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Cowboy REbop: Session #19 – ‘Wild Horses’

Cowboy REbop: Session #19 – ‘Wild Horses’

After the last few episodes, which were all about our characters branching out on their own, it’s good to see one where they’re pretty much working as a team and having a fun mission. There’s a bit of backstory involved, but mostly it’s just a fun space adventure. It’s one of a series of episodes that are, ostensibly, Spike-centric but actually focus on a friend/acquaintance of Spike’s who is a badass out in the universe and in whom we see that it’s not just the people aboard the Bebop who are worth hanging out with.

The first of these was “Heavy Metal Queen” all the way back in the seventh week of the show, in which we met space trucker VT; in Session #19, “Wild Horses,” we see one of the greatest engineers the galaxy has to offer in the form of Doohan.

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Doohan is a great character. He was, of course, named after James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in Star Trek, and in many ways they’re the same character (just with Scotty having stayed in the military whereas Doohan, apparently, has not). He lives in the middle of nowhere on Earth where he fixes ships and builds new contraptions. It’s a giant aeronautics graveyard from which Doohan can assemble anything he’d like. Doohan also reminds me of the mechanic in the Batman: The Animated Series episode of the same name. While Batman or Alfred is pretty good at fixing the Batmobile, sometimes the hero needs somebody to give the thing an upgrade or an overhaul; this is what Doohan is to Spike. While Spike can perform minor repairs on his ship, the Swordfish II, if need be, if anything really major needs to be done, he heads to the wasteland of Earth.

We also find out in this episode that the Swordfish was Doohan’s ship first. Though we don’t really know why Spike has possession now, but it’s fun to think about.

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The episode begins with Spike stuck on Earth, having crashed his in-bad-need-of-repairs Swordfish while Jet, Faye, and Ed get ready to hunt the bounty of three pirates (whose names are the three names of Babe Ruth, except his middle name was “Herman” not “Harman.” Minor detail). But these pirates are really formidable. They not only are able to out-maneuver Faye’s Red Tail ship but also shoot cables that latch onto it and fill it with a nasty computer virus which gives them control of her weapons systems (which fire at Spike’s Hammerhead ship and even messes up the Bebop itself, much to Ed’s irritation).

Where the hell’s Spike in all this?

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Spike has been picked up by Doohan’s new assistant, Miles, a young guy who is obsessed with, and talks about nothing else but, the baseball team the Blue Sox. Spike couldn’t give a crap about baseball but smokes and rolls his eyes and listens anyway. Doohan is pretty irascible and isn’t very nice to Miles, who’s just young and energetic. Spike and he laugh about it while Doohan begins making plans to fix the now totally-boned Swordfish. Miles suggests they replace some of the old parts with new ones instead of other old ones, but Doohan’s not into that. Meanwhile, Spike has finally gotten through to the Bebop and he learns of their woes involving the pirates. As soon as he’s able, he goes back up to help.

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Through some coincidence, they find out where the pirates are going, but Jet doesn’t want the same virus thing to happen again, so he tells Spike and Faye to turn off their doop-de-doo systems and use an old radio signal instead. Little do they know, that this allows Miles and Doohan, who are listening to a Blue Sox game on the radio, to overhear Spike, Jet, and Faye up in space above the Earth.

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Though they end up beating the pirates, Spike’s ship is disabled and begins to slowly get pulled into Earth’s gravitational field, but at a bad angle which would mean he’d burn up. The Bebop isn’t going at the right trajectory to catch up to him, so Doohan gets Miles to help him with his new pet project: a rebuild NASA space shuttle Columbia, which he’s fitted with thrusters on the side to help it take off vertically. Spike needs to get the angle just right if he’s going to not die, but with no power, he’s forced to etch an angle gauge on the windshield so he can keep her steady, just like Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper had to do in real life.

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Ultimately, Spike is able to maneuver the Swordfish in just such a way that, while both of his wings get snapped off, he lands relatively unscathed in the cargo hold of the Columbia. Doohan has developed a new respect for Miles in the process; the young lad had never been into space before and handled himself remarkably well. A picture of Miles, Doohan, and Spike gets added to Doohan’s cork board full of photos and documents, though who took the photo is anyone’s guess.

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This is an episode that celebrates Earth’s past. While we know Faye is from Earth and we’ve seen a bit of her past on the planet, this is about baseball and NASA. It’s a really nice and fun homage to two things that made the 20th century so great. The nominal reference to Star Trek is also a lot of fun, since Bebop, for all its hat-tipping to famous science fiction shows and movies, very rarely name-checks one so overtly, or so fittingly.

The design and animation of all the spaceship stuff on the show is top-notch but the care and detail that went into the Columbia is especially impressive; it looks so real and iconic and when the above shot of the tank pulling it out of the garage is shown, anybody who grew up loving space and the idea of space travel like I did probably can’t help but get giddily excited.

I’d like to take a second to talk about one of my favorite pieces of music Yoko Kanno composed for the show, a track entitled “Rush.” This is the perfect big-band accompaniment to the aerial acrobatics the ships in space do whilst the characters shout at each other. It’s got nice little ebbs and flows to allow for dramatic tension to build, but it never lessens the tempo, thus keeping the pace way up. It’s not the first time this piece of music was used in the series, but this is one of the more effective uses. It’s also just a damn hot track and one that incorporates Latin and island rhythms on top of the very traditional horns. It just cooks.

Next time, we get to talk about the hands-down creepiest episode of Bebop ever: “Pierrot le Fou,” named after a Jean-Luc Godard film. It means Crazy Pete, or Mad Pete, and is certainly about a crazy person — a horrifying French harlequin-type of thing that flips around back and forth and cackles through his ventriloquist dummy-like face. Even the Next Time trailer for the episode is just 35 seconds of maniacal, frightening laughter.

We might not make it out of this one. But, as Spike says…

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