*Major spoilers ahead for BoJack Horseman*
How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? As far as hit animated series go, it’s in a class of its own. It’s not The Simpsons, the long-running (and still-running) acclaimed
FOX Disney episodic sitcom that focuses on the immortal title family and their many adventures in and around Springfield. It’s not a kids cartoon, either of the action-adventure sort or the friends-first variety, which tend to end after a victory over an evildoer or a milestone of friendship. But BoJack Horseman is closer to character-focused live-action drama series like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. That’s so rare as to be, arguably, unprecedented. So, the conclusion of BoJack Horseman marks the first time such a series has had to wrap up its story in a meaningful, emotionally satisfying, and cathartic way. Did it live up to the challenge?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg‘s creation may have started its life as a hard-hearted horse-man has-been whose hijinks in Hollywoo had long been forgotten, but Will Arnett and the writing team suffused enough pathos into the hard-to-love character over six seasons to make viewers forget he was anything but a real-life, flesh-and-blood character. BoJack Horseman, faded sitcom star, feels like a real person because he’s treated as such, as are Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), and, even the most cartoonish character of them all, Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul). We’ve seen Horseman’s story in the real world, in the tabloids, in the blogs, in the industry trades and entertainment shows about has-been celebrities and their latest spectacular failings. And yet we’ve also seen those self-same celebrities make comebacks, go through the revolving door of rehab facilities, and then rise and fall and rise again in TV specials, feature film reboots, reality TV shows, and anniversary reunions. All of that–all of it–is relentlessly covered by the media and obsessive superfans, so that it becomes more and more difficult for celebrities at the center of that storm to keep their sanity, and harder for us to blame them when they inevitably lose it.
BoJack Horseman tracks all of that but keeps the storytelling centered on its title character. There are times that we love to hate him and just as many when we hate to love him, to root for him, to hope he pulls through. Bob-Waksberg and the writers know this, and they know that their audience knows this, which is why the final episodes of the series lovingly toy with viewers: Will BoJack find redemption or will his past finally catch up with him? Will he manage to overcome his tendency to be his own worst enemy or will he finally have one drink too many, one pill too many, one wrong decision too many? (And here’s your last spoiler warning.)
Thankfully, BoJack Horseman Season 6 Part 2 delivers all of the above. We see BoJack clean and sober for real for the first time since we’ve known him. We see what his life post-Hollywoo could actually look like if he just manages to line all his duck(people)s in a row. But we also see what it’s like for BoJack to finally be held accountable for his past actions, just when he’s turning his life around for the better, and how he reacts to all of that. Not surprisingly, those revelations come with some hard truths, a painful process to come to grips with them, and, ultimately, life-or-death consequences. How that plays out is a must-watch experience.
But outside of BoJack’s story, we also get satisfying conclusions for the arcs of Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter, Princess Carolyn, and Todd. All of them have played integral parts in BoJack’s story while also existing outside of his sphere of influence. They are, by and large, good people, relatively speaking, and the show rewards them for that fact. Diane gets perhaps the best stand-out episode of this season in terms of animation in the episode “Good Damage”, in a race with the Princess Carolyn-focused ep. But the best episode overall of this season goes to the series’ penultimate story, “The View from Halfway Down.” It’s this tale that brings all of BoJack’s drama so far to a reckoning in a familiar heartbreaking fashion that the show has become known for. Then it’s all down to the finale, “Nice While It Lasted”, to tie everything up with a pretty but imperfect bow. Like everything else in BoJack Horseman, the story doesn’t end on either a super uplifting feel-good note or one of downwardly spiraling depression, but something in the middle, something that feels real. So while it’s not exactly satisfying in terms of a dopamine rush, the final moments are rewarding for those who’ve stuck with the characters through thick and thin.
How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? You stay true to your core cast of characters, treating them like flesh-and-blood (horse)people who just happened to live in a heightened world. You follow their stories so far to their logical conclusions, with no more hyperbole than can be found in the real world and without giving into either sympathetic schmaltz or nihilistic cynicism. You find a middle ground, a milestone that ties off the story and acts as a pause before it carries itself forward on its own momentum somewhere off the screen. That is the only way BoJack Horseman–perhaps the greatest animated drama series ever created–could have ended, and that’s exactly the way it does.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent