Recap / Cowboy Bebop Session 6 "Sympathy for the Devil"
The episode begins with a surgery. A figure is surrounded by doctors and not too far from them, cultivated organs with a particular focus on an cybernetic eye. As it's being lowered toward the subject, we see from its reflection that the subject is Spike. Spike suddenly awakens, the whole sequence having been a flashback. He is currently in a blues club where a child prodigy is on stage, skilfully playing his harmonica. On the Bebop, the ship is low on food — Faye eats the single remaining can of dog food in front of Ein before noticing a picture of the latest bounty. The reward being three million Wulongs, Faye decides to let Spike and Jet catch him. At the club, Spike and Jet have located their target, identifying him as Giraffe.
The two start to move in when Spike notices someone, a portly man, in the way of one of their attack routes. Jet recognizes him as "Fatty" River, a fellow bounty hunter. Jet distracts him by greeting him as an old colleague while Spike goes after Giraffe alone, whose following after the harmonica prodigy along with a wheelchair bound man. The trail leads to a hotel where Giraffe continues after the pair while Spike gets his ship, Swordfish. Giraffe locates the pair's room and bursts in, yelling for "Zebra" to give something back. He's suddenly shoved out of the hotel's window. Spike spots him as he's falling and catches him on the nose of the Swordfish before landing, but Giraffe is already mortally wounded from a gunshot. As he dies, he tells Spike not to "be fooled by him" and to "help" someone before giving Spike a stone on a ring. Spike returns to the Bebop and has Jet analyze the stone while the two mull over what to do with it. Faye suggests selling it, but Spike claims it'll pay for Jet and his food, not hers. When Faye complains, Jet gives her a "present": an invoice for all the expenses she's racked up.
Jet meets up with Fatty, bribing him with sweets to gain information. Fatty reveals that the harmonica prodigy is named Wen and that Giraffe was after his guardian, Zebra. The two apparently were friends and the leaders of an organization called the Self Defense Volunteer Squad until, ten years ago, they raided an R&D facility. Zebra went missing during the operation, the raiders were wiped out and Giraffe was found blindfolded in a silo. It's assumed that Zebra double-crossed him to run the squad by himself, but for some reason turned up as Wen's guardian not long afterwards instead. Spike sees Wen playing at another club before following Zebra and the boy to a warehouse. As as Spike enters, he finds himself confronting the pair. Jet and Faye look over archives of Wen in the newspapers, and Faye notices that the date is over thirty years ago and the guardian in the paper isn't Zebra. Back at the warehouse, Spike tries to talk reassuringly with Wen — who pulls a gun out and fires, hitting Spike in the arm and knocking away his gun. Wen warns Spike not to get involved. When Spike brings up his age, Wen reveals he was alive before humans colonised the world they stand on.
Wen divulges his backstory; when he was still as young as he looked, his parents and he went out on a picnic. As they did, the Gate Incident, the first large-scale test of the now ubiquitous hyperspace gates, went wildly out of control and released strange and destructive energies that (among other things) destroyed a chunk of Earth's moon. Wen's family was caught in the blast radius, and he was shielded by his parents, but they died in the accident. Though he lived he has ceased ageing and indeed seems no longer capable of death. Every so often he would be found by scientists and experimented on, but he would always outlive them. When the Defense Squad raided the R&D lab he resided in, he incapacitated Zebra and made him his "parent" as cover. It's then that Spike realizes the truth of Giraffe's final words: not to be fooled by Wen's appearance, and to help Zebra. Wen reveals Zebra is the third victim of this deception before asking about the ring. Spike feigns ignorance of it before Wen opens fire. Spike is able to duck out of the way and hide until Wen has to reload. He rushes for his gun and returns fire, knocking Wen's gun away. As Spike rushes him, Wen pushes Zebra toward him as a distraction while he runs. Spike shoots at Wen as he's flees and manages to knock him down with a head shot, but when he goes to see where the body fell, Wen is gone.
Spike returns to the Bebop with Zebra, who seems either catatonic or paralysed, and has Jet bandage his arm. Ein notices something and barks to get their attention, and Faye looks to realise that Zebra is crying. Spike suggests using the Alfa Catch, a device that monitors brainwaves. They hook Zebra up to it and look at his memories through a monitor. Through it, they see what went on in the hotel room; Giraffe confronted Wen and demanded that he return Zebra to him, showing Wen the ring and claiming it can "return time to you". However, Wen shot Giraffe in cold blood and sent him flying out the hotel window, to the shock of the crew. Jet finishes analyzing the stone, learned it was formed from the hyperspace energy released during the accident — the same energy that keeps Wen alive. They fashion the gem into a bullet that can be fired from a specialised weapon. Jet warns Spike he doesn't know what will happen when they shoot Wen with it — for all he knows, it could explode. Thus as Spike's leaving, Faye comes to see Spike off and Jet gives him a final smoke, just in case.
Wen, meanwhile, hails a taxi, kills the driver, and commandeers the vehicle. Spike manages to locate him in the Swordfish and blasts the taxi off the road into a gas station which explodes. Wen walks from the flames unharmed as Spike lands nearby and, after letting Wen have a few pot shots, aims the gun loaded with the gem bullet. Wen lets him shoot. Spike nails Wen in the forehead and for a moment nothing happens — before Wen suddenly starts to glow and rapidly turns into an old man. He falls over, panting heavily but happy he can die at last. His last words to Spike ask if he understands too before passing away. Spike claims he doesn't before taking Wen's harmonica, trying and failing to blow a note, then throwing it in the air and making a gun motion with his hand as he "shoots" it.
"Bang."See You Space Cowboy
This episode has the following tropes:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Hard not to feel sorry for Wen once you learn his backstory — robbed of everything he had save his physical youth. There's a reason the title is Sympathy for the Devil.
- Boom, Headshot: Spike scores not one, but two headshots on Wen. It's the second one that kills him because of the gem bullet.
- Bowdlerise: The scene of Wen getting hit in the forehead had the impact replaced with a Hit Flash and his bullet mark digitally removed in the [adult swim] version, as at the time, the censors were wary about showing a kid getting shot in the head.
- On top of that, this was one of three episodes delayed in the wake of of the 9/11 attacks, as it contained a scene of a man falling from a high-rise building and a child (Wen) emerging from burnt corpses and later the burning rubble of a destroyed building.
- The beginning dream of Spike in surgery had his lower nudity blacked out (even though it was Barbie Doll Anatomy) on [adult swim].
- Creepy Child: Wen. His pale green eyes really sell it.
- Destination Defenestration: Giraffe getting tossed out the window.
- I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Spike's turn this time as Giraffe gives him the ring gem. Unlike Faye in Gateway Shuffle, he honors Giraffe's request.
- Interrogating the Dead: Zebra is not actually dead (he's paralysed and seems at least somewhat cognisant of events), but it comes across as the same when the Bebop crew have to look into his memories using a machine.
- Mineral Macguffin: The gem is a crystal containing all the strange energy from the Gate Disaster, compressed into a faceted stone. It's made into a Depleted Phlebotinum Bullet to kill Wen at the climax of the episode.
- No Ontological Inertia: Wen's eternal youth is explained as a result of an overactive pineal gland that can be stopped with a pink rock. As soon as he's hit with the rock, his eternal youth ends and he instead experiences Rapid Aging.
- Older Than They Look/Really 700 Years Old: Wen.
- Paper Cutting: Spike getting nicked on the cheek by a stray gunshot from Wen in the climax. He doesn't even flinch.
- Rapid Aging: Wen after getting hit with the gem bullet.
- Red Herring: We're lead to believe that Zebra is the bad guy and Wen in need of rescue. Turns out it's the other way around.
- Too Soon: During the initial broadcast on [adult swim], the episode was removed from the lineup due to 9/11, as it shows a scene of a man (Giraffe) getting thrown out a high window, Wen emerging from the rubble of a destroyed building, and two scenes of Wen taking a bullet.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: So what did they do with Zebra?
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: While Wen defends his own life (using some very morally questionable means), when the gem bullet returns his lost age and death he's glad to rest.