Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing--COWBOY BEBOP #6

Hi amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system, how y'all doin? It's time once again for another installment of Witless Prattle's continuing (for one more week after this, anyways) coverage of the entirety of Cowboy Bebop.

This time we wrap up the series proper with the final four episodes. Typically, as a series reaches its final stretch, you'd kinda think maybe everything would get resolved, all the questions answered, and things brought to a close.

And they kinda do. Sorta. But the answers lead to more questions, and, I'd have to say, really Cowboy Bebop is a lot more about the questions than it is the actual answers. But a lot of shows are like that--or they are more because the plotting is so sloppy. In Bebop's case, it's more by design, I think. I'll try to explain as we go:

"If you want to dream, just do it by yourself!"

I was dreading this one. "Brain Scratch" is my least favourite Cowboy Bebop, and while my re-watch revealed it has a few good qualities, my opinion still stands, as it's a story that Bebop's already done multiple times as it is, and this is not the best version.

The crew gets involved in chasing down Londes, the founder of a religion called Scratch, whose adherents want to migrate their consciousness into a digital sphere. Londes' voice actor is the same voice actor as Lord Zedd. The longest note I made while watching that episode was that Londes' voice was the same as Lord Zedd's--you tell me what that bodes for the episode.

The problem with "Brain Scratch," is that we've seen this whole "people not living in the real world as metaphor (or not)" a couple times already, most notably in "Bohemian Rhapsody." Then as now, the "threat" turned out to be mostly harmless, and the whole thing resolves ambivalently.

The framing device of Londes constantly switching channels is kinda cool, and certainly allows for a more distant take on the Bebop crew than we've had up until now, but in the end, it's just a gimmick and distances the viewer a bit too far from the main cast. Couple that with the fact we've plowed this ground a few times already, it feels a bit tired.

Plus, the episode chokes on its of philosophising about television and how deleterious an effect it has on the human psyche. See also: Everything written or performed about TV ever.

On the other hands, "Big Shot," Cowboy Bebop's long-ruunning gag series gets cancelled, which certainly isn't a harbinger of things to come at all. Nope, nosiree.

"Jet--the girls are gone."

Among Bebop's many repeated themes--along with fishing, water, eyes, dreaming, people locked in by illusions and all the others I'm not typing out right now--is that of futility. One need look no further than the character of Appledelhi, Ed's father, who is engaged in mapping Earth's terrain. Only Earth is constantly being pounded by meteorite showers, which constantly reshape the terrain. Appledelhi tries to sell it as "making order out of chaos," but you and I both know it's a bunch of craziness.

I have to say, over and above that we say our goodbyes to three of the Bebop crew, given how much chemistry Ed and Faye have as characters, it's a shame this is the only episode wherein they get paired off and go on and adventure (or rather, Ed waltzes them around and tries to drive Faye insane) There's a telling bit when they arrive at the day care center where the woman in charge says that ed just sort of wanders in and out, which is interesting, as that's pretty much what Faye does on the Bebop.

If this episode has a theme it can call its own, however, it's without question, "belonging" Faye is so obsessed with regaining her memory and finding the place where she belongs again and Ed is so happy that they abandon the place where they really belong--on the Bebop. This is something which has ramifications beyond this episode, and I'll address them in the next one, but suffice it to say that it's only when they leave the Bebop for an extended period of time that real disaster strikes.

Not that saying goodbye is any the easier for the longtime viewer either. Faye running up the steps expecting to find at last the peace where she belongs and only finding ruins is heart-wrenching, as is Ed and Ein leaving the ship for the last time. And "Call Me Call Me" the song that plays over both? Pretty much a perpetual tear generator:

While it's sad Faye ends up with nothing (again) and Ed and Ein are gone, the notion that the remaining Bebop crew is the ones who are really lost is the more urgent point. If the crew is breaking up, and going in their own directions . . .that means nothing's the same any more, and well, anything could happen . . .

"Where are you going? Why are you going?"

The more I've thought about it, the break-up of the Bebop crew seems to rob them of a large degree of immunity from harm, kinda. Oh sure, Spike has been routinely thrashed by the bad guys, Faye never seems to stay very long if she can help it, and if Jet gets hurt it's usually a stinging betrayal that only hurts on the inside, but it never. . .stuck, I guess.

Well, in part 1, that pretty much all goes to hell. Jet gets sidelined by a bullet to the leg, the Bebop is brought down by a full-on assault by the Red Dragons, and even before Vicious assumes control of the syndicate, they seem determined to kill everyone even tangentially connected to Vicious.

And Spike . . .well . . .

Well, except Shin, who is one of the most goddamned maddening characters in bebop, because holy God I have no idea why he's here. I know intellectually why he's here--he's Lin's twin brother from "Jupiter Jazz," who looks just like him and is in the Red Dragons, just like Lin, and is adjutant to Vicious. . .just like Lin. This is kind of a problem, in that Lin didn't really distinguish himself all that much and all Shin does is pop in a few times to move to the plot along and we're supposed to think that he's important, but damn if I know why.

Jet, having be dragged into this nonsense after having the good sense to stay away the last three times, tells spike that Vicious and Julia are like incantations opening some kind of door that shouldn't be opened, and given what happens, he has a point. It probably explains why Spike kept quiet about it up until now.

There's a good scene where the doctor from "Asteroid Blues" is patching up Jet's leg wound and compares the two of them to two stray cats that he can't get rid of. This story may sound familiar to you, because Spike said something very much about his ship in "Wild Horses." This is all finally tied up in a knot in Part 2, when Spike weaves a somewhat complicated and thickly layered with allegory story about another stray cat in part 2 of this story.

There's a little touch i want to talk about at the beginning of Part 2. Being that with the crew of the Bebop splintered and the titular ship itself torpedoed, there aren't even any opening credits: that's how much the Cowboy Bebop we knew and loved is breaking down.

But they're not taking this on alone, because Faye, being Faye, drifts back into the Bebop's orbit (it was either that or get tied up) but not before we get a great scene that will only make sense if you paid attention to the Big Shot stuff (or understood it was someone commenting externally on Faye's situation) This leads to Faye encountering Julia, and having a frankly awesome high-speed car chase/shootout.

The strength of this two-parter is that the action scenes come frequently, and keep the energy from flagging too much. It also glosses over a couple of bitterly ropey bits--Spike and Faye waxing about Julia, Vicious' teeth-gnashingly bad line about shedding tears of scarlet, all the times people talk about "dying because they're not sure if they're really alive" and . . .well, it really brings home the fact that when Bebop has to answer questions, it doesn't do so well. We're really here for the characters (and while in other shows that may seem like a cop-out, here it's very true) more than we are for the plot points.

Which is why Jet being hurt is sad, why it sucks that the Red Dragons bring down the Bebop hurts, Faye's inability to stop Spike from going to his final and fatal reckoning with Vicious. We don't want to see these guys go, and we damn sure don't want to see them hurt. But because they're broken, they like Vicious, like damn near everyone within the course of the series, they've "lost their place in the world," and like all ghosts, bad stuff ensues.

Speaking of ghosts, let's talk about Julia for a bit. She's built up frequently as Very Important, and while she is to Spike, she's not really that big a deal, or at least in the bits we see (though she drives like a bat outta hell and can handle herself in a fight) but ultimately her death doesn't really have the "oomph" you would have expected. She works better as a representation of the lost past (or the lost self) rather than as a fleshed-out character. Still, she makes more of an impression of fucking Shin, that's for sure.

Well, the showdown is on, and it's accompanied by an interesting reprise of "The Real Folk Blues," called "See You Space Cowboy." It's pretty awesome:

I won't spoil the finer details of Spike wrecking shit on the Red Dragons, as it's best experienced in the show and you know how it's gonna play. But you will, finally, get the context for that "bang" business in "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Wild Horses," which leads into the best and the final song in the series, "Blue."

It's awesome.

So, here we are. Cowboy Bebop, barring one more curtain call, is finished. It's been quite a ride, we got to know some cool people, heard some cool music, and even though we never really figured some bits of it (Seriously, Shin--why are you here?!?) and while on the face of things you could say the ending is weak (if you wanted the overplot wrapped up, you kinda got what you wanted, but that would mean knowing what the overplot actually was) you could also say Bebop succeeds in what it meant to do--make you follow and grow to care about these characters over the 26 episodes here to the point where you're genuinely sad to see them go.

As to what it was all about. . .well. Bebop's questions, as the finale proves, are way more interesting to ask than to have answered. If Bebop has a central thesis, it's probably from the preview for "Speak Like A Child," when Jet asks the audience "what conclusions will you draw from it?" If you canvassed 10 different sites for Cowboy Bebop reviews, you're going to get 10 different reads as to What It Was All About, but that's as it should be, I think. It can mean what it needs to mean for everyone who watches it.

In lesser hands, this kind of thing is used as an excuse--ropey plotting forgiven as "oh, well, it was all about the characters all the time" is yet another craven defence of really shitty plotting, but in Bebop it had the ring of truth. These were people we came to care about, and when they're gone and there's no more Bebop . . .we'll miss them. The true test of whether people are important to you or not is when you miss them when they're gone.

And we'll miss these guys.

So good thing we have one more time around, eh? Join us next week as we wrap it up good and proper. It's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," the Cowboy Bebop movie for next week. See you then!

No comments: