BoJack Horseman Season 4: What is BoJack Searching For? – Wisecrack Quick Take
The first three seasons of BoJack Horseman showed us a protagonist that, despite his Hollywoo success, struggled to find meaning. Season 4 departs from this narrative, to focus on… well, narrative. Join us on this Wisecrack Quick Take as we break down how our tendency to define ourselves through stories serves as the thematic backbone for the newest season of that show starring the horse from Horsin’ Around.
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Written by: Thomas Ambrosini
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
BoJack Horseman Season 4: What is BoJack Searching For? – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey guys, three-dimensional Jared, here. The first three seasons of BoJack showed us a protagonist that, despite his Hollywoo success, struggled to find meaning. But season three ended with hope. BoJack runs away from LA and stares at a herd of galloping horses, potentially embracing the idea that he’s free to choose who he wants to be. Which brings us to the core of the new season: our ability to define and redefine our own narratives. Welcome to this very late Wisecrack Quick Take on BoJack Horseman, Season Four. And as always, spoilers ahead.
Wrapped up in this season is what I’m going to call the narrative self; that how we experience, think, and remember things are intricately wrapped up in the stories we tell about ourselves. As philosopher Michael Gazzaniga says, we’re natural storytellers. “After the brain computes an event, the illusory ‘we’ (that is, the mind) becomes aware of it.” In other words, the way we think and understand the world and ourselves is literally through stories.
Series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has spoken about this idea of self-narrative in BoJack: “Because of the narrative we’ve experienced, we’ve kind of internalized this idea that we’re working toward some great ending, and that if we put all our ducks in a row we’ll be rewarded, and everything will finally make sense. It’s a struggle, and we’re all trying to figure it out, and these characters are trying to figure it out for themselves.”
This struggle to redefine one’s own narrative is intricately bound up with each character’s happiness. Everyone moves closer towards happiness as they move further away from the past. Escaping the death of Sara Lynn, BoJack drives to his family summer home and tries to redefine his own narrative: that he’s a sh*tty person. He tries to be a handyman but can’t fix anything, before later recasting himself as a tragic hero. “Who’s BoJack Horseman?” “Who’s BoJack Horseman? He’s a very famous TV and film star. Or he was, yeah, before he gave it all up for a life of quiet anonymity.” Instead of making any real inroads into redefining his own character, BoJack ends up reliving the past that justifies his own self-loathing. All the while, the show overlaps the narrative of his mother’s abusive childhood, a cycle continued as she raised BoJack.
BoJack’s life turns around when he befriends a dragonfly named Eddie, who refuses to fly following his wife’s death. But after Eddie tries to kill them both, BoJack sees Eddie’s fixation on the past as a cautionary tale about what grounding your narrative in a longing for the past can do. So the next day, in typical Bojack style, he hires a wrecking crew to level the Sugarman house. “Uh, yeah. You think I just want to mope around in a shrine to the past, getting off on my own guilt while the rest of my life passes me by? Pathetic much?” Princess Carolyn struggles to redefine a family narrative that she can do it all on her own, as she tries to get pregnant. “I don’t need other options. My mother had 12 kids. My body was made for this. We just gotta keep tick-tick-tickin”
There’s even a whole episode framed as a presentation by Princess Carolyn’s future descendant, that is actually just a story tells herself to cope with the present. She views her current hardships as what philosopher Mark Freeman calls “proto-narrative,” or a story yet to happen. It’s the ending – what happens next – that gives these moments meaning. For example — “Say did you ever hear the story of the couple who moved to California?” “I can’t say that I have.” “Oh, it’s a marvelous adventure! See, they hardly knew each other, but they shared a certain sensitivity, and a taste for the unknown. They were living in a one-horse town, so they headed west, towards a town that could accommodate three horses.” “Oh, yes, I think I have heard this story. They got a small house in San Francisco. Near the bookstore.” Except she doesn’t know what happens next, so in order to cling to the old narrative that she’ll be fine and fertile, she invents her own ending. “And when I think about that, I think about how everything is going to work out. Because how else could she tell people?” But the show tell us that this narrative is misguided, as symbolized by her cherished family necklace that turns out to be worthless costume jewelry.
Season 4 offers a solution to these ailments in what Michael White and David Epston call “Narrative Therapy.” The point is to help patients “re-author” their identity by focusing on what they value, and then creating a narrative that will help them pursue those values.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in BoJack, who must learn to overcome the narrative that he’s a terrible person — especially in regards to Hollyhock. “I don’t want to, but every time she looks at me with those big innocent eyes, all I can think about is every sh*tty thing I’ve ever done, and I think, ‘I don’t deserve that kind of love’.” We actually get to hear BoJack’s self-narrative through his inner monologue: “You’re a real stupid piece of sh*t. But I know I’m a piece of sh*t. That, at least, makes me better than all the other pieces of sh*t who don’t know they’re pieces of sh*t.”
Making things worse, BoJack’s forced to live with his abusive mother, Beatrice. Even though BoJack’s no longer living in a shrine to the past, he’s still longing for the love of a mother who doesn’t recognize him. When BoJack inevitably does something bad, it just viciously perpetuates this negative narrative, starting the cycle all over again. However, BoJack may have finally broken the cycle when he owns up to his actions with Hollyhock. “You are an amazing woman.” And after Beatrice laces Hollyhock’s coffee with amphetamines, BoJack lets it go, rather than perpetuating this multi-generational tale of abuse and revenge. When Beatrice finally recognizes BoJack, he stops looking for validation that will fix the past. He just sees her as she is: a sickly, old lady. And in the least BoJack moment of his life, he’s kind to her. “I don’t understand. Where am I?” “You’re… In Michigan.” “Michigan?” “Yeah. At the lake house.” “I am?” “It’s a — it’s a warm summer night. And the fireflies are dancing in the sky, and your whole family is here. And they’re telling you that everything is gonna be alright.”
In a final act of selflessness, he lets Hollyhock’s polyamorous eight dads tell her that BoJack is actually her brother – instead of claiming the good deed for himself. But as a reward, BoJack gains something else: “I told you from the beginning, I have eight dads.” “Yeah, yeah. Good.” “But… I’ve never had a brother.” Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn tells us the stories we tell ourselves aren’t always real. “I got into this business because I love stories. They comfort us, they inspire us, they create a context for how we experience the world. But also, you have to be careful, because if you spend a lot of time with stories, you start to believe that life is just stories, and it’s not. Life is life.”
So, what do you think, Wisecrack? Can people really change themselves by changing their own narratives? Let us know in the comment section.