Reading various opinions on the Cowboy Bebop, I often find complaints and other statements of dissatisfaction regarding the episodes of the show that don’t directly relate to the overarching narrative of the characters (and Spike’s in particular). The word ‘filler’ is often mentioned, though the accusation that these episodes are indeed filler happens more uncommonly than I expected. No matter, they evoke the feeling of filler.
However, here’s the thing about Cowboy Bebop, the episodic structure is analogous to a musical (jam) session:
Another big influence of bebop on the show is the art of quoting. When improving, jazz musicians will often “quote” a famous theme. Either a famous song, or a “lick” made famous by another jazz musician. Sometimes these quotes will be the kind that only another musician or a jazz aficionado would recognize, sometimes they are more obvious.
Fata Morgana (Jazz Messenger)
Jam sessions are best enjoyed by participating musicians. Back in the day I’d jam with other dudes in various garages in the different Metro Manila suburbs. It’s not going to be particularly memorable for the completeness of the music created, but it gives a powerful feeling of freedom within the parameters of the music quoted to start with. It’s like making the music one’s own. The completeness and/or perfection of an episode of Cowboy Bebop may vary. But like any jam session, there would be moments, passages – particularly when the musicians improvise, that are as awesome as they are as difficult to describe.
I start this post with this preamble, because I find Sympathy for The Devil to be an incredible example of the jam this show can make. The very session springs from a passage and idea within the song.
Before the core theme of the session, here are some slick passages: First when Spike and Jet close in on Giraffe, we get to see another Cowboy for the first time, and in an actual competitive situation. Jet calls out at Fatty River who, for just one short moment before he acknowledges Jet – shows this face of dismay, knowing that the window to catch his bounty is closing right before him.
Good stuff. It’s a small detail, but it’s these little passages in a jam session that makes the thing awesome. Also, Fatty River is an awesome name for a space cowboy. Here’s another little lick away from the main ‘quote:’
Let me tell you that this scene is a queen among scenes. The fail and pathos you see here is of a rare and superlative kind. Faye has been mooching from Jet and the Bebop. Now she’s reached new depths: not only she is eating dog food from the can, she’s talking big to the dog while she does this. Ein may be a McGuffin in the grand scheme of things, but he plays the role of the mute fool such that the cast show the innards of their characters in all their despicable, pathetic goodness.
This scene, a whole slice of Faye’s life in the ship, would perhaps be the most ‘filler’ part of the whole episode. But those who’d dismiss this scene don’t know a good thing when it rubs its tits in their faces.
But now, to the main quote:
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
The song Sympathy for The Devil is a song wherein the persona is the devil himself. He’s assumed the visage of a presentable, ageless gentleman. He is evil, of course… but the thing is that you don’t see him coming.
Worse, you get sold on the idea that evil is ours, and he isn’t responsible – as if this wasn’t something planned.
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
Who killed the kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
The devil obfuscates his being a mastermind of the evil in the world. That’s his biggest lie, that the evil we do has nothing to do with him, as far as the story in the song is concerned. In Cowboy Bebop, obviously the devil is Wen.
Can Spike shoot a little kid? What kind of evil person does he have to be in order to do this? We know the answer. Cowboy Bebop has the balls to show a little boy get shot between the eyes twice. Not only that, this show makes the lead character shoot a little boy between the eyes twice. Spike is cold, but not in a dark, broody, boring kind of cold. It’s just something he did. It’s not like he didn’t feel anything, but it’s not like he spent a lot of time feeling angst about it.
As for Wen, he is a child in body, but a devil in mind. He’s been alive since before Gate incident that turned the Earth into an uninhabitable planet. I’m not sure if this is the justification for his villainy, but it’s certainly an attempt to make him sympathetic. He spent a lifetime not being able to do adult things. Even if he wanted to mature, his body wouldn’t let him. His infantile need to possess and destroy never went away.
When Spike finally kills him, it’s actually an act of mercy. Cowboy Bebop turns this image of unspeakable violence: a child shot in the head – and make it necessary and important. It is merciful and just. Spike sets him free, at the same time ridding the world of a monster, a devil. Shooting the devil in the head was the most sympathetic thing in the episode.