WEEKLY TAROT: 03/02/20
All Of The Times BoJack Horseman Danced With The Devil
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
“Do you think it’s too late for me? Am I just doomed to be the person that I am—the person in that book? Diane, I need you to tell me it’s not too late.”
When BoJack Horseman’s biography, One Trick Pony, is published, all of his worst qualities are put on display for the world to see. Diane, who writes the book from a third-person perspective, is critical and honest in her depiction of BoJack. Who, as it turns out, comes off as more ‘flawed egomaniac’ than ‘heroic Hollywoo star’. She doesn’t sugarcoat his behaviour, forcing him to stare down the lens through which he is seen by others, versus how he’s always seen himself. And he doesn't like what he sees. Even though the response to his book is positive, BoJack is still terrified that if the rest of the world can see him as the imperfect, apathetic person (horse? horseperson?) he is behind the scenes, then he has no imaginary persona to latch on to where he can convince himself he's not the horrible person he knows he is. BoJack wants to believe there's a version of him that exists somewhere who is inherently good, even though the majority of his exploits would suggest otherwise. His overarching crisis throughout the series revolves around him struggling to internalize the morality of his existence.
“I need you to tell me that I’m a good person”, he begs Diane. “I know that I can be selfish and narcissistic and self-destructive, but underneath all that, deep down, I’m a good person and I need you to tell me that I’m good.”
BoJack Horseman is not a good person. He’s a problematic lead and embodies the trope of an anti-hero. His character serves as a medium for the show to explore toxic male behaviour and society’s glorification of it—our glorification of abusive men. Throughout the show, we see BoJack constantly turn to drugs and alcohol to avoid facing his problems. He drives his Tesla into the bottom of his pool. He takes advantage of vulnerable women by sleeping with Todd’s ex-girlfriend and the president of his fan club. He almost gets involved with Penny, the underage daughter of his friend, Charlotte. After developing an opioid addiction, he strangles his co-star and real-life girlfriend, Gina. And he is largely responsible for the death of Sarah Lynn, his tv-show daughter whom he embarks on a heroine-laced bender with, ultimately resulting in her to death by overdose. All of which serve to catch up with him in the final episodes of the show.
Before we get there, however, BoJack goes down a long, winding road that ebbs and flows between him searching for ways to redeem himself, and falling right back into his old, pernicious patterns. Though it's not for a lack of trying, it still takes BoJack a lengthy amount of time before he acknowledges the source of his problems. In fact, it’s actually Todd who spells it all out for him in the tenth episode of the third season titled, ‘It’s You’. When Todd learns that BoJack has slept with his ex-girlfriend, Emily, he rips into him, yelling, “You can’t keep doing this! You can’t keep doing shitty things and then feel bad about yourself like that makes it OK. You need to be better.” BoJack tries to interject and blame his behaviour on the external circumstances of his life, but Todd is finally fed up. He tells BoJack exactly what he needs to hear—the ugly truth that a lot of us likely struggle to come to grips with, “You are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career or when you were a kid. It’s you, alright? It’s you.”
BoJack is also not a bad person, per se; he’s not a villain. He’s not The Devil. But he walks a pretty thin line every time he allows his excuses to enable his frequent episodes of substance abuse and addictive, excessive behaviours. All the excuses BoJack uses to justify his baneful habits, like his abusive father and his shitty childhood or his undiagnosed depression, are rooted in the temptations of The Devil. The Devil wants to distract you. He wants to use your excuses to lead you down a self-sabotaging path of smoke and mirrors. They’re like strings of forbidden fruit he dangles in front of you, luring you in with the false pretense of absolving you from taking responsibility for your life. And Bojack’s addicted to the bait.
However, just as Todd points out, BoJack is also the solution to his problems. One of the main takeaways from the show is the duality that lies within the essence of what it means to be human; that we are all the shitty things that happen to us, just as we are also all the good things that happen to us. It comes down to our choices. To dance with the devil, or not to dance with the devil.
In the first season of the show, we see BoJack's character arc spring into action when all the ugly parts of him are very publicly put on display in One Trick Pony. In the last few episodes of the show, the writers bring BoJack’s arc to a close similarly by throwing him back into the court of public opinion; his involvement with Sarah Lynn’s death is revealed in an exposé article. He’s given the chance to redeem himself in a broadcasted TV interview, and he manages to paint himself as a sympathetic, repentant man deserving of a second chance. The public eats it up. But BoJack can't fend off his narcissism and his addiction for praise long enough to secure the peace he doesn't deserve. He agrees to a second interview, eager to feed the high he gets from applause. Except this time, he's confronted with the rest of the skeletons in his closet, and they paint BoJack in a much less forgivable light—putting the final nail in the coffin. “You had sex with the president of your fan club. You had sex with your agent’s assistant. You party with underage girls. You don’t see a pattern here?” But BoJack is still in denial. He, again, blames it on the ‘powerlessness’ he attributes to being an addict. The person who did all those horrible things—they weren’t BoJack, they were a powerless addict. The notion of ‘powerlessness’ is embedded into the fabric of this card. The Devil wants you to feel helpless to your own worst impulses. He wants you to feel like you’re a victim to all the ugly parts of yourself, rather than a capable human being whose happiness lies in taking ownership and responsibility for them. Unfortunately for all of us, the card that follows The Devil in the major arcana is The Tower. The Tower represents the destruction of our foundations. It’s complete and utter chaos. It’s at this moment that the writers of the show force BoJack (and viewers) to face the consequences of his actions.
BoJack takes his last dance with The Devil on the show’s second last episode, ‘The View From Halfway Down’. After he is subsequently ostracized from society and his sister, Hollyhock, cuts ties with him, he sabotages his own sobriety. He breaks into his old mansion, swallows a bunch of pills, and begins drowning in the pool. The episode explores BoJack lost in a purgatory of his mind, partaking in his own version of 'The Last Supper' with all his dead loved ones. As the reality of his death starts to set in, he panics. He isn’t ready to face the finality of the consequences of his actions, “I really should’ve thought about The View From Halfway Down”, Secretariat recites, before falling into a black ooze of oblivion.
BoJack’s death in the second last episode of the show is just one ending the writers could have stuck with. It represents the path that awaits us should we continue to shake hands with The Devil. Life sucks, so we indulge our miseries, make a mess of all our pain, and die. But at the end of the credits of the episode, we hear the flatlining sound of BoJack’s heart come back to life. BoJack doesn’t die. He survives, is again crucified by the media for the circumstances leading up to his death, and sent to prison. He is briefly allowed out of prison, however, for Princess Carolyn’s wedding to Judah. Here, he runs into Diane, and they have their last conversation with one another—a conversation that the entirety of the show has been building up to. “Life’s a bitch and then you die, am I right?” he says to her. “Sometimes”, she replies, “Sometimes life’s a bitch and then you keep living.” This last bit of dialogue speaks to the 'B' side of life's record. We get to choose how we deal with our pain. We can keep on living, pursue redemption, and find solace in the strength of our choices.
When The Devil shows up in a reading, as much as it is hovering a magnifying glass over all the vices we rely on to numb the weight of our collective pain, it’s also suggesting perhaps we need not take life so seriously. We can laugh at our misfortune. We can ease the pressure tied to resorting to self-destructive behaviours in order to escape the bleak reality of our lives through humour. The rise in the prominence of adult cartoons over the years is indicative of society’s affinity for this approach. Cartoons like BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Daria, and Archer tackle life’s darkest themes through a compelling lens of comedic relief, and we love them for it. We can avoid straying too far from grace once we learn to laugh at the catastrophe that is existence.