Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
One of the best things about Cowboy Bebop is how it convincingly makes the case that humans are going to screw up the galaxy too. Space is cluttered with billboards for fast food and beer. The planets have been colonized by people who built crappy replicas of the same cities we had on Earth. Police are corrupt, organized crime is thriving, and the economy is so screwed up that freelancers like Spike and Jet can barely afford dinner at a crappy diner even after using a two-for-one coupon. Dogs are so rare and unaffordable that they can be categorized next to dragons and unicorns. Seriously, how bad can things get?
Or, to put it another way: The time and place might change, but people are always going to be as bad as they’ve always been. (And at the end of a year in which a few obnoxious billionaires spent obscene amounts of money to blast themselves into space, it’s a cynicism about the future of the galaxy that, frankly, feels warranted.) For a show as colorful and fun as Cowboy Bebop, that’s a pretty bleak philosophy to build upon — kind of an anti–Star Trek — but four episodes in, it’s clear that this series is best when the melancholy always feels like it’s nipping at the heels of the fast-moving plot.
And while we’re on the subject, hey, Faye Valentine is back! As “Callisto Soul” begins, everyone’s favorite purple-haired, acid-tongued bounty hunter is slipping into an opera house to point a gun at the dick of a man named Mark Manley. Faye, we learn, was pulled out of cryo-sleep and subjected to a scam that left her without memories or money. Mark was one-half of the grifters, and she wants him to set up a meeting with the other: Whitney Haggis Matsumoto, who conned Faye into believing she was Faye’s mother.
“A girl with no memory’s got nothing to lose,” she warns Mark, and her recklessness throughout the episode makes it clear that she means it. But just when Mark gets Whitney on the hook, the opera house is interrupted by ecoterrorists with a truly gnarly weapon: a gas grenade — and I truly cannot emphasize this enough — that turns people into trees.
Faye’s plan is derailed by this sudden turn of events, though she does manage to chase after the terrorists when they take Mark hostage. But after the terrorists get away by stealing her spaceship, she slides into a diner booth next to Spike and Jet — with blood still streaming out of her shoulder — and suggests they team up to take the terrorists down, taking the bounty as a 60-40 split. (In her favor, of course.)
As it turns out, the opera house was just the beginning. The real plot of the ecoterrorists, who call themselves the Callisto Liberation Front, is to detonate a missile containing their grenades over a crowd, turning ~6 million people into trees (and, if they don’t mind that these trees clearly used to be people, also turning this moon of Jupiter into a dendrophile’s playground).
Is there a middle ground between the evil environmentalists and the evil robber barons who turned the grandeur of outer space into yet another capitalist dystopia? If so, it’s located somewhere within the crew of the Bebop. They may be working for themselves, but their goals are personal, not universal — and when push comes to shove, they generally do the right thing.
Which leads us back to Faye, who double-crosses Spike and Jet (and even dognaps Ein!) but eventually abandons her own goal. Instead, she saves the ~6 million people of Callisto and heads toward what surely looks like her own death by smashing her own ship into the missile, preventing the tree grenades from going off. As she careens toward the planet in her busted ship, she asserts her own identity — not the string of numbers and letters assigned to her in cryo-sleep, but the name Faye Valentine, which feels truer to who she is than any of the other names she tried on at the beginning of the episode. And in the face of forces that are infinitely bigger and more horrible than any person could possibly dismantle, what greater power can you harness than asserting yourself as the individual you choose to be?
When Faye wakes up on the Bebop, her ship is gone, but she’s miraculously alive. (It’s a little unsatisfying that the answer to how Faye survived the offscreen crash landing is, “She did, don’t worry about it,” but here we are.) Even Spike, who spent most of the episode pointing a pistol at her head, seems to have softened a little. And while Spike may not fully trust Faye yet — and why would he? — he does give her a parting gift in some hard-won wisdom drawn directly from his own experience: “You know what’s cool about losing your life? You get to build a new one.”
• In our Syndicate subplot, Julia manipulates Vicious into plotting a coup against the Elders and enlists Ana’s help to set up a sit-down between Vicious and an ambitious fellow capo named Mao Yenrai. She won’t tell Ana the specifics, but it seems pretty clear that Julia plans to pull strings behind the scenes to get rid of Vicious without anyone realizing the role she played.
• Jet apparently uses bidets as footbaths, which … technically works?
• The Cowboy Bebop–ified brands that survived the jump to space include Dr. People (Dr. Pepper), WcDowell’s (McDonald’s), BlueBerry (BlackBerry), Acari (Atari), and Pudweiser (Budweiser). There’s a rich history of anime using barely disguised real brands to skirt trademark laws; you can read a partial list here.
• The menu at the diner includes a Dahmer Burger (for meat lovers), a Sea Rat Dinner Special (apparently made from the dead Ganymede rats Maria was so mad about), and a Royale with Cheese (which is, for some reason, two slices of meat lover’s pizza).
• “Cat Blues” plays as Faye and Ein poke around at the railroad tracks.
• Best guesses on the story behind “The Cosmonaut” are welcome in the comments below.
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