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Bojack Horseman’s “The Telescope” & Forgiveness

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Apologies and forgiveness are two things that are often misinterpreted. People, oftentimes, seem to think that to apologize to someone is to automatically wipe the slate clean, and automatically erase whatever bad thing they did, and that if the person that they wronged gets upset after the apology, then it’s their problem. People also seem to think that if they apologize, then they are automatically owed forgiveness, no matter what they did. People also don’t realize that selfish apologies are a thing, which is when someone apologizes not because they are truly sorry, but to clear their own conscience. The episode of Bojack Horseman, titled The Telescope shows how one is not automatically entitled to forgiveness, just because one apologizes.


Bojack Horseman is a show about an anthropomorphic, misanthropic horse named Bojack Horseman who is a washed-up actor who, back in the 90’s, was in a very famous TV show called Horsing Around. The episode starts with Bojack Horseman on his way to Malibu to see his estranged best friend Herb, who is dying of cancer, and whom he is not exactly on the best of terms with. He explains to Diane, who is ghostwriting his memoir and accompanying him on this trip, how their relationship got to this point. Back in the ’80s, Bojack and Herb were close friends; they were both stand-up comedians trying to make it big in Hollywood, and Herb had mentored Bojack and improved his comedy a great deal. After a set, Herb tells Bojack that some ABC executives called and invited him to some “hot-shot” event and that he intends to pitch them a TV show. Later on, Herb tells Bojack that he got a call from ABC and that they bought his TV pitch, a show called Horsing Around. Bojack is happy for Herb, but sad that he will be leaving Bojack behind to become famous. Herb tells him that the show is about a horse and reveals he told the execs that if they wanted his show, then Bojack Horseman would have to be the Horse. This shows how much Herb cares about and believes in Bojack. He didn’t have to do that. He could just have easily left his friend behind on his quest for fame. But because he believed in Bojack’s talent so much, and cared about him as a friend, he decided to help give his career a boost too.


We then flash forward to the ’90s, and we can see that fame has massively changed Bojack, and not for the better. He’s become one of those celebrities who’s completely full of themselves, has a total ego, and thinks he’s more important than he actually is. Because of this, Herb and Bojack’s friendship is on thin ice.

One day, Bojack’s agent calls him and tells him that he’s up for his dream role in the Secretariat movie so long as he can manage to avoid scandals. Unfortunately, at the same time, Herb gets arrested for lewd acts with another man, and the public is outraged. Later on, Herb tells Bojack that the execs at the network want to fire him, and he needs to know that Bojack has his back. He asks Bojack to threaten to walk for Herb because the execs would listen to Bojack. Bojack agrees, admitting that he wouldn’t have the success he has without Herb. However, Bojack is discouraged from doing so by the intimidating head-of-executives Angela Diaz, who plays directly into his need to be famous and be liked by others, telling him, “You don’t win awards, and you don’t get to be on the covers of magazines, and you don’t get the lead role in the Secretariat movie by being a good friend.” Anyhow, Bojack betrays Herb, Herb gets fired, and Secretariat goes into development hell. Herb was a really good friend to Bojack. Because of this, even though Herb and Bojack drifted apart, you can understand why Herb would have thought Bojack would have stood up for him. Also, the world of Hollywood is fake, and Bojack fell for something fake and temporary, that never ended up happening anyway, rather than a real friendship that could have lasted him a lifetime.


In the present day, Bojack visits a cancer-ridden Herb, who, unfortunately, is looking very sickly. Herb is his same old jovial self, though he keeps throwing in biting remarks about Bojack stabbing him in the back. There is quite a lot of tension in the atmosphere, but Diane does manage to ease it by getting them to joke about the opinions they share. Herb ends up talking about what he’s been up to since he was fired from Horsing Around, and it turned out that he actually thrived, despite being fired. He started charities and met the president. This is a long cry from Bojack, who after the show ended, remained stuck in the past.

So the visit goes relatively well, but Bojack wants closure, so he goes to apologize to Herb. Herb does not forgive him though. He still refuses even after Bojack reiterates, saying that he’s not going to give Bojack closure, and Bojack doesn’t get that. He says that Bojack has to live with the “shitty thing (he) did for the rest of (his) life” and “know that it’s never, ever, going to be okay.” When Bojack says they’d feel better if they did this, Herb says he’s not going to be Bojack’s prop so Bojack can feel better. Herb says that he didn’t care about the job, he had a good life, but he needed a friend, and Bojack abandoned him.


There is a lot of debate about whether you should forgive people who wronged you. Personally, in this situation, I feel like it should be Herb’s choice whether to forgive Bojack or not. Bojack was the one who wronged him, therefore Herb should decide whether he feels like Bojack’s deed deserves forgiveness. In addition to that, people can apologize for selfish reasons, rather than because they are truly sorry for what they did. You can tell that Bojack just wanted to apologize to clear his conscience for what he did, and wanted to get closure before Herb died, not because he truly recognized how he hurt Herb and wanted to make things up. As Herb said, he’s not Bojack’s prop so Bojack can feel better about himself. In addition, people think that if they apologize, then they are automatically owed forgiveness, no matter what they did. As I said earlier, it is up to the recipient of the apology whether they accept it or not, you can’t control how they react to it, it’s out of your hands. And if the wrong you committed was large enough they have the right not to forgive you if they don’t think you deserve it. What Bojack did was certainly big enough. He abandoned Herb when he needed Bojack the most, and Herb had been a really good friend to Bojack. Bojack didn’t even call to check up on how he was doing or attempt to contact Herb until he was dying. Besides, Herb said he didn’t care about the job, he needed a friend. All he needed was for Bojack to be there for him in his time of need, and he wasn’t.

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Another issue for some people, especially people who keep betraying your trust, is that if you forgive them, they’ll take it as a sign that everything is all cool and they are free to go back to their old bullshit again. If you’ve watched the show, you know that Bojack is definitely this type of person (or horse). Even though Herb is not long for this world, it is not wrong for him to want to hold Bojack accountable for the BS that has hurt Herb so deeply in his life and not just have him think that what he did to Herb was no big deal. It was a big deal. Herb probably wants Bojack to know that what he did to Herb was absolutely not okay, and he can’t fix it with a half-hearted apology to make himself feel better and go back to his old bullshit. He has to realize how he actually hurt Herb, feel remorse for it, apologize for Herb’s sake, rather than his own, and attempt to become a better person (or horse). Apologizing does not mean wiping the slate clean so you can be forgiven and go back to your old BS, it means actually being remorseful for your wrongdoing and changing your ways so you can be a better person to those around you.


Ultimately, apologies and forgiveness are more nuanced than people often think. It is up to the person being apologized to whether the misdeed warrants forgiveness, and they are not wrong if they decide that the thing the apologizer did was so hurtful they can’t forgive. People oftentimes feel like if they apologize, then they are automatically owed forgiveness, no matter how severe their transgression was, or how much it hurt the other person, but that is not the case. Herb does not owe Bojack forgiveness, and Bojack needs to learn that he is not entitled to forgiveness if he apologizes. No one is. If “The Telescope” shows us anything, it’s that when you apologize, it’s important to do so for the right reasons and not feel entitled to forgiveness.

Nicole is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, playing the flute, and biking. Her favorite TV shows are Bob's Burgers, Bluey, and The Simpsons.