As I was rewatching “Cowboy Funk,” a line from Justified’s pilot struck me. Raylan Givens, a guy that is shown to literally shoot first and asks questions later, is described by an old flame as, “The angriest man I know.” That sentiment’s the foundational basis for this week’s juxtaposition of Spike Spiegel with “Cowboy Andy,” an empty-headed, self-styled hero that never listens and consequently always screws up. Andy’s kind of the anti-Raylan.
At one point in “Cowboy Funk,” Faye suggests that the reason why Spike and Andy don’t get along is that they have too much in common. For instance, they’re both anger-prone. The suave, above-it-all air that they both project makes it very easy for them to lose sight of what they’re doing. Which in turn is, indirectly at least, why this week’s Cowboy Bebop is as funny as it is: It’s about two very angry guys that keep getting in each other’s way. Instead of opposing personalities attracting one another, Spike and Andy are two similar personalities that totally repulse each other.
A parallel between Andy and Spike is introduced during the episode’s opening scene. Teddy Bower, a terrorist know as the “Teddy Bomber,” has just been caught by Spike. Or that’s how it seems when the two first meet. Spike catches up to him on an escalator and talks to Teddy as if he poses no threat to him. In any other context, this would be an understandable assumption on Spike’s part: Spike usually gets his man. But this time, removing the pin from one of Teddy’s explosive devices won’t stop Teddy. It’s important to note that the one time that Teddy rattles Spike is when he compares Spike to Andy, a character that, at the time, Spike is still unfamiliar with. “It’s a popular story among criminals that we never want to be caught by you, or by Andy,” Teddy says. Spike doesn’t recognize the name. “Andy,” he repeats aloud. Who’s Andy?
Unfortunately for Spike, Andy’s about to introduce himself. Right before Teddy can use one of a couple of still-active detonators to blow up a teddy bear-shaped bomb, Andy makes his grand entrance—right over Teddy’s head. Teddy’s backed into a corner and is about to explain to Spike why he enjoys blowing buildings up so much. This is the first bit in a running gag that’s one of the series’s best. “Ya wanna know? I am giving a warning,” Teddy starts. “I am ringing a bell of warning! All right, be mindful of what I say!” Then Andy bursts through the window riding his horse Onyx while Yokko Kanno announces Andy’s arrival with an Ennio Morricone-esque theme song, complete with Jew’s harp and whistling.
Andy is too stupid to see what’s going on so he accuses Spike of being Teddy Bomber. This, understandably, pisses Spike off. Andy has no real reason to suspect Spike but he proudly says that he thinks Spike’s suspicious because his “gut instinct,” nay, his “inspiration” tells him so. Later, when Andy attempts to romance Faye, he tells her that he doesn’t really think about what motivates him. (Then again, Andy doesn’t think about much at all, really). “I don’t worry about things like that,” he boasts. “Once I sent my mind on something, I can think of nothing else!”
And that’s what immediately makes Spike and Andy kindred spirits: They’re both intensely stubborn characters, even if they have different ways of expressing that stubborness. Andy tends to charge blindly into things while Spike is more prone to rely on his natural resourcefulness, and yes, luck, to sort things out for him. So it’s fitting that Andy and Spike are dressed in opposing black and white outfits later in “Cowboy Funk.” They’re so similar that it’s practically necessary for them to be opposed to each other.
So poor Teddy Bomber gets stuck between Spike and Andy two more times, each time getting more fed-up with the way he’s ignored by the two men. Teddy personifies both what unites and distinguishes Spike and Andy: he’s the problem that they both are incapable of resolving. Each time Teddy gives them a chance to hear him out, he gets silenced by Andy and Spike’s squabbling (though admittedly, Andy interrupts Teddy the first, second and fourth time Teddy tries to explain himself via monologue). But Spike and Andy both want to catch Teddy for totally different reasons. While Andy, an independently wealthy guy, hunts Teddy for kicks, Spike, a guy scrounging for enough money to buy something fancier than runny soup to eat, hunts Teddy to earn a bounty. But in spite of that central difference, Andy is a reflection of Spike’s personality.
Which is why “Cowboy Funk” is as satisfying and consistently strong an episode of Cowboy Bebop as it is. Its narrative nicely balances the usual bounty-of-the-week subplot with a subtext that makes you see the show’s main cast of characters in a new light. It also helps that there’s not a single dud joke in the episode: I was in stitches by the time Teddy whines, “Now that I have you both here I will tell you the reason why I continue to blow buildings up. That is because… ”
“Cowboy Funk” isn’t as dazzling an episode as, say, “Pierrot Le Fou.” But there’s something remarkable about an episode that’s this thoughtful, clever and well-assembled, top to bottom. The episode even ends with a charming wink to the audience: After Andy rides off into the sunset, we join Teddy as he finally unpacks his reasons for blowing buildings up to a prison guard. Just as Teddy is wrapping up his spiel, we see Andy in his new identity as a samurai named Musashi, presumably nicknamed after the legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto. Nothing’s really change, not with Andy or with Spike. Andy’s stubborn streak—and Spike’s, by extension—is never really quashed. Instead, it’s just accepted as a character-defining quirk. That refusal to change is a recognizable part of Spike’s character—he can only change so much.