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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TV Review: Bojack Horseman Season 4 and The Struggle to Find Meaning

"Oh my god, I'm the problem!"
Starring: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Allison Brie
Created By:  Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Streaming/Airing On: Netflix
Original Release: September 8, 2017
Content Warning: 
This post contains discussion on suicide, suicidal ideation, and mental illness.
For the last couple of years, Bojack Horseman has been a show that never fails to send me sailing into another depressive, dissociative episode. However, even though I know the consequences to delving into a show like this one, I keep watching because I don't think I've related to a character as much as I have to Bojack. And that's honestly what worries me the most...
 Set in the world of Hollywoo, a world filled with anthomorphic animals and humans alike, the show's titular protagonist is a horse named Bojack (Will Arnett) that is just trying to figure out who he is and what the hell he's doing. For the past three seasons, Bojack's has gone through hell trying to reclaim the fame he once had in the nineties as a famous TV actor. However, through starring in the movie of his dreams and even becoming nominated for an Oscar for that performance, Bojack still finds that he feels nothing. Season Three began with him stating that if he was to win that Oscar, he finally would have meaning in his life, but he soon realizes that there's much more to life than fame because before he's an award-winning, television star, he's Bojack and having to deal with yourself and the things that you've done is honestly one of the hardest things to accomplish, especially when you feel like you're not that great of a person. During Season Three's episode "That's Too Much, Man", Bojack and Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal), who is also a famous actress/singer that Bojack views as a daughter-figure, come together to acknowledge their faults and ponder their existence after a drug-fueled bender where she eventually dies in his arms. This was Bojack's breaking point and Season 4 picks up during the aftermath of her death.
Choosing to begin the season without Bojack was a smart decision. Even though we're caught up with everyone else's endeavors in the wake of his absence, we're still met with so many more questions. The first thought that always crosses my mind with every season premiere rolls around is about if Bojack has killed himself. I was almost very certain that he'd actually done it this time, but when he appeared he was the still the same narcissistic, self-obsessed horse-man that he's been for the last three seasons. However, I was all-too relieved and excited to see a familiar face that I could directly relate to amongst the likes of Diane (Allison Brie), Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) and Todd (Aaron Paul). But even though we meet Bojack again as the same man he's always been, this time he is on a different mission: to become a better person. The largest challenge for Bojack over the course of the last three seasons was comprehending the ramifications of his actions and fully feeling remorse for them. Whether your coping mechanism to feeling bad is by heavy drinking or drug use like Bojack's or self-destructively pushing everyone away via hostility and reveling in your own sadness and succumbing to self-harm like mine, doing any of those things always seems to be much easier than admitting your sorry or that you're wrong because, in turn, that admission would make you a bad person. Julia Alexander of Polygon writes that:
"BoJack is obsessed with himself and his own sadness, desperate to figure out why he feels so hollow. He wants to be both loved and left alone, adored by millions while sitting at home, stewing in his own self-hatred and wallowing in his paralyzing self-doubt."
And the thing that is so different about Season 4 from any other season is that even though everyone around him, including the audience, has already realized this about Bojack, he's finally realized and accepted this fact himself. During an episode ironically titled "Stupid Piece of Shit", Bojack says this to himself. "You're a piece of shit, but at least I know I'm a piece of shit, that makes me better than those other pieces of shit who don't know they're pieces of shit." Though the quote didn't really resonate with me the first time I watched it, it finally clicked yesterday. 
Yesterday, I sat in my car with the windows rolled up for a very long time. As I usually do when I get depressed, my first instance was to Google "how long does it take for you to suffocate in a car with the windows rolled up." That, unfortunately, takes quite a while, so my thoughts then moved to crashing my car into a tree, slitting my wrists in a bathtub, or burning myself with cigarettes. Though these thoughts may be alarming to most, they've become quite a comforting normality to me, but this time, they felt so comforting I almost went through with them. After hours of contemplating how I planned to end my life, I dialed the Crisis Hotline. Though I've never done this before and I don't know what prompted me to do it in the first place, I don't regret doing so. After describing my predicament and chatting for a couple of hours on the phone with a delightful young man who I will not name, he told something very similar to what Bojack says to himself. He told me that the best step forward in managing your mental health issues is recognizing that you have them in the first place. I've always been very self-aware when it comes to my mental illness and the instability of my emotions that come with it. However, until yesterday, like Bojack, I've always related them to myself and people like me, but not to everyone else around me who has to deal with me. And even more so, even though it's easy to recognize when I've entered a state of reveling in my own self-hatred and self-doubt (and even Bojack's), it's very hard to see just how I got there in the first place; how the mind braces itself for the fear of abandonment, loneliness, and disappointment with self-destruction instead of clarity or hope. Bojack finally realizing this is the first step in the right direction. However, meeting Hollyhock and reuniting with his mother, while he is attempting to better himself sends him spiraling back down the rabbit hole he's been trying to climb out of for the last three seasons.
The introduction of Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), a girl who presents herself as Bojack's daughter, was also an interesting turn of events, not only for the show itself, but for Bojack himself because now he's found something to give him meaning. Though she states that she's only come to Bojack to confirm his paternity and find her mother, some of the show's best moments come from the time that these two spend together on-screen. The similarities they share are almost uncanny. Not only are they both lazy and insecure about their own cosmic existence, but they both find something in each other, regardless of their faults. The only times that we've ever seen Bojack display any sort of organic happiness is when he is playing a father-figure to someone, even though he's not the best at it. The difference between him being a father-figure to Sarah Lynn and him being a father-figure to Hollyhock is that Sarah Lynn is bound to him of her own volition alone. Like Hollyhock, she also chooses to be around Bojack, regardless of his faults. She can leave him whenever she wants and often does. While Hollyhock is bound to Bojack in a comparable manner as well, she is also bound to Bojack by blood which he finds comfort in. This is especially since she's the only member of his family that's accepted him for who he is and more importantly, relates to him. Right before "Stupid Piece of Shit" ends, Hollyhock asks Bojack if the "tiny voice" in your head that tells you that you're worthless, stupid, and ugly goes away when you're older. Even though Bojack lies to her and tells her that it does, it's a very quiet and refreshing moment that highlights the fact that not only are these two characters one-and-the-same, but it resonates the idea that, regardless of whatever you're going through, you're not alone. 
Putting Hollyhock aside because they're so similar, this season really spotlights the fact that Bojack isn't alone in his struggle to find happiness. Although most of the other characters' struggles to find purpose appears have often just felt like filler episodes that almost fade into the background. This time around they're revealed to be some of the most beautiful and devastating parts of the show when you compare them to how these characters were portrayed in previous seasons. For example, Todd has always strived to rid himself of his toxic friendship with Bojack. Though we've seen Bojack hurt him time-and-time again, it was only last season that Todd had finally had enough with Bojack's selfish actions. However, Bojack only does this out of the fear that Todd will leave him. In his final efforts to stop Todd from leaving, he unironically does the very thing that hurts Todd the most and Todd says this: 
"You can’t keep doing shitty things, and then feel bad about yourself like that makes it okay! You need to be better! … No! No, BoJack, just stop. 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 to you in your career, or when you were a kid. It’s you. All right? It’s you."
This hurt my feelings! While this probably stems from my own narcissism, it really hit home for me because every time I've ever hurt someone, it is my own fault for not acknowledging that I've done whatever it is. It is my own fault for doing the things that I've done and letting the past control my life, but it's so goddamn hard not to. However, someone can only keep being abused by someone they love for so long. Once Todd finally let's go of Bojack in Season 4, he's free to begin his own life and even though he's struggled with doing his own thing and being himself in the past, it's even harder now that he doesn't have Bojack to blame for bringing him down. All along, he's never really known who he was and dealing with Bojack not only inhibited him from being able to do so, but it's ultimately revealed that it was also an excuse for him to not have to. 
This also applies to Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, who have their share of marital problems as well as their own internal issues that they have chosen to ignore for other external problems like those involving Bojack. Diane struggles not only with her own cosmic existence like Bojack, but she struggles with being understood by everyone else around her. She's frustrated with how the world treats women, it's gun laws and even the environment and though she voices her frustrations constantly, she still feels like she's not being heard, most importantly by her husband, Mr. Peanutbutter, who is solely focused on pleasing everyone else. Although Mr. Peanutbutter hasn't reached his breaking point yet (though I fear he will soon), last season both Todd and Bojack hit their's and this season, Diane has hit her own. In "Underground" after Mr. Peanutbutter's starts supporting fracking, which results their whole house collapsing, trapping everyone, including Bojack, Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter and a whole gaggle of various celebrities (such as a hilarious version of Jessica Biel, played by herself, and Zach Braff) underground. By being stuck underground without the likes of anything to distract her from her problems, she is confronted by everything she's both feared and been frustrated with thus far and it is then that she has her breakdown. Even though she's tried so hard to feel otherwise by thrusting herself into her work and marriage, similarly to Bojack's attempt to find solace in his fame, it hasn't worked and that's primarily because she would rather live in denial and pretend to be happy instead of just doing so. For example, the real reason her and Mr. Peanutbutter's relationship hasn't worked thus far is because they're fundamentally different. Even though she uses denial and busy work to keep herself busy, she also simultaneously trying to find meaning in everything, which is much more harmful than not. Mr. Peanutbutter's only purpose is to make everyone else happy, which is why his character is a dog, but because they only find despair in trying to find their own reason for existence, he remains unsatisfied as well. He finds comfort in his own uncertainty and accepts it. No one else around him is capable of that just yet and after spending the past few seasons, trying to help everyone become as happy as he is, it's only now that he realizes that's the one thing out of his control. With or without Bojack around, everyone is fundamentally one-and-the-same. Bojack, however, represents the end-all-be-all for all their emotional problems. They deal with their issues in certain ways because they do not want to end up like him. However, without him there as a reminder on how not to act, they all begin to fall down the same twisted rabbit hole that he has thus far.
Looking past all the witty, pop culture references and the intricately woven jokes that contain social/political commentaries on things like mass shootings, sexuality, and abortion, Bojack Horseman is one hell of an emotional roller coaster. The main reason that I always go back to this show is that Bojack never learns and not only does that send him spiraling downhill, but everyone else as well because they keep going back to him, fully knowing what will happen. But even though each season consists of him hurting the same people time-and-time again, even I go back to the show each season, thinking he will change. Deep down, I don't really think he will ever change nor do I think he's even capable of change, but at least he's trying now. I can only hope that if he does eventually change, so can I. 
For any of you or your loved ones that may have thoughts of committing suicide, please call this number: 1-800-273-8255
You won't regret it.

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