There’s this custom in anime, which TV Tropes calls the “Beach Episode” or “Onsen Episode.” Usually it involves the characters doing something fun and fluffy like putting on bikinis and frolicking, and happens right before or after seriously heavy stuff goes down in the plot. For most anime, this is limited to battling sand crabs. For Cowboy Bebop, it means fighting an alien. This is the lesson behind “Toys in the Attic,” which is both Aerosmith’s third album and a slang term for “crazy” that shows up in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In space, no one can hear you procrastinate. Don’t leave things in the fridge.
“Toys in the Attic” opens with a creature cam shot that shows a Something rustling through cobwebby air ducts. One of the things I love about Cowboy Bebop is that it depicts space in as un-Kubrick a manner as possible. (More on that later.) The spaceship interiors don’t gleam. Nothing is white. It makes sense: we humans are foul creatures, and once space stops being the purview of well-disciplined, detail-oriented pilots and engineers, it’s going to look a lot dirtier. There’s no reason to believe that simply being in space will make us cleaner people with tidier habits. If anything, we’ll probably let even more things slide once we realize that we can airlock a room once in a while to bilge the clutter. (Oh, don’t look at me that way. You’d do it too, if you could get away with it.)
The creature cam takes us to Jet, who narrates the first of the episode’s dialogue while appearing to type it out. This always made me wonder if Jet was secretly a wildly popular blogger with a huge fan following. Maybe he blogs for the other bonsai growers out there. Maybe he has a LiveJournal.
(IN SPAAAAAAACE!) We’ll never know, but Jet is writing about how when you work freelance and there’s nothing to do, there’s also no money. I find it hard to believe that there’s absolutely no small fry whatsoever to go after, but maybe the Bebop is swinging through an area with a particularly low crime rate. With nothing to do, Spike has taken to cooking (shish kebabs, with a flame thrower), Ed and Ein are sleeping (Ed mutters something like “I can’t eat, anymore”), and Jet has entered a dice game with Faye. He’s lost everything but his shorts. (Apparently, both Jet and Spike are shorts men.)
A word about the game they’re playing, Chou-Han: This game later features prominently in Shinichiro Watanabe’s other full-length series, Samurai Champloo (which we could also call “Spike, Jet, and Faye Meet Ten Years Earlier During the Edo Period, With Hip-Hop Music”). It involves betting on whether the total value of two dice that emerge from under a bamboo cup will be odd, or even. Commonly, players bet against each other, not against the house. The most interesting thing about Chou-Han is that the dice roller usually plays without a shirt, to show that he or she is not cheating. In yakuza movies, this means getting a good look at some gnarly tattoos. In Cowboy Bebop, it means Faye just cheats with a magnetic ankle bracelet. Spike walks in with his food just as Jet admits defeat and sends his shorts to the ceiling.
Jet’s sudden state of dishabille sends him, wrapped in a blanket, down to the ship’s cargo bay on the hunt for clothes. There, he finds a mini-fridge that he doesn’t remember having seen before. He narrates the first “lesson” of the episode:
“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 along the way.”
Meanwhile, Spike exposes Faye’s duplicity by manipulating her ankle bracelet in between brushing his teeth (no doubt to rid his mouth of the taste of lighter fluid). It’s a subtly sexy move, the way he lightly taps her ankle with his toe. “You could at least give him back his clothes,” he says. “I’ll rent them to him,” Faye replies. Just as things are about to get even flirtier, the alarm goes off. The two of them blink at it like they’ve never heard it before, then take off running. It’s actually a very sweet moment, because you learn that Spike and Faye really do care about their little crew and will run to help them if necessary.
Upon arriving, they discover Jet crouched near the fridge. He claims to have been bitten by something, Ein growls at the shadows, and then a rat emerges, leading everyone to believe that Jet’s gotten all worked up over nothing. Before they leave, Jet rants about the fridge and Spike almost achieves a moment of clarity… almost. “Nope. Don’t remember,” he says, shrugging.
Faye must be feeling generous, because suddenly Jet has his clothes back on while he listens to Spike’s spiel on herbal medicine with which to treat wounds. However, the things he’s got in his medicine chest don’t seem to be plant-based. They’re more like dried lizards and scorpions. I have to wonder if this is the secret of Spike’s success, somehow. I mean, the man keeps on not dying, right? Maybe dried Martian geckos or Ceti Eels or whatever really do have powerful healing properties, when brewed as a tea. Otherwise, Spike would have died of internal bleeding years ago, right? Perhaps this was Jet’s line of reasoning, as he drinks the concoction.
If so, it’s the last thought he had for a long while, because he promptly passes out.
The nasty purple mark on the back of Jet’s neck jolts the others out of their scepticism, so Spike takes what must be a tissue sample and starts running it against a database of known pathogens. Spike and Faye discuss the possibility of a mutant rat, Ein tries to tell them what’s wrong, and Ed suggests that it’s a “mystery space creature.” For a very cute moment everything feels like a sitcom, with Spike trying to keep it together for his girls while enduring a Great Outdoors moment with a mutant instead of a bat. Faye sees right through him, though, and heads off to the bath.
Someone really needs to introduce the crew of the Bebop to the rules from Scream, because getting naked during a creature feature is just plain asking for trouble. In the bath, we get a nice long shot of Faye’s traitorous feet, and we know something’s, er, afoot. Then there’s some rather adorable bonding between Spike and Ed, while Spike shows Ed the thermal goggles and tries testing them out with her. (Ed rushes off after Ein before they can start the test, but Spike sees the Something wriggling across the floor.) Then Faye bounds with a bite on the back of her leg. She gets very dramatic, and the two of them have some of my favourite lines of dialogue in the entire series:
Faye: “I’m so young and full of life!
Spike: “Full of what?”
As Spike looks after Faye, Ed sets off on her quest. She narrates the second lesson of the episode:
“If you see a stranger, follow him.”
While on her quest, she loses Ein, who comes under attack from the “swooky space creature.” Spike manages to find him in a remarkably tense scene where he knows the creature is there, but can’t see it, and narrowly dodges it by falling down a ladder. (This episode really is a primer on creature feature tropes. Anyone who wants to make such film should really watch this episode.)
Pondering the rising body count, and fully aware that there’s a missing child on the ship, Spike loads up on guns…and fencing foils, and a flame thrower, the motion detector from Alien, some netting, and some tear gas. (Some of his gear is Jet’s old ISSP stuff: my guess is that Jet took his riot kit with him when he left the force.) He then programs the ship to run on full auto-pilot and land on Mars once passing the next gate. (At this point, my husband wondered why Spike, who could be facing off against a xenomorph, decided that landing on one of the solar system’s most populated planets was a good idea. My guess is that Spike either hoped to be found by a doctor upon landing, or just hates his Martian enemies enough to unleash alien terrors upon them from beyond the grave.)
Either way, Spike is in it to win it, and he starts a desperate one-on-one battle against the Something. The best bit of this chase is when Spike loses his smokes in a room he’s filled with teargas, lights up his last remaining one with a flame thrower, then has to go back for the pack when he torches the cigarette down to the filter. Finally he torches the Something, and the smell reminds him of food, which reminds him that a year ago, he hid a Ganymede Rock Lobster in the mini-fridge in the stockroom. He forgot about it, and now it’s a chamber of eldritch horrors. The lesson?
“Don’t leave things in the fridge.”
Now, there’s an important timeline question to be dealt with, here. Spike says that he hid the lobster a year ago, to keep “everyone” from eating it. Does that mean that the five crewmates have been travelling together for a year? Did Spike burn out his share of Rhint’s bounty on a lobster? The last episode did take place on Ganymede, after all. Has a year really passed between then and now? I have no idea, but if it’s true, it shades all of the crew’s interactions in a deeper way.
This all ends in an airlock, of course, with Spike valiantly clinging to a handrail and desperately trying to kick the mutinous, mutagenic mini-fridge into the wild black yonder. He succeeds, but only after having been bitten. “The Waltz of the Flowers” from the Nutcracker Suite plays as the mini-fridge opens its door and spreads its spores in a glittering spiral through space, and the crew of the Bebop hovers in anti-gravity. It’s a great parody of 2001, with all the stately music juxtaposed against the undignified drifting of each crewmate. As the episode ends, we see a final Something slug up against Ed. She grabs for it in her sleep, pops it in her mouth, and says: “I can’t eat any more.” Parents, take note: don’t complain about what your kids eat, ever again. It could be so much worse.
WATCH OUT FOR THAT BARBECUE, SPACE COWBOYS.