The second season of Bojack Horseman ends quietly with titular character Bojack going on a jog up a hill. His life, for lack of a better term, seems like an inescapable dumpster fire; and this early step in trying once more to turn it around seems physically impossible. He proclaims running to be terrible and everything to be the worst, and then he drops to the ground in exhaustion. A stranger approaches him and gives him a piece of advice:
“It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier”
Of course he’s not just talking about jogging, he’s talking about life. In a vacuum this comes off as a stupidly simple message about the virtues of hard work, but in the context of Bojack Horseman it speaks to a deep human -or in this case anthropromorphic human- truth about happiness and learning to engage with the world and the people around you.
Before we get to that in more detail a little personal context is necessary. I intended this piece to be about all three current seasons of Bojack Horseman, but the idea of waiting until I eventually got around to the entire thing and then having to gather all my notes was incredibly daunting. It’s no exaggeration to say that Bojack Horseman has inspired me to try and be better, and having just finished the second season I realised I needed to write what I was feeling in that moment.
My whole life got turned upside down last year when I decided to fulfill one of my ambitions and study in Japan. Despite my hopes I didn’t cope with the strict scrutinous education system, I didn’t cope with being an adult in my own place having never been taught the things I was meant to do, and I didn’t cope with the people around me. But one person was different in my mind, one person was special. Eventually I started to develop feelings for them despite knowing they had a partner. We had a mid semester break and just the two of us ended up going to Tokyo, and on that trip I overcame my emotional anguish only to make a horrifically untimely confession. We never spoke again after that trip.
This embarrassing and painful situation put me on a downward spiral that led me to having to return home in relative shame. Life seemed to be easier to deal with than it was those previous months, but my interactions with some of the people closest to me became more stressful than ever and the self betterment I set out to do was constantly freefalling into ditches. In those ditches I wallow in my past shame and my future struggles and I feel powerless. I just don’t want to be where I am with the people I’m around. I want to leave. I want to find some place where I’m a successful productive creator doing what I love and feeling for once in my life that I’m the most important person in someone’s life. And so does Bojack I guess.
Bojack Horseman‘s second season begins with Bojack seemingly having his life back on track. The memoir of his troubled life as a 90’s sitcom celebrity after fame thrusted him back in the limelight to play the lead role in a film about his hero Secretariat. His life and his success has seemingly slotted itself back into place, so why wouldn’t he be happy? But his happiness is an insecure facade, built on blocking out unpleasant feelings instead of engaging with them. He becomes so caught up in this that he struggles to even act out negative emotions on the set of his film, but eventually when faced with the reality that he could be pushed aside for another actor is forced to confront sadness and fear. And then his life just goes back to the way it was before.
While caught up in this he begins to long for someone in his life who doesn’t know or care about his past mistakes, at which point he meets the conveniently-comatose-since-the-1980’s Wanda Pierce. They hit it off well, but the more Wanda gets to know Bojack the more she comes to feel distant. It begins with his inability to directly express love towards her, and it all goes up in flames when Bojack abandons his work on the slowly devolving Secretariat film in spite of threats of a lawsuit. With nothing else left to do in Bojack’s mind and realising that he hadn’t felt true happiness in countless years he tries to take happiness for himself, running away from showbiz to revisit his old love interest Charlotte Moore in New Mexico.
To Bojack’s dismay he finds Charlotte has moved on to have a husband and family, while he stands an unmarried fifty something year old still longing for her. In her mind and in the family’s mind he’s a charming successful person, and as an old friend Charlotte welcomes him to stay there as long as he wants. Bojack starts to live his life with the person his fantasies told him was his happiness, and everything seems to be going just fine. That is until Bojack becomes his worst self.
Charlotte’s daughter Penny eventually falls for Bojack as the validating adult figure she lacked in her life, and Bojack falls for her as the spitting image of the one he can’t have. Bojack initially knows better than to engage in that kind of thoroughly toxic and ugly relationship. After firmly passing on Penny’s advances he stumbles on Charlotte and begins to wax nostalgic with her. Charlotte escaped LA decades before Bojack eventually followed her out of there, but as a mature adult her tone has changed. She didn’t get the life she had simply because she left showbiz, she got it because she was willing to make a change in herself. “You can’t escape you”, she tells Bojack. As the conversation escalates Bojack eventually tries to make a move on her, at which point she backs away from him. Rejected and desperate, Bojack attempts to sleep with Penny before Charlotte catches him in the act and without mincing words says to him, “if you ever try to contact me, or my family again, I will fucking kill you”.
In this horrible situation it was fairly justified of Charlotte to want Bojack out of her life forever. Bojack did something irredeemably rotten, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t allowed to grow up and find happiness. By the time we come to this point, though, Bojack is in no mood to love himself. He comes home to find he indirectly founded an orphanage and became a hero for it, so he proceeds to proclaim his sense of undeservedness and worthlesness in front of the starving children. Then he finds all his appearances in Secretariat were computer animated in post after he left but still gets given all the praise. The PR campaign for the film digs into his deep-seated fear that no one who knows him well enough could ever love him, and so he promptly escapes it.
The one person who knows him deeply and loves him in spite of that is the person he least expected: Todd. Todd was the deadbeat who used to live on his couch, the perpetually neglected punching bag up to this point and for the most part just an inept gag going on in the background who Bojack had no qualms abandoning when his life was falling apart. The thing that stands true in spite of this is that Bojack took Todd into his house in the first place, because Bojack saw the vulnerable life failure he saw in himself. After rescuing Todd from the appropriately Bojack Horseman evil improv cult ship Todd and Bojack move back in together, with Bojack having made his first sincere expression of love towards another person. But it wasn’t the romantic love or the sexual love he spent miserable decades longing for, it was an unconditional platonic love.
Life goes on in spite of that, and life never gets easy. But it does get easier. Happiness isn’t a goal, it’s a state of mind that comes and goes just like any other for any number of irrational reasons. But the same goes for sadness. If there’s anything I think I’ve learned from my experience and from Bojack Horseman it’s mindfulness. It’s noticing and coming to terms with your endless thoughts and feelings. It’s being able to confront your circumstances and becoming stronger as a result of them. It’s looking at yourself, without judgment, and figuring out what it takes to keep moving and keep changing. That’s easier said than done, but eventually you’ll find yourself getting a little bit better at all of this. If it’s not too late for Bojack Horseman it’s not too late for anyone else.
Editor’s Note: This is a heavy enough personal subject that I think it’s worth noting I didn’t start to overcome my anxiety and unhappiness through personal observation and watching Bojack Horseman alone (though Bojack Horseman is certainly very good)!! If you yourself are struggling from feelings of anxiety or depression I strongly encourage you to seek out counselling and/or non-profit organisations dedicated to anxiety and depression where you live for help, there is plenty of help out there. And as a personal I recommendation I think it’s worth reading Dr. Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap Pocketbook. It is a seriously good read that deals with coming to terms with personal anguish in a very meaningful way!!