As I write the introduction to this piece, I’m still not sure how I feel about “My Funny Valentine.” It’s a frustrating watch by necessity since the first half of the episode gives us information that the episode’s second half reveals is no longer as important as we were just led to believe.
As you might infer from the episode title, “My Funny Valentine” follows Faye as she recounts to Einstein the data dog what her past or lack thereof has been like. Faye wakes up from cryo-sleep after having been cryogenically frozen for 54 years. She had been frozen until a treatment for an unknown malady she suffered from before she went into cryo-sleep. Once she wakes up, she quickly falls in love with the dashing Dr. Whitney Hagas Matsumoto and experiences traumatic loss when she loses him.
Then, three years after her encounter with Whitney, Faye discovers that her understanding of why their relationship ended and what it meant to Whitney is untrue. The anecdote that Faye uses to typify her lack of a past actually doesn’t mean much either, or at least it doesn’t mean what she thought it did. So, basically, we spend half of an episode being told that what we’re looking at is significant and then, in the second half, are told irrevocably, “Nah, not really.” So what’s there to like about “My Funny Valentine?”
Quite a lot, actually. I can’t help but think of a passing joke in the episode about future shock that nicely encapsulates how “My Funny Valentine” works. During her extended flashback, Faye wakes up in a hospital after her decades-long sleep. Whitney, the man she will fall in love with and the one that calls her his “Sleeping Beauty,” tests her memory and how much of Faye’s surroundings she recognizes.
Faye identifies a TV, a kettle and a cell phone. At least, she thinks she does. Those three bedside items are actually a clothes-washing machine, a face-washing machine and a thermometer, respectively. This gag, in a sense, is analogous to watching the episode and finding out that Faye’s romance with Whitney didn’t mean what she thought it did and hence wasn’t as important as she presented it to be.
Which made me think about how we’ve been told what we’ve been told in the episode’s first half. Faye’s recollection of events is presented as a sequence of self-evident facts. She doesn’t give us commentary on events, or, more to the point, she doesn’t supplement her memories by telling us what she’s feeling at any given moment during this extensive flashback. Which is nice because that probably would have taken me out of events too much. But at the same time: this flashback is presented as truth. There is no unreliable narrator, via voiceover or intermediary scenes where she interrupts her flashbacks to be more specific in her talk to Ein. We’re shown events as they happened, according to Faye.
The fact that Faye attributes meaning to some of Whitney’s gestures or doesn’t know how Whitney’s story really ends doesn’t necessarily undermine the fact that events happened as Faye remembers them having happened. It just means that the significance she attributes to those events is based on a foundation of misunderstandings or even truths that are no longer true. For instance, Faye immediately notices that Whitney is actually the bounty Jet has been chasing while Faye told Ein her story. Which is a startling revelation in and of itself considering that Jet’s bounty is morbidly obese and Whitney is, in Faye’s flashback, in good shape. More importantly: Whitney’s alive! This is a big jolt considering that Faye saw his vehicle blow up. She believes and hence we believe that Whitney was murdered by insurance collectors that were looking to collect money she owed for having been cryogenically frozen for 54 years.
And yet, Faye recognizes Whitney almost immediately, speaking to the fact that she remembers his face very well. He means something to her. So Faye recognizes Whitney instantly even though he’s undergone surgery that’s like reverse liposuction (extra fat is actually inserted into patients instead of removed).
This is the most superficial difference between the “then” of Faye’s flashback and the “now” of the episode’s present, the latter of which I hasten to add is a present period where “My Funny Valentine” both starts and stops. I say it is superficial because, well, the whole not being dead thing is considerably more important, I think.
But what might be the most important discrepancy between then and now is what Whitney casually tells Faye about their brief but vivid encounter. When Faye steals Whitney away from Jet and Spike, both of whom are ready to turn Whitney in order to collect on his bounty, Faye tries to get more information out of him. Unfortunately for her, Whitney confesses that he not only has no new information for her, he can’t even confirm for her that their brief romance was real. In what seems like a cast-off gag, he tells her that he was only joking when he told her that he, “fell in love with a sleeping beauty….No, just kidding! I’m lying! It’s a lie!” That brief tryst and the debt that Faye thought she carried with her from that moment onward—none of it meant as much to him as it did to her.
By this point in writing this piece, I must confess that my estimation of “My Funny Valentine” has risen considerably. The sting of knowing that an anecdote that’s the cornerstone of Faye’s past is actually not that meaningful—that fades. Still, the fact that the episode’s deceptively simple philosophy of using your future and not your past to determine who you are does, in fact, come from somewhere is pretty satisfying. The episode’s writers shrewdly made a point of joking about the ways Faye and even other members of the Bebop crew have fooled themselves into making a lot out of a little.
Even Jet learns this when he finds out that Whitney’s bounty is 19,800 woolongs and not 198,000. It’s his come-uppance for crowing that Faye would irrationally set Whitney free because, “Women don’t work on reason.” Even Jet acts irrationally because memory and the importance we attribute to certain assumed concepts is a fickle thing.
Nobody wins at the end of the episode because that’s a downer of a revelation, one that’s too often presented in popular fiction as a variation on the, “Actions define a person” truism. I’m glad the episode’s writers don’t let Faye off that easily. If Faye wants to know who she really is, she won’t find the answers she’s looking for in her past but in what she decides to do next. It’s a cliché but here, within the context of the episode, it’s well-earned.