How Does an Ending Work: Cowboy Bebop

When I’m not yakking about character combinations, one of the things I yak about is the basic narrative structure:

Beginning: Introduces characters and setting
Middle: Conflict arising from character and/or setting plays out
End: Conflict resolved

It’s the writer in me. I just can’t help it.

Of course, it’s a little more complex than that. Each of those parts has other work to do in making a well-constructed story. For instance, a beginning is also supposed to “hook” the reader; in the middle we expect certain arcs, not just conflict but the conflict playing out as the overcoming of obstacles, each surpassed in different ways that cause the protagonist to grow.

The end’s primary job is to resolve the conflict, but its secondary job is to tie up the loose ends.

Cowboy Bebop fans: What happens to Jet and Faye?

For people unfamiliar with the series, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are a pair of bounty hunters. They accumulate the rest of the Bebop crew: Ein, the data dog; Faye Valentine, a woman who likes her money; and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV, a computer hacking child prodigy. In principle this is an ensemble cast: they are all featured in the show’s open, and all of them are listed in the opening credits.

But, structurally, the show is about Spike in that his story is integrated into the meta-plot. We hear about Faye’s past, how Jet lost his arm, meet Ed’s father and the nuns who fed her, but these are one or two episode arcs. But the story of Spike’s history is woven in throughout the series, and we meet old friends of his every couple hours, particularly the enigmatic Julia and the well-named Vicious, Spike’s rival in the underworld.

So the end comes and there’s a final showdown between Vicious and Spike. I’m not going to tell you how it turns out; I don’t want to spoil it for you. But let’s say the confrontation resolves Spike’s story very nicely. That’s Episode 26, for the record.

In episode 24 we see Ed’s backstory and meet her (neglectful) father; at the end she runs off, essentially to find her place in the world. Why she’s decided her place is someplace besides the Bebop all of a sudden isn’t really clear to me; she’s too old for the orphanage and her dad doesn’t have time for her. That’s loose end number one for me: to say her story ends because she decided to run off begs the question “WHY?” Ed wanted to be on the Bebop…her departure as constructed seems unmotivated.

(By the way, that’s Steve Conte from the New York Dolls singing “Call Me Call Me” in that episode. DOLLS FOREVER! Syl Sylvain, this is for you: (.) (.) I follow the Dolls on Facebook and when they posted their play list for their recent tour of Japan I commented that they should do “Call Me Call Me,” but, alas, it’s not a Dolls song.)

Ein leaves with Ed. That reads for me. Spike and Jet pay little attention to Ein…at no point during the series do they figure out that Ein’s the data dog worth millions of Woolongs…and Faye, although she does clean Ein’s litter box, is actively nasty to him. Her. It. What IS Ein’s gender?

Ed is the only one with time for Ein, so it works that Ein runs off with Ed. We still don’t know why Ed runs off, though.

In the final two episodes the writers do pull together certain threads fairly neatly. There are a couple minor characters, “Punch” and “Judy,” who host a TV show targeting bounty hunters (if Spike or Jet actually watched the damned thing they’d know what Ein was worth); the show is cancelled but later we see “Punch” with his Mama and he mentions Judy’s married her agent. Cases closed.

We find out why one of Spike’s eyes is a different color from the other (SPOILER one is artificial), and the mysterious Julia’s story wraps up as well after she meets Faye for a brief Thelma and Louise action sequence.

But.

What happened to Jet and Faye?

When last we see them, they are in the damaged Bebop, Jet piloting, Faye trying to keep Spike from going off to meet his fate. After that they…

Get married?
Sell the Bebop?
Go on bounty hunting?
Split up?
Die?

Dammit, if they can tell us what happened to “Judy,” why can’t they tell us what happened to two of the main characters? (Not that I’m buying the end of Ed’s story, either, but at least it’s an end.)

Jet and Faye (and Ed)

Goddamit, aren’t the writers going to finish our stories? From left, Faye, Ed, Jet.

I’m not sure their stories could have been ended within the structure of the format. Not only does the series have to end, but the episode does as well. Faye’s last scene, her trying to keep Spike from meeting his fate, is powerful and betrays feelings for him from her we haven’t seen before. (That’s also sloppy – Oh, NOW we find out she has feelings for him – but it works in context.) It’s strong at the moment and it would be cheapened if they rolled ahead past the end of Spike’s tale to fill us in on Jet and Faye; but it leaves her story, and Jet’s as well, unresolved.

If you’re old enough to remember M*A*S*H, you might recall the fuss over the final episode, and if you watched it or watch it in reruns, you may have seen that final “episode.” (It was more like a movie.) They did a good job of tying up all the story lines there – but to do it they needed an episode three times as long as normal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Cowboy Bebop. To prepare this essay I just watched it for the fourth time, and I’ll probably watch it again this summer. But when we look at it as a story we have to say: Beginning: A+ Middle: A+ End: Only an A. Got to tie up the loose ends.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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