Cowboy Bebop: “Bohemian Rhapsody”
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Cowboy Bebop: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

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Cowboy Bebop

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Season 1, Episode 14

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Welcome back, space cowboys. Glad to have you, though I wish this week’s episode were a better one. It makes sense that a sleepy, no-stakes episode like “Bohemian Rhapsody” aired the week after the climactic but over-reaching second half of the “Jupiter Jazz” two-parter. But “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t a consistently satsifying standalone episode. It feels more like a rough sketch than a fully realized episode.

Admittedly, there are a lot of jerky, slow-moving parts that make up the episode. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is dialogue-driven so it lives and dies based on how well the episode’s writer parcels out information visually. Unfortunately, there’s way too much expository dialogue and not nearly enough action.

I’m not just talking about fight scenes when I say “action” either. Action in this case could simply be a focus on expressive body language that gives us a hint that something’s going to happen that will add some kind of dynamism to the episode and prevent it from devolving into a story that’s propelled entirely by info dumps. “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t have much of that kind of action. What’s worse is that it looks like it was made on the cheap. True, there doesn’t seem to be a great need for high production values for this particular story. But the features on human figures, like their faces, clothing, etc. are especially crude and indistinct. Talky and bland-looking is a pretty lethal combination.

Still, it’s worth saying explicitly: “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not a bad episode. It stalls a lot more than it should and it’s pretty inexpert at delivering its emotional payoff. But it’s definitely not an outright misfire. “Bohemian Rhapsody” reminds me of “Waltz For Venus” in that they’re both uneven but adequate episodes, though “Waltz for Venus” has more ambition than “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

That having been said, whoever sketched out the plot for “Bohemian Rhapsody” did themselves no favors by depriving viewers of anything but implied action or chase scenes. The episode starts with Jet, Faye, and Spike cornering three different groups of thieves. These crooks are part of a group of 20 hackers that broke into the tollbooths at various hyper-jump gates and got caught stealing obscene amounts of money. None of these thieves put up a fight because, ultimately, they’re inconsequential. The episode’s guileless central metaphor reduces these 20 characters to pawns in a bigger game that Chessmaster Hex, a shadowy cyber criminal, is playing with the Gate Corporation. So sadly, no chase scenes are needed here.

We find out a lot of the basic details of Hex’s plot against the Gate Corporation through speeches delivered by the Bebop’s crew. There’s even a scene where Jet, Faye, and Spike just sit down and exposit about what little they know about the crimes in question. That scene works. It’s also a sight better than the scene where Jet confronts the CEO of the Gate Corporation and boasts about knowing that they’re too embarrassed to admit that they know who Hex is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. That scene should have repercussions considering what Jet is saying. But, again, the episode’s writer really dug himself into a hole by making it so that scene could only end without any violence. The Gate Corporation doesn’t want to make a scene so it stands to reason that Jet gets to walk out of that office room unscathed. It makes sense but it’s still a dull scene. Nothing happens in it beyond Jet telling the Gate Corporation CEO that he knows something and the CEO acknowledging that, yessir, Jet does actually know something.

Worse still, and this is really what bothers me: The episode’s director did nothing to enliven that scene beyond adding some functional shots of Jet talking in mid-range close-up and a simulated fish eye lens shot of the Gate Corporation CEO’s office, which is kind of expressive, I guess. But still: There’s nothing about this scene that sticks out in your mind, nothing that really grabs you and makes the words Jet gracelessly spits out more compelling than the product of an adding machine’s sums.

Normally, if the basic idea for a Bebop story is there, shoddy execution doesn’t really bother me. But there are a lot of little awkward things about “Bohemian Rhapsody” that are bothersome. I’m especially frustrated by the way that Spike and Faye are, for reasons I don’t understand, surprised to discover that there’s a link between the chess game Ed plays throughout this week’s session and the “mastermind” that taught the 20 arrested criminals how to break into the Gate Corporation’s hyper-gates.

While Ed tells Faye that the game she’s playing has “nothing” to do with the crimes that were committed, she only starts playing a game with a mystery player after placing one of the three game pieces that Faye, Spike, and Jet took off of the crooks they nabbed. Even Jet wonders if there’s a causal link early on, musing that maybe the mastermind criminal is treating these crimes like a game. The logical disconnect between this earlier scene and the later one where Faye and Spike find out that Ed’s opponent is actually the mastermind criminal is distractingly implausible.

Furthermore, given where the episode ends up, I was surprised to find myself irritated by how poorly conceived the set-up of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is. (Spoiler) At the end of the episode, Jet asks the Gate Corporation CEO to let Hex go. He threatens to expose the company because, well, Ed needs someone to play chess with. The scenes of Ed getting her kicks from playing with Hex evidently show how much these games mean to her. But given Ed’s easy-to-please nature, wouldn’t she just be just as easily amused by, I dunno, a ball of tin foil? What about these interactions is so special beyond the fact that they exercise her mind? There’s no point where the episode’s writer fill in that logical gap, no point where Ed is explicitly shown to be bored out of her mind because she’s not being intellectually stimulated. As a result, the ending of “Bohemian Rhapsody” solves a problem that I didn’t even know needed addressing.

In the end, the episode’s pointless and a little bit frustrating, too. Which is a real shame, because “Bohemian Rhapsody” definitely has its moments. I especially like the interlude where we see Hex after Ed starts playing chess with him. The eerie quiet and the slow, pensive pacing of that quick sequence, especially the bit where we watch a smile blossom on a close-up of Hex’s lips, is pretty fantastic. I wish the rest of the episode was that good.

Filed Under: TV, Cowboy Bebop

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