With the exception of one harrowing showstopper episode, the second half of BoJack Horseman's final season goes all-in on straight drama, solidifying itself as a show about the disease of addiction and its effects on the addict and the people around them. This may be the least funny season of BoJack, but it's also the most bingeable. Suspense, drama, and the sense of inevitable doom make it tough to see but impossible not to watch.
In my review of the season's first half, I wondered if BoJack (Will Arnett) could be redeemed, or if he would once again give into temptation and despair. Without spoilers, let it be said that he does both, countless times, throughout the final stretch, and it's as honest as it is infuriating. At any given moment, BoJack is capable of being compassionate, selfish, depressed, fatalistic, hopeful, generous, and cruel. As his public image falls apart (due to events that reflect the current political environment, but don't reduce it to cliches), BoJack, his friends, and the public spend a lot of time trying to weigh BoJack's soul in the balance. Some want to absolve him, and some (most) want to condemn him, but the show doesn't give us an answer to whether BoJack is "good" or "bad," and strongly suggests that such judgment is beyond our ability.
Even death doesn't make a neat story out of life. As facts about Sarah Lynn's (Kristen Schaal) death are exposed, the meaning of her public life changes. So too do Herb and Beatrice mold BoJack's actions from beyond the grave — through regret, guilt, nostalgia, and the profound unreachability of the dead. BoJack, like many of us, is obsessed with what other people think of him, and what his legacy will be. But the show reminds us that legacy is none of our business, and out of our control.
Coming to terms with this loss of control turns out to be the best thing possible for BoJack's supporting cast. By prioritizing their happiness over their own expectations of what they "should" be, a few are able to make surprisingly good choices. They are able to do this in proportionate measure to their ability to bottom out on BoJack. When BoJack is in active addiction, he is a black hole, consuming itself and anyone unlucky enough to enter its orbit. Diane (Alison Brie), Todd (Aaron Paul), and Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) all have to decide how long they are going to flirt with the event horizon. It's a special show that can earnestly play with the idea that its main character might be abandoned by his series-long friends, and an even more special show that can suggest that this might be best for everyone.
The question of the season is whether anyone can perform such a miracle of extraction. When BoJack is in remission — when he can stay clean, keep his ego in check, and avoid self-obsession — his is just a regular life, no more or less complicated, tragic, or meaningless than anyone else's. The supporting cast's plots stay a little more lighthearted and heightened than BoJack's (Diane's writer's block takes the form of painfully accurate, self-judging hallucinations; Todd's emotional well-being hinges on a caper that is a combination of I Love Lucy and a samurai movie), but each plot grapples with the same themes of expectation and individuation. When they can put their lives in perspective, they heal. When they're hooked on the drama, they can't.
Not everyone is going to like the way the series ends, and the final episode will be divisive. You may wish things went down another way. But the complexity, if not the ambiguity, is the point. This isn't Horsin' Around. The laugh lines and the innumerable, ingenious throwaway sight gags are still there, but you'll be so wrapped up in the story that you'll probably ignore most of them. They stand as signifiers for the care and attention lavished on each episode, but the true focus of this season is an investment in the emotional reality of the story and a fealty to the characters' full humanity, barnyard animal or otherwise. There's not a lot of smoke and mirrors; this season looks you straight in the eye.
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
The final eight episodes of BoJack Horseman premiere Friday, Jan. 31 on Netflix.