Cowboy Bebop: Lessons of Toys in the Attic

So, Toys in the Attic is a loaded episode for Bebop. Apart from everything else, the episode features four ‘Lessons,’ one for each of the crew members of the Bebop (for the humans at-least…Ein’s lesson is to pick better companions I guess). The episode is written by Michiko Yokote, the other major writer of Bebop apart from Keiko Nobumoto herself, with 7 episodes to her credit. If anyone ever gets too snarky “macho” with you about Bebop, or something else gender-toxic, please remind them that the majority of it was written by women. The creative team was a mixed group and hence the show is so balanced.

Anyway, the Lessons are largely just representations of the characters’ individual personalities, and foreshadowing of some of the information we find out about them in subsequent episodes. The episode is also loosely built on the movie ‘Alien’ and named after an Aerosmith song of the same name, which is a reference to drugs.

Jet’s Lesson

“Humans were meant to work and sweat for their money after all. Those that try to get rich quick or live at the expense of others all get divine retribution somewhere along the way. That is the lesson….But one thing about humans is that they quickly forget the lessons they just learned.”

The lesson holds comically true for Jet’s current state, having been swindled out of everything including his underwear by Faye, because he “tried to get rich quick” by gambling with her and got divine retribution. I also low-key feel that he’s hoping in this moment of annoyance, for Faye to get divine justice at having done this to him.

But the larger picture is that Jet is all about Justice and Duty, as the previous episode both tells and shows us. Jet does the right thing even when he has been wronged. He left the ISSP because the corruption didn’t sit right with him and that’s routed in the belief he states here in the lesson. Other cops like Fad chose the “get rich quick” or “live at the expense of others” route, through falling in line with the Syndicates but he deliberately chose another, less respectable, and much more difficult life.

He is the most moral of the Bebop crew members and conducts himself with quite a bit of honour. He does not do this for any reason other than his own moral compass and a belief in divine justice. He does his duty by people even if he gets nothing in return, an example being him choosing to do the right thing by going after Faye and rescuing her even though she left very childishly, after having damaged his ship. Another example is him helping Rhint even though Alisa treated him quite badly. Even if she felt suffocated in the relationship with him, just abandoning him without a word was probably not the kindest way to go about it. But when it’s his turn, Jet does right by her still.

The last line in the lesson can both hold true for his two adult crew members, who quickly seem to forget the lessons they learn throughout the show, much to Jet’s frustration, and also for Jet himself. He has been abandoned once by someone he loved, but still continues to take in people who all end up ultimately doing their own thing and even leave him to pursue their own agendas. Both Spike and Faye learn different lessons but keep repeating their patterns too. Faye learns that she has people in her life who care about her but still keeps going off on her own. She keeps losing at gambling but still continues to do it. Spike knows his past isn’t good for him and will come back to haunt him but does nothing to resolve it, till things go truly over his head.

Faye’s Lesson

Survival of the fittest is the law of the land. To fool and to be fooled is the reason we live. I’ve never had anything good happen to me when I trust others. That’s the lesson.

This is again fairly straightforward if you know the character of Faye. Of course, if you are watching the series for the first time, at this point you do not know her backstory. So, this lesson essentially foreshadows what the viewer learns about her in ‘My Funny Valentine,’ the fact that she has been swindled by someone she trusted, and likely several other instances in her life of three years have taught her she cannot trust anyone. She was a blank slate when she woke up and probably a series of bad experiences have taught her to be over-the-top in her mistrust.

This is ironic in a way as well because she does trust the people she is around at the moment to quite an extent. If nothing, she trusts them enough to take up residence with them, and keeps reminding them they are comrades. But essentially, the lesson tells us that her bitter experiences have shaped her into the conniving, selfish con-artist she is. The first two lines are callous lessons of self-service but, the third line switches tone to reflect a lot of pain and vulnerability. These are essentially the two facets of Faye Valentine.

Ed’s Lesson

“Lesson, lesson…if you see a stranger, follow him!”

This lesson is deliberately kept to be the exact opposite of what children are normally told. It is reflective of essentially how wild and abnormal Edward’s life has been, something which a first-time viewer would again be completely unaware of, but which a repeat viewer can really understand.

She is an abandoned child who never had anyone around to tell her that strangers are not to be trusted, and hence she has picked up the exact opposite belief as she went about raising herself. Her taking up residence on the Bebop is also exactly an act of following strangers, since she doesn’t know any of the crew personally and starts living with them basis just her research on them. It is also reflective of the state she lives in, flowing freely, largely immune and transcending above the world around her, so that even the worst advice you can ever give a child cannot harm her.

Spike’s Lesson

“You shouldn’t leave things in the fridge. That is the lesson.”

That Spike is an idiot is something I consider an established fact. But actually, he is just a normal, flawed human. Spike has an avoidant personality and he runs from things rather than facing up to them. Not talking about gun battles or enemies. He is a brave man in that sense, but is a pro at leaving things unresolved with the people in his life.

He exits the Syndicate leaving things unresolved with two important people in his life-Vicious and Mao, and it all comes back eventually to bite him smack dab on his rear end. Looking at the whole, it was a very arbitrary decision on his part. He asks Julia to run away with him without really factoring in what she actually wants, if it’s even a good idea in her mind, or if it’s even practical at all. Post leaving, he never tries to do anything to resolve all the loose ends he left behind, except one expedition to try and find Julia after Ed accidentally chances upon her name, until it all comes back to hit him.

Even in this new life, we see him disrespect or abandon Jet in the first half of the series twice, creating more unresolved threads in this part of his life too. And that’s essentially the lesson he needs to learn. By the end, he does begin to take some steps in this direction. Not saying he perfects it because his dialogue with both Jet and Faye at the end was lacking the reassurance and direct communication they needed at the time, but his returning to the ship to try and make some amends, or pay some respect before leaving for the Syndicate, is a step in the right direction.

The series never glorifies Spike’s avoidant personality and this lesson is very much indicative of it, along with the shots of Faye crying alone and Jet cleaning absently while Spike flies away at the end. Those shots are a judgement on him, on how he has left things with them, and what his current actions are costing them emotionally. He needs to learn to understand the consequences of his actions and resolve them real-time, to value the feelings of others and do his part toward them, not wait till things have gone completely out of his hand and start to impact other people. That’s his lesson.

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3 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: Lessons of Toys in the Attic”

  1. That Spike is an idiot is something I consider an established fact. <<< single favorite line you are absolutely right XD in seriousness though, the rest of the paragraph is absolutely true, and I so appreciate the phrasing. Something about 'unresolved' especially clicked in my head.

    The irony being that looking at how he interacts with the people he meets along the way (VT, Rocco and Stella, Gren, etc; even the villains of the episodes like Wen and Pierrot), he does quite a bit of resolving. For Wen, Pieorrot, and Gren, it's obvious the resolution is them perishing in the end, but he nevertheless goes out of his way to get to that resolution. For VT it's not As outright a resolution but knowing her real name and gently insisting she keeps her money as a gratitude to her husband felt very much like a releasing of something for Spike.

    As for Rocco and Stella, I think this is the most obvious resolution in that Spike sets up Stella's surgery and brings her flowers after Rocco dies. Spike really didn't have to even come back, he could have definitely just set up the hospital fees and have treated it as done (or kept the money but we all know that would never happen), yet he chose to resolve this story even if Stella rejected him because her brother died.

    The key to all these stories is that they're not really Spike's stories to resolve. They're not strong relationships, they're really just other conflicted souls in passing, yet he chooses to go that final step with each.

    — I may have written all of that before reading the final paragraph lol but such is the way of analyzing ;P This has gotten me thinking deeper on this though, and I think both ideas are intertwined. Spike knows intimately the pain of leaving things undone, having this cloud of unfinished business hanging over his head without the resolve to actually follow through. Perhaps these small moments are practice, or even an apology to the universe for leaving undone the relationships that Actually mean something to him. It's definitely a relatable feeling to be able to approach other peoples' problems and find solutions rather than approach your own; as an example (that nobody asked for ;D) I find it much easier and more satisfying to clean my friends' rooms rather than my own. There's not all that emotional baggage of know the stories behind every little thing and accidentally reminiscing while the room gets, ironically, way messier.

    Love your thoughts!

    1. Oh definitely! That’s such a brilliant observation. He’ll go around being Mr. Philanthropy to everyone, sorting out their issues but when it comes to his own stuff he can’t figure it out if his life depends on it…which it frequently does. Likely we’re to understand that’s the baggage of his past and part of his emotional journey. These characters are all still pretty young and emotional maturity takes a while to set in. I love the comparison to your cleaning habits. 😂😂 Lucky people your friends are indeed.

  2. Love Spike’s lesson…lol. The dude’s so emotionally stunted it’s not even funny. Never like that he just ups and takes off to avenge some lady who didn’t even speak to him in a while and there are people so broken up about it. but it’s like he can’t care about it. older I get, more I feel Jet had the right idea.

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