Spoilers galore ahead
1. Plot: The crew of the Bebop drops off a bounty at Jet’s home, Ganymede. Jet has his ex-girlfriend on his mind; she walked out on him, leaving him a note that only said “Farewell” and a pocketwatch. Jet kept the latter even though it broke. On Ganymede, he finds her and her new boyfriend, and ultimately finds out that she’s made a number of bad choices in the name of wanting to be independent. To keep the bar she ran as a business, she got involved with a loan shark, and when he got a bit too violent, the loan shark ended up accidentally killed while fighting with the boyfriend. When Spike realizes that the boyfriend has a bounty on him, he gives chase to the couple, and finally Jet confronts the scared couple after some fairly pathetic escape attempts. What is most notable is how Jet resolves the situation with grace and gives his ex confidence: the boyfriend goes into custody, but will more than likely get off on self-defense as opposed to being prosecuted for murder. And the ex that was shooting at and crying at Jet a few moments before expressing confidence and hope acts like a grown woman because of his mere presence.
2. Why should we care about any of this? It’s a fictional, animated show: whatever it says about relationships must be of the same significance as learning barbering from Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where “The Barber of Seville” plays in the background the whole time. Right?
Well, right now I’m thinking this – while we saw Jet as morally incapable in Session 5, where his reluctance almost kills both Faye and Spike, he’s at his best here. It’s hard to see that, though: Jet’s ex, Elisa, puts forth a rather severe critique of his character which seems to fit with the earlier Jet we encountered.
The Cowboy Bebop wiki has the relevant quotes we need to consider. Yes, this fictional, animated episode revolves around dialogue:
Jet: Back then when I got home from work, you were always there waiting for me. And that was all I needed. Just you. But on that day, when I came back home the only thing there was that pocket watch; that and a small piece of paper that just had one word written across it: farewell. For some reason, I didn’t feel sad or broken up—it just didn’t seem real. But slowly I realized that it was real; that you were gone. And little by little I felt something inside of me go numb. After six months I made a kind of bet with myself; a pledge, that I would leave this planet and start a new life if you didn’t return by the time the watch stopped. I didn’t come here to blame you, I…I just wanted to know why. Why you disappeared like that.
Elisa: The way you talk about it, you seem to think that time really has stopped here. That’s a story from long ago, and I…I’ve forgotten about it. Time never stands still.
What we can use to indict Jet are two things: 1) he held on to the pocketwatch, and 2) he tells Elisa at the end “Time never stands still” to give her hope. Perhaps Elisa was correct about Jet and he needed to encounter her yet again not just for closure, but to learn a valuable lesson. After all, after Elisa is done shooting at him and yelling at him to stay away, she says:
Elisa: That’s just how you were back then, you decided everything; in the end you were always right. When I was there with you I never had to do anything for myself. All I had to do was to hang onto your arm like a child without a care in the world. I wanted to live my own life; make my own decisions, even if they were terrible mistakes.
You can already tell where I’m going with this: Jet’s a grown man and amazingly honest. He can be vulnerable and searching and still not whiny or childish, as what is quoted above demonstrates. She, on the other hand: That’s a story from long ago, and I…I’ve forgotten about it. Huh? Even if you don’t want to talk about the issue, why not just say “I don’t want to talk about that now?”
The episode seems to give us three levels of maturity. There are people who can’t take care of themselves and are unaware there’s an issue with that; Elisa’s boyfriend demonstrates a stunning lack of self-control and an enormous amount of neediness. There there are people who can take care of themselves to some degree, but don’t really know what they want. Elisa fits into this second category firmly; she’s embraced it, weirdly enough. The whole “Time never stands still” combined with “I want to live my own life” is a proclamation that she reserves the right to change whenever, for whatever. She’s capable, though, and thus can be a source of comfort for the most immature.
She can’t really be there for Jet. He can take care of himself and others. This is not the same as the fear driving him in Session 5; this is prior to the fear, this is what makes his lack of risk seem legitimate. It isn’t legitimate, of course, when one is a bounty hunter, working with a guy who had mob connections and a girl with massive gambling debts. An aversion to risk doesn’t fit that situation.
But a domestic situation is a different story. Jet’s values are exactly right – in some sense, time does stand still on Ganymede, when one is settled. It even stands still in the sense that Elisa just makes more and more poor choices – nothing changes in that respect.
3. Which brings us to the issue of freedom: how can one be free trying to live domestically? Don’t all domestic arrangements end up realistically like Jet and Elisa before the break-up? Should we condemn them for not explicitly (and loudly) striving toward equality as a goal?
It’s worth noting that Jet knows how to be free among the stars, and it is a hard, difficult, violent life. The wiki mentions a very salient issue, that when Jet first encounters Elisa in the episode, he asks openly if she’s doing okay and has money to pay her creditors. She shrugs this off as Jet being Jet; she doesn’t realize yet that freedom means responsibility, that independence isn’t something you earn as a reward after lots of hard work or the hard work itself. Nor is it the mere fact of making a choice.
No, independence depends on who makes choices and mistakes, and why. One gets the distinct feeling Elisa saw how capable Jet was and didn’t bother asking or learning from him, but instead got resentful. None of this is to say she’s bad. Love seems to be dependent on a number of things, including circumstance. One might need to be at the right stage of life to have the right attitude with the right person. I don’t know. All I know is that Jet’s attitude is very mature, and all he can do with it is accept loss. The goods he provides, at the end of the episode, are for people who want to stay strangers to him.