Cowboy Bebop Rewatch

Cowboy Bebop Re-watch: “Jamming With Edward!”

Shucks howdy, it’s time to break out your Piyokos and watch another episode of Cowboy Bebop! Today we’re watching session number nine (number nine…number nine…number nine…), “Jamming With Edward,” one of the many episodes titled after a Rolling Stones property. (Jamming With Edward! is a six-song EP featuring three members of the Stones plus Ry Cooder and Nicky Hopkins, comprised of songs written during the Let It Bleed era and produced by longtime Stones collaborator Glyn Johns.) With this episode, the final crew member of the Bebop hops aboard: ace hacker and goggle-phile Edward Wong Hau Pepulu Tivrusky IV.

The episode opens with a red-eyed satellite saying: “Here, nobody here. Always alone.” It slowly activates its orbiting brethren (they make sounds as they re-align, which they shouldn’t) and as one, red lasers plunge straight through Earth’s atmosphere and into the barren desert. The lasers etch the land, strafing the dirt briefly before shutting off. When the dust clears, we see massive drawings many acres wide that mimic the Nazca Lines: coyotes and spiders and men, their arms wide, like they’re shouting for help.

After a title bump, we watch a little girl as she watches her browser through her goggles. Her browser seems tailored to her preferences, displaying the Internet as an undersea fantasy of schooling fish. (Sadly, the science fictional element here isn’t necessarily an AR upgrade to Firefox-enabled goggles, but the very idea of a lush and vibrant ocean teeming with life.) As she browses, we hear a weather prediction for skies clear of rock showers. In 2071, the weather report remains characteristically dubious, and we watch as a rock shower pelts the girl and sends her scrambling for a better hiding spot. The ensuing wide shot shows us what’s left: a smoking hole in the ground surrounded by what used to be concrete high rises, all of them ruined years ago. (Those of you depicting post-apocalyptic wastelands, take note: when a random rock shower that leaves a hundred small fires behind is just part of of the local weather, and your protagonist commonly finds shelter in the caverns of ancient parking garages, things are bad.)

Luckily, the little girl had already found what she wanted online: the position of the Bebop. Onboard, our crew is watching a news report on the land carvings. The commentator exposits that the police suspect a hacker to be responsible for the satellites acting up, and that an eight million woolong bounty has been posted for the hacker. Meanwhile, a wingnut named Yuri Kellerman (a joke on spoon-bender Uri Geller) does his best Peter Lorre voice and claims that aliens are responsible. Undaunted by either facts or logic, he suggests that even if a hacker did take control of the satellites, aliens may have planted the idea in the hacker’s mind. Plus ça change, and all that.

Spike bows out on the bounty, and Jet gets all uncomfortable because it means being alone with Faye. “I’m not the type to be led around by a woman,” he says. “Then you’ll have to lead her around,” Spike replies. Jet grimaces. “I’m even less the type to do that.” Then there’s a conversation about how Spike thinks hackers are boring, and how Faye thinks they’re totally harmless, and how Jet thinks Faye must be out of touch if she thinks this. Then he cracks wise about her age, suggesting that maybe when she was young, hackers fit a stereotype, but these days they’re everywhere. This one very organic conversation foreshadows two separate things that are important to our characters: Jet’s relationships with women, and Faye’s true age. See how neat and tidy that was? Let’s take a moment to savour the deft grace with which that foreshadowing was executed. Did it feel like foreshadowing? No. Was there scary music or a lingering shot? No. Will it stick in your mind after you’ve watched the entirety of the series? Oh yes.

Another news broadcast tells us that the satellites involved in the drawings are very old, and that the access codes are lost. The satellites are actually part of a network of super computers that connect the underground civilization on Earth with the ones in colonial space. This way, even occasional flurries of moon rocks left over from the Gate Incident can’t serve as a passable excuse for not calling your granny on her birthday. The unintended consequence of this network is that it serves as a tempting target for a new breed of hackers on Earth’s scarred surface, who have a whole lot of time on their hands and not much to live for.

Cut to our new friend in the goggles, who’s built a papercraft Bebop and rigged up her own remote control to pilot it, making nyurrr noises as it dips and hovers. The police burst through the door to her safehouse-du-jour, pointing guns and calling her “Radical Edward.” What to do? Hack their cruiser, crash it, and use the distraction to flee, of course. Jet and Faye are out of their element. They’re entering a world of pain.

While Faye looks up the satellites’ ping points and Jet does some digging on Radical Edward, Spike sleeps with a magazine over his face, and Edward hacks the Bebop. As usual, only Ein notices that something’s awry. Edward learns that our heroes are looking for her. Overjoyed, she starts looking for the errant satellite—revealing that prior to this moment, she’s had no involvement in the planet’s largest game of, well, laser tag.

Next we get a montage of Jet’s search for Radical Edward. For some reason that’s completely beyond me, he looks on land and not online. Seriously, let’s consider this. If you were hunting a hacker, would you ask randoms on the street? Or would you fire up your forums and trust in your Google-fu? Besides, Jet is an ex-cop. He probably has plenty of contacts who could provide him with extra details on this super hacker who’s eluded the police for so long. Does he ask them? No. He just wanders around talking to some stereotypes, each of whom gives him a different version of Radical Edward. One of them even sells Jet a box of Piyokos, the makers of whom may have funded this segment.

And now, some things you might not know about the Japanese language. Japanese onomatopoeia is very different from English. Readers familiar with manga already know this, but everything has a sound, and those sounds are different from English sounds because the syllables that build them are different. For every consonant, there are five possible vowel sounds, and each of these combined sounds has a distinct syllable, so there’s quite the selection to choose from. In English, a little chick makes a cheep, cheep sound. In Japanese, a little chick makes a pi-yo, pi-yo sound. Or more accurately, it makes a ぴよぴよ sound. Since some Japanese nouns and verbs are named for their onomatopoeia, one word for a chick is “piyoko,” where “ko/こ,” the suffix indicating that the subject is a child, adds to the impression that the chicken is very little. So calling the candies “Piyokos” is, in fact, not unlike calling vaguely chick-shaped lumps of marshmallows “Peeps,” if you assume that peep is the sound a chick makes.

As for what’s inside a Piyoko, I have no idea. I once saw a child eating one on the subway in Toronto. I had my camera with me, and considered taking a picture. Then I realized that even asking the kid’s mom if I could please take a photo of her kid eating candy was likely to get me arrested, so I held back. From what I remember, the inside was white and creamy looking, and the Piyoko’s exterior appeared brittle and crumbly. The child had eaten it head-first.

While Jet ponders the mystery of the Piyoko, Edward is actually getting things done. (This happens a lot, in the series: the adults flounder, and Ed accomplishes her goals.) She finds the satellite, realizes that it wasn’t hacked but is in fact a sentient entity, re-names it MPU, and alerts the Bebop when the police jam the satellite’s signal. If there isn’t an Ed vs. HAL mashup online already, there should be one soon. I’d really like to see our super ace hacker blithely shrug off the pilot AI’s attempts to scrub her off the mission. Or maybe she could take on GLaDOS: “The Enrichment Center reminds you that Ein the Data Dog will never threaten to stab you and, in fact, cannot speak.”

Speaking of Ein, he likes Piyokos. He’s just finished eating one when Ed hacks the Bebop’s communications relay and demands a favour in return for delivering the goods on the satellite. She reminds us that because the access codes are gone, disabling MPU must be done manually, with wires and everything, but without computer-assisted targeting or flight because the surrounding satellites are designed to attack foreign bodies in that orbital layer.

Naturally, Spike is all over this job. He preps for it while Faye and Ed do some girl talk. Apparently, Edward is a huge fan of the Bebop, despite knowing how they almost never make a collar. When Faye realizes that the kid really is Radical Edward, she asks what Faye has heard about her. For a brief moment, there are two eminently capable women with massive reps talking about their respective exploits and adventures, and it’s really awesome. Later, Ed reminds Faye not to forget the favour she promised, saying that if she grants it, Ed won’t take any of the reward. “Oh, well now,” Faye comments, “aren’t you a nice kid?” (Oh, Faye. It stings when you’re on the other side of the con, doesn’t it?)

On the Swordfish II Spike listens to Jet warn him not to use too many missiles, because they’re expensive. Then Spike enters silent running, computer-free, and tries to fire a shot at the satellite from a distance. An attack satellite blocks his shot, so now it’s all lasers all the time. Ed tells Jet that if Spike approaches within twenty meters of the the satellite, the attack satellites won’t fire at him. Meanwhile, Faye should act as a decoy. Spike doesn’t need to be told twice, so he sneaks up on the satellite, hooks Ed up to it, and she makes a copy so that the police can catch it while she downloads the Real McCoy. Then there’s some more news-hour expositing (how many times can they dip into that well?), and Jet and Spike try to obtain the bounty. They fail, because even sentient AI’s don’t count as people, and no person means no reward. Afterward, Jet remarks that he’s still puzzled as to why the satellite would draw the pictures in the first place. “That’s easy,” Spike says. “He was lonely, so he drew some friends.”

Thank you, Spike. I really like it when you summarize the theme of the episode so succinctly. Because what MPU did is really only a reflection of what Edward has done by following the Bebop, extracting a promise from Faye, then hacking the ship and re-directing it back in her direction when the others try to leave her on Earth. There are a lot of stories in the SF canon about kids finding their way onto star-faring vessels by accident or charm or abject pleading, but Ed makes the ship open its doors to her. This means there’s no annoying arc about the adult characters grudgingly accepting her after a series of tests. Ed already knows her value to the group, and so do they. Spike whines about hating “kids, animals, and women with attitudes,” but this marks the first and last time he ever speaks a word against Ed. After that, he relies completely on her hacking and research skills. The adults aboard the Bebop may all be screw-ups in one way or another, but Ed is a genius. Probably a disturbed genius, but a genius nonetheless, one whose situation on Earth was so bad that she chose a ship of fools to crew on instead. For the rest of those fools, this ship is the end of the line. But for Ed, it’s just the beginning.

NOTHING GOOD EVER COMES FROM EARTH.


Madeline Ashby comes from Earth, and makes a ちゅう sound.

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