Content notice: Spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 4. Strong language, alcohol use, suicidality.
BoJack Horseman has never shied away from hard truths. Since its first season, the Netflix original cartoon has explored substance use disorders, depression, Hollywood ennui, and many shades of trauma. In its fourth season, it confronts many of those issues more directly than ever before.
In the past, we’ve seen factors that have led to BoJack’s current issues, including the double-edged swords of fame and success, childhood trauma and substance use. We’ve seen his attempts to escape his issues through distraction and escapes. Now, we see some of the factors that are completely outside BoJack’s control.
Over the course of the season, we look at the moments that impacted BoJack even before he was born, the way trauma suffered by his grandmother and mother shaped his environment growing up. We also see, through a newly-introduced character, that BoJack’s depression and other issues aren’t only a matter of nurture. Nature plays a part too, as the show makes the genetic factors of mental health issues explicit.
The sixth episode of the season, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” may be the most powerful and effective at exploring the subject. We’re treated to BoJack’s internal monologue, one that’s proven to be familiar for many of us who cope with depression. BoJack indulges in behavior both undesired (like cookies for breakfast), and self-destructive (heading to a nearby bar instead of going to buy milk), berating himself for his choices all the while.
It’s a hard episode to watch, but as with most things Horseman, it also gives viewers a chance to grow and take steps toward healing by showing them that they aren’t alone, and that avoiding the difficult steps of dealing with their issues isn’t really a solution. BoJack has, after all, spent four seasons doing just that. Here’s one viewer explaining the impact BoJack’s suffering has had on him in a video that includes very strong language.
Writing for Polygon, Julia Alexander also talked about the value and necessity of this episode, concluding,
The important thing to remember, even when it seems impossible to do so, is remembering that people do care. Even if they can’t understand what’s going on in your brain, you’re not going to lose them over your depression. That’s what I adore about BoJack Horseman. BoJack gets into fights with friends like Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, or exes like Princess Carolyn, but they never leave him.
BoJack Horseman is a show that talks about depression, but it’s a series about hope. This episode, which is one of the toughest to watch, is proof of that. I have shown this episode to my closest friends and partner as a way of explaining what my brain is like on any given day and it’s helped them understand things a little better. It’s easier to see what I’m trying to explain than imagine what it’s like to live with this disease.
BoJack Horseman is one of the only shows that isn’t scared to talk about a disease that affects millions of people and, because of that, this episode is one of television’s most important to date.
BoJack Horseman isn’t just a sad comedy about a talking horse. It’s also about our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other, and about recognizing what’s in our control, and what’s not.
Individual episodes can be funny, or they can be devastating. Usually, they’re both. It’s not a show that’s easy to recommend, particularly to anyone in a vulnerable state. But as a whole, the show’s writers continue to hold out hope for BoJack, and for the rest of us.