The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Or, "Bojack Horseman"'s Unwillingness To Shy Away From the Truth"

Since the premiere in 2014, the Netflix original Bojack Horseman has been widely praised for its storytelling, its animation, its character development, but most notably the way it depicts depression. For many people who live with the mental illness that is either spoken ill of or not spoken of at all, the show fills in a sense of camaraderie that many shows with the same subject matter don't- partly because the titular character himself is just as flawed as they are in the way he embraces his vices and avoids his responsibilities while also shoving away the ones he cares about most and still demanding validation for his actions. It's traits like these that make it a stand out series in an era where depression is depicted as something you can overcome by sheer willpower, or a sadness that you have to get over if you want a rich and fulfilling life.

Bojack's depression has always been one of the main characteristics of the show, but in Season 4 viewers dive even deeper into the more ugly traits of the illness--specifically, in episode six, where the opening lines involve an internal mantra of "You're a piece of shit." [SPOILERS BELOW]

 

 

It is in the opening two minutes of Bojack's inner monologue that is mostly just him repeatedly overthinking a simple situation (getting milk for his mother) and repeatedly telling himself how he is garbage and terrible he is for being unable to do this one task that my heart starts racing because television isn't supposed to do this. They aren't supposed to show the self-loathing that makes it physically impossible for me to leave bed some days. They aren't supposed to show the mind-racing thoughts that make all of my interactions feel like a standardized test, that messing up one thing will ruin the entire relationship. They aren't supposed to show the way I have to isolate myself from the problem and never solve it because somehow, that's better than confronting it. Television isn't supposed to be this real, I think, but I can't stop watching.

The real, heart-shattering moment comes when Bojack, in the heat of an argument with his mother, throws the baby doll that she cherished deeply (due to her Alzheimer's) off the side of his house because at that second it's what he felt he needed to do. He has lived his entire live knowing that he was a burden to his mother, that he was never good enough for her, that she would never be happy for him, and at that second he had in his hands the only thing that she ever seemed to want from him---and so, he hurts her the same way she had hurt him regardless of the fact she has no knowledge of it. However, once he does, he regrets it, because it's not just her he's hurting. It's his daughter, too.

This is a scene that no one really talks about in real life: the moments where you get so caught up in your emotions that you lash out and push away the people who may have been so patient with you before because inside, you don't think you deserve them anyway. It's followed by Bojack's non-apology by returning the doll in order to restore the balance and suppress the guilt of the action, never once uttering an "I'm sorry" because how can you express that you let your depression get the best of you to someone else when you can hardly say it to yourself? The entire episode is heavy and very telling for people like me, who have been through these experiences multiples times in their lives, and even when Bojack eventually does confide in his daughter about the incident, it is not without a great deal of hesitance.

Speaking as someone who struggles with depression, it's scenes such as these that really make me think about the person I am and who I want to be. Throughout the entirety of the season, it's a question that a majority of the characters deal with in their own ways, but it is notable that Bojack, who is given chance after chance after chance to make things right, often doesn't. This isn't because he doesn't want to, because it's clear in the way he tries to reconcile with Todd (whom he'd done a plethora of bad things to in the past three seasons) that he does, but because when you are depressed it is so easy to get stuck in that comfort zone of things you know you're capable of doing and never stepping out past that. It's why change isn't always as simple a having a positive mindset and having external influences, but a long-term project that can change every single day. It's why sometimes you lose people, like Bojack does with Todd, because time doesn't stop while you step away to get yourself together, and you can't expect people to always sit and wait. Bojack, in some ways, accepts the person that he is, but it's not all that he wants to be. He fears the future and change just as anyone else does, if not more, and puts it aside for as long as possible because it's easier to live in the bubble than it is to step outside of it.

 

 

The season shows this in the way that for once, Bojack is not the most central character. It heavily focuses on the tension that builds between Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane and how it affects their relationship, as well as touching on miscarriages with Princess Carolyn and exploring sexual identities with Todd... and Bojack is virtually unaware of all of this because of his own troubles with depression and confronting his present and past. It's as real and true as television gets to depicting the harsh truth of how much you might actually miss out on when dealing with depression, and it's something to think about as you reach the end of the season and wonder how they managed to cram so much into twelve episodes.

Bojack Horseman, for me, is a show that continually challenges the way I think about depression, coping mechanisms, and the future. It pushes my emotional limits and well as makes me laugh through the tears because it doesn't shy away from the hard facts of living with a mood disorder. It makes me want to be a better person, even encourages me to do so by watching the way things unfold for Bojack, and still at the end every season, I can't help but wonder how they managed to write a whole new season about the current me. It's honest and punishing and kind of everything rolled into one, and I can only hope it leads to more serious content on the subject in the future.