(Spolier Alert: If you haven’t watched part two of the final season, you might want to stop reading right here.)

Amid today’s cancel culture, when a male public figure finally faces his reckoning for myriad offenses and is consequentially harangued by the court of social media, the very thought of redemption sounds like an insult, especially to the people his actions affected. But as the Netflix series, Bojack Horseman, explores, there is actually some space for nonviolent offenders like its title character (voiced by Will Arnett) to not only change their behavior but adequately atone for it—if they care to do so.

That desire to alter the way they choose to take up space in this world, from their indifference of others to objectifying women, is a major first step on the road to become a better person and ally.

But in a world built on patriarchal values, many men don’t feel compelled to champion vital issues like gender equality. In fact, it’s almost an affront to them that they should even try to.

We saw that play out in the early seasons of Bojack Horseman, which centers a heavy booze-drinking, chauvinistic actor basking in his inflated sense of celebrity and authority. The women in his life—like his friend Diane (Alison Brie) and former agent/ex-lover Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris)—begin to challenge him about his actions and the way his power oppresses those around him. And much of the time, he just shrugs off their comments.

But as the series progresses and Bojack’s casual misdeeds escalate to tragic levels, he decides to take a hard look at himself, and for the first time ever doesn’t like what he sees. Even more poignantly, he reflects on some of the emotional wounds from his past—including his dispassionate relationship with his mother and his absent dad—that have contributed to the man he became.

According to Dr. Daniel Katz, a psychologist at Houston Therapy in Texas who specializes in working with men’s issues, it’s a major first step when men like Bojack look inward as they start the process of course correction. Because the constant suppression of vulnerability is part of what breeds the toxicity, they’ve been consumed with much of their lives.

“In the process of opening up about their own emotional experiences,” Katz says, “they have a greater capacity for empathy. Working through the pain of their old wounds—whether that be direct trauma from childhood or from incorporating a lot of the messages from society—helps them generalize other people’s experiences.”

But of course, reflecting on the origins of their toxicity does not automatically mean that the offender can be welcomed back into society and seen as an evolved man. It can take a lot of time to regain that confidence, if that happens at all. For instance, the emotional scars Bojack had inflicted on people like Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), have left an indelible mark on their relationship by the sixth and final season.

Though Bojack goes to rehab and makes strides toward ameliorating the pain from his childhood, and even attempts to repair some of the damage he caused in his loved ones’ lives, he also has to live with the fact that some of what he’s done is irreparable. It’s this overwhelming sense of responsibility, fueled by their own guilt, that can easily dissuade a man like Bojack’s attempt to do better.

We see him struggle with that hard realization, which Katz says hits home for a lot of men though he says that that reality does not have to be a deterrence. “It’s about processing through that guilt and shame by talking about it with other men, a therapist, or a friend,” Katz says. “Guilt is something that can drive people mad, but it’s also a vital emotion that alerts us to something that we’ve done that is not right, and we should try to learn from it.”

That’s a lesson that Bojack grasps by the end of the series. Serving jail time for, as he vaguely puts it, “everything” he’s done, he is far more self-aware than he used to be. He’s so conscious about it that he worries his mere presence will hurt his once closest confidantes and he does his best to alienate himself from them when he’s paroled.

But as it is for Bojack by the end of the series, nonviolent offenders reentering society as newly enlightened men should have goals that stretch far beyond reestablishing relationships with those they’ve hurt in the past. It’s about, as Katz says, “becoming a service to the greater community.”

For Bojack, that comes in the form of running a theater program in jail, which marries his passion for the arts with a newer interest in helping inspire others. It gives him a sense of purpose he didn’t really care to have before.

It’s also a genuine reflection of a more compassionate human being who’s not focused on regaining anyone’s trust (he understands that may be impossible) but rather doing what he can to be a better ally to all people.

Sincere steps to better himself is what can lead to a sense of redemption and a shift in the kinds of relationships men like Bojack cultivate moving forward. “They often feel like the world is interacting with them incredibly differently,” Katz says. “All of a sudden, it seems like there are fewer assholes in the world.”

Last Updated: Aug 17, 2020