In the sixteenth session of Cowboy Bebop, Jet teams up with his old partner to track down the man responsible for Jet losing his arm. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.
“Black Dog Serenade” genuinely feels like an amalgamation of everything that I enjoy about Cowboy Bebop. This episode hits a lot of thematic and tonal points that I’m a sucker for: existential noir, a lack of closure, a grim reality, the loss of certainty and faith, and revenge narratives. There are overarching themes present here that we’ve seen in other episodes, so I felt a brilliant sense of continuity while watching this. At the same time, this episode felt so different from the others in a way that I found intriguing and engaging.
There are a lot of mysteries and unanswered questions within the Cowboy Bebop universe, and I’ve accepted that the journey through this show is not going to give me a whole lot in terms of closure. As I’ve pointed out before, this is a common motif that these characters must deal with. (The only exceptions to this are Ed and Ein, who both reject the notion of closure. Ed accepts the random, chaotic nature of the universe and derives joy from this. Ein… well, Ein is a dog. I can’t make that ~deep~ and ~philosophical~ or anything.) So the fact that I was going to get a Jet backstory was exciting, but that exuberance was tempered by the thought that flashback episodes in this series never really end positively. Spike has fared poorly in any episode about his past. Faye’s past is even more mysterious than it was when I knew nothing about her. Was Jet going to fare any better?
NO, OF COURSE HE WASN’T. This whole episode is framed in darkness and blood. The opening scenes are of the very hallway where Jet’s fate is revealed. Bodies line the floor. Blood is spilt everywhere. And Udai Taxim is clearly one to be feared, though we don’t know why yet. All we know is that a bunch of prisoners have taken over their transport ship and murdered all the guards and crew on board. Well, that’s a good start, right?
It isn’t until Jet’s old partner reaches out to him that it becomes clear that Jet is going to face his past. YES. YES. But I should have known that this wasn’t going to end well because it was all too convenient. Why did Fad appear out of nowhere to contact Jet? Why now? Given that the only bit of Jet’s life that we get in the flashback shows that he was set-up, I should have recognized that history was repeating itself. But like Jet, I was so enamored with the idea of closure and revenge that it never crossed my mind that this was all a trap. Instead, I focused on what I did know: Udai was once an assassin for the syndicate, he orchestrated an attempted murder on Jet (which cost Jet his arm), and there are few animated characters more attractive than Jet in a gangster suit. Holy shit, it took every ounce of willpower not to wilt on camera during all those flashback scenes. My god.
Okay, enough of me being a big ol’ gay for now. I was equally struck by the writer’s inclusion of the fact that Udai was now obsolete. In a way, that’s an important parallel between what Jet once was and what Udai becomes. Jet was expendable all those years ago as an ISSP officer, but the years haven’t treated Udai well either. The crime world he lived in moved on without him. Though “Black Dog Serenade” isn’t nearly as explicit about this as I hoped it would be, I imagine that Udai was desperate when Jet finally faced him. What else did the man have to live for? He couldn’t return to the syndicate. Most of the men on the ship were dead or would soon die. They couldn’t run forever. (Dude, his ship was the shape of a gun. It’s not exactly inconspicuous.) So when Jet shows up, he does the one thing that makes sense to him: He tries to kill him.
In the process of this brutal fight, though, Jet learns that his pursuit of the past will end more painfully than he expected. It was bad enough to be set up and to lose his arm, but Jet’s true betrayal was from his partner. This entire confrontation was a set up. Once again, we see the theme of disposability pop up. Jet refused to adapt as an ISSP officer, and he was nearly killed for it. Now, Udai can’t adapt to a world he once belonged to. The ensuing fight and shocking double deaths are some of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on this show. (I’m still confused about the bullet, though. How did Fad shoot Udai if he only had one bullet in the chamber?) When you watch today’s video, you’ll see that I totally believed that Jet had actually died, which WOULD HAVE UPSET ME GREATLY. But in the end, Udai and Fad, the two men who had set up Jet’s demise initially, are the ones to bite the dust. Oh god, Fad mentions that whoever goes up against the syndicate loses. Is this some terrible foreshadowing for Spike? Eventually, he’s going to have to go up against Vicious’s syndicate, right? Or does Vicious not belong to one anymore?
Aside from this, there were some cute moments on the Bebop with Ed, Ein, Faye, and Spike, all who only appear briefly in “Black Dog Serenade.” I actually like that this episode focused so heavily on Jet. I’m curious if the events in this episode are going to affect him at all. Spike appears to notice that Jet has been behaving strangely lately; will he bring this up? Regardless, I had a blast watching this. Damn, it was great!
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