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‘BoJack Horseman’ Tackles Abortion in Characteristically Bizarre Episode

[Spoiler alert: This piece contains plot details for the third season of Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” particularly episode 6: “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew.”]

BoJack Horseman” has never shied away from hot-button topics, but the new season’s sixth episode, “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew,” dives into one of the most controversial topics in America with particular surreal gusto. Sextina Aquafina, a 14-year-old dolphin and “dubstep wunderkind,” publicly announces that she is getting an abortion and then decides to broadcast a live feed of the procedure. Which is, in and of itself, quite an event. But it’s especially notable because secretly, Sextina (voiced by Daniele Gaither) isn’t even pregnant; the tweet that announced her abortion was a mistake, and when it got her attention, she rode that wave to its (il)logical conclusion: a pay-per-view special.

But underneath Sextina’s manufactured drama is a real one, closer to the show’s heart: Diane (Alison Brie), who handles her social media, is the one who is actually pregnant, the one who is actually getting an abortion. So, in the midst of commenting on the incestuous relationship between teenage pop stars and the media, “BoJack Horseman” ends up being one of a crop of shows, in the last several months, that have chosen to comment on what it’s like — and what it means — to choose to have an abortion.

Because this is “BoJack Horseman,” this isn’t a traditional issue episode. “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” is whackadoodle and hilarious, irreverent and indelicate in ways that feel like they should be offensive. When Diane and her husband, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), are taken through the mandatory pre-abortion requirements at “Planned Parrothood,” the doctor ruthlessly informs them: “By law, I have to tell you that at one month, your puppies have a favorite color, and that color may be blue.” He then hands them 20 hours of cute puppy videos, to be watched before proceeding.

But “BoJack Horseman” doesn’t just stop there. When Sextina decides she’s faking her abortion, she follows up by releasing a single, “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus,” which describes, in ludicrous and kind of horrifying detail, how enthusiastic she is about ending her nonexistent fetus’ life. She brandishes guns and kicks baby toys across the floor while singing, “I’m a babykiller / baby-killing makes me horny.” In an especially inspired line, she says: “I hope and pray to God my little fetus has a soul / because I want it to feel pain when I eject it from my hole / [dolphin noises].”

If it weren’t for the fact that “BoJack Horseman”’s audience is a pretty specific sliver of the viewing public, a scene like that would have a mob armed with pitchforks waiting outside Netflix’s headquarters. As a horrified Diane points out, the video just gives the pro-life movement material; after the single’s release, a news personality asks (ridiculously, but with an edge of seriousness):“Has the concept of women having choices gone too far?”

The specific issue with Serafina’s video isn’t exactly that it is vulgar; it’s that it is shameless. “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” pivots the episode from simply being about abortion to discussing what it means to take abortion lightly. When Diane is required to watch puppy videos — or, more realistically, listen to the fetus’ heartbeat and view an ultrasound — she is being legally required to experience shame. Sextina’s refusal to do so is both grotesque and radical, of an ass-shaking, gun-waving, dubstep variety. It’s pro-abortion, without any qualms.

And though it is clearly a subject of some debate as to whether or not abortion should be as inconsequential and performatively badass as getting another nipple piercing, without shame, the women in the story are noticeably liberated. Diane meets a teenage girl about to go in for the procedure who was inspired to be strong by Sextina’s song. “Getting an abortion is scary,” she says, citing the protestors and the procedure and the rhetoric from the news. “And when you can joke about it, it makes it less scary, you know?”

The introduction of Sextina’s video doesn’t just introduce this contemplation about shame; it also offers a bracing counter-programming to the way discussion around abortion occurs in the media. In our world, pro-life rhetoric is more apt to take on visceral imagery and outsize rhetoric (“Would you abort JESUS?” reads a sign outside Planned Parrothood), while pro-choice rhetoric is more apt to become bite-size talking points on someone’s marginal cable show. With Sextina’s video, the reality in “BoJack Horseman” flips; suddenly the most outsize and ridiculous narrative is in the hands of the abortion access movement. Watching Sextina is a subtle and wistful reminder that the abortion access movement in our world lacks both the conviction and the confidence of the ceteacean dubstep wunderkind.

Instead of “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” existing in a world not our own, it feels more that the episode starts in our own world, and ends up somewhere fantastical. A world where shame is not mandated and abortion can be taken for granted, with guns-a-blazin’. In that environment, three of the female characters end up having a conversation about choice that is noticeably without stigma, even though all three are making very different decisions. “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” is, undoubtedly, superficial, provocative showboating. But “BoJack Horseman” makes a case for its politics, too.

An earlier version of this named the wrong voice actor for the part of Sextina Aquafina. It is Daniele Gaither, not Nicole Byer.

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