In great TV there is a moment when everything coalesces and you realize you are watching something truly special. In Breaking Bad it is in watching Walt bike lock a gang banger to death; in The Wire it is in watching McNulty and Bunk decipher a crime scene using only a single repeated word that rhymes with duck; in Deadwood it is within the first scene of the first episode. In the first season of Bojack Horseman that scene comes near the end of the eighth episode, “The Fountain,” after watching Bojack dodge seeing Herb Kazazz, with whom we know he has had a falling out. When it all finally comes to a head and Bojack is forced to spend time with Herb, who is in the midst of a terminal cancer diagnosis, we expect a heart-warming reconciliation between two old friends. Instead Herb won’t forgive him. Too little too late, as Herb so unceremoniously says to Bojack before expelling him from his home.
Watching that episode the first time around you know that you’ll be watching the whole first season again, that you’ll feel the need to tell friends about it afterward, and that what you’ve just seen is something special. But it wasn’t until the penultimate episode of season two that you realize that what you’ve been enthralled with is a masterpiece. Much in the same way that Breaking Bad became a canonical classic when Walt let Jane die, Bojack Horseman transcends in the second season’s eleventh episode, “Escape From L.A.”
The second to last episode of Bojack Horseman season two dives back into a story thread from season one. Throughout the show’s premiere run of episodes there is this constant idea that if Bojack had left Hollywood and moved to Maine with Charlotte, a deer voiced by Olivia Wilde, then everything would be fine for him in the present. He would have the happy ending that alludes him so much and could maybe fix himself in the process. Charlotte represents the hope that Bojack could be saved, that things could be put back together. However; when Bojack jumps in his car and drives to see Charlotte, who stayed in Maine for a little before moving to New Mexico, he finds that in the decades since he last saw her she has gotten married and had two kids. For Bojack time has stopped. He is pretty much the same person he was when he and Charlotte were friends, but she has moved on, grown up, and settled down.
Bojack then ingratiates himself within Charlotte’s family and stays with them for a few months. And then he takes Charlotte’s daughter Penny to the prom, and Penny kisses him and wants to sleep with him. Bojack turns her down and sends her away. He sees Charlotte and they kiss but she rejects him, again. The fairy tale ending in which Bojack finally gets the girl is gone. Charlotte even says that they were friends for “twenty minutes” before she left. He has clung to this solution to his problems that was never there. And that would be enough to keep the show as one of the best on TV. It constantly keeps us unsure. In TV land, Herb Kazazz should forgive the protagonist of the show, except he doesn’t. Charlotte should have clung to a crush on our hero for thirty years, except she doesn’t. Because real people harbor grudges and give up on infatuations, Bojack tries and fails to continue living the TV life and keeps coming up against the unmovable brick wall of reality.
And then, rejected by Charlotte, Bojack goes back to his boat parked on Charlotte’s driveway in which he is currently living and finds Penny waiting for him. Long story short, Charlotte catches them about to sleep with each other. So our hero, Bojack, has made a pass at a married woman and then, upon being rejected, tried to sleep with her 17-year-old daughter. And it’s so disappointing because we feel as though Bojack was getting better. But in the end, Bojack knows what he is. He knows he’s awful. He wants to be better, but he can only be Bojack.
Bojack Horseman is a masterpiece because it does not flinch. It looks directly into your face and says, there are no easy, happy endings. These things you fantasize about that might fix you, they aren’t real. There isn’t some perfect moment waiting on the horizon that will make you a better person and fix you because you’re broken. The only way you can fix yourself is by fixing yourself. It’s not going to be easy but each day it might get a little easier. Even if we’re not horses who used to be in a very famous TV show, Bojack Horseman is something we can all learn from.
Featured Image: Netflix