What I love about “BoJack Horseman” is how morally gray everything is. There’s no clear black and white, or good or evil—basically, the ethical binary is non-existent. This Netflix show about anthropomorphic animals never fails to candidly talk about reality shows, the #MeToo movement, call-out culture, and even Gen Z celebrities trying to get clout by being a mental health advocate.
The show talks about all of these in their final season. But most importantly, this season something you and I barely think about: In this culture of clapping back and dragging someone to filth, where does forgiveness stand?
Following “BoJack Horseman” from its first season to half of its finale, loyal viewers know how much of an antihero this former sitcom star really is. He’s an alcoholic narcissist, an emotional manipulator, a sexual predator, and a product of an abusive household. BoJack sounds like a walking Amber alert waiting to happen. So where’s the hero part in the antihero title?
The heart of the show isn’t in seeing BoJack as a helpless piece of shit. Rather, it’s all about his quest and desperate plea to be a better person. In a review, The Verge brought up an impactful moment from the first season: BoJack barging in on his friend/memoir’s ghostwriter Diane Nguyen’s Q&A panel. During this panel, he corners her in public and asks: “Am I a good person?” She responds with a soul-crushing silence.
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The show’s debut season ends with BoJack deciding to go for a run and better himself. A wise monkey then approaches him and gives him advice that cements the show’s core. “Every day it gets a little easier…but you gotta do it every day—that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” Whether this monkey was talking about running or life, we’ll never know. But his advice seems to fit BoJack’s quest for moral good as the show went on for six years.
As “BoJack Horseman” put out more episodes, it became harder to keep rooting for this antihero. Just last season, he assaulted his female co-star during a bad high. On top of that, he almost had intercourse with a minor, who happens to be his teenage sweetheart’s child; he also had a sexual relationship with Sarah Lynn, his former child co-star who saw him as a father figure.
Can a problematic person be problematic forever?
That doesn’t end the long list of BoJack’s problematic behavior. He refuses to take the blame for his own mistakes; his self-destructive tendencies further hurt the people caring for him, and he tends to rationalize his bad behavior. It got so bad that his zany sidekick/oldest friend, Todd Chavez, snapped at him completely during season three. “You are all the things that are wrong with you! It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened in your career, or when you were a kid! It’s you!” Todd tells our titular character.
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In season five, Diane scolds BoJack for embracing his new show “Philbert’s” philosophy: “We’re all terrible, so we’re all okay.”
But in the season, this is not what BoJack embraced. What he does embrace is growth. And as overused as this term is, he also embraces self-care.
He placed himself in rehab and fought relapses. In return, he helped people around him during rehab to get better. He’s more empathetic now and has learned that not everything is about him. Most importantly, his viewpoint in life changed. It’s no longer we’re all terrible, so we’re all okay. It changed to we’re all terrible, but every day is a fight to change for the better.
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The first half of season six ends with BoJack turning into a professor and sharing a wholesome moment with his frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter. There’s notable progress in BoJack’s emotional growth, but there’s also the fact that his sister Hollyhock is about to find out about his statutory rape story from a guy she just met.
BoJack’s road to becoming a better person is better but bleaker. Long story short, it’s complicated. As an intersectional feminist viewer, I’m not overjoyed about how he hasn’t addressed his sexual misconduct, especially since he scarred a young woman’s life for good. But as American auteur Orson Welles said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends of course on where you stop your story.”
With or without call-out culture, empathy and forgiveness are things that a lot of us seemed to have forgotten about.
“The sixth season shows that change is possible for BoJack, as he begins to make amends for the things he’s done, face addiction, and try to forgive himself,” writes The Verge. Their last season also begs the question: Can a problematic person be problematic forever?
Right now, the way I see it, it’s unjust that BoJack gets to move on when his victim has not. Hopefully, the last half of the season addresses this. I’m all for growth and learning to forgive. With or without call-out culture, empathy and forgiveness are things that a lot of us seemed to have forgotten about.
But it is confusing. It is hard, and often, unfair. The Verge also asks: Is he a good person at heart, or is it too late for him? What I’ve learned from BoJack is not only that morality is gray as hell. I’ve also learned that it’s important to realize that the road to becoming a better person is complicated. It’s rocky and it’s not a one-way street.
Like true self-care, it is ugly and it involves facing our worst demons. There is no clear right or wrong. And in this culture of self-righteousness and dragging people, we have to make room for empathy and the possibility of growth in others—even within the ones who seem irredeemable.
Still from Netflix