Last week introduced us to Faye Valentine, as an antagonist of sorts for Spike Spiegel and Jet Black; but if she’s going to be included as a full-time character, she’s going to need to join up properly, right? This is what Session #4 of Cowboy Bebop is for, entitled “Gateway Shuffle.” This is another comic adventure episode, and the last of what we can sort of call the halcyon early days of the show, before things get too heavy. Here, though, it’s just good old fashioned bounty hunting and not making any money, stuff these guys are great at.
“Gateway Shuffle” is the kind of episode that most people probably wouldn’t think twice about, and in truth if you’re just watching the show for continuity or big, deep character revelations, it’s probably not one you’d return to very often. I would argue, though, that there’s plenty of character stuff to tide over those people. It’s also just an incredibly well-plotted sort of caper script, and there’s even some references to classic westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which I’ll always appreciate, given my love of that film. It’s an episode that shows how the three leads can work together, even if they don’t want to yet.
We start with Faye, in her personal fighter Red Tail, adrift and out of fuel near Ganymede. She’s sending out transmissions but no one’s picking up. Eventually she gets a distress signal from another ship and decides to float over and investigate, where she sees an ISSP man dying and he tells her she must take a specific and dangerous object to the authorities. Faye has questions but the man dies before he can answer any of them. Meanwhile, Spike and Jet are ordering breakfast at a Ganymede spaceport, eyeing a man, Morgan, worth several million woolongs who is currently being loud and laughing with a group of young women. He changed his face but this is their guy. Unfortunately for them, also eating at the restaurant is Twinkle Maria Murdock, or “Mom,” leader of the radical eco-terrorist group known as the Space Warriors, many of whom are eating there with her.
Everything would have been fine if Morgan the blowhard hadn’t yelled about wanting his order of Ganymede Sea Rat right now. See, the Space Warriors protest the killing and eating of this particular creature, and they’re insane about it. There isn’t going to be a polite debate. Murdock has her boys spring into action, each wearing a Sea Rat mask. They begin machine-gunning the restaurant, killing Morgan in the process. Luckily, though, Murdock is worth a lot more than Morgan was so Spike takes her instead, much to the whimpering of the other Space Warriors, though Mom assures them she won’t be captured long. With their new bounty safe aboard the Bebop, Jet picks up a distress signal from…wait, it can’t be…
Yep, it’s Faye, and they pick her up, too, and handcuff her to the stairs. Spike looks through the crap she had in her ship, but there’s none of the money she stole from them, but she does have the thing she got from the dying ISSP man. Turns out, he was a spy going undercover with the Space Warriors, and the item is a deadly retrovirus, encased in an apparently unbreakable container. Mom knows this but isn’t saying anything and merely winces every time Spike gets close to opening it. Jet talks to his friend Bob of Ganymede police about turning over Murdock, but he says they have to let her go. It seems the Space Warriors are threatening to kill a large amount of Ganymede using a new virus called Monkey Business, which de-evolves humans back to apes, unless she’s let go, so the bounty has been dropped. Great.
Letting her go isn’t a good idea, though, because his plan now is to release Monkey Business on Ganymede anyway, because they won’t stop Sea Rat harvesting from a hyperspace gateway that shoots out right by Ganymede. The bounty is put back on Mom but only on the condition that the warhead be neutralized. Spike gets in his fighter and heads up the gateway. Faye has managed to get out of her restraints and makes her way to her own ship after siphoning some of the Bebop’s fuel. Spike is able to stop 2 of their three missiles but his guns can’t charge in time. Faye flies in and offers to help for 80% of the bounty. Spike counters with a 60/40 split, which she takes, claiming the 60 part of it. Unfortunately, just as she’s about to hit the target, it splinters off into hundreds of tinier warheads. Now, the Ganymede government plans to shut the gateway, locking the missiles and whatever else is inside in hyperspace forever. Spike and Faye speed to get out just in the nick of time and none of the warheads, nor Mom herself, can escape. Spike had secretly slipped the virus into Mom’s pocket as she left, so they all die anyway. HAHA! Faye then says “that was fun” and begins to just live aboard the ship and makes herself part of the crew.
Like I said, this episode is just fun. I love the way everything is sort of connected and coincidental. What are the odds that Faye would find the very virus that Murdock was planning to unleash at the same time Spike and Jet happen to catch her while not even looking for her? Impossibly small, right? And yet, it happened, and that’s what’s so great. It’s a series of unfortunate events that leads to no money and a new member of the crew, who is about as live-wiry as you can get. I mentioned it last time, but one of my favorite aspects of Faye as a character is that she’s clever and resourceful. She knows how she looks, and knows she can use that to her advantage, but she’s always working ahead of everybody else. She sometimes doesn’t think too much further ahead, but she’s got her own scheme working almost the entire time. She takes up with the bounty hunters, I think, because she does have fun with them, and thinks it might be some easy money. But there’s no loyalty there, really. At least not yet. That’ll start to change once she learns a little bit about Spike.
Next week, we have what many consider the first truly great episode of Cowboy Bebop, and the beginning of the arc the show will display about Spike’s past, retribution, and redemption. His underworld past catches up to him and his former friend and current arch rival Vicious, and his giant ugly bird, make their first appearances. Not so fun next time, but really great. It’s “Ballad for Fallen Angels.”