Mark Watches ‘Cowboy Bebop’: Session 3 – Honky Tonk Women

In the third session of Cowboy Bebop, Spike and Jet cross paths with an amoral gambler who complicates things when Spike learns what she’s after. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.

GOD THIS IS GREAT. I really got the feel that this was a western in space. Tons of morally ambiguous characters, a secret hidden in a poker chip, and a good ol’ fashioned stand-off. In spacesuits. That’s so wonderful!

I don’t know if I’m just bad at names or if I wasn’t paying attention (I SWEAR I WAS), but I have no idea what Poker Alice’s name is. I don’t recall anyone saying it, and Gordon was the only character here that would even know it. So: Poker Alice it is. CAN POKER ALICE COME BACK? “Honky Tonk Women” left her ending wide open for a return, and I’m kind of into women who one-up and beat male heroes? (Which is the main reason I hate what Moffat did with Irene Adler, but I SHALL NOT BRING THAT UP AGAIN.) Here, Poker Alice happens to become a part of Spike and Jet’s life, and she’s the only one who leaves this victorious in any sense. For real, that’s three bounties in a row that the team have botched. Do they ever get a bounty? Jet got real close to earning a small fortune gambling, but that went down the drain once Spike started fighting bouncers. Poor Jet! His face was so dejected!

Anyway, Poker Alice is set up against Spike, who somehow has come into possession of a chip. It’s never explained how Spike got the chip, but I’m guessing it was always sitting in that casino, and Spike got it gambling. Yes? (ALSO, WEREN’T THOSE THE THREE OLD GUYS FROM “ASTEROID BLUES”??? They totally were!) Regardless, in order to waive her debts, Poker Alice agrees to work with Gordon to cheat Spike out of that chip. Again, the logistics didn’t exactly make that much sense to me, but I was so wrapped up in the spectacle of this story that I didn’t think much about the details of the chip. I was more fascinated by the vast number of morally ambiguous characters than anything else. None of these people belong to any sort of law enforcement, and I got the impression that they all did their best to avoid the cops and whoever the ISSP is. (That acronym also wasn’t explained.) Spike and Jet are down to their last five thousand Woolongs; Poker Alice is in a lot of debt, enough that Gordon’s forces will seek her out at gunpoint just to acquire her services. She has to have amassed a sizable debt if this is the case. For me, that‘s what I’m enjoying about Cowboy Bebop. As flashy as Spike is, he’s poor. He and Jet are scraping by, and they’re doing what they can to keep their ships in the air. This isn’t about affluent and successful bounty hunters. While I don’t doubt that Spike is a great fighter and Jet is a fantastic pilot, that doesn’t mean they’re swimming in money. Then a woman comes along who understands desperation and how to turn that into finesse, and by gods, I want to see more of her.

Plus, as I said earlier, I like it when women outshine the male heroes we’re meant to idolize. And look, I like Spike! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him. What I mean is that I appreciate this role reversal because of the dynamic it brings to the story. Ultimately, Poker Alice gets away from Spike and Jet, using their distraction against them to escape. Twice. These two guys are so taken in by her worth as a bounty that they completely misunderstand her own talent.

Yet this isn’t the only thing present in “Honky Tonk Women” that I found intriguing. That whole stand-off scene in space was SPECTACULAR. I mentioned recently that I grew up watching westerns, and despite that I don’t have much interest in revisiting them, they’re still a part of my history of media consumption. The writers really construct that scene in a way to build tension. The audience knows Gordon is going to double cross Spike, so we’re left to wonder how he’s going to get out of this predicament. Plus, we’re also watching as Poker Alice gets closer and closer to setting herself free. It’s a brilliant way to create suspense, and it makes me excited about what’s to come.

So far, Cowboy Bebop is entirely non-serialized. That’s perfectly fine, and these mini-stories are compelling enough to keep my interest. I’d like to see more of Poker Alice, and I’m curious how far the show can stretch my curiosity before I need my questions answered. Are we ever going to get some sort of exposition or background on these characters or the setting? I’m a patient person when it comes to story and character development on television, so I don’t need this to happen all at once. I love giving a story time to grow and come into itself. But I do wonder how much this one-off style can sustain itself. That being said, I know this is a 26-episode straight shot, so it’s not like I’ve got 200 episodes of this to wade through without the hope for any serialization at all. But for what it’s worth, I’m enjoying myself, and I’m glad I’m watching something for this site that’s unlike anything else.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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