Before anything else, a full disclosure: For us, Bojack Horseman is one of TV’s greats—surely up there with the likes of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Wire.
At first glance, Bojack looks like a peculiar TV show. And it is. It’s a show about a humanoid horse. Each episode is filled with puns and wordplays (there’s a tarantula character named Quentin Tarantulino) and pop culture references that make the show ridiculously funny.
But at the same time, Bojack does not shy away from the dark and ugly. It’s a harrowing exploration of depression, self-loathing, addiction, trauma, and abuse. It confronts viewers with gut-punching questions. How do you save yourself from your personal demons? How do you find redemption when you’ve done horrible and unforgivable things? Are people actually good, deep down?
And that is perhaps the most peculiar thing about Bojack Horseman. Not the whimsical animation or the gags or the million other silly things, but the fact that a show about a horse is the most human thing we’ve seen on TV in recent years.
To say goodbye to this show that has shaped—and saved—us for the past 6 years, we revisit some of our favorite Bojack Horseman episodes. Spoilers, obviously.
1. Say Anything (Season 1×7)
Say Anything follows Princess Carolyn on a chaotic day as she juggles the many demands of her professional and personal life, with Bojack occupying and demanding so much from both. It’s a Princess Carolyn-centric episode that Bojack manages to make Bojack-centric.
One thing is clear about Princess Carolyn here: she’s hella good at her job. No matter the circumstance, she always manages to land on her feet, literally and figuratively. That is why, despite (or maybe because of) her victories throughout the day, it’s painful to watch Princess Carolyn alone at the end of the day, with nothing but her phone to greet her a happy birthday. It’s a bleak ending magnified by Lyla Foy’s Impossible playing in the background.
Say Anything also signals a turning point in the series. All the previous episodes have been darkly funny, but this one is just… sad. It shows how Bojack’s asshole-ness can hurt the people around him in very real and lasting ways, and not just in ways that are comical.
2. Stupid Piece of Shit (Season 4X6)
The episode starts with Bojack’s inner monologue: “Piece of shit. Stupid piece of shit. You’re a stupid piece of shit.” For anyone who’s had similar negative thoughts, this episode is difficult to watch yet relatable. Each bad thought spirals into something worse and it’s almost impossible not to feel anxious and claustrophobic as Bojack’s self-loathing reaches a crescendo.
Some of the best writing to come out of Bojack Horseman are from episodes that offer honest and incisive portrayal of a character’s experience. We’ve already seen so much of Bojack’s depression in previous seasons, but this episode is spent mostly inside Bojack’s head and shows the pervasiveness of his depression, anxiety, and self-hatred.
This is why the conversation with Hollyhock at the end is so jarring. Hollyhock confides that she suffers from “that voice, the one that tells you you’re worthless and stupid and ugly” and seeks comfort from Bojack, asking if the voice ever goes away. Bojack lies.
Hollyhock: Like, sometimes I have this tiny voice in the back of my head that goes, like “Hey, everyone hates you and they’re not wrong to feel that way!”
BoJack: I know what you mean.
Hollyhock: That voice, the one that tells you you’re worthless and stupid and ugly?
Hollyhock: It goes away, right? It’s just, like, a dumb teenage girl thing, but then it goes away?
3. The Dog Days Are Over (Season 5X2)
The episode opens with Diane ugly crying in her car. She’s having a tough time dealing with her divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter, so she impulsively flies to Hanoi in an attempt to get some distance and emotional clarity. The result is a Diane-centric episode told out of chronological order. And here, Bojack Horseman shines with its storytelling—structuring the episode in the format of a listicle that Diane has to write about her trip: “10 Reasons to Go to Vietnam”.
As the episode’s layers get peeled back, it becomes more and more apparent that Diane’s “10 Reasons” list is about her displacement. She is alone and adrift, culturally, physically, and emotionally. Diane goes to Vietnam to explore her Vietnamese-American heritage, to find some connection, a sense of belongingness. But she doesn’t. She gets a “terrible dirty apartment” to live on her own and tries to convince herself that she likes it. She struggles with the aftermath of a breakup, how to be single again, and how to meet new people. And it’s understandable to feel lost. So much of our self-identity is tied to the people closest to us, and severing ties with them means displacing a little part of ourselves as well.
At the end, Diane delivers an emotionally wrenching and well-written monologue as she comes to terms with surviving and being alone:
The real reason you go to Vietnam is because you accidentally see your soon-to-be-ex-husband kiss someone else. At first you think, oh, it’s a fling. Whatever. They’re drunk. It’s a party. But then he puts his hand on the small of her back exactly the way he used to do to you. It means, “I got you.” And when he did it to you, it made you feel safe. And you realize he will never do that to you again. And it breaks your heart again. After your heart was so broken that you thought it could never get any more broken. You thought it was safe. But it still somehow finds a new way to break. Because even though you’re the one who asked for this, now that you’ve got it you are completely adrift. With no compass, or map, or sense of where to go or what to do. So you go to Vietnam. You think you might find community, a connection to something bigger, but you don’t. In fact, you feel even more alone than you did before you left. But you survive. You learn that you can survive being alone.
4. Free Churro (Season 5X6)
Free Churro is Bojack Horseman at its best. In this episode, Bojack delivers a eulogy for his mother, Beatrice. And that’s it. That’s the entire episode. Except for the flashback to Bojack’s childhood at the beginning, which serves to remind the viewers of his shitty upbringing, there are no other scenes or plots or anything. Just one deeply damaged man grieving—in as much as he is capable of grieving—the death of the person who damaged him.
Bojack’s grief is complicated. He tries to process his feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment towards the woman who was never really a mother figure to him. He hated his mother and yet, there he is at her funeral, still heartbroken. Bojack’s eulogy weaves between some deeply disturbingly cruel jokes and some poignant moments of vulnerability, like when Bojack admits that he still finds himself longing for his mother’s approval:
“I kept waiting for that. The proof that even though my mother was a hard woman, deep down, she loved me and cared about me and wanted me to know that I made her life a little bit brighter. Even now, I find myself waiting. Hey, Mom, knock once if you love me and care about me and want me to know I made your life a little bit brighter.”
The knock, of course, never comes. Just like how Bojack never gets the validation he wants from his mother. Just like how some childhood wounds never heal, at least not truly or completely.
After 25 minutes straight of genius writing by creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and brilliant voice acting by Will Arnett, comes the episode’s final gag: Bojack opens his mother’s casket, does a double-take, and realizes he’s been in the wrong room all along. It’s a discomforting punchline, but one that works really well to subvert expectations and to magnify the question, what is the point of all this?
But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that he was at the wrong funeral. The eulogy isn’t for Beatrice. Bojack needs those words for himself.
5. Nice While it Lasted (Season 6X16)
Nice While it Lasted is the perfect bittersweet ending to the show, an ending that’s also a beginning, perfectly encapsulated in Diane and Bojack’s final conversation on the roof:
You keep living. That much is true for all of the show’s main characters, whom Bojack gets to interact with one by one. And while each interaction is a reunion (Bojack is out of prison for the weekend to attend Princess Carolyn’s wedding), it’s also a goodbye: Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Diane will keep living, this time without Bojack in their lives.
Todd says goodbye to Bojack with one final motivational speech: an existentialist interpretation of “Hokey Pokey”. (It isn’t about doing the Hokey Pokey. It’s about turning yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.) Princess Carolyn finally draws a line, professionally and personally. She didn’t invite Bojack to her real wedding weeks before, and she now refuses to become his agent again. After six seasons of taking care of Bojack, ya girl Princess Carolyn has had enough. And yet, she draws the line without any ounce of bitterness or regret—just the simple act of letting someone go.
If the interaction with Princess Carolyn is simply an act of letting go, Bojack’s conversation with Diane is a difficult push and pull. From the first time Bojack meets Diane up until the moment he nearly drowns, Diane has always played the role of his savior. And as they talk on the roof for one last time, Diane finally pushes back:
“I think there are people that help you become the person that you end up being and you can be grateful for them even if they were never meant to be in your life forever. I’m glad I knew you too.”
Bojack, after a beat, responds in what seems to be fourth wall-breaking line: “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this night was the last time we ever talked to each other?”
And in that moment, Bojack knows. Diane knows. Whatever living they have to keep, it will be done without each other in their lives.
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Patriz Biliran and Regina Peñarroyo co-run The Ampersand and write blog articles in their free time.