The first half of the final season takes the viewer on a quietly optimistic path, before punching them in the gut in the last episode.
In the era of “cancel culture,” we argue often about what constitutes a proper apology. There’s the obvious “don’t use the words ‘but,’ or ‘if,’” don’t try to make excuses for yourself, acknowledge that what you did was wrong, etc. But then there’s the more difficult question: even if you mean it, is there a time when “I’m sorry” (even if you mean it) just isn’t enough? Does it absolve you from having to be held accountable for your sins? Does forgiving ourselves matter if the wronged party can’t (or won’t) forgive us?
The fifth season of BoJack Horseman concluded with an at-the-end-of-her-rope Diane (Alison Brie) dropping off BoJack (Will Arnett) at rehab. It wouldn’t seem likely that BoJack would be able to manage detoxing, let alone rehab, but surprisingly he does, albeit staying several months instead of several weeks and almost slipping in his sobriety while trying to “help” yet another troubled young woman. While struggling to figure out who he really is when he’s not drunk or high, the “new” BoJack is more serious and insightful, and, most importantly, better aware of the destructive patterns in his life and how to avoid them.
Matching the change in BoJack’s personality is a change in the opening credits. Now, instead of drifting through his current life, he drifts though his past, haunted by the memories of Sara Lynn, Herb Kazzaz, and, of course, his mother, whose ghost seems to linger over everything. The credits, if not the first half of the season in its entirety, act as a sort of primer to remind the audience of every single one of the awful, selfish things BoJack has done, whether it was because he was angry, needy, or profoundly insecure. They still end the same way as the old credits, though, with BoJack at the bottom of his pool, as his friends look on in concern.
Speaking of his friends, they’re all on similar paths to figuring out how to be happy, if they can just get out of their own ways. If you wondered if Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) is really cut out to be a mother, no, not really, not at first, at least. We learn that, some six weeks after adopting her adorable porcupine baby, she hasn’t even named her yet, and is shocked and disappointed that the workaholic lifestyle she maintained before motherhood is no longer sustainable. Though all the characters would be adverse to admitting that they’re similar to each other, one common thread is their inability to say no, and a desperate, pathological need for approval. By the end of the season, Princess Carolyn has at least allowed herself to take one weekday afternoon off per month to spend with her baby (and eventually gives her a proper name), but it comes after no small amount of agonizing over being forgotten in an industry that sells “doing it all” as aspirational, and then doesn’t allow you to do any of it.
Meanwhile, Diane, whose idealism in season one mutated into a dour self-righteousness that is damn near insufferable, begins a relationship with Guy (Lakeith Stanfield), the bull cameraman who works with her on the empty feel good stories she reports on for the pop culture website Girl Croosh (“Crooshin’ is hard to define, but I also don’t know it when I see it”). When Girl Croosh is bought by sinister conglomerate Whitewhale, a combination of the worst aspects of Disney, Time/Warner, and Amazon (“Everywhere you are, that’s where we’ll be”), Diane quits writing for them and decides to make a fresh start with Guy in Chicago. Despite getting an advance to write the collection of essays she’s always wanted to write (called Just One More Thing and Then I’ll Shut Up Forever), she immediately falls into a depression.
As much as Diane has become a deeply unlikable character (though for this writer that’s as much projection as anything else), this is the most poignant and deeply cutting subplot of the season so far. Guy’s gentle but no-nonsense approach to Diane’s self-destructive stubbornness, which exhibits itself in her refusing to buy a coat when she first arrives in Chicago, is something she’s never experienced before. Usually she’s abandoned, or, worse, enabled, by friends who care about her but aren’t able to lift themselves far enough out of their own misery in order to help her get through hers. Guy might be the first person who’s cared enough about Diane to see her as a person, and not a crutch or a sounding board, and by the end of the season, like with Princess Carolyn finally taking some time away from work for her little family, it seems to be getting through to her.
BoJack, after five seasons, is almost likable now, and, if nothing else, seems far more sincere than he has in the past about getting straight and holding himself accountable for how he’s hurt people.
In a far weaker subplot, the perpetually cheerful, not terribly bright Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) admits to his fiancée, the very young and extremely online Pickles (Hong Chau), that he cheated on her with Diane. Pickles eventually forgives him, after they agree that the only way he can make it up to her is if she’s allowed to sleep with someone else, which she does — 32 other people, to be exact.
As charming as Tompkins’ voice work is, Mr. Peanutbutter has always seemed to be the least essential supporting character on BoJack Horseman, serving largely as a sunny and playful flip side to the moody and sardonic BoJack. Here, it’s just more of the “can you believe this guy?” shtick, particularly when he inadvertently becomes the “National Face of Depression,” going on a speaking engagement tour with teen pop idol Joey Pogo to discuss something he knows absolutely nothing about (which is, frankly, everything). If the second half of the season just has Mr. Peanutbutter away on tour, it wouldn’t be a great loss to the show.
And then there’s sweet, guileless man child Todd (Aaron Paul), the MVP of the series (though Guy might give him a run for this season). Todd isn’t depressed so much as lost at sea, failing upward from one project to the next, but never finding real stability, or even a place to call his own. After we learn a little bit about his background (and meet his stern, practical stepfather), he eventually (and unexpectedly) finds something he’s good at: taking care of Princess Carolyn’s baby. Oh, and starting an asexual dating app, where “no one else is on it yet, but when they are, I’ll be ready,” and which offers the best sight gag of the season, involving Todd’s profile photo.
Everybody seems to be making at least incremental steps towards living happier, healthier lives, but none so much as BoJack, who makes amends, cuts his hair and lets his natural gray grow in, and decides to get out of Hollywoo altogether, taking a job as a drama teacher at Wesleyan, where Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla) is a student. He’s finally, for perhaps the first time in his adult life, making good choices.
And then, in the last episode, all too appropriately timed with BoJack finding unexpected peace in a church service about forgiveness, we learn that a whole lot of bad choices, the very worst choices he’s made, are about to make themselves known again, all at once. This time, merely saying he’s sorry, even if he really means it, might not be enough. He’s just done too much harm.
As compared to the absurd humor in previous seasons, season six (for the first half at least) is more subdued, and with considerably less focus on the entertainment industry itself, save for a running gag about an assistants strike that sends the entire city into chaos. It’s all about the characters now, and how rarely we see the big picture when it comes to other people’s lives. Nothing is what it seems, and no one has it together, and all you can really do is get out of your own ass and just try to do the best you can. “I wasted so many years being miserable, because I assumed that was the only way to be,” BoJack writes in a letter to Diane. “But I don’t want to do that anymore.”
BoJack, after five seasons, is almost likable now, and, if nothing else, seems far more sincere than he has in the past about getting straight and holding himself accountable for how he’s hurt people. Nevertheless, there may be no getting past the pain and misery he’s caused other people, and the emotional fallout that resulted from it. BoJack is about to understand what William Faulkner meant when he wrote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
P.S. On a more cheerful note, if you’re reading this and wondering “Will I see Character Actress Margo Martindale again?” don’t worry, you will.
Part 1 of season 6 of BoJack Horseman premieres on Netflix October 25th