Adios Cowboy: Review 24 – Hard Luck Woman

My typical process when approaching an episode of Cowboy Bebop is to watch it twice. On the second viewing, I take a pile of notes and build my review. I didn’t do that with this review. As Bebop approaches its end, it has given me something that I’ve needed for months: growth. Yet in giving me (and everybody else) this metamorphosis, it is also showing the cost of that change; if people want to become more than what they are, they have to leave the Bebop. To live on the Bebop is to live in stasis.

Given such an introduction, it should come as no surprise to learn that Hard Luck Woman is all emotion. Everything that happens within this episode is a play for pathos. There is no bounty, no connection to the mystery of Spike’s past, no hardscrabble men from Ganymede showing up to draw Jet into their bullshit. It’s the story of a sad woman who wants to go home. This is why, after obsessing over the beta tape of her childhood, Faye turns the Bebop toward Earth and brings Ed on a mission to find some evidence of who she used to be.

In the process of finding herself, Faye stumbles upon Ed’s past. It turns out that Ed has a father. He’s an absent-minded professor type with a penchant for cartography. Setting this revelation within an orphanage plays into the three-fold abandonment issues within the episode (i.e. Faye being an orphan from her own time, Ed being an orphan from her father, and both of them leaving Spike and Jet as orphans on the Bebop).

Cut to another part of the ruined Earth where Faye finds the wreck of her old house. As an act of reclamation, she scratches out a floorplan in the ruins before laying down where her childhood bed used to be. Part of me wonders if this isn’t a very subtle callback to Faye’s undercover activities with Scratch. Her call for help in Brain Scratch mentioned something about finding a way to clear her debts. Are we seeing a free woman laying in the sun of her ancestral home? Is this meant to be Faye scratching at the itch that has driven her character in the back half of the series? Questions like this make me wonder about the effort that has gone into making the audience feel the sting of Faye, Ein, and Ed leaving the Bebop.

After writing a giant, “bye bye” on the hull of the Bebop, Ed leaves, presumably to find her father and join him in mapping the ruined Earth. Ein comes out to bark a complaint about her leaving. The sadness hanging over this scene is almost visible. I could feel the hand of the artist is reaching out of the screen and squeezing my blackened heart. The emotional reprieve that comes from Ed asking Ein if he wants to come along on an adventure is a fleeting one as the story cuts back to the Bebop.

There, the final departures are intercut with Spike and Jet sitting at a dinner table with five place settings. Ever the stoics, Spike and Jet power through their feelings, stuffing their faces with hard boiled eggs – a fitting meal for the emotionally stunted duo. For the faintest moment, I thought there would be some outpouring of emotions from them, some catharsis from these two damaged people. Instead, Jet starts double fisting eggs from a neighboring plate.

So, I mean, I get it. I get why people get passionate about Cowboy Bebob. This show might be entry-level when it comes to short-form storytelling, but it knows how to play the audience’s feelings. Never you mind if an analysis of those feelings in this particular moment runs head long into questions about why Spike’s and Jet’s hearts aren’t literally exploding in their chests on account of eating at least two dozen eggs in a single sitting.

The question I care about is if all these departures are temporary or permanent. Does this show end with Spike and Jet as alone as when they started in Asteroid Blues? Or are we going to pull a Westworld and find out that nothing occurs in the presumed chronological order? I ask these questions not to demand a resolution, but to reflect on if all this emotional resonance is going to have any lasting impact. If so, then it can’t be paved over at the start of the next episode with Faye, Ed, and Ein back aboard the Bebop because the writers hit the big red reset button. Even a cut to months later paired with a teary reunion won’t really wash. There would be too little space between the band breaking up and getting back together. If this episode is to have any lasting meaning, it has to commit to the break-up.

This leaves us with a final episode, split into two parts, to end this many headed hydra of a story. There’s no way that all of the plot threads and teased ideas are going to get resolved. My early hypothesis about Spike having to die to save everybody seems to be much more dubious now that the cast is reduced to him and Jet. However, bringing Faye, Ed, and Ein back just to put them in danger as a means of giving Spike’s death meaning, an act that would completely undermine the lasting impact of this episode, seems like a pretty Bebop thing to do.

Not much to do now but see how this all plays out.

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