Here we are — the final season of BoJack Horseman. A true dark horse of a show (Netflix has given me a license for one animal pun), it’s grown from a self-aware comedy about Hollywood to one of the finest series of the decade, blazing new territory in material, execution, and sheer care of storytelling and character building.
And now it’s ending. Or at least it’s starting to end, as the first half of its sixth and final season drops this Friday.
If there’s one issue to be taken with it, it’s that it feels very much like what it is — a first half. Nothing quite as momentous as we’ve grown accustomed to in a full season happens. Nothing as earth-shaking.
But it does do what a first half is designed to do. That is, it sets up the tension for the second. And boy is the tension there.
It comes from two opposing narratives that run side by side throughout the episodes — and, if we’re being honest, throughout much of the show. One is the narrative of BoJack’s redemption. The other, his downfall. Now more than ever, either seems plausible.
Last season grappled with the unlikeability of its protagonist, with the fact that it had created an old male Hollywood antihero at a time when such a thing was supremely frowned upon. And it grappled that masterfully. This season sees the continuation of that grappling, but with a stark difference: BoJack is trying very hard to be good.
Now we have a protagonist who’s made bad decisions but wants to atone and move forward. He’s haunted by his past — that’s clear enough in this season’s new intro, in which the scenes flashing behind him are all people he’s wronged, the moments he regrets, backlit by that unmistakable planetarium sky. (If anything’s likely to take its emotional toll on viewers this year, it’s that intro. Even with Netflix’s helpful skip button, I watched the whole thing every time. I suggest you do too).
But haunted though he is, BoJack does improve. He really does clean up his act. He really does, as far as we can tell, stop drinking. And he starts to transform, physically. By the end, he’s not the horse he was at the beginning. He stops trying (as the Grouplove end credits song that’s been with us all these years expounds) to hold onto his past. He starts to look his age. Or, as he describes it, “old.” (Am I the only one who’s always had a hard time remembering he and Mr. Peanutbutter are supposed to be in their fifties? Their young friends and lifestyles have never been helped by the fact that they have animal faces).
On the other side of the coin, however, are all the people he’s wronged. They seem to multiply even as he tries to make things better. “BoJack, you ruin everything. That’s what you are,” one tells him. BoJack takes it to heart at first but finally overcomes it. And the show challenges us to explore whether we believe it ourselves, as we see him try to gather his life together while simultaneously watching the consequences of even his most recent actions (Gina’s career, though seen only briefly and played very subtly, is a chilling look at the reverberations of last season).
We also see some parts of his more distant past start to close in on him, and we realize, with growing concern that BoJack is headed for some kind of reckoning.
That’s the crux of these new episodes. Whatever happens to BoJack, we’ll be helpless to stop it. But how will we feel if this person (sorry, horse) who’s actively trying to better himself, is waylaid by his family? His friends? The police? The world? How will we feel if they don’t forgive him? It’s an interesting question, and one that benefits from the tension this brief hiatus creates, frustrating though it feels now.
Because that’s the one area in which this season falls short of its predecessors — it’s only half of what it will be. The second half is coming in January, and then that’ll be it. Show over. I imagine the payoff, whatever form it takes, will be huge. But for the moment, this first half feels like just that. The pins of healing and judgment are being set up, and God only knows which are going to be knocked down in January.
For now, it’s not a letdown, but it might be a lack of fulfillment. There is no showstopper of an episode. I’m talking “Free Churro,” “Time’s Arrow,” “Fish Out of Water,” not to be confused, maddeningly enough, with last year’s actual episode entitled “The Showstopper.”
Each season has come to be marked by one genre-exploding, truly phenomenal standout episode. And since this is the final season, split in half, it only makes sense that whatever is going to blow us away is going to do so in the final stretch. That doesn’t stop it from being just a little disappointing, however, to go through an entire run of episodes without hitting one that makes you pause, sit back, and let out a long, low whistle.
But what does that say about this review, really? There wasn’t one out of eight episodes that made me reassess everything I thought I knew about television? I’ll probably have to wait three more months to get that?
No. The bottom line is that BoJack Horseman is damn good. I do think it suffers from the two-part setup, something it’s never done before, and that feels, at least from where I’m sitting in the first half, to be a little too heavily weighted toward the second. If the season finale doesn’t live up to expectations, then I’ll have an actual reason for complaint.
But I’m having a hard time imagining it won’t.
When all is said and done, the final season will be a cohesive single piece you can binge on Netflix without even checking the dates to remind yourself that there was ever a break. But for now, frustrating though it may be, it’s fitting. The end will come, one way or another, and the anxiety is part of it, three months of watching the other shoe for signs of dropping. Honestly, I’m scared. But I’m ready.
The first half of the sixth and final season of BoJack Horseman comes to Netflix on Friday, October 25th.