What BoJack Horseman Teaches Us About Loneliness – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on BoJack Horseman Season 5!
Written by: Amanda Scherker
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
What BoJack Horseman Teaches Us About Loneliness – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here. BoJack is BACK! That means it’s time to saddle up and head back to the strange and depressing world of Hollywoo.
Now, we’ve already talked about proto narrative and distraction in previous videos, but this season really dives deep in to an idea that’s always been present in the show. That idea? Loneliness — who’s comfortable with it, who’s uncomfortable with it, and who takes 100 painkillers a day to avoid it at all costs. Through it’s ensemble of dysfunctional relationships, BoJack gives us a fresh and quite nuanced perspective on loneliness not often seen on TV. Can loneliness be healthy? Or even necessary?
Well, let’s find out in this Wisecrack Quick Take on BoJack Horseman Season 5. And of course, spoilers ahead —
But real quick, a shout out to our new channel sponsor, Wix. We’re building a new website using Wix that will have a bunch of fun and interactive features, including a way for you to vote on what we should cover in an upcoming episode. So, more on that at the end of the video, but for now, back to BoJack.
So first, guys, a quick recap. This season revolves around the production off BoJack’s new TV show, Philbert, where BoJack navigates a semi-relationship with costar Gina. Meanwhile, Princess Caroline attempts to adopt a baby, Todd manages his career as a VP at WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com, and Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane finalize their divorce in an attempt to move on with their lives.
As early as the first line, Loneliness is established as a central theme of the season, — “Nothing’s lonelier than a party. Good thing I don’t need anyone, or I might feel lonesome.” — and as we’ll see, every major character struggles with this in their own way.
Let’s start with the most obvious one: Diane, who is struggling to reconcile her identity as a newly-divorced, single woman. We’ve seen in previous seasons how hard she used to try to keep up with Mr. Peanutbutter’s expectations to be a fun party-goer like him. Having defined herself in relation to him for so long only made her focus on her supposed shortcomings as an introvert, while abandoning other aspects of herself that she actually liked. “This is all the stuff that Cool 20-Something Diane had to put away when she moved in with Old Man Peanutbutter.”
In episode 2, we follow her non0sequentially across a timeline that starts with her hitting on BoJack — “We could totally make out right now!” — during a moment of lonely desperation. Then, after finding out that Mr. Peanutbutter has a new girlfriend, she flees to Vietnam for a solo trip. Once there, she is rendered doubly alone by her inability to speak Vietnamese and her fellow-Americans’ assumptions that she doesn’t speak English. “You Vietnam.” “No, ME, America!” She copes with her loneliness in various ways, at one point engaging in a mega-brief romance with a grip. But every interaction puts Diane more ill at ease. From a conversation with Todd about… something… — “I’m supposed to go to roller rink later. Hopefully there won’t be any mob bosses there. What am I saying? That’s SO random.” — to the grip’s endless pontification, Diane realizes that often, interacting with the outside world only leaves her feeling more alone. She eventually comes to terms with her romantic aloneness – apologizing to BoJack for her mixed messages and admitting that — “I just really need a friend, right now.” Over the course of the season, she seems increasingly self-actualized, from being able to comfort her romantic semi-rival Pickles, to performing a solo intervention for BoJack (Now, more on that later.)
Generally, she’s able to exist more truthfully now that she’s not dating someone who doesn’t align with her values. Even her therapist admits that — “It sounds like our time together is done.” “What?!” “The fact that you’re setting a boundary is good. Go forth with the tools I’ve given you.”
Through Diane, we see that self-sufficiency and embracing solitude can be key to realizing the truest, strongest version of yourself. While Diane is able to be happily alone, other characters attempt to make relationships work in order to avoid confronting loneliness. Just as Diane’s relationship with Mr. Peanutbutter makes her obsess over her “fun quotient,” Todd’s relationships seem to only bring out his two shortcomings.
First, in his relationship with Yolanda, Todd is hurt by the hyperfocus on his lack of life direction. “Why did you tell your family I went to college?” “Oh, I dunno. I guess I just wanted you to seem impressive.” Ultimately, he decides to end the relationship. “Yolanda, we need to break up.”
Second, he’s so eager to make things work with Emily that he constructs a sex robot, which he is convinced could compensate for his his disinterest in sex. While Emily isn’t super into boning the sex robot, the bigwigs at WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com are impressed by its moxy, and the robot is ultimately promoted to CEO. Todd ultimately destroys the sex robot and takes off his executive’s suit, thereby eliminating the parts of him that were trying to please Yolanda and Emily. As with Diane, Todd’s interactions show how some romantic relationships can leave you feeling more alone and more lacking.
And now for Princess Caroline. In episode 5, we get some deeper insights into her past, learning how she went from being the “help’s” knocked-up daughter at the mercy of her boyfriend’s answering-machine tape dynasty, only to miscarry and find herself on her own. Instead of mourning the life she lost, she created an entirely new one for herself by moving to LA and clawing her way up the Hollywoo ladder.
It’s worth noting that her latest journey in self-sufficiency also came after a miscarriage; the one that blew up her relationship with Milton. Once again, we see Princess Caroline land on her feet and channel the same bravery as her teenage-self in starting over after a difficult loss. While sitting in the hospital waiting to meet her maybe-baby, she admits to Milton that 4th-season Princess Caroline did want him to stick around the night she kicked him out. “I wish you’d stayed with me that night.” “You told me to leave.” “Yeah, I guess the lesson is, don’t listen to me, right?”
However, later, she clearly tells him to leave, saying that she doesn’t want to raise the baby with him, and this time, she means it. She’s learned what she wants: self-sufficiency. Princess Caroline’s joke about her baby’s name — “Untitled Princess Caroline Project” — suggests that, as with her previous career successes, Princess Caroline will manage single motherhood just fine.
Alright, so Diane, Todd, and Princess Caroline’s journeys through season 5 illustrate various takes on that double-edged sword of loneliness and self-sufficiency. Which brings us to Mr. Peanutbutter.
Mr Peanutbutter also fits this narrative because, as the character most in need of company, he’s also the least inclined to self-reflection. “So, I’m not tough enough, huh? I’ll show them how tough I can be… We’ll be back! With more of the Red Carpet Pre-Show Fashion-stravagaza!” Unlike the other characters, Mr. Peanutbutter rarely appears to want anything beyond fame, fun, and parties. He seems physically incapable being alone, getting with the first half-his-age dog-lady he meets after signing his divorce papers. As a serial monogamist, he may desperately hide from loneliness or self-reflection, seeking solace in relationships the same way he seeks solace in loud parties. In the Halloween episode, Mr. Peanutbutter gets dangerously close to introspection as he wonders how each of his wives became bitter and unhappy by the end of their relationship. “What’s the common denominator?”
Diane offers some insight: “You keep dating women in their twenties.” “I do do that!” “They’re not fully formed, yet. Life changes people.” “Well, not me.” The women he marries eventually grow up, while Mr. Peanutbutter remains the same. It seems that in constantly dating women who are younger than him, Mr. Peanutbutter has carved out a convenient emotional niche he can continue to occupy as he replaces each consecutive wife with a younger, more “fun” version. This safe “paint-by-numbers” approach to marriage has kept Mr. Peanutbutter happy, but prevented him from maturing in any meaningful way.
Ultimately, Mr. Peanutbutter reveals himself to be truly pathological in his need to be coupled up when, instead of telling Pickles the truth about his infidelity and risking losing her, he decides to put a ring on it.
And finally, our boy BoJack. While Mr. Peanutbutter may be needy, at least he’s totally up front about it. BoJack, on the other hand, has a more complex and more painful relationship to the outside world. From calling Hollyhock in the middle of the night to inform her that he liked her on Instagram — “Well, I wanted to let you know that I hearted your Instagram photo.” “Okay.” — to pretending to match Gina’s blase take on the relationship — “We work together, we make sex together, we don’t talk about our feelings. And yet, sometimes, a begrudging respect can blossom into—” “Nope.” “—blossoms into nothing, is what I was gonna say!” — BoJack’s need for human/animal companionship is palpable. BoJack has gone the Mr. Peanutbutter route in the past, getting with women to avoid solitude, a toxic pattern that peaked with the near seduction of his ex-girlfriend’s teenage daughter.
This season, he’s kind-of dating the supremely-jaded Gina, who doesn’t appear to need anything from him emotionally, — “No, I love being alone. I wish I were alone right now.” — leaving him just as lonely as before. So, he decides to bypass the whole “learning to be alone with your thoughts” by altering his state of being. Enter: painkillers.
Writer Johann Hari, makes a compelling case for considering drug addiction as a disease of bonding. Humans have an innate, primal need to bond, and when they’re unable to bond with other people, they’ll bond with a negative behavior like smoking or gambling. Essentially, he argues that substance use is a substitute for meaningful human connection. And while researchers are also studying how other social and economic factors can influence addiction, in the fictional world of BoJack, loneliness seems like a close link. BoJack finds solace in drugs even as they embed him deeper into a fantasy world. Increasingly cutting off from the people around him, he begins to see friends and loved ones as “tools” for getting what he wants: Gina is a “tool” for helping him seize the limelight, and Hollyhock is a “tool” for helping him steal his pills back from Gina’s medicine cabinet.
Our sense of BoJack’s loneliness is augmented by the Philbert TV show narrative. Philbert is a hardboiled loner detective with a penchant for secrets and grizzly voice-over. “Why do you still use a landline?” “What am I supposed to tell her, I’m just an old fashioned guy? Or that I like something attached to the wall, something to hold me down if I start floating away.” From the opening line of the series, BoJack tries to imply that he relates to the character as a fellow loner/cynic. This develops into an ongoing joke about the remarkable similarities between the two. The set of the show looks exactly like BoJack’s house, and BoJack’s constantly wearing his Philbert costume off set “It’s a costume. I just finished filming a show.” “Normally, people return the costume.”
Also, BoJack frequently reads too deeply into his character’s narrative, despite reminders that: “It’s not about you, you know? It’s Philbert.” By the end, he becomes so disassociated he’s completely lost himself in the character. Even the character Philbert loses track of where he begins and ends, inventing a make-believe partner who he blames for his wife’s murder rather than taking responsibility for it. “There’s no record of you ever having a partner at all.” “What are you saying?” “You killed your wife. And the chief, and the coroner, and the others.” Similarly, BoJack loses any distinction between himself and Philbert, also because he can’t cope with the horrible things he’s done. The result of this disassociation? BoJack pretty much retreats into a fantasy world where he does crazy shit like choke Gina. At one point, he comes face to face with the bloated balloon version of himself, as if to illustrate the fact that his inability to face himself is ultimately to blame for all of his problems.
In an interesting moment in the season finale, BoJack begs Diane to write one of her Internet takedowns of him. He wants everyone to know about his worst behavior, he wants to be despised, chastised, and punished. Here, BoJack craves the feeling of being held accountable by the world… for the exact same reason he crave its company, praise, and romantic attention: because he has no consistent sense of self. He needs the world to reconcile his persona as lovable Hollywood leading man and narcissistic creep because he can’t do so on his own. A self-actualized Diane is no longer interested in playing BoJack’s games and diagnoses his request for what it is: self-serving.
Eventually, Diane convinces him that the only person whose “job” it is to hold him accountable is… himself. “I am asking to be held accountable.” “And I’m telling you it’s not gonna happen! Whatever you put in that story, no one is gonna ‘hold you accountable.’ You need to take responsibility for yourself.” And faster than you can say Narcotics Anonymous, she’s persuaded him to go to rehab.
So what are we to take from BoJack season 5? “You can’t rely on other people, BoJack.” Well, not quite. BoJack and his dad certainly know how to put a pessimistic spin on relationships, but we shouldn’t buy into their bleakest insights. While we can’t hide ourselves in the company of others, we have options beyond “live and die alone.” While romantic relationships may fail or prove toxic, it’s the platonic friendships that radiate through season 5.
Whether it’s the budding roommate-hood between Todd and Princess Caroline or the lasting bond between Diane and BoJack, they may have their ups, downs and stolen cheese sticks, but they prove uniquely enduring. BoJack starts the season claiming he doesn’t need anyone; but he ends it knowing that there’s one person he can count on: his friend Diane.
So, what do you guys think? Are we all alone in the world? Are romantic relationships elaborate traps for making us feel bad about ourselves? And is there power in being able to tolerate loneliness? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And as always, thanks for watching.