"Jamming with Edward" (Season 1, Episode 9; Originally Aired on December 18, 1998)
By now, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that “Jamming with Edward” immediately tips its hand right from the episode’s first image. In this first scene, we’re shown an angry red eye that looks a lot like HAL 7000’s red iris from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And we hear an ominous voice tell us that he is, “Here, nobody, here. Always, alone.” This crucial bit of information is the Cowboy Bebop crew’s way of letting us in on the episode’s joke: there is no bounty in this episode, just a lonely computer with too much time on its hands.
This is an interesting concept in and of itself since the computer in question, later named MPU, is the artificial intelligence program that guides a now-defunct satellite. The fact that it, a program designed to first connect other satellites and then people all around the Earth, is lonely is the greatest irony, especially since it’s a computer program and not a living thing. Or at least, MPU is not an organic life form.
“Jamming with Edward” presents MPU as a kind of futuristic Tower of Babel. Two vastly different news programs try to figure out why a hacker would want to break into such an obsolete system of communication and create crop circles on Earth. The first show tells us emphatically that these “mysterious ground drawings” are products of aliens, or maybe they’re, as the police suggest, “a prank pulled by a hacker who got into the satellite.” Or maybe aliens influenced a hacker. The other show, which is translated into 12 different languages, has a slightly better theory, or at least they provide better information. Their talking head expert tells us that, “…the access code to that satellite has been long lost,” once again reminding us that a device that was designed to unite people doesn’t work because, well, humans made it. And humans can’t help but misunderstand each other.
Take the scene where the Bebop gang argues over who or what the hacker in question is like. Faye pouts, “I’m sure he’s a demented otaku with smelly feet.” Since the medium is the messenger when it comes to technology, technology and anyone associated with it are inherently confusing. But that’s only because people in general are confused. Everyone thinks they know who everyone else is, like when Jet tells Faye, “You can’t tell a woman’s age just by looking at her.” She then digs the heel of her boot into his foot and retorts, “You can’t tell just by looking that I can do things like this…” He naturally replies, “That’s ALL I know of you.” Or how about the way that Jet dismisses the importance of the package that Spike is expecting from Earth? He doesn’t even know what Spike’s getting but he’s sure that it’s going to suck: “There’s nothing made on Earth that’s good.”
But what is Radical Edward, the Earth-born hacker that everybody is looking for, really like? Well, he’s a she for starters—a girl, to be exact. Everything else about her is a source of wild conjecture. When Jet interrogates people from Earth about Ed, they tell him their various different theories about who or what Ed is. The result is a cacophony of hearsay: “I hear he’s two meters tall, man. Supposedly, he used to be a basketball player.” “I hear she’s a very beautiful yet whimsical hacker” ““No, no, that hacker is a child. A brat that loves horrible pranks, I hear.” “Gay” “…he’s an alien! That’s what everyone says!” I love that that last bit of speculation about Ed includes a naïve exclamation of, “That’s what everyone says” at the end of it. By that point in “Jamming with Edward,” we already know that the certainty inherent in that statement, or more accurately, the certainty that there could be a singular theory about Ed’s identity, is a joke. It’s impossible because, as Jet tells Faye, if that’s true, he’s a two-foot tall gay basketball-playing alien kid that likes to play tricks on people.
Then again, Ed particularly defies other people’s expectations because she is a hacker, someone that is intimately familiar with technology. She can do most anything she wants to, like when Earth policemen try to arrest her for the satellite drawings. When confronted by the cops, Ed playfully highjacks their ship and flies it around using a remote control as if it were just another of her toy helicopters. She does the same trick again once it becomes apparent that Faye won’t honor her promise to let her become a member of the Bebop.
Technology has the potential to be flawed however because there’s only so much humans can do and/or predict. For instance, Ed winds up accidentally destroying the police officers’ space ship because she doesn’t know how to land anything that big. Similarly, the weather advisory she listens to warning her of impending “rock showers” is shown to be inaccurate: the “chance of rock showers” increases from 20% to 90% right after a meteor crash-lands right next to Ed.
Then again, the fact that nothing in “Jamming with Edward” has a discernible pattern or necessarily means anything beyond what the Bebop crewmembers make of it sort of appeals to Spike. Or at least, working within that kind of chaotic environment does. When Spike is tasked with disarming MPU and getting close enough to its housing satellite to copy and download a copy of it, he relishes the challenge. Let me rephrase that: he relishes the impossible nature of that challenge. Jet compares the task to, “playing baseball without a bat.” Spike, who has otherwise hung back throughout “Jamming with Edward” and let Jet and Faye do all the legwork, is now suddenly interested: “That’s the kind of stuff I like.” That line serves as a reminder that we’ve just watched a rare episode of Cowboy Bebop that doesn’t revolve around Spike. It’s nice to see the show’s creators stretch out and develop another character in such a sprawling but very satisfying way. “Jamming with Edward” is one of my favorite Cowboy Bebop episodes because it’s so good at bringing its themes and ideas together in a narrative that is as playful as it is cogent.