Mark Watches ‘Cowboy Bebop’: Session 5 – Ballad of Fallen Angels

In the fifth session of Cowboy Bebop, I begin to understand just what I have signed up for, and what the fuck. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.

I really just imagine that y’all have been cackling in your respective homes and offices once I announced I was covering Cowboy Bebop, and then you cackled when the review of “Asteroid Blues” went up, and then you cackled the loudest when I said I wanted backstory. I’m now convinced that my life has been a long con just to get me to the point where people could watch me become destroyed by all the things I missed out on. This is some Angel season four shit, y’all. Has every moment in my life been manipulated so that y’all could do this to me? From Buffy and Angel, to Dollhouse, to Newsflesh and the Tortall books, and now to the eternally strange and mysterious parts of both Princess Tutu and Cowboy Bebop, I feel like I’ve reached this nadir of TOTALLY UNPREPARED.

I’m scared.

“Ballad of Fallen Angels” feels so unlike the previous four episodes of this show, and it reminded me of “Man on the Street” in Dollhouse. This really is the episode that has fully pulled me into this show, both because it begins to answer some crucial questions and because the animation and storytelling is just so impressive. It’s like the show was hiding what it truly could become until now. AND EVEN THEN I KNOW I’M STILL SUPER UNPREPARED.

I’ve said before that I’m big fan of thrillers and noir fiction, so y’all shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that I loved “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” Getting answers isn’t satisfying in and of itself, though, and that’s truly why this is such a brilliant episode. It’s the way in which the writers reveal information to us that’s intriguing. It’s a name in a sentence. It’s glimpses of past relationships. It’s conversations that hint at something I don’t even understand. It’s a complicated story in which we’re always kept at an arm’s distance until that final, gorgeous scene where Spike plunges to the ground. It’s bewildering as a first-time viewer, sure. There’s no way for me to comprehend just how all these elements fit together, but that’s intentional. I didn’t know why Mao Yenrai told Vicious that Spike could have prevented the bloodshed between the two syndicates. I didn’t know why Jet was so furious with Spike’s behavior, nor why he suspected Spike was hiding something from him. Then I’m teased with a reason for why Jet has a mechanical arm, but OF COURSE IT’S NOT REVEALED.

I’m left even more confused when Spike goes to visit someone named Annie, who clearly has a past with him. Why did the world think Spike was dead for three years? What was Annie and Mao Yenrai’s relationship to one another in the past? The photo implied that they were close friends. Oh god, what the fuck happened?

And then Faye, who decided to collect the 28 million Woolong bounty on Yenrai without Spike, gets into trouble of her own. She’s just going to end up handcuffed in every episode, right? Okay, not the point. The point is what the fuck! It looks like Vicious set up a trap in that opera house to capture anyone who came after the bounty. Hell, I bet Vicious assumed that Spike himself would come after Mao Yenrai. Ugh, that scene was so gross.

I barely understood this episode at this point. I knew that Vicious, Spike, Annie, and Mao Yenrai must have had some sort of connection in the past, but it was a tenuous assertion at best. There’s no indication of how they knew each other. Yet the scene in the cathedral implies a much deeper relation between these two men. Are they brothers? Cousins? Why does Vicious insist that they have same beastly blood within each other? I expected a brutal stand-off between these two (which I got), but I was so used to Cowboy Bebop being one-off episodes that the end of this episode was a total surprise to me. As Spike shockingly shoots Jet in the shoulder, I watched in disbelief as Vicious picked Spike up by the face and tossed him out of the window of the cathedral. In a gorgeous and haunting segment, images flash across the screen, all of them without explanation or context. Spike is working alongside Vicious, confirming that the two once operated under Yenrai. They were partners. So Spike was once part of a crime syndicate??? There’s a blonde woman, first in Vicious’s bed, then beside Spike, then Spike appears to be below her window with a bouquet of roses. Did this woman tear them apart? Was Spike’s love for her unrequited? The image of a rose in a puddle flashed twice. It must be significant.

That’s what’s so satisfying about “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” We’re given a serialized story in the fifth episode, and the horrors of Spike’s and Jet’s pasts are only hinted at. While this episode may have ended on a humorous note, I was left feeling blown away by what I’d just experienced. Good lord, what have I gotten myself into?

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Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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