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Cowboy Bebop Newbie Recap: “Sympathy for the Devil”

Cowboy Bebop sings the blues.


The music on this show is so key to its atmosphere.

The episode begins on a melancholy note, with the music playing a big part of the tone and “Sympathy for the Devil” sees the show wearing it’s affection for the blues on it’s sleeve through the rest of the 30 minutes.

If anything seems to be a recurring theme for the show it’s that Jet and Spike always begin the episode in search of one bounty before being distracted by a larger one. After awaking from some sort of fever dream/flashback where Spike is being operated on in an eerie and stark laboratory, the two try to track down their mark, Giraffe, in a nightclub. They follow him up to a room where a child and what appears to be his wheelchair bound father are heading into, but soon Giraffe is thrown from the window, landing stories below and dying nearly instantly. He manages to first tell Spike to not judge “him” by his appearance and gives him a ring with some sort of elixir in it.

This leads the bounty hunters onto their main course of the episode. They’re tracking the child and his father (supposedly) but soon learn that all is not what it seems. In the middle of a warehouse confrontation, Spike learns that Wen isn’t a child at all and that Giraffe had been trying to save the man being forced to play the role of father. Wen tells Spike that he used to live on terraformed moon with his family, living a perfectly normal childhood before the hyperspace gate crashes and the world’s environment was annihilated. Despite the death and destruction, Wen lives and emerges from his old, soot filled world and learns that he can no longer age.

Wen believes this to be a blessing and he’s used it to his own gain. He manages to get away from Spike and shoots him in the arm, despite a bullet to the head. When Spike goes to pick up the body he learns that Wen has miraculously survived the shot.

Wen is an interesting villain and not one we haven’t seen before (um, Pride from Fullmetal Alchemist anyone?) but still the effect of seeing a someone with a childlike appearance wreak havoc is strong. We meet Wen and he’s near angelic looking, playing the harmonica onstage at a blues club as onlookers admire and cheer, only to soon learn of his nefarious nature and the ill he’s wrought on others. It’s a juxtaposition that has worked wonders in the horror genre and it works here as well.

It’s a storyline that works as a mild in-between episode (not quite filler) and one that succeeds largely because of the animation and yes, once again, music. Especially in an episode that’s story center at times feels a tad rushed.

The dramatic imagery! My two favorite moments of the episode didn’t need dialogue due to how gorgeous they were! They conveyed the world, the destruction, without needing to say anything. The first was the moment when Wen rose from the ashes of his world and his own parent’s bodies, his face no longer innocent. It’s haunting and manages to give depth to the villain of the episode, one who isn’t entirely of his own making but instead transformed by the death of the world around him. The second is the confrontation between him and Spike at the end, on opposite sides of the frame as Spike is about to perform a Hail Mary, shooting this mysterious elixir straight at Wen, hoping it works. Before this moment we’d already seen Faye and Jet give him goodbyes as if it were the last time they’d ever see him. While I can’t help but believe it would have served the overall serial narrative to wait on a moment like this rather than trot it out six episodes in, it works wonders for the following standoff. There’s never any question about who’s going to win this duel so the stakes are almost laughably low, but the way it’s shot is cinematic and epic, making sure that even if we don’t have any reason for cause of alarm we’re at least swept in by the spectacle and adventure.

The last moments as Wen’s age catches up to him and finally kills him are emotionally satisfying despite how short these episodes are and how quick the scene had to be because of it. The exterior is stripped bare and we see a person who’s happy and at peace, a nice turn around from some of the other more radical villains we’ve met.

While I wouldn’t say that the episode reached the heights of “Ballad of Fallen Angels” (and really, I didn’t expect it to) it was nice to see that the show is continuing to hand us segments of backstory for Spike while also keeping the action at a steady pace.

Allyson Johnson is a twenty something writer and a lover of film and all things pop culture. She’s a film and television enthusiast and critic over at who spends too much of her free time on Netflix. Her idols are Jo March, Illana Glazer, and Amy Poehler. Check her out at her twitter @AllysonAJ or at The Young Folks.

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