(SPOILERS! DEPRESSION!) With the second half of BoJack Horseman releasing on January 31st, the show finally came to an end – not with the miserable suicide so many had wanted or cynically expected in a parable about mental illness, but with hopeful consequences.
While there were slight pacing troubles, that was to be expected; Netflix cancelled the show about a season earlier than expected, so there was only so much that could be done to preserve the show’s pacing and integrity while bringing it all to a close. Well, for us, at least. More than most other TV finales, there’s a real sense of the finale only being from our perspective; as Diane puts it, life’s a bitch and then you keep on living.
But this isn’t meant to be a review, really. No! I first got into Craccum by pitching previous editors with a column about ‘pop culture and art and maybe some meaningful shit idk’, per archived FB messages, titled ‘Hollywoo’. And believe it or not, my skills at pitching content to staff have not improved at all over the years! But back to the point I’m trying to make: the show has been relevant to how I view #mentalillness and entertainment for a while, and I just didn’t feel right letting the show come to a close without one final self-absorbed melodramatic navel-gaze into what the show meant, at least to me.
When I first started watching the show, it was soon after the first season had been lauded for correcting the mistakes of its first six episodes. It came to my notice because of the sheer amount of discourse it had caused within bluecheck Twitter about judging a book by its cover – multiple sites and newspapers had either issued apologies or changed their reviewing policies for jumping the gun about the quality of the show. But more to the point, when I first started watching the show in late 2014, I was incredibly miserable and already three months into a two-year period of Complete Loneliness & Feeling Super Super Super Suicidal. Bad things kept happening! Life was terrible! I felt entirely pathetic, hoping it’d all come to an end before I was down to my last $20 of accrued Studylink $$$ – and when I spent that last $20 on a couple of happy hour margaritas and a bus ticket home, I had nothing. Real cool! Girl Boss! Barely wanting to so much as open my eyes, let alone leave the bed and see the outside world I was trying so hard to reject, I flicked through the Netflix account I still don’t pay for and figured that since I was too sad to die that day, I’d give this BoJack shit a go.
So my mindset was not that far from the titular character of BoJack, though I related more with the others in his world, particularly the sardonic Princess Carolyn and Diane’s search for meaning in her damage. However, while I appreciated the humour and the meta take on what sitcoms are about, I found myself hooked by the show’s pitch; life’s a bitch and then you keep on living. It was interesting, as the idea of the sitcom is typically a rejection of that. Life’s a bitch and then you fuck Monica’s brains out and live happily ever after, or life’s a bitch and then your Uncle Phil hustles the shit out of a couple of low-lives at the local dive bar, or life’s a bitch and George Costanza makes you lick toxic envelopes and THEN you die, or life’s a bitch and then you get cancelled. Not as metaphorically as what the term cancelled brings to mind these days in the post-Cosby era, but you know what I mean. Anyway, somewhere deep down I knew I probably wasn’t going to die, so might as well try ride this show out and see what happens.
And that’s the thing – you ever tried being chronically depressed and attaching your lifespan to a media commodity? No? Just me? Sociologists HATE this one woman’s easy trick! It’s actually surprisingly helpful. No comment on whether it is healthy, but to know that you can’t die because you need to live and see how (x) plays out does bring a vague level of grounding to your life. Okay, so I was also waiting for the release of The Force Awakens at that time, but you can’t blame a girl for having hope for the universe. Not mine, but Princess Leia’s? I really did have faith. Too bad Disney didn’t. So yeah, I figured that unless things changed for the worse, I was in it for the long haul with the world of Hollywoo and BoJack Horseman.
And so the years went by – I managed to start holding down work; lost some weight; started taking my meds properly and eventually returned back to uni in mid-2017. Seasons passed in the BoJack world. He had been taking advantage of teenagers; Sarah Lynn died; he gained a sister and had started to want better for himself. Some differences. And while I don’t necessarily believe I needed this American tv show to tell me about how to view my mental illness, it was one of the few figures in my life (using ‘figure’ loosely) that I felt had any empathy towards me or people like me, without being infantilising about it. While I always saw more of myself in Princess Carolyn or Diane Nguyen, it was the episode where BoJack is first told that he is all his depression & his actions that really ‘woke me up’, I suppose.
I had been slowly making efforts to return back to the world of the living by that stage, but to be so clearly reminded that I cannot isolate all my actions to products of my brain chemistry… I don’t know! Being sick for so long, being reminded of that really did something for me. Brain blast, as Jimothy Neutron once said. Now, obviously there’s an asterisk in that #mentalillness is not the same experience for anyone. There’s varying levels of autonomy, to be clear. But if you can help it, it really isn’t just enough to want better, to do better. You have to be responsible for who you are, and what you’ve done. There are so many other things to be gleaned from the six seasons of the show, but the lesson of having some firm empathy for yourself without erasing the idea of consequence… it was good to hear, to say the least.
And eventually I met a man. A good guy. A little short for my tastes, but everyone’s a little short compared to me, lmao. And when we were watching the final episode, it hit me how different things are. No comment on whether I’m still feeling crazy, or chronically lacking motivation about life, but things are different. I first watched BoJack when I was alone and just wanted to die; over five years later I saw its end with someone I love, and was happy to see it go. When Catherine Feeny’s “Mr. Blue” played over the final scene, all I could do was smile and hold back that sexy single tear we all have sometimes. Life’s a bitch, and then we complain about Star Wars.