Cowboy Bebop: Why I believe Spike doesn’t die at the end

I wrote this pretty early on and since then I’ve got like ten other things to add to this. Reading this back, compared to what my views are now, the explanations below seem a bit simplistic but I guess that’s because it was a starting point which has been built on since. I will update this….some….day….very soon.

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I’ve never quite believed that Spike dies at the end of the series. It is left open to interpretation and even Watanabe never committed to it either way. In an interview, he stated that he himself was not sure if Spike is dead or alive and wanted fans to draw their own interpretations. Then in another interview with Red Carpet News TV he mentions that fans who saw the scene and thought he was sleeping were probably right…”Just sleeping” he repeated in English after the translator finishes translating what he has said. The first time I saw RFB 2 as a kid, I was broken-hearted by the last scene. I desperately wanted to believe he survived or at-least wanted to know conclusively either way. But back then I got distracted by other stuff…cause I was a kid. But this time around I wanted to try and know for sure. I do feel that the last couple of episodes are set up in such a way that if you watch them in a flow, without looking deep, you get one story while the moment you look deeper, you can actually get something indicating toward the exact opposite as well.

Ok, so the most commonly quoted and obvious factor supporting Spike’s survival post the big battle in RFB 2, for anyone familiar with the anime, would be that he has experienced injuries which are way worse than what he receives at the Syndicate HQ and survived many times before. In fact, this is a recurring theme in the series and something they really go out of their way to establish. The counter argument to this is that he kept coming back only because the idea of Julia gave him a reason to live. But I do believe that, by the time the Real Folk Blues rolls around, he seems a bit distant and jaded with his idea of her and of his past in general. 

Even when he receives news she is in danger, he ensures Jet is ok and the Bebop will be safe before going in search of her. It seems like he wants to deal with his past and put it behind him rather than return to it or throw his life away over it. If Julia follows him in this well and good but he knows what he needs to do. He returns to his past with reluctance and due to a sense of accountability but it’s something he wanted to be free of for a while so clearly its loss doesn’t have as strong a hold on him anymore. The scene with the eggs in the previous episode establishes that he is as impacted as Jet by the apparent “breaking up” of their new crew and this new life has come to hold meaning for him. The contrast between Spike’s heavy past and the relatively lighter present, where he seems to feel more at home, is one of those factors which make the story of Bebop so compelling after all.

What is also used to support the idea of Spike losing his will to survive because Julia is dead, is the story of the two cats which he tells Jet. This story prima facie seems to indicate that once the white cat (presumably Julia) is dead, the tiger-striped cat (presumably Spike) will not come back to life again the way he had so many times before. But, when you look deeper, the story doesn’t really support his death in the near future. He mentions meeting the female cat after he becomes a stray while Julia was someone he met before he became “free” and hence she does not fit that description. In fact, he lost her when he became a “stray.” The idea of a long togetherness and the white cat dying of old age indicates at a much more wholesome relationship than what he had with Julia, which involved a three year game of chase ending in a few moments of strained togetherness and her sudden death.  

Spike also says himself that he hates the story and cats and then laughs it off. To me, this seems more a way of acknowledging and then negating/dispelling a fear which by now is there in most of the audience’s minds (especially if this is not their first time watching the show and they are yet to decide whether he is dead or not at the end)…the thought that he will lose his will to survive against insane odds, now that Julia is gone. The story, taken at basic face value in that moment, exacerbates this fear for the audience and confirms that he will indeed die for good this time. But nothing is as straightforward here anyway. He then goes on to state that he hates that story, hates the idea and then laughs at it…to me, this feels like he fears the story fits him to an extent but he wants to reject that fate. Something in him is leaning strongly toward survival rather than death, surprising even him.

It seems like he acknowledges that this story loosely applies to him, drawing out the fear which is building in our minds and Jet’s, and then plays it off as something he does not consider a good way to go about things. He is very much planning on coming back this time as well if he can. He tells Faye as well that he is not going there to die but to see if he is truly alive. This is the fight which he actually may not come back from but, if he does, he knows for sure he is alive this time around. 

To me, this idea of checking if he is “alive” comes from Vicious’ dialogue “I am the only one who can keep you alive and I am the only one who can kill you.” Spike has always lived in the shadow of the Syndicate and his life was not his own at that time. It could be taken at any moment if he stepped out of line…he wasn’t truly ‘alive.’ When he gets out, Vicious still claims he is alive because Vicious has chosen to keep him alive. His life is therefore not his own still if that is true. By Vicious’ logic, Spike is living on borrowed time because Vicious has chosen not to end him yet. This means that he is already a dead man on death row with the date of execution pending basis the executioner’s discretion. For him to go to the Syndicate, face Vicious at the peak of his power, give him the full opportunity to finally kill him, actually kill him, and still survive would mean that he truly is alive and has been all along since he left the Syndicate. It means he has not survived on Vicious’ terms…the ability to kill Vicious was in him all along and the life he lived after leaving the Syndicate was his own, on his own terms, not something given through cruel mercy. It means he has not been a dead man with a death sentence because he has been strong enough to kill his would-be executioner at the peak of his power all along. He is free, ‘alive’ and has been all along, on his own terms. In fact, with this perspective, Vicious becomes the dead man since he has been alive only because Spike has let him live.

Another key aspect which is mentioned in this context usually  is what Laughing Bull says about Spike’s star in the last episode. When Gren dies, his star “falls” quite perceptibly. It seems to be his spaceship plummeting through the sky but appears to us as a shooting star. When Laughing Bull is talking to Jet, he says that once a person dies their star falls. He says that “His star is about to fall” but doesn’t specify whose it is. Considering the level of layering and metaphors which exist in the show, LB saying it right out that Spike is about to die seems fairly counter-intuitive and way too simple. 

We are also shown with the example of the Van that mystic predictions in this universe have their limitations. They are told by their astrologer that Vicious will attack on the red moon but the astrologer is not able to predict that he will also recover from the setback of being discovered and will kill them all.

In Spike’s case, as Blue is playing at the end of Session 26 and the screen pans up during the credits, we do see a star eventually but it doesn’t fall. It twinkles and fades. It is not clear whose star it is or why it fades instead of falling. For all we know, it could be Vicious’s star. We see several stars brighter than the others in the sky but only one of them fades. There is one just a little below and to the left of the one that fades which is also equally prominent but doesn’t get disturbed. The indication here could be that of the two men, Vicious’ star has faded.

Even if we are to assume this is Spike’s star, the fact that it does not fall indicates, to me, that whatever has happened to Spike involves anything but dying. The fading of the star may also mean renewal-an end to his old life and the beginning of a new one. Maybe this star fades and is renewed again in a fresh avatar. With Vicious, the Van, and Julia dying, he is pretty much free of all of that and may actually get to start a new life for real without being constantly hunted…a life in which he  can even meet the female white cat (or may already have met her), have a long wholesome life together, and die of old age. A free life, purged finally of all the burden he has carried for so long. So his star fades off from the sky and perhaps reappears as the star of a new life and self.  

It could also be that the star we see is not even a star since in Gren’s case his “star” was his ship. 

There is also the presence of doves. Doves during a character’s death or during action sequences are a classic John Woo device. We generally see an analogy that the presence of doves at Julia’s death and during the last scene indicate Spike died as well but actually both spots had people die so they don’t necessarily have to be for Spike. For Woo these represent the soul of an individual. When asked to explain about it he has said “Also, these guys have done some bad things in their lives but their souls got saved in the end, which I also wanted to express through this image.”

Another reason why I believe he is still alive is the Toys in the Attic metaphor…which is covered in detail in another post. In that episode, the crew members are impacted by the metamorphosed lobster, and we feel like they are all toast but they don’t actually die. 

There is also the parallel of the ‘Bang’ which resonates back to ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ In that case, he has just killed Wen and in this case he has just killed Vicious. Wen was immortal and could not be killed unless the ‘stone’ was used. Vicious seemed immortal, untouchable, and could only be killed by Spike. I have come across this argument that Spike is dying in that moment and hence says the second ‘Bang’ because he finally understands what Wen meant by being at peace when dying. While this is very poetic, I actually feel it means the exact opposite. In the scene from SFTD, Spike has killed someone who could not be killed but did not understand what he meant by the peace of dying since Spike is a perennial survivor. He comes close to death again and again but does not die. I feel the second ‘Bang’ indicates that he has once again killed someone who could not be killed and still does not understand what Wen meant because somehow he has managed to survive again. It also ties into the end card of ‘You’re gonna carry that weight.’

An alternate interpretation could be that he believes he is dying, feels light now because all that he has been carrying is gone. He doesn’t know if he will make it or not so he assumes he won’t. But the metaphorical death of his past also means the death of his past self. Wen felt light because he was finally free of his prison of immortality and Spike feels light because he is free of his past now. So he does finally understand and hence the ‘Bang.’

The final one for me is the above screenshot. This is again one which is used to prop up the idea that Spike is dead because Vicious slices him with a Katana….which is the weapon of a Samurai. Now if I pick up a spatula that doesn’t automatically make me a chef. The line says “true Samurai” which means someone who embodies Bushido, the samurai code. One casual look at Vicious’ character will tell you he’s the opposite. Bushido runs on honor, compassion, righteousness, none of which are qualities he’s had even a remote brush with. Just because he is toting a Katana doesn’t mean he is a Samurai…forget a true one. And this is kind of a definitive clue in my mind that we are supposed to take away that Vicious indeed cannot kill Spike.

I feel there are enough of these little clues hidden in the last two episodes. It’s only when you look closely that you realize what they can possibly mean. It’s all open to interpretation and I know that the exact opposite of everything I have written up there will make perfect sense as well. Either way, this is the ending I choose to believe because the other one feels way too gut-wrenching to me and reminds me of simply too many other wasted lives I’ve known to be palatable. 

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