Cowboy Bebop Session 10: Ganymede Elegy
Who is Jet Black? How did he go from being a cop in what seems to be the equivalent of a federal police force (he worked for the Intra-Solar System Police, rather than the police force of a specific city or planet) to being a bounty hunter partnered with an ex-gangster? There have been hints about corruption on the force, and Jet certainly puts forth an honorable façade. But it’s just as clear that he can get dirty when he has to (blackmailing an ex-colleague) and isn’t quite sure about how honorable the world he lives in is. And then there are the instances of misogyny. Neither Spike nor Jet get along with Faye, but while Spike’s feelings about her are rooted in her character, Jet attributes her negative aspects to all women. Compare Spike’s comment in this episode about how not all women are like Faye to Jet’s behavior toward her in the last few episodes. He tries to tell her that betrayal comes much easier to women than to men then complains about how he’s not one to be led around by a woman.
And so we come to “Ganymede Elegy,” one of my favorite episodes of Cowboy Bebop and the first to explore Jet’s history in-depth. Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons, is Jet’s home, and he returns there for the first time in nearly a decade when the crew turns in a bounty head to the I.S.S.P. station on Ganymede. As they approach the moon, Jet is distracted and does little more than gaze at a stopped pocket watch (with a face that goes to 15). A flashback, done in very muted blues and grays, shows us a woman walking away in the rain and Jet, in silhouette, standing in the doorway of a small room. He sees the pocket watch on the bed, along with a note. As the woman turns to face the camera, we cut back to the present, where Spike and Faye remind Jet that he’s flying the Bebop and should probably pay attention, especially as they begin the landing process.
Faye jokingly asks whether Jet was thinking about a woman, causing Jet to angrily snap at her, but that only makes her want to needle him further. Their arguing is interrupted by a transmission from I.S.S.P. Agent Donnelly, an old colleague of Jet’s. The two are happy to see each other, but Donnelly can barely believe that Jet “The Black Dog” Black would become a bounty hunter. He then asks Jet about a woman named Elisa, and at the mention of the name, all of Jet’s sadness comes rushing back. Donnelly tells Jet that Elisa now runs a bar and how to find it.
From there, the episode focuses almost exclusively on Jet, Elisa, and Rhint, her boyfriend. Aside from the aforementioned conversation with Spike about the nature of women, Faye does little more in this episode than sun herself on the deck of the Bebop. Ed and Ein join her for some leisure time. Spike has a role to play in the climax, but we’ll get to that later.
As expected, Jet and Elisa used to be lovers, but one night, Jet came home from work and found the pocket watch and note, but no Elisa. When Jet shows up in her bar, she is surprised, but not necessarily unhappy to see him, and they catch up. Elisa tells a surprised Jet that she and Rhint, a nervous man who Jet met upon entering the bar, are dating. When she asks if he is married, he laughs and says that he’s just traveling around with “some weirdos.”
But their conversation has darker moments as well. Donnelly had said that “the recession” was making it tough for people to make it on Ganymede (although he specifically said “women”), and one of the first things Elisa told Jet was that he would be her final customer, because she was in the process of closing down. Her bar certainly had a look of dilapidation about it, but that didn’t necessarily set it apart from the rest of the village. Elisa and Rhint live in a harbor town, and many of the buildings and ships look like they’ve seen much better days. Elisa also comments that ships don’t come into port nearly as often as they used to.
I don’t think that I’ve seen this episode since watching The Wire, but “Ganymede Elegy” is in some ways a 24-minute version of The Wire’s second season. Both that season and this episode focus on ports that can barely sustain the people working them, and show how far some people will go to maintain their lives. The Wire followed stevedore union treasurer Frank Sobotka as he got in too deep with local drug smugglers in the name of keeping his fellow stevedores employed. He was basically a good person who felt driven to dealing with people he despised in order to maintain the only life he knew and the only life his coworkers knew. He and the other stevedores grew up just above the poverty line and never learned how to be anything but stevedores. Their choices were not ideal, and they knew it, but they felt that they had no other choice.
Elisa and Rhint are in a similar situation. They wanted to pursue the “American dream” (“Ganymedian dream”?) of living their lives in the way they desire. Elisa wants to run a bar, and she tries to do so. She probably wanted her bar to be on Ganymede, because that is her home, but it’s just as likely that she couldn’t afford to leave. She suggests to Jet that she’ll leave Ganymede after closing the bar, but it’s very likely this is a last resort to both her life in general and a specific situation in her life. Unfortunately, things beyond her control forced her to take money from a loan shark to keep the bar running, and when he came to collect, things went from bad to worse. In a flashback, we see the loan shark and his goons threatening Elisa and Rhint before Rhint gets the upper hand and kills the leader in self-defense. The shooting leads to the police putting a bounty on Rhint’s head, a fact Donnelly clandestinely gives Spike.
As Jet and Elisa catch up, Jet randomly asks her whether she has gotten in over her head. The question comes without prompt, but it says volumes about their relationship and their personalities. Jet couches the question in an explanation about how banks aren’t too understanding about unpaid mortgages, even in a recession. But it’s clear he’s trying to “look out” for Elisa, even though he hasn’t been a part of her life for seven years. He comments that when she left him, time felt like it stopped, like he only dreamed she had gone (and his lines echo Spike’s repeated references to living in a dream he can’t wake up from, starting from the traumatic event of his past that led him to the Bebop).
Elisa, however, is offended both at Jet’s continuing attempts to “look out” for her and his statement that time stopped, despite them clearly being a metaphor. To her, time never stops; it continues and forces people to either continue with it or watch from the sidelines. Her desire to continue her life is what drove the two apart. Jet always took care of everything for her, effectively rendering her a child without a life of her own. With him looking out for her, she never had to make a choice, never got to learn from her mistakes. In a sense, her life stopped, and she couldn’t bear it as the world continued around her.
The episode’s climax involved Spike hunting down Rhint for the bounty on his head. He finds them fleeing in a small jet-powered boat as he flies over the bay in the Swordfish. As he tries to bring them in, he coldly tells them that turning them into the police is “just business.” But Jet appears in the Hammerhead and tells Spike to go back to the Bebop and let him finish this alone. Spike is hesitant, thinking Jet will let his old girlfriend go, but Jet assures him that he’s the Black Dog, and won’t let anything go once he’s gotten his teeth into it.
When Jet finally disables their boat and corners them, the episode does a great job of showing Jet as a terrifying, Terminator-esque figure, slowly walking toward his prey, his face half in shadow, as Elisa and Rhint futilely try to run. And in the end, Rhint is unable to escape the Black Dog’s jaws. I’ll admit that I think Elisa acted a bit too understanding of Jet turning in Rhint right after giving a tearful monologue explaining why she had to leave him. Jet tells her that he’ll probably get off on a self-defense argument, but he and his partner still hunted down her boyfriend solely for profit. In a 180 degree turn from their actions in the past two episodes, Spike and Jet treated Rhint like nothing more than a price tag, despite knowing that he and Elisa are not bad people and that they were only protecting themselves when Rhint committed the crime for which he earned his bounty. Some days Spike and Jet are men of honor. Some days, they need to get paid, even if they have to compromise their values. Just like Sobotka. Just like Elisa.
Up next: In what is (I’m pretty sure) the only episode preview not narrated by a character on the show, “Toys in the Attic” is presented as a horror movie trailer, complete with a generic male voice speaking in snappy sentences about the horrors to come.
- poptortes posted this