Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
One benefit of Cowboy Bebop’s distinctive blend of sci-fi, Western, and noir is that the series can decide to lean all the way into any one of those genres at any point. From its opening, “Darkside Tango” announces itself as a noir in the most classic sense: If the whodunit plot, moody jazz, and fedoras weren’t enough of a tip-off, the shadowy cinematography and camerawork, which is heavy on Dutch angles, is placing the episode squarely into a very rich tradition.
But there’s a downside to placing yourself in the company of movies like The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon: If you’re going to build your story around a mystery, you’d better make sure it’s a damn good one. Is there anything more frustrating than waiting for a TV character to piece together a twist every viewer will figure out a full 40 minutes earlier? Because I cannot imagine anyone watching this episode without instantly identifying the dirty cop who led to Jet’s dismissal from the force.
Let’s back up. “Darkside Tango” opens with a flashback in which Jet and his ISSP partner, a sleazeball named Fad, are on the trail of a criminal named Udai Taxim. Jet’s goal is to arrest Udai and get him to reveal which cop has secretly been working for the Syndicate. Jet knows someone in the ISSP is corrupt, and he suspects Chalmers, but he doesn’t have enough proof to bring him in.
Jet finds Udai and chases him — weirdly enough, Fad doesn’t join him — and just when Jet has Udai cornered, he’s blinded by a pair of headlights. Udai takes the opportunity to unload a full clip of bullets into Jet. Before long, Jet has been wrongly pegged as the dirty cop, resulting in his dismissal from the ISSP, which lines up perfectly with the dark period in which Jet (1) lost his arm, (2) lost his family, and (3) gained a five-year prison sentence. If that’s not material for a country-and-Western hit, I don’t know what is.
Back in the present, a prison ship has crashed on Europa, leading to a gold rush of criminals for any bounty hunters in the area to mop up. But Jet quickly zeroes in on one big name on the list: Udai Taxim, his old nemesis, who also happens to come with a 45,000,000₩ bounty.
For Jet, this is personal, so he ditches Spike and Faye to team up with Fad, who would definitely never have sold him out for money and/or power. They’re buddies! They talk about jazz and kids and Fad’s wife’s lasagna! Their renewed partnership, however brief, is a fairly grim look at how the ISSP operates: by storming into an opium den and harassing a low-level criminal until he agrees to help them find Udai. (Given everything else we’ve seen, I guess it’s no shock that the ISSP is as bad as the Syndicate — but I can’t say I’m delighted to see Jet using his fake badge as an excuse to bust up the teeth of some guy.)
Jet and Fad eventually trace Udai to a freight yard, reasoning that he’ll hide in a shipping crate in a desperate effort to get off-planet. But when Jet tracks Udai down and asks for the identity of the corrupt cop, Fad shoots Udai before he can get a word out.
Yes — drumroll, please — it was Fad all along. Try to lift your jaw back off the floor. Fad tries to shoot Jet, but in a nice little bit of dramatic irony, Jet uses his fake arm to block the bullet and shoots Fad instead. Chalmers shows up and chuckles over the cosmic unfairness of it all: The only person who could clear Jet’s name has now been killed by Jet. To Cowboy Bebop’s credit, it’s a feel-bad ending that is fully in keeping with the episode’s noir underpinnings.
But while Cowboy Bebop’s noir pastiche is, at the very least, a fun exercise in style, it’s not the episode’s strongest material — because running parallel to the Jet Black plot, there’s a Spike/Faye story that’s a lot more fun.
It’s taken me this long into the recap to mention it because, honestly, almost nothing happens. When Jet zips off to find Udai, Spike and Faye stay back to figure out which of the remaining bounties they should target and then just … don’t. Instead, they stay back on the Bebop, drinking beer and arguing and swapping stories about the best bounties they’ve ever brought in. At one point, Faye tangos with a dog. It’s a welcome reminder that — whatever other genres Cowboy Bebop decides to dabble in — it can also be, and should also be, a first-rate hangout comedy.
• In our Syndicate subplot: Vicious meets with Mao Yenrai and pitches his coup of the Elders. It doesn’t go particularly well, but Julia manages to keep things from flying off the rails by consenting to Mao’s mocking demand that Julia sing for her. Next time, we’ll see if Vicious can talk Santiago, a.k.a. the Eunuch, into joining their rebellion — and given that the episode’s brief clip of Santiago includes him saying, “You’ll never know true power until you’ve tasted the testicles of a man that’s wronged you,” I suspect Vicious will be a little more careful about what he says.
• Jet’s little scrapbook indirectly confirms that actual newspapers have, somehow, survived humanity’s leap to outer space. Hooray for print media!
• Opium dens are also back? Time is a flat circle, etc., etc.
• The song playing as Jet walks away from Fad’s body is “Cosmos.”
• I couldn’t find the song Julia sings to Mao Yenrai, but post it in the comments below if you recognize it.
• I’m not yet sold on Hunter Bear Ninja, but Foot Cockroach Atomic Bomb seems like a pretty good Rock Paper Scissors substitute.
• I am absolutely sold on the virtues of a shower-bath-shower.
• Fad’s car has a vanity plate that reads 357MAG, presumably in honor of his .357 Magnum.
• An incomplete list of the criminals who busted out of the prison transport on Europa: the Sutherland Twins, Fat Elvis, Tony the Chop, Ponzi Pete, T-Bone Wilson, Jimmy Two-Shits, the School Girl 5, the Kangaroo Kid, Eddie Bazooka, and Pastor Pete.
• Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie? Cue up Bird and Diz and decide for yourself.
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