There’s Nothing I Can Do For a Dead Woman, Cowboy Bebop 25-26 “The Real Folk Blues”

cowboy-bebop-wallpaper-17

[Cowboy Bebop 24 “Hard Luck Woman"]

Let’s start with the women, and by now it’s just women because Ed left the stage in the previous session. I always enjoyed the narrative contrivance that let Faye run into Julia first. Faye accounts for herself well here, being a good Samaritan with dead-eye accuracy using a Glock. She takes a ride with Julia and even attempts to recruit her for a partner. Wouldn’t that be something to watch? Faye and Julia chasing bounties together would be sexy as hell.

But pretty soon it’s Julia who knows who’s who and what’s what. She makes Faye carry her message to Spike, quite the unkind cut… since Faye would reveal later on, while she did get her memory back, nothing good came of it; and while belonging is the best thing there is, the Bebop is the only place she feels like she belongs.

But that’s a Bebop with Spike in it, Faye. He was always going to leave. Sure he and Julia may stay there a while and things may be both fun and awkward – since without even trying, she’ll be the lady in the ship, while Faye remains the tramp. But even this never happened, because Julia got herself killed.

I really, really loved how the show served Julia’s death. It was quick, and had the feeling of inevitability. There was no protraction of the drama, instead the show used the visual shorthand of John Woo’s doves and slow motion for the moment. I will never forget how beautiful her hair looked as she fell in a heap in her last moments. “This is just a dream” her last words remind us of this aging theme.

Faye and Jet wonder if Spike is going to meet certain death all for her. Spike says that he can’t do anything for a dead woman. This is a great response to Faye, actually. Julia you see, was never really alive in the narrative – she was a ghost revealed at the very end, just appearing for a short while then vanishing to set the motion of doom. It’s Faye’s death that’s more interesting. Faye? Dead?

Yes. She died when she got her memories back, when it proved no cure to her directionless present. She returns to the Bebop to find it changed forever, no longer the place she wants to call home. Spike is good as dead and will not stay for her sake. No future, just futile shots to the heavens. Julia’s death was a cinematic moment, but Faye’s slow death is more interesting.

The Real Folk Blues is the name of a compilation album of Muddy Waters’ first recordings. The term “the blues” refers to the “blue devils”, meaning melancholy and sadness; such are very important elements of Cowboy Bebop; underscored, highlighted, boldfaced, italicized, and punctuated by this two-part session.

The trick here in this show, is that it builds up people and events with lots of meaning – very easy given that the content in question have to do with character back stories, histories, the pasts that catch up, or are sores and wounds endlessly picked at. Then the narrative renders all of them futile, pointless, and meaningless. The space between these, is where the blue devils play; where melancholy and sadness take our hand and give us company.

Paul McCartney was singing about how nothing he, nor Ringo, nor George, nor even John would ever produce music as individuals that would amount to anything equal to what they able to do together as The Beatles. Similarly, no matter what happens, Ed, Jet, and Faye would never live lives as interesting as the time they spent together on the Bebop. Once the past caught up, it was painfully clear that there was no future… only an uninteresting drudgery of the present.

But the present… was crumbling all around them too. Bounty after bounty turned out to be inconvertible to cash. Institutions like the Red Dragon collapsed. When organized crime dies down, does it mean a fresh new frontier of criminality? Does this lead to fresh bounties? Maybe, but cowboys aren’t the individuals who take on criminal organizations. They’re good for tracking loners or splinter groups. People who aren’t powerful. People who are also running away.

I can only imagine a short, unsuccessful bounty hunter partnership between Faye and Jet. After that, maybe she marries someone and ruins his fortune. Jet gets killed during some attempted bust, or is robbed then killed by some dirtbag would-be partner.

Thankfully, we are spared from these probabilities. Spike’s death is the last thing we see, and it is dignified, with a veneer of triumph – he bested his rival. It was permissible for him to die now, not having anything left to live for. But after a long slump, Spike won a fight, and it was the fight he had to win.

Let us look into Spike’s last sortie.

Oh my goodness this is one of those trailers that show you everything. If it’s not obvious yet how the gunfights in “The Real Folk Blues” are straight out of Woo film making, you’ll see the final gun duel at the 2:04 mark. Cowboy Bebop did it almost exactly the same, only that Vicious used a sword instead of a pistol.

The battle and the final duel were amazing. Spike would not be denied by the henchmen and he stormed the headquarters with grenades and explosives. The sword duel, and Vicious ensured that Cowboy Bebop would have a sword duel for its finale, is favored by narrative media because it allows for dialogue and particularly debate. This show turns that on its head by making Spike and Vicious exchange very few words.

The trope is played straight and is spoken overtly: “I’m the only one who can kill you.”

Spike does kill Vicious, and it can be said that Spike eventually dies from wounds suffered from Vicious’ attacks. Then Spike goes all the way down to the lobby where the now headless Red Dragon gang members look on to him as they must be wondering… “do we shoot him?” “Is he our new boss now?” “Do we get him medical attention?”

No one moves.

Spike threatens them with a hand pointed like a gun.

BANG

Spike finally dies.

While there’s nothing left to be said about “The Real Folk Blues” on my part, I wish to extend my thanks to all the readers who followed me in this blogging project. It took me more than a year to complete, but it was worth it. From the very first post here on We Remember Love I declared my desire to blog every episode of Cowboy Bebop with a view to survey the references, as well as provide my analysis of the sessions.

Special thanks to Shinmaru and Cuchlann, for their contributions.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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34 Responses to There’s Nothing I Can Do For a Dead Woman, Cowboy Bebop 25-26 “The Real Folk Blues”

  1. Cratex says:

    I like to think of both Faye and Jet as survivors. Faye was distracted by her lost past, and yes she was hit hard by what she realized when she finally found it, and found nothing worth finding. But I think she’s a strong enough that she’ll eventually pick herself up and move on, though she may wreck a few guys along the way. Jet won’t be one of them. I like to think that with Spike gone he’ll eventually decide it is time for him to move on as well, and I doubt he’ll tolerate Faye for very long in any case. I see him parking the Bebop off some pier on Ganymede and working some private detective business from there.

    • Xard says:

      I agree more with this than ultra pessimistic take on Jet’s and Faye’s future. Particularly with Faye who has more of it together and “gets it” in the end, even if it was sadly too late for this group of characters. Spike in contrast is a failure who peculiarly enough is glorified in a way that is at least half-intentional which causes the show to send some curious mixed messages.

      As for Jet, he will definetly survive. He’s strong enough to have already encountered his past plenty of times and lived through the encounters and conflicts which is more one can say of Spike. I too see him becoming a noir private detective more than anything else.

      and then there’s of course Ed and Ein who exited the story earlier precisely because their positive presence was incompatible with the mood and tone finale aimed for. As bunch of goofy, unusual geniuses ( a child and a bloody dog) with no emotional baggage to speak of they’ll continue to live just fine.

    • Oh no doubt that they’ll survive, only that their stories would never be as interesting as with the time they spent together as Cowboys on the Bebop.

  2. gwern says:

    Omedetou!

    One of the great things about Cowboy Bebop is that when it tells you that you’re going to carry that weight, it’s not being emo or pseudo-profound: by the end, you understand that its characters really do have the blues, but it didn’t have to be that way, things could’ve been better.

    I am reminded of a line from a close contemporary, _Revolutionary Girl Utena_:

    > ‘Only those with beautiful memories are allowed to wish, “If only those days could last forever, if only I could still be what I was back then.”‘

    • Thank you, and for sharing the posts in your own online community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

      Interestingly enough, I’m about to rewatch RGU, just as I’ve rewatched all of Evangelion the past 2 weeks. You see I bought a new TV and home theater system, which gives me good incentive to return to my favorite shows.

      But yes, I can’t forget that line, as it was part of one of my most intense efforts writing about …anything. The Black Rose arc of Utena is, I think, the most perfect part of that show (in terms of execution).

  3. Shinmarizu says:

    A fitting end. Thanks for blogging every episode of this; I thoroughly enjoyed the attention to the little details that help makes this series far more than the sum of its parts.

  4. Flab says:

    As a longtime reader, I found this to be the appropriate time to say a well deserved thank you for the eloquence and obvious love you displayed for this show and all the others you have found worthy of consideration. It has been some time since I have (re)watched this show in its entirety, but after reading through several of your posts on the early episodes I figured I should wait until you made this final remark on what was already one of my favorite series before I put it back in the DVD player.

    It is amazing to me how this show went from that weird episode I saw where a guy falls out of a church window in slow motion with a lady singing in the background on late night Toonami to something I could enjoy reading pages upon pages of analysis, commentary, and criticism of on a daily basis and only wish there could be more of it to enjoy.

    Thank you again for the time and effort you put into this, I can only imagine how much better my next viewing will be…

    • Thank you for your timely response.

      I’m even gladder to have done this knowing it reached you and others like you the way it did. Like you, Cowboy Bebop for me is a transcendental experience — something reserved for a very select few pieces of media/art/literature in my life. It is of great personal significance both in terms of what it said to me, and the time of my life when it showed up in my consciousness.

      I’ve said it at least once in these comment responses, but this show spoke to my adulthood, and marked the end of my drifting nature which characterized my early 20′s.

      Have fun with your upcoming rewatch.

  5. Turambar says:

    Fantastic post, and a suitable end for a fantastic blog series overall.

    • Thank you! I wanted this post to be ‘just so’ and I don’t really have the words for how I wanted this post to be like, but I think it happened anyway. As for the blog series, it took a whole lot out of me. I think I only have one of such efforts in my lifetime, and I’m glad to have completed it. It’s certainly much different to the ease and compulsion I experience when I put out Gundam posts, nor the insane obsessiveness I feel when I do a Macross post. This blog project really made me work, and I’m glad it’s done and I’m very, very glad for your appreciation.

  6. animekritik says:

    Ah, sad and beautiful. You really you should have kept this post in reserve for the day you closed shop~

    • Turambar says:

      Pretty sure only a Macross related post would be permissible for that day.

    • Thank you. I think as that day approaches, I’m glad I got this out of the way. Also, I get to live on the edge a little more… I think I’ll have last words on some of the important shows in my being a fan… including Utena and Evangelion. I don’t know what I’ll say yet, but I’ll say something.

  7. megaroad1 says:

    Loved reading your take on things. as usual. Congratulations on finishing this CB series – It’s going to be a bit sad not to have every week or so an email in my inbox regarding a new episode blog. But if CB has taught us anything, it’s that all must come to an end.

    • Thank you, and indeed it must end.

      You know, that’s one of the things that distinguished anime, especially anime original stories. They had a definitive ending. Very rarely would the material be dragged out. I liked it, and Cowboy Bebop was one of the first to really send that home for me (my relationship with Evangelion’s tv ending at the time was, well, what it was).

  8. Xard says:

    Abbey Road Medley is the miracle of the universe

    and yeah I’m still carrying the weight years later, Spike

  9. Pontifus says:

    Your project is a triumph.

    Julia’s death was one of my favorite bits of the whole thing — and not even because I was about as tired of hearing about her as Faye was. It’s because we learn for certain, insofar as we can in a few dozen minutes, that it’s not really fair to judge her on the basis of Spike’s nostalgia. She’s a person; she’s got the blues, too. Then she dies. And it’s a remarkably plausible death. It’s quick. She’s shot, and then she stops working. Human indeed — but once she’s reduced from the status of Spike’s cross to bear, it’s easier to understand Spike’s developing feelings for her in the first place.

    • Thank you. The acknowledgment honors me.

      Don’t forget the doves, LOL. I’m impressed with how much the show was able to do with Julia in these episodes given so little time they had for her, in the series as a whole. And THEN she dies. Damn.

  10. kadian1364 says:

    Thanks for your inspired pieces on Bebop. I enjoyed every one, and I’m sure I’ll return to them more than once.

    I had seen anime before Cowboy Bebop. Ones that were full of happy adventure and exciting superpowers and seemingly unbound possibility. But Bebop was something I had never seen in a cartoon; mature, tragic, and dripping with self-assured style. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of animation, and really cinema in general.

    I harbor no illusions about the quality of cartoons I saw as a kid, and make no claim that things back then were better than they are now. But Cowboy Bebop is still as astounding to me now as it was 11 years ago, probably even more so now that I’m an adult. Having seen a lot more of this anime thing since then, and understanding better the techniques and language of cinematic storytelling, I still believe Cowboy Bebop is the finest animated television series I’ve ever seen. They just don’t make them like this, ever.

    • Thank you, this means a lot.

      It may sound silly, but if I were to list down the things in life I feel good about accomplishing, this is one of them. I have this belief that this post series is beyond myself and WRL. Perhaps it’s because that I truly believe that Cowboy Bebop is that special, that transcendental.

      As you said, nobody made anything like this, ever.

  11. alsozara says:

    Thanks for the hard work. Interesting, and hugely enjoyable to read. Very evocative of the series itself.

    I’d be interested to hear what you think the siginificane of Spike’s “Bang” at the end is. I feel like I get it, but I can’t quite put it into words.

    • Thank you so much.

      Well, for me it can be several things. One of which is how he chose to close out his relationship with the Red Dragon. Conscious of how the gang is headless and how it may be perceived that he should be the new head, he rejects it not only by dying but by symbolically telling them to go fuck themselves. One may take this as a bigger metaphor (he is facing the viewer), but it is important to note that the sign is communicated directly to the people he was facing.

      • alsozara says:

        I see. That certainly makes a lot of sense in that particular situation, but doesn’t he do something very similar at the end of sympathy for the devil? I seem to remember him throwing a harmonica up in the air then doing the bang thing to it.

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  13. I really enjoyed this post. It’s one of my favorites from you. Some of us (me) generally choose not to revisit classics and let the memories of their treasured shows develop into impossible myths and legends in their mind. I have to say, though it’s probably natural for you, it’s also pretty brave to delve into a classic and pick it apart piece by piece. This project of yours will be excellent for newbies or vets hoping to better understand the series.

    As for the episodes featured in this post, the end of Cowboy Bebop is a perfect example of why I’m so hesitant to finish a series I love. It’s like when someone is moving. They pack up some stuff, they leave some stuff behind, and some things are eventually lost or broken in the move. It’s beautiful art and a bit of a shame that Spike is the thing to be broken, and Faye and Jet are emotionally left out on the curb for someone to pick up. So what you’re left with is an empty house with a lot of memories. Good memories.

    Perhaps I went too far, never dreamed I’d compare Bebop to a house.

  14. jakflash says:

    Thanks for those articles. You enhanced what was already an amazing experience.

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