BoJack Horseman, Pascal, and the Threat of Non-Being

Last night I finished watching the first season of a Netflix original series titled BoJack Horseman. My interest in the show was sparked mainly by the titular character being voiced by one of my favorite actors, Will Arnett (Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth). The trailer for the show on Youtube was uneven, but I decided to give the show a chance anyway. Indeed, the first four or five episodes are largely uneven attempts at the sort of “adult humor” animated sitcoms we’ve all come to be familiar with at this point.

But as the show went on the tone became progressively darker, becoming less of a show trying to make you laugh as much as it tried to make you gulp in self-realization. According to the critics the newly released season of the show is much more stable (get it? It’s a show about horses, and horses live in stables…), and its tone finds better footing in the style of the back half of season one. I’m excited to move on to season two and find out where BoJack takes himself through all of his self-made life crises, but for now I want to take a moment to ponder the philosophical themes of the latter episodes of the first season.

To briefly summarize the events of the show (spoilers abound), BoJack Horseman is a washed up 90’s sitcom star who now lives a life of bitterness and self-destruction. He plans to make a comeback by having a memoir of his life released, and hires a ghostwriter to assist him. Over a long series of events, he ends up falling in love with his ghostwriter, and falls into an existential crisis when she gets married to his well-adjusted dog TV star doppelganger Mr. Peanutbutter. BoJack doesn’t know if it’s too late to change his destructive ways or whether he’s even a good person.

In the penultimate episode Downer Ending, BoJack embarks on a drug trip that takes him through several ups and downs of his subconscious. We see his anxiety over whether kogspJRit’s too late to change his life or not. In the scene pictured here, Bojack imagines his ghostwriter Diane in the role of psychiatrist Lucy from Peanuts. He expresses deep concern over whether or not it’s too late to change the course of his life, and “Diane” responds by saying that since she’s a drug induced hallucination that she’ll say whatever BoJack wants her to. As one would expect BoJack to want her say, she says that it’s “Never too late to be the person that you want to be.” This leads in to the most interesting segment of BoJack’s trip.

As soon as the Lucy/Diane hallucination comes to a close, we see BoJack standing outside of a warm log cabin in Maine chopping up wood for a fire. His dream-wife Charlotte (the girlfriend of BoJack’s former best friend Herb) comes out of the cabin and calls him in for supper. They exchange a playful conversation indicative of a couple who truly love each other, leading up to Charlotte revealing that a third family member is on the way. As if this portrait of a happy and settled down BoJack were bizarre enough, to see him raise this child from baby to eight-year-old to teenager with (what appears to be) great love and care is nothing short of astonishing. It stands in stark contrast with the BoJack we’ve seen for over ten episodes who’s a manipulative, foul, and disjointed being with no firm rock to stand on. The kicker sentence in this sequence comes when BoJack asks his projection of Charlotte:
“What are you thinking about?”  
Charlotte: “Oh, just how nice things could have been if you had chosen this life.” 

What could have been
What could have been

As if this moment isn’t sad enough, BoJack wakes up to find himself knocked out from the drugs in the middle of a parking lot, getting a call from his agent telling him his attempt at a book is a total disaster. He finds Diane at a ghostwriters discussion panel and implores her to tell him that it’s not too late and that he is good deep down. In the moment he finishing begging her for an answer, there is a painful silence where Diane does not respond. While BoJack stands there on the verge of tears we hear his imaginary daughter laughing distantly in the background. This might be the greatest scene of self-realization since the closing shot of The Godfather Part II.
Silence speaks.

There’s a lot that can be said about this philosophically, but I’m trying to keep this brief and I’d like to zero in on a quote from the final episode, titled Later. 
This nihilistic quote ironically comes from the most optimistic and joyous characterpeanutbutter in the show: Bojack’s rival Mr. Peanutbutter. He says: “The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s just to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”

This is pure French-style existentialist nihilism at its most unadulterated. And if one believes in the non-existence of God and the absence of an eternity beyond this meager life, the quote is entirely correct! Without God, life has no value, purpose, or meaning. We’re just DNA spiraling towards our eventual nonexistence.

My all-time favorite philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), found the disinterest of people in their existential dilemma to be incredible. The sort of thought that Mr. Peanutbutter Blaise Pascalespouses, that one should spend their life wrapped up in trivialities and not look for meaning, was baffling to Pascal. In his Pensées, Pascal attempts to enter into the mind of such a person and show the vacuousness of his reasoning. He says:

 “I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, not what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, nor even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.  
  “As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek in; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state.”

Commenting on this passage in his Reasonable Faith, Dr. William Lane Craig says:
“Pascal can only regard such indifference as insane. Man’s conditions ought to impel him to seek to discover whether there is a God and a solution to his predicament. But people occupy their time and their thoughts with trivialities and distractions, so as to avoid the despair, boredom, and anxiety that would inevitably result if those diversions were removed.”

Pascal goes on to call this “sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects” an “incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all-powerful force.”

I completely agree with Pascal when he also said that:

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Perhaps Mr. Peanutbutter will forever go on in his hedonistic quest for trivial self-fulfillment in a cruel world without any ultimate meaning, but someone like Bojack Horseman knows better than that. He knows he’s broken, and seems to believe he’s unforgivable. I hope and pray that the real BoJack Horseman’s of the world see the truth in their situation. That it’s really not too late to change. To be born again. Maybe there’s people in your life who won’t forgive you (Bojack’s old best friend Herb refuses to give forgiveness), but God has forgiven you, and loves you warts and all. All Bojack wants is for people to love him and for it to not be too late for redemption. People will always let you down and you can’t rely on them to save you from the drowning loneliness of existence. The anxiety of being. That loneliness is the cry of the heart for what we’re meant for; a close relationship with our Father.
It’s not too late for that, BoJack.
It’s never too late.