Welcome to the Cowboy Bebop episode guide! This time out, we’re looking at episode 16, “Black Dog Serenade.”
For fifteen weeks, Jet Black has been the quiet center, the gruff heart of Cowboy Bebop. He is the one character who can somehow manage the wildly differing personalities of Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV. We’ve learned about him through situations and conversation, but so far he only has had one starring episode, the wistfully romantic Session #10 “Ganymede Elegy.” But Jet’s character comes out in little ways in everybody’s episodes, and even the general team adventures. He’s a very warm figure but he also has a cold streak that’s a mile wide. Like everyone on the crew, he has a dark and troubling past that led him to the life of the bounty hunter, and that comes to a head here in “Black Dog Serenade.”
Jet’s a thoughtful soul, often seen tending to his bonsai plants, which he doesn’t want anyone to touch. He’s a former ISSP officer (the galactic police force), but something caused him to vacate that position and become a bounty hunter in a rickety old ship. We already saw in “Ganymede Elegy” that his nickname was the “Black Dog,” because he never let go of a case once he got hold, and how this and his tendency to smother those he cares about with protection led to the love of his life leaving him. But there’s so much more to know about Jet — for instance, how he got the robotic left arm he sports and why exactly he left the ISSP. And, in a a move very rare even for the solo-character-centric episodes, the other members of Bebop barely feature and don’t come to rescue him. That’s exactly the way he’d like it.
The action begins on a prison ship that has been taken over by the inmates and, in particular, Udai Taxim, a former Syndicate assassin and a guy with whom you do not want to eff. He kills a hotheaded inmate who tried to be the leader after killing the ship’s pilot, and their only hostage. He’s not a nice guy at all, but, wouldn’t ya know it, he also has a history with Jet, which we’ll find out soon.
On the Bebop, Faye is yelling about needing the shower fixed, and Spike is napping so he is no help. She goes in to yell at Jet, who is tending to his bonsai plants and says he’s busy. The comm link rings as they’re arguing and Faye snatches it up, telling the person that Jet can’t talk because he’s busy. The comm rings again and Jet apologizes to Faye, saying he’ll fix the shower. Faye answers and says it’s somebody named Fad. Jet is surprised to hear this name and begins staring, not noticing that his cigarette has burned through to his robotic fingers. Faye asks why he doesn’t get the feeling in his cybernetic arm fixed so he can sense the fire, but Jet says the arm is like him, it’s got character.
Jet goes off on his own to meet up with Fad. Jet offers him a smoke, but Fad has quit. He says it isn’t a world for smokers anymore. Fad tells him about the prison break and that Udai was among the escapees, alluding to Jet’s arm. Jet walks away, saying the job of capturing them doesn’t interest him.
Jet then has a flashback to when he was a cop and his partner Fad and he were on the trail of Udai Taxim. Fad went one direction and Jet went another. Eventually, Jet encountered Udai at the end of an alley and pulls his gun, but Jet had been set up. A huge searchlight shines down on him, too bright for him to see, and a gunshot is fired, which we’re led to believe is what took his arm. This flashback is slightly different to any of Spike or Faye’s flashbacks in that it’s made to look like a film noir detective movie. Lots of sepia tones and Jet, younger and with tighter facial hair, is wearing a suit with a fedora. This is a very deliberate reference to those movies of the ’40s, as is the whole story about settling a score, and coming back to face your past. This is punctuated by the Yoko Kanno track “Cosmos,” which utilizes a haunting saxophone riff, very in keeping with Jet’s whole aesthetic. Jet’s music is always sad and lonely.
Back aboard the Bebop, Ed notices Jet prepping his Hammer Head ship and she asks for him to bring back some souvenirs this time. He tells her he might not be coming back and if he doesn’t, she should water his bonsai trees for him. Later, ISSP ships fly off to the prison ship as Fad walks out of the HQ, surprised to find Jet there waiting for him. He is going to accompany his old partner after all. Udai pretends to be releasing an escape ship with hostages but instead it explodes, destroying several ISSP ships and then he gun-turrets the rest of them. Jet and Fad are en route when they hear on the radio that the ship has vanished. Jet is certain Udai is heading for Europa to reconnect with the Syndicate, and Fad chooses to believe Jet’s hunch. He remarks that he’s still the ol’ Black Dog after all.
Aboard the Bebop, both Faye and Spike ask what Ed is doing as she haphazardly sprays water into the room with Jet’s bonsai, while Ein jumps around in it playfully. She replies that Jet is never coming back.
Fad’s transport ship is shot and crashes into the prison ship. Jet’s Hammer Head is damaged but still functional and he flies it into the main hangar. He sees a security camera and shoots it down. Udai recognizes Jet and grabs his gun, telling the other inmates that he’ll handle Jet himself. Udai and Jet meet each other in a dark corridor and exchange gunfire. Udai is much faster and quickly gets the upper hand over Jet. Udai fires point-blank at Jet, but the Black Dog blocks it with his prosthetic arm and manages to disarm Udai. In spite of this, the assassin still manage to throw a knife into his leg. Wounded, Jet prepares to accept his fate and tells Udai that he came back to get revenge for his arm. But Udai tells him he’s wrong. The flashback plays again while Udai explains that Jet was a threat to the Syndicate and they needed him taken out. It was a setup and Fad was on the payroll. He turned on the light and fired the crippling shot.
Fad then shoots Udai in the head and Jet furiously demands to know if the assassin was telling the truth. Fad tells him that anyone who goes against the Syndicate loses. He points his revolver at Jet who quickly slides over to grab his own pistol and shoots his former partner who falls down, mortally wounded. Jet wonders why Fad’s gun didn’t go off and he checks to see the revolver was empty save one spent shell, used to kill Udai. As he dies, Fad asks Jet for a cigarette, saying he couldn’t quit after all. Jet complies and as ISSP reinforcements arrive, he limps away.
This has to be one of my favorite episodes, hands down. I love Jet and his hard-boiled self. This episode plays out almost exactly like a noir, with the past catching up to someone who is ostensibly a private eye and it ends in the same life or death scenario with the hero fully accepting that he won’t come back. This won’t be the last time this series does this, but because we can’t lose Jet, he comes out scathed but alive. Fad, on the other hand, was the typical doomed noir character, who really only invited his former partner on this quest to alleviate his own guilt. He has to die for this retribution to be complete, and Jet’s not a murderer so he needed to make it seem like Jet’s life was in danger. Everything from Fad’s realization that he “can’t quit” to putting a single bullet in his gun speaks to his complete remorse and sense of self-loathing. He can see no other way out. Jet, on the other hand, is just the patsy and so seeking revenge is his only motivation, realizing the truth all too late.
Next time, we go a completely other direction in “Mushroom Samba,” an episode where the crew takes psychedelic mushrooms. Damn, this show is all over the place, in the best way. I leave you now with a gif of Ed and Ein playing in the water, because I can.