Cowboy Bebop Recap: See You Space Cowboy

Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)

Supernova Symphony
Season 1 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)

Supernova Symphony
Season 1 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

At long last, Spike’s past and present have collided. As he recovers at Ana’s bar following his battle with Mad Pierrot, Jet and Faye run in with their guns drawn, ready to rescue their friend from Ana and Gren. Given how much those two know about “Fearless” and what Spike knows he must do next, the moment forces a long-dreaded confession about his previous life as a Syndicate hitman.

I’m still unclear why this would make Jet — a character we have seen kill people for money! — so angry. But in this case, he actually does have some legitimate beef: The Syndicate has kidnapped Kimmie, and because Spike didn’t tell him the truth, he had no idea it was coming. So unhappy as Jet is, the two partners have no choice to go on one last job together. And the path soon leads them to a place Cowboy Bebop has been teasing in the opening credits since the very first episode.

After capturing Spike and Jet with yet another sneaky hologram trick, Vicious drags them to an old church for a very specific reason: It’s the location of their family plot where he once intended to bury Spike, in tribute to his conviction that Spike was a true brother. He still intends to bury him there — he just wants to bury him alive this time. As far as gestures go, that’s not as nice.

“You were supposed to be my brother. You were supposed to love me!” screams Vicious before telling Jet and Kimmie that he’ll kill them just to increase Spike’s pain. But that would be a pretty grim way to end a TV season, so it’s not exactly a shock when Faye saves the day by showing up in a ship and taking out the Syndicate minions with machine-gun spray.

It’s a chance for a clean break with no further bloodshed, and Jet takes it. But inches away from yet another lucky getaway, Spike says he’s not finished yet and heads back into the church, resolved to either kill Vicious or die trying.

All of this is a riff on a particularly iconic sequence from the anime, and Cowboy Bebop really wants to get this moment right. Pretty much every detail — the song “Rain,” much of the dialogue, the specific camera angles, the extremely memorable shot when Spike and Vicious freeze right in front of a giant stained-glass window — are pulled directly from the original series.

But having paid such a painstaking tribute to the original, Cowboy Bebop follows up the long-awaited Spike-Vicious battle — which ends in a stalemate — with the interesting decision to spin its plot into a direction all its own. It isn’t unexpected when Julia shows up and shoots Vicious. It’s not unexpected when Julia has a plan that doesn’t line up with what Spike wants.

What is a little unexpected — though perfectly warranted — is just how much farther Julia is willing to go. When she pitches putting Vicious’ head on a pike and taking over the Syndicate herself, Spike says no. Which forces Julia to ask the question both of these men should have been asking her all along: “What about what I want?”

It’s obvious that Vicious always saw Julia as more of a trophy than a person. But Spike’s absurdly romantic vision of running away from the Syndicate with Julia — after meeting her under a bridge in the middle of the night and giving her a rose, for God’s sake — isn’t all that respectful to her, either. As Julia rightfully notes, Spike has spent the past three years zipping around the galaxy having adventures while she’s been locked up, suffering verbal and physical abuse, in Vicious’s creepy penthouse. Why would she forgive him for that?

So Julia taking over the Syndicate, and maybe Vicious’s role as Cowboy Bebop’s big villain, is an interesting idea, and I’m very curious to see where the show might take a character who was so obviously underdeveloped in the original series.

But I’m also not sure the show has done the work to make this twist feel as natural and hard as it should. Living under Vicious’s obsessively watchful eye all season, Julia has, by necessity, been an extremely internal character. But it’s a big leap to go from “I want my abusive husband to die” to “I want to run a galactic mafia.” Having endured so much horror at the hands of the Syndicate, would Julia really reject this opportunity to slip off into the night — not with Spike, but on her own? Why double down on an organization that has brought her nothing but misery? And why would she let Vicious live?

I suppose those are questions to explore in another season (presuming Cowboy Bebop gets renewed) — and for now, that’s probably enough. This is a series obsessed with the rhythms of jazz; maybe Julia was always just improvising, and this is where all that riffing brought her.

In the grand tradition of any good noir, our heroes close out the finale with a feel-bad ending in which no one really gets what they want. Faye comes closest to a happy ending when she gathers her things and sets off to find out who she really was — but that still requires her to leave her new surrogate family behind. Jet is wounded, alienated from his ex-wife and daughter, and so bitter at Spike that he says he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again. And Spike, who spent so many years imagining his long-lost love, got roughly five seconds of happiness before she shot him out of a stained-glass window. For now, there’s not much he can do but lick his wounds and slug whiskey. Better luck next time. See you, space cowboy.

Stray Bullets

• As for that stinger: It’s no major spoiler to reveal that the extremely zany kid who wakes Spike in the alley is Radical Ed, who was briefly referenced in “Binary Two-Step.” Ed is a beloved character in the original anime, but seeing their whole thing in live-action … well, it’s a lot, and I can’t say it left me wanting more.

• Ed also references Volaju the Butterfly Man — a character from the anime you can read about here if you don’t mind possible season-two spoilers.

• “SEE YOU SPACE COWGIRL, SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE!” was also used as the closing text in the 24th episode of the original anime. In this context, it’s hard to gauge whether it’s referring to Ed, Faye, Julia, or some combination of the three.

• Classic music cues in the finale include “Rain” (as Spike climbs the chapel stairs) and “Green Bird” (as Spike falls out the window).

• There’s a very brief moment when Faye and Gren become instant friends, and honestly, I’d watch a whole Cowboy Bebop episode of those two getting drunk and gabbing at the bar.

• I don’t mind most of Faye’s cornier quips, but “Welcome to the ouch, motherfuckers!” definitely belonged on the cutting-room floor.

• I guess I’d be mad if my ex-partner got our daughter kidnapped, but I’m bummed Alisa and Chalmers have turned against Jet again. It was nice to see everybody being so nice to each other in “Galileo Hustle.”

• That’s a wrap on Cowboy Bebop season one! What did you make of the changes they made? Do you want a second season — and if so, what do you want to see from it? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.

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Cowboy Bebop Recap: See You Space Cowboy