Last fall, the fourth season of “BoJack Horseman” landed — perhaps for the first time in the show’s run — on something like hope. Up to that point, each season had been a successive spiral for the titular protagonist, the narcissistic former movie star’s mistakes inexorably driving him, and those around him, further into darkness. But with the end of last year’s season, things seemed to be looking up for BoJack Horseman.

Of course, if anything has become obvious since the Netflix series’ premiere in 2014, it’s that BoJack never learns. “BoJack Horseman” began amid a crowded field of male anti-heroes on television, its tale of a depressed animated horse (in a world populated by both humans and upright animals, a conceit that has never run dry as fodder for easy gags) not too far off from the “Breaking Bad”s and “Mad Men”s that preceded it, to say nothing of the numerous Adult Swim-style animated comedies of its type. For this reason, the first season of the show received famously mixed reviews from critics — in part because they’d only been given the first half to screen — but the show quickly set itself apart after that rocky start. “BoJack Horseman” has managed to meld heartbreaking drama, meta humor, timely social satire, perceptive depictions of mental illness and a truly impressive visual aesthetic like little else on television. 

The fact that BoJack never learns has played well into the artistic liberties the showrunners have taken with “BoJack Horseman”’s eminently binge-worthy serial format; it’s not uncommon for the main character to suffer a devastating personal failure in one episode, only to brush it off (at least temporarily) in the following episode. Season five of “BoJack Horseman” continues this streak, once again indulging in experiments in narrative structure and showing no signs of exhaustion after nearly half a decade on air. And importantly, it reminds us that its protagonist, despite any gains he’s made, seems bent on remaining just beyond our empathy.

At the conclusion of the fourth season, audiences had some reason to hope for the better: BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) and Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), his long lost half-sister, arrived at a promising, if tenuous, point of friendship; Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) managed to secure the script of “Philbert”— her first TV show as a producer, and a proxy for the child she’d attempted to conceive in season four — with BoJack cast as the lead actor. The start of season five, then, finds them in the midst of production for the new series — BoJack’s goal of leaving his “Horsin’ Around” years behind for more “serious” roles finally attained. Meanwhile, Todd (Aaron Paul) has moved from BoJack’s couch to Princess Carolyn’s, but his aimlessness is beginning to take a toll on his relationship with Yolanda, which continues the exploration of Todd’s asexuality begun in season four. If there’s one dramatic rupture that occurred in the intervening time between seasons, it’s between Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) and Diane (Alison Brie), whose marriage seemed all but over by the end of last season — evidently, they’ve been separated since then, and an early episode of the new season sees Mr. Peanutbutter hand over the signed divorce papers.

Just as BoJack’s Oscar chase drove the plot of the show’s third season, the production of “Philbert” provides the narrative framework around which each of the characters’ stories revolves. But “Philbert” is more than just an excuse for another season of “BoJack Horseman.” Not by accident, “Philbert” bears an overt resemblance to BoJack’s own story. Sometimes, this parallel manifests itself more absurdly, like the fact that the set of “Philbert” just happens to be an inch-by-inch recreation of BoJack’s house (or was it David Boreanaz’s house?). The Rami Malek-voiced Flip, too, is a spot-on parody of the prestige-TV director, the genius who’s the only person in the room who thinks he’s a genius. (Of “Philbert,” Princess Carolyn remarks, “It’s confusing, which means the show is daring and smart.”)

But “Philbert” also reveals “BoJack Horseman”’s own awareness of its potential for normalizing abhorrent male behavior through its own protagonist. As BoJack says at a premiere party for “Philbert,” “I think that’s what the show says: We’re all terrible, so therefore we’re all okay.” It’s a lesson that could easily be taken from “BoJack Horseman” at times, even if, as the showrunners make clear, it’s an incorrect one. 

This discussion also opens the door to commentary on #MeToo that’s timely without feeling contrived. In a typical early-season “BoJack” episode, BoJack ends up on the media circuit as an unlikely feminist after a disgraced actor is in the running for a co-starring role on “Philbert.” (The applause line for BoJack? “Choking your wife is bad.”) In that case, the conversation about gender violence is used as a comic backdrop, but it can’t help but ensnare BoJack himself, whose toxic behavior, after all, is nothing if not a central facet of his character. Three seasons later, BoJack’s inappropriate interaction with Penny, the 17-year-old daughter of an old friend, remains the consistent, underlying trauma in “BoJack Horseman,” the seemingly unforgivable deed that, up to this point, has never been fully addressed — beyond the passing “what happened in New Mexico.” It’s clear that BoJack feels remorse for his actions, but it’s not clear what, if anything, he’s willing to do to atone for them, beyond saying, “We’re all terrible, so therefore we’re all okay.”

The eternal question, when it comes to BoJack, has always been: At what point will BoJack finally hold himself accountable for his actions? In other words, when will it not be okay? Season five of “BoJack Horseman” doesn’t give a definite answer to that question, but it brings us closer than ever before — and, in acknowledging that the character of a person is not so simple as “okay” versus “terrible,” it acknowledges that we may never get a straight answer.