself around.” A surprisingly poignant thought, considering the source and person dispensing it. We’re left knowing that Todd, having grown up a lot this season while coming to terms with his own parents, can survive on his own without BoJack’s help or hindrance, and that’s a nice bit of closure for the two.
So it’s to the final meeting between BoJack and Diane that all our hopes for the future of BoJack Horseman rest. These two have been the focus of a lot of hope and heartbreak, both showing incredible potential and the uncanny ability to squander that potential at seemingly every turn. They’ve betrayed each other, supported each other, loved and hated each other. Their conversations have been the dialogue-heavy philosophy dumps that are basically speaking directly to the viewer in order to air out the churning, turbid process of self-realization and understanding, of coming to terms. But while BoJack’s been busy trying and failing to do just that by repeating the same cycle of self-destruction, Diane’s broken free of that cycle. It took moving to two drastically different cities from L.A. to do so, it took her taking a chance on herself by starting a memoir but finishing a middle-grade detective story instead, and it took a leap of faith for her to date (and then marry!) a freelance cameraman with a teenage son from a previous marriage. LA Diane is a far cry from Houston Diane. And that means she’s too far gone for her and the same ol’ BoJack to be tethered together anymore.
But one last thread acted as their mooring line: Before BoJack’s bender led him to fall into the pool, unconscious, he managed to call Diane. He went against type by leaving a drunken voicemail, one that basically blamed Diane for not answering, for not saving him, and implicating that whatever happened next was her fault. She takes him to task for that, for the pain and terror and guilt she felt over the following hours as she was unable to get ahold of him, to contact him or anyone else in his vicinity, for having to find out about his fate through the news headlines and tabloids.
This was the last and latest example of how BoJack wields power and influence over the women in his life whether he’s conscious of it or not. And Diane severed that conduit by addressing the problem head on and then moving past it by living her best life in Houston as a married woman and successful author. So even as BoJack shared a silly story about prison life, a story that the two of them would have held onto as a sort of shared experience in times past, it’s now empty, shallow; you can feel the two of them drifting away in opposite directions. Or maybe Diane is drifting and BoJack is still standing still, awaiting his return to prison before he can even think of moving forward. That feeling is reinforced by the long, painful final shot of BoJack and Diane, a tight focus on their faces as they’re sitting on the rooftop against a starry night sky. BoJack says the final words of the series:
“Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this was the last time we talked to each other?”
They never look at each other at the same time and the space between them is now unfathomable. Catherine Feeny‘s “Mr. Blue” plays over the final credits; the song’s lyrics say everything the scene cannot. And the series ends the only way it could have, not with an end or a new beginning, but a continuation of a life of highs and lows, until that life has finally run its course. FIN for BoJack Horseman.
I told you that I love you
Please believe me<
I have to go now
Darling don’t be angry
I know that you’re tired
I know that you’re sour and sick and sad
For some reason
So I’ll leave you with a smile
Kiss you on the cheek
And you will call it treason
That’s the way it goes
Some days a fever comes at you
Without a warning
And I can see it in your face
You’ve been waiting to break
Since you woke up this morning
Don’t hold your head so low that you can’t see the sky
It ain’t so long since you were flying high
I told you that I love you
Please believe me