While I’m sure many things have been said about the content of this session, being the back story of the show’s second most memorable character, there’s something more interesting to be said in how the back story is delivered, because it is testament to the craft that went into the show, and the delightful chemistry that resulted from it.
What is Ein for? Ein was the MacGuffin way back in “Stray Dog Strut.” Since then we’ve seen him do pretty much nothing (he got to be the first victim of the alien back in “Toys in the Attic”), except perhaps present himself as a device akin to a confession booth – not just in terms of having Faye Valentine in particular tell her story like here in this session, but also expose the extent of her “sinful” character – as she did rob Ein of his dog food back in “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Ein shows us how lonely Faye is, how she needs someone to talk to, but really can’t open up to either Jet nor Spike. Faye wouldn’t talk to Ed who can talk back and do something weird in the process. Faye has grown comfortable talking (down) to Ein and in this case she felt kind of generous and opened up her past. This is all for our sakes by the way, Ein’s existence allows the story to be told almost directly to the viewer yet preserves the fourth wall.
As it turns out, Faye is “victim” of a small-time scam run by a medical clinic and a lawyer. It’s unclear to me how this clinic got hold of Faye in the first place. I imagine it as some combination of chance and collection agency business practice. A collection agency is a firm that well, collects debt that is in default or is headed there. The original owner of the debt settles for a fraction of what the debt is originally worth, and the agency takes the rest.
The agency itself usually has a lawyer who is mentioned in the written collection notices that forms the backbone of the harassment these firms usually do to bully and scare debtors into paying. Having married an attorney, I am informed that the lawyers who take up this “practice” are the dregs of the legal profession. Having experienced their ‘work’ a few times in my life, they tend to not sign the notices of collection, they don’t post an address of official business on the notice and instead put a P.O. Box. Why? It’s because they knowingly commit acts of harassment. They call your mother and scare her that she’ll be subpoenad if she doesn’t pay for her son’s debt.
They are the lowest of the low. Whitney Hagas Matsumoto, is such a con artist, who poses as some kind of insurance representative who will help her out, taking nearly full advantage of her amnesia and vulnerability. At 20 years old, Faye isn’t exactly some bright college graduate, she’s just this kid who doesn’t know who she is. She woke up from 54 years of sleep after suffering injuries from a big accident.
People are more aware of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle story, but this is predated by at least a thousand years by the Chinese legend of Ranka1. Wikipedia, provides the summary:
Wang Chih was a hardy young fellow who used to venture deep into the mountains to find suitable wood for his axe. One day he went farther than usual and became lost. He wandered about for a while and eventually came upon two strange old men who were playing Go, their board resting on a rock between them. Wang Chih was fascinated. He put down his axe and began to watch. One of the players gave him something like a date to chew on, so that he felt neither hunger nor thirst. As he continued to watch he fell into a trance for what seemed like an hour or two. When he awoke, however, the two old men were no longer there. He found that his axe handle had rotted to dust and he had grown a long beard. When he returned to his native village he discovered that his family had disappeared and that no one even remembered his name.
Unlike Wang Chih, Faye Valentine did not age. She woke up in a world where the technology has outpaced what she knew, but it’s not that different. It’s actually a dark, scummy, degenerating world much like how the ‘90s were: The post-bubble Japan, the Asian economic crisis, and major cities like New York were hotspots of crime elevated to mythological levels. Like much science fiction, Cowboy Bebop writes about its present, characterized in some distant or not-so-distant future. Such were the ‘90s, I remember it too.
We can tell Whitney is a fishy because he doesn’t reference either Rip or Ranka and instead goes straight to Sleeping Beauty. He says he’ll help her with the debt, that if she keeps on living, perhaps she’ll meet someone wonderful. In that moment when Faye seems to buy into the story, the session plays one of my favorite songs from the OST, Flying Teapot.
It’s one of the first songs I took pains to learn to sing. In those lonelier days of 2003-2004 I listened to the OST every day, and sang to myself while walking to and from many pointless destinations. Cowboy Bebop was the soundtrack to my “quarter-life crisis,” and having overcome that I only have love for the songs that kept me company back then.
This song scored the whole sequence wherein Whitney chased after an escaping Faye, took her out on a date, told her how the prince must protect his Sleeping Beauty when the insurance company started going after her, and supposedly died for her sake. Somehow he found the time to will her all his assets, but all of that amounted to just further debt.
Sure, Ed preserved the fourth wall, but it would be a complete waste if all this information didn’t mix up the chemical elements of the cast. Deliciously enough, Spike overheard everything and admitted as much just after we hear him flush the toilet. It’s that apparent contempt this show has for its characters, the indignity they’re constantly subjected to, that make us love them more.
The closure and resolution is typical. Even when Jet is forced to hunt the smallest of the small fry just to get food on the table, the smallest of the small fry turns out to be Whitney, and as pathetic he’s become (and it is quite pathetic), Faye still shows feelings and gratitude for him, until his con is fully exposed, and then she puts him behind bars herself.
Side note: Chauvinism
Jet: Women as insistent as her tend to be the ones that get emotionally swayed by their exes. Women don’t work on reason.
She took the guy and not the money.
Spike: Jet captured him!
Faye: I have to repay my debt to him. So I have the right to do what I want with him, and the bounty on him! (at gunpoint)
Spike: Amazing. She clearly states a pointless argument.
Jet: That’s what I told you. Women don’t work on reason.
You know what, I’m not even going to defend this. The dogfight action we get in this session is Spike vs. Faye, Swordfish II vs. Redtail. We know Faye can’t win that one. But she finds out the extent of the con and puts Whitney away herself, so I guess she’s not too thoroughly trodden upon by the male chauvinist writing. Maybe.
What I do know is this is all pointless, as Cowboy Bebop is madly in love with pointless things. It makes them beautiful, funny, musical. The flirtation between Faye and Spike at the end is such a thing, such a beautiful, funny, musically pointless thing.
1Yes, Macross Frontier does reference this in Ranka Lee’s dissociative amnesia.