A reflection on ideas voiced by one of television’s best shows
Spoilers ahead for the entire series of “BoJack Horseman” are featured in this essay! You have been warned.
It’s hard to know what to make of the reality that the emotional rollercoaster known as “BoJack Horseman” has finally winded down to a close. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, this animated series, aimed towards a more mature audience, focused on a bitter, alcoholic horse who was once a popular and highly successful 90’s sitcom actor and his bouts with depression, addiction, and his reactions to fame and his personal trauma from his past. Meanwhile, the show also focuses on the emotional and personal struggles of his friends, mainly writer Diane Nguyen, heartfelt goofball and slacker Todd Chavez, agent/cat, Princess Carolyn, and happy-go-lucky pal/show rival, Mr. Peanutbutter.
The show started off on a rough first season, still attempting to figure out how to balance its tricky blend of dark humor and sincerity. On top of that, the initial season remained in the process of determining how to make us interested in following BoJack when he did something unlikable.
However, once it found its footing after that first round of episodes, “BoJack” only kept running with fierce confidence, courage, and wit, and it never hesitated after that. With each additional season, this series thrived, thanks to brilliant voicework, snarky yet bold humor, and fantastic writing that approached each character’s development in a way that never overlooked any consequences of their own bad actions. Above all, the show took time to explore intense issues, such as depression, trauma, mental health, addiction, and coping with one’s demons and past trauma, in ways that are not only great but better handled than any other show.
Often, it isn’t an easy show to watch. There are specific episodes from this show that I objectively admire but would never go anywhere near again because they’re so brutal (That episode, “Escape to L.A.” is just…yikes.) Yet, unlike most other popular shows from around this time, such as “Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones,” that only dived further into how nihilistic and gloomy they got without adding much further to say or develop, “BoJack” utilized its dark side with real purpose and wit. Bob-Waksberg’s series took advantage of its black humor and intense moments to illustrate the saddening ways that we, as humans, tend to fail ourselves with our own awful mistakes and struggle to properly make up with what we do. Yet, it also added the right level of effective, real sincerity, and humanity to remind us that it’s important to not forget the soul within us and importance of fighting further to feel better and try to be better people, broken and flawed as we may be.
It was an incredible series that most likely hits a chord with others who struggle with depression or their own mental health issues and emotional struggles, such as myself, and, today, I’d like to discuss some of the important lessons from this series.
- Everybody gets hurt in different ways, and nobody is immune from sadness or emotional pain.
One idea that the show always touches upon so brilliantly is the reality that BoJack isn’t the only one who struggles with his own problems and demons. He might be the most reckless of the bunch by how he plunges into his own addictions without much thought and doesn’t think much of taking responsibility for several bad actions of his. Yet, as the series progresses and proves, he’s not the sole sufferer of pains and troubles that haunt him in this world.
One apparent example comes in the form of Mr. Peanutbutter. Here’s an actor who, on the surface, appears as though nothing could dare hurt what looks like a glorious life. He’s always smiling and openly caring towards those around him. He never appears to run out of energy. Everybody else around him seems to brim with joy or absolute respect at the mention of his name, and he still maintains a fair amount of admiration from being a former star of a 90’s sitcom of his own that he once starred in.
Regardless of all of this, Peanutbutter’s own infectious happiness and fame wasn’t enough to save him from his own flaws and rough moments. Despite being quite the “people’s person” (Or, people’s dog, maybe?), Peanutbutter often showed himself trying too hard to please others around him and not always being aware of how his energy and misguided feelings can overwhelm others.
After Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane Nguyen tie the knot near the end of Season 1, they start off sweet in their relationship and obviously love each other. Yet, as “After the Party” shows early on, Diane and her canine husband have a fight over neither of them being able to see eye-to-eye on several issues, such as the latter throwing the former a surprise party when she clearly didn’t want one. She also expresses open frustration towards him not believing her thoughts on a number of topics that she holds true to, despite being married to her.
At other points in the series, Peanutbutter does perform well-intended deeds for his wife, such as ask for a house of theirs to be designed in the style of a childhood fantasy of his wife’s, but he makes it clear that he doesn’t always listen to how she feels about something or think through what he’s supposed to do. Miscommunication happens often between them, and their goals and personalities don’t match up in a good way, thus leading them to eventually divorce. In one of the most entertaining episodes of the series, “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos,” it’s shown that Peanutbutter has three ex-wives, including Diane, as depicted through vignettes of Halloween parties that he has spent with each one at that time and how badly the relationship is shown as being in that vignette. As each vignette makes clear, it’s that Peanutbutter plays a strong role in his romantic relationships going sideways, due partly to either trying too hard to please his significant other or not paying attention to what they really need.
Peanutbutter has such a strong personality, which can get in the way of him thinking straight about what might be best for his wife or romantic partner or whether his personality and interests can line up with the other’s. For all of his charisma, love, and dedication towards Diane and his wives before her, the poor hound has trouble overlooking his own point of view and what’s ultimately best for his significant other (whoever it may be), thus causing sadness for himself after each romantic relationship fails. Similar to countless other celebrities, Mr. Peanutbutter may smile for the camera, but it covers how much hurt and disappointment comes from his own love life.
Princess Caroline is an example of someone who holds a ton of power from her position but grapples with her own woes. Much of her struggles come from her past of wanting to be a mother but not being able to do so, due to biological complications. In an episode observing her past titled “The Amelia Earhart Story,” Caroline accidentally gets pregnant with someone from her own hometown and starts to contemplate what having the baby will be like before she has a miscarriage. Through perhaps one of the best episodes involving her titled “Ruthie,” Caroline undergoes perhaps the worst day of her life, undergoing a number of horrible events, such as getting fired from her position and discovering that she still can’t biologically have a baby from her most recent doctor’s visit. To add a crushing blow to her day, Caroline is informed that her necklace, which her family treasures and passed down to her as a heirloom, is actually a fake piece of jewelry worth very little. At that point, she heads to her car and quietly sobs. She speaks with such power and confidence at times, but the balance of her personal life and its complications can emotionally weigh heavily to a point that it almost topples anyone else feeling that amount of hurt.
The amount of poise and firmness with which Caroline carries on the following days ahead speaks volumes of how complex and strong she is as a character. However, throughout the series, there are times illustrating how hard this cat fought to maintain a sense of balance with her duties as a powerful agent and her doubtful times of sadness. In the scenes where she weeps in her situations from her teenage days and her adult life, it’s evident how much she wanted to be a parent and just how much hurt she dealt with in knowing that it was biologically impossible for her to do. Plenty of women who are not biologically able to have kids tend to struggle with a similar type of depression. Eventually, Caroline finally adopts an adorable porcupine baby, which is sweet and well-illustrated in this show. Through all of her hard tasks and snappy confidence with which she handles them, she still faces sadness and hurt from her personal situations and her own past.
Out of every character that is not BoJack, however, Diane might stand as the most clear example of how depression can make a person think or feel. We get a sense of this, earlier on, in the first season when we’re introduced to Diane’s father and other brothers who greet her return to their home by belittling her or mocking her for her awkward time growing up. They even go as far as to cruelly show a home video of her dating a homeless man they paid to go with her to prom for their own humor before she’s found weeping in embarrassment.
We barely see these “brothers” again, but the truth is that we don’t need to. This introduction to Diane’s alienated feelings within her own family plants the idea of where some of this character’s own insecurities and sadness take root from. Many wish to come from the most nurturing environments or make stronger connections with the people who are supposed to care for them and love them. And, when such people not only fail to provide comfort and love but flatly abuse them with their own actions and behavior, that only breaks these people down more within and leaves an uncomfortable hurt and trauma that takes years, even decades, to overcome or cope with.
BoJack experienced this with his own atrocious childhood inflicted by his cold, mean-spirited parents who constantly belittled him, and Diane understands a similar sense of loneliness and pain from her own family that failed to show generosity in their own ways. Diane’s own painful upbringing and the present depression that has ominously deepened within herself is brought up quite a few times in the midst of her conversations with Mr. Peanutbutter. Following a therapy session done in the hopes of saving their crumbling marriage, Diane reminds her husband that, while he was fortunate enough to grow up from a loving family and home from the “Labrador Peninsula,” she grew up in the “Isthmus of [Jerks]” with her cruel brothers and dad.
“After the Party” shows several sequences between couples that are all initiated from Mr. Peanutbutter throwing a surprise party for her wife despite her telling him multiple times that she doesn’t want one thrown. After she and her husband have a huge fight coming from their inability of being able to fully trust each other or see eye-to-eye on certain issues in a similar way, Diane finally cries. “I’m not happy!” When asked what she’s not happy with, she struggles to come with an answer. “I wake up in the morning, and I feel as if I have no purpose, and I’m 35.” She utters the struggle of someone trying so hard to make sense of not feeling happier and not understanding why. Diane is uncertain what to make of her own marriage to her husband who she loves with all her heart but doesn’t share the same enthusiasm or blind optimism as he does. Mr. Peanutbutter’s devotion to his wife and hope for making her happy in unexpected ways are sincere and well-intended, yet he is unable to understand Diane’s situation of wanting to feel happier as he does.
Those with depression want to feel better about themselves, and, on several days, they do feel good about themselves and their lives. The reality is that the knowledge of how things logically are doesn’t gel with how depressed people feel. In other words, knowing that things are alright and feeling that in your heart is far easier said than done. Throughout Diane’s journey in this series, she demonstrates that often. She goes through several ups and hard downs in her life, discovering opportunities to share her writing skills with others before facing times where she is fighting against her own awkwardness, insecurity, failing relationship with her husband, and trauma from her experiences as a kid.
Perhaps, the episode that may be the biggest representation of the toll that Diane’s depression has taken on her, emotionally and mentally, comes from the episode in the final season, “Good Damage.” On the surface, she would seem to be doing better by finding a supportive and caring boyfriend in Chicago and beginning to take medications to help her with her depression. BoJack even takes it upon himself in an earlier episode to come to Chicago, check on her, and encourage her to take the prescribed antidepressants to try to feel better, which is an awesome move on his part.
Yet, Diane tries to write a memoir about her painful experiences from growing up, but she deals with a harsh care of writer’s block and feeling too much anxiety and pain from trying to mentally re-live her painful times. While Diane is trapped in her own writer’s block, she imagines several crudely drawn versions of the people in her life, telling her how horrible she is and essentially communicating harsh things that people battling with sadness tend to feel. The bully from her youth makes Diane say that she deserved the horrible treatment that she experienced at her hands. Diane imagines her abusive father telling her how her problems are uninteresting and that she blames all of her issues on other people. And, despite Mr. Peanutbutter caring much about her in reality, her imagined version of him tells her about being undeserving of love. All the people in her life, even the ones that genuinely care about her, are imagined in Diane’s mind to be telling her that she’s the big problem, and all of her experiences are meaningless and that she deserves the pain and hurt that she’s in.
Her echoes of feeling that her problems mean nothing and deserves the pain that she’s in echo harshly about how several people with sadness or depression can sometimes feel. When confronted with the demons from their past and the people who hurt them or insulted them, it can be hard to ignore all of the bad comments and awful treatment from specific people and realize that we are humans who deserve to be cared about like everybody else.
Struggling in her own abyss of her trauma and bad emotions, Diane fights to make sense of her painful experiences and tries to put them to use in her book, so she can attempt to give meaning to why her life turned out as it did. As someone who has struggled with depression and sadness, I’ve fallen into the same black pit that Diane has. People from my past life, including some of the people who I cared about, would explicitly tell me that I wasn’t meant for something or that being my friend was a huge chore or that I’m “mentally retarded” (despite me being mildly autistic) or that nobody likes me, to give a few examples. I felt so bad about myself, based on past experiences with others, that there were times when I used to feel that I didn’t deserve to be loved, even if I wasn’t fully aware that people did love me in my life and that I did deserve to be cared about. And, as blessed as I am to have the wonderful friends, family members, and community in my life who treat me so much better and are much nicer and more encouraging, it is hard to sometimes forget the pool of bad treatment and uncaring words that people from my harder years used to inflict upon me and hurt me in such awful ways. I had a harder time being loving towards myself and believing it when people, including some of my best friends, would tell me that they cared about me and loved me because, for the longest time, I was surrounded by toxic people in my life who made me feel that I didn’t deserve that love and spent so much time putting me down and recognizing me for my faults instead of telling me what was good about myself. Having to overcome much of that is a long process that I’m still in the works of going through.
A big part of why Diane is my favorite character in the show is that she reminds me a bit of myself in how far it has taken me to feel better about who I am and try to take better care of my depression and find the right people in my life to help me after so many years of people leaving me behind or making it seem as though feeling depressed was something to be ashamed of. The writer that I am and the person who has been fighting hard to be better from his own feelings and his own demons and bad times resonated with how I could have much good in my life, including loving parents, passions to give me joy, loving friends, and great abilities at writing and such, yet I also would sometimes forget that with low days, where I thought about the people who hurt me so much from before and the horrible events in my times that I sometimes wish I could forget.
Her horrible visions end with Diane breaking down in front of her boyfriend and calling herself a stupid, awful person before her husband reassures her that she is nothing of the sort and that she simply needs guidance and to start taking her medications again. It’s a nice way to start helping Diane try to heal from her emotional hurt. And, it reminds me of how all people struggling with sadness and trying to redeem themselves deserve to have someone by their side to help them remember that they’re not alone in fighting their own demons and hard emotions. And, after writing books that sold millions of copies and getting her name recognized by many, Diane stands as a representation, similar to the other characters, of how everybody struggles with sadness and hard times, regardless of how well-known they are or how much they’ve accomplished. We’re all trying to make it through this battle together, and we all deserve love and support.
2. Creative works always have the potential of impacting someone in a positive way.
For a show that focuses much on mocking the entertainment industry and poking fun at its often hypocritical nature and acknowledging the way that it can seriously mess up some of its people, “BoJack” did resonate with me with the select number of moments that it took to illustrate how a work of art, such as a movie or a show or such, can sometimes help people feel better. It can bring a light of positivity and something to look forward to when there seems to be nothing but bleakness and pain around someone.
An example of one moment comes from “That Went Well,” where BoJack tells Diane that he’s a “poisonous” person to be around and that nobody around him will be better for having known him.
Diane then says. “When I was a kid, I used to watch you on TV. And, you know I didn’t have the best family. Things weren’t that great for me…But, for half an hour, every week, I got to watch this show about four people who had NOBODY, who came together and became a family. And, for half an hour, every week, I had a home…and, it helped me survive. BoJack, there are millions of people who are better off for having known you.”
That was a touching moment for reminding us why Diane and BoJack’s relationship, flawed and frustrating as it can be at times, can also bring out the best in both characters. In this case, Diane reveals to her friend how his show and his presence for making it happen played a role in helping her feel joy and find light amidst a cruel, toxic family and home environment.
Some may view a sitcom or another work that may be silly or not seem to have a higher purpose as nothing special in the grander scheme of things. However, as Diane reminds BoJack, that “silly” or “strange” work can have a bigger impact on people than what was intended, and everyone who played a part in it, especially a big one as BoJack did on that show, can affect others in a strong way, even if it’s with one-liners or goofy situations. The fact that Diane was able to connect more with a fictional family than her own and view them as real in her heart speaks to how bad her childhood was and gives an idea of how fiction can affect others and give them joy and positivity in the most unexpected ways.
And, knowing how Diane chose to comfort her friend and tell him that he did make a positive impact on other people, despite her disagreements with BoJack and how much she disapproved of his behavior and how awful his behavior was, reveals a real heart and sincerity that only makes me appreciate her more. True, her generous words might only have helped BoJack briefly feel better, but the act of her taking the chance to let him know that his presence has made a positive impact on some people brought a hint of positivity to his life that was vastly needed amidst so much other bleakness and negativity in his life. By no means do Diane’s words vindicate BoJack’s past awful behavior or him refusing to take complete responsibility for them, but they, at least, remind him that, on a specific level, he’s had some good effect with his presence in his world through the creative work that he’s been a huge part of, at least.
Another example demonstrating how creative works can affect others in a positive way comes from the aforementioned episode, “Good Damage,” where Diane talks to Princess Caroline about her reasons for being frustrated with the publishing company printing her middle-school fictional girl detective series instead of the childhood memoirs that she was still trying to make work, despite her never seeming to get off the ground with writing it and just struggling more with her own misery in the process.
When Caroline demands to know why she wants to discuss her stories about her trauma from her childhood and adult years so much, Diane replies. “Because, if I don’t [write my memoirs], that means all the damage I got isn’t ‘good damage.’ It’s just damage. I have gotten nothing out of it, and all those years that I was miserable [were] for nothing.”
Caroline goes on to stress that, unlike her memoirs that Diane was trying to write with good intentions but seemed to feel more miserable doing it, she sensed that she was actually enjoying writing the detective stories. “I liked [your detective novel]. I like thinking that my daughter can grow up in a world with books like that.”
Diane responds. “When I was a little girl, I thought that everything, all the abuse and neglect somehow made me…special. And, I decided that, one day, I would write something that would make little girls like me feel less alone.”
Caroline simply replies. “Maybe, this [detective] book does that, too.”
Diane and Caroline’s conversation is a beautiful one, one of my favorite moments in the series, in fact. Throughout her personal journey in this show, Diane has experienced moments of relief or satisfaction, but, in the longer run, she has experienced more “down moments” and times of peering into her own insecurities and hurt left in the wake from her upbringing and people in her recent life, such as BoJack and Mr. Peanutbutter. Hearing her confess her genuine intentions about attempting to make sense of her own pain and trauma through writing probably speaks to a solid number of people who sometimes try to understand their own hurt with their creativity and hope to help others in a similar situation. Seeking a creative passion, whether it’s through writing, hand-crafted art, music, film, or another outlet, often comes up as a suggested method for attempting to cope with depression or emotional pain.
So, it would make sense that a writer as gifted and experienced as Diane would indulge in reading and follow her own talent with a hope of reaching out to other people who might experience similar pains or hardships of their own. It speaks not only to the true, compassionate heart that Diane has within her but also the artists who try to discover healing for themselves and, perhaps, others with their works. Countless movies and shows helped me get through my own sadness and hard times, whether it was through watching good stories about characters who went through similar situations or seeing stories that personally spoke to me involving characters who went through so much emotional or personal hardships and struggles but strived to become better people and inspired me with the hope and optimism that they evoked.
“BoJack Horseman” also counts as one of these shows for giving me hope through how BoJack made a genuine attempt to try to get better by finally going into rehab at the end of Season 5 or Diane sadly talking about how alone she felt in “The Dog Days Are Over” and that the important thing was that you were simply surviving and doing what you could through your sadness to get through it. In a recent YouTube video, the people involved with the show mentioned how fans had written letters about how the show had helped them get through tough times of their own. So, it’s more awesome to see Diane passing on the possibility of trying to heal others with her art. Similar to a light-hearted show, such as “Horsin Around,” helping Diane feel less alone and more hopeful in her situation, Diane’s novel series possesses that genuine ability to help other readers briefly escape or feel better with their upbeat nature, and hearing Caroline remind her of that reminds me of the heart that was tucked firmly beneath this show and its dark nature and comedy but was always there in the end. And, it also reminds me of the beautiful ability of art and storytelling, in general, to heal others, which makes me recognize more of what a gift this show truly was.
3. Recovery from inner demons, depression, or an awful past is a continuing process that is not completed in one day or with one swift action, and, even when you stumble, the important part is that you keep trying.
One of the elements that has separated “BoJack” from other shows of its kind has been its courage with having characters undergo real, often dramatic, consequences for their grave mistakes and misdeeds, adding a further realism to the show that stands out from others. The biggest representation in the series has been with the titular character who has brought characters out of rehabilitating from their awful habits and failed to take responsibility for his own bad treatment or unkind actions on others, and the final episode of the series starts off with BoJack winding up in jail after dodging so much and taking his actions too far after a horribly drunken relapse, where he’s reached pretty much bottom for himself and his career.
The majority of the rest of the episode consists of BoJack being released from prison for one more day before going back to complete his 16-month sentence. And, in a heartfelt, final conversation with Todd, BoJack shares with him on the beach how he feels happy for breaking a record for being sober and being in control and trying to personally rehabilitate while in prison. However, he fears relapsing and retreating to his previous habits when he gets out of it. His friend reassures him that he’ll simply get better again.
In a strange but oddly reassuring way, Todd tries to reassure BoJack with words and wisdom gained from his experience as a present daycare worker. He talks about demonstrating the “Hokey Pokey” song to youngsters and emphasizes that people think too much about the “Hokey Pokey” part of the lyrics.
(I know. It IS weird to hear what meaning a grown man takes from a song sung to three-year-olds, but hear me out…)
Todd says that the song makes him think about his relationship with his mom, someone he recently started trying to reconnect with after years of not talking to each other. “It’s weird, you know, awkward…I feel like she doesn’t really get me, but you know, she’s trying. And, a couple of years ago, I never thought I would have any kind of relationship with her.” Although he doesn’t know exactly what changed to make them work towards their progress in their relationship, Todd feels faith in what’s trying to happen between him and his mom in how they’re both, at least, trying to make things better for their bond.
“So, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s like the song says…” He makes the shake with his body and spins himself likewise to illustrate his point. “ ‘You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around.’ You turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.”
While not the brightest of the characters from the show, Todd always maintained his status as the one who held the most innocence to his own presence. So, it would make sense for him to find a greater meaning from a children’s song and use it as a source of solace and possible hope for his friend. If any character could use the message of how much simply making the effort to do or get better is important, it’s BoJack. He’s been through ups and many downs on his path in this show, diving into addiction from alcohol and then later, with painkiller medications, only adding to his back-and-forth battles with escaping his own self-loathing, trauma from his childhood, and so forth. There have been many moments when BoJack found genuine moments of hope or attempted to feel better in a healthier way, such as hearing Hollyhock fondly recognize him as a “brother” and being persuaded by Diane to finally go into rehab.
It’ll always be up to debate about what it would mean if BoJack ultimately did find redemption or, to some, whether he would deserve it in the first place. Yet, like any person, it’s not up to us to decide whether someone ultimately “deserves” to feel better or be better.
What matters is that the person is willing to make the efforts to genuinely be better in the first place. It’s rarely a one-and-done deal, and one can expect a relapse or two or stumbling through their own demons before they find their way back to trying to get back on track. The genuine effort in acting better, whether it’s with one’s self or his own demons or better behavior towards others, is an on-and-off process that means serious determination to trying one’s best to stay on the track and taking responsibility for any mistakes along the way before returning as best as one can to the path.
Ask any person who is trying to recover from something, whether it’s depression or a horrible past or one’s own addictions. It’s a long, sometimes hurtful process. Yet, the effort to try to improve counts greatly. Todd experiences that with trying to reconnect to his mom. Diane has experienced this, over and over again, with trying to make sense of her own insecurities and depression, coupled with her trauma from her bad relationships and experiences from her own past, and only starting to find a bit more of peace as the series started to make its conclusion. And, BoJack has experienced how ugly and hard it is to hit bottom, probably more so than any of the other characters in the show, and how difficult it can be to find one’s way back.
At the time that I’m writing this, I’m still working towards trying to feel better and be better with my own bad feeling and hurt from my own past, particularly with my depression and my experiences of some of the hardest years in my life in the past decade. For years, I was battling obsessions that weren’t healthy and only left me feeling more frustrated and hopeless on top of trying to recover from the pain of losing ones who I truly cared about. It wasn’t until I started seeking help and taking it from the right people and places that I truly started to sense some improvement and that things were getting a little better as I tried to work hard to change what I did before and believing the support and encouragement that I was getting from people who genuinely loved and cared about me. Along the way, I stumbled at times, and I could stumble pretty hard. I’m still afraid of what will happen next time when I fall again and how hard it might be to get back up in the future, but I try to make efforts to improve.
So, it naturally made me tear up when I hear Todd stress how something, such as a children’s tune, can emphasize an incredibly important truth: What is important is that you turn yourself around.
What is important is that you make the genuine effort and try your best to stay on the path and continue to never give up trying to be better or feel better, no matter how many times you may fall.
In a time filled with so much nihilistic and pessimistic media, hearing the odd yet wise philosophy of this young man acknowledge the importance of trying to continue to turn yourself around was heartwarming and a reminder for how this show never lost sense of its own humanity through its darkness.
4. It is possible to still care about someone else and be kind to them, even when you have both hurt each other.
The interactions of the main characters have always been interesting in their own ways, but, far and away, my favorite relationship came from Diane and BoJack. Their friendships might actually be one of my favorites in television. As said before, it’s hard to think of many other bonds shown involving people who can bring out both the best and worst qualities in each other. For all of BoJack and Diane’s times of getting high or drunk with each other and sometimes failing to communicate with the other or reach out when they absolutely need to do so, they’ve still somehow managed to show how they care about the other via giving the other helpful advice or encouragement or other types of assistance at times.
One could reasonably wonder how this friendship can last as long as it does in the series, given how bad their fights in the show are and the mean words that that they have spat at each other in their weaker moments. Heck, the five-minute-long fight between them in “Head in the Clouds” is an especially brutal scene that spends every bit of its uncomfortable pauses and harsh words making the audience wonder how strong their bond can even last between the boundaries that are crossed and the broken emotions looming beneath their bitter voices.
These two characters have some harsh confrontations and moments, and yet, somehow, they still care about each other in the end and want the other to be fine.
Given all that has happened in the show, one might question how this is possible. True, they might show a strong connection in their similar experience of having undergone trauma from their broken families. After all, BoJack was unfortunate enough to grow up with two bitter, cruel parents who never really expressed genuine love towards him or each other. And, Diane didn’t fare any better from spending years with a toxically masculine family, dealing with a mean-spirited dad and nastier brothers who spent most of their time mocking her, ridiculing her, and showing her little in the form of real compassion or kindness. So, the fact that they both understood the pain of feeling roots of depression or self-loathing planted from an upbringing that never gave them real love is an understandable motive for bringing them closer together.
Yet, there is a stronger reason in approaching why they still look out for each other as they do. In the case of Diane and BoJack’s relationship, it’s that, in their own ways, they do genuinely care about each other in spite of the mean acts and words that have been shared in their relationship. This happens because, when people find a strong enough connection with someone, it’s harder to get them out of your mind and heart, even when you know that they’ve hurt you.
Consider when Diane shows up to BoJack following the death of his “Horsin Around” co-star in “That Went Well.” There are her aforementioned thoughts about what he and his presence on “Horsin Around” did to heal her and help her feel joy in her youth, but the fact alone that Diane was still concerned and worried about her friend and his pain from losing a friend and co-star, even after their awful shouting match that they had in a previous episode,“It’s You,” speaks volumes about her selflessness in trying to reach out. In a moment of sensitive honesty, BoJack tells his friend how she’s meant for greater things in her writing career for such talent, and he openly tells her how much his friendship means to her and that she knows him better than anybody.
In the episode, “Underground,” BoJack and Diane do get mind-numbingly plastered from booze for days on end, due to a trapped situation, and they don’t often act in their best state of mind when they’re in each other’s company. Yet, Diane still manages to give fairly solid advice to BoJack in regards to a situation with helping out a family member of his, and BoJack tries to console her when she’s openly weeping about feeling guilty for being depressed and tells her to not feel guilty about crying or feeling down. In simple yet highly truthful words, he voices one of the show’s most important truths: “Don’t feel bad about feeling bad.” In spite of BoJack previously refusing to having reached out to Diane for over a year when he went missing (and Diane being understandably angry), they still seek each other’s company, attempt to talk out their frustrations about the situation (even if they are incredibly drunk while doing it), and still show concern and caring nature about each other in this episode.
Maybe, my favorite moment between the two of them, the moment that heavily emphasizes the idea of how important it is when others care about you out of sheer selflessness in the face of whatever was done before, comes at the end of “The Stopped Show,” where Diane takes BoJack to rehab after his addiction goes too far. BoJack asks her why she’s choosing to be so considerate to him by taking him here after so much of the bad stuff that he’s done to her.
Diane then tells a story about her own past.
“When I was in high school, I had this friend, Abbey. She was my only friend, and we did everything together, until she got adopted by the cool kids, and then she turned on me…so fast. She used…every secret she knew me, every vulnerability. She made me miserable my entire sophomore year. But then, that summer, when her mom got sick…like really sick…and all her cool friends were off vacationing in Martha’s vineyard, I was there for her.”
BoJack asks why, and she replies. “Because I’m an idiot…And, it was Abbey. And, I hated her, and I will never forgive her. But, she needed me, and she was my best friend, and I loved her. And, now…you’re here. And, I hate you…But, you’re my best friend…and, you need me.”
I’ve thought about this scene quite a bit in the past. Much like her, I’ve had relationships with a few friends from my own past, one or two who I even considered as one of my best, who started out as awesome people but later became pretty toxic, saying or doing awful things to me, the types of things that really took a hammering at my own self-esteem. These were the friends who went down selfish paths that I couldn’t follow, the ones who made decisions towards me that I still personally have trouble completely forgiving them for, if I’m being completely honest. The toxic behavior from a bunch of guys that surrounded me growing up, especially in high school, felt that way and haunted me for a long time. Yet, as much as I wanted to deny it, I still cared about them because of how nice they were to me before and the connection that I once had with them. I wanted them to make it the best that they could on their own paths, even if I was no longer a part of theirs. I used to think that my caring about people who were once friends before they started acting badly was a horrible weakness for the longest time.
Yet, as I started making friendships with other people in my life who displayed a genuine love and selflessness, I recognized more of the potential of what humanity can offer. Here were close friends who had discussed about pretty negative experiences from their own pasts and people who didn’t treat them nice, yet they still tried to be giving with their own hearts and demonstrate kindness in their own ways. These were the types of friends who made me want to be better, too, and show my own ways of reaching out to others and being selfless. These newer friends in my life helped me recognize that caring for someone else that you have plenty of history with and a strong connection to is important and can even lead others to be better in their own ways.
Now, you shouldn’t let people who treat you like dirt all the time continue to treat you that way, and you should put your foot down and make the right choice when they don’t even try to learn their lessons or get better or show them as trying to be caring or loving towards you at all.
Yet, it is good to reach out and be selfless to those who you sincerely love or care about you as is appropriately needed, even when you feel angry about something that the other has done to your or she feels angry at you about whatever you may have done. That is real compassion. And, that is shown through Diane in her actions here in spades. She is aware of how BoJack has done many terrible acts and said some nasty things to her in the past, yet, when he asked for desperate assistance on how he can try to become a better person, she cared about him, despite what her inner voice might’ve tried to tell her otherwise, and she helped him take his first real steps towards an attempt in trying to improve. Diane also knows how BoJack has often tried to be there for her to talk to or someone to share her bad feelings about topics and people when she greatly needed it.
I also admire that she calls BoJack her best friend. She doesn’t use that label for anyone else in the series, and she doesn’t seem to have that strong of a connection with anyone else. So, something about her calling BoJack her best friend of all people warmed my heart a bit, too.
Granted, saying that she hates him isn’t the best choice for trying to motivate a best friend to get better, but the writing from the rest of the show and how human the show is does try to help you understand why she sounds as bitter as she does. While she may not have acted as badly as BoJack did throughout this series, Diane is, by no means, a saint, either. In the show, she has lashed out at loved ones, succumbed to her own self-loathing at certain points, and underwent a period of time in Season 2 when she tossed her responsibilities to the wind and spent weeks simply getting high and drunk instead of trying to get better.
So, it makes sense that someone having spent so much time in sadness and dark feelings would reach out to a friend who hasn’t been properly caring for himself for years. I struggle to think of another person on the show who connected and understood BoJack anywhere near as well as Diane did. Whether their friendship comes from their similar experiences of having depression or growing up with awful families or fighting to not be lost and confused in the all-too-confusing world of the entertainment industry or whatever the case may be, it speaks volumes to how well their friendship has lasted with them still showing how they care about the other throughout the series in spite of the low moments in their bond.
On top of that, here is someone who is fully aware of BoJack’s bad habits and mistakes from his own past and wasn’t always very nice to her. Diane could’ve easily told him to seek help from another friend. Yet, she didn’t. She guided him to a place containing people who are specialized with trying to help people recover from their own demons or bad habits. And, this generous act and her being open enough to share her story about doing the right thing and caring about someone, even if it doesn’t make complete sense in one’s mind and the kindness is being directed towards a person who may or may not ultimately deserve that help, shows how big Diane’s heart is, along with the potential of people to be kind and generous in a world that feels so cruel and bitter at times.
Caring for someone, showing you how much they mean to your heart and you, in spite of your fights and disagreements with them, doesn’t mean that you’re weak. It means that you’re human and have a genuine soul. It means that you’re stronger in ways than even you probably didn’t think possible. Diane perfectly demonstrated that here and with her friendship with BoJack, in general.
Their friendship and their ability to still try to connect, despite their disagreements with each other, shows in the last moments of the very last episode of the series. When BoJack and Diane have that sometimes uncomfortable, completely honest discussion on the roof in “Nice While It Lasted,” Diane asks BoJack why he made her feel as though it was her sole job to try to save him all the time.
Diane then says. “I don’t know. Maybe, it’s everybody’s job to save each other.”
She then goes on to share what changes have happened in her life and how she still deals with sadness every now and then but tries to level it out and make the best of it. Diane is as open and honest with BoJack as she’s always been and tried to be about her life, and she goes as far as to tell him that there are people in one’s life who help you become the person that you are and that you can be grateful for knowing. Diane says that she is glad for having known BoJack, too.
When it becomes more painfully apparent that this could be their last conversation together, Diane says. “I need to tell you…thank you, and…it’s going to be okay, and…I’m sorry…and, thank you.”
We don’t know what she is apologizing exactly for, and we never hear her specifically saying what she is thanking him (twice) for. And, we never know what happens right after BoJack and Diane silently look at the blue, starry sky for the last few minutes before the final episode and the entire show cuts to black, afterwards. Much like much of life, “BoJack Horseman” was nevera show with any easy answers. It stayed in this way to the very end and appropriately so.
I won’t lie to you. The ever optimistic part within me was hoping for a few seconds that Diane might lean against BoJack’s shoulders in a friendly way as they spent possibly their last time together or do something similar to also show her appreciation. Call this thought about this show naïve, but I just cared about their friendship that much.
This scene between Diane and BoJack reminds me a little of the ending to one of my favorite movies, “Lost in Translation.” We may not know exactly what Bill Murray was whispering in Scarlett Johansson’s ear with their last time together, but that’s not what’s truly important. What makes this movie and scene so powerful is that it consists of two completely different people who have made a strong connection and relationship with each other and are embracing the power of their memories with each other and genuine love that brought them to where they are before they say farewell. The power of that friendship between Bill and Scarlett is every bit as unforgettable, real, and fascinating as the power of the friendship between BoJack and Diane, complicated as it may have been. As a result, the mystery behind the actions in these last exchanges doesn’t need to have an explanation because it’s the strong feelings and connections between these relationships that is what’s really significant.
I’ve spoken with a few other friends who have seen the show, and we all came to a pretty similar agreement that Diane was probably thanking BoJack for having the impact that he did on her life and shaping him to be the woman that she is sitting right next to him. Through all of their fights and low, low moments and times spent not always being nice to each other, they still cared about each other in the end, and they helped each other grow in different ways. Much of that came from their compassion and way that they tried to seek each other for advice or showed generosity in specific moments.
I like to imagine that Diane, regardless of whether this was the artistic intent or not, is telling BoJack thanks for the impact that he and his show have had on others who are fighting through depression. I like to imagine that she’s expressing the fans’ thanks for speaking to those who are struggling with mental health issues or addictions of their own. I like to imagine that she’s speaking thanks from the people who have watched the show and had their own moments of feeling at the bottom of the barrel or had troublesome pasts or have said, felt, or done things similar to what Mr. Peanutbutte, Todd, Caroline, Diane, or BoJack have said, felt, or done.
Whatever she may have meant to say with her last words to BoJack, I know that I and others have learned a great deal from one of the best shows of the past decade, a true gem in animation and television, in general. And, I know that it made an impact on my own life and helped me through my own struggles in my life.
To everyone involved in bringing this show to life and taking the risks that you did and showing the big heart that you did with its writing, characters, and so on, thank you.
Much like Diane, I don’t have much else to say, except, sincerely, thank you.