In the sixth session of Cowboy Bebop, a bounty brings Spike face to face with a terrifying boy who… well, he’s not a boy. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.
It’s fascinating to me that Cowboy Bebop is so sparse. This show does not go to great lengths to provide me with information, to use exposition to explain the past, or to spend time worldbuilding. Instead, so much of this story is told in images and sounds. We witness some sort of memory flash across the screen: surgeons surround a naked Spike, organs float in tubes full of water, an eye is held open by some sort of device. We hear the lonely harmonica that Wen plays, a motif that’ll appear multiple times in the episode. Even during Wen’s flashback, we aren’t given that much information at all. While I’m sure in hindsight, this all makes a lot more sense, I still don’t have a real grip on the fictional universe that makes up this show.
If anything, all I understand is that the galaxy is a gritty, dark place, full of death, tragedy, double crosses, and crime. I think it’s intentional that the beginning of Wen’s flashback is the very first moment we see any sort of happiness on the show, too. His life on that moon was one of joy and exuberance, and the coloring of that memory conveys that. It’s fitting, then, that the moon Wen lived on was turned to an ashy and darkened shell of a habitat. From it, Wen emerged, the sole survivor of hyperspace gate crashing onto the surface. Even then, we don’t actually know if anyone else lived on that moon, but that’s not the point. Despite that Cowboy Bebop isn’t highly serialized, there’s been a common theme in every episode: No one really gets what they want. This universe might be set in the future, and technology might be advanced enough for an Alfa Catch machine to exist, but existence is bleak. Humans still fight for power and control. People are destroyed en masse on a daily basis, both physically and emotionally. So what happened? What gave rise to a society that is more cynical and desperate than ever before? And that goes for the crew of the Bebop, too. Jet, Spike, and Faye are, to an extent, quite jaded themselves.
The bounty that Spike and Jet follow is what brings Wen and Zebra into their life. After the bounty, a man named Giraffe, is violently flung from a building from a gunshot, Spike gains possession of a mysterious ring. He is told not to trust appearances, and then, unfortunately, Giraffe dies before he says anything else. While you or I might have been intrigued by Giraffe’s mysterious words, all Spike seems to care about is a lost opportunity. With Giraffe’s death, three million Woolongs have disappeared. Yet again, the team cannot secure any money. And this episode openly acknowledges just how bad things have gotten when Faye opens the Bebop’s fridge and ends up eating the last can of dog food herself. (Poor Ein!) Have their funds been dried up not only because of Faye’s spending, but because Spike ostensibly had to heal from being thrown out of a building? I kind of wish this episode had acknowledge the fact that I DON’T KNOW, SPIKE WAS IN A FULL BODY CAST. Or perhaps this is the show’s way of doing that.
Regardless, I was thoroughly confused by the storyline in “Sympathy for the Devil” until Wen explained what was happening to Spike. I don’t know that I comprehend exactly how Zebra fit into everything. I got that Wen captured Zebra after Zebra hit the R&D lab, but what did that line mean about Zebra being replaceable? Had Wen simply been masking his true identity/powers through other people? Despite that, I really liked that this episode allowed for a couple of Wild West-style shoot-outs, the first in that abandoned warehouse and the second outside of town. Both sequences are brilliantly animated, especially the second one. Seeing Wen rise from the ashes was incredible, communicating to the audience just how intense this antagonist was. In a sense, I felt like Wen wanted to exist just to get back at what happened to him. He behaved as if the entire universe owed him for the destruction of his home, so he used his invincibility to his advantage. This sets up that fantastic final confrontation. Again, it’s deliberately structured like many old Western flicks. Spike’s friends either beg him not to leave or tell him he’s a fool for going after Wen with only one plan to defeat him. Spike and Wen are purposely framed in long profiles. They both take shots at one another without moving from their spot, which gives an unsettling mood to the scene.
But my god, that sequence where Wen ages rapidly is downright horrifying, one of the more disturbing things I’ve seen for a Mark Watches show. In those final seconds, Wen says he feels at peace and asks Spike if he understands. Spike responds simply, “Yeah, as if.” In that, he speaks volumes. He’s either sarcastically assuring Wen that he has no goddamn understanding for him, or he is admitting that deep down, he does. He understands feeling like the world is stacked against yourself and wanting the ability to fight back. But I’m reading a lot into that final scene. I know that. However, that’s pretty much all I can do. This show doesn’t hand you answers, and it doesn’t impart some important message at the end. We’re left to read between the lines and come up with our own thoughts.
I like that. A lot.
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