What Bojack Horseman Taught Me: A Journey Through Two Remarkable Episodes


 R E V I E W – T V  S H O W


Nawal Naz Tareque


Visual art has led me to countless realisations, so it’s only fitting that I refer to two episodes from my favourite television show. While the nihilistic theme of the show constantly echoes the phrase “Nothing matters”, Bojack Horseman still remarkably manages to leave little traces of meaning in every scene. This duality is what makes the show engaging, and what eventually led to my philosophy towards life.

“Fish out of Water” – Season 3, Episode 4. The protagonist, Bojack, travels to Pacific Ocean City, an underwater city incompatible with Atlantis in terms of cultural and societal values. Except for only three minutes of dialogue, the entire episode is silent. But the detailed world-building, the emphasis on Bojack’s frustrated expressions, and the grumbling noises of incomprehensible fish lexicon serve one purpose only: to depict how lonely Bojack is.

Unable to understand the words he hears, Bojack finds himself stranded on the outskirts of the city. It was a defining moment for me. I felt sympathetic towards my mother, who struggled with the English language her whole life and had to navigate a world filled with English jargon. A guilt-ridden daughter promised that day to not make fun of those with a weak grasp on the colonial tongue. I decided to continue decolonising parts of myself by celebrating my native culture. What I didn’t know was that there was something even scarier in Bojack’s helplessness.

Bojack didn’t just fail to connect with them because of linguistic barrier — he was unaware of the fish society’s cultural ways and offended them in multiple ways. That made me wonder: Will I feel that way when I leave to study abroad? Will I have a hard time forming ties with people of different cultures and vastly different value systems? That terror of being alone at a university campus, miles away from home, was worse than the impending doom of a cockroach taking preparations to soar. But mid-episode, I felt my heart aglow with warmth from what I saw.

Bojack finds a baby seahorse and swims across the ocean with it, making it his partner in his wild adventure. Even in such a bleak episode, the show offers a ray of hope: Happy accidents do happen, no matter who you are. I found my smile growing wider and wider as I saw Bojack’s worries disappearing, and with it came a renewed sense of optimism. A possibility of stumbling upon someone eccentric, talented, or kind. A partner in crime and all bouts of intoxication. That no matter our differences, it is possible to form a bond with someone and to be a part of a tight-knit community. I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt alone, and that retelling a good childhood story goes a long way in making sure another person didn’t feel alone. The ray of hope that friendship offered felt serene, and I basked in its warmth.

The second episode is the complete opposite of the one described above. “Free Churro” – Season 5, Episode 6 — shows Bojack delivering a haunting eulogy for his mother. It’s a 25-minute monologue without visual cues, hailed as one of the show’s darkest episodes to date. It’s a sharp examination of Bojack’s bitter relationship with his parents and their marriage. The show brings to light how harrowing emotional abuse is and how deep its wounds can be. It’s the most brutal conversation television has had with its viewers about how glorified parents can be, while subsequently acknowledging the tragedies in their past that distorted them permanently. But what stood out was a lengthy joke with a very sardonic punchline. 

Bojack rambles on about the poetic significance of his mother’s last words, “I see you,” until he realises she was only reading the sign hanging above her head: ICU. That scene portrayed, quite cynically, the desire of humans to cling on to a slice of meaning in the mundane. To search for patterns within a chain of events to find some moral or ethical causality — the origins of karmic justice. To ascribe meaning to insignificant events by objective and subjective metrics is what it means to be human.

This is what makes the human experience beautiful, what propels us to live on despite the endless cruelties. The freedom to derive meaning from seemingly any source. Velvet skies with rabbit-shaped clouds, mythical stories about Greek gods, foamy waves crashing, and coursing through your legs — all of it has meaning. Now, I could decide what gave meaning to my actions. I found joy in the three-piece suit I donned at gatherings, and the sarees I wore at weddings. I smelled the fragrance of non-fiction books and fantasy novels with the same intensity. Nobody could force me to be something I didn’t want to be. I embraced the duality. I became free.

 


Nawal Naz Tareque is a depressed 20-year-old hoping to indoctrinate people into an Arctic Monkeys cult. When she’s not busy rewatching episodes of Bojack Horseman, she scribbles down her thoughts on life and more. You can rage against patriarchy with her by mailing her at [email protected].

 

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