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Still from Bojack Horseman

I  Wasn’t Expecting Death


“Nothing matters and everything matters. This whiplash almost made me black out in the middle of a bathroom break.” 

By ELIAS KOTSIS


12.8.2021

I started Bojack Horseman in 2019 after a third friend told me I would love it. After the first four episodes, I wanted to stop calling those people my friends. Bojack sucked. But I was told, like so many shows that consume vast swaths of the American consciousness (i.e., The Office, Parks and Rec), I had to give Bojack some time to find its voice.

Turns out, they were right. Soon, Bojack kept me coming back for its oddly calming humor. For its ever-evolving relationships. For its willingness to breach difficult subjects. (This surprised me for an animated show with more animals than Zoboomafoo). I ripped through the first five seasons. Then, I stopped.

Around season six, something happened—the show felt different. I started to walk away from Bojack deeply sad. I paused my binge. A couple of more months passed, and I got tired of waiting around to finish Bojack. I missed the zoological puns, so zoo me.

(A paragraph break here feels necessary. I’ll give you the space to be upset about that one.)

The characters’ growth felt special in those later seasons. The ghosts in the closet necessary to release, and the partings inevitable. The final episodes rolled around my head as I considered the show’s presentation of mortality.

A washed up, imperfect asshole of a talking horse somehow taught me that life goes on, and then it doesn’t. We try, we mess up, we try to fix things, we cannot, and then—

EVERYONE COME ON IN!

Wait, what? No, I’m trying to—

Once again, immunity is back up for grabs.

No! I’m trying to talk about the unexpected lessons gleaned from an animated modern classic—

Elias is trying his best, but he may be just too far behind in this challenge!

Fine! Fine, okay! And then came Survivor, a reality competition based in a remote location. My friend introduced it to me and we watched ten episodes in two days because I loved it! Ok, Jeff Probst?!

Elias, head on back to the point of this piece. I’ve got nothing for ya.

Jeff’s right. And I promise there’s a point here.

I finished that season of Survivor soon after. I was hooked, and I convinced my sister to begin a season with me. Survivor is best experienced with a viewing partner to whom you can explain what you would do. Naturally, the viewers know best and the participants sleeping two hours nightly on uneven bamboo shoots, eating only coconut flesh, are fools. My sister was obsessed four episodes into Pearl Islands. Who could blame her? Against Rupert’s burly charm, she stood no chance.

We watched that season in three days. During a commercial break in the middle of the finale, I ran to the bathroom. My head was racing. Are these final two really the most deserving? Well, I guess all of them worked and suffered. I stopped in the middle of washing my hands. I felt the heat of my head and my heart cascade down my body.

I’m going to die.

Looking in the mirror, I tried to recognize myself.

I’m going to die.

I stumbled out, hands wet, my sister beckoning me over as the 120 seconds of ads were almost through.

I’m going to die. And all of this will go away. And it will be nothing.

Having somehow made it to the TV, I grabbed the couch’s armrest, certain I would faint. Jeff was explaining some rules when my sister noticed my bloodless, void face. My legs dropped me on the edge of the cushion as my sister paused the show.

“. . . Are you all right?”

“I . . . I just thought about death.” Boy, do I wish I had a video of her reaction. When you were a cruel nine-year-old, did you ever pour salt on a slug? Picture that.

We sat in silence as I desperately tried to fight back these thoughts. It worked—momentarily. We finished the finale. I went upstairs and closed my bedroom door.

Where the fuck did that come from? Is it gone?

No, it wasn’t. And it’s still not. I’ve sat on this thought for a long time. And it’s a thought that has frustrated me for unapparent reasons. Shouldn’t I have at least started or tried to deal with death already?

But I have never been truly forced to reckon with life’s inevitable end. My grandparents all died either before or soon after I was born. I haven’t sobbed over someone’s death in 20 years, what I assume is the longest stretch I will go for the remainder of my life. I had no idea what to do with these feelings that made my stomach churn and head freeze.

After finally talking about it with my loved ones, it hit me. Or rather, it hit my therapist. In fact, it didn’t even hit my therapist. To her, it was obvious.

“Elias. What show were you watching again?”

Survivor.”

“Elias!”

Overthinking is a disease, I swear.

Of course my subconscious was swimming in the pools of mortality while watching Survivor, even with the distraction of the show’s challenges. But Survivor couldn’t take all the credit. This was Bojack’s doing, too.

Bojack Horseman is a celebrity constantly suffering from existential dread and his apparent lack of agency. His decisions don’t matter. Or they absolutely do. He is desperately seeking something or someone to hold onto. Survivor contestants have 39 days to make connections with strangers and adjust to living off unforgiving land. It’s a jam-packed trajectory with little room for error, one that magnifies every decision.

Nothing matters and everything matters. This whiplash almost made me black out in the middle of a bathroom break. It made my body heavy for weeks—and it’s because only recently have I realized how much I have to lose.

I want to write. I want to be with my partner. I want to be outside and smell the dirt. I want to celebrate my friends’ successes and failures. I want to spend time with my sister’s future children. I want to be with my parents through their second acts. I want to be. And this hasn’t always been true.

Death means more to me now than it has ever before. It’s exhausting and terrifying. I am working on believing that it’s a privilege to have this chance. The best part is, I think this happened because I did not expect it. Watching Bojack and Survivor, I had my guard down. Because of that, I received something amazing.

(That said, I am starting Barry soon, so if anybody has a reason my guard should be up, a warning would be much appreciated.)