Saturday, July 16, 2011


This is, apparently, a thing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cowboy Bebop - Session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels

So, AV Club is doing Cowboy Bebop write-ups this summer, which is a project I've been tempted to try but failed to attempt on numerous occasions. They're already five episodes in at the moment (Ballad went up over there while I was still working on this one), which leaves 21 for me to take on before they get to them. Let's see how it goes...

Cowboy Bebop: Ballad of Fallen Angels

Much of the first four episodes of Cowboy Bebop have been spent establishing the series' tone, introducing new characters and -- more importantly -- getting them onto the ship. Now that most of the crew has been assembled, Ballad of Fallen Angels takes a break from adding to the roster and instead gives us a closer look Spike's past life beyond the series' opening scenes and the images from the end credits.

Of course, what that past life is, exactly, remains about as mysterious at the end of the episode as it was at the beginning. Or rather, the information we get is seemingly plentiful but most of it is never fully explained or given in proper context and so remains open to interpretation. Fitting for this episode, really, considering how the Bebop crew likewise keeps each other at arms length throughout. Characters walk away from conversations, end them in silence and generally avoid saying too much. As in the exchange between Spike and Jet regarding Spike's relationship to Mao and what happened to Jet's arm, they talk without revealing any details, even as they hint at their own histories and start prying into others'. At this point, it will be some time before we get more out of these characters than they get out of one another

With tensions and standoffish-ness at peak levels back on the ship, both Spike and Faye go after the same bounty without making any attempt to cooperate while Jet stays behind, expressly unwilling to lend a hand. This leaves Spike and Faye free to use their own solo methods to collect on the bounty, which, for Faye, means charm and her feminine wiles. I call this out specifically because of how amusingly useless her charm/wiles combination tends to be throughout much of the series. Considering her wardrobe, posturing, and endless confidence that she can use them to get whatever she wants, it would be an unfair advantage for this tactic to work as well as she seems to think it should in Ballad.

Everyone on the Bebop is skilled or gifted in some way, but their victories are rare and often Pyrrhic through some combination of bad luck, rash action, and underestimation of an opponent. Making an actual maverick out of any one of these potential maverick characters would disrupt this slightly out of tune series. So, Faye may be able to fool a regular schmo into letting her enter the opera house without a ticket but as soon as she is dealing with professionals, she is quickly identified as a bounty hunter and captured.

Understandable, given that the professionals are led by Vicious, Spike's apparent partner in the old syndicate days who is presented here as a force bearing malice, ambition, and a nice sword. He counterbalance's Spike's geniality, aloofness, and nice gun so completely that it they have no choice but to fight in as John Woo a manner as possible in an old chapel. The culmination of this fight provides the opportunity for Spike to flash back to the same images of his past that we have seen already, with some new ones added that, although appreciated, still don't do much to bring us closer to full understanding.

We do get to see the woman that Spike still thinks about and who has some connection to these momentary glimpses of his old life. The episode ends with a nice juxtaposition between her singing while Spike is recovering from considerable injury years ago and Faye doing the same while he heals from his recent encounter with Vicious. Much more will be made of past/present as the series progresses, built on a foundation of these sorts of moments where the present is a dull reflection of the past.