What BoJack Horseman Taught Us About Forgiveness - VRGyani News and Media

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Sunday, September 5, 2021

What BoJack Horseman Taught Us About Forgiveness

BoJack Horseman, the animated tragicomedy starring Will Arnett, left us with many important life lessons following its sixth and final season in 2020. Above all else, BoJack Horseman taught us that forgiveness is complicated and elusive, but most importantly, forgiveness is never owed.

Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, BoJack Horseman premiered on Netflix on August 22, 2014. Set in Hollywood (later known as "Hollywoo"), the show follows BoJack Horseman, an anthropomorphic horse and washed up celebrity known for playing the leading role in a popular 90s sitcom, Horsin' Around. BoJack Horseman was praised by critics and fans alike for its realistic portrayal of mental health issues such as addiction, depression, and trauma, and its introspective exploration of human connection.

BoJack is a protagonist who, right off the bat, is not exactly likeable. He's witty in a sardonic way ("I need to go take a shower so I can’t tell if I’m crying or not."), and at times philosophical, bordering on existential, in a way that elicits empathy ("Sometimes I feel like I was born with a leak, and any goodness I started with just slowly spilled out of me, and now it’s all gone.”) And yet, BoJack is the villain in his own story. He proves over and over again that he is a toxic force that blows through people's lives, usually leaving grief and destruction in his wake. As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly harder and harder to forgive BoJack, and not just for his loved ones, but also for us as viewers.

BoJack's most damning actions cement the reality that BoJack is the villain in his own story, like when he waited 17 minutes to call the ambulance after Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) overdosed, or when he almost slept with Penny (Beth Marion), the vulnerable teenage daughter of his longtime friend, Charlotte (Olivia Wilde). It is hard to want for BoJack what we all want for our protagonists: a happy ending.

The series finale, Season 6, Episode 16, "Nice While It Lasted" gave us hope that BoJack truly is on the path toward growth, toward a healthier life for himself and for those around him. But one question still lingers, a question that the show leaves up to viewers: can Bojack ever truly be forgiven?

In Season 3, Episode 1, "Start Spreading the News," BoJack reflects on that night with Penny, admitting that had Charlotte not walked in, he would have slept with her. He says, "How do you make something right when you’ve made it so wrong you can never go back?” His question is one that gets to the heart of the show's message about forgiveness. BoJack wants to make things "right," but sometimes, "right" just isn't a possibility. Seeking and receiving forgiveness does not grant absolution, nor does it always make things "right" or better.

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In Season 3, Episode 10, "It's You," Todd (Aaron Paul) finds out that BoJack slept with his best friend Emily (Abbi Jacobson), leading to yet another important part of Todd's life that BoJack has ruined. BoJack, predictably, tells Todd that he's sorry, that he was drunk. In an uncharacteristic moment of anger and disappointment, a fed-up Todd snaps and tells BoJack, "You can't keep doing shitty things and then feeling bad about yourself like that makes it okay. You need to be better."

BoJack lives in a prison of self-loathing, one he often numbs with cocktails and pills. He believes that deep down, he is broken beyond repair due to generational trauma. As he tells Diane (Alison Brie), "I'm poison. I come from poison, I have poison inside me, and I destroy everything I touch. That's my legacy." But as Todd (and many others in BoJack's life) points out, feeling bad about your actions doesn't make everything okay. Feeling bad isn't enough, nor is it grounds for forgiveness.

The show goes one step further and teaches us that it's also okay to not forgive—especially if the person seeking forgiveness has become a toxic strain on your life, like BoJock's mother Beatrice (Wendie Malick) is for BoJack, or BoJack is to his former best friend Herb (Stanley Tucci). Herb says to BoJack in Season 1, Episode 8, "The Telescope," "I'm not gonna give you closure. You don't get that. You have to live with the shitty thing you did for the rest of your life. . . I'm not gonna be your prop so you can feel better!"

Herb's refusal to forgive BoJack reminds us that forgiveness is not owed. It is not a moral obligation. And sometimes, as Herb points out about BoJack, someone seeks forgiveness to make themselves feel better by providing a sense of closure. Again, BoJack relies on others to make him feel like he can be a good person, showing time and time again that he is thinking only of himself.

BoJack needs to be better, and to be better, he has to stop looking at himself as a victim to his own actions—to take responsibility for them so that he can forgive himself and finally move forward to becoming the person he desperately wants other people to tell him he can be. In this sense, BoJack Horseman teaches us that forgiveness has to start with us forgiving ourselves.

The series finale of BoJack Horseman shows BoJack making true strides toward self-growth, but even with BoJack working his way toward a path of wellness (for himself and for others), the poignant conversation between Diane and BoJack in the last scene of the show shows that forgiveness isn't always enough to keep someone in your life. Diane has moved on from BoJack. He helped her become who she needed to be, and maybe she has even forgiven him, but her forgiveness doesn't go hand in hand with her friendship.

BoJack Horseman takes a realistic look into the fragility of the human experience and asks us to reconsider the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is merely a step—an important one—but it's just that: a step. It's not a solution, nor is it a vindication. Forgiveness isn't always a possibility, and even when it is, it doesn't always make things right—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't offer it. Most importantly, we first have to learn how to forgive ourselves.

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