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BoJack Horseman Ending, Explained - Then You Keep Living

What happened at the end of BoJack Horseman? What was the show’s takeaway? In this video, we take on the show’s final scene and the cultural impact of this one-of-a-kind series.

TRANSCRIPT

BoJack Horseman’s final episode ends by spending a few moments with BoJack Horseman and his close friend Diane Nguyen sitting on a roof, looking at the stars, and, notably for a show about hyper-verbal characters, not saying anything at all. The scene recalls a similar one near the end of the Season One finale when Diane and BoJack also had a deep conversation on a roof.

BoJack Horseman: “I really wanted you to like me, Diane.”

Diane Nguyen: “I know.” - BoJack Horseman 1x12

That time it was the brief comfortable silence of a significant new friendship forming. This time it’s a long, loaded silence (just over a minute and fifteen seconds) during which two old friends subtly communicate that they’ve meant a lot to each other, and now this is goodbye.

BoJack Horseman: “Wouldn’t it be funny if this night was the last time we ever talked to each other?- BoJack Horseman 6x16

As the title of the finale points out, it was nice while it lasted. When BoJack Horseman premiered in 2014, the world didn’t necessarily know what to make of this crass sitcom about goofy cartoon animals, that was actually so much more. But counterintuitively, it turned out that the surface silly-cartoon feel allowed the show to dig into some deep, dark issues in a way that felt authentic, moving, and weirdly relatable.

BoJack Horseman: “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 1x11

As creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg puts it; “The brighter and the sillier and cartoonier we went, the more the audience was willing to go with us to these very melancholy places that maybe on a live-action show would have come off as indulgent or saccharine.”

Those tendencies converge in the series’ penultimate episode, which seems to conclude with BoJack’s death. But in the finale, BoJack wakes up and he discovers that life goes on. Rather than ending with a definitive conclusion or statement about what it all meant, the series leaves us with that understated moment of a slightly awkward BoJack and Diane just being together, an image that poignantly reminds us of how transient everything in our lives is.

Here’s our Take on why BoJack Horseman’s ending pulls BoJack back from death and instead leans into the discomfort at the heart of the show: having to just keep going.

The Past Catches Up with You

When the show BoJack Horseman begins, BoJack’s best days seem to be behind him. His supposed “glory years,” were back in the 1990s heyday of Horsin’ Around, and he’s been coasting for decades, living in a hazy, formless present full of drugs, alcohol, and transactional sex. In its focus on a rough-around-the-edges, callous character who nevertheless garners audience sympathy, BoJack Horseman marks itself as a member of one of the most popular TV genres of the past 20 years: the antihero show.

Like a classic TV antihero, BoJack has a dark and dangerous past, including screwing over his former friend and partner Herb Kazzazz and mistreating his younger co-star Sarah Lynn. Like many TV antiheroes, BoJack spends most of the series bouncing back and forth between long stretches of selfishness and brief moments of insight and self-awareness that make his flaws even more tragic.

BoJack Horseman: “With the exception of these moments—these very rare, brief instances in which you suddenly remember you can swim.” - BoJack Horseman 5x6

Also, like fraudulent Mad Man lead Don Draper, BoJack is afraid of being known, of being seen for who he really is. This is the fundamental season one conflict between him and his eventual friend Diane who’s been hired to ghost-write his memoir. She wants to let people see the true him, while he wants the book to be just a way of presenting another mask to the public.

BoJack Horseman: “This is my last chance to make people love me again. If this goes out, everybody’s going to see the real me. Now, I spend a lot of time with the real me and believe me, nobody’s going to love that guy.” - BoJack Horseman 1x11

It fits, then, that the end of the series focuses on what happens when BoJack’s full truth is finally exposed to the world. At the beginning of season six, BoJack seems to have finally made progress—he goes to rehab, confronts his history, tries to take care of other patients, and makes amends with some of the people in his past. This is incredibly significant because for most of the show BoJack appeared incapable of lasting change and now he’s (slowly but authentically) finding a path toward becoming better.

Still, in rehab, BoJack is separated from the people he’s hurt, in a stasis that can’t last forever.

BoJack Horseman: “I keep thinking about how this isn’t real life. It’s summer camp. Temporary. Easy. As nice as this is, I know that someday I’ll have to go back to the real world.” - BoJack Horseman 6x3

And in the second half of the final season, he’s confronted with the painful fact that the “real world” isn’t just his life outside of rehab. It’s also his past, and the way that the consequences of his actions linger for the people he’s hurt—people like Penny, the daughter of an old girlfriend he almost took advantage of, who’s still shaken by the incident and Gina, the ex-girlfriend and former co-star he strangled on-set in an opioid-induced rage. Gina’s lasting psychological damage makes her sensitive to shock on-set, gaining her a reputation for being “difficult” that ultimately hurts her career.

So while it strikes BoJack as unfair that – after as he’s turned his life around – he can be held accountable for the actions of a horse he no longer identifies with, all these consequences of his past are still out there in the world and they catch up to him in the form of two reporters who puzzle out his role in Sarah Lynn’s death.

After he gives a disastrous second interview trying to justify his choices, everybody meets the real BoJack. BoJack gets what he both wants and fears – being seen and known for himself – and it brings life as he knows it crashing down around him. He gets fired from his teaching job, loses most of his money in a series of lawsuits, and is an object of public loathing. Even the people closest to him pull away. Worst of all, we assume BoJack’s half-sister Hollyhock cuts him out of her life, in a letter that BoJack receives, but the audience doesn’t get to read. Does BoJack deserve all this harsh treatment, even after he’s left that old BoJack behind him?

Herb Kazazz: “You know what your problem is? You want to think of yourself as the good guy. Well, I know you better than anyone, and I can tell you that you’re not.” - BoJack Horseman 1x8

When antihero shows like BoJack end, they often raise questions about whether the protagonist gets what they “deserve.” These lines of conversation are popular because we like our stories to feel complete, to have a sense of moral clarity. But, as BoJack Horseman is fond of reminding us, real life doesn’t have that level of clarity, and often people don’t get what’s coming to them, for better or for worse.

And Then You Keep Living

BoJack’s second-to-last episode, “The View From Halfway Down,” comes right up to the edge of the most definitive ending imaginable: BoJack’s death. This episode – the culmination of the cartoonish melancholy of BoJack Horseman – takes place literally between life and death. BoJack has a dinner party with all of the deceased people in his life. This vision is an extension of a recurring dream BoJack has, and it’s one way for his mind to make sense of all of the harm he’s endured, and the harm he caused. But this time, the dream is a representation of BoJack’s brain dying as he lies face-down in the pool at the house he no longer owns, on a bender after a relapse.

This apparent end of BoJack’s life, and of the series, calls back to BoJack Horseman’s title sequence. From the first season on, the sequence has ended with the camera positioned from BoJack’s perspective underwater in the pool, looking up at Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter. But instead, BoJack lives. The series finale “Nice While It Lasted,” opens with a fakeout: rather than BoJack’s actual death.

Why doesn’t BoJack die? BoJack’s death would emphasize the gravity of his mental health problems, addictions, and traumas, a pull he feels as something almost genetic. Ending the show this way would send a definitive message about its central question: Can BoJack Horseman become a better person? If BoJack dies – hated by the world, having relapsed into alcoholism – the answer to that question becomes “No.”

After all, once you’re dead, there are no more opportunities to get better. As early as season two, BoJack Horseman laid out its philosophy of how to be a better person: It’s a lot of work – but it’s possible. BoJack Horseman vehemently doesn’t believe in personal progress that travels in a straight line. The characters of BoJack don’t go from thing A to thing B, they go from A, to B, to C, back to A, and then land somewhere in the middle. The point is in the effort…

Todd Chavez: “You turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.” - BoJack Horseman 6x16

… and in the possibility to have another chance. Things can get bad again, but as long as BoJack is still alive, he has the opportunity to pick himself up and try anew.

Todd Chavez: “What if I relapse again?”

BoJack Horseman: “Then you’ll get sober again.” - BoJack Horseman 6x16

Bob-Waksberg didn’t intend any ambiguity in the question of whether BoJack lives or dies. He told Variety; “As a storyteller, I felt like ending the show there was never something that was interesting to me.” Still, you can make a case that BoJack did die and that “Nice While It Lasted” is another near-death hallucination. After all, “Nice While It Lasted” opens with BoJack and Diane sitting on the roof, the image that closes out the episode and the series – as BoJack flatlines.

If viewers want to read the ending as BoJack’s death, that isn’t a problem for Bob-Waksberg, who said, “If that’s what your takeaway is, well, alright. What does that mean for you?” BoJack Horseman sees art (like death) as something unknowable, up for interpretation by people who are still alive. During BoJack’s attempt at eulogizing his mother back in the show’s fifth season, he tells a story about meeting a fan with a strange interpretation of Horsin’ Around.

BoJack Horseman: “Was that because the show was making a statement about the fluctuant subjectivity of memory and how two people can experience the same moment in entirely different ways? I didn’t have the heart to be like, no man, some crew guy just left their coffee cup in the shot.” - BoJack Horseman 5x6

As Todd explicitly puts it in the finale.

Todd Chavez: “Isn’t the point of art less what people put into it and more what people get out of it?” - BoJack Horseman 6x16

Keeping BoJack dead might feel narratively fulfilling and conclusive, but it wouldn’t line up with BoJack Horseman’s focus on the everyday difficulties of being a person. From the very beginning, the show has been interested in what happens after the exciting, dramatic parts of your life.

Maybe It’s Everyone’s Job To Save Each Other

After BoJack’s near-death experience, he finds himself in prison for breaking and entering. In some ways, this puts him back where he was at the beginning of the season. For BoJack, prison is just another form of rehab—an artificial environment where everything is controlled for him. And, like rehab, prison becomes an opportunity for BoJack to try to make amends, to be better.

This turn of events ends up reflecting another recent TV antihero: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch. In the last season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca practically demands to be sent to prison. Deep down, both these antiheroes seem to feel they need to be punished before they can get better.

And for both Rebecca and BoJack, their experience in prison leads them to want to give back and show up for other inmates. One tough truth BoJack is faced with, though, is that even if he does turn himself around, his friends won’t be waiting for him.

Rather than face death as the consequences for his actions, BoJack has to accept more direct effects: the fact that the people he’s taken for granted for the entire run of the show won’t be there for him anymore.

Most of the final episode, “Nice While It Lasted,” takes place at Princess Carolyn’s wedding to her former assistant Judah. Echoing its title, the episode about a beautiful evening makes us painfully aware of the transience of the relationships we’re witnessing—it’s an opportunity for people to say goodbye to BoJack. Princess Carolyn gently lets BoJack down. At least professionally, the two of them are done.

BoJack Horseman “I’m going to need representation. Someone who can look out for me, help me make the right decisions, keep me out of trouble.”

Princess Carolyn: “I can recommend some excellent people.” BoJack Horseman 6x16

Todd is kind to BoJack at the wedding – but he’s moved on…

Todd Chavez: “That guy was my best friend for like five years. But not because we have anything in common. I just landed at his house one night.” - BoJack Horseman 6x12

And Diane talks about their relationship in the past tense; even though BoJack still feels like he needs her, she’s finished with him. The period of time covered in the show is the duration of Diane’s friendship with BoJack.

In season one, she’s introduced as a genuinely new person in BoJack’s largely stagnant life, and one who suggests that he could actually be happy one day.

Diane Nguyen: “You’re responsible for your own happiness, you know?”

BoJack Horseman: “ I’m responsible for my own happiness? I can’t even be responsible for my own breakfast.” - BoJack Horseman 1x1

Though BoJack is initially interested in Diane romantically, he eventually comes to depend on her as a friend and barometer of his own moral progress. It’s significant that Diane is BoJack’s memoirist—someone whose job is to learn about and understand him. Accordingly, she becomes a person who is capable of validating BoJack, of giving him the love and acceptance that he craves from someone who knows who he is.

At the end of his near-death hallucination, BoJack throws himself into a moment of imagined connection with Diane. This reflects that, in real life, before nearly drowning, BoJack does call Diane, asking her to save him…

BoJack Horseman: “Diane, you’re going to save me, right? I called you and you’re coming to get me?” - BoJack Horseman 6x15

… to take responsibility for him again. But Diane has moved away. She’s also made real progress and has her own life. Their connection has, at long last, been severed. No one is obligated to show up for BoJack. And they’re all doing better in part because they’re no longer committed to him.

The show doesn’t need to end definitively with BoJack’s death, because it was never just about BoJack. Instead, it was about the way he met these people and then changed, avoided changing, and went on with his life, different in some ways and the same in others.

Diane Nguyen: “I think there are people who help you become the person that you end up being, and you can be grateful for them, even if they were never meant to be in your life forever.” - BoJack Horseman 6x16

Like the show itself, the first season of BoJack Horseman ends with Diane and BoJack on the roof talking about party etiquette. In that first rooftop conversation, BoJack asks Diane if she thinks he’s a good person deep down.

Diane Nguyen: “That’s the thing. I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kind of think all you are is just the things that you do.” BoJack Horseman 1x12

We’re led to believe this statement applies primarily to BoJack and his anxieties, but at the end of the series, Diane has made a choice to do something, too—to end her friendship with BoJack. All they can do is sit together and enjoy the night, even if it’s temporary. Let’s go back to the title sequence. It doesn’t end with the memorable image of BoJack at the bottom of the pool. It goes on to conclude with BoJack floating above water, alone. The people closest to him have made permanent change – Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter aren’t getting back together.

Todd has a job he loves and his own apartment with a mature partner. Princess Carolyn is married with a child and following her professional dreams. But BoJack is seemingly back to where he was at the beginning of the show, up to and including the fact that Mr. Peanutbutter is the only person he can’t seem to get rid of.

Mr. Peanutbutter: “I sentence you to life… filled with my friendship!” BoJack Horseman 6x16

Still, some things will inevitably change, even if those changes aren’t all that he wants and some steps forward are small, like trying your least favorite fruit. A running gag about BoJack hating honeydew – eventually becomes a way to demonstrate what can happen if you give something new a chance. So rather than definitively concluding BoJack’s attempt to be a better person, Bob-Waksberg suggests that he, like most of us, will just continue to be a person, with the potential to be better or worse. There isn’t any other “answer” besides just going on and living to see another day.

Works Cited

VanDerWerff, Emily Todd. “BoJack Horseman’s brilliance was in making life feel longer than death.” Vox, 31 Jan. 2020.

https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/1/31/21114034/bojack-horseman-final-season-6-finale-review-recap-nice-while-it-lasted

Chaney, Jen. “Raphael Bob-Waksberg on Beginning BoJack Horseman’s Ending.” Vulture, 31 Oct. 2019.

https://www.vulture.com/2019/10/raphael-bob-waksberg-bojack-horseman-ending-interview.html

Framke, Caroline. “‘BoJack Horseman’ Creator on the Show’s End and 10 Iconic Episodes.” Variety, 4 Feb. 2020.

https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/bojack-horseman-season-6-series-finale-raphael-bob-waksberg-interview-1203489536/

McCammon, Sarah. “‘BoJack Horseman’ Rides Into The Sunset.” NPR, 1 Feb. 2020.

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/01/801629428/bojack-horseman-rides-into-the-sunset

Rivera, Joshua. “BoJack Horseman was a powerful show about addiction and a messy one about celebrity.” The Verge, 5 Feb. 2020.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/5/21124097/bojack-horseman-review-series-finale-netflix

Obaro, Tomi. “‘BoJack Horseman’ Asks What Accountability After #MeToo Looks Like.” BuzzFeed News, 31 Jan. 2020.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tomiobaro/bojack-horseman-netflix-last-season-metoo