Today’s Cowboy Bebop review is brought to you by 1960s French New Wave film. Critic Adam, would you like to say a few words to the kids about the French New Wave?
Umm. Sure. Hold on.
What’s the hold up, Critic Adam?
What are those typing sounds?
Porno. I’m queuing up porno for later.
Really? Or are you frantically googling the French New Wave because you literally know nothing about it?
Oh you know I am. You damn well know that for as little as we know about music, we know even less about French art house film from the 60s.
So what have we learnt while frantically googling things and contemplating the exact amount of effort we want to put into extrapolating on the subtext of a single episode of Cowboy Bebop?
Pierrot Le Fou was a 1965 film based on a 1962 novel of the same name. It’s about a man who gets tired of his middle-class life and family, so he hooks up with an ex and goes on a crime wave. Eventually, she gets sick of his ass and hooks up with her actual boyfriend.
You wish, nerd. Pierrot kills his ex and her lover. Then, in a fit of guilt, he blows himself up some by strapping dynamite to his head.
And what relevance would you say this film has on this episode of Bebop?
Fucked if I know, man. Wikipedia says that New Wave film often used ‘intentionally garish visual aesthetics’ and ‘visuals from cartoons,’ which was emblematic of the pop art movement. The first act of this episode is done almost entirely in cat pee yellow, despite the fact it is set on Mars, and the bad guy is a floating fat man…
Like the Baron Harkonnen?
No, shut up. Not everything is a Dune reference no matter how much you want it to be. This particular floating fat man is an ISSP black project that dresses like a maniacal sort of killer clown.
Like the Joker?
More French, which is why his code name is Pierrot and the episode is called Pierrot Le Fou: the sad clown.
Clowns. It’s always the clowns.
Right? But at least he dies at the end of the episode.
They always die at the end of the episode. Cowboy Bebop has this problem of creating interesting characters and then unceremoniously killing them off. VT from Heavy Metal Queen and Stella from Waltz for Venus are the only characters without opening credit plot armour to get out alive. Do we think it’s a lazy move on the part of the show?
Wait, we’re still doing this? I thought I was here to help you introduce the impenetrable subtext. I was going to go get popcorn.
Why don’t you stick around for a while. I’ve written more than 25,000 words on Cowboy Bebop in the traditional fashion. Who is to say that we can’t reject conventions for no reason other than it is there to be rejected.
Then when people ask us why we did this review in this way we can stand around and look cool?
That’s what I’m thinking.
Right then, let’s do this thing. Is it lazy to keep killing off characters? Let’s consider the consequences if you don’t close the loop on all of these antagonists. Consider this show was made in the 90s. When you were writing and directing those stupid student films back in high school, what was the last thing you wanted to have compared to your work?
Easy. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah Batman.
Were you singing that last bit in the style of the theme song?
Yes. Do you think it came through in the text?
Close enough. If Bebop doesn’t kill off its antagonists, it risks making a rogues’ gallery. Some of the more contrived conflicts already elicit a ‘how will they get out of this one’ vibe. If people other than Vicious made repeat appearances, then the cool factor might backfire into a farce. Spike and Jet become Old Chums.
Batman the Animated Series wasn’t a farce, and it kept the rogues’ gallery formula from the 60s. In fact, everybody who would have been in Bebop’s target demographic in 1998…
Assuming Bebop isn’t nostalgia porn for people born in the late 60s.
Yes. Setting that aside, Batman TAS managed to avoid killing interesting characters, and in doing so launched an entire animated series franchise. There’s no Cowboy Bebop and Superman Adventures. No Cowboy Bebop League. No Cowboy Bebop League Unlimited. Seems like a show can get pretty far when it is working within the established playbook and not having your lead character get into trouble because he’s winning at 9-ball, the coolest version of the coolest game ever invented.
So Bebop isn’t lazy because it constantly creates new antagonists, but that doesn’t mean it is good. Is that where you are going with this?
Okay then, smart guy, how does Pierrot stack up as a ‘complex’ episode of Bebop?
I dare say that things are looking pretty good for my replicant theory.
Show your math.
The truth is in the eye of the beholder. When there’s an important visual artefact on screen, Bebop will always cut to it multiple times as a way of showing the audience that they need to be paying attention. In this case, we have multiple smash cuts between Spike’s eyes and Pierrot’s eyes. They are, effectively, the same eyes.
Eyes. I just make eyes.
Even the cat we see in the lab during Pierrot’s creation sequence has one eye in common with Spike and Pierrot.
Tell us more about the Cat, Student Adam. It seems a bit much that a perfect assassin, even one who is a failed ISSP experiment because he is mentally regressing to a state of vicious childhood, would be afraid of a cat.
Part of me thinks that the cat might be a stand in for the actual power behind the ISSP’s experiments. The cat had two different coloured eyes, which, in my estimation, is a call back to Ballad of the Fallen Angels and Jupiter Jazz. Both had flashbacks to Spike’s old life. Both included dialogue that talked about Spike, or presumably Spike, having different coloured eyes. One eye was purported to see the past and the other saw the future. There is no way this isn’t part of the “complex” story’s connective tissue.
Right, but what does it do?
What do you mean?
You’ve got this cool backstory happening. In some cases, it manages to inform the events of a given episode. But what is it doing other than giving you grounds to speculate on Spike’s origin?
Did I mention that Ed’s ISSP hack shows that the assassin program involved cloning and artificial insemination? We now have evidence of the police experimenting on people, presumably cloning people, and multiple characters who are joined through identical sets of eyes. It’s pretty Blade Runner if you ask me. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the ISSP fanny pack that Spike sometimes wears was kit borrowed from Jet. What if the syndicate rescued Spike from the ISSP. What if Spike’s martial arts and healing powers are part of the optimized ISSP assassin program?
My dude, you’re doing everything the show wants you to do. You are buying into the world building as if it is a substitute for storytelling. Yeah, your reading is cool as hell, and sure, it shows ideas layered across multiple episodes. However, my man, there’s a world of difference between a story that makes the audience feel smart, and a story that is doing a good job.
So you think that the writing is playing me?
I think that the writing wants you to connect the dots amid one too many episodes that do nothing particularly special. I think this episode is further proof that Bebop doesn’t want to deal with complex things like change, growth, and conflict. It wants to revel in back story and world building and leave you, assiduous student Adam, to feel smart for picking up all the half-baked ideas it is putting down.
And at the end of it all we keeping coming back to that first question: why?
We’re no closer to a why after this “complex” episode than we were at the end of Wild Horses or Jupiter Jazz.
There are six episodes left. You know we might not get the why.
If there is no why then what was the point of all this?
You want some popcorn, man?
Yeah. I want some popcorn.