Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cowboy Bebop - Session 10: Ganymede Elegy

As anyone reading the past few episode reviews may have noticed, I support the theory that most episodes of Cowboy Bebop are about Spike, even the ones that seem like they aren’t. The exceptions to this rule are the stories that revolve around Jet or Faye (and to a lesser extent, Ed), which may involve Spike or support his story, but otherwise they belong to those characters only.

“Ganymede Elegy” serves as the first good example of such an exception by focusing almost exclusively on Jet and his past love, Alisa. Although certain details of this failed relationship closely resemble Spike’s own, the episode is largely about adults letting go of the past and moving on with their lives – a lesson that might end the show early if Spike were to learn it. It is also concerned with a symbolic stopping of time and its impact on ones ability to grow and mature, not unlike what we saw in "Sympathy for the Devil".

There are certainly similarities between Jet’s past and Spike’s, first introduced during the flashback early in the episode. It has all the rain, desaturated color, and implied heartbreak of the images Spike sees regularly, but without any of the violence, and with the addition of an odd pocket watch. Jet still carries the watch and, presumably, feelings for Alisa, judging by the way he rushes off to meet her when he finds out she runs a little bar called La Fin nearby on Ganymede.

Spike and Faye subsequently drop off their latest bounty without him, which prompts Faye to make a sarcastic comment about justice and duty, the sorts of virtues Jet chided her with as being definitively masculine in “Sympathy”. After Spike makes some remark in Jet’s defense, Faye adds something to the effect that it’s a mistake to believe that a woman from his past is still thinking about him. The official dub and sub disagree on who she means by "him", one saying Jet and the other Spike. Frankly, I think it is a mistake to choose at all. In the Japanese dialogue, she doesn't explicitly refer to either, a seemingly intentional decision because of how it works equally well for both of them. Regardless, not every woman thinks like Faye, as Spike immediately points out and Alisa soon demonstrates.

At the very least, Alisa still remembers Jet and their time together and seems pleased to discuss it at some length. As they talk about the recession and Alisa's boyfriend, Rhint, Jet puts the watch on the bar and tells her the story of how, after she left, he decided to leave Ganymede when the watched stopped running.

In doing so he introduces the stopped time motif, emblematic of the fact that Jet seems to think Alisa hasn't changed since he knew her eight years ago. He still worries about things like her financial situation and is shocked when she jokes with him about being married to Rhint and having three of his children. Ultimately, she avoids answering Jet's question as to why she left that day and ends the conversation by saying that she doesn't need time that has stopped.

Back on the Bebop, Faye is working on her tan after a nice throwaway line to Ed about how a woman's skin care is ultimately futile. Spike, meanwhile, is working on his ship, a job best left to Jet judging from the cartoonishly hard time he's having of it. As he's struggling, he gets a call from Jet's old cop buddy who lets him know that Rhint has a fresh bounty on his head for killing a loan shark.

While Jet is leaving La Fin, he sees Rhint sitting nearby, trying to light a cigarette with an uncooperative lighter held in shaky hands as he flashes back to the murder he committed. Rhint's nervous action and the jerky motion of the camera in his memory underline the difference between himself and Jet, who moves deliberately and calmly, even under stress. It is even reminiscent of the Bloody Eye trip Asimov had in the very first episode, with the slow yet jittery motion and eerie sound.

It also stands out from the long scenes in the bar between Alisa and Jet, in which the majority of the motion comes from the occasional shots of a drinking bird toy dipping into a glass of water or ice settling in a glass. It makes sense to have a bird like that in a bar, since it is constantly drinking, but it also exemplifies the regular, almost rhythmic motion that is characteristic of the mature characters in this episode.

This is at its most obvious in the remainder of the episode, beginning with the way Rhint sits on the floor of the bar in a mild panic after finding out he's wanted. Alisa decides that they should flee and they are soon pursued, first by Spike and later by Jet. Rhint fires wildly at Jet's ship from a fanboat that skitters over the waves as Alisa steers and Jet smoothly cruises over the water. Just before the boat is halted by the Jet's grappling hook, Alisa begins to stand in an arrestingly smooth motion that is soon replaced by the same panicky motion and wild shooting as Rhint in response to Jet slowly walking towards them back on land.

As he approaches, step by deliberate step, she finally explains why she left him. She felt like a child when they were together, since Jet made all the decisions and all she had to do was whatever he said. Alisa wanted to live her own life, even if she made mistakes, so she left. Now she runs a little bar on borrowed money in a bad economy, Rhint is likely going to jail because he killed her loan shark, and her solution to both of those problems is still the same as it was back then: run away.

In that way, Jet wasn't wrong when he assumed that time had stopped back on Ganymede. Alisa had become more self-assured, but basically she was just as prone to flight as she was back then. For her to grow up, she has to learn to stay, which is exactly what she does at the end of "Elegy". She is going to stick with the bar and wait for Rhint to be released, which shouldn't take long since the shooting is being considered as self defense.

In a similar vein, Jet can stop worring about Alisa and trying to protect her. She's grown up and with someone else and all he can do is let them make their own decisions. As he walks away from Alisa at the end, he looks at the watch, smiles, and throws it into the river, returning time to its normal flow.

11 comments:

MA17 said...

I've read what Simon wrote on the AV Club and been thinking about what I wrote here. He's confused on a point I didn't even consider problematic (Jet's motives for going black dog on Alisa and Rhint). I think I'll edit my post to address that and maybe thin out the shaky/smooth motion business.

_J_ said...

I thought this was a good review. I just didn't know why you compared the the Rhint scene with the Bloody Eye scene.

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