Cowboy Bebop: Pretty with a Pistol

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

Author’s Note: Ok I have seen enough Bebop in the last month that you could wake me up in the middle of the night and play any episode on mute from any point and I’ll recite everything. Have watched it in both English and Japanese because hello! English dub writers changing the meaning of critical sentences. So yeah, I can recite the dub AND the sub…it’s going on my resume as most useless life skill whether anyone wants to see it there or not…ok? I’ve also listened to the OST while writing so many times YouTube is showing me ads in Japanese now.

Also kind of happy to see the response to this. I never set out with any agenda…this sort of evolved. Thought I’ll get a lot of hate for breaking ‘canon’ but thanks to everyone who has read and commented/written in etc. It’s really cool to get to have these conversations.

Thanks to the brilliant Iffah for helping me with a very critical piece of the puzzle here i.e. the connection between the two sequences in the movie, so this one is for you. 🙂

On a side note, just wondering what Watanabe’s plan was about this piece if the studio had really been adamant on making him do a film about Ein on vacation. Although he did mention the movie was on his mind even while creating the series so maybe he would’ve snuck these parts into the Ein movie somehow.would be one bizarre pet flick…

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Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine
Cowboy Bebop

Before I get into this, a friend and I were discussing the other day if we feel these two characters are genuinely good for each other (because that’s what we talk about ok? We have no lives-don’t judge). I told him I didn’t write them so I don’t know! I’m kidding of course. Actually, I feel it’s subjective to how you choose to look at it. Yes they are both flawed in their own ways but what the narrative tells us of their impact on each other is important and that’s something this piece will touch upon a bit. A relationship is good for you if it makes you a better version of yourself, helps you grow in a positive way so that’s kind of my litmus test. The series actually does run a very subtle narrative on the nature of Spike’s relationship with Julia, something which was more a destructive moment in time between two very different people born from their common dire circumstances, and its difference from his equation with Faye, more of a slow burn which develops between very similar individuals. He leaves the Syndicate still very much a broken man and heals over the course of the series, culminating in what I’ll be covering here. Have explored that in more detail here. It also gives us a fair bit of understanding on how Spike approaches relationships in general and the path he seems to choose for his equation with Faye. This piece is going to go into those things so you can be the judge here yourself.

I guess a good way of understanding the second half of Spike and Faye’s story is working backwards from the moment we are shown him finally admitting to what he feels for her on screen.There are two sequences within the film which need to be connected to get this picture and it’s very easy to misunderstand them. The first sequence is when Spike is injured by Vincent at the monorail and wakes up to find Laughing Bull. Both his flashbacks and the words Bull says here are very significant in quite a few different ways. I’ll cover the others separately but in this particular context, the first thing which is key is the fact that this is Spike’s third ‘coming to consciousness’ sequence in the series (man sure gets beat up a lot) and the first time that we don’t see anything from his Syndicate past. Yes, the movie was built as a standalone sequence so one can argue they wanted to keep the flashback limited to images from the present but there are plenty of references to other running themes and the conversation he has with Elektra in prison doesn’t have its full context within the movie regardless of how you look at it so it doesn’t feel like that’s the reason.

The lack of the past in this sequence indicates to me that he has let go of it and is living in the present now. While the series keeps confusing us toward the end by showing everyone asking Spike to let go of his past, he’s actually not acting out of a hang-up on the past at that time anyway. He really has no choice at that point. Even if he has let go of it, Vicious will not let up on him and will continues to try and hurt others to get to him (at-least the attack on Spike and Jet at the beginning was done conclusively by Vicious though I feel he was behind the other attack too and the information about the Van hunting Spike was a plant similar to how he planted the information about Mao’s box in the opera earlier-you can go read that here if you want to). At some point or the other, it was going to catch up to him and he would have to go deal with it. That was his past Karma (Watanabe’s term, not mine) which he could not run away from ever.

Anyway, so Spike is living in the present now. There was no imagery of Julia, no longing montages, nothing. He just sees sequences from the present day largely (and one mysterious one of Jet which I definitely want to cover separately). The second key aspect here is what he says to Bull when asked what he saw while being close to death.

Spike speaks about feeling fear for the first time in his life, fear of death. We have seen him before being indifferent to death again and again, putting his life in danger. So this is something very new and very uncharacteristic of him. Bull tells him he did not die since it was not his time to die, thus confirming that they are speaking of the present event only.

As the movie progresses, he gets incarcerated alongside Elektra and they discuss Vincent. Spike asks Elektra if she loves Vincent and she describes what she feels, asking if he has felt it too. 

Spike replies in the affirmative and proceeds with narrating to her about his shift from being indifferent to death to being afraid of it for the first time due to a “special” woman he met. This is made intentionally confusing by making him begin the dialogue by talking about how years ago, when he was much younger, he was not afraid of anything and indifferent to death, making it seem like he’s talking about his Syndicate past and meeting the “woman” there. But, unless you have been sleeping the past 22 episodes, he’s pretty much been the same way even up until this point.

One can argue he lost this “fear of death” after being tragically separated from Julia but in the scene with Bull he just admitted to feeling that fear for the first time like two days ago.

There is a lot of poignance and vulnerability in this moment, one of those very rare sequences within Bebop when the absurdity and deflections are given a pause and we see what is actually going on within a character. The slumped posture in this scene hints at resignation to the realisation, admitting to something he has probably been resisting for sometime or does not know how to deal with. It seems almost as if he is talking to himself as much as he is to Elektra. It’s also a well-formed understanding-he has done the introspection and has become aware of his own shift in feelings to know exactly who is the cause of this change in him. 

Spike tells her she is the first person he can talk to like this. I’ve seen this assumed that Spike has some sort of romantic interest in Elektra because of this statement but actually he is saying this because she is the first person he has been able to admit this to. They’ve just met so clearly she is not the woman he is talking abut here either. And if he is so smitten by someone already, would be super weird to tell this to Elektra and then come on to her too. All the interest he shows for Elektra, telling Jet she is beautiful, asking her casually on a date, is again more deflection as he is struggling to come to terms with his own feelings. Most of the characters in this movie are symbolic including Elektra so Spike’s interactions with her need to be interpreted from that mindset.

It’s generally easy to assume he is talking about Julia here since that’s our default association every time Spike gets emotive (call back to the ‘veil’ of Julia thing) but that cannot be. The entire series we have seen him indifferent to death and danger till, by his own admission earlier, he has felt this fear for the first time now. So being with Julia never stopped him from feeling like his life did not matter. 

Nothing related to Julia has happened in a while and the last time he thought of her on-screen, we saw him reminded of her own hints at deception and a warning he received about her from Vicious of all people (like how messed up do you have to be to make Vicious wary of you…Live Action I do see your point though you butchered it still). Therefore, strange for him to end up in this psychological space now, completely out of the blue. Safe to assume then that he is speaking about someone else here. He is also responding here to a question about a “brand new feeling”…which can of course be him recalling something new he felt a few years ago but the use of this kind of term here seems interesting.  

Now, what he is saying is not a small thing, but a life altering change. The way he speaks in this sequence indicates a one-track commitment, a headspace which does not leave room for anyone else as a romantic interest.

It feels like Julia has disappeared mostly, or even completely, from his mind and heart, replaced by whoever he is speaking of. There is not even a mention of her in this conversation. There is no struggle to manage the feelings he has for two women at-once. In fact, the impact of this new woman in his life seems deep and nourishing enough to have wiped out everything negative from the past. It was this sequence which caused me to go back and revisit the entire narrative to try and figure out where exactly we are shown anything supporting that he gives up on the idea of Julia completely, and that turned out to be Jupiter Jazz.

This further affirmed the idea that the realisation he has in Callisto leads him to an understanding of either Julia still being affiliated to Vicious or not being up to anything good at-least, since Spike is not depicted as the kind of character to abandon a woman who loved him and was on the run to protect him just because he found someone else, not in the callous and cold way he is shown to in the finale. If he still believed there was some hope left with Julia, he would be conflicted while speaking about his feelings to Elektra, the way he stays in the first half of the series. But at this point, his focus seems to have shifted completely to this new individual. 

For someone like Spike, what he says to Elektra is a very major admission. This is an entire paradigm shift in who he is as a person. His words are indicative that there is a woman who has naturally changed him in a way no one else has been able to before. The change has happened just by knowing her, not through some effort put in by her. Whatever resonance he has found in her has healed him. 

It’s a change for the better since he has never been careful with his own life before her. We hear Spike talk about this impactful woman once more in the finale and it is again along similar lines, said in a very similar manner-without ever naming who it is. He speaks about finding a part of himself he had lost somewhere along the way. In that moment, Jet is asking him to give up his death wish and Spike is actually responding by saying it’s already gone since someone has made him find the desire to live which he had lost along the way. He’s telling Jet the same thing he tells Faye later-that he is not going there to die. Jet doesn’t get it, of course, and figures he is talking about Julia, that he needs to go die for her.

There is only one woman who has been a consistent presence in his life post-Julia, someone he anyway had unsolicited feelings for which he kept ignoring, someone he has lately been receiving a lot of insight into, and spending a lot of time with (unless he fell in love with VT or something…I dunno). The CB movie actually builds in a lot of subtle aspects with regard to Spike and Faye’s confused-but-definitely-there mutual feelings at this point. Sample the below…what’s with the awkwardness there?

I always assumed the song ‘Pretty with a Pistol’ was about Julia till I saw the movie and was surprised to find it runs for Faye. It basically talks about two people “wandering worlds,” apart but “joined at the heart.” Faye continues to believe Julia is a part of Spike’s life till the very end of the series and it contributes to her sense of ‘not belonging’ on the Bebop in a big way. No one else makes her feel unwelcome there, not really, but what she perceives to be a “filled position” in his life makes her feel unwanted. Without this sort of intensely difficult feeling driving her, she could have been more rational in her approach to finding her childhood home and her advise to Edward.

On his end, he is taking time to come to terms with his feelings. He also talks about the woman “going away” to Elektra, which can both be referring to the fact that Faye has currently gone off on her own and also, more significantly, to her emotional withdrawal from him post what she thinks she learns in Jupiter Jazz. We do not see her do anything to get his attention again in the second half of the series. But we do see him try to bridge that gap in subtle ways like asking if she will come rescue him, being there for her in important times, reaching out to call her back to the ship in the finale (it seems as much about Jet as about her coming back where she is safe and accounted for) etc.

He seems to give her the time and space she needs to figure out her past while also trying to figure out how to close that chasm, the reason for which he is not aware of since he doesn’t know she has heard about Julia. There is also the impending sense of his past which he knows will catch up with him sooner or later. He has seen Faye already be targeted by Vicious once and making any kind of move to formalize a relationship with her would put her in certain danger. In the finale, we see Vicious stop bothering the Bebop crew once Spike leaves the ship but the knowledge of someone he is romantically involved with would change things. Vicious might just kill her only to spite him. In Ballad of Fallen Angels, Vicious does kidnap Faye thinking she is important to Spike. Spike deliberately eliminates this idea by shooting the man who has a gun to her head so they feel she is of no consequence to him and if he killed her in the process it would not matter when in truth he was sure of making the shot without hurting her since he does the same thing in the movie too during the scene in the convenience store, both hostages remaining unhurt. In the rest of the church fight, we don’t see anyone paying attention to her and she walks out unopposed versus having been their prime hostage just moments before. Could be any number of things. Go ask Spike.

Anyway, there are a few other random hints thrown into the movie. As Faye gets annoyed at the guys making fun of her drawing of Vincent, deciding to go after him on her own, there’s a “blink and you miss it” scene where Spike is depicted stepping ahead as if to go after her before he seems to catch himself. This is animation and drawing each shot takes effort so this was something put in with additional work, not a wrong step taken by an actor. Then he proceeds to pull the same thing he did in ‘Jamming with Edward’ i.e. deciding to get involved in something he had previously shown no interest in because Faye is intent on it and he realises now how dangerous the case really is. Of course, he deflects it off saying it’s just because he doesn’t want to eat out of styrofoam anymore. Poor Jet is justifiably baffled again.

As he is wandering the streets of Morocco, the background track is Diggin’ which you can just hear for yourself, especially the last few lines. When you’re listening to it, do remember who ‘Lady Luck’ is already established as in the show (it’s Faye!)…she’s also the only cowgirl we know (unless he is in love with Coffy..again, I dunno). It really makes the whole thing rather adorable. The song seems to be about his internal monologue, wondering what is going on inside his own head, if he is just horny, lonely, or Lady Luck is actually smiling on him…which does eventually resolve into the realisation about fear and its significance later in the jail scene.

Coming to the comparison which all of this runs on Spike’s experience with love (there could have been more girls before Julia too ya know) till now versus what he comes to find in Faye, the crux of it is unfulfilling or even corrosive connections versus a wholesome one. While he is with Julia he makes the decision to leave on his own, not inspired by her. She is incompatible to this desire of his, even if we disregard the aspects around her continued affiliation with Vicious etc. Whatever he had with her never healed him, never made him value his own life but we can get deceived on that if we watch the movie prima facie.

When Faye is kidnapped by Vincent, we see her resist him even at the cost of death. The indifference to death is a commonality already built for both Spike and Faye. Her outright rejection of Vincent’s offer of being the only two who survive is significant because this quality mirrors both Spike’s courage to leave the Syndicate even at the risk of death, and his rejection of the status he had in that world for a different life which he believes in more. It’s something at complete odds with Julia, who could not resist Vicious under similar circumstances and gave in. Faye would rather die than give in to a man like Vincent, who is essentially almost the same person as Vicious. If it came to that, she would likely rather die at Spike’s side than abandon him in the face of coercion from someone like Vincent/Vicious. She does exactly that in the finale as well, nearly getting killed in the process of fighting alongside him. She was also kidnapped by Vicious once, but it again did not seem to phase her much (remember the sequence where we are shown her reading her death sentence like a dinner menu?).

When Spike speaks to Jet about seeing a woman who was truly ‘alive’ for the first time, he is likely talking about Faye’s survival spirit, the courage to keep going even in the face of impossible circumstances. That is what he has learned about her-she should have been dead on the day she was abandoned by Whitney since she had zero skills needed to survive in this new world but somehow she has managed to do it incredibly well. He recognises and admires that. It inspires him to value his own life more so he can be there for her, be good enough for her in this respect.

Being ‘alive’ also means to not fear death which again he knows she doesn’t. At the end, when Spike tells Faye he is going to see if he is truly alive, I always feel he is talking about checking whether he has the courage and the merit to survive the impossible task he has to do now-it’s the only course left for him at this point, to not just destroy Vicious but also scare the Syndicate into submission so they never come after him or anyone close to him again. Vicious keeps telling him he is the only one who can keep Spike alive and the only one who can kill him. So he goes to check if this is true or not, to see if he has been alive all along just because Vicious chose not to kill him or if it has been on his own merit. Vicious is eventually proven wrong since Spike does manage to kill him.

A wholesome relationship is not composed of two perfect people. It’s composed of flawed individuals who connect at their broken parts in a compatible way, people who are able to reciprocate to each other in the way desired by their partner. For Spike, the sense I get from the narrative is that he views Faye as the half he had longed for because he has seen she is the woman who will stand by him even in the face of sure death. He doesn’t want her to, of course, but he sees his own courage mirrored in her and knows he can count on her, something he did not receive before then but longed to have. Through his concern and commitment toward Julia in the first half of the series, he is shown as someone who gives a lot to a relationship, even if it is misguided. With Faye, he is shown doing all sorts of disguised actions to help her or save her even if it involves risking himself. From where he is shown ending up with his feelings by the end of the series, I get the understanding he is depicted to have realised she will reciprocate to him in the same manner (their love language is facing down crazy psychopaths for each other basically, ok?).

He is also shown trying to encourage her to move past her hang-ups and, even if she does not realise it, he does quite a bit for her in his own way (we likely know most of this already but I will still cover it in the next one). So in my view, that’s quite a wholesome relationship. Anyway they are fictional characters…and even if they were not, there are likely to be quite a few fuck ups along the way but I really doubt it would be anything as major as leaving the other person in the lurch.

So how does Spike end up here? The movie is set right after Session 22, so this progression goes back to the episodes post Jupiter Jazz. I had initially thought I would be able to cover this and all that in one post but looks like it will become too long so will do another one going through the episodes from Jupiter Jazz, how they tie in with the movie and then to the finale. If you are still reading, congratulations. If I’ve lost you, I really don’t blame you.

For more Cowboy Bebop Essays, please click here

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike and Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

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PlutoMango

I am a mango who lives on Pluto. I like to write, you like to read. That makes us official best friends.

13 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: Pretty with a Pistol”

  1. These things are blowing my mind! All the emotions and sentiments in this post are so solid and they make sense but I never ever thought Cowboy Bebop had this level of depth to it. This is enlightening and I am watching the episodes again now to spot these connections.

    1. Oh wow. Yeah it’s quite an experience watching the episodes again with the shifted lens. I’ve been doing that too and it’s kind of been like discovering the show again from scratch.

  2. I always got the feeling he was talking about her in Real Folk Blues but you never see a thing which supports that. Like how they cut the dialogue to him announcing her arrival in the same breath. This is a very beautiful analysis and I’m again wondering why we didn’t catch it before. This is a paradigm shift for the audience too because we always stay confused on what’s going on with them and here it seems dude was head over heels for the lady. That’s opposite to what we believe right now. Thanks so much for spending time on this kind of thing.

    1. See the thing is it’s not easy to catch. You really have to hunker down and spend a lot of time with the show, trace connections not that easy to make. I think I just got kind of lucky here…and maybe I’ve also missed something very critical and this is all a mess. I don’t know. But once you start seeing the connections, you really can’t unsee them. Thank you so much for reading. 🙂

  3. dude this song is all kinds of awesome! is gonna take sum time to get all this haha! who knew Spike was such a sappy nut but it’s all cool.

    1. Haha! I know what you mean. We’ve all had this idea of him as this great but sort of messed up, pretty stunted kind of guy. He doesn’t learn his lesson till the end and throws his life away etc. so then this is a bit of a journey to make. Take your time. 🙂

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