TW: Article Contains Mentions of Abuse and Physical Violence.
I became a fan of Bojack Horseman when my brother told me I should check the show out. Before then I had seen the ad’s on Netflix for this weird animal based cartoon series every so often, but I wrote it off as one of those odd animated shows Netflix was working very hard to make me watch.
I was hooked after Will Arnett’s gruff voice, and Bojack’s foreign horse/human body graced the screen. He was apparently drunk, and a hot mess. Two things I could definitely relate too, I marathoned the entire series in one sitting. What started off as a deft satire on Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the society that is built around its celebrities, and films; became a dark and viscerally uncomfortable story about a horseman, his troubled childhood, and his unraveling present.
Netflix released season 5 of Bojack Horseman this month, and it continues on its grand tradition of us, the audience watching as the lives of its characters spiral, into deeply human experiences. When I watched this season, I was taken aback by how emotional every episode is. Several storylines this season stuck out for me. From Princess Carolyn’s struggle with adoption, and juggling her job; To Todd coming to terms with his new sexuality and how that affects his want for a partner.
Watching Bojack gave me conflicting feelings, feelings I think the writers of the show wanted to stir up in viewers. Bojack is a self-defeating self-saboteur. He works hard to win over people, gain their trust, and create excellent opportunities for himself and then in one swift moment he destroys it all. I identified with this side of Bojack, as a writer I suffer from imposter syndrome, which is defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” I often get in my own way, and lose out of experiences or don’t even try to put myself out there. Watching Bojack Horseman is often like having a television show drag you for all your weaknesses. But my confliction comes with how incredibly dark this season became.
Bojack is the character you hate to love. He is a narcissist, egomaniac, sociopath, that doesn’t care about anyone, and that includes himself. But the one thing I wasn’t ready to add to the list is an abuser. In season 5 Bojack in a drug-fueled rage takes a scene of him choking his co-star and lover Gina, and makes it a reality. It isn’t until the crew, and Mr.Peanutbutter pulls him off that we see how violent his intentions were. When watching this moment I was in shock, I was sure the show was going to go that extra step and make Bojack the villain he has been spiraling towards since the 4th season and have him kill Gina.
Bojack didn’t remember choking out his co-star, and now that videos of the incident are going viral it’s up to Princess Carolyn to try and clean up the mess for the sake of their show. Bojack Horseman does an excellent job of mirroring the complacency and compulsion the industry has to protect abusers to make sure their bottom line stays intact. Bojack is handled with kid gloves, Princess Carolyn won’t let him see the video and reassures him that the footage isn’t that bad, while she schedules a PR visit with Bojack and his victim/co-star Gina on a talk show. The main focus of everyone is to cover up the incident until Bojack sees the footage and tells Gina he will come clean. This moment is pivotal, I thought, “Yes, take responsibility for being a shitty guy!” But then Gina remarked on how her career was finally taking off because of the show they are on. How people finally started to pay attention to her acting, but “All of that goes away if I become ‘the girl that was choked by Bojack,’ […] I don’t want you to be the most notable thing that happened to me.”
In that one moment, Bojack Horseman summed up a choice no victim should have to make, but a decision that is made daily. If victims speak up and name their accuser, demand justice, they are often branded with a scarlet letter of sorts. Tossed into the shadow of their abuse and no longer able to do the work they did before. Just think about all the countless victims in the #metoo movement who decided to stay quiet for the same reasons as Gina did. Gina had to choose between having the agency to control how the public and Hollywood viewed her; or justice, which is the messed up reality of the world we live in.
It’s not a topic many shows will step so boldly into, and the fact that this animated show from Netflix is taking a leap into this territory is exciting and emotionally exhausting to watch. Bojack Horseman is a show that everyone should be paying attention too. It’s funny, insightful, smart, and cathartic. Season 5 is a dark ride that has the shows trademark humor and levity sprinkled in. In a way, Bojack’s descent into darkness mirrors the world we find ourselves in today. Hopefully, Bojack finds his way back into the light in season 6 and brings us with him.