This article contains spoilers for BoJack Horseman seasons 1-4.
As Netflix’s smash hit BoJack Horseman comes to a close with the impending release of its final season, fans everywhere are mourning the loss of the extremely relatable series. BoJack Horseman provides a seamless conglomeration of animation and dark humour with surprisingly deep overarching plotlines. As a university student, I can relate to the enigmatic child star Sarah Lynn. One of BoJack’s co-stars on his 80s sitcom Horsin’ Around, Sarah Lynn played BoJack’s youngest adoptive daughter, Sabrina.
Sarah Lynn was raised by the show’s titular character: an alcoholic, narcissistic horse with little regard for anyone but himself. In the second episode of the show, viewers see how both BoJack and childhood stardom affected Sarah Lynn; in the typical trajectory of a child actor, she turned to promiscuous behaviour, drug abuse, and pitiable isolation. Clearly every university student isn’t doomed to fall prey to this exact behaviour, but the message is clear: teens often behave in risky ways to fill an emptiness inside them. I instantly connected Sarah Lynn’s experiences with those of my peers upon arrival at university. When all you’ve been is praised as an exceptional, young talent, it’s hard to adjust to a life with no expectations and no limits. Sarah Lynn represents the side of immaturity that masquerades as blissful ignorance.
I instantly connected Sarah Lynn’s experiences with those of my peers upon arrival at university.
For many university students, experimenting with drugs is simply par for the course. Young bodies are strong and young minds are weak, and university is meant for making the stupid decisions your parents can no longer shield you from. The hardest part of university is channeling all this wily experimentation into the creation of a more distilled version of yourself. BoJack Horseman imbues upon its viewers the message that sometimes you have to confront the person you’re becoming, especially when who you’re becoming isn’t someone you want to be. It gets hard being a rebel. For Sarah Lynn, as for many university students, the individual becomes lost in the identity: the illusionary fake persona to which one feels forcibly conjoined. A young Sarah Lynn constantly talked about her aspirations to be an architect, and the show brought her arc to a heartbreaking conclusion, as the 31-year-old eventually died of a heroin overdose, her last words being “I wanna be an architect.” She got so caught up in maintaining a relevant and praiseworthy image, that she blew out her own flame before its time.
It’s difficult not to see yourself as a supporting character in someone else’s story. To her mother, her agent, and her onscreen father BoJack, Sarah Lynn was a plaything. She was pushed into homeschooling and then the spotlight, and remained utterly alone. Until her death, Sarah Lynn did not get the chance to live her own life. I see this all too often in high-functioning teens, especially ones at a school as stress-inducing as McGill. From a very young age, children with talent are treated as prodigies, and become terrified of ever failing. As time goes on and it gets harder to stay exceptional, post-impressive children are willing to lose their sense of self to keep their sense of superiority. It’s not a matter of staying true to oneself; there was never a self to maintain.
Until her death, Sarah Lynn did not get the chance to live her own life.
When parents try too hard to create a truly excellent child, all the child is comfortable identifying with is perfection. As Sarah Lynn says to BoJack, “I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to grow as a person, and can constantly surround myself with sycophants and enablers until I die tragically young.” When your only passion becomes impressing others, you lose any real individual pursuits or desires. Many teenagers see themselves as extensions of their parents, and live just to please them. The tragedy of university lies in those that are unable to take advantage of the individuality afforded to them. Being a talented child is not a one-way ticket to being a depressed adult. One of the most beautiful parts of university is the chance to find out who you really are. Drop a class, join a club; just do something because you want to do it. You are the main character in your story, and your story is just beginning.