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Cowboy Bebop Newbie Recap: “Brain Scratch”

"God didn't create humans ... No! It's humans who created god."

Screenshot 2015-12-29 18.02.30(2)

“It was all a kid’s dream.”

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Unlike the lesser episodes of Cowboy Bebop that tend to err on the tedious side of climaxes, the good episodes have a tendency to breeze through with the speed of lightning. It felt as if the storyline had hardly just begun by the time “Brain Scratch” had ended, at which point I realized (as the excellent promo for “Hard Luck Woman” was playing) that I only had three episodes of this show left! How crazy! I had a true “time flies” type of moment with that one, with writing being one of my biggest ways to measure chunks of time. I’ll reflect on the series as a whole more in my write up for the last episode, but I have to wonder just how much my opinions on the show would have differed had I binge watched it? Did you watch groups of episodes in a row, do it like me and do it one or two a week, or did you have an epic weekend marathon event? I think the latter is how I would have enjoyed the show the best.

Back to the episode at hand, “Brain Scratch” is another one that relies heavily on our knowledge of the existing characters, while also introducing a certifiably creepy villain, one that uses real-world influences to be as commanding as it is. A charismatic, disturbingly influential leader of a cult, commanding people to give themselves over to transcendence and become one with data, is a strange concept and an eerie one, but with elements rooted in reality.

It’s times like the opening of the episode where I wish the production had been able to surpass the limits set for them and truly embrace how eccentric their little show was. Can you imagine an entire episode made up of news clips, reporting, and infomercials? Setting the tone for what is one of the trippiest episodes of the series (which is saying something), its use of vibrancy and color, and the way in which they spliced together not just the newsreels but also the data Ed and Jet were searching for, made for a disjointed point of view, one that purposefully set the viewers on edge. It was an inventive way to start the episode, and with the message at the end from the villain being that television is slowly killing us all (guess I’m screwed), it’s also fitting and made all the more pointed.

The episode jumps into gear when Jet and Spike learn that Faye has gotten herself in trouble because (being Faye) she wound up at the place of the cult SCRATCH, knowing before the other two that Dr. Londes has a gigantic bounty on his head. However, she sends a video of distress before she’s able to capture him, and it’s up to Jet and Spike to figure it out and find her in time. Finding no help from the ISSP, they’re forced to dig deep in their investigative research as the rest of the world begins to play catch up as more and more people find themselves indoctrinated in the group. Londes believes he allows his patients to exist outside of their own bodies, to reach a level of god-like existence, while society believes it to all be science fiction.

Their investigation leads them on two different trips. Spike heads to an abandoned warehouse where he finds an unconscious Faye, along with a mountain of televisions, where a voice omitting from them makes Spike also pass out. Meanwhile, in an a move that continues to utilize Jet as he should be every episode, he and Ed go to a hospice, dressed as father and daughter to try and scam their way in (Jet is much better at playing his role than Ed). It’s there that they find a young boy on life support who’s been the real person controlling Londes’ voice, something they began to realize once they found out that Londes was all a fabrication. Learning of this, Spike informs the disembodied voice that he’s nothing but a “kid with a toy,” enraging “Londes.”

It’s here where, once again, the episode shows off one of the series’ finest abilities, which is to make us sympathize with the villain. In Londes’ explanation, he talks about how he only wanted to let others share his experience as a mind adrift with no body to call home. He begs them not to tamper with his wiring, crying out that “it’s not fair” (as a child would) and that he doesn’t want to “not exist,” a very distinct difference from saying he doesn’t want to die, further separating the machine from the boy. It’s a sobering ending, far from a triumphant win for the Bebop group.

There were also a lot of little things that I loved about the episode, such as:

  • The reminder that Ein is, in fact, a genius in the body of a corgi (the silliest looking dogs). When Jet is beginning to have all of his sympathy nerves shutdown, Ein bites him to snap him out of it.
  • Ed and Jet’s dynamic, both tinkerers, continues to be an understated highlight of the show.
  • We wouldn’t have guessed at Faye’s introduction that Spike and Jet would be sticking their neck out to save her.
  • The shot of Spike walking down the hallway of the abandoned building is gorgeous, emphasizing the show’s love of shadows and light in its animation.

Three episodes left! And really, I could write an abbreviated review on just how delightful the preview for “Hard Luck Woman” was.

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