The unsung hero in the Cowboy Bebop universe has always been Jet Black. While Spike Spiegel is the undisputed protagonist of the series, the other characters stand out just as much, from Faye and her overt sex appeal masking deep-seeded something, to Ed and her being endlessly weird and yet somehow both intellectually and emotionally superior, to even Ein and his being an adorable little pup.
Jet certainly seems like the one left in the lurch a lot of times. He’s the “normal” one, the rock at the center of everything, the voice of reason; sometimes the strong core isn’t the one audiences cling to. This is why it’s such a treat when we get episodes centered on Jet, because, while we don’t know much about any of the characters’ histories yet, Jet’s is almost entirely centered around mistakes. Things get wistful in the tenth session, “Ganymede Elegy.”
The great thing about the show is that any one of the characters could be the main character of their own solo series and it’d be endlessly entertaining. As it is, each of the members of the crew get to have a small handful of “centric” episodes, with Spike having the most because he’s the lead, and the rest being just bounty episodes. It’s a great formula and ensures that we never get tired of any one storyline, and in fact it leaves us wanting more. We’ve heard a little bit about Jet’s past in other episodes; we know he used to be a cop and we know he became a bounty hunter for personal reasons, but we don’t yet know what those were. We don’t even know how he and Spike got together, seeing as Spike is a big ol’ gangster. Jet’s basic life story is perhaps the most hard-boiled Noir-like, if we replace “bounty hunter” with “private eye.” He’s got a strong moral center and he, above anyone else, will always do the right thing, even if it ruins everything for him personally.
We start out on the Bebop with the crew having caught and tied up a bounty head. Ed, the most recent addition to the crew, torments the captive in a way not unlike a puppy or a Capuchin monkey. Jet is flying the Bebop to Ganymede where they can collect on the bounty. As he does so he looks at an old pocket watch he keeps with him. He reminisces about a woman. Faye and Spike snap him out of his daydream and Faye then accuses him of longing for some girl he left on Ganymede, which is Jet’s home satellite. Jet barks that she’s obnoxious and Faye knows she’s hit the nail on the head. As they’re coming in to land, Jet gets a video call from Donnelly, a former police colleague, and the two begin to talk about the old days, how Jet’s nickname was “The Black Dog” (when he got hold of something, he never let go), and Donnelly brings up Jet’s old flame, a woman named Elisa. Faye remarks that she should have known Jet used to be a cop; that’s why they never get along.
On info from Donnelly, Jet goes to see Elisa, who now owns a bar called La Fin (or “the end” in French. Ominous.), while Spike fixes his Swordfish II, Faye lays out on the bow of the ship to get some sun, Ed fishes over the side, and Ein curls up and goes to sleep. He’s a dog after all. When Jet gets to the bar, a jumpy man named Rhint is there and it looks like he’s about to pull a gun until Elisa comes out from the back and tells Rhint that Jet’s an old friend. They talk about how the other is doing now; Jet explains he’s become a bounty hunter and Elisa says she’s doing okay, but she’s got to close up shop and move soon. Jet’s worried about her being able to pay off the banks, and she says she’s fine, because she has Rhint, who is now her boyfriend. Jet asks why she left him and she says she can’t remember, because that was a lifetime ago and time doesn’t stand still.
And time certainly doesn’t stand still, because as Jet’s speaking to Elisa, Spike gets a call from Donnelly looking for Jet. It’s a hot tip on a 1.8 million woolong bounty head for some guy who killed a loan shark: Rhint. Well, shit. Spike hops inside his not-quite-tip-top Swordfish and goes to find this guy, while Ed rubs her head against Faye’s leg…she’s a weirdo after all. Rhint flashes back to having killed the man in self-defense and begins to freak out when Elisa tells him Jet’s a bounty hunter. They decide to leave immediately and get aboard a speedboat to make it to a transport ship. Spike finds them and begins to give chase, firing his ship’s guns (purposely missing) at it while Rhint feebly returns fire .
As Spike pursues, he nearly runs into Jet’s personal ship, the Hammer Head. Spike fills Jet in on what’s going on and, with a heavy sigh, Jet tells his partner to back off. He’ll capture Rhint himself. He’s the Black Dog after all, and this used to be his beat. Jet radios them and tells them to pull over, and Elisa is crestfallen that Jet would do this. But he does, and he doesn’t let go, attaching a tow cable to the back of the boat, which tries its best to speed away, but it comes apart in the process, wrecking against the bank. Rhint is hurt and he and Elisa make it to the nearby walkway. When Jet approaches, Elisa aims a pistol at him, even firing a few times but missing. She tells Jet that she left him because he protected her too much, wouldn’t let her be her own person, was always logical to a fault and treated her like a person who needed saving. Jet tells her the cops are on their way and if she tries to make a run for it, she’ll be an accomplice. She eventually concedes and Jet walks over to Rhint who screams that he doesn’t want to go to jail. Jet tells him to do his time and he’ll be out on a self-defense plea most likely. Jet then walks away, throwing the watch into the water.
That could literally be any old Film Noir. Just because it takes place in a sunny port town doesn’t make Jet’s feelings any less dark. The makers of the show do a great job of making the Ganymede sky a sort of hazy indigo, which somehow perfectly reflects Jet’s feelings. He would never have dreamed of letting Rhint and Elisa just leave, but he tries to make it as easy as possible with the inevitability that Jet WILL catch them no matter what. He’s over-protective of her, and that translates to the way he is as the captain of the Bebop. We’ll see more and more now that everybody’s aboard that he falls into a weird parental role, dealing with the different but equally reckless Spike and Faye. He’s supportive but firm and a natural realist. The more Jet episodes we get, the more he’ll really leave his mark on the show. And, in the English dub, Beau Billingslea is just a powerhouse vocal performer, too.
Next week, an honest-to-goodness bottle episode, one that only features our leads and takes place entirely aboard the ship. It’s got references to Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and is probably one of the top five best episodes of the whole series. “Toys in the Attic” is next week. See you space cowboy. Bang.