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BoJack Horseman: failed nihilism, or Buddhist interpretation of the Christ narrative?

Written by TV

Oh BoJack, it would have been so much easier if you’d just died. We need only look at the painting behind the desk since the first episode, a twist on the David Hockney Portrait of an Artist, to see it.

Horseman stares down at himself, watching himself drown in the endless futility, unable to pull himself out of the LA tar pit Charlotte described back in the 1980s. It is too late for BoJack to regain control. He drowns. And he is also immortalised, and resplendent. Repeats of Horsin’ Around are run 24-hours a day for weeks (with BoJack in every scene). The complexities of our deeply flawed, fallen hero are forgotten, and he receives the immortal fame he always wanted. Nothing matters, everything is broken and nobody is redeemed.

There is something greater in this story than simply nihilistic self-congratulation.

This certainly addresses the inherent nihilism at the heart of the story, yet the nihilists amongst us are deprived of their gut-wrenching ending. BoJack, like the vast majority of us, moves forward. He continues. There is something greater in this story than simply nihilistic self-congratulation. The series ends with a man (or horse) at peace. Throughout the series, BoJack pursues happiness, constantly believing this next thing is what he needs. When the dream, role-playing his hero, fails to make him happy he drinks. When the drink stops working, he tries to flee to New Mexico. His shame and self-loathing after his inappropriate behaviour cause a horrific drug bender, killing the girl he truly sees as his daughter. Even the pro-active changes he makes, rehab and teaching, even though they bring him temporary joy, fail.

Credit: Uncomfortable Cat on Youtube

It is only his near-death experience, visually similar to a baptism, that BoJack finally accepts that control is an illusion. He doesn’t know where his life will go, whether he will remain sober, or whether his career will continue, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Like Pierre Bezukhov, the loss of control brought by imprisonment sets him free. The happy ending for Princess Carolyn no-longer evokes the seething resentment we might expect. He accepts, says C’est la Vie, and moves forward.

You can only be at peace, when you accept that control is illusion.

BoJack’s final redemption comes not from fame, or immortality, nor is it hollow or meaningless. BoJack finds happiness, or at least contentment, through his acceptance that life isn’t what you want, but a series of events which happen to and around us. It would have been so easy for the Showrunners to follow the line they have been charting for years, plough BoJack into that pool and drown him, reduce the legacy he has left behind to nothing but lies and damage, a scorching critique of the culture of fame. But instead, we have a true philosophical Buddhist lesson to take away from what has been arguably the most-original, most-definitive television show of the decade, from theme to distribution.

You can only be at peace, when you accept that control is illusion. Redemption, comes not through immortality, but through acceptance. A Christo-Buddhist narrative, designed for and condemning modern culture.

Credit for featured image: James Troughton

Last modified: 17th February 2020

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