In the final session of Cowboy Bebop, Spike finally comes to terms with his past. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Cowboy Bebop.
I suppose it always had to end this way.
Despite that Cowboy Bebop is the least serialized show that I’ve tackled for this site, there’s a stunning emotional continuity to what the writers give us in this final chapter for Spike. I’ve come to learn that this show never gave me an easy answer, and as each of the characters sought after their own pasts, they were all disappointed in what they found. But it’s important to note that they all eventually moved forward. (Though I suppose it could be argued that Faye had difficulty doing so, as her scene in this episode implies that she still feels lost.) Spike was the sole character remaining who clung to the dream of an idealized past.
A dream. So was it all a dream? I ironically made a comment about ten minutes into this episode that I enjoyed the dream motifs that we’d seen the past few episodes. My opinion hasn’t changed at all. For me, this is the one time I’ve seen this type of story – the “It was all a dream” trope – pulled off in a way that isn’t offensive, silly, or trite. Rather, it gives this show an ending that fits. In the end, I don’t really care if this was all a dream. (Personally, I think Julia meant it metaphorically, but I’ll get to that.) It was still a meaningful journey regardless.
“The Real Folk Blues Part 2” is Cowboy Bebop at its most violent, its most ethereal, its most joyous. And I know it’s weird saying that since we watch Annie, Julia, Shin, and Spike all die on screen, but this is also the first time a character has gotten closure. Complete, fulfilling closure. Despite that he knew better, the first half of this episode shows us how willing Spike was to chase down a dream. He dreamed of a life with Julia, free of the Syndicate, free of his loneliness, and free from running. And for just a few short hours, he believed that dream. He shot down the Syndicate henchmen who tried to take him and Julia down. He was Julia’s knight in shining armor, wasn’t he? Or, at least he imagined he was. It’s precisely why Jet wanted nothing to do with Spike’s journey. Of course, he was overreacting when he said he didn’t care about Spike. CLEARLY, HE DOES. But he’s right: This journey, as misguided as it was, was Spike’s alone. Why interfere? What purpose would that serve for Jet? Jet, who really does care about Spike, knew that he had to let Spike figure out this mess for himself or he’d never be able to move on.
I didn’t expect a happy ending to Cowboy Bebop, but I didn’t think that Julia would be killed off in the first ten minutes. It’s… well, that’s what happens in the Bebop universe. This is (usually) a cynical take on human existence, how things don’t end as we want them to, how we are all haunted by the ghosts of our past. Julia’s death comes with a burst of doves, signifying the death of this dream. It’s why I think that this really happened, that Spike wasn’t dreaming the whole time. We find out at the end of the episode that Julia tells Spike that “it was all a dream.” It was. It was the dream that Spike could escape this life. (That doesn’t mean that you can’t read her dialogue as literal. I think a very compelling case could be built for the fact that Spike either died or is in a coma from the events of “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” and I would love to read that.)
The scene where Julia dies is a very important transition for the remainder of Cowboy Bebop. When we see Spike again on the Bebop, he is happy. He’s smiling, joking around with Jet, and eager to set out again for Vicious. The two talk about the tale of the tiger-striped cat, of a being with a million lives who dies after the love of his life passes on. In hindsight, it feels like foreshadowing, not just for Spike’s death, but for the idea that one can’t live a million lives. You get one, and Spike is off to find out if he can live the one life he has. (Again, you could read his conversation with Faye as a literal thing, an admission that he’s really been dead the whole time, but I choose to believe this is yet another figurative statement.)
So it fits that Spike’s final stand against Vicious mirrors his confrontation with him “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” I have to admit that Spike does feel alive here, despite that he’s rushing towards his death. His attack on the Syndicate is so vibrant, demonstrating his physical brilliance and dedication. But Spike and Vicious’s actual fight? My god. It’s… unreal? That’s a good way to describe it. They both use their weapons of choice, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen people fight like this. HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT WITH GUNS AND A SWORD? Again, unreal. Lord, there are so many dream-like qualities to this finale, AND I LOVE THIS. It doesn’t frustrate me or infuriate me at all, which is a big reason why I have no problems with the ending. As Spike and Vicious brutally cut one another down, Spike turns to the Syndicate members to see their new leader, who aims a gun at them with his fingers, and utters his last word. “Bang!” And it’s exactly how Spike would have wanted to go: with a bang.
It’s why the star fades away. It’s why the final title card says, “You’re gonna carry that weight.” Spike had carried the weight of his past with him his whole life, and no matter how many adventures or shenanigans he got himself in, he had to find a way to let it go. So his star fades, the weight is gone, and, in an ironic sense, he found a way to escape it all.
Just a reminder that the review for the film goes up on Wednesday; The West Wing reviews start on Thursday, and Friday Night Lights starts on (appropriately!) Friday.
The video commission for this episode is now archived on MarkDoesStuff.com for just $0.99!
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on tour!!! I have 26 events spread out across the eastern HALF of the U.S. and Canada. They are all free and all-ages. Come see me speak about the Mark Does Stuff Universe and read terrible fanfiction live!
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– Commissions are still open while I am on tour! There may be a day or two delay to get them done, but I am accepting them graciously to help fund my tour!