Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
From Cowboy Bebop’s very first episode, Jet has been chasing a particularly goofy MacGuffin: a Walking Sally doll, which he wants to give his 8-year-old daughter for her birthday. As he zips across the Milky Way, shooting gangsters and hauling criminals into ISSP stations, this futuristic Cabbage Patch kid has never been far from his mind.
So when Jet and Spike hear about a particularly lucrative bounty on Mars — one that could, theoretically, buy an entire toy store’s worth of Walking Sally dolls — they get on the case. (I’m not entirely clear on how the Cowboy Bebop economy is supposed to work, but the bounties in the first two episodes were ₩1,500,000, ₩2,500,000, and ₩2,000,000, so the ₩15,000,000 on offer here seems like a huge deal.)
The target is a mysterious murderer killing rich people — which mostly explains the ultrahigh bounty, I guess — and disappearing with their dogs. Tracking him down will be a particular challenge because he’s using an intriguing piece of future tech to project another face on top of his own.
In their efforts to track the man down, Jet reluctantly calls on an old contact named Woodcock, who shows up dripping with lust for him. I’m not entirely sure how the show expects us to feel about this transaction, but I found it gross and not in a fun way. In exchange for information, Jet tolerates being called “a tall glass of creamy chocolate milk” by someone he clearly doesn’t want to hook up with. Woodcock, in turn, is treated as inherently ridiculous and unattractive for being an older woman who is openly interested in sex.
In any case, Woodcock’s info is enough to point Spike and Jet toward the Martian brothels, where escorts use face-changers to give their johns whatever they really want. (This is theoretically an interesting idea — what is that like on both sides? — but it’s pretty much just window dressing here.)
In addition to allowing Spike to smoke a cigarette while dangling between a giant pair of breasts on a brothel billboard, the trail eventually leads to a leather-clad domme, who spanks a bound man and shouts in German before identifying the killer. It’s a man named Hakim, and boy is he is ready to eat the rich.
Cowboy Bebop has been flirting with class commentary since Tanaka’s anti-capitalist speech kicked off the series, but this is the first time I feel like the show has really gone for it. When Spike and Jet catch up to Hakim, he reveals his motive wasn’t money — it was his hatred for it. Hakim wants revenge against the rich people who chose to evacuate their dogs while abandoning poor people like his parents, who were part of the working underclass when the Earth Gate blew up. (I’m sure this will be explained in more detail later, but if you don’t care about spoilers, this is a pretty good summary of what happened in the original anime.)
If we’re not exactly meant to agree with Hakim’s decision to kill rich people and steal their dogs, we’re at least meant to empathize with the horrible incident that pushed him to this point and with his epiphany that he can’t kill the dogs for something they didn’t do. Hakim hates what he’s become, and he’s ready to go quietly.
But if the final lesson, as Hakim puts it, is that you can’t get mad at water for being wet, I guess Spike and Jet can’t get too mad at the space cops for being space corrupt. In a particularly noirish twist, it turns out that this job has been rigged all along. Chalmers and his ISSP cronies show up and kill Hakim themselves, negating any shot Spike and Jet have at the bounty. Instead, the cowboys walk away with a consolation prize: an adorable corgi named Ein, who Jet gives to his daughter instead of that elusive Walking Sally doll.
It seems like a great solution to Kimmie’s birthday arc — for about 30 seconds until Jet’s ex-wife insists he takes the dog back with him. It looks like the Bebop has a new crew member.
• The hunt for Hakim is briefly interrupted by a scene that — unusually, for this series so far — doesn’t feature Spike, Jet, or Vicious at all. Instead, Julia shows up at Ana’s bar and asks for advice. When Ana notices Julia’s injuries, Julia tries to downplay Vicious’s physical abuse, and Ana insists that she claim her own power. In theory, this live-action adaptation is making room for a dramatic reworking of the original series’s fairly skewed gender politics. That’s a potentially rich vein for this new series to dig into, and I hope what they’re hinting at here turns out to be more than a feint.
• Other than that, not much movement on the overarching Syndicate plot in this episode — except for a scene in which Vicious and his crew kill a bunch of naked people they’ve employed to manufacture Red Eye, and a capper in which Spike calls Vicious and delivers a warning shot through a car window.
• Tharsis City is named for a real area on Mars, which is mainly noted for the planet’s largest volcanoes.
• Spike and Jet make a brief reference to a job they did on Alba City, a location that features heavily in the animated film spinoff of the original series.
• Spike’s rooftop standoff with Hakim features an overt reference to the end of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with a tight close-up shot of each man’s eyes just before they start firing.
• There’s a lit sign on the rooftop of the brothel that just reads “PORN.” Accuracy in marketing, I guess.
• At the time I’m writing this, urbandictionary.com doesn’t have a dictionary entry for an “Alabama Anaconda” — but I’m betting there will be one by the time you’re reading this.
• Still no Faye! Come back, Faye!