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.
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. In Limbo, he presents himself as his young, healthy self. He is happy to see Bojack. In fact, no one in Limbo is angry at 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.
Sarah Lynn is actually the first person Bojack sees. She waited for him outside the house, on the doorstep. And she must've been waiting a long time, because she knows enough about Beatrice to warn Bojack that his mother won't appreciate the flowers he brought.
It's interesting that Sarah Lynn appears as a child first. In real life ghost stories, the departed always appear however they want and not necessarily how they really looked when they died.
Sarah Lynn appears as a child because it's likely the easiest way to approach Bojack. Had she appeared the way she looked when she died, she would upset him while he's on life support. It isn't until he's had some time to process his own arrival in Limbo that she starts changing into an older version of herself.
In other words, appearing to Bojack as a child makes Sarah Lynn less threatening. She is also completely unsexual. As someone whose tragedy revolved around sexual abuse and objectification, it makes sense that she would enjoy presenting herself as a child, being able to run and jump over furniture in the next scene, without someone staring at her body in the unsavory way she had to endure throughout her career.
Better people have explained it, but basically: Sarah Lynn is a victim of Hollywood sexism. Objectifying herself and playing this sexual role was something she was forced to do to survive Hollywood, having never had the chance to pursue other paths.
She laments this in earlier seasons, where she says she never wanted to act but was forced by her parents and would rather have been an architect. There were also numerous hints that her step-father was a Pedo Bear. In Limbo, Sarah Lynn is free of her step-father. She can finally be a carefree child and run and play without fear.
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.
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. Bojack seems more comfortable and so is she. After finally entering the house instead of waiting on the step, she feels safe to be a woman in a woman's body. No one in Limbo is going to sexually harm her or use her sexuality to make money.
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, even for a dream.
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.
This resonated with me. I have had a very difficult, very painful life, and I'm still trying to reconcile myself to the fact that I suffered for decades and no one cared (while it seems most everyone else got to be normal and happy, which isn't entirely the case). I'm slowly coming to a place where I'm at peace with how shitty my life has been, just like the characters on the show.
It's my story. Might as well embrace it.
(Saying "it's my story" is how I accept and deal with having been abused by my mother. It is not meant to minimize or dismiss childhood abuse, which I take very seriously. Please don't misconstrue my words and intent. I'm not into "spiritual" stuff, and you don't know me because you read a few Medium articles I wrote back when I was actively being abused by said mother and was mentally unstable.)
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.
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.
It could be that Bojack's father is trying to connect with Bojack by a) appearing as his idol and b) appearing as someone who died in a similar manner.
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.
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.
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.
I almost want to believe that in the next episode Bojack is actually dead and in some kind of extended Purgatory right before finally dying. After all, one of the characters in The View from Halfway Down tells Bojack that he's not going to wake up . . .only for him to wake up in the next episode?
Also, there are numerous hints throughout. Aside from the fact that Bojack's chair is a coffin, you can also see the portrait of the narcissist on the wall during the bird chase scene. In the original portrait, Bojack is watching himself swimming in the pool. In the portrait in Limbo, Bojack is watching himself drown.
It would make sense that Bojack was dead since his death at the end would deliberately mirror the first episode of the show, where Bojack's character from Horsin' Around dies.
A nice way to bring things full circle, I suppose.