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BoJack Horseman Perfectly Captured the Agony of Writer's Block

Diane struggling to write her novel.
Image: Netflix

In BoJack Horseman’s final season, Diane undergoes one of the series’ most significant transformations after she decides to leave her life in Los Angeles behind in order to start fresh in Chicago. After spending so much time chasing after happiness in the form of hollow professional success, Diane realizes that she wants her writing to come from a place of deep personal honesty.

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While Diane was still in the thick of her lifelong battle with depression, the prospect of writing a memoir would have alarmed her to the point that she might have spiraled into a full-blown panic attack. But in addition to moving to a new city, Diane’s done the important work of tending to her mental health, both by seeking support from her live-in boyfriend, Guy, and by beginning to take antidepressants.

Illustration for article titled iBoJack Horseman /iPerfectly Captured the Agony of Writers Block
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BoJack Horseman isn’t the first series to tackle mental illness with an arc about a character grappling with it before they learn healthy methods like seeking medical assistance. But it’s refreshing how matter-of-fact BoJack is about Diane’s progress and the reality that the antidepressants don’t exactly “solve” all of her issues. Diane can honestly say that being on her meds makes her feel objectively better, in the sense that she doesn’t constantly feel as if the weight of the world is bearing down on her or that she’s literally incapable of writing something that’s reflective of her talents.

But what Diane doesn’t initially understand is that her meds also give her an emotional clarity that makes it possible for her to get in touch with something separate from, but related to, her depression proper. Even though she’s happier than she’s been in a long time, trying to write her memoir is still an exercise in torture that begins with a feeble attempt at putting words to paper and quickly transforms into a struggle to drown out the voices of self-doubt lurking in her mind.

As Diane sits in a local mall food court trying to use the ambient noise and sights to give her a spark of inspiration about how to write about her childhood in Boston, she can’t help but lose focus and wonder whether what she’s writing is actually worth the effort. Those kinds of feelings look, sound, and feel a lot like the toxic stew of emotions that often come with depression, and because part of Diane mistakenly believes that her meds have effectively neutralized her negative feelings, she panics. What Diane’s dealing with here isn’t depression, exactly, it’s a paralyzing case of writer’s block—the sort that anyone who’s ever stared at a blank text document has felt deep in their soul at least once.

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Every stroke of Diane’s keyboard is an invitation for an intrusive thought to come barging into her mind telling her how much of a boring failure she is, and BoJack renders the entire process wonderfully by depicting Diane’s proto-draft as clunky, roughly-animated characters.

Diane being confronted by her doubt.
Diane being confronted by her doubt.
Image: Netflix
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In Diane’s mind, the key to writing a hit memoir that people will actually want to read is being able to channel her “good trauma” into her writing—turning the negative experiences she’s gone through into the sort of moving prose that leaves people feeling as if the author knows some deep, arcane truth about the human condition.

But tapping into her trauma causes Diane distress—and the more she reflects on it, the more she realizes that as impactful as it was to her, it isn’t exactly the kind of illuminating material that lends itself to the book that’s beginning to form in her subconscious. Through Diane, BoJack posits that it’s perfectly fine to have run of the mill emotional damage that doesn’t make you Special™ and for that damage not to be the thing that defines one’s work.

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By voicing her fears about her feelings and her inability to write, Diane’s able to gain the necessary perspective about her situation and open herself up to the creative energies her anxieties blocked her off from. The stray, food court-related thoughts that wandered into Diane’s mind while she so desperately tried to write her memoir weren’t anything she ever thought would be worth cultivating, but they’re the seeds that grow into the first pages of a ridiculous YA novel that, surprisingly, Princess Carolyn is very interested in shopping around to publishers.

Diane beginning to accept that Ivy Tran might be an idea worth pursuing.
Diane beginning to accept that Ivy Tran might be an idea worth pursuing.
Image: Netflix
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Diane’s path to becoming a published book author’s obviously more complicated than her simply overcoming a bout of writer’s block. Like working through her depression, discovering the story inside herself that she actually wants to tell is a process that takes time, energy, and work, all of which Diane puts in even in the moments when she feels it’s all for nothing.

By the season’s end, you can’t really be certain whether Diane’s fully internalized everything she learned about herself as she wrote the book, but you know that now that she’s successfully wrestled and bested her demons once, she’s that much more prepared to do it again in the future should she ever have to.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

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So here was my problem with the final season (we binged the 1st half of the final season to coincide exactly with the debut of the 2nd half so we got through all of it in about 3 days).

Up until now the show felt like it really took its time to let you feel the monotony and tedium of someone living and dealing/not dealing with their anxieties and self-destructive tendencies.

Diane’s and Bojack’s namely, and especially in contrast with, say Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter, and Princess Caroline’s generally more upbeat, comedic, and faster-paced storylines.

With Bojack’s story especially, for several seasons we’d been building up this sense of impending dread: we acknowledge that his road to recovery, while earnestly undertaken, will be long and full of setbacks, but we desperately hope he’ll get himself in a really good place sooner or later BECAUSE the #metoo secrets of his past are just waiting to resurface. The buildup for that confrontation was well set-up.

When we get to the 2nd half of the final season, that climax is like, 2 episodes long. He’s outed, first he’s a good guy, then suddenly he’s a bad guy, and he’s back to being self-destructive. It doesn’t deal with the very real and very complicated situation of being “canceled. How it affects the direct parties involved, and, just as importantly, how does the accused party’s friends/family, and the general public navigate the immediate and not-immediate aftermath of the revelation.

I felt the show was begging for the audience to have to wallow in the dread of being in the middle of that, to confront us with being in a position where the perpetrator is someone we feel compassion for, and either we’ve known about their sins and haven’t said anything public about it, or are just finding out along with everybody else.

I understand it would make for slow TV, but Bojack had never been about making it easy on the audience, and I felt like the first half of the season wasted our time with plot lines like the White Whale story that ultimately went nowhere (imagine, for example, if the White Whale guys were the ones that gave Bojack his comeback shot, like we keep seeing Hollywood studios do for garbage people).

It then presented a compressed and hasty last half of the season that generally took the whole awful mess and made a really hasty commentary on the public’s fickle reaction, and then a trippy penultimate episode that doesn’t add much more insight, followed by a neat-ish final episode where everyone just updates Bojack on how they’ve moved on from him.