Here is Netflix’s official description for the final episode of BoJack Horseman: “A celebration brings people together.”
Coming off “The View from Halfway Down” — and the way it explicitly made BoJack’s death look inescapable — it would be easy to assume we were headed for a celebration of life, as BoJack’s surviving friends come together for a bittersweet goodbye to a very complicated horse.
And the first minute or two of “Nice While It Lasted” wants you to think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. But after a couple of wacky fake-outs, the truth is finally revealed: BoJack is alive. The young son of the family who bought the house discovered his body floating in the swimming pool just in time, and after recovering in the hospital — and attracting another spike of media attention — BoJack is sent off for a 14-month prison stint for breaking and entering (and, he shrugs, for “everything else”).
So there you have it: After a very, very close brush with death, BoJack Horseman is alive after all. (Though I’m sure you could find at least one lengthy, conspiratorial Reddit thread with somebody laying out the case that this final episode is actually BoJack’s dying fantasy or version of heaven or whatever.) And that means the show’s final question isn’t how BoJack Horseman should be remembered now that he’s gone. It’s what BoJack Horseman should do now that he’s still here.
The series finale was always going to be a tough tightrope for BoJack Horseman to walk. Over the years, this series has taken its lead character to some truly awful, arguably irredeemable places — and to its credit, it never shied away from both the short and the long-term consequences of that. It’s part of the reason BoJack dying at the end of the series was such a common fan theory: If he couldn’t really be forgiven, let alone redeemed, where else could his story possibly go?
So this is BoJack Horseman doing its best to have it both ways. BoJack is publicly shamed, and literally punished, by going to prison. But willingly or not, it also forces him to pull himself out of a spiral: To get sober, to spend a lot of time reflecting on how he ended up there, and to figure out how to make the most of the time he has left.
But cards on the table: After a couple of watches, my general feeling about this ending? If drowning to death in his pool would have been too rough, this finale ultimately lets BoJack off a little too easy. I’m not saying BoJack Horseman should have become a morality play, or that it needed to be infused with some weird sense of balanced cosmic justice. BoJack was horrible to characters like Penny and Gina, and their lives are forever changed because of it — but all of them have had to keep on living anyway, and it wouldn’t make any sense for them to reemerge now just so BoJack can atone for his sins.
No, my problem is how gently and warmly BoJack is treated by the characters who do spend a lot of time with him in the finale: Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Diane. (And yes, Mr. Peanutbutter — but that guy is so relentlessly sunny that anything but full-on adoration of BoJack would be wildly out of character.) The actual structure of the episode sees Princess Carolyn pulling some strings to get BoJack out of prison on a weekend pass so he can attend her wedding to Judah.
But that’s just the plot. The real point of this finale is to give BoJack lots of unbroken time with the other characters we’ve seen change and evolve over the course of the series. The Mr. Peanutbutter stuff is just your usual Mr. Peanutbutter wackiness. Most notably, he grandly announces he had bought a replacement letter for the “D” BoJack stole from the Hollywood sign back in season one — and discovers the company who made it, and who also made all the botched signs we’ve seen over the course of the series, accidentally made a “B” instead. Welcome to Hollywoob, everybody!
The episode mines richer emotional veins with the other three characters. Next is Todd, who asks BoJack to join him on the beach for the post-wedding fireworks. In more recent seasons, Todd is the character who has drifted the farthest out of BoJack’s orbit; though Todd has been there when BoJack needed him, their friendship never fully recovered from the string of betrayals that stung Todd so hard in the earlier seasons.
But when you think about Todd as the goofball slacker crashing on BoJack’s couch at the beginning of the series, it’s striking how far he has come: Creating a job for himself at VIM, moving in with a serious girlfriend, mending fences with his mom. And as BoJack frets about whether he’ll be able to maintain sobriety after he gets out of prison, it’s Todd who gives BoJack some sunny wisdom: “Every day you’ll set a new record.”
As nice as this moment is, Todd doesn’t need BoJack anymore, and hasn’t for a while now. The same is true with Princess Carolyn — but her relationship with BoJack has only grown more complicated over the course of the series, as the personal and professional became hopelessly entangled with the weight of the history between them. Just a few episodes ago, Princess Carolyn described BoJack as the love of her life. Now, she’s marrying Judah (even if he’s off working on some contracts during the reception, because Judah).
When BoJack and Princess Carolyn head to the dance floor, BoJack confesses a fantasy: That Princess Carolyn would get cold feet before the wedding, and that BoJack would be the only one who knew her well enough to find her and convince her to go through with it. It’s telling that BoJack’s fantasy doesn’t end with him sweeping her away a la Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate; it ends with him convincing her to marry Judah after all, proving to her — and to himself — that he had grown mature enough to let her go.
The whole thing is ridiculous, of course. Princess Carolyn and Judah’s big Hollywoob wedding isn’t even a real wedding. They actually got married weeks earlier, and this big flashy event is just a savvy way to get a bunch of Hollywoob A-listers into the same room. And to her credit, Princess Carolyn pushes back on BoJack’s fantasy, which — despite all his fumbling growth — still imagines himself as the key lynchpin of her life’s arc. “It’s a better story for you. I think I like it better this way,” she says, before admitting that her real fear is that she’ll discover the happy life she’s dreamed of will, now that she finally has it, turn out to be disappointing.
And here — unconvincingly, to my mind — it’s BoJack who has the answers, encouraging her to focus on being happy in the moment before calling her the smartest woman he knows. I’d have found this sequence more plausible if it was clear that Princess Carolyn was letting BoJack think she needed his wisdom in one last generous moment of caring for him — because honestly, what does this guy have to teach or offer her anymore?
But after an entire series’ worth of personal and professional toxicity, the conversation does end with Princess Carolyn drawing a gentle but firm line when BoJack mentions that he’ll need new representation when he gets out of prison. “I can recommend someone,” she offers, making it clear that she won’t be taking care of BoJack anymore.
That same philosophy bleeds into the lengthy conversation that closes out the series, as BoJack and Diane meet on the rooftop one last time. BoJack and Diane’s relationship has been at the center of the series since the pilot. But it’s not just old scars they need to hash out — it’s new ones, as Diane confronts BoJack over the voicemail he left her on the night he nearly drowned.
To the show’s credit, Diane doesn’t let BoJack off the hook for dragging her, however unwillingly, back into the role of his savior. Between the success of Ivy Tran, her relationship with Guy, and her impending move to Houston, Diane’s life was on an upswing until she got BoJack’s message. After assuming he was dead — and discovering, eventually, that he wasn’t — Diane spiraled into guilt and depression. And while she has since gotten back to where she wanted to be (and married Guy in the process), BoJack’s drunken, drug-addled phone call was another blip in a series of blips that have altered her life in profound ways, and not generally positive ways.
Of course, this feeling and this cycle are not new to Diane. She has learned, over the course of the series, that being angry at BoJack doesn’t get her anywhere. And she has learned what he needs to hear. “Thank you, and it’s going to be okay, and I’m sorry, and thank you,” she says.
But Diane has also learned that BoJack can’t be relied on to treat her with the respect and care she needs, which is why it’s clear that this rooftop detente will be their last conversation. And while I think Diane is a little more indulgent of BoJack in this scene than his behavior has earned, I understand how a last goodbye can turn into a long goodbye.
The series ends on that note of ambiguity, as BoJack and Diane silently sit on the roof and stare at the stars until the credits roll. And appropriately enough, it leaves BoJack Horseman viewers to contemplate that final dangling question for themselves: Can BoJack turn his life around? Does he deserve to turn his life around?
I suspect that the best answer we’ll ever get is in the philosophy that has actually formed the backbone of BoJack Horseman: You keep living, because what else are you going to do? BoJack’s character arc isn’t clean because life isn’t clean; it’s a series of steps forward and steps back, and the idea of reaching some point where you have everything figured out is an illusion. But even if you can’t fix the past, you never run out of chances to try to be better. And to paraphrase a different character from a different BoJack Horseman finale: It does get easier. But you have to do it every day.
• A sign that BoJack can’t overcome his baggage: When BoJack says “It’s not Strindberg” when describing his prison theater troupe, does he realize he’s basically just echoing his mother’s own cruel dismissal of Horsin’ Around?
• A sign that BoJack can overcome his baggage: After all these years, it’s a shock to watch him try a bite of honeydew and decide it’s not so bad after all.
• For all the characters we spent time with in season six, I’m a little bummed we didn’t get any on-screen closure between BoJack and Hollyhock — but I guess it’s safe to assume her letter revealed that she knew about Penny and didn’t ever want to hear from BoJack again.
• The rush of headlines at the start of the episode closes up the arcs for a few other characters who didn’t appear in the final season. Wanda Pierce fell into a second coma, then came back out of it and was appointed President of Gronkle. Character Actress Margo Martindale received rave reviews for her lead role in Nicole Holofcener’s Classroom Warfare. Jurj Clooners went to rehab for being too much of a prankster. And Andrew Garfield recovered from the injuries he sustained after walking into Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter’s floor-less Halloween in January store.
• I wasn’t sure at first about Princess Carolyn and Judah getting married — but the more I turn it over, the more I like it. Judah was always so buttoned-up that it’s easy to see how he would have fallen in love with Princess Carolyn without giving her a single hint. And Princess Carolyn’s uber-competence means she’s always caring for everybody, and often at the expense of her own wellbeing — with the sole exception of Judah. He’s the one consistent figure who has taken the time to truly understand her, and to do whatever it’s going to take to make her life better — often, even before she knows what she needs, he’s already doing it. Those two are going to take over all of Hollywoob in a week.
• She makes a final off-screen appearance at Princess Carolyn’s wedding, but we never met Mr. Peanutbutter’s beloved friend Erica — but if you want to construct your own image from the clues we’ve been given, the BoJack Horseman Wiki has an exhaustive collection of Erica references.
• Todd, being either dumb or brilliant, on the real meaning of “The Hokey Pokey”: “You turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.”
• And some parting wisdom from Princess Carolyn: “People have short memories. It’s the best and worst thing about people.”
• And from Diane: “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” “Sometimes. Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you keep living.”
• The song that closes the series is “Mr. Blue” by Catherine Feeny.
• Princess Carolyn’s first project is a 12 Angry Men remake called 11 Angry Women — lopping one woman out to save something for the sequel.
• “Who am I, Rick Riordan?” “Who is Rick Riordan?”
• I’m with Big Andy: Pieces of April is vastly superior to The Family Stone.
• Honestly, I would love to see Guillermo del Toro’s Headless Horseman Reborn: Fall of the Unrise.
• Congrats to Spanky Pankerton, better known as the #Bojeebies Kid, who found BoJack floating in the pool and became a child star on the back of his time with the famous horse. And the cycle continues.