Friday, November 5, 2010

Real Folk Friday Blues

I got bored one night and pointed myself towards episodes of Cowboy Bebop on youtube. I just started at the end and found again, what was a huge influence on me as a kid and something else that, a couple years later, I still have trouble acclimating to. It's an old nugget from a previous viewing that's stuck with me. So, I'm rewriting it now, with all the extra tools that I've put in the toolbox since.

Huge spoilers abound, so just go to the italics if you plan on ever seeing Bebop.

Background: Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter who used to be a mobster until he left. Vicious is his former partner and maybe the guy he betrays. Julia is the girl they both fell in love. Spike tells Julia after this last job, we can leave the Syndicate. Plans are hatched. Vicious finds her shortly afterwards and tells her he knows what's going on and tells Julia that he's going to kill her unless she kills Spike. So, Julia doesn't meet up with Spike so she can avoid killing him.

She disappears. Spike finds Jet. They hunt bounties! Adventure! They pick up other crew members. And then word of Julia drifts back, weakly, like the smell of soup from three houses down.

Spike finds his star-crossed lover, who has been on the run from everyone, including her (and his) former associates. Vicious, now a jaded lieutenant in the hierarchy of the mob (Red Dragon Syndicate) staged a failed coup and the heads of the Syndicate are looking to clean house, and the way they do that is by killing everybody the people who staged the coup were ever associated with.

Vicious had been content to let Spike and Julia disappear, but the Syndicate bosses were paranoid and taking no chances and after the return of an intermediary, the two are reunited. Cut back to Vicious. Turns out Vicious had a back up plan, and it works out. After another gun battle, the second coup attempt is successful. They are tailed, quickly, of course, by Syndicate thugs. There is a gun battle. Julia dies in it. Spike doesn't.

Spike returns to Jet to tell him goodbye, basically and the intermediary (Faye Valentine) stops him and asks him what the fuck he thinks he's doing. Spike tells her this is what he wants to do and that he can't let go of the past. He leaves, having readied his arsenal. He goes on a bloody sweep through the Red Dragon HQ, getting another one of his friends in the Syndicate killed in the process. Spike makes it to Vicious. They fight and kill each other, Vicious dying first, Spike surviving another couple minutes, to collapse in a gutted, bloody heap on the front stairs of the Red Dragon HQ.

It's a tragic ending. It's a painful ending. It's a good ending in a aesthetic sense, that it elicits a strong emotion from the viewer. The problem, of course, is that I'm not that much of a romantic. It sounds sweet to die for your now dead lover, but it doesn't do that now dead lover any good. Their life cannot be improved by the martyrdom. They're dead. Whatever they were is all they'll ever be now.

Spike is at most 32. His bounty hunting partner, Jet, is a decade or so older than Spike, at least by nature of his beard. Spike's a part of an actual crew now, a dog called Ein, a person trying to work off millions of dollars of debts and an androgynous young girl named Ed. In other words, he's a part of a community.

I view that choice of the suicidal killing spree over the community as an insult, that the past that had, left Spike alone, was worth more than the people around him now, that chose him as a consequence of trying to escape the past.

And going on a suicidal killing spree isn't romantic, or if it is, it's short-sighted in equal measure. The first point is blindingly obvious: Killing all those mobsters doesn't bring Julia back. Killing Vicious doesn't settle anything. Vicious was pretty clear in his intentions when he had Lin shoot Spike and Jet with knockout rounds when it could have just as easily been live ammunition. Given distance Vicious didn't go after Spike, Spike didn't go after Vicious while Julia disappeared herself, so I'm not sure what her death changes between them.

It's a selfish, impulsive move by Spike. Impulsive is an important word. (It's unclear how much time has passed, but the impression is at most a couple days.) Spike didn't even give himself a week to recuperate. He said goodbye to his friends, who risked their lives for him, and indulged himself. He jumped in and precluded himself from the idea of life without the possibility of Julia in it.

(All this said, Spike can and should make the decision for himself. I'm just judging him for it.)

Before I go, let me say this: Cowboy Bebop was a series that was fundamentally romantic, and its aesthetic (space cowboy) reinforced that. Is part of being romantic, making excuses for unacceptable behavior?

I'm probably thinking too much, but it's service of something: The process of returning to what you liked when you were young and casting a critical eye on it. It's a process, I think. I hope I'm in the right process now, but, if I'm going to be true to the spirit of this update, that's not for me to judge.

Crystal Castles with Robert Smith. Or in other words, one of the better indie electronic music acts out there with the guy from the Cure singing about girls. In slightly more helpful terms, this was a Crystal Castles song that they had Robert Smith record vocals over. It's now a single. I think you'll like it.

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