“I made him more vulnerable and that made him more likeable. And that made for a better TV show. But if [this show] is just a way to help dumb assholes rationalize their own awful behaviour then I’m sorry, but we can’t put this out there.”
Not a quote from the writers’ room of hit Netflix original series, Bojack Horseman, but a monologue by one of the show’s characters, pinpointing the problem with morally grey protagonists. The recently-released season five does not pull any punches with its direct address of the audience, nor its metanarrative parodies of the current Hollywood climate.
Bojack Horseman has never shied away from direct confrontation of hot button issues – previous episodes concern institutionalised sexism, gun control, and abusive families. Season five continues this trend, one plotline following the boss of a company (a literal sex robot) being fired (and almost immediately rehired) after sexually harassing employees. Most notable is episode 4, “Bojack the Feminist”, which revolves around the public ‘forgiveness’ of a mediocre male celebrity, after his constant bigoted speech, following apologies, and then a return to old habits.
This aired not even a month after Louis CK’s attempted ‘comeback’; the discussion, in the public consciousness, concerns how long a celebrity who has performed despicable actions must remain out of the limelight until they are ‘forgiven’. When Diane is asked what she would have this amalgamation of every bigoted Hollywood hotshot do to ‘make it right’, she provides the audience with a refreshingly justified, and unforgiving statement.
“I don’t think he can make it right.”
“Your illness is never your fault, but if your behaviour is hurting people, it is your responsibility to change it”
The question applies to the eponymous horse, too. During an argument between Bojack and Diane in episode 10 (“Head in the Clouds”), he lists all the women who are his victims. Now he has the hindsight of both his behaviour, and female friendship. In his past, he was so determined to prove to himself that he was a bad person who deserved his mental illness, that he didn’t even consider how his behaviour affected those around him. Those like Sarah Lynn.
Bojack’s problem, aside from his mental health, is his selfishness. Speaking as someone who’s suffered from anxiety and depression: getting better is a choice. Your illness is never your fault, but if your behaviour is hurting people, it is your responsibility to change it. Getting better for other people isn’t ideal – but it’s better than not getting better at all. And that’s where we leave Bojack at the end of the season, recognising that if he truly cares about the people around him, he’ll try harder.
We are not supposed to like Bojack Horseman. The show’s main cast (perhaps save Mister Peanutbutter) do not forgive or forget his damnable actions, and so, neither do we. If we relate to him, he is the part we need to change. He’s the drink we really shouldn’t have had, or the pent-up stress ending in you yelling at a friend who was only trying to help. But perhaps, now Bojack is taking his first step, maybe the bits of ourselves we see in his character will become bits that we can be proud of.