First let us pay attention to the assassination scene. This scene needed to several things well:
- Depict Jet and Spike tracking down a bounty competently, if not impressively.
- Depict the bounty as an unsavory character, establishing therefore that Jet and Spike play for the side of the angels.
- Introduce the ‘real’ bounty of the episode, and depict them as more unsavory than the original bounty.
It accomplished all three very well, while interlacing with Faye Valentine’s adventures in failure in space. Humor is very much an element of this scene: it’s used as a tool of misdirection, making the remorseless violence that followed more shocking in effect. We know the violence is remorseless, because the ringleader of the assassination was dancing in the midst of the gunfire, reveling in it as if moved by the music.
All the diners save for Jet and Spike were mowed down by gunfire. Then something really interesting happens:
The “good guys” take a hostage. They seize the mother from her children (Twinkle Maria Murdock). This is a case of lowlifes turning on each other and it’s delicious. The Universal Environmental Protection Society is a family of terrorists who killed a guy, and everyone around him on a matter of principle. Spike and Jet took Maria as compensation for the guy she had killed. As it turns out, she’s the bigger bounty anyway.
Spike and Jet are not ‘morally outraged’ at the massacre they witnessed. They were too busy trying to make money. Lupin III is pretty much a lowlife, and characters from Nagai Go works are monsters, but it’s worth remarking on the utter callousness towards human life we are presented with. The sympathetic Spike Spiegel in the first episode is almost radically different from the person here. It’s like we now see the ruthless Spike who took on Asimov in “Asteroid Blues” along with the carefree, careless Spike who wasted his time chasing Hakim in “Stray Dog Strut.”
Is this inconsistency? Is it complexity? In any case, the Spike Spiegel who deals with these terrorists acts with haughtiness, with arrogance. But it’s not the kind that is founded on some kind of morals (perhaps), but rather it’s as if he’s invoking a fuzzy concept of class among criminals. He acts as if these terrorists were utterly beneath him. I think it’s cool stuff, also because this family of terrorist is mostly a bunch of retards.
But they’ve been an efficiently deadly bunch of retards. This brings me to how it contrasts with that which it remembers love for: The Army of the 12 Monkeys.
I truly adore this film. I must’ve seen it like 8 or more times, at least thrice in the theaters when it came out. This synopsis of the film compels me to link it with Cowboy Bebop:
An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict (James Cole) reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic (who he’s told was spread by a mysterious “Army of the Twelve Monkeys”) and locate the virus before it mutates so that scientists can study it. Unfortunately Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert.
In “Gateway Shuffle,” there is this virus called Monkey Business that, well, turns people into monkeys. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but there is something inherently humorous with the very idea of it. The reversal in Cowboy Bebop of the 12 Monkeys film is how ruthless the UEPS are. These characters are actual terrorists who kill people and want to turn them into monkeys. The Army of the 12 Monkeys was pretty much an organization reputed to have caused the end of the world as it was known, but in actuality their biggest act was to set zoo animals free in the middle of Baltimore (or was it Philadelphia?).
It is consistent, I think with how Cowboy Bebop did Desperado, wherein Asimov was an authentic criminal as opposed to a romanticized revenge-seeking hero in the form of El Mariachi. The UEPS are a far less complicated and nuanced set of ‘characters’ than the ‘Army’ but they are in turn more comically evil. Again I must say that it is never my intention to suggest that one version is better than another (personally I prefer the cruel irony in the film the same way I am nuts over Brad Pitt’s performance as the leader of the Army). The straightforward evil represented by Maria makes her ideal to be rendered as a comical villain as victim, as if within the tradition of Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, to Spike Spiegel’s Road Runner.
But I’m letting myself get carried away. Both stories feature a threatening organization of malcontents humorously: one execution with black irony, the other with something akin to cruel slapstick. What this session really wanted to show is a battle in a hyperspace gate, to get the Foxtail and Swordfish into action, against one of the great Itano Circuses nearing the end of the millennium.
…which brilliantly serves as an expository piece of world building. The ‘ghosts’ of the missiles escape the hyperspace gate, scaring the piss out of Faye. Jet disses her for not remembering anything from high school science: Matter trapped in hyperspace may at times be visible in real space, but can never interact with matter in it.
Maria and the rest of the UEPS are stuck in hyperspace, the vial of the Monkey Business virus cleverly reverse-pickpocketed by Spike to Maria now surely to turn all of them into monkeys. The bad guys get what’s coming to them and yet the Bebop Cowboys end the session without their bounty.
“All that work for nothing… Oh, don’t look so down. We’ll make money next time.” Faye says this, and marks her informal inclusion in the group. She also said she was headed to the shower, which was totally a sexual flag of some kind. We are sure of this because Spike just had to call her on showering on their ship without their permission, then Cowboy Bebop slapped him with its cock-blocking chastisement. This show cracks me up.