Cowboy Bebop Rewatch

Cowboy Bebop Re-watch: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Like certain anime characters I could mention, your erstwhile Bebop blogger has a nasty habit of coming back from almost certain disaster to wreak further havoc. In that spirit: HOW ABOUT A NICE GAME OF CHESS?

Episode 14, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” has nothing really to do with either Queen or the events of the song. Taking a gander at the lyrics reveal how closely they pertain to Spike Spiegel’s life:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes, Look up to the skies and see,
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go, Little high, little
low,
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to
me

Spike utters these words, or variations thereof, throughout the series. He does so in this episode, too, when Jet warns him of a possible trap engineered by the bounty they’re pursuing. “Whatever happens, happens,” Spike replies.

After the Spike-fest of the last two episodes, “Bohemian Rhapsody” focuses on Ed and Jet. And in contrast to Spike’s strategy of fighting his way through a problem, we watch Jet calmly execute his strategy for dealing with the Gate Corporation, and Ed doggedly pursue an online chess game with a mysterious opponent who, naturally, has something major to do with the episode’s plot. That she’s never really played before doesn’t matter—she learns the game by playing it, losing, and playing again. If you want insight into Ed’s genius, this is it. She’s willing to try things she might not be good at, with the firm (and perhaps irrational) belief that she can become good at them with enough effort. (I sometimes think that Ed’s mastery of the hacking arts began not with an urge to learn programming technique, but with a profound desire to bend the machine to her will.)

As episodes go, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is basically filler: in order to earn their bounty, the crew of the Bebop have to nab the mastermind of a long-term scheme to defraud hyperspace gate travelers of their money and data. Working separately (it was Faye’s idea, naturally), they’ve managed to net most of the scammers, but they’re each frustrated in their attempts to take the hunt to the next level. Their only clues are pieces from an electronic chess set. Ed promptly ganks one of the pieces, and uses it to start playing online chess. Insert facepalm here: the criminals were using these pieces to communicate with the mastermind!

It turns out that the mastermind is no longer the master of his own mind—he’s Chessmaster Hex, a former chess wiz who went to work for the Gate Corporation in its early days. Before the gates went live, he warned of safety and security issues, for which he was fired. As revenge, he released key information about the gates online as a brochure, sort of an Anarchist’s Cookbook for hyperspace travelers. Now various hackers phreak the Gates, using the manual to skim money off the top of Gate tolls. Meanwhile, Hex himself is off with the Three Old Guys, smoking insane amounts of pot and playing chess with adolescents whose genius reflects his bygone promise.

Faye and Spike find this out once they try to apprehend Hex. It doesn’t go well. They’re followed by another hunter named Jonathan, who lost too much money to Hex’ scheme. He blasts his way through the dive where Hex lives only discover that the old man doesn’t give a damn. This fact proves to Spike that the old man “isn’t there any more,” and that they should leave him alone. Whereas the crew was divided at the beginning of the episode, by the end they all agree that letting Hex go is the best course. Jet promises the executives at the Gate Corporation that his crew will never divulge the truth about the gates if Hex’ former employers call off the bounty. “We’d hate for Ed to lose her favourite chess partner, wouldn’t we?”

What I enjoy most about this episode are the gadgets: a microphone embedded in a cigarette, the online chess piece that stores multiple games and players’ data, the all-too-vulnerable gates. This episode relies almost entirely on McGuffins to move it along, and they’re fun little gadgets that have since come into being. The chess piece is a combination USB key/console memory card, the gate problem is one step away from ATM scanning and the bugged cigarette has probably been around since Castro. And it’s not unusual to have a heist-oriented plot like this one focus on the neat little devices that make it all happen. That said, as an episode in the larger arc of the series it always leaves me a little cold.

That’s probably because the next one, “My Funny Valentine,” is just so damn sad.


Madeline Ashby has been busy, lately, but promises to blog about the trials and tribulations of Faye Valentine very soon.

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