‘BoJack Horseman,’ A Feminist Saving Grace
WARNING: Literally all of the spoilers for BoJack Horseman Seasons 1-3.
The world of “BoJack Horseman” is a world of absurdity. While we follow the eponymous anti-hero — a washed up, alcoholic, anthropomorphized horse — we’re expected to see humor in the hopelessly dismal. I’ve laughed as I bore witness to the cartoon’s depressive nihilism and selfish drug-induced benders. But, considering the current political climate, I didn’t think there was a situation absurd enough to make me laugh about abortion.
The sixth episode of the third season of “BoJack Horseman” proved me wrong. The fifth episode ends with the show’s married interspecies couple, the human Diane (Alison Brie, “How to Be Single”) and canine Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins, “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$”), finding out Diane is pregnant. The last episode cuts Diane off at “Mother…” allowing her to start this one with “Fucker!” After tiptoeing around the issue, the couple states their desired plan of action at the same time — to have an abortion.
I was skeptical here. When a character on TV wants to get an abortion at the start of an episode, by the end, there’s often been some change of heart or a timely miscarriage. (I’m looking at you, “The Carrie Diaries,” “Girls” and “Dawson’s Creek.”) But Diane never wavers in her decision, and Mr. Peanutbutter never falters in his support of her.
Considering the subject matter, the humor in the episode surprisingly comes at the audience from all angles. Diane, who manages the social media accounts of a myriad of celebrities, accidentally tweets out “I’m getting an abortion” to the 40 million followers of pop starlet dolphin, Sextina Aquafina (Daniele Gaither, “MADtv”). There’s quick backlash to this from the media, with MSNBSea news anchor Tom Jumbo-Grumbo (Keith Olbermann, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”) asking questions like, “Is Twitter an appropriate forum to be discussing a sensitive issue like abortion? Wouldn’t a better forum be… nowhere?” Sextina arrives at Princess Caroline’s (Amy Sedaris, “Ghost Team”) talent agency, ready to fire Diane for this mistake. But the three women soon realize Sextina’s fake abortion has led to her trending like crazy, with celebrities like Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj tweeting their support. Diane explains the response, that “most women who go through this never talk about it, because it’s so stigmatized. The fact that you’re coming out like this is huge.” And it would be, if Sextina truly was pregnant. But with the promise of publicity, Sextina decides to fake her pregnancy and subsequent abortion.
Sextina accompanies Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter to their visit at Planned Parrothood, walking past the outraged protesters out front with signs saying “Would you abort JESUS?” and “Babies are fun!” Satirizing guilt-inducing laws so common in states today, Diane is required to watch 20 hours of puppy videos before proceeding and the doctor informs her that, “by law, I have to tell you that at one month your puppies have a favorite color, and that color may be blue.”
What Sextina takes from watching Diane jump over legal hurdles to make a decision about her family and body is the mandatory shame that accompanies abortion. These procedures so obviously have no medical importance and exist only to perpetuate the stigma of abortion. Sextina rejects this legal guilt, turning it on its head with her new single, “Get That Fetus/Kill That Fetus,” and announces that she will be having her abortion on live TV. The dubstep dolphin prodigy sings of how baby killing makes her horny while kicking baby rattles across the floor during her slow-motion strut. It also doesn’t hurt that the song is a veritable banger.
In response to Sextina’s battle cry, MSNBSea gathers together “a diverse panel of white men in bowties,” commenting so powerfully on the depressing reality of who actually makes decisions about women’s bodies in this country. The scene hilariously exemplifies the puerile direction abortion debates often take, as people without empathy or experience in the matter make decisions for others.
Diane stands by, horrified as Princess Caroline and Sextina plan the staged “live” abortion they’ll show on TV. (Eddie Redmayne is planned to be booked as the fetus.) She continues the discussion with Mr. Peanutbutter as they walk into Planned Parrothood, the posters behind them illustrating all the other services the organization offers besides abortion, which makes up only three percent of the important work the real Planned Parenthood does. Diane, who has begun a plot to expose Sextina as not-pregnant fraud, immediately stops when she meets a teenage girl who felt stronger coming in for the procedure because of Sextina’s music. The slouched teen tells Diane, “getting an abortion is scary. With all the protesters out front, and how you have to listen to the heartbeat and all that. And when you can joke about it, it makes it less scary, you know.”
This statement from an unknown character is the crux of the episode. In a few short sentences, this teenager comes to represent the thousands of women that seek abortions every year. We don’t get her back story or details on why she’s getting an abortion, because she doesn’t owe us anything. But by putting a spotlight on this storyline, the writers of “BoJack Horseman” explain and humanize the stakes of this issue — one that allows for the bodies of women to continually be called to the stage of suffering and shame.