Thanks to Netflix’s truly bizarre release model that generates no cultural hype, Bojack Horseman ended a few weeks back, everyone blitzed through the finale, and talked about it for a weekend, and then it fell out of conversation. Why Netflix dumps things all at once instead of once a week, to keep its properties in the conversation for months instead of two days, is an utter mystery to me. Anyway, let’s talk about legacy.
I wrote previously about how Bojack is a show that’s all about the never ending nature of life, how we are forced to keep on living, and living, and living, and how that’s tough. Everything we do, as Susan Sarandon put it on Rick and Morty, requires maintenance, and maintenance is frequently boring, and frequently challenging.
There is, however, an alternative to maintenance, which is that things just… end. Either we’re maintaining, which is a constant challenge, or we’re not maintaining, which means the thing, whatever the thing is, is over. Work. Sobriety. Reputation. Friendship. Love. Family. Either we’re maintaining those things, or we’ve lost them. Even while we’re maintaining, even while we’re successful, we are constantly at risk of an ending, because it’s one of only two options. There is no real escape.
Well, there is one escape, which is blowing things up and causing a whole lot of endings. It’s something that, in retrospect, explains an enormous number of BoJack’s actions throughout the series. One serious way to alleviate the fear of losing something is to go ahead and lose it. You go through the pain, but then you can (maybe!) move on, and the fear is gone. “The Old Sugarman Place” shows BoJack spending all this time fixing up a house and building a new friendship, and then abruptly destroying both come episode end because it became clear once he built them, he would have to maintain them, and what’s worse, could lose them. Why deal with all that? Why not just end it now, when you’re in control.
As BoJack slowly slips into death a number of characters serenade him, including Sarah Lynn, who is undoubtedly one of the two (or three?) ghosts that haunt BoJack most. She sings a reprise of Gina’s song from the penultimate episode of Season 5. In the original, Gina tells BoJack “life is a never ending show, my friend,” and in this reprise Sarah Lynn assures him of something different: “life is a never ending show, old sport, except the minor detail that it ends.” She does have some words of reassurance: “shows are a never ending life, of course, a silhouette that stays when you are gone, what use is the struggle and the strife, old horse? End it and your legacy lives on.”
Legacy is something that would appeal endlessly to BoJack. It’s static, meaning it doesn’t need to be maintained, and in addition because it doesn’t need to be maintained it isn’t at risk of “ending,” or being lost. It simply is. Throughout the show, no matter how constrained he feels by it, BoJack is the horse from Horsin’ Around. In his heart of hearts he believes no matter what he does, no matter how much he sins, that will always be true, because it did good in people’s lives, and it’s done and packaged.
Only it’s not.
Because before BoJack falls face down into his pool he learns two deeply damning facts. He learns that his first great betrayal, failing to advocate for Herb Kazzaz, the betrayal most responsible for his downward slope, was unnecessary. He thought he was preserving the show and his legacy, but he didn’t have to. The execs would have caved to him. Second, he learns it no longer matters. His legacy is being taken away anyway. He is being edited out of Horsin’ Around because no one can stand to see him. His legacy wasn’t static, it did have to be maintained, and it is now lost.
The easier story would have been for BoJack to drown in that pool. For a moment I thought he would, and we’d do an episode without him, and everyone would have to deal with his deeply complicated legacy. We do still get that episode, for the most part, but the show makes the tougher choice and forces BoJack to finally, finally sit down and look back and deal with his legacy as well. It can’t be a pretty sight. BoJack has done a parade of horrendous things, and he’s self-aware enough to know it and feel shame over it, even if he can’t reach down deep enough to stop himself from doing those bad things in the first place. What’s more, he’s lost everything he cares about. His legacy, yes, but also his two deepest and most important relationships, with Hollyhock and Diane. I don’t know if he deserves pity after the things we’ve seen him do over the course of the show. I don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about him. It doesn’t mean we forgive what we’ve seen him done. It just means we don’t know what he’ll do next. It’d be easier if he was a fixed point in time, if we said “this was his life, and now we can measure it.” But we can’t, because he’s going to keep on living, and we can hope he’ll live better in the future, and we can’t weigh his virtues against his sins quite yet, because the book isn’t done being written.
What do we carry out of all of this? Life is difficult, and the only release from the difficulty is endings? BoJack Horseman is a show that reveals its bookends at the very end – it measures the time in BoJack’s life when he knew Diane, and vice versa. Can we say that either of them has had a positive impact on the other? That they got better? I don’t know. Diane seems happier, BoJack seems on the path to recovery, but we know from having spent six seasons with them that there are ups and there are downs, and that the maintenance of anything is incredibly hard work for both of them. Now their relationship is over, and they don’t have to worry about maintaining. Maybe the show wants to say that yes, all we do is maintain, and yes, everything does end, but those things aren’t the only two truths, that relationships, even deeply complicated ones, are worthwhile. Maybe it doesn’t want us to make an overarching value judgment. Maybe it says: here is a relationship, from beginning to end. Do with it what you will. Or maybe it’s saying: we can’t say if these two made each other better or worse, but for a brief time they collided, and that collision, even though it has “ended,” will forever be a part of them. Things can end and can carry on simultaneously. That’s what a legacy is, actually. Something that ends, and persists.