It was always going to end like this, right? Though the BoJack Horseman credits sequence has evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: The image of BoJack sinking to the bottom of the swimming pool as his horrified friends look on.
The trouble, of course, is that BoJack doesn’t really have any friends anymore. “The View from Halfway Down” obscures what, exactly, is going on with BoJack for the first half of the episode — but even if the specifics aren’t entirely clear at first, the overall situation is clear as soon as BoJack walks into that mansion and sees a whole room full of characters who have died over the course of the series, from major characters like Sarah Lynn and Herb Kazzaz to minor figures like Corduroy Jackson-Jackson and Crackerjack Sugarman and, uh, Zach Braff.
In short: BoJack is dying.
BoJack has already done episodes centered on dream sequences and drug trips and hallucinations, but the stakes have never been quite as high as they are in “The View from Halfway Down.” Even when BoJack figures out that he’s actually passed out and drowning in his old swimming pool, he can’t pull himself back to reality. All he can do is hang out with his dead friends and family until it’s his turn to join them.
But before we get into what actually happens in “The View from Halfway Down,” there’s one extra wrinkle that’s important to keep in mind: All of this is happening inside BoJack’s head. This grim vision of the road to the grave isn’t BoJack Horseman’s take on the afterlife, and the dead people aren’t actually the characters we remember — they’re BoJack’s memories of those characters, filtered through his own addled brain. Anything somebody “says” to BoJack is actually just BoJack’s own brain, talking to itself, as he attempts to sort out the meaning of life before his own life ends.
Once BoJack and his friends sit down at the dinner table — served by Zach Braff, of course — the conversation shifts to the best and worst moments of each person’s life. And that leads to a philosophical conversation about whether death can be meaningful at all. Corduroy regrets that his death (by autoerotic asphyxiation) was so meaningless, and that he wasted his life pursuing pleasure at all costs. He wishes he’d died doing something he believed in, like Crackerjack died during wartime — even as Crackerjack admits he actually did nothing to help the war effort, and probably hurt it. Sarah Lynn thinks her miserable life had meaning because so many other people derived pleasure from watching it. Herb says his life gained meaning after he devoted himself to philanthropy.
But again, remember: This is actually just BoJack talking to himself — trying to figure out what makes a meaningful life even as he figures out where things went wrong for him. And for all of his fame and fortune, BoJack’s own answer to the question of his best moment is a simpler one: When he actually helped one of his acting students during his single semester at Wesleyan. “It reminded me of when I was young, just starting out,” he says, wondering if those early career struggles were his own happiest times.
During the dinner, his father Butterscotch enters the room. But in the dreamlike logic of BoJack’s dying fantasy, Butterscotch is also Secretariat: BoJack’s childhood idol, and consequently his metaphorical father — an ideal to hold in his mind when his actual father came up short.
In the BoJack Horseman universe, Secretariat eventually died by suicide. And it’s Butterscotch-slash-Secretariat that offers the most nihilistic perspective when the dinner comes to an end and the group moves on to the big show. With Herb as emcee, everybody delivers a surreal performance that sums up their lives and their deaths before walking through a door and vanishing into an endless and unknowable void forever.
And after a heart-to-heart with BoJack in which he admits he only put up walls because he was afraid of how much he loved his son, Butterscotch/Secretariat takes the stage and delivers the poem that gives the episode its title. In “The View from Halfway Down,” which summarizes what went through Secretariat’s brain after he jumped from a bridge — but also, in a way, what anyone might think as they feel death pulling them a way — Butterscotch/Secretariat wishes he had known how much he didn’t want to die before he leapt to his death.
Which means, of course, that BoJack wishes he could stop himself from getting into that swimming pool and dying too. But if there’s any overarching message to be gleaned from BoJack’s friends and family taking the stage and then walking through that dark doorway into an abyss, it’s that there’s nowhere else to go. BoJack tries to escape the theater and finds that the door has vanished. And when his turn finally comes up, and Herb sums up his life — comedian, actor, alcoholic, and stupid piece of shit — BoJack flees back into the mansion even as life slips away from him.
His final, desperate action is to call Diane — the person who has always been there to protect him from the worst parts of himself. Even as “Diane” reminds him that she lives in Chicago, and that none of this is real, he asks her to stay on the phone as he dies. And in this fantasy, I suppose it’s no surprise that this Diane does.
And so, in theory, BoJack Horseman dies, setting the stage for a series finale characterized by his absence and his friends’ reactions to it. But if Netflix’s needlessly aggressive countdown timer skipped the credits for “The View from Halfway Down” and vaulted you right into the series finale, you might have missed a strange little epilogue: After opening with the mechanical hum of a flatline on a medical device, the noise over the credits gradually shifts into the steady, pulsing beat of a functional heart monitor. BoJack has already had plenty of “second” chances — but hey, maybe the universe will pull him out of that swimming pool and give him one last shot to make things right after all.
• Everybody gets a thematically appropriate meal before the show. Crackerjack gets a military ration; Sarah Lynn gets the burgers and fries she denied herself while on an extreme diet for the Sexually Confident Virgin Tour; Corduroy gets the lemon he bit while auto-erotically asphyxiating; Herb gets a bowl of nuts, presumably representing the peanut truck he crashed into when his allergic reaction led to his sudden death; Butterscotch/Secretariat gets a plate of eggs and a handle of whiskey; BoJack gets a water bottle of vodka and a plate of pills.
• The episode also offers a quick reprise of some of BoJack Horseman’s best original songs. BoJack chases the lost bird to an instrumental version of the “Horsin’ Around” theme; Sarah Lynn performs to “Don’t Stop Dancing ’Til the Curtains Fall,” which was originally performed (in a hallucination) by Gina Cazador in season five; and Beatrice dances to “I Will Always Think of You,” performed by Honey Sugarman and Eddie in season four. (Alas, no “Back in the 90s” or “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew.”)
• Submitted for your approval, Zach Braff’s greatest regret in full: Failing to sell “the Zach Braff Short Stack Breakfast Attack at Shake Shack. Cash-strapped hashbrown fans who hashtag #ZachSnacks get cash back fast with the Braff bucks-.” And then he dies.
• Sarah Lynn’s hit single “No No No (No Means Yes)” is apparently part of the cargo on a rocket bound for Mars, so we can’t really argue if the aliens find it and destroy us, right?