Welcome to the Cowboy Bebop episode guide! This time out, we’re looking at episode 23, “Brain Scratch.”
Oh, man, you guys. We’re down to our final four episodes of Cowboy Bebop and it’s starting to sink in. Last time we took a look at the feature film adaptation, which is one of the best representations of the show to exist in any form. Now we’re back to an episode that I always remembered as being an Ein-centric episode. Well, it’s not. It’s not really an anyone-centric episode, though there’s plenty of fun to be had, and some social commentary as well, which didn’t happen all too often, or this blatantly, on the show before.
It’s actually pretty weird that right before three episodes that bid farewell to the series, we get one that really bears no impact on much. BUT, Ed and Jet get to be funny together, and Ein does get to prove what a data dog can do, so all in all, “Brain Scratch” isn’t too bad at all.
The main crux of “Brain Scratch” has to do with a cult, and a cult whose central figure and cosmic iconography is based almost entirely on the Heaven’s Gate cult, who believed they were to leave the Earth on the passing Hale-Bopp comet. Thirty-nine members of the group committed suicide via poisoned Kool-Aid in 1997, including the cult’s leader, Marshall Applewhite. That’s a pretty dark thing to put in an anime series, but since the show premiered the following year, this incident was still very much in the minds of people all over the world. Writer Keiko Nobumoto, while making a comedic point with the episode, never makes fun of the tragedy itself, just the nature of people who’d join a cult in the first place.
The episode begins with a series of television programs, commercials, news reports, and the like all about this cult known as SCRATCH, or the progress toward technology movement, which has become a semi-powerful religious organization consisting of 20,000 members across the universe. The guru and super creepy central figure of SCRATCH is Dr. Londes, who appears on television, but hasn’t been seen in person for a long time. Spike rolls his eyes while watching this until he sees one of the cultists being interviewed is none other than Faye. Spike calls Jet over to watch. Apparently, Faye’s been gone for awhile and they wonder whether this whole thing is some sort of scam. I mean, it must be; this is Faye Valentine we’re talking about.
The fellas soon discover, with the help of Edward, that Londes has a bounty of 38 million Woolongs on his head for the 100 members that have mysteriously disappeared or committed suicide. Thaaaaaaat explains it. While Ed attempts to find Londes’ whereabouts online, Jet and Spike go to the meetings of different recruiters to try to find the man himself by “joining up.” That proves pretty fruitless.
Elsewhere, Faye thinks she’s found Londes, but enters a room only to find a pyramid of video screens and several long-decayed dead bodies. She starts to leave and suddenly a high-pitched noise disorients her. She sends a message to the Bebop just before she passes out.
Jet decides he needs to buy a new Brain Dream virtual reality video game system put out by SCRATCH. While he and Ed mess with that, Spike goes off to locate Faye in his Swordfish II ship.
Jet believes the Brain Dream will allow Ed to hack in and find Londes. However, while he’s got the thing on his head, a very high-pitch noise begins and Jet starts to go into a trance. Luckily, Ein hears the frequency and knows something’s the matter and so chomps into Jet’s leg to snap him out of it. They then try to put the Brain Dream on Ein and things begin happening. Jet thinks Ed’s got the hacking thing on lockdown, but she’s not doing anything. Ein, the cybernetically-enhanced data dog, is hacking with his brain. It’s the only time we ever get to see Ein do this, and it’s pretty awesome. Unfortunately, Ed doesn’t say anything, and so nobody knows but her that Ein is the coolest dog in history.
They figure out where Londes probably is, or at least where he ought to be — in a hospital on Mars. Jet has Ed pretend to be his daughter (laughably, of course) and they head to the hospital while Spike continues to look for Faye, eventually finding where she was. He encounters “Dr. Londes,” in the form of several video monitors, and finds him extolling the inherent dangers of television. In the hospice, though, Jet and Ed, having bluffed their way into the building, find that a catatonic boy is actually controlling the Dr. Londes persona via dozens of wires in his brain. He developed the program and the signal and was ultimately destroyed by it, though his consciousness remained and he was able to start a cult.
Spike tells Londes he’s just a boy with a toy, and Londes says he only wanted people to experience the world as he did — as a disembodied soul. The Londes program begins to shut down and Faye wakes up alongside Spike. Jet decides not to turn the fake Londes in, saying he was just dreaming and his dreams just turned dark. Ed says he wishes the boy has sweet dreams from now on.
This is obviously not the best episode, but it’s perfectly all right. At least it had something to say and allowed Jet, Ed, and Ein to have a nice amount of screentime together. Spike and Faye will get plenty to do in the next three episodes, so it’s all right that they barely feature here. This episode also shows the final broadcast of “Big Shots,” which gets canceled in the middle of talking about Londes, and Judy cuts her cutsie voice and starts yelling. That’s pretty funny.
Next week, though, begins the end of Bebop. We’ve got to wrap up Faye and Ed’s storylines before we wrap up Jet and Spike’s, don’t we? So, next week it’s all about the ladies. “Hard Luck Woman.”