Bojack Horseman's three finales
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
My entire philosophy of writing articles comes from a simple line by one Todd Chavez. "Isn't the point of art less what people put into it and more what people get out of it?" This is the line that allowed me to highlight the most basic desire of freedom in The Truman Show. It is what allowed me to highlight the brilliance of Zuko's arc in a way probably never intended by the creators. Well, this masterpiece of a show deserves the same treatment, and I want to talk about something I noticed immediately after finishing the show: Bojack has three endings.
For many viewers, Bojack Horseman was not a show, it was a life experience. The five main characters of the show, silly as they can be at times, are really deeply affected. There is a reason that the best-written characters in fiction are the ones which are deeply broken, afraid, and struggling. Quoting Jeff Winger, "People can connect with anything.", and there is no greater catalyst for catharsis than characters who feel like real people. How could you give a show, that means so many different things to different people, one ending?
The simplest answer is you do not. The first of these endings happens during the first half of season 6. After 5 seasons of Bojack promising to be better, failing, and ruining one of his relationships permanently, we needed a ray of hope for Bojack. We are given the least likely ending Bojack could have had: A good ending.
This involves a positive character arc for Bojack. The creators carefully ensured that every interaction that he has during this time is one where he can redeem himself. He can let go of his dependence on Diane, or help the teen girl whom he helped relapse, and he can make peace with Todd. Bojack was a completely different character after his rehab. The allegorical value of this ending was high. It gives the viewers closure for Bojack. We are given the idea that Bojack, despite everything relating to his past, can change for the better.
During this phase, Bojack accepted his own past shortcomings as he faced them. Bojack only ever had to face people whom he can redeem his relationship with. This pushed an allegory of becoming better into an illusion that you will be completely forgiven once you start becoming a better person. Bojack went on to get a job as a professor, get closure on the four most important relationships of his life, and started a new life close to his half-sister.
But what about Gina? She still has panic attacks since Bojack tried to kill her. Penny is still traumatised, and most importantly, Sarah Lynn cannot be brought back. Bojack can never get closure with these people. They had their own lives, and Bojack put a huge stain mark on their lives and careers, and ended it in case of Sarah Lynn. After all he has done, should Bojack really be given complete forgiveness?
This is where the second ending comes in. Now, while it is still allegorical, the story plays out like a tragedy and a negative character arc. While Bojack has his own life going on, so do all his victims, and their positive character change was either cutting Bojack off from their lives or seeking justice against him. During the second half of the show, Bojack's life starts going the route of disaster. We, as the audience, do not want Bojack to suffer anymore, but Diane, the moral centre here is completely on-point. He has to face every single one of his blunders and let the people judge him.
Something quite interesting happened here. Bojack became an icon of recovery. Many people came out to support him as they believed that he has genuinely changed, all except for Diane. She did not like how everyone was willing to forgive Bojack so easily. He did not deserve this level of appreciation after ruining so many lives. Bojack tailored his stories to make the story seem like nothing more than a story about Bojack becoming a good person. But Bojack wanted more. He wanted another interview, and this is what led to one of the most painful revelations in the show.
17 minutes... Bojack waited 17 minutes before calling for help for Sarah Lynn. At the risk of looking guilty, he did not get this girl, who he claimed to be like a father to, immediate medical help. Sarah Lynn didn't die in the planetarium, she died in the hospital. And with that, the audience saw the other side of Bojack's story. Slowly, we learn about how, when looked through an objective scope, Bojack is an irredeemable villain who does not deserve any bit of forgiveness.
Bojack's second interview led to a downwards spiral which ended with him face down in his swimming pool. Through the most beautiful depiction of death in television, the show lets Bojack have closure with everyone whom he cannot apologise to. While it is the funniest use of Zach Braff besides "Guy Love" from Scrubs, the episode slowly builds up the dripping goo of end and the door that leads to nowhere.
After he realises what was happening, he tried to escape, believing he had called Diane and she is coming to save him. But then, he remembered that Diane, the only person he could ever rely on, is not with him. Bojack can now be sure that he has nothing. He is going to die with nothing. He seeks comfort in a last dialogue with Diane, being pleased knowing that at the very least, her day was good.
And the Bittersweet
Bojack didn't die. Is it right to end a show about recovery with a message that your past will kill you? While the story of Bojack could have easily ended either of the above ways, that's not the story of a life. A life is filled with ups, downs, recoveries and relapses. This is why we needed one final episode. A bittersweet one, one that closed Bojack's relationships with the others.
Bojack was sent to prison for breaking into his old home and did not interact with anyone on the outside. Almost a year later, he is invited to Princess Carolyn's wedding since he is also one of the most important people in her life. We are only given dialogues between Bojack and his four companions in this episode. Bojack slowly learns about them what he never did before, and sees how different they are now that their lives went on without him. Mr Peanutbutter, well he fixed the "Hollywoo" sign, but is now embracing his personality as someone who is just too fast for a relationship. Todd is still venturing new ideas and philosophies (most notably, the Hokey-Pokey theory) and still cares about Bojack, Princess Carolyn has let go of her compulsion to please all her clients and given up on Bojack. But Diane, for Diane it was different.
See, Bojack had one final chance to put his influence on her. He gave Diane the worst day of her life before going to prison. Diane was in shock and blamed herself for Bojack's death. She couldn't reach him or anyone. It seemed like she would end up spiralling back into life of unhappiness she is familiar with, but she didn't. She recovered, She recovered by letting go of Bojack. Diane was his final victim, the final person with whom his relationship had to end.
For Bojack, this was about accepting that he was not at the centre of the show. The finale was not about Bojack living a happy life or dying tragically. The other two endings had a noticeable absence of other people, like they were plot-points for Bojack's story. This is the ending that conveyed Bojack the most important message: Sometimes, life's a bitch and you keep living.
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