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Comment on Cowboy Bebop, “Sympathy for the Devil,” Session 6

Spoilers galore ahead

Cowboy Bebop, “Sympathy for the Devil” (episode) | written guide to the episode

1. One problem with conceiving of the devil as pride is that one has to artificially load the notion of pride as an ultimate sin. Pride ends up being every other sin in a way that only makes a loose sense at points. I think I remember Milton saying somewhere that in the sin in the Garden, every other sin was entailed. You can see how this makes absolutely no sense: did Adam and Eve want to hurt each other?

It’s much better to just admit that one reason why religion and politics reinforce each other but also collide is that they’re the same thing at points. Obedience to the Law is the central issue, and obedience means that disobedience is sometimes less a clear issue of morality and more an issue of rule. If you wonder why hubris – pride so excessive it involves getting into contests with the gods – is a big deal in Greek mythology that results in all sorts of awful punishments (some people get hit by lightning, Arachne gets turned into a spider, some dude who loses a battle of the bands with Apollo gets flayed alive), the answer might be simple. Saying you’re so good at something that even the gods can’t keep up with you is a way of saying you have a right to rule over everyone else. The punishments are so awful because we, not the gods, want to see loudmouths crash and burn.

2. This particular episode is preceded by my favorite episode, Session 5, “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” In that episode, there is no sense that Spike, Faye and Jet are a team even when it comes to saving each other’s lives. Jet is about to turn off Faye’s request for help when Spike intervenes. Jet doesn’t know Vicious is involved, like we do and Spike suspects, and that Faye will almost certainly die if Spike doesn’t walk into the trap purposely. But it’s still a cold act by Jet, compounded by his reluctance to help Spike out in the middle of a battle. If you want to get a moral sense of what’s going on – it is possible to be selfish in a way that benefits others and benefits oneself (Spike). Jet’s sense of justice is to pay what’s owed and avoid trouble. The fear motivating him is palpable in Session 5.

That fear is gone in Session 6, probably because he recognizes that Spike acted honorably in 5 – some debts, including debts owed to a mob boss, have a higher character than others. Honor isn’t just respect: it’s not betraying the trust given, and trust can be said to be a very great good.

3. The episode’s plot is as follows: while tracking a bounty mark, Spike finds that he’s following a kid who is a whiz at playing the harmonica and a wheelchair bound man who is always with the kid. The mark is mortally wounded by the kid, and Spike, who retrieves him while he’s dying, gets told to help him and is given a ring. We find out later that the kid can never age because an accident involving space/time that affected his body. We find out that the wheelchair bound man and the dead bounty mark were partners, and the kid paralyzed him purposely to use as a cover, and that the bounty mark was looking to rescue his partner. The ring, of course, was created in the same accident as the kid and can bring the effects of time back to the kid back in one fell swoop.

The significance of the kid is most obvious when he’s hit with the ring, now turned into a bullet, and is aging rapidly to the point of death. Here’s a devil that has paralyzed multiple people and used them as cover just to be himself; toward the end of the episode, he shoots a taxi driver just because. The devil isn’t immortality strictly: rather, it’s something like being so scared to die that one does anything to put the question aside. The kid confesses he feels at ease when hit with the bullet and is dying. His paralyzing other people and using them begins to make a sick sense – he’s keeping them from dying, and thus doing them a “favor.” The devil here is exercising arbitrary power over life and death out of a confusion, a willful ignorance. He’s less than human even as he is superhuman.

4. Of course, I’ve brought up the question of how Spike, Faye and Jet become more of a team, and implied very strongly that merely not wanting to see each other die isn’t a principle beneficial to all of them. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this episode revolves around partners willing to die for each other, that Faye takes on Jet’s fear from the last episode but without anything like Jet’s coldness, staring out a window at Spike flying away for the last fight with the kid. Talk about money that dominated episode 5 and the beginning of this episode completely disappears at a not-so-late point in this one. The series ends with the trust one uses to get things done resulting in the greatest of sacrifices, not just self-sacrifice, but the sacrifice even of the people one loves. One wonders how much the cowboy, samurai, Bruce Lee, mobster, and sci fi genres the series integrates are all incomplete comments on this theme. Each of them seems to deprecate trust for the sake of individuality, and sacrifice isn’t quite understood by any. Some episodes of the series begin with an Indian (Native American) mystic, and perhaps more attention should be paid to those times the series is nearly completely open.

8 Comments

  1. “In our system, angry mobs — motivated citizens — are the lifeblood of democracy. The threat to liberty comes from angry elites — elected leaders who ignore the obvious will of the people until they are voted out of office.”

    Revealing. I don’t know whether this or Biden’s recent comment that Brussels has a claim to the title ‘capital of the free world’ over Washington is more worrisome, but it shows the worst of both.

  2. Andy Naaktgeboren

    May 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    > The series ends with the trust one uses to get things done resulting in the greatest of sacrifices, not just self-sacrifice, but the sacrifice even of the people one loves. One wonders how much the cowboy, samurai, Bruce Lee, mobster, and sci fi genres the series integrates are all incomplete comments on this theme. Each of them seems to deprecate trust for the sake of individuality, and sacrifice isn’t quite understood by any.

    Sacrifice isn’t understood by any of those, not even the samurai genre?

    I’d like to see that one argued for…

  3. In Real life however the Military come close
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ & The American G.I. One died for your soul, the other for your Freedom.”

  4. I don’t know why that comment got posted here. Oops!

  5. I keep wondering about the overall logistics of the Bebop universe. I guess in the videotape recovered in Speak Like a Child, Faye is seen as an adolescent in present-day Singapore.

    But isn’t the series set to take place in 2071? Even from its inception date of 1998, that seems like a pretty short timeframe for some calamatous event to befall earth, have speacefarers terraform and colonize different worlds, with each of them being a stand-in for real places in old-earth. Plus gun manufacturers like Glock and Baretta are still around as well….

    I guess these are aspects of the series I probably should spend too much time trying to think to death….
    .-= Fenway_Nation´s last blog ..White House Offered Sestak Appointment to Drop Primary Challenge Against Specter =-.

  6. “The series ends with the trust one uses to get things done resulting in the greatest of sacrifices, not just self-sacrifice, but the sacrifice even of the people one loves.”

    Care to clarify? This only makes sense to me if you are describing Jet and Faye. And I wonder, is there a way this narrative could have come to satisfying conclusion without sacrifice? Which is also to say, can one read it along non-sacrificial lines?

  7. To clarify my own position: I believe that the series ends with Spike going into battle for the wrong reasons. Care to disagree?

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