After five seasons, BoJack Horseman is a show that feels heavy with the weight of its own accumulated history. As the first half of the show’s sixth and final season begins, BoJack is still haunted by his role in the death of Sarah Lynn; her name is the episode’s first line of dialogue, and the memory of the night sky in the planetarium on the night she died is the last thing BoJack thinks about as he reenters rehab at episode’s end.
But as much as Sarah Lynn’s death haunts the episode (and the series), the final season also kicks off with some new and hopeful signs that BoJack’s self-destructive, self-flagellating pattern might finally be breaking. The premiere episode features a new version of BoJack Horseman’s familiar opening title sequence — which invariably depicts BoJack in a drunken haze, in what has begun to feel like a grim joke on the repetitive, purgatorial nature of his day-to-day life. But this time, the title sequence dissolves and fades away long before it reaches the part where BoJack ends up slugging down a whiskey and passing out into his own swimming pool. Maybe this time, the episode implies, the cycle can be broken.
So: Can it? Can anyone — let alone someone like BoJack, who has inflicted so much pain on himself and others — actually turn their life around? Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the question that defines BoJack Horseman’s entire final season, it’s certainly the question at the center of “A Horse Walks Into a Rehab,” which focuses almost solely on BoJack. (When Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Mr. Peanutbutter show up in a five-way phone call, it’s for a comedic detour that has absolutely no bearing on this episode’s plot.)
We pick up where we left off at the end of season five, with BoJack voluntarily checking into Pastiches, a rehabilitation center in Malibu. Despite balking at the $100,000 price tag — “Does every room come with a free bag of $90,000?” — he follows through on his commitment. A quick montage sums up BoJack’s new life in rehab: a full regimen of diverse therapies that he resists with both humor and typical acid-tongued skepticism. But despite his worst impulses, it’s also clear that at least some of his therapy is sinking in.
Somewhat paradoxically, BoJack shows the most growth when he flees rehab alongside a fellow patient named Jamison. Jamison is at least two decades younger than BoJack, but she’s repeatedly been pushed into rehab at her father’s insistence, a fate she endures by smuggling bottles of vodka inside the facility’s walls. When Jamison leaves to confront her cheating boyfriend, BoJack tags along, trying to steer her away from alcohol and back into rehab.
This is the point at which those with a long memory for BoJack Horseman might get nervous. BoJack’s paternal relationship with Jamison bears a striking resemblance to his relationship with Sarah Lynn, who also did a rehab stint in Pastiches. In that case, BoJack repeatedly pushed her off the wagon, exploited her trust by sleeping with her, started the bender that led to her death, and — we learn this episode — lied about his role in it, painting himself as the sober-minded adult who tried to save her. (If BoJack Horseman is earnestly setting up a redemptive arc for BoJack, I suspect we’ll see that lie exposed before the season is over.)
In the case of Jamison, however, BoJack manages to help Jamison stay on course while resisting his own temptation to relapse. When they eventually end up at Jamison’s father’s house, he learns that the “little sibling” Jamison despises is actually her own baby, and that the father Jamison rants about is lovingly, earnestly committed to helping her turn her life around. And when Jamison’s father drives them both back to rehab, BoJack refuses to let Jamison enter with her contraband vodka, doing his best to make sure her treatment sticks this time.
It’s a path he can understand, because this episode also offers a few grim examples of the moments when alcohol became a fixture of the young BoJack’s life. There was his first onscreen kiss with supermodel Cindy Crawfish in Horsin’ Around, when a P.A. gave him a screwdriver to calm his nerves. There was a party in high school, where the nerdy BoJack chugged beer in an attempt to look cool and realized he could get laughs by mocking the people around him. There was a moment as an adolescent, when he caught his father cheating with a personal assistant and his father pushed alcohol on him to make him forget. And there was a moment when he was only a toddler, discovering his parents both passed-out drunk after a party, when he waddled up to a bottle of vodka and took a sip.
In therapy, BoJack rejects the idea that his addiction isn’t his own fault: “I’m here because I made choices. Nobody made me drink.” And while it’s clearly important for BoJack to take responsibility for his actions, recalling the actual context in which he made those actions might help him to understand the roots of his alcoholism — and then put an end to it for good. If there’s a hope for BoJack’s future in “A Horse Walks Into a Rehab,” it’s that his desire to break out of this cycle is finally, actually, genuinely there. For the first time in a while, the despair is counterbalanced by both the hope for change and the will to change.
That hasn’t always been the case. Early in the episode, Dr. Champ says to BoJack: “You can leave whenever you like. But is that really what you want?” He’s talking about rehab, but the darker implication of “leave whenever you like” has haunted BoJack for the entire series.
For one episode, at least, BoJack is earnestly committed to making a go of it. He checks himself back into the clinic and returns to his room to start six weeks of rehab all over again, without any shortcuts. Yes, there’s still a bottle of vodka sitting on his nightstand — but for now, he’s not drinking it.
• BoJack has repurposed his inconspicuous “SPY SHIT” bag as a similarly inconspicuous “REHAB SHIT” bag.
• In the latest of BoJack Horseman’s impressive lineup of celebrities mocking themselves, Jeanne Tripplehorn voices “Joan Tripplehorn,” who is clearly just Jeanne Tripplehorn going to rehab under a fake name.
• There’s also Jay Hernandez, voicing himself as a method actor doing undercover research to play a pill-popping Mario in Zack Snyder’s Super Mario Bros. — which, yeah, I’d watch that.
• The treatment regimen at the Pastiches Malibu rehab clinic includes Group Therapy, Sleep Therapy, Hike Therapy (which takes patients up Metaphor Mountain), Art Therapy, Visiting Therapy, Plant Therapy, Yoga Therapy, and Horse Therapy (which, at least in BoJack’s case, means talking to another horse).
• A list of the movie props in Jamison’s dad’s house: The car from Ferris Bueller, the baseball bat from The Natural, the carpet from The Shining, the baby carriage from The Untouchables, the hammer from Thor, the idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the giant window from The Graduate, and the club from The First Wives Club (which is, you know, an actual club). He also drives the car from 1994’s immortal cinema classic, The Flintstones.
• A list of the BoJack-ified movie posters in the episode: Citizen Crane, Alpacalypse Now, and 2 Cats 2 Curious.
• Words of wisdom from Dr. Champ: “We want what our addictions want us to want — in the same way that our future is just a house built from the materials of our present on the blueprint that is our past.”
• And an all-time tongue-twister perfectly delivered by Amy Sedaris, which I’ve painstakingly transcribed so you can try it for yourself: “Wait: You’re telling me your dumb drone downed a tower and drowned Downtown Julie Brown’s dummy drum-y dum-dum-dum-dum, dousing her newly-found goose-down hand-me-down gown?”