Cowboy Bebop Recap: The Tears of a Clown

Remember a few years back when everyone became terrified of clowns? I remarked then, and I’ll say it again now, that clowns aren’t genuinely frightening. What’s frightening is a man armed with weapons, grenades, and rocket boots who will stop at nothing to murder you. (Fine, it’s not ideal if he’s also wearing clown makeup.)

As you may have suspected, this is not a hypothetical discussion of clowns. Mad Pierrot, a deadly klown from space, was one of the more iconic villains in the original Cowboy Bebop anime, and he’s no less frightening in live-action.

As “Sad Clown a-Go-Go” begins, the Bebop crew goes bowling to celebrate Faye’s “birthday,” which they’ve arbitrarily chosen is that same day. But their night off is wrecked when Mad Pierrot appears out of nowhere. The cackling murderer has been exposed to so much Red-Eye that he’s both lethal and demented, and Vicious has let him go on the condition that he hunt down and kill Spike. (To be honest, I’m surprised Vicious isn’t doing his own dirty job here, but I suppose he has a lot on his plate right now.)

Even with the element of surprise provided by Mad Pierrot, Spike’s fight does not go well. Pierrot’s all-out assault includes firearms, grenades, and rocket boots, and he eventually succeeds to set Spike on fire. He only manages to flee when Ein starts barking, triggering a mental trigger that causes Mad Pierrot to freeze and gives Jet and Faye enough time to get Spike out of there.

Their backgrounds may be a little shady, but Jet and Faye are naturally perplexed that someone is trying so hard to kill them. Spike knows why, but he refuses to tell his crewmates about his background as a Syndicate assassin, putting them in the dark about the impending bloodbath.

If I have a beef with Cowboy Bebop, it’s that I still don’t believe Spike’s secret past is so heinous that telling the truth will destroy his relationship with Jet. There’s bound to be tension between an ex-cop and an ex-gangster, and it’s been indicated that Spike committed some particularly horrible crimes when working for the Syndicate. Spike and Jet first met when Spike rescued Jet’s life. They’ve now been living and working together for several years. Jet had a cordial conversation with the cop who sentenced him to prison and married his ex-wife in an earlier episode. Is he really going to dismiss Spike without even considering how he’s changed?

Spike isn’t ready to trust Jet with the truth for whatever reason. But he’s also unwilling to jeopardize Jet’s life. So, after agreeing to let his buddies assist him in killing Mad Pierrot, who has moved into an amusement park and donned a clown outfit, Spike disables the Bebop and goes off to the EarthLand amusement park, where he would most certainly die alone.

Their fight is one of the stranger, better brawls on the show so far — pro tip: any fight will be more memorable if one of the players is a clown with rocket boots — but it ends with a skillfully performed anticlimax when Spike manages to stab Mad Pierrot in the thigh. Almost immediately, the “greatest hitman in the solar system” collapses into tears and cries out for his mother. When it comes down to it, this hardened killer is just a frightened little kid trapped in the body of a mature man.

After all, Mad Pierrot and Vicious have a lot in common! Because there’s finally a lot to say about it, I’m removing the typical Syndicate subplot update from the “Stray bullets” section below. After meandering around at an exceedingly deliberate snail’s pace for the majority of the season, Vicious eventually puts his plan into action. It’s a dizzying succession of double-crosses and ruses that begins with Vicious being beheaded in front of the Elders while bound and gagged.

I’m kidding! That “Vicious” was Eunuch, dressed in a face-changer similar to the one Hakim wore in “Dog Star Swing.” The real Vicious, disguised as the Eunuch by a face-changer, seizes the opportunity to slice up the guards, Mao, the deputy Elders, and eventually Caliban, the main Elder himself, who is revealed to be Vicious’ original father. Caliban, defiant to the death, sneers that his kid will never be more than a scared little child as Vicious murders him. But, whatever his childhood scars are, it’s Mao who has the final laugh when she tells Vicious that Julia, the only person he appears to love, has also been working against him all along.

This means that, after a lengthy preamble, Cowboy Bebop is finally set to enter its climactic act. All of the cards are on the table: Julia is aware that Spike is still alive. Vicious, who appears to be the Syndicate’s new leader by default, is aware that Julia wishes he were dead and is certainly not above some brutal revenge. Spike would go to great lengths to save Julia. These three characters have been on a slow-motion collision path since Vicious discovered “Fearless” was still alive — but even a slow-motion collision course ends in a crash.

Stray Bullets

• Mad Pierrot, like his anime counterpart, is called in homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 New Wave film Pierrot le Fou, which was itself a reference to the stock character of Pierrot the sad clown.

• Mad Pierrot quotes Roy Batty’s death soliloquy from Blade Runner, but Jet also asks Spike if he served at the “shoulder of Orion” or the “Tannhäuser Gate” — two locations mentioned by Batty in the same monologue — so I guess at least some of those locations exist in the Cowboy Bebop universe as well. (Clearly, this is simply the show having fun, but hey, prove that our heroes haven’t been secretly replicants the whole time.)

• The Dirty Dozen is the “old Lee Marvin movie” that inspired Jet’s rhyming strategy.

• Monkey Punchy, Jet’s preferred rum, is most likely named after Monkey Punch, the manga artist most recognized for his work on the long-running series Lupin III.

• In another proof of the Bebop crew’s growing intimacy, Faye gives Spike her beloved loofah to chew on while Jet heals his arm. At the very least, he’s rational enough to bite down on the handle rather than the sponge.

• John Noble portrays Caliban. I can’t help but assume his casting was influenced in part by his performance as Denethor, the father of Boromir and Faramir in the Lord of the Rings films (and a very memorable bad dad).

• Also, now that we know the Elders’ leader was also Vicious’ father, shouldn’t he have been called Prospero instead of Caliban?

• The EarthLand amusement park was modified from the original series’ SpaceLand amusement park, which is a tiny but clever modification – after all, wouldn’t people who spend all of their time drifting throughout the galaxy look for escapism in an imitation of the home planet they lost?

• “I’m layered.” “Such as nachos.”