Cowboy Bebop ep 06 “Sympathy for The Devil” and The Episode as a Jam Session

cowboy_bebop_remastered_06[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_22.28_[2011.06.25_20.56.30]

[Episode 05]

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.

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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:’

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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.

cowboy_bebop_remastered_06[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_12.37_[2011.06.25_20.55.01]

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.

cowboy_bebop_remastered_06[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_15.43_[2011.06.25_20.11.51]

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.

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BANG.

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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15 Responses to Cowboy Bebop ep 06 “Sympathy for The Devil” and The Episode as a Jam Session

  1. megaroad1 says:

    Stay classy Faye.

    I think this episode actually shows us the crew of the Bebop coming together a bit more. From Jet and Spike’s interaction while the first is bandaging Spike’s wounds to Faye saying goodbye to Spike before he leaves for his duel with Wen. I wouldn’t go so far as to actually call it character development, but one does get the impression that they are not all as big a bunch of a**holes as previously thought.

    Having said that, no matter how many times I watch this series, I never quite can put my finger to the relationship between Spike/Jet and Faye. So little is actually said and so much is interpreting their actions. Makes me kinda wonder if the creators ever spelled it out explicitly.

    I like the jam analogy and it makes sense in the context of this most musical of series. I’m curious though as to what kind of music you and your buddies played back in the day?

    • It’s not so much development so as to portray the dynamics more.

      What this is, is an exercise of chemistry. And the Cowboy Bebop cast is one of the best chemical experiments I’ve ever seen. Tolerance, dependency, no real affinity, bare acknowledgment, hostility, trolling, attraction… they’re all there.

      Me and my buddies played metal at first, then the music of our times: “grunge” (I was in high school in the early 90s), then metal again LOL.

      • Reid says:

        You made the right choice by returning to metal. Pray tell, who’s your favorite group/artist?

        This is one of the episodes of Cowboy Bebop that I have actually seen and it was always really startling to me how closely the theme of the episode went along with the song lyrics. For those in the know this was a special treat. You’re quite right, Spike doesn’t seem to have agonized over having to kill Wen. It was pretty serious stuff.

        Also, gotta love dat Swordfish!

        • Metallica — “…And Justice For All”

          Haters can die.

          You gotta get to watch all of this show. Spike was cold, but the show didn’t underscore how cold he was in that moment. I like this a lot because the show didn’t need to harp on how extreme Spike is. The starkness of the moment is better appreciated with the totality of his narrative.

          • Reid says:

            Hey, you’ll hear no hating from me about Metallica. I love ’em to death. Matter of fact, just yesterday I rocked out to “Kill ‘Em All” by SMASHING A TRACTOR TIRE WITH A (GOLDION) SLEDGEHAMMER AND THEN FLIPPING THAT PUNK TIRE A LOT. Metal is my motivator when it comes to workouts and Metallica is a staple, no doubt. Check out the band “Running Wild” some time if you feel like it. They’re a freakin’ awesome German power/classic metal band whose main theme is pirate stuff. Pretty wicked.

            I know I know I know I need to watch Bebop. I’m going to. Promise. Just let me get through Sacred SeveN and then I will. Only two episodes left after this week’s.

          • I don’t listen to metal a lot these days, and I’m loathe to go out of my way to find new stuff. I mostly listen to old Slayer albums LOL.

  2. kadian1364 says:

    I believe a strict definition of “filler” should describe an episode that doesn’t make any significant development in character, plot, setting, or theme. However, common fandom parlance throws around the label for episodes that are unrelated to the main plot and are of perceived lesser quality. But in either definition, “Sympathy for the Devil” doesn’t qualify because of its strong emphasis on character, setting, and theme, and the masterful workmanship of Bebop that’s evident in all of its episodes. There is no valid justification of calling Bebop filler; it’s either a thoughtless attempt to detract the work as a whole, or someone genuinely believes Bebop would be better off as a six episode, plot-centric series. Those people can have that show if they want it, but I’ll take my sweeeet harmonica riff and enjoy my show.

    • You said it best. You should write for a blog or something. Oh wait.

      Back to Cowboy Bebop, I often imagine it as a string of episodic vignettes — the “main storyline” just being a set of bookends or something like it. It’s not to diminish the power and value of such well-executed episodes such as The Ballad of Fallen Angels, not at all. Rather, I intend to underscore the value of these oft-dismissed episodes that are easier to forget.

      That said, for a more linear series it’s not entirely easy either to remember what Van said to Hitomi or Merle in episode 18 of Vision of Escaflowne, a show of comparable length and from the same time; or what Misato said to Ritsuko about Kaji in episode I don’t remember when in Evangelion, or what Yuki and Kouji fought about in episode 11 of Infinite Ryvius (Idk man, those assholes fought a LOT and often).

      Thus, what these episodic style shows actually end up providing a lot more content. There’s a lot more world to explore and there’s a lot more playing off with different and non-recurring characters. You’ll get recurring characters in Bebop anyway, from the Big Shot hosts to the informants, to the shaman, etc.

      Now I’m not saying this can’t be done with a strictly linear format, but episodic style storytelling does have tremendous merits and long, linear shows use it often as well (see Turn A Gundam, another acclaimed late 90s show).

  3. Pingback: kadian1364 on Filler in Anime (and Cowboy Bebop) | The Ghosts of Discussions

  4. JoeQ says:

    I can’t believe this is the first time I realised that Faye is actually eating dog food in that scene! Never took much notice of it before, but now that scene has become 10 x more hilarious/awesome. Need to rewatch, pronto!

  5. Pingback: Raising the Brow: B-Movie Goodness in Cowboy Bebop 07 “Heavy Metal Queen” | We Remember Love

  6. Pingback: Cowboy Bebop 15 “My Funny Valentine”– Faye as Ranka, & the Pointlessness of Love & Bounties | We Remember Love

  7. anon says:

    Do you think the little boy is a reference to Akira? That was the first thing that occured to me when watching the episode. Aged, shriveled but ageless children, victim to government experimentation, rescued from the government facilities by activists or vigilantes or whatever- but again, Cowboy Bebop has reversed the morality of the characters they quote- instead of being on the good side, Wen is the main evil.

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