Cowboy Bebop Newbie Recap: “Pierrot Le Fou”

Things are getting a little odd.
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When is the last time I called an episode of the show my favorite so far? Whatever it was, I take it back, because “Pierrot Le Fou” is easily my favorite episode of the series so far.

I mean, oh my god you guys, I flipped out in the first few minutes. It was, hands down, the best opening of any episode of the series so far. Intense and action-packed, with a villain who is honestly frightening, the episode kicks off in high gear, making sure we as the viewers know that the stakes of the fight are very, very real. What makes it all the more apparent is that Spike, too, is able to tell that this is a fight he won’t win easily. Adding to the drama of the scene is the fact that it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before on the show, shot in a style that’s oddly graceful while also being massively intimidating. There’s no logic behind how Spike’s adversary operates—it’s an honest moment of Spike being in the wrong place at the wrong time after this mysterious man has gone on a killing spree, and Spike just so happened to see his face.

After fighting tooth and nail to escape, Spike makes it back to the ship safely, but not without gravely injuring himself, leading both Jet and Faye to work on finding the perpetrator. Jet learns about Mad Pierrot, Spike’s attacker, an attacker who’s a perfect killer. Anyone who escapes him isn’t long for the world, typically found dead a little time after. Jet’s informant keeps repeating the same thing, that his friend, Spike, has found himself in a whole lot of trouble.

Not that this surprises anyone at all.

“You end up like this because you go looking for trouble. It’s called bad behavior,” Faye tells Spike, who’s currently bandaged head to foot, unable to even retort. Hoping this assassin will simply go away doesn’t do any good, and soon the crew has received a mysterious message inviting Spike to a party at a theme park called Space Land.

“Maybe this is the one I won’t come back from,” Spike ponders aloud to Ed and Faye. He quickly brushes it off by saying that he’s kidding, asking Faye if she’d come and rescue him if it were true. Of course she would, and she will, but it goes unsaid because the Bebop crew aren’t the type to actually share.

Mad Pierrot is largely a silent and deadly force of nature, which makes his actions so greatly unsettling. He has no motives to kill Spike. We learn that he was in clinical trials that left him nearly comatose before he broke out, seeking revenge on those who had hurt him and held him captive, and soon after, he kept killing simply because he liked it. Jet says his mind’s regressed to a state of a child’s and that there is “nothing more pure and cruel than a child.” His real name is Tongpu, and even putting a name to the assassin who smiles joylessly when the fight begins and smiles as it ends does nothing to make him into a real character. His fighting style defies logic.

Spike arrives at Space Land, injured and alone, a barren, broken down, and rusted theme park. Empty and cheerless, the fireworks are launched by Tongpu, and there’s an eerie silence amongst the mayhem going on.

Screenshot 2015-12-07 22.04.28

It’s one of the very first times that Spike seems not only out of his league, but also noticeably shaken. This is not the suave, level headed and pragmatic fighter we’ve seen in the past, but the one who’s doing everything in his power to stay alive. Like most Cowboy Bebop episodes, some of the finest work is done during the fight sequences. Charged with kinetic energy, the frame doesn’t stay still for more than a moment, quickly jumping from one threat to the next. Spike is blasted onto a roller coaster (see above picture for one of my favorite shots in the episode) and then is dumped in the river below. He climbs his way out and, with the help of Faye—who comes bursting in, reliably destructive as always in her fighter plane—is able to distract Tongpu long enough to run to safety.

Faye’s plane crashes, however, and Spike is once again left alone, and the scene where the parade of figurines comes marching into frame as Spike and Tongpu stare one another down is beautiful, another example of the animators’ pure artistry in the series—the fluidity of their characters’ movements and juxtaposition of the parade’s liveliness with the duel to the death taking place goes unmatched by so many animated contemporaries, and even other anime later down the line. There are episodes of this series that I don’t love, and there are moments where I feel that I’m not as attached to the characters as I’d hope twenty episodes in, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this is one of the most inventively stylish shows I’ve ever seen.

We know that Spike isn’t going to die, but we couldn’t have guessed that he’d be helped out by a robotic cat scaring Tongpu and distracting him long enough for Spike to gain his bearing. Tongpu takes a shot and hits Spike in the shoulder while Tongpu is hit in the leg by Spike’s knife, and he collapses, crying out for his mother in pain, and the parade marches over him.

I don’t always think that villains need to be tragic to be interesting, but this is a tragic end for a character, and it’s a suitable ending as Spike tells Jet he knows everything he needs to about Tongpu after witnessing his death.

Is next week the episode I’m going to hate? I can’t say the preview has me at all excited …

If all the episodes from here on out could be as good as this one, I’d be a very happy viewer.

(images via Sunrise)

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