BoJack Horseman is back, revealing its fifth season in a trailer out of nowhere. The trailer picks up from the climax of the fourth season where BoJack accepts the leading role in Philbert and then shows us snippets of the absurd comedy that we love. Mr Peanutbutter as a shotgun wielding gangster, BoJack being threatened at gunpoint, and Diane’s terrible haircut are all shots that invite intrigue. Is this part of Philbert, or can we expect more absurd adventures in Hollywoo?
It’s the show I’ve been waiting for since I watched the latter half of season four in one sitting, gripped by the discovery of Hollyhock’s mother and Beatrice Horseman’s traumatic past to the point of dissociation. The days where he would be abusive to his friends and, at best alienate them or at his worst completely sabotage them through his terrible behaviour and choices, seemed to be disappearing.
But by the end of the fourth season we’ve begun to see the evolution of BoJack. His actions reflected a genuine desire to change, such as giving the name of Hollyhock’s real mother, choosing to star in Philbert to help Carolyn out, and dropping his lifelong resentment to comfort Beatrice in her moment of lucidity. They showed us how he’s began making genuinely selfless acts out of empathy guided by his developing moral compass. For me, this was the beginning of a redemptive arc for BoJack. What does the trailer suggest about the progression of the arc?
Well, the trailer hints at a regression – or a reversion back towards his past self. BoJack’s characteristic alcoholism doesn’t look like it’s disappearing, as we see him staying awake for midnight to drink his allotted amount of alcohol for the up and coming day – the token gesture of limiting his intake not having a meaningful impact. He tells us that the world needs to know of how bad a guy he is, but the fact that he remarked earlier “I’m too smart for therapy” implies he’s back to the old BoJack who would tell us that he’s behaving badly without making commitments to change this.
Mr Peanutbutter as a shotgun wielding gangster, BoJack being threatened at gunpoint, and Diane’s terrible haircut
I think the show will soon enter an interesting crossroads because the premise of the show won’t be sustainable. The audience won’t continue to tolerate BoJack’s constant moral failings, his abuses and manipulative tactics and his self-destructive behaviour. Eventually, the audience’s patience and understanding will be converted into frustration and disgust. How does the show’s narrative develop in lieu of this problem? Does it maintain the status quo for as long as it can? Does it continue with a redemptive arc guided by BoJack’s moral lucidity? Or does it make a 180 degree turn and make BoJack irredeemable ala Walter White?
Diane’s repeated comment “you say you want to get better, but you don’t know how” reverberated through my mind and summarised my initial beliefs that the fifth season would hark back to the old, amoral anti-hero that defined most of the series. Initially, I thought that would be an implausible setback and for BoJack’s character development who demonstrated through his action a change of character for the better. He stood to gain nothing from comforting Beatrice. On the contrary, he had planned to give her a soul-crushing speech about her neglectful parenting when she recognised her. But he did it.
The audience won’t continue to tolerate BoJack’s constant moral failings, his abuses and manipulative tactics and his self-destructive behaviour
Perhaps it was empathy, or a deep-rooted moral obligation to care for his mum which hadn’t been destroyed by his traumatic childhood, but he did it. It would be so enjoyable and cathartic to see the writers handle this redemption because of my trust for them to do it right. BoJack’s reform would be a meaningful transformative effort as the writers understand change is a process reflected in actions resulting from a change in personality, and not just lip service.
As rumours circulate of an unforgiveable act being done by BoJack, and early reviews tell us the season is centred around the fitting theme of toxic masculinity, could the show be interrogating the complicity of modern media in whitewashing toxic masculinity as complex morality? As we’ve seen #MeToo develop into a social movement interrogating the worst consequences of toxic masculinity, it wouldn’t be out of character for the show to explore this as a focal point for the story. Given the show has explored how modern patriarchal systems successfully evade issues of sexual assault with Hank Hippopotamus, it feels inevitable the show will have a lot of piercing commentary on #MeToo and what it’s revealed.
Perhaps BoJack will prove himself to be stuck in a fatalistic loop of toxic behaviour and self-hatred that cannot be broken. Perhaps BoJack’s toxicity is impossible to forgive and the writers see it as necessary to eviscerate the audience’s empathy for him. After all, its imperative toxic masculinity is unequivocally condemned, and could the writers be willing to do something rare and symbolically condemn this through BoJack? Only watching what will be an excellent season of television will answer this.