As I’d mentioned in last week’s Cowboy Bebop review, I had no discernible memory of Session #14, “Bohemian Rhapsody” from watching the brief next-time trailer at the end of “Jupiter Jazz part 2.” None at all. I remember the title, because it’s named after a Queen song, obviously, and that kind of thing sticks out, but the images of a chess game being played and other such mishugas stirred very little in the recesses of my gray matter. How come, I wondered. And as I sat down to watch the episode for this here column, I kind of felt excited, like it was a new episode of Cowboy Bebop. Once it started, I had vague memories of it, but still kind of nothing. So weird. It’s not a bad episode, either, but after all the character-building of the previous weeks, and the big character stuff in the weeks to come, I fear “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t have the chance to stand out too much.
We start in media res, which might be both my favorite term and my favorite way to begin an episode. Spike, Faye, and Jet are each separately catching a bounty, and quite easily, too, but when they get back to the ship, they all look perturbed. Ed asks how it went and they all talk over each other in various forms of grumbling. It seems they’re all after a mastermind who set in motion a massive heist that robbed several Astral Gates. The Gates Company placed a bounty but, while the Beboppers have caught all 20 of the hijackers, the company will only pay when the ringleader is found, and none of the robbers have any answers for them, except they were each given a chess piece when they were called in for the job. Curious.
While they each keep trying to pick up leads (pointing to old websites and technologies), Ed takes Jet’s chess piece and figures out how to hook up an e-chessboard and begins playing with someone called “Chessmaster Hex.” Jet takes a meeting with the Gates Company and lights a cigarette before entering. Naturally, they tell him to put it out, but the cigarette was actually a radio transmitter that he can listen to once he leaves. He says to the CEO that he thinks the company knew about these attacks and they’d been planned all along. Once he’s escorted out, he hears them talk about someone named “Hex.”
They look up information on this Hex and find out that he’s “Estimated to be 98 years old. A programmer that had been dubbed a genius from his teens. In the CosmoNet Chess tournaments he held the Champions Seat for decades. He applied his intellect to the Hyperspace Gate Project, joining the program at 30 years of age. He eventually developed the Central Control System that all gates use to this day. But after that he started to have doubts. He said the design had defects and the gates shouldn’t be built yet—he wanted to run more tests. So they fired him and built the gates anyway. He’s been missing for the last 50 years.”
So they think they have the answer, but how are they going to find him? Ed just HAPPENS to have been playing chess against him this whole time. How CONVENIENT. They set a course for where the signal is transmitting, unaware that they’re being followed by Jonathan, a former colleague of Jet’s whom he ran into briefly in the Gates Company foyer. Spike and Faye put on their spacesuits and go into the old derelict satellite called the “Bohemian Junkheap”, which is made up of broken shops and pieces of the Astral Gate, and make their way through the strange plants, animals, sleeping bums, and other weird rooms until finally reaching Hex, who is decrepit and not at all with it upstairs.
Jonathan shoots the Bebop after radioing to tell Jet he has a score to settle with Hex and makes his way for the Junkheap too. When he enters, he points his grenade gun at Hex, who doesn’t seem to care. All he can talk about is how impressed he is with Ed’s chess playing and how he’s hungry for lunch, even though his friends (the Three Old Men who are in several episodes of the show) tell him he’s already eaten. Jonathan is distraught; he lost a lot of money because of Hex’s scheme but now the old man doesn’t even remember it. He fires his gun like a madman while Faye wonders what they should do with Hex. Spike says Hex hasn’t been here for a long time. Later, Jet explains what happened to the Gates CEO:
“Hex was furious. He wanted revenge and this is how he got it. He set up the sting to kick in fifty years later when the gate was pre-scheduled for its first automatic tech upgrade. It was all planned out. He even arranged for his operatives to carry chess pieces to let you know he had finally gotten back at you. But fifty years is a long time; Hex got old, then he got senile. He completely forgot about the traps that he himself had set.”
The CEO wants to know what Jet wants in exchange for keeping quiet about all this, and Jet says all he wants is for them to leave the old man alone. Ed is enjoying playing chess with him, and Jet wouldn’t deprive her of that for anything. Ed has now been playing the same game against Hex for a week and we see the old man get checkmate on her just as he passes away, quietly and contently.
This is a really sweet little episode and allows Ed to do more than just be weird or provide exposition. She’s certainly still acting weird, but in a way that’s all about her own enjoyment. The moment where Jet says he doesn’t want to take away Ed’s playmate is really nice and shows that, even if she hasn’t been an active part in the stories since her debut, she’s become part of the dysfunctional family of which Jet is the caretaker. It’s not an episode most people will recommend as a must-watch or even a particularly good one for people who aren’t fans already, but at this point in the series, a little one-off bounty episode is quite a welcome thing, complete with its melancholic and wistful music from Yoko Kanno.
Next week, it’s a Faye-centric episode, where we’ll *hopefully* find out more about her past, which is as sketchy a thing as any history on this show. “My Funny Valentine” is next time!