Not Gay As In Happy, Queer As In Fetishizing His Own Sadness: 7 Reasons Bojack Horseman Isn't Straight
There's one specific fan theory I'm convinced actually might be true: Bojack Horseman is a deeply repressed gay or bisexual man.
Season 4 is on the horizon, the trailer has landed and my excited brain is wandering back into bleak-but-hilarious Bojack Horseman-land. There's one specific fan theory I'm convinced actually might be true: Bojack Horseman is a deeply repressed gay or bisexual man. (Horse? Horse-man.)
On my recent re-watch, I noticed a theme. Bojack's life is defined by one moment more than any other – his betrayal of his gay best friend Herb and his subsequent (wildly unsuccessful) attempts to right that wrong. But enough adds up to suggest something even deeper. This pivotal moment made Bojack come face-to-face with something about himself he'd never known or admitted: he's attracted to men, and specifically, Herb.
That scared the hell out of him, so he cut Herb loose and spends the rest of his life trying/failing to recreate what could have been.
Really: Bojack not being straight, burying any attraction/realizations because he associates it with his betrayal of Herb and everything after (including Herb's actual death), would explain a lot about his self-destructive life choices and dysfunctional relationships with Princess Carolyn, Wanda, Ana Spanakopita and Diane.
Fans have discussed the non-straight vibes for a while, and there's more where that came from. Seriously, this show is deep and meticulously-crafted. The writers know what they're doing – if there's something there, it's intentional. And there's a lot there, so let's get into it.
1. Todd, why are you still here?
The pilot episode tells us Bojack originally let Todd crash at his place (and then not leave for 2 years) because he thought he was a homeless gay teen. He's not – but Todd is asexual. So, grain of truth here, it definitely ties into some serious Herb-related guilt. Therefore, this is some kind of atonement (instead of, you know, Bojack talking to Herb like a functional person).
2. Everything In Every Herb Flashback
No, not just the kiss, although when you look at that moment, Bojack looks a lot less upset and a lot more "Holy crap, what is this feeling, the likes of which I have never felt?"
All of their interactions feel very cute and romantic, for lack of a better concrete term. I hate to pull a "it just feels like it," but a good way to gauge the gay: if one of them was a woman, how would a scene come across?
Actually, we don't have to ask – when they first meet, Herb is dating Charlotte, who later breaks up with him, saying she "wasn't the person Herb was looking for." This seems like a pretty good hint. On that note, when given the chance to actually talk to Herb about this, at the end of their serious conversation, Bojack asks (pretty excitedly), "Do you guys ever link up in a fun circle? Because if I ever did–"
Okay, good to know.
3. Artistic License
You might notice a painting hanging on the wall of Bojack's study, which we see every time a scene is set in this room.
Here's the original by (the very openly gay) David Hockney. It's titled, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures).
I can't imagine that picking this particular image to not only reference in the show, but appear many times, is a mistake.
Seriously, this show makes reference to classic art in almost every episode. There's no way any of this is accidental, especially when you consider that at the end of the opening theme, Bojack ends up in the pool.
4. A (very long) kiss with Mister Peanutbutter.
Like unnecessarily long.
This is their totally sensible on-air solution on how to resolve their differences, including the time Bojack kissed Diane in Season 1, right after the disaster at Herb's house (significant timing? I think so).
Unlike the original quick and unreciprocated Bojack/Diane kiss, this is not brief. It's actually the longest kiss in the show. Finally, Mr. Peanutbutter describes the lip-lock as "stern yet supple," which sounds a lot more like someone taking the lead/actively kissing back.
5. "My life was ruined by an executive like you."
Up until mid-Season 2, it seems Bojack and Wanda's relationship troubles are just his trademark subconscious (and conscious) urge to drive everyone away – but the real reason goes back decades.
That relationship-ending phrase, "my life was ruined by an executive like you" can only refer to a flashback from Season 1, where the Horsin' Around network executive (a truly chilling Anjelica Huston) gives him a choice: support recently outed Herb and go down in flames when the show comes under fire from homophobic backlash, or say nothing, leave Herb behind and get the dream job.
This moment, so deeply tied to Herb, hangs over Bojack as he attempts to recapture what he lost: happiness with the most important person in his life at the time, and all the possibilities of what they could have done together. It's followed by countless one-night stands and failed relationships, brief shining moments of this is it, until everything inevitably crashes and burns.
Bojack's mother tells him he was born broken, but this moment is a breaking point more than anything. Herb didn't forgive him, and now he never can.
6. More Art Foreshadowing
Early in the third season, Bojack almost sleeps with Heather, a manatee journalist. The one-night stand seems to go well (if ill-advised), until she mentions a boat, sending Bojack into a flashback of Season 2, when he almost did something inappropriate with Penny, Charlotte's underage daughter.
Though the scene itself is ambiguous, and we're not shown who made the first move, the event was traumatic for Penny. The mere mention of something similar makes Bojack freeze up. In that moment, there's a painting above the hotel bed, in a prominent place reminiscent of the painting in his study.
Now this is unique. I've scoured the internet, and I cannot find a painting this is referencing. So this may be an original, designed solely for the show. This becomes incredibly important in the next point:
7. Season 3's Finale: Wild Horses
Like all late-season Bojack Horseman episodes, this one is dark, but the ending is one of the most powerful moments I've ever seen on television. After having some particularly stark realizations, Bojack suffers from a mental breakdown and decides to go for a drive. With the haunting "Stars" by Nina Simone playing in the background, he pushes the accelerator down, and lets go.
Then, from the deepest well of despair comes a ray of hope: a group of wild horses, running free through the desert. Where have we seen this?
It's very similar to the painting from the hotel in the season premiere. What does it mean if this image was made specifically for the show? It takes an already-profound moment and screams "pay attention to this!"
Pay attention to how Bojack looks at this unlikely salvation that shakes him out of a serious suicide attempt. It's like the first light of dawn after a very long, very dark night of the soul. Pay attention to how lovingly rendered the runners are – the definition of their muscles, the deliberate sweat dripping from brows and limbs. They are very evocative of his lifelong hero, Secretariat, and like everything Bojack wants to be and attain. It's completely unlike everything else he knows.
Also, take it from a qualified art nerd: this is erotic. The most sexually-charged scene in the entire god-dang show, right here. It's artful and queer as the day is long.
It's important to note that this scene is what saves him in the end. This finale, this astonishingly beautiful moment, combined with everything else we've seen: something is definitely there.
So is he gay/bi or something?
We'll find out when Season 4 hits Netflix on September 8th. Granted, in this season we'll meet Bojack's (possible) daughter, but this in no way precludes any of the above speculation. Bisexuality exists, for one thing, and gay men have or have had sex with women for any number of reasons.
So there's a good possibility that whether he's more horse than a man, or more man than a horse, he's still a lot more queer than straight. No matter where the story goes, this subtext is a work of art unto itself.
About the author
Writes weird books about marginalized people surviving/rocking out (CHAMELEON MOON, STAKE SAUCE), amazing puns, and geeky articles. Lives with chronic pain/genetic weirdness. An actual mutant. Open Your Eyes, Look Up To The Skies And See!