BoJack Horseman and the women who want to move on: In S6, Diane, Princess Carolyn have a shot at healing
By shining a light on the women whose lives have most been informed by BoJack, the show is offering its lead star to step back, to let others speak unto his misbehaviour,
[potential spoilers ahead]
With season six of BoJack Horseman all set to be its last, the Netflix animated series is on its way to transforming its eponymous lead’s bacchanalia into something more reflective and sobering.
To put it briefly: BoJack Horseman is a maturing horseman now. Not the reckless, callous representation of celebrity culture he was in the show’s earlier seasons. What began as a deeply satirical look at the narcissism that plagues stars, BoJack Horseman eventually made space for an introspective journey into inherited trauma, depression, and loneliness. While keeping its incisive, wry humour intact, the show continued to tackle its has-been lead star’s proclivities to explore a nuanced take on mental health. The show’s five seasons literally play out like the five stages of grief, culminating with BoJack’s final cry for help. Season six begins as an aftermath, by tracking BoJack, first at rehab, and then outside of it as a sober, changing man, trying hard to make amends. And like in any aftermath, there are more victims than first accounted for.
Throughout its journey, while boldly affronting BoJack’s narcissism, the show and its many colourful anthropomorphic characters revolved around the needs, moods, and behaviour of the titular protagonist. The star of the show, was also a literal star in their lives, mammothian in his desires, drowning their voices, and wrecking whole people on his way to some form of self effacement. And while BoJack’s behaviour with the fellow habitors of his world has been scrutinised and judged by the show, none of them, in so far, were able to escape his looming shadow. But season six charts a separate, BoJack-less territory for each of them, most especially for the women who have been passively dismissed by BoJack in his hunger for fulfillment.
The writers give each of the show’s central female characters: Diane, Princess Carolyn, Hollyhock, and Gina individual narrative arcs across season six, and by doing so subvert the show’s and BoJack’s allegiance to themselves.
Of the many women in BoJack’s life, none have managed to get through to the part of him that wills to do good, better than Diane Nguyen. Diane, who begins her track on the show as BoJack’s memoirist, soon becomes his only true friend, the one person who is able to speak truth to his wreckage. Diane has been the moral arbiter of the show, the only character conscious of the people-eating mechanism of the 'Hollywoo' enterprise, who remains outside the celebrity fold because of her utter distaste for its workings. Even though Diane has consciously had a storyline outside of BoJack’s needs — whether that was her marriage and eventual breakup with Mr. Peanutbutter, her lackluster career moves, and her growing uncertainty about her life — she remained the yin to BoJack’s yang; they each understood the specific brand of loneliness that followed the other. But her storyline, more often than not, became focused on holding BoJack accountable.
The moment that Diane drops BoJack at rehab in the final moments of season five is a defining one: she is literally letting him go. She goes on to build content for a performative, woke feminist website alongside cameraman and producer Guy, falls in love with him, and moves to Chicago for him. Diane is still plagued by career mishaps, a strong ideological dogma, and even depression, but has a journey that is independent of BoJack’s redemption arc. BoJack’s inclusion in the story is a mere, if effective, blip. A recovering BoJack visits Diane, sees her ignoring her mental health, and nudges her to seek help, before leaving. For once, Diane’s story of self-care, creative work, and a budding relationship takes on its own singular course.
Princess Carolyn too, arguably, has always been on the receiving end of BoJack’s worst professional instincts. As his agent and former lover, she put in way more work over his creative success than he ever bothered to himself. But after BoJack’s exit from the game, she continues to persevere creatively with fresh projects, and personally as single mother to baby Ruth. In episode two, the show tips its hat to Princess Carolyn’s relentless spirit, and dissects closely the lives of working mothers, the women who are expected to “have it all,” with a smile to boot. Her journey could not be more divorced from BoJack’s. While BoJack is trying to right his wrongs, Princess Carolyn is neither afforded the time nor the bandwidth to pause and reconsider her life.
While the show’s naked focus on BoJack’s transgressions and misbehaviour affords an intimate and honest portrayal of his failings, season six also chooses to highlight the effect that BoJack’s behaviour has had on others, particularly the women around him.
Consider HollyHock, who after her new found relationship with BoJack, is scared off from having alcohol, having witnessed BoJack’s substance abuse intimately. Or Gina, whom BoJack chokes in a drug-induced haze in season five, and who is now having recurring PTSD triggers on the sets of her new movie. Her invisible struggle is branded off as bratty star behaviour, costing her new movie projects. Even Sharona, the former hair and make-up crew member on Horsin’ Around who is unceremoniously fired for BoJack’s mistakes, makes an appearance in an AA meeting, none too forgiving toward the BoJack she knew, the self-involved television star.
But the show focuses to tell what came of their lives from their perspective, and BoJack remains in the backdrop; his influence felt and understood but never brought in for inclusion. Of all the women in BoJack’s life, none have affected him as deeply as his willful participation in Sarah Lynn’s downward spiral, and being caught with Penny, his former friend Charlotte’s daughter. And both loom large in the final episode of part I, where BoJack is all but missing. We see a journalist snooping into the night of Sarah Lynn’s death, to track down the friend who was with her when she died of an overdose. And we meet, once again, Peter, who befriends Hollyhock at a party, whom we remember as a friend of Penny from the night of her prom when BoJack gives them alcohol. To hear Peter recount that night helps the show re-emphasise just how poorly BoJack has behaved with people around him, just how much unseen trauma his actions have left other people with.
Season six of BoJack Horseman interrogates what accountability looks like, and true accountability cannot happen inside closed doors, on therapy cushions, outside the fold of those who have been affected. By shining a light on the women whose lives have most been informed by BoJack, the show is offering its lead star to step back, to let others speak unto his misbehaviour, than merely his apologies speaking for him. It’s a deeply, multi-layered take that is also bold enough to imagine the inner lives of these characters without BoJack, offering them a shot at healing.
BoJack Horseman was never the fun, light-hearted show as popularised by its animated, cartoonish format. It always dared to ruthlessly interrogate its titular character, much like Mad Men did with Don Draper. But unlike Mad Men, BoJack Horseman will not be content with offering its star a transcendent walk into the light. It is willing to examine its ensemble characters in a post-BoJack world, pulling their lives together.
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