Saturday, July 23, 2016

That Abortion Episode of Bojack Horseman

Finished season 3 of Bojack Horseman. A few thoughts on the abortion-themed sixth episode.
When Diane discovers she is pregnant at the end of the fifth episode of the season, she and her husband (a dog named Mr. Peanutbutter) are in a state of shock. The totality of impending parenthood is a trope often used to inject conflict in a TV series, but this was handled in a much different (though not necessarily better) fashion.
The episode, sadly, seemed really shallow for a show whose characters create gripping internal conflict out of thin air. 
Diane Nguyen, introduced to the series as Bojack's ghostwriter-cum-love-interest, is the secondary character in the show. The parallel story arcs of Bojack and Diane are well-drawn. 
Bojack's low-point, even after season 3, has to be his time in New Mexico in season 2. It was the height of his selfishness. He showed up unannounced to the home of an old friend named Charlotte, a doe (a deer, a female deer), then expected her to leave her husband for him. He gave no consideration to how anybody else would react to that. He didn't even care about Charlotte's feelings. She was just an object he attempted to use for emotional fulfillment, which is an incredibly unfair burden to place on another person. When that didn't happen, he corrupted her 17 year-old daughter. It was his worst moment in the series, and one that haunts him throughout S3.
Similarly, Diane's reason for getting an abortion was simply "I don't want kids." She doesn't particularly care about the other two people directly involved in the situation (Mr. Peanutbutter, and her unborn child). She shows no real interest in how her actions affect anybody else. Rather than consider other people, both born and unborn, she makes an instant decision to do what she feels will make her happy. But instead of exploring the potential damage of her actions, the episode wraps up neatly and without any conflict between any of the main characters.
Diane is a morose character. She is referred to as "Asian Daria" later in the season. She constantly looks for fulfillment through her work. Her career, where she wanted to "make a difference" in the first season, now finds her ghostwriting tweets for celebrities' Twitter accounts. Her childhood was traumatic and filled with neglect, which is chronicled in a first season episode that showcases her roots in Boston. Her family can best be described as "Massholes" (my favorite line may be when one of her brothers, wearing a Red Sox jersey, says to Bojack "you have stolen my heart like Dave Roberts stole second base!"). The fact that she is so averse to having a child is fertile ground for a fuller analysis of her character, from her background as a neglected girl in a family full of boys, to her current situation as a celebrity's wife with a dead-end career. It is a shame that they did not take it in that direction. By aborting a child, you can look at it as her denying herself an experience (motherhood) that might make her life worthwhile. Instead, she fears change and makes a decision to revert to her routine, where she is bored and depressed.
The writers could have opened up the point to analyze how Diane's abortion was an incredibly selfish act. She conceives a child with her loving husband, a man (well, dog) of means and stature. Then it could have been expanded to point out that the characters in this show are largely self-centered and miserable, and those two things go hand-in-hand.
They could have gone that direction, but they resolved the story without ever really exploring these topics. The story was wrapped up with a fairly neat "Diane has an abortion, ends up feeling okay about it. Also it's good for women to open up and talk about abortion." This is a show where characters have relatively minor life events that inspire introspection. But abortion was NBD?
The worst part of all is that this could have been done without taking a stance on abortion. It didn't have to take a side in the broader debate about fetal personhood. It just had to examine the conflict one character has with the issue. For a show that has been such a brilliantly deep character study, they whiffed. It wandered away from introspection and into advocacy.
Bojack Horseman has been more than willing to criticize the narcissistic, amoral, and venal nature of Hollywood. Here, though, it sadly glossed over a product of that narcissism without giving it the weight it deserves.

1 comment:

  1. This is EXCELLENT analysis! Such a shallow episode for such a typically deep show.