Depression, fallen stardom, addiction, and half-hearted attempts at redemption - the essence of the last five seasons of Bojack Horseman, the animated Netflix series. While keeping its acute, sardonic humour intact, the show continued to tackle its has-been lead star’s tendencies to explore a nuanced take on mental health.
The show’s five seasons literally play out like the five stages of grief, culminating with BoJack’s final cry for help. Season six begins as an aftermath, by tracking BoJack, first at rehab, and then outside of it as a sober, changing man, trying hard to make amends. And like in any toxic relationships, there are more people accounted for the hurt and pain than we began with.
But, over the last seasons' episodes, we shift focus from the has been to the "going - to - be's" so to say, and though these characters were highlighted throughout the show, now the storytelling has changed. Instead of seeing characters as mere sidetracks or fuels in the storyline for Bojack's life, they're each given their own focus and life.
The very second episode itself gives us a clear idea into the lives of the women in the show, through the one tough character - Princess Carolyn.
In the episode titled "New Client," we see an entirely different version of Princess Carolyn - the calm, composed, "can tackle anything" woman is still at the surface, but the character now has more dimensions than the past seasons.
Princess Carolyn finally got the baby she’d long wanted and feared she could never have, but she forgets that the life of a single mother is never easy. In the episode we see Princess Carolyn take on the responsibilities while thoroughly exhausting herself. Her nanny quits the job and just as she is leaving she drops the line - "she's your client now" - referring to her baby.
Lost, helpless and with not a clue as what to do - Princess Carolyn struggles to keep up with the tasks of being a mother. The episode shows multiple apparitions of Princess Carolyn carrying out her daily tasks - a great move, cinematographically.
Work-life balance has been a point of contention among women for decades, and this materializes itself into the episode in a way that is all too real. Ironically, Princess Carolyn has been selected for Manatee Fair magazine’s extravagant “Hollywood Women Who Do It All” photoshoot, which she needs a lot of convincing to attend.
Even when she is at the shoot, the imbalance between work -life doesn't leave her alone. And this is when we can see the deliberation in her tone - "I haven't even had a spare minute to think of a name. It's a lot of pressure. I don't want my daughter to resent me for the rest of her life, because I named her something stupid like Light Socket." Instead, her baby is called "Untitled Princess Carolyn Project."
The fact that she has to treat her baby like a client, speaks volumes about the kind of life she lives. Though it focuses on a character with relative financial comfort and career stability, “The New Client” effortlessly weaves Princess Carolyn’s struggles into the show’s ongoing critique of the capitalist entertainment industry.
At the Manatee Fair photoshoot, another woman uses a technology metaphor to explain the secret to her success. “I just think of myself as having multiple apps running at the same time,” she says. “I have my mom app, and my career app, and my wife app, and my yoga-body app, and they’re all just constantly going all the time.” Though her voice cracks as she speaks, she attempts to project a polished image for the other women in the room.
Even the music track playing constantly in the back - a maraca to calm her baby -the baby wails - the phone rings. Overlaid onto one another and looped, the noises mould into an overwhelming, disorienting jingle. But the last bit of the episode is what really resonates with the audience - when Princess Carolyn confesses to not yet feeling what she’s “supposed to feel” for her baby, Vanessa Gekko offers a strange affirmation: “Do you love all your clients’ projects? … No, you don’t. But you take care of them and you keep them alive because that’s your job, right? So now you’ve got a new job.” This slightly depersonalized mind-set seems to free Princess Carolyn from the shame of not immediately excelling at motherhood in the way she excels at her career.
Though this particular episode is what took the show for me, there are multiple other instances with all the other female characters through the seasons, that highlights the craziness of being a woman who "wants it all." Diane Nguyen for instance - this series constantly reminds us that BoJack is depressed and struggling. But all season long, it shows us imagery that implies Diane is battling similar demons without acknowledging them out loud. Diane comes back from her trip to Vietnam feeling like she doesn’t have a real place in the world. Then, she moves into that dinky studio and, in episode after episode, even though she’s lived there for months, her surroundings never change. Boxes of her belongings remain stacked up in the living room. Empty wine bottles are scattered on the floor. Diane is not in a good place.
But she like, Princess Carolyn wants to be big, she wants to work to make things better, she wants to earn a name for herself - working at Girl Croosh isn't like her, but she takes it up anyway as a shot to make herself feel better about not doing anything.
Overall, the entire series in its final season has shown us that the path is going to be of healing, but healing doesn't actually come easy and it comes with other challenges that need to be taken up as well. As for the female characters, their struggle to have it all and their realities make up a large portion of what women go through in their everyday lives. The commentary is real, the animations evocative and the dialogue, relatable.