Welcome to the Cowboy Bebop episode guide! This time out, we’re looking at episode 26, “The Real Folk Blues Part 2.”
This is it, folks; after 26 weeks, we’ve reached the end of our look at the seminal anime Cowboy Bebop. Revisiting it after about a decade really made me appreciate it more, now that I’ve experienced more anime and my tastes have refined. My big takeaway this time around was how it felt like I barely spent any time with these characters at all. I want more and more adventures with Spike, Faye, Jet, Ed, and Ein, but sadly there were none more to have.
Despite the show being silly and weird at certain points, it ends on perhaps the least funny, most contemplative note it possibly could.
As sad as it was to say goodbye to Ed and Ein two episodes ago, I almost wouldn’t have liked them to be around for this episode. It’s all about accepting fate and learning what it means to be alive, and the gravity of these issues would have been undercut slightly if we had an adorable Corgi and a goofy weirdo hanging around.
“The Real Folk Blues, part 2,” is about Spike, Jet, and Faye having to say goodbye but being incapable, physically it seems, of doing so properly. At the same time, it’s about moving on. And like all good heroes, if we’re strictly following the Campbellian Hero’s Journey, Spike can’t be master of two worlds for long.
Following the cliffhanger of last week, with Julia pulling a gun on Spike, the finale episode begins without Yoko Kanno’s familiar and jaunty theme tune, signifying this isn’t going to be a fun adventure. Julia pretty quickly decides not to kill Spike and instead wants to go away with him — away somewhere the Syndicate can never find them. Vicious, if you’ll recall, has become the new boss of the Syndicate having taken out the elders following his near-execution. He asks Shin if the target was eliminated, to which Shin replies that “he got away.” Vicious then asks about Julia’s whereabouts, and when Shin doesn’t reply, Vicious simply tells him not to follow in his brother (Lin)’s footsteps.
Spike and Julia go to Annie’s (Spike’s ally whom we met in “The Ballad of Fallen Angels“) and find that she’s been shot in the gut and is slowly dying. Vicious is taking out ANYONE who knows Spike, burning the ground as it were. As Annie passes, Spike says he’s going to take out Vicious, and that Julia should go wait for him somewhere. She maintains that she’s with him to the end, and they each pick up a gun.
The Syndicate returns and Julia and Spike made a dash for the roof, in a gunfight that rivals anything the show’s done to this point. It’s truly gorgeous. But, though Spike manages to take out most of the thugs, the last one shoots Julia in the back before getting killed himself. Spike holds Julia in his arms as she dies. Now Spike has nothing.
Or, almost nothing. Back on the Bebop, Faye and Jet (who’s still wounded) talk tensely about Spike. Faye demands to know why Spike would throw his life away, and why Jet would just allow it to happen. Jet is angry at her asking these questions, because he’s upset about Spike leaving, too, though he knows why his partner is doing it. He does ask what Julia was like, and Faye replies she was “like an angel from the underworld, or a devil from paradise.”
Spike comes back, and he has a chat with each of them before he goes on what he knows will be a suicide mission. Jet cooks Spike a meal and while Spike eats, he tells Jet a story about an orange-striped cat who died a thousand deaths and came back each time. Then one day, the cat met another cat and once that cat died, the orange cat died too, not to come back. Jet says it’s a good story, but Spike says he hates it, because he hates cats. Jet asks if “it’s for the girl” and Spike replies “she’s dead; I can’t do anything for her now.”
Faye is a lot less okay with Spike going than Jet outwardly was. She holds a gun to Spike’s head and asks why he can’t forget the past, like Spike told Faye to do about her own. Spike gets real close to Faye’s face and says one of his eyes is fake, lost in a battle somewhere, and so he’s always got one eye on the past. Faye tells him she remembers her past now, and that there is nothing there for her. And if there’s nothing for her, then there’s nothing for Spike either. Why would he just go off to die? Spike replies he’s not going to die; he’s going to see if he was ever truly alive.
An angry Faye fires the gun up into the air several times while Spike heads to his ship and flies off.
Spike heads to the Red Dragon Syndicate’s giant office building and, while a different version of the song “The Real Folk Blues” plays, he starts taking out guys left and right, and blowing up the building as he goes. This is some of Shinichiro Watanabe’s best visual storytelling, an action sequence the likes of which we haven’t seen on this show, and that’s saying something. Spike takes hits, but he keeps on going. Eventually, Shin meets up with him and the two start taking out more guys, as Spike continues to toss grenades and plant time bombs. Eventually, Shin gets shot and dies and Spike alone heads in to Vicious’ lofty room, like the Emperor’s throne room.
Spike is badly wounded, but he challenges Vicious, still only armed with his trusty katana, to a duel. Eventually, they have disarmed each other, and Spike has Vicious’ sword at his feet, while Vicious has Spike’s pistol at his own. Spike tells Vicious that Julia’s dead, so they may as well end it all. Vicious agrees and the pair slide each other’s weapon back to them (a reference to John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow II). Spike gets off a shot and Vicious slices. Vicious dies, but Spike has just enough life left in him to walk down the steps while a sea of Red Dragon guys watch him, in astonishment. A light shines on Spike’s face; he points his finger at it and says “Bang,” then collapses, dead.
I never said this was a happy ending, but it was a completely satisfying one. Spike could never have existed long, and like any good noir or western, which this show was at its heart, the hero has to die or go off into the sunset. Always a more tragic figure, Spike’s devil-may-care attitude was actually hiding deep-seeded pain and sadness. Without Julia, he had no reason to do anything but take out his mortal enemy, and former best friend. He could have kept running, but there wouldn’t be any point.
And while we don’t see it, I like to think that the story didn’t necessarily end, that Jet and Faye were out there, hunting more bounties together, that they each had found where the other belongs and the family, albeit smaller than it could have been, that they longed for so much. See? Maybe this was a happy ending after all.