In the seventeenth session of Cowboy Bebop, Ed and Ein set out to find food for the Bebop crew and get wrapped up in a chaotic drug scheme in the process. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Cowboy Bebop.
AHHHH, YES! IT’S AN EDWARD-CENTRIC EPISODE, AND IT IS FANTASTIC. On the surface, there are a billion things here that I love, the least of which is the fact that Edward is always entertaining. Always. This is a funny, surreal episode, sure, but it’s also inherently about the unending struggle the Bebop crew goes through just to survive. The writers have frequently addressed the logistics of the life of a bounty hunter, and that’s what happens here, too. The show might not be a serialized adventure, but there sure is a whole lot of continuity in this regard. We’ve seen the Bebop crew fail to pull in a bounty of any sort in a long time, and “Mushroom Samba” finally acknowledges that this is a serious problem.
So what starts off as a rather serious story about hunger and being so poor you can’t even fly your ship turns intoâ€¦ god, it’s basically Cowgirl Edward, isn’t it? This is what this show would be like every week if she was the focus of it. It would be this gloriously wacky situational comedy, and I would watch the shit out of it. Edward (and, by extension, Ein as well) is the only character who seems to find adventure in everything she does. Even though she’s just as hungry as everyone else, she views the world around her in a way no other character can. When Jet flippantly suggests she go look for food herself, it doesn’t even occur to her that crash-landing on a barren desert planet MIGHT NOT BE CONDUCIVE TO FINDING FOOD. For her, it’s one more thing she can do to have a good time. It’s something new. It’s exciting.
I love that she takes Ein with her. They make a strange and bizarre duo, and that’s a big part of the appeal of this episode. As she interacts with the people she comes across in search of food, she comes off asâ€¦ well, look at her! She’s barefoot. She’s wearing skintight black shorts, a tee baring her midriff, her bright red hair is flailing in the wind, she’s got those shiny green goggles on her head, and then there’s a corgi in her backpack. It’s clear that none of the people on this planet/moon have ever seen anything like Edward. Truthfully, though, who has???
I also want to take a moment just to say that unless I am missing something, I found it kind of egregious that in a world where all we come across are black characters, the only food Ed finds is a watermelon stand. Like, when I was watching the episode, it struck me as a bit strange, but I didn’t say anything because I figured it might be a fluke or an unfortunate association. But seriouslyâ€¦ did no one think about this?
Anyway, I was fascinated by the world building I got ofâ€¦ wait, where is this? A moon? A planet? We don’t hear much about it. But this episode, more than any we’ve seen in the past, generously borrows from the country western genre. This vast desert only has one real city in it, and even that is sparse. It’s like a ghost town. How many people actually appear here? Maybe five? It’s little details like this that give us the sense that Edward has stumbled upon something ongoing and serious. Even before it’s revealed that Domino is in the business of selling hallucinogenic mushrooms, you can tell that these are criminals on the fringes of society, trying to get by. Domino literally carries his merchandise in duffel bags. Aside from that one bounty hunter’s incredible car, everything in this place felt rundown and forgotten. I’ve noticed that we rarely see successful people in the Cowboy Bebop world, and this is no exception. It seems like everyone is doing their best to survive, and very few people manage to escape the cycle of misery and poverty.
Given all of this, it was a surprise (and a pleasant one!) when “Mushroom Samba” turned into a hilarious and surreal drug trip. I honestly didn’t expect this show to go as far as it did. Ein taking mushrooms was funny enough, but I should have realized that Edward could never have resisted the idea of testing the mushrooms on humans. It is a real treat to see how the writers chose to represent these hallucinations, as well as how they chose to imbue them with some fascinating character motifs as well. Like, I don’t want to ignore that this is deeply funny, because it is. But I found the hallucinations to be revealing as well. Faye is essentially lost, drowning in an endless pool of water, surrounded by thousands of fish, yet still completely alone. Spike is on an endless journey up a set of dark stairs towards whatever his idea of Heaven is, but in reality, he’s standing in the same spot. Lord, the subtext of that is ridiculous. And I read Jet’s hallucination as one of companionship. He just wanted someone to talk to, so who’d be better for that than his silent, non-judging bonsai plants?
I love the ending of this episode, too. I hope Edward’s scooter makes another appearance, and I enjoyed the suggestion that Edward could probably catch bounties quicker than any on the Bebop. Seriously, look how fast she did it here! In the end, though, she takes Domino’s duffel bag of edible mushrooms back to the crew, who are somewhat disappointed that they’re not actually worth anything at all. They’re fed by the time “Mushroom Samba” comes to a close, but once again, it’s in a way that’s deeply unsatisfying. Except to Ed and Ein, though. Those two are so easily pleased. I love it.
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