Mark Watches ‘Cowboy Bebop’: Session 14 – Bohemian Rhapsody

In the fourteenth session of Cowboy Bebop, the team chases a bounty that ends with Edward playing a game of chess. This is not an exaggeration at all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.

I’ve given up on the idea that this show is going to be anything like I’ve seen before, and because of that, I find it refreshing. I know that there are a few of you who have fallen off the wagon, so to speak, and I don’t blame you. This community has always been honest and vocal about their respective tastes, and at times, something I watch just isn’t the right taste for some of you. I wanted y’all to understand why I’m enjoying this so much, though. After spending so much time in Joss Whedon’s fictional worlds, watching both Cowboy Bebop and Princess Tutu has been jarring in the best way possible. Hell, that’s actually the case for the bulk of what I’ve watched for Mark Watches. Nearly all the shows I’ve tackled were heavily serialized. Even Doctor Who! So to experience a show that’s decidedly not serialized in many respects is like getting a breath of fresh air. It’s new. It’s challenging me to rethink how I write about television, too, and how I consume media. Aren’t most shows on the air these days not serialized? Fictional shows, I mean. I suppose reality television is technically serialized, right? Oh god, what if I did a reality TV show for Mark Watches?

HOLD ON TO THAT THOUGHT FOR A WHILE. Anyway, I’ve come to see Cowboy Bebop as a series of vignettes. There are glimpses to the past, but they’re simply that: glimpses. They’re brief. They matter, but they aren’t the sole driving force of the narrative. Instead, we get these miniature stories that surprisingly vast and expansive. “Bohemian Rhapsody” really is about a man who loves to play games, but it feels so much bigger than that. It’s about the degradation of all things by time; it addresses the futility that’s always so present in these people’s lives; it shows us that this fictional world is packed full of interesting and unpredictable characters.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” tricks us into thinking this is about a traditional bounty. The Bebop team captures an assortment of criminals, only to discover that their work in the Astral Gate hijack was the work of some sort of criminal mastermind. We’re given the misdirect right then and there. This must be a mob boss of some sort! It must have some deep meaning! There is someone who must be caught at the end of this! The story then slowly deconstructs and subverts every single one of these expectations.

And I love that so much of this is because of Edward. Out of all the crew members on the Bebop, she’s the most likely to think outside the box, to consider nonlinear ideas and theories, and to simply enjoy the journey. It’s her love for chess that brings together all the disjointed clues the team had assembled. Hell, without her, would these characters have ever located Chessmaster Hex? Perhaps, but the whole time they’re trying to put the pieces together, she’s nonchalantly a billion steps ahead of them. Ugh, SHE IS SO GREAT. She doesn’t even care about what’s going on around her. She plays a single game of chess for a week.

More on that in a second. I was fascinated that this episode gave us so much information about the astral gates while not making them a focal part of the story. Cowboy Bebop has been kind of stingy about worldbuilding details, but I think that’s to its credit. I’ve mentioned quite a few times before that this show is deliberately sparse. I think it works, though! What little information we do get paints a picture of a world that isn’t so dissimilar to ours. Politicians and corporations cut corners to save money and to save face, and that’s inherently why Chessmaster Hex does what he does here. Jet was the first to pick up on the fact that the Gate Corporation knew more about what was actually going on, but even he got this wrong.

How could anyone have guessed what was really occurring? Jet was correct to assert that the Gate Corporation knew who the mastermind was, and he was also right about Chessmaster Hex’s plan for revenge. But what nobody could have predicted was time. Hex set up his elaborate theft fifty years in advance and probably assumed he’d be there to see it through. But after (what I assume was) decades in that junk heap, he forgot. Time ate away his brain, and his senility left him a man who just enjoyed a good game. In this case, that game was chess. It’s not that this crime had no motivation; it certainly did at one time! But that reason was eroded away, and the chaos that Hex caused didn’t mean what it once did.

I was a bit confused about the community of people who lived in this place. Were these people there because of the defects Hex pointed out years before? Or did Faye and Spike simply stumble upon a massive community of folks who just made this place their home? Jet later tells the CEO of the Gate Corporation that he won’t publicly reveal the defects that Hex found, but… what exactly were they? In this one instance, I wish the show was a bit more direct.

Regardless, this was a blast. It was incredibly poetic to me that Edward provided Hex with one last game. And it was a hell of a game of chess. The man died doing what he loved, and I have great respect for Jet for letting Hex live out those last days of his life.

EDIT: I was plugging this post into WordPress and just realized that the title of the episode refers to the “bohemians” in the junk heap. Holy shit, that’s awesome.

Mark Links Stuff

 I am going on tour in 2013! There are 27 tour dates spread across the eastern half of North America. Please help suggest venues, offer up a place to crash, and RSVP for dates near you!
- ALL VIDEO COMMISSIONS WILL CLOSE ON FEBRUARY 9TH SO THAT I CAN WRITE POSTS IN ADVANCE FOR TOUR. The only exception to this are any upcoming projects I am doing, so I have listed all upcoming Mark Watches posts that are missing commissions.
- You can, however, commission me to read bad fic/fiction on ANY Mark Does Stuff Tour date. You can claim a specific date to have a live reading right here.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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