Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
The View from Halfway Down is the second to last episode of Netflix's Bojack Horseman, and in my opinion, it's probably the best episode of the entire six-year run.
The first time I watched it, I was doing other things and was only half paying attention. I recently watched it again while focusing entirely on the show and I was intrigued by some of the things I missed. I now have a theory for this episode. I don't believe it's about facing ones mortality. Nothing in this episode is symbolic.
It's all . .. real.
Stuck in Limbo?
For the duration of the episode, Bojack is on life support after nearly drowning in his pool. When he arrives at his mother's "house," he meets Herb, who is at peace and seems to have forgiven him.
Herb was thin, bald, pale, and sickly when he died. He was also very angry. In Limbo, he presents as his young, healthy self. He is happy to see Bojack. In fact, no one in Limbo is angry with Bojack. Everyone is decent toward him, and even Beatrice keeps her insults and complaints to a minimum.
Herb remarks that Bojack has "finally arrived." Bojack replies that he's dreamt many times about eating dinner with his dead friends. He jokes that he might as well do it for real this time.
Bojack is joking and clearly thinks he's dreaming, but for me, his nervous joke is the biggest hint that he is not dreaming. He is actually in Limbo, a place where spirits linger between death and life, and all the "dead" friends in the house are there because they have been waiting for him.
An Omen of Death
In the living room, Bojack's dead friends are trying to get rid of a bird that has flown in through the window. The bird easily flies out of reach as the others jump at her.
In many cultures, birds are seen as omens of death. As someone from the cardinal state (Indiana) I've known people who believed that seeing a bird in your house and/or on your property was an omen of death. Obviously, the bird had to be a species that didn't belong there (so not a common sparrow or something). Red birds especially are "messengers from Heaven."
Maybe it's an Indiana thing, but I thought of those superstitions when looking at this episode. I think the fact that Bojack is the one to chase the bird away simply means that he is still half alive while the others are dead.
The Last Meal
At dinner, Bojack's chair is a coffin.
Sarah Lynn has allowed herself to become older. She looks to be in her twenties, young and healthy, before she hit rock bottom in her thirties.
Everyone eats the last thing they ate right before they died:
- Bojack is given a plate of the pills that caused him to OD in the pool, along with a bottle of chloroformed pool water (which he drank as he drowned).
- Sarah Lynn has the burger and fries that she ate during her bender with Bojack.
- Herb eats nuts (he died from a peanut allergy).
- Corduroy Jackson Jackson eats the lemon that he sucked on while fatally jerking off.
- Bojack's uncle, Crackerjack, eats military rations from a can.
- And last but not least, Beatrice has the final meal she ate in the nursing home, complete with a Jell-O cup.
If this is just a dream, how does Bojack know what each dead person ate right before their death? And why would he go to such detail? Dreams don't usually have details like that. They're usually weird, surreal, and confusing. And while this episode is weird, everything happening in it is too lucid for a dream.
Notice (dude on YouTube who criticized me) that I didn't ask how Bojack knew what Crackerjack looked like. Obviously, Bojack has seen his uncle in pictures at the Sugarman summer home. But how did Bojack know exactly what Crackerjack ate as his last meal? Are carrots the standard military ration for horses?
Again, there's just too much detail for this to be a dream. The writers of this show have always taken great pains to place tiny details in the background of every scene of every episode, to make every scene contribute to building the characters. If this were a dream, however, they would have taken steps to make it seem like Bojack's fabrication. Instead, it's all so real.
The characters are not caricatures of themselves, and they are not behaving the way Bojack imagines and perceives them. Nothing about them is from Bojack's perspective. Instead, the dead characters behave exactly as they would have behaved in the real world, and they present themselves exactly as they want to.
You could argue that Bojack prefers Sarah Lynn as a child and Herb as his young, healthy self . . . But what about Beatrice? Why would Bojack want to remember his elderly mother as the young woman in the debutante party dress he wasn't even alive to witness?
Searching for Meaning in Life
Over supper, Crackerjack admits that his stint in the military was pointless. He killed people with friendly fire and died senselessly from a bullet to the head. There was no meaning to it. His life was tragically cut short for other people's political games.
Herb seems oddly at peace, going into joking routines with Bojack. He has accepted that his life was painful, pointless, and meaningless and is ready to move on.
Sarah Lynn, on the other hand, seems desperate to give her life meaning. She spent her entire life being used like a thing to make money. She was emotionally abused, sexually abused, neglected and unloved. Even Bojack, when he came around in earlier seasons, only spoke to her because he wanted something and not because he actually cared about spending time with her. Her life was short and painful, so she searches desperately for a meaning that . . . isn't there.
Like Herb, Beatrice is calmly resigned to the fact that her life was shit but unlike Herb, she is also still bitter. She eats her supper and distracts herself from thinking about it by yelling at Jackson Jackson.
Jackson Jackson is more thoughtful than sad. He asks a bunch of questions and tries to find meaning in his life and death but can't.
Point is, life isn't fair. For most people on this earth, life is brutal and sometimes short and there is no meaning in our suffering.
It just is.
Secretariat arrives late, and for some reason, he is both Secretariat and Bojack's father. As soon as he comes in the room, he's arguing with Beatrice. He also has the voice of Bojack's father. And when he's served a meal, it's something Bojack's father would have eaten: eggs and booze.
Eggs and booze is the only thing we see Butterscotch eat throughout the entire six-year run. Beatrice is seen to make him an omelette and he is constantly seen drinking.
It's my belief that we aren't seeing Secretariat. We are seeing Bojack's father, who only looks like Secretariat because Bojack grew up seeing Secretariat as a father figure.
Given my theory (that the characters present themselves as they want to), it's likely that Bojack's father presented himself as Secretariat because he knew it was the only way to connect with his son.
Also, Secretariat died in a manner very similar to Bojack's near-death experience. He threw himself off a bridge and drowned, the same way Bojack threw himself in the pool and drowned. Appearing as someone who died in a similar manner could also be a way of Butterscotch trying to connect to Bojack.
After all, Butterscotch died in a really humiliating way. Who would want to show their face after that? (Yes, the others also had humiliating deaths, but none of them seem to care. Butterscotch is a very proud man, though. In fact, his pride was the entire reason he died in the first place.)
Sarah gives a performance that quickly shows her short and sad life (performing as a sex object on stage, living alone with no friends, dying). She then pauses sadly before disappearing through a door. She is wearing the same outfit she had on at Herb's funeral.
A minute later and Jackson Jackson also disappears through the same door.
When Bojack panics, Secretariat takes him to the bridge where he committed suicide. He tells Bojack that his father cared about him, something Bojack needed to hear. Then they return to watch the rest of the show.
There's also the fact that Bojack's father was a writer, and "Secretariat," instead of running and leaping obstacles or something, reads a poem for his performance.
Throughout the reading, he panics repeatedly and has to be calmed by Herb, who helps him pass away in peace.
This is what I believe is happening when each character falls through the dark doorway: they are finally dying. They have sat in Limbo a long time, waiting for Bojack so that they could say goodbye to him. Now they must each pass away.
"The Easy Part"
Beatrice and Crackerjack are the last to go before Herb. They perform a duet, which seems appropriate, as Crackjack's death was the reason for Beatrice's crappy life.
Because her brother died senselessly, Beatrice's mother had a mental breakdown, which resulted in her (sh*tty) father lobotomizing her. So Beatrice lost two stabilizing, loving, and supportive relationships and was left in complete isolation with her abusive father.
The lack of support is what ultimately drove her down the path of continuing the cycle of abuse with Bojack. She's still ultimately responsible for mistreating her own son, but if Crackjack hadn't died, Beatrice's life would have likely been a lot better. She would have had a chance to flower into a good person.
Instead, Beatrice lacked the courage and fortitude it takes to be a good person in spite of ones circumstances and she . . . became an asshole. I pity her but I still hold her responsible for the choice she made to abuse Bojack.
So with all that in mind, it's pretty poetic that the writers chose to show this by having Beatrice literally tied to Crackerjack. Crackerjack dies (falls through the door first) and as he goes, he is holding on to the ribbon Beatrice is dancing with . . . and ultimately pulls her down with him.
Herb is the last to pass into the darkness and die. Bojack tries to make a somewhat cliched comment about seeing Herb "on the other side." The cliche is dismissed when Herb gently explains to Bojack that there is no other side. Life sucks. The end.
Bojack can't handle this. He runs through the house as the darkness closes in. The hydrangeas he brought his mother grow large and block the door, blocking his way back to life and the real world.
Waking from Limbo
Frightened and panicking, Bojack runs from the house and back to the bridge, where he calls Diane.
Bojack loves Diane. And given the way Diane worries about Bojack and has been accused of "obsessing" over him, she loves him, too. Out of the all the characters on the show, she is the person he is most connected with. It makes sense that when he is afraid, he calls her.
I'm not sure how to explain this part. It's the only thing that really blows apart my "this is real and not a dream" theory.
Earlier in the episode, we see Beatrice "take a call." She actually walks away from Bojack to answer the phone and disappears for a moment as she does.
I almost want to say that the dead can "make calls" by reaching people in their dreams. At least, I've heard many ghost stories like that. So it could be that Beatrice was "calling" someone who was still alive. And maybe Bojack really did call Diane, but to her, it was a dream. Diane tells him that none of it is real, but if she's dreaming when he's talking to her, of course she'd think that.
The episode then ends with Bojack's heart monitor flatlining.
Oh Well. Nice While It Lasted.
I have given it some thought since I first wrote this article, and while I believe that Bojack really was in actual Limbo, I don't believe he actually died.
As I said at the end of my article about Season 6, it would just be too easy to have Bojack die, rather than live and face the consequences of his actions.
This may be an adult cartoon, but one thing that makes the show great is that the writers care very much about producing good writing and a good story that does all of the characters justice.
And to put a cheesy spin on the word, Bojack having to live with his actions is . . . justice.