‘BoJack Horseman’ has done it once again. The critically acclaimed show has returned for a fifth series, and is as relevant, as intelligent, and as harrowing as ever.
But how much can a cartoon about a horse really teach you about life? Well, quite a lot actually, and this season delivers a lot of home truths we weren’t necessarily prepared for.
The conversations it starts are more complicated, nuanced, and nebulous, and the themes darker and more sensitive, and with that in mind, here are seven key life lessons we took away...
1. Alcohol and drug dependency is a long and winding road
At the season’s end, BoJack finally goes to rehab, something many audiences had been anticipating for a while. As the season builds, ghosts from BoJack’s past start to catch up with him, at a rate that he can’t quite handle – and it starts to emerge that drugs and alcohol are the cause of many of his problems, and the way he deals with their repercussions.
We’ve seen BoJack get better and worse in his journey with substance dependency, but in this season he hits rock bottom, right before he decides to get help. It’s a tumultuous journey, but it’s in many ways true to how addiction looks in real life.
2. How to be a good feminist
Episode four, ‘BoJack The Feminist’, satirically pokes fun at the fact that all talk and no action doesn’t necessarily make you a feminist hero. It points out that in Hollywood, or rather BoJack’s fictional town of ‘Hollywoo’, men in the spotlight get a lot of praise for saying getting ‘woke’, then proceeding to say ‘woke’ things that aren’t really that woke at all.
“It turns out the problem with feminism all along is it just wasn’t men doing it. We’re much less shrill,” BoJack says with an inexplicable lack of self-awareness. A not so subtle warning to the HeForShe’s among us.
3. Loss is an painful and inevitable part of life
One of the most reflective and heartbreaking episodes of the new series was ‘Free Churro’, where we see BoJack attend his mother’s funeral, and give a 20-minute eulogy that spanned the majority of the episode.
One thing that really comes across in this monologue is the confusion, the unfairness and the lack of closure that often comes with the death of a loved one. BoJack goes back and forth on how he feels about the death of his mother, who he has a tumultuous relationship with, and it seems like he’s unsure whether he has to like her in retrospect now she’s gone.
Even though this show often markets itself as a fun, whimsical cartoon, unlike many other shows in the format, the circumstances and the characters change, and the plot builds over time. At one point in the episode, BoJack realises most of his friends are now actually dead, and he’s realising that now both of his parents are gone, he’s probably next.
We realise that BoJack may never get closure on his relationship with his mum – their final interaction was confusing, and he realises, didn’t really conclude anything or give him any closure.
The episode is now already the fourth highest rated television episode of all time on IMDB.
4. Families, and relationships, don’t have to be conventional
In this series we see Princess Carolyn decide to adopt as a single mother, and Diane and Mr Peanutbutter also divorce, and work through how to still be friends.
In the preceding seasons, we’ve seen important topics related to family and relationships come up before, but this season it feels as if it’s really coming into its own by diving head first into them.
5. We learn about asexuality, and see it explored on screen in a brand new way
In this season, Todd starts to really interrogate his asexuality and works out how to craft romantic relationships that work for him (including a difficult escapade in which his asexual girlfriend fails to tell him that her whole family are obsessed with sex, until he actually meets them).
The show has widely been praised for the ground it has broken in its depiction of asexuality by asexual critics – particularly in relation to the way it explains the spectrum.
6. Getting in touch with your culture is a complex process
Diane goes to Hanoi to try and get a bit closer to her Vietnamese heritage, and documents what she’s learning from the process ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-style for a thinkpiece. She expects to ‘find herself’ but she quickly starts to feel alienated – she can’t speak the language, she doesn’t understand lots of elements of the culture, and ends up being more comfortable indulging in tourist activities.
When you’re born an ethnic minority in a majority-white country, what does the concept of ‘homeland’ start to symbolise? Diane’s been curious about it her entire life and hopes that it will help her understand herself more as a person – but it’s not necessarily what she expected.
This episode might hit home for any person of colour who has a complex relationship with the idea of your ‘heritage’.
7. Often there is no happy ending – but there’s not necessarily a sad one either
During his eulogy speech in ‘Free Churro’, BoJack comes to the realisation that in a TV show, things can’t conclude happily for long, otherwise the show ends, which is counter to the whole point. “You never get a happy ending because there’s always more show. I guess, until there isn’t.”
This partly touches on how he feels about his mother’s life – there was no conclusion. But it also sums up what ‘BoJack Horseman’ is all about, in a way. At the end of each season, we’re often left confused and unsure what to feel, in a strange, happy-tears mess of emotions. There’s rarely any closure, it’s just on to the next chapter.
Perhaps ‘BoJack’ is a bit like real life, in that it just keeps moving.
The entirety of ‘BoJack Horseman’ season five is now available on Netflix.