It’d be unfair to compare this week’s episode of Cowboy Bebop to last week’s excellent installment. It’s unfortunate that any episode should have to chase one as commanding “Pierrot Le Fou,” really. But it’s especially unfortunate that “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” should be the one to fill that unenviable role since the central conceit of “Boogie Woogie” isn’t developed as well it could have been. And yet, while “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” isn’t as potent as “Pierrot Le Fou,” the former episode has enough clever ideas of its own to make it worthwhile on its own terms.
“Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” is an episode about the attraction between people and how we relate to each other in order to define ourselves. It begins with Jet receiving a mysterious letter from Pao, a long-forgotten acquaintance. Spike tells us that he didn’t know Pao very well and adds that Pao is one of the three top feng shui experts on his planet. With a cryptic letter in hand, Spike discovers that officially, Pao’s dead. When Spike visits his headstone, he meets Meifa, Pao’s daughter. They get shot at by two mobsters that look like the Blues Brothers. And then they run away together.
After this, we get the most important scene in “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui.” Meifa and Jet talk about Pao’s beliefs as a practitioner of feng shui, a Chinese way of living that teaches adherents that good fortune can be attained by tapping into the chi of objects. This is illustrated in the way that a nearby crowd practicing tai chi is shown doing their morning routine. We see them exercising by a fountain from overhead so that we note how they’re positioned in relation to a nearby fountain and to the tile pattern beneath them. Meifa then explains to Jet that timing and location matter very much in feng shui when it comes to harnessing the energy of commonplace objects to one’s advantage. This is why, according to Meifa, Jet’s arrival is so auspicious: he arrived at Pao’s grave at the perfect “direction, day and time,” especially since he’s looking for something (or in this case, someone).
More importantly, this scene establishes a central metaphor: magnetism as the force that determines the relative strength of inter-personal relationships. “The human body always produces a magnetic field,” Meifa explains. “That magnetic field and the magnetic field of the Earth react to one another to create energy.” This cryptic definition explains why Spike and Jet don’t quite understand Jet and Meifa’s bond. Jet doesn’t get it at first either. Then he finds the words and says that hopefully he can be like a “big brother” to Meifa.
Nevertheless, Spike and Faye gossip to each other that maybe Meifa is his illegitimate daughter, or his very young girlfriend. Neither theory is correct, though Faye is bull-headedly certain that Jet is going out with a very young girl (“The more righteous a guy was in his youth, the more likely he’s going to fall for a young girl later in his life.”). Spike and Faye don’t get the bond that Jet and Meifa have. So they pretty much sit on the sidelines of this week’s episode until Jet needs them to help him fend off the Blues Brothers again.
The bond described in this scene makes “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” sound like a potentially great episode. But Meifa never really seems to form the same kind of bond with Jet that he has with her. I don’t get the sense that she’s as attached to him as he is to her. So while I can appreciate the fact that Jet feels protective of her without wanting to feel old enough to be her father, I just don’t believe that the feeling is intentionally uneven after a point. This is a crucial shortcoming in an episode where so much is reliant on the literal idea of attraction, bonds and connectivity. I mean, the worst part in this week’s episode is when the bad guys pursuing the Bebop crew are destroyed when they’re pulled into a hole in space…as if the hole were a magnet whose specific attraction to those ships was only capable of destroying them. This is cheesy and it doesn’t make sense as a plot point in any other context. But that plot point isn’t nearly as crucial as believing Meifa and Jet’s bond, especially since that connection is the source of comedy in a couple of scenes.
I make a point about not totally believing Meifa and Jet’s relationship partly because of the way Meifa’s relationship with Pao is defined as a dysfunctional one. Not everybody in their family’s community believed in feng shui. So Meifa’s mother moved away from Pao and took Meifa with her. Meifa tells Jet that she’s convinced Pao could have found her and reunited with her any time he wanted to. But he chose not to. So during Pao and Meifa’s final meeting, she tells him that she used to be really mad at him but now she’s forgiven him. It’s her way of accepting the limitations of their relationship: she cries a single tear as the silent image of her father disappears. And that’s key: he doesn’t respond to his daughter because that’s the extent of their bond.
Still, I really wish that the episode’s writers had made a point of showing Meifa responding to Jet in ways in that suggest that she has a relationship with him that’s more than just a passing friendship. Because this is the relationship against which all others are judged in the episode. Here’s where the whole theory of attraction, magnetism and inter-connectedness posited by Meifa’s working definition of the “chi of magnetism” is tested. With the exception of the scene where Meifa and Jet eat ice cream together and unostentatiously enjoy each other’s company, I don’t really see a singular moment in the episode where they’re shown to have a connection that’s more than just the kind that good friends might have. That’s the main sticking point of “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” and the shortcoming that holds the episode back from being everything it could have been.