BoJack Horseman (2014)

BoJack Horseman: The Idea of Being Powerless

By: Domonique Salberg

At first glance, an animated show about an anthropomorphic Hollywood satire does not typically signal deep questions about life. The setting is in a place famously known for its superficiality inhabited by ego-driven people that pretend for a living. Nevertheless, BoJack eclipses that sentiment with every new season. While doing this, he and the supporting characters take us on a journey that, by the end, we can say BoJack Horseman is one of the few stories that seem to understand how people work. In which there are countless examples throughout the show, yet, it is strongly apparent through its idea of being powerless.

Quick jump to the following sections:

BoJack Horseman and Childhood Trauma

BoJack grew up with damaged parents, each battling internal demons. Granting this, what we eventually learn is that his broken family is generational, and deep-rooted pain is very much familiar for the Horseman family. For this reason, BoJack’s childhood is where his trauma originates, a time when people are most powerless in their lives. Children naturally lack knowledge and understanding of the world and themselves and instead operate dominantly through their emotions and not practicality or rationale.

So, looking at the young BoJack, flashbacks reveal how uncomfortable, confused, and disturbed he is by their behavior. Their constant fighting in a drunken stupor for which BoJack was the target from time to time, was inescapable. He had to endure their toxic presence and abuse, with no influence to change anything. Powerless and alone, these moments featured on the show provoke a greater understanding of why BoJack behaves and responds the way he does in life.

Since everyone reading this has been a child at some point, they can attest to not having control over significant aspects of their childhood. At the same time, some alas can recall similar experiences to BoJack’s or worse. What ultimately can be said is that every experience be it good or bad, impacts us. Therefore, BoJack’s tragic upbringing better permits us to see his battle between what to do with the effects of his past experiences of powerlessness and move forward in adulthood.

That is the beauty of the show; be it poor, middle class, or wealthy, it proves that no one is exempt from the pain that comes with living a life. The idea of being powerless can be found among every walk of life. Though, what stands to define an individual is how they choose to live after and beyond. Our background in its entirety is rarely known by many, making a person’s character determined by the choices they make rather than their past and present.

The Difference in Being Powerless in Adulthood

The “BoJack Horseman” Finale: A Hollywoo Reckoning | The New Yorker

Still, the idea of being powerless from the perspective of BoJack’s life is even more apparent in his adulthood. He partakes in irredeemable behavior and continuously is corrupted by his surroundings. The wounds of childhood attest to be instrumental in functioning as the architect of his aching. Such as how he incessantly searches for love and adoration, as his mother was never proud of him or affectionate. And, his desire for acclaim fueled by his father’s sense of failure.

Altogether, these hardships resulted in BoJack not being loved by his parents, which is one of the most painful things anyone can experience. To this effect, we see that BoJack’s inheritance of the broken system and behavioral models from the past are what contribute to his feelings of being powerless. No matter his efforts, somewhere down the line, he folds, and fears take over, allowing everything to backfire.

“I Am In Pain, All The Time. My Whole Life. And You Have No Idea.” -BoJack

During childhood, we have, in some ways, the benefit of ignorance, but in adulthood, our understanding is naturally amplified and is what can hurt us most. BoJack speaks about his family’s prior years with great clarity and envisions past events often in which he uses to find excuses for his actions or becomes defensive about it. He lives in a constant push and pulls of choosing to take responsibility for his actions or resorting to accepting his past powerless existence as his present and future.

Episode Highlights: Bojack Horseman Season 4, Episode 2 - The Old Sugarman Place

He, like every other adult, is then tasked with accepting that those who are to blame for our hardships, sadly and unfairly, are not responsible for making things right; we are. With or without forgiveness, life keeps moving forward. A hard pill to swallow, being powerless as an adult involves the reality of waking up each day with our pain and either choosing to surrender to it or keep living; to not resign ourselves to becoming tragedies.

“You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s No Cure For That.” -Beatrice Horseman

BoJack’s situation, in particular, engages a life where he is pushed to his limits making this sentiment much more challenging. It is why he often relapses, stifling his opportunities for positive growth. That is another reason why the show is so excellent at capturing the human condition. For which they authentically solidify: It is good and bad in everyone, and sometimes we do fail, some more than others. The creator’s approach to life is realistic and suggests the idea that pain is a part of the human experience. For which we can choose to let that pain be a lesson and move forward.

With all of that said, BoJack could very much be someone we all know, love, or have come across where their demons are more apparent than others. Nevertheless, his character provokes us to ask ourselves who is worth forgiving or capable of redemption, or how our past experiences of being powerless shapes and influences our own lives. Entertainingly uncanny, witty, and often, emotionally potent, BoJack dares us to be vulnerable and ask ourselves the hard-hitting questions that we may or may not know. We are all just figuring it out, often stumbling through, this thing called life.

This show really is a catharsis for me, as it presents some of the harsh realities of life but in a way where I learn more about myself and others. Do you experience this too when you tune into Bojack?

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2 thoughts on “BoJack Horseman (2014): The Idea of Being Powerless”

  1. I’ve never been so interested in watching this show, until today ! You explain everything with great detail. It makes me realize that I can learn so much by just watching a show/film. “It proves no one is exempt from the pain that comes with living a life”, my favorite! Looking forward to watching this 🙂

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I 100% recommend this show. Bojack Horseman is such a catharsis for me about life’s ups and downs.

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