Two episodes in, it’s evident that Cowboy Bebop has already found one of its key strengths: Spike Spiegel and Jet Black’s half-exasperated, half-affectionate friendship. Cowboy Bebop always finds a way to highlight the prickly chemistry between the Bebop’s two-person crew, no matter how chaotic the action becomes. Spike and Jet come off less as “good cop” and “bad policeman” than “dick cop” and “asshole cop,” as someone points out late in the show — though since they’re not policemen, that presumably simply makes them dick and asshole. (It’s up to you to decide which is which.)
It’s always entertaining to watch John Cho and Mustafa Shakir bounce ideas off each other, but it helps when their bounty of the week is also intriguing. This time, Spike and Jet spend the majority of the episode on Venus searching down a bomber who conceals his explosives in teddy bears and eventually appears in the flesh with a teddy bear head and a pair of tighty-whities.
It’s a strange, entertaining caper story that deftly brings the latent tension in Spike and Jet’s relationship to the fore. Spike won’t tell Jet about his criminal background because he believes the ex-cop will lose trust in him, and Jet doesn’t trust Spike because he senses his partner is hiding something. (And, to be honest, Jet can’t have been much of a cop if he doesn’t assume Spike has a criminal past.) How did Spike get so proficient at striking and shooting people, he wonders?)
They eventually trace the crazed bomber down to his spaceship, and the tension between the Spike and Jet is relieved when Jet activates a pressure-activated switch attached to an explosive, figuratively and physically. When Spike pushes Jet off the switch and takes the danger himself, it’s evident that, flaws and all, he’ll put his own life on the line to protect his teammate. And when Jet tells Spike he’ll return back to help him, it’s evident that any reservations Jet may have have been put to rest – at least for the time being.
However, as entertaining as the main plot is, it is Spike’s extended, personal detour in the middle of the mission that serves as the season’s true starting point. Spike goes to a cabaret run by an old ally named Ana, pretending to be on his way to the noodle run.
Ana asks Spike why he’s chosen this moment to come up at her home again after (understandably!) berating him for letting her assume he’s been dead for three years. Of course, the answer is knowledge. Ana, on the other hand, has only terrible news for Spike. Julia, the blonde woman we’ve been seeing in all those rose-filled flashbacks, is now married to Vicious, a creep. Spike used to go by the incredibly similar nickname “Fearless,” so there’s a good chance they have more in common than Julia.
Vicious, a maniac with a penchant for long katanas, too much booze, and being abusive, is still employed by the Syndicate. In any case, how nasty are these bad guys? The Syndicate’s three commanders, dressed in strange Eyes Wide Shut-style masks and speaking in booming tones, call on Vicious and Julia via hologram, giving us a sample. Vicious is selling Red Eye on the side, they’ve discovered. They believe his punishment will be to shoot Julia in the head.
Yes, he does. And, in a predictable turn of events, the pistol turns out to be empty. He passed the actual exam, which required him to demonstrate that he is willing to do everything the Syndicate commands. While Vicious maintains he was aware the gun wasn’t loaded the entire time, Julia — who Ana just told Spike is blissfully married to this person — obviously sees the physical and psychological torture as a major red flag. The real question is whether or not she will be able to flee Vicious. The Syndicate isn’t kind to runaways, as Spike could tell her.
• There’s no Faye in this one, but I have a feeling she’ll run into the Bebop again soon.
• I was surprised and happy to see that Big Shot for the Bounty Hunters — a weird show-within-a-show in which two hosts named Punch and Judy talk about prospective targets for cowboys to track down — made the transition from cartoon to live-action.
• Let’s resolve Spike and Jet’s argument: Is the ceremony or the reception the most significant portion of the wedding, assuming you’re just an ordinary guest?
• Spike plainly does not want to touch his earpiece while standing at the urinal, which is a lovely, subtle touch by John Cho.
• If you want to make a playlist, “Rush” is the song played during the wedding brawl, and “Spokey Dokey” is the tune played as Spike leaves for Ana’s bar.
• The Teddy Bear Bomber is probably certainly modeled after Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, who left a manifesto with a similar message. (Not to mention the name.)
• Ana’s bar is a location where both cops and criminals are expected to leave their hostilities at the door, in a very John Wick flourish. The Markmans had been fighting for a nice table at Ana’s bar, according to Cabaret host Gren, likely referring to Naomi Markman, the show’s script coordinator.
• Kudo, Spike’s preferred alcoholic beverage, is most likely a homage to actor Ysaku Matsuda, who portrayed Shunsaku Kud on the TV show Detective Story, which has been credited as the primary inspiration on Spike’s character design.
• The elders who face Vicious are Caliban, Miranda, and Prospero, characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
• And the Bebop’s computer is named Marvin, which is… a nod to Marvin the Martian? I’ll take your estimate as good as mine.
• “When you cook an egg, do you need to give credit to the frying pan?”