Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing--COWBOY BEBOP #2

Hi amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system, how y'all doin'? It's now time for Big Sh--oooh, almost got too caught up in the bit. This is Witless Prattle's continuing coverage of the entirety of Cowboy Bebop, because you demanded it. Both of you. This week, we continue on, and imagine my surprise when I was watching these and taking notes that damn near every single episode pivots on the themes of "time" (don't worry--there are plenty of eye motifs also) I don't know if it was intentional, but it runs right through all five of them, and that's good, as it gives us something to talk about.

So let's get right down to the heart of this thing.

"A baby hipster--very cool!"

I'm sure Spike's odd little flashback wherein he apparently got an artificial eye will in no way shape or form really ever be germane to anything, will it? This whole episode seems like yet another "The Bebop crew gets roped into some weird plot that has a bounty attached to it and solve the immediate problem, but fail to collect the bounty" thing, but damn if it isn't positively drenched in foreshadowing from the first scene on.

Spike and Jet are taking in the music of a kid named Wen, who has an amazing facility with the harmonica, specifically in the realm of blues. Jet's into it, as he's been singing the blues since the day he was born, so he says (and given what we see of Jet's past, that may not be much of an exaggeration) They're also trying to take down a bounty of course, but that goes pear-shaped, as usual, as they get wrapped in old business that is intimately tied into some of the backstory of the Cowboy Bebop universe.

You see, about 80 years before the show began, they fired up the first hyperspace gate and blew up the moon, creating a constant shower of debris that rain down on Earth without fail and also, for reasons even Jet has trouble wrapping his head around, "froze" Wen as a young boy. Worse still, he can't die, and he's turned into a bit of a nutcase.

Meanwhile, Faye makes a point to Ein about how women need to be pampered whilst wolfing down a can of dog food. You may feel free to apply your own reading of that scene here.

Jet later tells her that "Betrayal comes easy to women, but men live by iron codes of honor." Faye asks him if he really believes that and Jet says he's trying to. This scene means little for this episode, but it's as revelatory about Jet as it gets, and we're not gonna long wait to see that.

Wen is a very literal metaphor for time and how messed up you get if you're "stuck" in one point in time. Recall that Vicious was caught up in the past and kept dealing in ways that just weren't right anymore, and in not dissimilar ways, Wen is also caught in a destructive pattern, where he can't die, and he's lived way too long, and he's gotten a bit indifferent to anyone but himself.

To his credit, spike shoots him in the head. It doesn't take alas, and Wen already shot him in the arm, which leads to a scene where Jet's patching him up and spike apologises . . .but for what we're encouraged to speculate.

The guy who got Spike and co. roped up in this mess, a man named Giraffe (who was trying to save his friend Zebra--neither black nor white, as the plot of this episode is") has a ring with a very special stone, a stone that can return time to Wen.

There are about a dozen ways in which to do this, but Spike knows what makes good drama, and gets one single bullet made and tags Wen in the head, and just so we tie in the whole "devil child" motif that's run through the whole episode, there's a big fire roaring around them when he does so.

Fortunately it works and Wen goes all Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on us, whispering to Spike that he feels "heavy" and yet at peace (this will be contrasted later with the final song in the show. . .I did say this was layered with foreshadowing) and Spike flips Wen's harmonica up in the air and shoots it with his finger whispering "bang."

Ah, that's odd. Oh well, I'm sure it won't be important later.

This episode is not that bad, really, but works much better if you've already seen the series once. If you haven't, then it's a passable mystery with a few good hooks and a very grim noirish style to it that really keeps the episode moving along. It's nothing that hasn't been done before, but . . .well, that's not really the point.

"It's called heavy metal. It's quite soothing."

First things first: This song is rad as all hell:

"Heavy Metal Queen" is all about how a space trucker named V.T. is all sorts of awesome. She can kick ass with the best of them (In this case Spike, running a few gears lower this time because he's got a vicious hangover) and can pilot a space truck through a collapsing asteroid. He name means "victory dance" (sorta) for Christ's sake.

But less explosively, she's on her second life, much like spike. Her husband was an infamous bounty hunter who died, and then she became a trucker. Likewise, Spike was a criminal who became a bounty hunter. V.T.'s done all she can, to the point of hiding her real name so much that it's turned into a game for people to guess her name.

The interplay between the two of them is the dramatic heart of the episode (while the action is totally bitchin, it's framed by V.T. and Spike's interaction) V.T. hates bounty hunters and initially wants nothing to do with Spike when she finds out he's one. Spike did all he could to not be like Vicious (He'd "bled all that kind of blood" away, after all) and yet. . .it's V.T. who saves Spike when he recklessly ejects himself into the hard vacuum if space and nearly gets himself killed and it's Spike who figures out V.T.'s real name--"Victoria Terpsichore" ("Victoria"="Victory" and Terpsichore is the muse of dance. The More You Know . . .) while one of Bebop's themes is that your past is not so easy to outrun with a simple change of address, in this episode, we have a more benign version of that.

This is part of a subset of Bebop episodes throughout the run that are character studies wherein the main cast is paired up with a one-shot character and we're invited to examine the both of them working together (or against each other) in such a way as to allow us the luxury of comparing and contrasting them. Of course, there's still plenty of great action and atmosphere here and the episode is well worth a look.

"He was a great guy. Exactly like the person you thought he was."

Well, for those of you keeping track of all the eye imagery in Bebop, this episode is about as on the nose as you could get short of 22 minutes of Spike kicking a giant eyeball. We start with Spike stopping a hijacking (after being rudely awoken--I like this his sleep blindfold has eye painted on the outside) and runs into Rocco, who is so blown away by Spike, he annoys him into teaching him some of his fancy moves (and Spike takes the opportunity to drop a little Burce Lee on him) and more importantly, gets Spike to hold his MacGuffin for him, and draws Spike into the plot, which is full of eye and vision metaphors.

Rocco, you see, has a sister who's been blind because of a rare condition which affects people on Venus. He's stolen a plant from the group of thieves who were looking to sell it for huge amounts of money, because it can be synthesized into a cure for her blindness.

There's a couple of hooks here--we have all the eye imagery and important plot elements hinge on a music box (this will be important later) Rocco's fate is foreshadowed by a shot so long it must be deliberate of Spike looking at a sign that says "Observation: You can see one off" moments after they talk.

Rocco appeals to Spike's mercy and compassion, Spike insists he's all out. His actions this episode give the lie to that. Rocco's sister, Stella, after meeting Spike says there's something beautiful inside him (just like her brother) Spike says he doesn't beleive that.

Rocco's attempt to help his sister gets him killed, and we have an intriguing bit where he wonders if he and Spike had met earlier would he have turned out different (again, time and timing at play) which, given what we already know about Spike, could be taken many different ways, I imagine.

The final scene, where Spike visits Stella in the hospital is rather sad, but features an interesting line from Spike, which was the quote of this episode, and it's a telling idea--that what a person "looks like" has as much (maybe more) to do with the image the seer has of the person than actually seeing them.

This is actually a much-beloved episode by people other than me. I find myself wanting to like it more than I actually end up liking it. It has some good ideas and is rather thought-provoking, but it never quite clicks together for me.

"Always alone."

In which Spike answers a question before he asks it, and the Bebop gets a new crew member.

Here's more eye imagery--specifically the HAL-like "eye" of MPU, a satellite that apparently got self-aware, then got bored and starting drawing the Nazca lines on South America out of . . .nostalgia? It's not entirely clear, but then it's not meant to be. The actual answer is much more intriguing, but we'll get to that in a bit.

We learn a little more about what happened to Earth after the gate accident--apparently it rains moon-rocks there like, all the damn time, and everyone on Earth is a little strange, not least of which Edward herself (it blows my mind that the English voice actor for Ed was also Gaz on Invader Zim. Talk about establishing two opposing poles. . . ) who is a genius hacker despite the notable handicap of being absolutely insane.

It's Ed who makes contact with (and names) MPU, whose habit of going all Banksy with the laser satellites surrounding Earth and who becomes their means of communicating with the crew of the Bebop, who are there to collect the bounty on MPU (which goes up in smoke, because satellites aren't sentient, according to the police. I hate when I lose money due to issues of philosophy) in the best tradition of these kinds of capers, no one on the Bebop really gets the idea of hacking, which allows for Jet to get this zinger off on Faye:

"It may have been that way when you were young, but that was a long time ago."

Yeah, it seems like not much of a sick burn, but if I wrote it down in my notes, that meant it was probably some kinda foreshadowing.

Tying into our theme for this week, MPU is trying to recapture the past Earth and the strange drawings he used to see from up in orbit. You're not really a Bebop character unless you're trying to live in or escape from some period of time, are you?

So the Bebop crew "captures" MPU more or less and in trying to puzzle out what a satellite was doing drawing things in the Earth, and Spike answers quite plainly: "It was lonely, so it drew itself some friends." Think about that and then look at the scene where, as he did the previous two times, Spike's complained about a new crew-member on the Bebop. I refuse to believe this isn't intentional.

We get another great line from Faye about how "some promises are made to be broken--in fact, most of them are." Which tells you a lot about how she views promises (yet she's frequently bailed out Spike and co. even when it wouldn't possibly profit her. Funny, that)

This is the intro of Ed, and Ed episodes tend to follow their own surreal childlike logic, and this episode is no exception. There's a weird sense of playfulness to the episode (bitchin' action scene with Spike flying in to capture MPU notwithstanding) and the whole thing has a breezy gentleness to it--since the bad guy's not really bad and he doesn't really get caught either. Plus, Ed will slowly be driving nearly every member of the crew crazy, so there's that to look forward to as well.

"I live and wander with a group of weirdos"

I wonder sometimes is Jet Black isn't the most tragic character in the entire show. Oh, we'd like to think it's spike, or it's Faye, but consider this: Jet continually does the right thing over and over again and he seems to get nothing but misery out of it. We'll see more of this in "Black Dog Serenade," but this is the first really detailed look we get into his past and his life.

Of the quintet of episodes this time around, this is the one most blatantly about "time." Part of that has to do with the pocket watch Jet carries, frozen on the moment in time where the woman he loved, Alisa, left him.

Bit on the nose, sure, but then the whole episode is about being frozen in a moment in the past. Jet's great gift--he's nicknamed "the Black Dog" because one he gets his teeth into something he never lets go--is also the thing that causes him the most pane in this episode--he's stuck in this moment, and the reason Alisa left him was because he was so rigidly overprotective, she felt like a child.

I'm not sure she exactly traded up, but that's kinda pointless to the larger themes at work. That theme, as well as time, is futility. Faye puts it best when describing her suntanning routine thus:"Beautiful skin can only be maintained by tireless efforts which are ultimately futile." That she's telling Ed this while Ed tries to unsuccessfully fish and Jet fails to get much closure from the whole business with Alisa.

While he does ultimately toss the pocket watch in the water, understanding at last that time can't stand still, that this knowledge gives him any peace at all is unlikely. While we move on, and can ultimately let go of things, the notion that it gives you any kind of "closure" is probably wishful thinking, and more likely, as Jet says, "little by little, a part of you just goes numb."

And on that rather down note, we're going to leave it there. Join us next week when we learn some valuable lessons in "Toys in the Attic:; groove on through the mid-season finale (kinda) in "Jupiter Jazz, Parts 1 and 2"; and get caught in a landslide, no escape from reality in "Bohemian Rhapsody." See you in 7.

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