Welcome to the Cowboy Bebop episode guide! This time out, we’re looking at episode six, “Sympathy for the Devil.”
By this point, six weeks into Cowboy Bebop, first time viewers should be thinking to themselves that Shinichiro Watanabe and company want to make sure everybody knows this show isn’t following any rules. In the first five episodes, the show has gone from crime-action, to chase farce, to botched heist, to race against the clock, to somber drama about the characters’ pasts — all without ever once breaking stride or making it seem like we’re watching a completely separate show. Bebop is a show that can do anything and be anything as long as it falls in the realm of bounty hunters out hunting bounties in space. For its sixth episode, “Sympathy for the Devil”, it went out of its way to prove that it could do creepy-ass sci-fi incredibly well too. Man, is there anything this show CAN’T do?
I haven’t been featuring the music as much as I ought to have been, so I’m going to begin by remedying that now. This entire episode, despite sharing a title with a Rolling Stones song, is all about a “little boy” who is a monster on the blues harmonica, and a good portion of the first half takes place within a blues club. While it doesn’t play over the entire track, “Spokey Dokey” by Seatbelts, the band Yoko Kanno put together to perform her music for the show, features a minute of uninterrupted mouth harp glory, some truly virtuosic playing. This ain’t Huey Lewis.
Kanno’s music for the show is among the best you’ll hear anywhere, and few TV shows can match its variety. Multiple soundtrack albums are available, and there were still only 26 episodes. While a lot of the earlier music, including the title theme, “Tank!”, are more big band acid jazz, Kanno infused different genres where she could. Since part of this show is a western, harmonica blues and country riffs fit right in too.
The episode begins with a very strange dream sequence that’s never touched again. While the harmonica music plays, we see green glimpses of a body on a medical table with a group of doctors around it. They go inside its brain and its eyes and we get creepy closeups of all of that. After about a minute of these flashes, including organs and fish floating in glass tubes, Spike is jolted awake, and we see he’s sitting in the back of the club, watching a kid playing the harmonica amazingly well. This is a portion of the episode I always forget, because it’s never mentioned again in the episode. But following “Ballad of Fallen Angels”, we now have a much better sense of Spike’s difficult, violent past, and this is just another piece of the puzzle that we still have 20 more episodes to try to figure out.
The main plot of the episode has Spike and Jet on the lookout for a bounty by the name of Giraffe, who was part of a militant terrorist group. In the Bebop, Faye is looking for food in the fridge and finds only a single can of dog food, which Ein happily and hungrily yelps at the sight of, sitting next to his bowl. True to form, though, Faye eats the dog food herself and tells Ein that he has to work if he wants to eat. She’s a real peach. She sees the computer screen with the bounty on it, and we transition back to Spike and Jet in the blues club as they follow Giraffe. They’re about to intercept him to get that sweet 3 million woolong bounty, but Jet quickly notices a former colleague who he knows is also a bounty hunter, surely there for Giraffe as well. While Jet loudly draws attention to the man, Spike follows Giraffe, who is following the kid and the invalid man in a wheelchair he’s pushing.
Spike follows Giraffe to a high-rise and sees the man get thrown out of the window and fall to the ground. Spike is narrowly able to catch the man with his Swordfish II ship, and attempts to save the man’s life (no bounty if he’s dead), but it’s too late. The man only has enough life to hand Spike a ring and say “don’t be fooled by the way he looks.” The bounty hunters briefly discuss selling the ring, whatever it is, but first Jet has lunch with his friend to get the scoop on why Giraffe was after the wheelchair man, who we learn was Giraffe’s partner, the aptly named Zebra. As Spike goes to tail Zebra, Jet and Faye look through newspapers and see the boy pictured in a paper from 30 years earlier, looking exactly the same.
Spike follows the boy – who we learn is named Wen – and Zebra after a show into a warehouse kind of thing. Spike draws his pistol and asks that Zebra come with him, but surprisingly, it’s Wen who draws a pistol and fires, hitting Spike in the arm. Spike runs for cover and Wen explains that he’s not a kid; when he was a child, a hyperspace gate exploded and destroyed most of his planet, but his father threw himself on Wen. The child survived, but he was now hyper intelligent and unable to age. He’s found men, kidnapped them, and drugged them to be invalids so that he could do what he pleased but could continue. The ring Spike was given earlier was evidently created at an R&D lab as a means of reversing Wen’s agelessness, and the jewel can is the key to it all. Wen demands the ring back, but Spike plays dumb and Wen keeps firing. Spike returns fire, hitting Wen in the head, but when Spike goes to see, he’s gone.
Spike returns to the Bebop with Zebra, who is awake but totally paralyzed, tears in his eyes. They hook him up to a brain scan machine and see his memory, that Giraffe came in the hotel room to trade the ring for Zebra, but Wen shot him out the window anyway. Spike and Jet mold the ring’s jewel into a bullet for a much larger gun. Faye worries Spike won’t come back, but Spike goes anyway, to try to track down Wen, which he does after Wen has gotten into a cab, shot the driver, and driven away in it. Spike’s ship incapacitates the taxi, sending it into a gas station which explodes, but Wen emerges, sadistically firing at Spike, who never flinches, even when one of the bullets grazes his face. Spike breathes, aims, and fires, and the special bullet pierces Wen’s forehead. For a moment, Wen is fine, but soon the jewel does its job and he begins rapidly aging, hundreds of years at once. He dies, thanking Spike, who tosses the harmonica in the air and pretends to shoot it, saying “Bang.”
This is an exceedingly creepy episode, and the “kid” is especially unsettling. He’s sort of like a vampire, but one made of science and hatred. He makes grown-ups exist in a living hell, basically, unable to move or call for help or anything. This is another example of an episode where Spike and crew make no money from killing their target, but do so because it’s the right thing to do. It’s yet another illustration of Spike’s moral code. Giraffe died because of Wen and Spike is somehow honor-bound to figure out why. Faye once again shows how conflicted she is; she’ll eat a dog’s food in front of it, but is also worried that Spike won’t come back. She’s not featured much in this episode, but her character continues to grow.