Somebody you were hoping I might be: BoJack Horseman and the burden of fame

Like the show as a whole, BoJack Horseman’s third season features plenty of scenes of its titular Hollywood star mired in existential dread. But the episode that reveals the most about BoJack’s neuroses may be the one where BoJack cannot stop smiling.

“Love and/or Marriage” opens on a high note for BoJack; after decades of living as the washed-up star of Full House look-alike Horsin’ Around, BoJack has scored a domestic box office success by starring in the prestige picture Secretariat.

At first, BoJack takes the obvious route for a newly famous actor. He shows up at an exclusive bar where he knows he can be the center of attention and probably also score a memorable one-night stand. His plans change, however, when he discovers there’s a wedding rehearsal going on next door. Without a second thought, he bursts into the rehearsal, which he insists on calling a wedding despite repeated correction.

“Boring regular people love it when movie stars just show up and drink their alcohol,” he tells his friend Todd. The way BoJack understands it, his stardom implies a new contract with “the common people”; he acts as an ambassador from the rarefied world of the cinema, injecting moments of excitement into their dull lives. What BoJack gets in return, we are left to infer, is the ability to share in the excitement of this pivotal life moment without getting close enough to experience the ugliness that plagues his own relationships.

Just as he planned, BoJack is recognized and welcomed by the attendees, who invite him to make the first speech of the rehearsal dinner. Grinning from ear to ear, BoJack delivers a cookie-cutter wedding speech that ends with the line, “when you know, you know, you know?” It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed in many a sitcom and romcom, and you can only imagine that it made at least one appearance on Horsin’ Around. BoJack will later admit without hesitation that it’s bullshit. He’s here to entertain, not to provide marriage counseling.

Unfortunately, soon-to-be-married Tanisha did not get this memo, and she storms away when she realizes that she doesn’t know if her bride Karen is right for her. It appears that BoJack did not understand these people’s expectations of him after all.

Or maybe he did, and he just didn’t want to admit it. After all, he will later decide (against the advice of his publicists) to launch an ad campaign that replaces Secretariat movie posters with mirrors labeled “You are Secretariat.” If the rehearsal-goers allow BoJack to imagine himself in a happy relationship, BoJack allows the rehearsal-goers to imagine themselves as human beings who have realized their full potential.

Of course, both of these reflections are muddled and distorted. In episode after episode, we see that BoJack’s success has brought him nowhere closer to fulfillment. Tanisha is not, at this exact moment, marrying Karen, and after BoJack’s speech she doubts if she ever will. BoJack thought he could tread around these realities for a night, but he was wrong.

In the end, BoJack does get some of what he wants. After dragging his feet for a while, he talks the bride into returning to the reception and walks away at the twenty-minute mark before anything else can go wrong. Sure it’s unclear if Tanisha’s tears are of joy or of despair as she returns to the party, but that’s not BoJack’s problem anymore.

Character after character has warned BoJack about his tendency to push away the people he has any chance at intimacy with. The flip-side of this is that BoJack needs shallow, safe relationships to survive. Unfortunately for BoJack, Hollywood has made him a vehicle for the dreams and sentiments of others.

BoJack cannot partake in the comfortable (if ultimately unhealthy) voyeurism he thought that fame would allow him. Everyone wants to be his friend, but everyone also wants him to be their hero. If BoJack thought fame would be a sedative to help him forget his loneliness, he was wrong.

Which means we’re back to the normal BoJack Horseman grind. BoJack will go back to alternatively examining his emptiness and drowning it in drugs and alcohol. We fans will go on projecting our insecurities and hopes for redemption onto him. So much for a change.

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