“Ganymede Elegy” (Season 1, Episode 10; Originally Aired on January 1, 1999)
Though it’s driven by a wistful kind of nostalgia, an episode like “Ganymede Elegy” needs to be a precise slice of noir storytelling if it’s going to work at all. As a story about the relentlessness of time, it really has to be a clean-burning machine. Even its placement after “Jamming With Edward” is important: Now that Edward has joined the Bebop’s crew, Jet’s line in “Ganymede Elegy” about how he “live[s] and wander[s] with a group of weirdos” has a little more traction. Jet knows whom he’s living his new life with now, so his return to Ganymede is that much more bittersweet. Sadly, after a point, “Ganymede Elegy” fails to capitalize on everything it’s going for it. A lot of mishandled, implied actions and little confusing creative decisions make the episode an admirable but disappointing attempt to flesh out Jet, a character that the show’s writers have mostly taken for granted thus far. It feels slipshod and generic when it should be pensive and heartfelt.
Before they run in their latest bounty to the police station on Ganymede, Jet and the gang are contacted by Donnelly, an old friend from back when Jet was a police officer. Donnelly sets up the stakes of Jet’s encounter with Alisa, his old girlfriend, when he reminds Jet of who he used to be: “the “Black Dog[…]a mad dog that never let go of things bitten into.” This sentiment is fun to think about since Jet has often been the guy telling Spike that he can’t do some thing and that he shouldn’t be so single-minded in his determination to either over-do things or not do them enough. He’s always the voice of reason, in other words; obstinacy is no longer his forte.
Donnelly also informs Jet that Alisa is still alive and living on Ganymede. So Jet visits her at La Fin, an appropriately named bar where Jet discovers that Alisa has moved on. She is now in love with Rhint Celonias, a man that Donnelly will later reveal to be “Alisa’s gigolo.” It’s a little strange and disappointing that the episode’s writer(s?) just randomly float the idea that Alisa is paying a man for sex but has also fallen in love with that same guy but never develop that concept at all.
It’s even more disappointing to watch Alisa and Jet’s quiet conversation ruined by creative indecision. There’s so many little tics about this scene that feel off. For example, nothing was really accomplished by the random sequence of elliptical edits that cut quickly back and forth between close-ups of Alisa talking and shots of Jet listening at the bar. We don’t get a close-up of Jet’s face to show us what he’s thinking while this is happening—it’s just a freakish extension of his thought process, one that’s not commented on or mirrored later on in the episode.
Those rapid cuts are just there, much like how the way that we’re randomly looking up at Jet when he tells Alisa that breaking up with her initially didn’t register with him (“For some reason, I didn’t feel sad. It just lacked reality.”). If this were a live-action film, we’d be looking at events through a low-level camera angle (see this week’s screen cap above). Our close-to-the-ground vantage point inadvertently accentuates Jet’s butt combined with what looks like a fish eye lens, making it seem like the space between the two characters is a lot less salient than it should be. After all, wouldn’t it have been better to show Alisa and Jet at mid-range instead of this close up so that, by seeing more of the bar and how small they look inside of it, we can see just how small they look now that time has passed? What’s the point of looking up at these two characters at this exact moment, right before Alisa rebuffs Jet by saying, “You seem to think that time on Ganymede had stopped[…]I don’t need time that stands still. Farewell, Jet…”? These little visual tics strive for the opposite effect of what’s required in this pivotal scene. They took me out of the scene instead of immersing me in the couple’s conversation.
I also don’t think the way that Jet goes after Rhint, after he finds out that he has a bounty on his head for killing a loan shark, works. We’re supposed to see this as an old habit that Jet can’t let go of as the duty-bound Black Dog. But as it is, it just looks like Jet’s acting like a jilted lover that’s using “justice and duty,” as Spike sarcastically puts it, to go after his ex’s boyfriend. Alisa isn’t being mistreated by Rhint and she doesn’t fall out of love with him by episode’s end either. Pursuing Alisa and stopping Rhint is supposed to be a mistake, a fact that Alisa reminds us of when she tells Jet off: “You were like this back then, too. You decided everything. And you were always right… I wanted to decide how to live my life by myself… even if that was a mistake.” It’s a powerful rejection but one that’s totally mishandled thanks to the way that the cops still come to collect Rhint after Jet gives him his blessing to “protect Alisa.” The idea of passing the torch of being an over-protective manly man to Rhint goes against almost everything that Alisa just complained about. Jet has to be right, has to make the decisions. So Rhint has to go to jail, even it’s just for a little while.
Furthermore, “Ganymede Elegy” protects Jet’s ego by not making his deranged need to be the Black Dog again ever seem really problematic. We don’t even know if Jet’s responsible for calling the police that wind up arresting Rhint—they just show up right after he tells Rhint to protect Alisa. The way that Jet suddenly falls back into a habit that we were just told mere minutes ago was a regular thing for him is not convincing enough. In theory, it could work but there’s no moment of hesitation between Jet learning that Rhint is a bounty and his declaration that, “I have no regrets about her, but I’ll settle this score on my home turf.” What score? What did Rhint do to offend Jet? It’s not like Jet is chasing Rhint because he’s someone that he previously had “bitten into.” Jet was totally disinterested in Rhint when he first met him at La Fin and he wasn’t even aware that there was an outstanding warrant somewhere on Ganymede. If we had seen Jet previously looking for Rhint, it’d be a different story but as it is, it just looks like a switch is magically flipped in his head and he now has to be the Black Dog again. I wish I could get behind “Ganymede Elegy” more because I love the angle it tries to pursue. I just don’t think it follows through on that angle sufficiently.