Jet is a loser. How do we know this. We see him show character, backbone, and an interesting history back in “Ganymede Elegy,” then we see the Jet of the every day; the slices of his life reveal a mark that gets played like a drum by the likes of Faye. Strip dice? Jet loses his underpants and walks into the “attic” of the Bebop where he gets bitten by some mutated space lobster that Spike put in a fridge for a year and forgot all about.
If this was the only thing we take away from this session, we have quite a bounty. It underscores the point that whatever pasts they all have, this empty barren present is all they have left. It is entertaining to witness the way Ed entertains herself being around these losers. There is no future in hunting bounties, just tracks of emptiness until the next job. Freelancers have it tough, the price of freedom is a different kind of indignity.
Cowboy Bebop portrays this emptiness by showing a session where nothing of consequence happens. Sure, the adults and the dog get bitten and are given their token death scares, but the show knows that we know that nobody’s going to die here. It’s played for laughs, “look, there’s nothing here” – and that’s the human condition! How apt, how perfectly apt. And since this is Cowboy Bebop, the episode is crafted like the people who made it gave a lot of fucks, and it showed.
“Toys in the Attic” is really a mashup of three homages to space travel and exploration. It is from this three bases, as if a tripod, that the show portrays the slice of space life from those who hunt bounties. We learn more about the resources available to their ship, including a Wikipedia-grade (or better) database. It is unknown how this is updated and if it exists in a kind of internet cloud, or is completely an onboard program. My bet is that it’s a kind of internet thing. We know the kind of weapons they have in the armory (including a pretty awesome net gun), along with tracking devices. It is a stark contrast with their food situation.
The three references are:
Star Trek – primarily via the voice log that the characters use to keep a journal of their travels. The irony of emptiness and nothing happening is underscored by this very referential device (though the reference itself is less instrumental to creating the irony). This, as a literary device is also quite convenient in creating both characterization and delivering exposition – we otherwise never hear the characters’ thoughts. This is a way that forces them to think aloud.
Alien – This is the primary reference, as the toy in the attic is pretty much the eponymous Alien of the Ridley Scott film, that stalks and massacres an entire space ship crew. The visual techniques including the POV style crawls through the air ducts and piping is straight out of Scott’s film, as well as the very goop found in the refrigerator is almost a complete copy of the Alien habitation (albeit more examples in the James Cameron sequel). The film was a suspense thriller, and the episode is a humorous sendup of it. Even the penultimate scene of Spike kicking the refrigerator outside the airlock is a classic scene from both Alien and Aliens (the the sequel had more of a battle).
2001 A Space Odyssey – The final scene features a montage of the crew mostly unconscious, drifting in zero or near-zero gravity, and the disposed-of refrigerator pirouetting in space, to waltz music. This is a direct reference to the classic Stanley Kubrick film. It is of supreme interest for me because of the dissonance created here. The accomplishments of humanity include space travel and space colonization, but the human condition also includes a destroyed Earth, and the general emptiness of life in the solar system (thus far we have not scene any real joy or prosperity), and the specific absurdity of the lives of the cast (drifting unconsciously, perhaps diseased/poisoned except for the least expected survivor – Ed). The scene in 2001 Space Odyssey also with its waltz and a graceful docking between a spacecraft and a rotary space station provides further contrast.
It is clean, technologically perfect, and graceful, to Cowboy Bebop’s decaying, clumsy, barely escaping from death slice of existence. Here is a video juxtaposing the relevant scenes:
What you’re looking for: the rotary movement of the refrigerator corresponds to the spinning space station; then you have the unconscious bounty hunters amidst various objects floating in zero-g corresponds with the passenger in the space craft and his floating pen; then of course, the waltz music (Johann Strauss – The Beautiful Blue Danube).
I’m very fond of “Toys in the Attic” because of my own shifted attitude towards it. It used to be my least favorite session in the show, and my younger, less-experienced self (as a viewer) dismissed it as “filler.” I now think that it’s one of the most expressive movements in the long musical piece that is Cowboy Bebop.