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Comment on Cowboy Bebop, “Speak Like a Child” (Session 18)

“Speak Like a Child” (video)

Episode Summary

Faye is gambling on horses, hoping one will win; Spike is fishing, and has almost caught something. She loses at the same moment he loses the fish, although both are in wholly separate locales.

Jet is hanging laundry at the same time all of this is going on and telling Ed a story about a kingdom with plenty and a treasure chest. Spike, who was fishing in the river nearby, grumbles about having nothing to eat and not seeing treasure in a while.

A package arrives for Faye and Jet has to pay C.O.D. charges. Faye comes back from the betting parlor and runs into Jet who demands money. She sees the package and immediately runs off. We know from a previous episode that Faye was kept in stasis for years and the place that kept her in stasis wants to collect. Jet, Spike and Ed don’t know what we know (Spike sort of does – see “My Funny Valentine”); Faye is muttering to herself about whether the package is from them as she flies away.

Jet, of course, is angry and wants his money back. The package turns out to be a videotape. He and Spike go to a buyer who collects videos. The video is Beta and the buyer actually has a Beta machine; he’s pronouncing the virtues of Beta over VHS and Jet and Spike even see some of the video before the machine fails to work. The buyer then says this happens with Beta machines all the time, and Spike kicks the machine hard until it is a smoking pile of junk. They get their video back with a very angry buyer wanting a replacement.

Jet still wants to see what’s on the video. This requires getting a Beta machine, which is in an abandoned museum. Jet and Spike take very real risks – an elevator almost falls on them, they trudge through a number of areas that have flooded and have beasts – for what they call a treasure hunt. Jet laments that in the story he was telling Ed, he wondered why the man who got the treasure also got old as soon as he got the treasure. Spike says all treasure hunts are more trouble than they’re worth: they’re not even clear on what is so valuable about this.

They get a machine and a tv. It turns out to be a VCR and won’t play Beta. But that’s when a Beta machine comes from the same people who sent the video in the mail, also cash on delivery which Jet pays. Faye, who was losing money on ponies, switched to dogs and won some. Then, being Faye, she lost all of it. She comes back to the ship just in time for the viewing. Jet won’t let her watch the video unless she pays, but she won’t pay; she just watches secretly from the hall, unable to make a sound.

It turns out the video is something Faye made for herself at 10 years of age, and was meant to be a time capsule and seen in another 10 years. Faye recorded her friends, her bedroom, stuffed animals, and the piano and – of course – herself. Everyone in the room recognizes her because of the mannerisms. Everyone is stunned silent. The younger Faye talks about how she won’t be the same but will be exactly the same person in 10 years, and does a cheer – “go me” – saying that she’ll always be there, cheering herself on. The Faye we know remembers none of this, even as she recognizes herself on the screen.

Comment

Episode 16 (“Black Dog Serenade”) is where Jet encounters his past and his past eliminates itself thoroughly. Both his partner and a villain he always wanted put away are killed. Episode 17 (“Mushroom Samba”) is where we explore a bit more of Edward; there is no past, but we see Edward’s strengths and limitations. For Ed, the past itself is a question to be asked, as those of you familiar with all the episodes can attest. We’re leading up to Episode 19, where we encounter a man who could be Spike’s dad. There is a past, it is noble, it defines Spike in a deep way (esp. the way he fights), but that fusion of flexibility and tradition is just plain weird: consider how Spike gets rescued at the end.

This session is the deepest of the group of four: it isn’t an adventure like the others. Nearly everything Faye does in the episode is gamble; I wonder if you can say running away is a gamble itself. There’s a definite regression in the episode; Faye bets on horses, then on dogs – sometime later, Jet encounters a jellyfish. And the overall movement is definitely from adult to child; gambling and fishing become treasure hunts and home movies.

So what exactly is going on? There’s some kind of link between memory and fortune. Faye, deprived of all her past, has nothing but fortune. That link is created by two things: stories and technology. Stories – like the one Jet tells Ed – work off the premise that if we remember correctly, we will have good fortune. It is no coincidence treasure hunts end up being moral lessons, or actual explorations of one’s past, and are perhaps more deadly than bounty hunting.

But technology more literally links memory and fortune. It kept Faye alive while wiping her mind clean: all it did was give her a “chance.” Of course one can say technology delivers stories to us, but Faye is literally staring at herself cheer herself on and nothing is triggering. Does this mean Faye’s confrontation with her past is a clever way of restating the whole series? That as the series focuses on a Wild West future, it focuses on our necessary fragmentation?

That’s a bit too trite and too clever, especially when the questions are bound up with a character that’s learning what home is again, what it means to trust, what it means to fall in love. Faye is defined by fragmentation in a way no other character is; Jet’s past has the courtesy to kill itself off. There isn’t much to say more about the episode, except to reflect on the centrality of memory. Despite all the awesome things our heroes are capable of, it definitely feels like the past is the most difficult thing for them to grip properly. The question is what lies beyond fortune: is there a virtue – something like loyalty or fulfilling one’s duties – that helps one work with the past appropriately? What about all our heroes’ capabilities, and the fact that their strengths correspond to their views on life?

10 Comments

  1. Cool have a good weekend:))

  2. If I’m not mistaken, that’s more or less the only episode in the whole Bebop Series that gives us a firsthand glimpse of the contemorary/’old’ earth before the gateway accident.

    Took me forever to realize that it was supposed to be contemporary (or 1990s) Singapore depicted in the videotape Faye made when she was 10….I got the ‘when’ down, just not the ‘where’.

  3. This was always one of the most moving episodes for me. For most of the series, Faye isn’t particularly sympathetic. She seems almost willfully self-destructive with her gambling, she’s selfish (witness her refusal to pay), and she often causes problems, seeming to expect that her beauty or something will get her out of trouble.

    But this episode shows us that of the adults on board the _Bebop_, Faye was the closest to being innocent. Both Spike and Jet chose their fates in some respect; Spike didn’t have to join the syndicate. Both had real options and were not brought into the world already trapped.

    But what did Faye do?

    After all – it was just an accident.

  4. this episode is one of my absolute favorites in the series… it moves me to tears every time I see it– the first time it did, I was at a time in my life when I hadn’t cried in years & felt terribly numb, & it was a grand & beautiful awakening for me.

    I’ve always loved Faye.

  5. Is this new? Do they still make Cowboy Bebop? I use to watch it a long long time ago, back in middle school/high school. If they are still making it, I am amazed!

  6. hmmm, losing ones memories just seems an anal punishment, no? It is an awfully thorough way to destroy a person.

  7. It’s evident that something happened to her as a child since she was alive back then and alive now. I cannot for the life of me remember all of Cowboy Bebop. I expect she probably got lost in the Frye paradox of being frozen in time and awoken with no memroy of her past. Only Frye did have memories of his past.

    This is a moving episode because Faye sees herself as a spirited young child who has everything going for her. She’s innocent and carefree in a way that most children are. She had great expectations for herself.

    I take her reaction as she let herself down. How would you feel if you just were one day and had no memory of what came before. One day you see yourself as a youngster that is completely opposite of morals than your current self? I know I’d be crushed if I had hopes and dreams lost and then awoke one day to find that I had failed myself.

    This episode is great. It tells a story we never see of Faye. Though sad, she finally understands herself. She sees herself, but has no recollection of it. Yet somewhere inside she knows that she failed herself.

  8. This episode was gold. The juxtaposition between the optimism of the past, and the misery of the present. Also, the fruitlessness of their efforts to find a VHS player of all things.

    As best as I can interpret based on what has happened up until now, they see someone, who could have had an entirely different life, fall even harder into despair (too strong a word?) or listlessness. Is it that Spike and Jet are forced to care after they witness the optimistic chibi-Faye on the screen and the broken and shattered Adult-moƩ-Faye in front of them, or do they actually feel sympathetic towards their enigmatic shipmate? The experience feels quite authentic.

    On a side note, “My ship works better when I kick it” had me chuckling. Also, if chibi-Faye had the foresight to send her future self a Betamax tape and a Betamax player, shouldn’t she have sent some additional financial security as well?

  9. Faye is definitely in the middle of something important.

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