‘Cowboy Bebop’: It’s Time to Blow This Scene (RECAP)

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Spoiler Alert
GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Netflix‘s Cowboy Bebop Season 1, Episode 2, “Venus Pop.”]

Plenty of scenes are getting blown in “Venus Pop,” which takes inspiration from the original anime’s “Cowboy Funk.” As in “Funk,” the main antagonist is a man who blows up buildings by placing bombs inside of teddy bears, but that’s mostly where the similarities end. Instead of the plot about a fellow bounty hunter who imitates cowboy Spike Spiegel (John Cho), we get a plot about live-action Spike’s past in the Red Dragon Syndicate and how Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), a former police officer, would kick Spike off his ship if he knew his partner used to be an assassin. This particular thread of drama was not part of the original.

COWBOY BEPOP (L to R) JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL on the set of COWBOY BEPOP

NICOLA DOVE/NETFLIX © 2021

As the episode opens, we get our first look at “Big Shot for the Bounty Hunters,” a program that showcases the daily bounties for the men and women bringing in criminals around the solar system — for some reason it keeps the outfits of the presenters exactly the same (a change seemed possible, given the adjustments to Faye’s costume?) but turns it into a popularity contest between them, which is awkward viewing. It’s just another example of how Bebop takes pains to make literal translations from the anime, but loses its nuances; its humor, its depth or its spirit.

Anyway, thanks to Big Shot, the Bebop crew — still only Spike and Jet, at this point — know about the huge bounty on Teddy Bomber. They track the guy to a wedding in a large building, where they find him planting an explosive teddy bear; he gets away, but Spike, who’s cornered by a hitman from the Syndicate, almost doesn’t. He’s distracted by the encounter, so while Jet analyzes the fake hand they snatched from the bomber, he ventures into the city to meet with a woman named Ana (Law & Order: SVU‘s Tamara Tunie) at a club presided over by Gren (Mason Alexander Park).

COWBOY BEBOP (L to R) MASON ALEXANDER PARK as GREN in COWBOY BEBOP

GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

On the subject of Gren — it’s completely understandable that the show would want to change their introduction from the source material. Much has changed since 1998. The language and storyline surrounding Gren’s character in the anime now feels outdated at best, offensive at worst. But again, the live-action translation takes the literal while eschewing the depth: It robs Gren of their ill history with Vicious (Alex Hassell), their driving motivation in the original; and in the process, it makes them less a nuanced, tragic character.

Back to the plot—Spike goes to see Ana, who owns the club — in the original, she was a convenience store owner — but in both, she seemed to have been a maternal figure for the orphaned Spike and mourned deeply when he faked his death. Once she’s gotten over her shock and anger at seeing him alive, Spike asks her to listen in on conversations around the club and find out just how much the Syndicate knows about him being alive — and what they might be planning for him next.

Spike goes back to the ship and he and Jet go after the bomber, who Jet has discovered works in a shipyard and has been choosing buildings that are made of quartz because it produces a halo effect when exploded. That’s when things really start to spiral. They enter the “supplies guy’s” ship, which launches into space with them on it; while asking Spike where he went (and Spike being reluctant to tell him, because of his Syndicate background) Jet steps on a booby trap, which could blow them all up if he shifts his weight.

COWBOY BEPOP (L to R) ALEX HASSELL as VICIOUS of COWBOY BEPOP

GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

The duo needs to find an escape pod. And the bomber, of course, emerges in a strange teddy costume — only the teddy head and his underwear, rather than a full suit as in the anime — holding a detonator, and there’s a big, clunky back-and-forth about them not being able to understand him when he’s clearly talking about the escape pod. It’s played for laughs, but it doesn’t even merit a smile. Anyway, Spike and Jet battle the guy and win, but Spike still doesn’t tell Jet what he was up to.

While all of this is happening, the side plot with husband and wife, Vicious and Julia (Elena Satine), continues on. Vicious is summoned by the Syndicate elders. They’re not pleased by his Red-Eye production, and they order him to shoot Julia, who is also in the room. Vicious actually pulls the trigger, but the gun isn’t loaded, and he’s left with a warning not to defy them again. Julia argues with him in the aftermath, and Vicious grabs her by the neck and starts to strangle her. He doesn’t kill her, but it’s safe to say their marriage is not on good ground.

And as the episode ends, Vicious goes to Ana’s club, where he’s informed that “Fearless” is still alive — and Ana overhears their conversation.

Cowboy Bebop, Season 1, Streaming Now, Netflix