This article was cowritten by Celia Richardson
Editor’s Note: This article includes major spoilers for Seasons 4 & 5 of Bojack Horseman
“You say you wanna get better, and you don’t know how.”
Like a broken record, this painfully honest sentence uttered by Diane Nguyen, voiced by Alison Brie, resonates throughout the trailer for the fifth season of Bojack Horseman. The fifth season of the award-winning Netflix series was released on Friday, September 14, and like its previous installments, Bojack’s fifth season does not fall short of gripping subplots, quotable one-liners, and painful moments that leave viewers in awe. In order to fully grasp the beauty and poignancy of this season, we need to dissect it and examine its various parts, which is what we intend to do in this article.
The season kicks off with St. Vincent’s “Los Ageless” playing as we are re-welcomed to Bojack’s famous house, which actually turns out to be a set for his newest show, Philbert. Produced by Princess Carolyn, Philbert serves as the child she never got to have at the end of season four. We are also introduced to a new character played by the delightful Stephanie Beatriz, Gina, who not only serves as Bojack’s newest love interest but is also a wonderful addition to the show. At the end of this episode, we see Mr. Peanutbutter fetching Diane from the airport (dog pun not intended) and consequently talking about accomplished divorce papers, which serves as the main plot of the second episode, “The Dog Days Are Over.” We find Diane emotional over her divorce with Mr. Peanutbutter because while she initially wanted this, it’s evident that there is still a huge part of her that loves him.
In a vain attempt to get over her ex-husband, Diane impulsively flies to Hanoi, following and completely acknowledging the trope that involves fleeing familiar surroundings to try to find one’s self. This episode also excellently tackles Diane’s diaspora brought by her lack of connection with her Vietnamese roots. In Hanoi, Diane is treated like an idiot by white tourists under the assumption that she can’t speak English. While her treatment may seem exaggerated, sadly, this is still a reality for English-speaking minorities everywhere. In the end, Diane resigns to the fact that going to Hanoi has not done anything to appease her unresolved feelings for Mr. Peanutbutter, and further into this season, we also discover that despite his happy-go-lucky facade and constant efforts to establish a romantic relationship with the significantly younger Pickles, Mr. Peanutbutter’s still irrevocably attached to Diane though he is, ultimately, making more progress in moving on than she is. Because of their unresolved emotional issues, it’s easy to get Celeste and Jesse vibes from the two of them.
Season 5, like all the previous seasons, doesn’t fail to intelligently tackle social issues without sounding preachy, performative, or obnoxious, one example being the further development of Todd’s asexuality and relationship with Yolanda. After a particularly crazy night of meeting Yolanda’s parents, in which she tries to avoid coming out to them and lies about Todd’s personality to impress them, they discover that the two of them don’t have anything in common aside from their asexuality and decide to break up. Before parting, the two confess their fears of finding another partner who they connect with and will be okay with not having sex. Another example of successfully achieving this high standard of commentary can be seen through the show satirizing society’s glorification of male feminists and their ability to overlook the efforts of women when BoJack becomes an accidental feminist. After simply stating “choking your wife is bad,” BoJack is met with immense applause. The fact should be abundantly obvious, but because he is a man his words are, comically, seen as “revolutionary.” Both are striking examples of real-world issues being incorporated into the fictional world, but neither are as deliciously ridiculous or blatantly obvious as the arc in which the company Todd works for, What Time Is It Right Now.com, hires a literal sex robot as a high-up executive on the company’s food chain. Despite complaints from other employees, the robot, of course, can’t change his ways. It’s in his programming. Dubbed “Fondlegate” when the robot is forced to resign, the writers throw all notions of subtlety out the window in this attack of toxic corporate culture.
For this season, Princess Carolyn’s arc revolves around motherhood and the failed pregnancy we were left with last season. In episode 5, Princess Carolyn returns to her hometown to look for someone to adopt a baby from. She then meets Sadie, a forthcoming mother who doesn’t wholeheartedly want the baby she’s about to give birth to. However, as episode 5 draws to a close, Sadie decides not to give her baby to Princess Carolyn under the impression that Princess Carolyn thinks life in the city is better than a life with “a sky full of stars.” In the season finale, however, Sadie calls up Princess Carolyn while she’s in the midst of a Philbert-induced mess, telling her that she wants PC to have the baby because everyone she’s denied in the past has stopped being nice to her when they didn’t get the baby except for Princess Carolyn, which Sadie saw as a sign. After this, Tracy, the sassy, sarcastic adoption center worker, says something insightful and admirable about motherhood, making Princess Carolyn truly think about her wants and priorities. As for Tracy’s surprisingly enlightening insight, you have to watch season 5 to find out what it is.
The new season peaks with the bold “Free Churro,” an episode entirely devoted to Bojack eulogizing his mother. Aside from a brief flashback scene to open up the episode, “Free Churro” is solely composed of Bojack standing and speaking in a style more resemblant of a stream-of-conscience than a formal eulogy. Throughout the entire series, the viewer has been fed bits and pieces of information about Bojack’s toxic relationship with his parents, but we have never been privy to such lengthy and detailed discussion of such. This episode was a brilliant decision on the part of the show’s creators, and would have been inappropriate were it included any earlier than it was; it is a standalone episode but works perfectly in its placement. Only now that the viewer has such a profound understanding of BoJack’s character can they appreciate the emotional potency of the episode and sympathize with BoJack’s pain rather than chastise him for giving such an unfiltered, indecorous speech at such a formal occasion.
For all the genius and intensity that was season 5 of BoJack Horseman, it could not, unfortunately, be without fault. The most glaring example would be the episode entitled “INT. SUB.” Following right after “Free Churro,” the indisputable high point of the season, “INT. SUB” is overly goofy, messy, and extremely tonally confused, entering into the show’s narrative right when the series had finally found the perfect balance between comedy and drama, embracing and exploring its darker themes. The events of “INT. SUB” are told through two therapists sharing their clients’ stories with each other; and though the writers were undoubtedly trying to make use of unconventional storytelling techniques, “INT. SUB” tries to be clever, but simply tries too hard, unlike the seemingly effortless tongue-in-cheek intelligence characteristic of the series.
BoJack Horseman is notorious for its eleventh episodes; they are said to be the most painful and impactful. “The Showstopper” is no exception with its spectacular storytelling devices and blending of reality and fiction as BoJack falls deeper and deeper into debilitating addiction, accumulating in BoJack’s painful-to-watch assault of his co-star, Gina. In the emotionally-charged season finale, Diane, despite having had serious issues with BoJack, takes him to check into a rehab center and get help for his painkiller abuse. In her gesture of friendship and BoJack’s gesture of trust in accepting, the events of the eleventh episode will depress the viewer, but not without leaving them with hope for the twelfth.
Whether you enjoy BoJack Horseman for its witty animal puns, niche pop culture references, or deep exploration of destructive Hollywood (or, in this case, Hollywoo) culture, the show’s fifth season does not disappoint. Cranking out some of the best episodes of the entire series, this season seems to make a pivotal shift from a comedy show with elements of drama to a dramatic show with elements of comedy. Unlike previous seasons, you won’t find yourself thinking “that ruined the moment” quite as often, though the comedy, when employed, is still as spot-on as ever.
Featured Image: BoJack Horseman via Otakukart