Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
Two episodes in, it’s clear that Cowboy Bebop has already identified one of its core strengths: the half-exasperated, half-affectionate bond that binds Spike Spiegel and Jet Black. TV has long thrived on mismatched partners, and no matter how crazy the action gets, Cowboy Bebop always finds a way to foreground the prickly chemistry between the Bebop’s two-person crew. As someone notes late in this episode, Spike and Jet come off less like “good cop” and “bad cop” than “dick cop” and “asshole cop” — though since they’re not cops, that probably just makes them dick and asshole. (You can decide which is which.)
It’s always going to be fun to watch John Cho and Mustafa Shakir bounce off each other, but it certainly doesn’t hurt when their bounty of the week also happens to be interesting. This time, Spike and Jet spend much of the episode tracking a bomber on Venus who hides his explosives in teddy bears and eventually shows up in the flesh wearing a teddy bear head and a pair of tighty-whities.
It’s a weird, fun caper plot, and it handily brings the latent tension in Spike and Jet’s relationship to the forefront. Spike won’t tell Jet about his own criminal past because he thinks the ex-cop wouldn’t trust him anymore, and Jet doesn’t trust Spike because he can tell his partner is concealing something. (And honestly: If Jet doesn’t suspect Spike has a criminal past, he can’t have been much of a cop. How does he think Spike got so good at punching and shooting people?)
They eventually track the mad bomber to his spaceship, and the tension between the Spike and Jet is resolved, both symbolically and literally, when Jet sets off a pressure-activated switch connected to an explosive. When Spike pushes Jet off the switch and takes the risk himself, it’s clear that whatever his flaws, he’ll ultimately risk even his own life to ensure his partner’s safety. And when Jet tells Spike he’ll come back to save him, it’s clear that whatever misgivings Jet is harboring have been tabled — at least for now.
But as fun as the main plot is, it’s Spike’s extended, personal detour in the middle of the mission that provides the real jumping-off point for the rest of the season. Pretending he’s going on a noodle run, Spike slips off to a cabaret operated by an old ally named Ana.
After (understandably!) berating Spike for letting her believe he’s been dead for three years, Ana asks him why he’s chosen this moment to show up at her door again. The answer, of course, is information. And unfortunately for Spike, Ana only has bad news to share. Julia, the blonde woman we’ve been glimpsing in all those rose-heavy flashbacks, is now married to a creep who calls himself Vicious. And given that Spike used to go by the extremely similar pseudonym “Fearless,” it’s a safe bet that these two have more in common than Julia.
Vicious, whose tastes lean toward long katanas, too much whiskey, and being an abusive psychopath, is still working for the Syndicate. How bad are these bad guys, anyway? We get a taste when the Syndicate’s three leaders, wearing weird Eyes Wide Shut-style masks and speaking in booming voices, call on Vicious and Julia via hologram. They’ve discovered Vicious is dealing Red Eye on the side. His punishment, they say, is that he must shoot Julia in the head.
He does. And in an incredibly unsurprising twist, the gun turns out to be empty. The actual test was proving that he’s willing to do anything the Syndicate says, and he passed. And while Vicious claims he knew the gun wasn’t loaded all along, Julia — who Ana literally just told Spike is happily married to this guy — clearly recognizes that all the physical and psychological abuse is a pretty big red flag. The real question is whether she’ll be able to get away from Vicious. As Spike could tell her, the Syndicate doesn’t go easy on runaways.
• No Faye in this one, but I have to imagine she’ll cross paths with the Bebop again soon.
• Surprised and delighted that Big Shot for the Bounty Hunters — a deeply bizarre show-within-a-show, in which two hosts named Punch and Judy banter about possible targets for cowboys to track down — survived the leap from the animated series to the live-action one.
• Let’s go ahead and settle Spike and Jet’s argument: Assuming you’re just a regular guest, is the ceremony or the reception the important part of the wedding?
• It’s a nice, subtle touch from John Cho that Spike clearly doesn’t want to touch his earpiece while he’s standing at the urinal.
• The Teddy Bear Bomber is almost certainly based on Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, who left a similar manifesto behind. (There’s also the name.)
• In a very John Wick flourish, Ana’s bar is a place where both cops and criminals are required to leave their hostilities at the door.
• Cabaret host Gren mentions that the Markmans had been vying for a good table at Ana’s bar — presumably an insider reference to Naomi Markman, the show’s script coordinator.
• Kudo, Spike’s liquor of choice, is probably a nod to the actor Yūsaku Matsuda, who played a character named Shunsaku Kudō on a TV series called Detective Story, which has been acknowledged as the primary influence on Spike’s character design.
• The elders who confront Vicious are named after Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Caliban, Miranda, and Prospero.
• And the computer on the Bebop is called Marvin, which is … a Marvin the Martian reference? Your guess is as good as mine.
• “When you cook an egg, do you need to give credit to the frying pan?”
More From This Series
- What to Watch After Binging Cowboy Bebop
- Alex Hassell on the Immense Discomfort of Re-creating Cowboy Bebop’s Iconic Duel
- Cowboy Bebop Recap: See You Space Cowboy