Saturday, January 29, 2005

Top 10 TV Moments

So, here's my top ten TV moments of all time. What is a moment, I'm defining it as roughly one scene, so some moments are bigger than others. Obviously, there's spoilers if you haven't seen the show, so be cautious. I'm sure I forget some good stuff, and I did try to spread the wealth a bit, there could have been a couple more Buffy on here, but this is pretty representative. Enjoy.

Show: Six Feet Under
Episode: Perfect Circles
Moment: This isn't so much a moment as the whole opening ten minutes of the episode, in which Nate wanders through various versions of what his life could be, as he drifts in a dimension between life and death. The show has never been reluctant to go into bizarre stuff, but this is the most challenging sequence in the show's entire run, as Nate wanders through a variety of really interesting parallel universes, seeing himself with Brenda, Lisa and even as an overweight white trash fellow. The reality where he's mentally handicapped after the surgery, and has to learn to read again is harrowing, while the Southern one is just funny. It's a brilliant idea, perfectly executed.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: Restless
Moment: Xander drives the ice cream truck, talks with Anya, sees Willow and Tara as vampy lesbians, then winds up back in his basement. This is my favorite episode of the series, and it has a wealth of great moments to choose from, but I think this is the best. The transition from Xander on the playground looking at another version of himself serving ice cream, to the other version of himself, picking up the scene is ingenious, and perfectly captures the feeling of a dream. The cheesy matte behind Anya lends more surrealism, and I'm still wondering what she was talking about with the hand gestures. The Willow and Tara stuff is both hilarious, and perfectly in character for Xander, and not bad for the viewer eiither. The ice cream truck itself is a great continuity tie in, and probably the most important thing is the fact that when he leaves the truck he winds up back in the basement. That sums up Xander at that time better than anything else, and it leads into the brilliant chase through many rooms.

Show: The X-Files
Episode: The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati
Moment: A dying Mulder is lying in bed, when the Cigarette Smoking Man pulls back the curtains of his room to reveal a future where aliens have invaded, and destroyed the Earth. Amor Fati is by far the best episode of the latter chunk of The X-Files, and possibly of the entire series. Much like the sequence in Six Feet Under I mentioned earlier, this episode concerns Mulder's vision of an alternate world in which he didn't choose to pursue aliens. This moment gives you what we never see in the main continuity of the series, an Earth where aliens actually invade, and the effects work is phenomenal. The Smoking Man standing in the window looking at the world in ruins sums up Mulder's worst fears.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: The Body
Moment: Anya wonders why Joyce had to die. This whole episode is really intense and harrowing, the best depiction of what it's like to deal with death in any piece of fiction ever. It's very real, but Whedon doesn't back away from using what his show has to offer to add to the commentary. Anya's lack of familiarity with human customs is usually played for laughs, but here it's tragic. She can't understand why Joyce had to die, and even as the other characters are saying it's not appropriate it for her to question these things, they're wondering the very same thing. As they will do again with the trio and with Lorne at the end of Angel, using a generally comic character in a dramatic moment can make it incredibly shocking, and therefore much more sad. This is a huge turning point for Anya, and it's a painful, but truthful moment for the audience.

Show: Twin Peaks
Episode: 2.7 (aka The Killer is revealed)
Moment: Leland is revealed as Bob, Laura's killer, and subsequently murders Maddie, while the people at the Roadhouse suffer a profound sadness. That may sound like a big moment, and it's a testament to Lynch that he can work it in all in a virtually wordless sequence. The reveal of the killer is obviously huge, it's what the series had been building to over its entire run, but the real brilliance here is the brutal murder scene, and the subsequent catharsis at the roadhouse. Julee Cruise's music is beautiful, and sets the perfect tone for how everyone at the Roadhouse is feeling, after somehow sensing that another murder has happened, or in Cooper's case, being told by the Giant. Lynch would go over similar territory in the Club Silencio sequence in Mullholland Drive, but this sequence may be the most emiotionally real moment in his entire body of work.

Show: Angel
Episode: Not Fade Away
Moment: Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn meet in an alley, and decide to keep fighting until they die. While Angel as a series is uneven, great at times, not so great at other times, the ending is unquestionably brilliant, the best TV ending since Twin Peaks. It works because it captures the essence of the character, he's someone who will never find redemption for all the bad things he did in the past, no matter how long he keeps going. There is no "ending" for Angel now that he has signed away the Shanshu, like there was for Buffy, and his show doesn't get an ending either. Cancelled during its best season, Angel himself also finds an apocalypse that has come on too early. He doesn't have a chance of winning, but he's not going to retreat, he'll go out fighting, and even though they'll all probably die, maybe they can help some people along the way. It's not a cliffhanger, because as is, this ending ties into what Angel realized in season two, and is the perfect capper to the character's story.

Show: Cowboy Bebop
Episode: The Real Folk Blues Part II
Moment: Faye begs Spike not to go after Vicious. This is the moment the entire series has been building to. The characters have kept their emotions strictly guarded up to this point, but after rediscovering her memories, and coming to terms with her past, Faye is ready to open herself to Spike emotionally. She says that Spike has a new family, and no need to go after his past, but for Spike, the past is the only place he can be alive, and he needs to go back there. It's Spike's past versus his present and future, and his central character conflict expressed in one moment. The eyes are such a potent metaphor, and the center of a harrowing speech he gives Faye. Faye herself cries here, and we can tell how much she's changed over the course of the series. She has found her home, and only wants Spike to have the same thing, but he can't stay. She cries because she knows he's going to die, he has to go because it's the only way he can live. In this moment, we see the end of the Bebop as we knew it, and it's only a matter of time until the inevitable sets in. What makes this moment so striking is it's the first time we ever see the characters ever open up emotionally, and after 25 episodes of guarded emotions, the torrent here is both cathartic and frustrating, because like Faye, we don't want Spike to go.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: Once More With Feeling
Moment: Giles and Tara sing a duet about how they must leave Buffy and Willow respectively. This is an episode where practically every moment could be on this list, but my favorite part is the Giles and Tara, for a number of reasons. One, both of them are great singers, and I love the way Joss combines the two songs they hand sung previously. Also, it's a great example of musical form, because Joss uses the music as a way to express pure emotion. It may not have as much deep subtext, but it pays off character arcs, and is just a brilliant moment in and of itself.

Show: The Office
Episode: The Christmas Special (Part II)
Moment: Tim and Dawn kiss. Every one of the shows listed above is at least partially a sci-fi or fantasy show, so how did a British situation comedy end up this high on the list? Maybe because it's a brilliantly written one, and has character arcs just as complex as those of a great novel. This moment is the end of the series long development of the relationship between Tim and Dawn. These two were both people who were not happy with their status in the office, and dreamt of bigger and better things. The only thing they had keeping them happy was each other, and in the second season finale, when Dawn rejects Tim's advances again, you can tell that it's incredibly painful for both. Over the course of the special, we see the way that Lee has worn down Dawn's dream of being an artist, and replaced her idealistic notions with a strict pragmatism that has her depressed. Tim has found peace in his job, but he's still not who he wants to be. Dawn leaves to go back to Florida, but in the car, she opens Tim's secret santa gift, and it's a box of paints. This sends her back to the party, where we see Tim standing with Brent and Gareth. In the background, Dawn walks in, goes to Tim and kisses him, bringing closure to the arc in a beautiful moment. It's not sappy at all, it's completely earned, and to see the two of them finally together and happy is what so many romantic comedy movies go for, but fail to achieve. The Office earns it. This scene not only fulfills the character's romantic arc, it shows Dawn re-embracing her dreams, and Tim finding new hope in his job. Throw in Yazoo's 'Only You' playing in the background, and you've got a complete perfect moment.

Show: Twin Peaks
Episode: 2.22 (Finale)
Moment: Cooper wanders the red room in search of Annie, and his soul is taken. This is sort of a vague moment, but it's essentially one scene, Cooper's travel through the red room in the last episode. This is Lynch at his most abstract, but with the backing of the events of the series, so he can get as surreal as he wants, and the viewer still understands roughly what's going on. Jimmy Scott at the opening of this scene sets the tone perfectly, and the run in with the Man from Another Place both clears up and muddies some questions from earlier in the series. Laura screaming at the camera still freaks me out, and the dopplegangers are frightening, particularly the Cooper one. This is pure abstraction and it works. Some other episodes I mentioned before here have attempted to go bizarre, but no one has matched this, not even Lynch himself. It's a completely alien dimension, and Lynch is just unhinged. What an episode. It's the best TV episode ever, and it's the best thing Lynch has ever done, and it's got the best moment in TV history.

Related Posts
Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part I (10-6) (4/30/2005)
Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part II (5-1) (5/2/2005)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Update on Me and on Foreign Film

This weekend, I'm going to be going to see The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby and Finding Neverland, so hopefully my comments about the Oscar nominations yesterday will be proven wrong. We shall see. I've got pretty high hopes for Million Dollar Baby, buzz has been good, though I wasn't a big fan of Clint's Unforgiven or Mystic River.

I've been really busy so far this semester, because I spend so much time sleeping. I have no morning classes, so I end up getting nine hours or so of sleep a night. While this is good, and when I'm in that haze between sleeping and waking up, it's the top priority for the day, it is bad becuase it leads to a shorter day. I end up staying up too late, and getting up too late. So, I basically don't accomplish much before class, am in class until 4:30, and two days a week I have night class, which means I'm not finished with everything until around 10. That's also the consequence of taking two film courses, much more time spent in class. I miss that time of doing nothing, I have far too little of it so far. Of course, I do have a three day weekend every week, which'll help, plus once I get back into the swing of the job, I'll take care of all my work there, and will have free time when I'm on my own. Work has been encroaching on my room time, and that is not good.

Good news is most of my classes are pretty good. Action film, we're watching the earlly silent films, and it's already flying by. The second half of the semester is either all good films I have seen, or films I've been wanting to see. Die Hard, Dirty Harry, Coffy, Bullitt, these are all films I need to see, and seeing them for class adds another layer of cool.

Youth Culture is pretty tight so far also. It's a discussion class, and there've been some interesting discussions about the high school experience and such. It gives me a perspective different than the Rye Neck one, which I'm interested in finding out about. News flash, no one's high school really was like Saved by the Bell.

Austrailian film is a bit too much Austrailia, not enough film, unlike German Film last semester which rocked hard. A great movie every week, and some good discussion about said movie. Getting to see The Merchant of Four Seasons, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Tin Drum, Wings of Desire and Run Lola Run in class was tight. Plus, it exposed me to a lot of great films I would never have otherwise come across. The Tin Drum, that was must see, if only for the womb shot.

Science and Art definitely has potential. I think it'll be by far the best science course I could have taken.

Speaking of art, one of my big projects recently has been to learn to draw. It's something I always wanted to do, but never really put in the effort for. However, I am definitely improving, and more importantly, can have a lot of fun drawing. It's all in holding the pencil sideways.

So, it's busy times, but also good times. Maybe a little more work than I'd like, but at least it's in interesting areas.

One of the things I've noticed over this past school year has been that about half of the films I've been watching are foreign films. This means I'm either getting more mature or more pretentious, perhaps both, definitely the pretentious part. I guess it's because I feel like I've sort of exhausted contemporary American cinema. I'm sure there's still some undiscovered gems out there, but most of the "essential" movies, I have covered. Very consciously a couple of years ago, I decided to keep track of when people asked "Have you seen this movie?" and if I hadn't seen it, to get it out of the library and watch it. Now, there are some movies that are exempted from this. I don't need to see a Chris Farley movie to know it's not my thing. However, this led me to a lot of great films, like Trainspotting, Goodfellas and more. However, I basically covered it. I've seen most of those good movies that people have seen, and the ones left are ones that didn't really interest me for whatever reason, and that's not many.

So, I ventured out into the world of foreign film. I guess a big part of this was taking New German Cinema, which meant a new German film every week, and my exploration of the works of Wong Kar-Wai. These account for a bunch of the foreign films I saw and loved. Also, I think the good experiences watching these films broke down the stigma of the foreign film. I still can't watch something set in a country meadow about a poor woman who slowly dies, which a decent percentage of foreign film is, but the up tempo urban films of Wong Kar-Wai or Fassbinder feel incredibly relevant to my life, and more importantly, are extremely pop. The opening of Maria Braun, or practically every shot in Chungking Express, these are fun films to watch, not a chore by any means.

I think foreign film has a stigma that it's good for you, but not fun to watch. It's what you should be watching, and that's true, but that doesn't mean it can't be entertaining. Wong Kar-Wai, Fassbinder, Chanwook Park or Wim Wenders, these guys all make really fun and fresh films that are as entertaining as they are intellectually relevant.

If you need to get over the foreign film hump, check out these brilliant, thought provoking, and perhaps, most importantly, extremely entertaining films:

Chungking Express - Wong Kar-Wai
The Marriage of Maria Braun - RW Fassbinder
Oldboy - Chanwook Park
Wings of Desire - Wim Wenders

Oscar Nominations

Well, the Oscar nominations were released today. They pretty much conformed with expectations. I was glad to see the screenplay nods for Eternal Sunshine and especially for Before Sunset. I don't see much chance for either, but at least they got some love. One thing that bothers me is most of the movies that were nominated in the upper categories were good movies, but they weren't the sort of movies you get really passionate about. Now, I'll admit I haven't seen any of the best picture nominees other than Sideways, but taking Sideways as an example, it's a really good movie, but it's not great. Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine, even Garden State, these are movies that really stick with you, really personal and emotional movies. Sideways, and the other nominees feel like they're well made, but they're not auteur movies. There's not one original screenplay among them, and three of the five are biopics. Generally speaking, a film's going to work better if it moves from director's head to screen, rather than from reality through team of writers through director to screen. So, as I said when I was talking about Mystic River a few weeks ago, they may be good movies, but they don't feel personal and inspired. They aren't movies that make me as a viewer want to go out and make a film.

So, enough of that. Since the academy didn't give me all the love, here's what my nominees would be if I had my way of things.

Jim Carrey - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Min-Sik Choi - Oldboy
Paul Giamatti - Sideways
Ethan Hawke - Before Sunset
Tony Leung - 2046

My winner here would be Jim Carrey. It's a character so far removed from anything he's played in the past, and he just becomes Joel. He's the invisible center of the movie, and if he hadn't worked, the whole thing would have collapsed

Julie Delpy - Before Sunset
Nicole Kidman - Dogville
Natalie Portman - Garden State
Uma Thurman - Kill Bill II
Kate Winslet - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Julie Delpy gets it. This is actually the catergory I had the toughest time filling, other than Julie and Nicole Kidman, no one was really essential. However, Delpy definitely is. For all I know, she is the character, she's that good. She makes a simple reach into an absolutely heartbreaking moment. She has to lie in character, and also spend a lot of time dancing around the truth, in massive five minute single take shots. Her singing scene, her dancing at the end, she totally is this person, and that's what acting's all about.

Supporting Actor
David Carradine - Kill Bill II
Thomas Haden Church - Sideways
Michael Madsen - Kill Bill II
Peter Saarsgard - Garden State
Mark Wahlberg - I Heart Huckabee's

Carradine here hands down. The Bill character very easily could have been a let down after a movie of buildup, but Carradine completely pulls it off, and makes someone so nice and gentle, you can't help but like him, while at the same time hating him. It's a tricky line, but in the end, despite the movie being called Kill Bill, I really wanted him to live.

Supporting Actress
Maggie Cheung - Hero
Natalie Portman - Closer
Naomi Watts - I Heart Huckabee's
Faye Wong - 2046
Zhang Ziyi - 2046

Faye Wong for 2046. While Zhang Ziyi has the bigger role, in many ways she's even the lead, it's Faye who owns the movie for me. She's good in the present, but in the short robot story within the movie, she's breathtaking. It's purely visual acting, but she conveys so much emotion in a brief time. I think those robot scenes are the best thing Wong Kar-Wai has ever done and that's largely because of Faye's performance. Even in this future setting, she keeps things emotionally centered. There's a scene with intertitles that gets to me so much. I need to see more Faye Wong movies, since she's been the highlight of both WKW movies she's been in, and elevates his already amazing work to another level.

Zach Braff - Garden State
Charlie Kaufman - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy - Before Sunset
Quentin Tarantino - Kill Bill II
Lars Von Trier - Dogville

This one goes to Richard, Ethan and Julie. Their movie is literally just people talking, so the screenplay is the movie, which isn't to knock the directing, which has some awe inspiring dolly shots, but it's in the words that our joy lies, and o, what words they are! You can tell so much of each of them has gone into the script, and it wonderfully plays off of Sunrise, while at the same time crafting a deeper and richer film. The dialogue sounds like real people talking, and even in the first part, where they're sort of lying to each other, we can understand what they really want to say. And then in the end, it's just a torrent of unrestrained emotion. This is one for the ages.

Zach Braff - Garden State
Michel Gondry - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Chanwook Park - Oldboy
Quentin Tarantino - Kill Bill II
Wong Kar-Wai - 2046

Gondry gets it here. He brings the crazy visual style developed on years of music videos, and applies it to a brilliant narrative. It's not surprising that Gondry pulls off dazzling effects, what surprises is how he fuses the craziness with very real emotional content. Other than Before Sunset, this is the most emotionally relevant film of 2004, and Gondry pulls it off. The man can barely speak English, and yet he gets brilliant performances and incredibly real character interaction. Word.

Before Sunset
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Garden State
Kill Bill II

I've got to give it to Eternal. Visually amazing and emotionally engrossing. That's what film should be.

And in the other catergories, I'll just give a winner.

Cinematography - This belongs to 2046 and Christopher Doyle. Every frame is gorgeous, be it the future or the 60s. Visually, this surpasses In the Mood for Love and that's saying something.

Editing - Oldboy. Park's film has an incredible pop, and that's largely due to fast paced editing, that works perfectly with the music, and uses a lot of nifty narrative tricks.

Art Direction - 2046, and Chang once again works his magic. The cinematography is gorgeous, but that's largely because of the phenomenal sets. Both the future stuff and the 60s are pure eye candy.

Costume Design - 2046 again. The people look great, no matter how bad things get, they can still dress well. Extra props to the future stuff, which goes a long way to helping the performances.

Music - Jon Brion's score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sets the right mood for the film, and is very listenable on its own.

Original Song - I'm not sure if it qualifies, but Julie Delpy's 'Waltz for a Night,' is both a great song on its own, and great in the context of the movie. An excellent use of music to convey narrative information.

Makeup - Um, Shaun of the Dead I guess. Those were some good looking zombies.

Sound/Sound Editing - Kill Bill II. The buried alive sequence was one of the greatest uses of sound ever in a film.

Visual Effects - Sky Captain. Say what you will about the film, it was very cool looking, and those effects were pretty damn seamless.

Animated Film - The Incredibles. I think it may have been a bit overhyped, but it was a really strong movie. Pixar's third best film, behind the two Toy Stories.

Well, there you are.

Related Posts
The 2005 Oscar Nominations (1/31/2006)
My 2005 Oscar Nominations (1/31/2006)

Monday, January 24, 2005

A little more Bebop and 24

I watched Fallen Angels again over the weekend, and I was struck by how similar Wong Kar-Wai's themes are to those of Cowboy Bebop. Both are about cool characters drifting through the world, to a cool soundtrack, trying to connect with others, but hiding their true feelings. It's not that they're both Asian, it's a real thematic connection between the two works. Spike is basically Chow in 2046, someone who's trying to get back to a love he had in the past, but can never have again, and as a result of this, he is unwilling to commit to the people who care about him in the present. What's also notable is that 2046 and Cowboy Bebop both take place after the major events in the character's lives. They're sort of coasting at that point. Plus, the obvious similarity is that both CB and WKW's stuff are incredibly stylish, with cool music, and awesome design work.

On another note, today I watched the sixth hour of the new season of 24. So far, this may be the best season. It's got no weak plot (aka no Kim), and is dealing with a lot of different character types than we're used to seeing on the show. The Araz family are my favorites so far this season because they've got a lot of really difficult moral questions to deal with. I've already been quite surprised by what's happened with them, and hopefully that will continue.

Related Posts
Fallen Angels (12/18/2004)
Cowboy Bebop: The Show Which Has Become a Genre Unto Itself (1/23/2005)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

And the work which has become a genre unto itself shall be called: 'Cowboy Bebop'

Over break, I rewatched the anime series, Cowboy Bebop, and once again I was incredibly impressed by it. I wrote about it after I finished watching it here, but I feel like I got even more out of it on the re-view. Much like Volume 2 of The Invisibles, it's a deceptively simple show, that gets you hooked with cool visuals and music, and then leaves you reeling at the end, where the very ideals that it seemed to espouse earlier in the series are revealed as something that we should definitely not aspire to.

One of the most interesting things about the series to me is the fact that it's essentially flawless. Whereas American shows evolve and change as they go along, with new characters and plots being developed over the course of the series, this series either was, or seems to have been, perfectly planned out from the beginning. In the opening credits, we can see images that we won't be given the context of until the final episode. Spike's backstory, as well as Faye and Jet's, is all there from the beginning, it's just that we don't find out about it until the series progresses. Much like The Office, the creators of the series seem perfectly in control of what they're doing, and each element seems to tie into the ending somehow. Even though I think Twin Peaks and Buffy are better shows, they are definitely flawed, and have lapses of logic that this series lacks. There's no confusion about character motivations or emotional arcs, it's all perfectly laid out. That's the advantage of a limited series, and the advantage of knowing where you're going from the beginning.

For most of the first season, the characters on the show are pretty emotionally closed off. They go around doing the cases and never seem to really be in any danger, or even particularly involved in what's going on. The cool music is playing, they fight some people, if they get the bounty, good, if not, whatever. Only in Ballad of Fallen Angels do we get hints of what's to come, not just plot wise, but also in terms of character relations. After Spike falls from the church, we find out that Faye has saved him and nursed him back to health, thus making her a parallel figure to Julia, as evidenced by the flashback structure at the end of the episode. This episode is the first time in the series that we find out that Spike can be hurt, and we see a foe who is too much for him, not to mention the fact that Faye also gets into serious trouble.

However, this episode is something of an anomaly, mostly stuff develops under the surface. As the season goes on, the Bebop gradually forms into something of a family. Whereas it was once just Jet and Spike, soon Ein, Faye and Ed join up, making the ship into something of a family, with Jet firmly in the father role, taking care of a little kid, and two teenagers, or grown up children, Faye and Spike, who basically do what they want, and ignore the logical advice that he gives them. It's played pretty much implicitly, but by the end of the season, they, with the exception of Spike, are all much closer than they would ever admit to each other. Spike remains emotionally removed from his new "family," a trend that continues as the series goes along.

The first season ends with a two part episode, Jupiter Jazz, which brings things back to Spike's past and the show's "mythology," but the B plot in this episode is just as important. First, this is an incredible episode. The music is probably the best in the series, particularly in Faye's story, when she goes to a film noir inspired bar, and hears Gren's saxophone solos. It's an incredibly moody sequence, as she sits there, alone at the bar, very Blade Runner. The other great musical cue is the music box song, and the song at the end of the two parter. Other than the final two episodes, this two parter is really the highlight of the series.

Everything is set in motion when Faye leaves the Bebop, and steals the money out of the safe. This is not uncommon behavior, she's known to come and go on her own, but Jet suspects that something is wrong, and says they should go look for her. Spike instead decides to follow a mysterious lead about the reappearance of Julia, and goes off to pursue his past.

Jet could easily have let Faye go, but instead he suspects she may be in danger, and as a result goes after her. What he doesn't know is the reason that Faye left, which is revealed in the scene with Gren, when she says she is afraid she's getting too close to them, and wants to leave before she reaches a point where losing them would be painful. While we don't know it at the time, the reason for Faye's evasiveness stems from the loss of Matsumoto that came right after she was removed from cryo freeze, three years prior. She was stuck with an enormous debt, which made her fear staying in one place, becasue staying in one place could lead to her getting forced to pay up for her past. Faye's debt is more than just a physical one, because she does not know what happened to her in the past, she is constantly on the run, and unable to settle down. She avoids any meaningful relationships and instead just drifts along. The crew of the Bebop are the people she has been the closest with since Matsumoto, and the thought that she might really care about them frightens her away.

However, she winds up in trouble when Gren shackles her, and locks her in his apartment. Over the course of the two episodes, we see Jet doing detective work, and eventually he finds her, and brings her back home to the Bebop. He says that he went after her because of the money in the safe, which she reveals was only $20,000, a very small amount, certainly not worth all the effort he went through. While neither of them says it outright, it's pretty obvious that Jet went after Faye because he cares about her, and did not want her to leave their ship. Faye knows this, and so does Jet, and at the end of the episode, they share a moment and grow closer. This paves the way for a different type of ship in season two.

On the other hand, we've got Spike, who is also running away from his "family," and for a similar reason as Faye did. Spike too has unresolved issues in his past, and rather than trying to live in the now, he's just biding his time, and waiting for an opportunity to find Julia and kill Vicious. In this episode he hears about something called code name Julia, and rushes off to investigate it. He finds Vicious, but gets shot, and misses his chance to find out about his past. In the second part of the episode, he finds Gren dying and tows him into space and sends him off to Titan. That's one of the most beautiful images of the entire series, a great moment. However, this episode is typical of Spike's behavior throughout the series. He shows no concern for Faye, his current comrade, but is willing to do anything to track down Julia. This is something that's a parallel to the end of the series, when Spike once again passes up the good things he has in the present to go after something he had lost.

The second chunk of the series is largely about coming to terms with the past and finding your place in the world. While this was also present in season one, it comes to the fore here, as the stakes are raised and the differences between the characters become much more apparent. While there's still a lot of screentime devoted to being cool, it's no longer really the focus of the series. The series takes on some heavier issues. All four characters are confronted with people from their past, and are forced to choose between lives they once had and a life on the Bebop.

The person who has the easiest choice is Jet. In the episode Black Dog Serenade, Jet goes after the terrorist who was supposedly responsible for Jet losing his arm. However, as the episode proceeds, he finds out that it was in fact his partner who did it, and Jet's partner kills Udai Taxim, and then allows himself to be killed by Jet. Earlier in the episode, Jet had rejected an offer to return to detective work, and when he kills his partner, he basically rejects the life he once had. The person he thought was his best friend had betrayed him, but rather than linger on it, Jet returns to the Bebop and firmly commits to his life there.

Back in season one, Jet had confronted an old girlfriend, and rather than trying to keep her with him, he let her go off to a new life. This combined with fighting Udai Taxim, creates a story that's parallel to Spike's relationship with Julia and Vicious. Jet was able to let go of his past, as shown when he tosses the watch into the water, and was not consumed by revenge. Spike cannot let go like Jet did, and as a result he can never be happy on the Bebop. In the second season, we see Jet getting closer to both Ed and Faye, and really notice him as the father of the ship. He cooks the meals and always brings his "family" together for dinner. Even if they don't have much food, he puts in an effort, and makes the best of the situation he's in, and in this way, his cooking parallels the way he lives his life. He may not have been given gourmet ingredients, but he sees Faye, Ed, Spike and Ein and lets them be his family and the people he cares about. Jet is the character who's most secure in his situation and there's never any doubt that the Bebop is the place he wants to be.

Unlike every other character on the show, Ed does not have a tragic past holding her back. She is not trying to get back to a place she once was, she's more of a drifter, and the Bebop is just a stop on the way. For most of the series, Ed doesn't seem to have any objective, but in the episode "Hard Luck Woman," we find out a bit about Ed's past, and the fact that she has a father. In the episode, Ed goes to a convent, where she had stayed for a while before going to the Bebop, and there, finds a message from her father. So, she puts out a bounty, which draws the Bebop to her father.

Now, Ed's story sort of contradicts what I consider to be the point of the series, the idea that trying to get back to the past is a bad idea, and that the people you're with and care about become your family. Ed does much the same thing as Spike, but it works out for her. I think the thing that makes Ed and Spike different is that Ed is happy whever she goes, and she feels that she has done enough on the Bebop. She may be going after her father, but she's also just moving on to something different. Much like with the convent, she enjoyed living there, but the time came to move on. I'm not sure whether Ed is going to her father, though that's what's implied, but maybe it's just to find out what happened, much like Faye needed to do in the same episode. She needs to confront her past for herself, and then make a decision. But, Ed has much higher hopes than any of the other characters, her spirit has not been broken. I see a bright future for Ed.

The second season sees the start of a new major arc, one that parallels what happens with Spike, and that is the tale of Faye's past. Over the course of three episodes, we find out what was only hinted at in season one, that Faye was alive roughly in our present, but got in a crash, and was cryo-frozen, only to awaken in 2068, deeply in debt, with only Matsumoto as a friend. Matsumoto worked at the cryo-freeze place, and says he fell in love with her while she was in cryo. She completely trusts him, and is in love with him, until he's "killed," at which point she is put further into debt, and begins to drift aimlessly, which she does until the Bebop picks her up.

What's important about Faye's story is that, like Spike, she is held back by her past. As we see in 'Jupiter Jazz,' she is afraid of committing fully to her life on the Bebop, because she's scared that she'll get betrayed again, like she was by Matsumoto. The only person she can remember who ever cared about her turned out to be just using her, and she has committed to never getting used like that again. It's notable that in 'My Funny Valentine,' when she's telling her story to Ein, and finds out that Spike was listening, she's annoyed. She doesn't want them to know about her past, or maybe she's scared that telling them would mean she'd really have to confront what happened to her, rather than run away from it more.

In 'Speak like a Child,' we see Faye once again running away, this time when a mysterious package arrives for her. She assumes that it's somehow related to her debt, but it is in fact a beta tape, with images from her past. I just have to give props to this episode, for the hilarious riff on beta vs. VHS, which would seemingly have no place in the story, but is pulled off quite well. But, that's not really the core of the episode. We see Faye at the dog tracks, throwing her money away, the same place she was when we first met her back in 'Honky Tonk Women.'

One of the subtly developed things throughout the series is the relationship between Faye and Jet. I don't consider it a romantic relationship, though he does love her, and she probably loves him as well, and possibly, in the space after the series, they could become romantically involved. However, in the series itself, I see it more as two people who were emotionally closed up, allowing themselves to be close with someone else for the first time in a long time. In 'Speak Like a Child,' Jet is at first annoyed and very casual about the tape, but when he sees Faye is on it, viewing the tape becomes a mission. He's angry at Spike for destroying the machine, and then goes to Earth to track down a Beta player. He sees this as an opportunity to help Faye, and it's his mission to do that.

When Faye sees the tape, she gets an insight into her past that evaded her for a long time. I love the section where she's cheering for herself, and talking about all the things she hopes she has, the whole series is about this longing for a better past, while drifting aimlessly through the present, and it's jarring to see young Faye, who clearly has a lot of hope about her future. She's not resigned to a miserable existence, and I think seeing that tape is part of what starts Faye's turnaround. After this episode, she becomes more concerned about her comrades, and about making her life better.

In 'Pierrot La Fou,' we see her expressing real concern for Spike, and ultimately saving him at the end of the episode. Because they are so close and essentially family, she goes to help him, even though she says she won't, and that's signifficant. 'Pierrot La Fou' also raises the stakes, Spike is no longer invulnerable, and his near death experience there is a rehearsal for the end of the series.

'Hard Luck Women' is a milestone episode for Faye, in the same way that 'Real Folk Blues' is for Spike. It is here that she is confronted with her past, and forced to choose between building a new life in the future or trying to get back to what could have been. She meets the old woman, who knew her years before, and again, runs away. She is perhaps afraid of finally finding out who she was, because doing that would mean she'd no longer have an excuse for the way she lives her life. However, after running away, she returns to where her house used to be, and in an absolutely dazzling sequence, we see Faye of different ages running up the hill to her majestic house, only to flash to the present and see that it's nothing but an empty lot, a pile of dirt. Faye draws a box in the dirt where her room used to be, and sits in it, and that's where the episode ends. So, Faye has finally found her past, and discovered that it's all gone.

This leads to the critical moment of change for Faye, that comes in 'The Real Folk Blues,' when she returns to the Bebop, and says that she had no other place to go, by extension revealing that they are her family now, and that she's not just passing through, the Bebop is her home. Much like Jet did, Faye has confronted her past and found her home. She is comfortable with them, and opens up more at the end of the series.

Probably my favorite scene in the entire series is when Faye finally opens up to Spike, and in tears, begs him not to go fight Vicious. It's notable because it's the only time we ever see any of the crew emotionally open up, and really say what they feel. Jet does not want Spike to go, but he tells Spike this by saying it's not worth throwing his life away, rather than saying I really care about you, don't go. Faye does just this, she finally opens up to Spike, and tells him that she got her memories back and it didn't make a difference, because she was already home, on the Bebop. The brilliance of this scene is the way it completes both Faye and Spike's character arcs. Both of them had spent the whole series trying to get back to their pasts, and resolve the issues surrounding the past. Faye finally did, and after finding her past, she realized that the home she was trying to get back to didn't exist, it was really the Bebop, where she'd been all along. The past doesn't matter, but she can't convince Spike of that, and he's off to make the same mistake she made, and run away from the people who really care about him. Faye sees an earlier version of herself in Spike, one who will also fail where she once did.

There's speculation that Faye doesn't want Spike to leave because she's in love with him. That's possible, but I think it's more likely that she just sees him as part of the ship family, and doesn't want him to leave for that reason. They have grown close, and she does not want him to die.

After Spike leaves, Faye and Jet are left on the ship together. Now, earlier in 'The Real Folk Blues,' we heard Spike talking about a woman who made him feel alive again, and Jet clearly is thinking of Faye when he says this. So, Jet has been reinvigorated by his time with Faye, and I'd imagine that the two of them go on as Spike and Jet did, back in the beginning of the series. When Jet thinks Faye has gone at the end of 'Hard Luck Woman,' he eats a lot of eggs, and to Jet, food is synonymous with human feeling. So, the eating is an attempt to get a piece of himself back that he has lost when Faye and Ed left. Then, in 'The Real Folk Blues I,' we see Jet and Spike alone in a bar, drinking and talking about how much they miss Ed and Faye. Faye has realized where her place is, and that will make Jet happier than anything else. After the initial sadness over Spike's death, I'd imagine they'll be quite the team.

Finding your home is what the series is about, and that's even reflected in a very small side story in 'The Real Folk Blues I,' the part where we see the host of Big Shot and his mother. His mother is sitting on a bench in the airport, angry because her son hasn't come to pick her up, and she says she doesn't want to be a hindrance to him, if he's not even going to pick her up, she's very angry. However, then we see her son, and it turns out that she has been waiting in the wrong place. It's not a problem for him to be with her, he wants her there, and this makes both of them happy. They've found their home, and that's together.

For Spike, finding his home is much more difficult because it's a place that doesn't exist anymore. For most of the first season, we see Spike as pretty much an invulnerable, very cool guy, the character most representative of the show's jazz aesthetic. Nothing phases him, and he's always slightly removed from the action. Only when we see him encounter someone from his past does he become emotionally connected to what's going on. The first occurrence of this is in 'Ballad of Fallen Angels,' which sees Spike emotionally present, and is also the first time Spike is physically injured. In this episode, we gets hints of Spike's past, during the falling from the church montage, an absolutely incredible sequence. At the end of this sequence, for the first time, we see doubling between Faye and Julia, the two women in his life. Spike imagines himself being cared for by Julia, but when he wakes up, he finds out it's Faye.

What does this tell us? First, it's Spike quite literallly living in a dream. As he talks about at the end of the series, with his eyes, he's spend most of his life in this dreamlike haze, and this is a great example of it. He's not connected with what's happening to him in the present, he's more involved in this memory of Julia, and that ties intoo the end of the series when, rather than staying with Faye and Jet, he goes off after something he lost and can never find again, this memory of what he once had.

The next big thing for Spike is 'Jupiter Jazz,' where he again chooses to go after something from his past, rather than their current comrade, Faye. Over the course of the second season, we see Spike becoming more and more reckless, and gets into more dangerous situations. In 'Wild Horses,' he's almost killed, and doesn't seem to care. In 'Pierrot La Fou,' he goes after Pierrot, despite having been defeated by him earlier, and against the advice of Faye. He doesn't consider what's practical, instead he follows a desire for revenge and an outdated moral code. Because Pierrot beat him, Spike cannot stand to let him go, he must defeat this foe in battle. This tendency is parodied in the brilliant 'Cowboy Funk,' where Spike meets someone who's just as stubborn as himself, Cowboy Andy. In the end, it's not even about fighting the terrorist bomber, it's about showing Cowboy Andy that Spike is in fact that the better cowboy, even if that means allowing a building to blow up.

We've seen Spike's stubbornness, and the damage he's been taking, but it doesn't all hit home until 'The Real Folk Blues,' where all the pieces of Spike's past that have been developing over the course of the series finally fall into place. We find out that Spike faked his death to escape the syndicate, and hoped to leave with Julia, but Vicious stopped Julia from meeting him, and held her hostage since. For Spike, faking his death has become in some respects a real death, he cut himself off emotionally, almost putting his life on hold, waiting for Julia to return. He doesn't make an effort to connect with others in the present, because he can only remember being alive in the past.

Spike finally does meet Julia, but the past that kept him alive now comes back and before they can even really spend time together, Julia is killed by the syndicate. For Spike, this is devestating because the one person he was living for, the only thing keeping alive is now dead. This ties into what the Indian guy says, when he talks about stars supporting each other, and if one star dies another might also. Spike goes back to the Bebop, but only to say good bye. He lets Jet serve him one last meal, and Jet knows that he's probably going to die. Jet says it's not worth doing this for a dead woman, but Spike says he's doing it to find out if he's alive. Spike has been dead so long, the only way he thinks he can return is to confront the person who "killed" him before. Jet understands Spike's code, and respects what he has to do, even though he clearly thinks it's the wrong decision, and if he had his way, Spike would stay on the ship, because even though they fight sometimes, Jet and Spike are very close, and the loss of Spike will be tough to take. Still, Jet never comes out and says what he's feeling.

Faye does, she opens up to Spike and for the first time, the two of them share everything with each other. Faye, who has resolved the issues with her past, begs Spike not to go, but just like Faye had to go to the house, Spike feels he needs to go to Vicious. Spike here says that he's always had one eye in the past, the physical manifestation of Spike's unwillingness to fully devote himself to the people on the Bebop. Even though he missed Ed and Faye when they left, it wasn't in the same way that Jet did. Spike is a drifter, while Jet is someone who can have a home and be happy with it. But, back to the Faye scene. Spike rejects Faye's good advice here, and in doing so, rejects the home that he has on the Bebop. Faye realized that the Bebop is the only place she can go back to, it is her home, not this place she vaguely remembers from the past. Spike can't make that realization, he still sees the Bebop as a stop along the way. That's the difference between them, Faye does find her home, Spike never does. That's why Vicious says that Spike will come to him, because he now has nowhere else to go.

So, Spike goes to Vicious, and in one of the definitive action sequences of all time, takes out a bunch of syndicate operatives. He gets to Vicious, they fight, and both die. It's fitting that this trio, Julia, Spike and Vicious, should all end up dead, because they were all already gone to some extent, it was only the physical body that was carrying on. Without Julia, life is meaningless for both Spike and Vicious, so they allow themselves to fight to the death.

The end of the show demonstrates the futility of revenge, but that's a rather obvious lesson. The more important idea it presents is the idea that Spike, the cool, hip, hero of the show was in fact horribly misguided in his attempt to get revenge. There's no idea that this is a noble sacrifice, something that had to be done. Instead, it's selfish, Spike has abandoned his family, the people who love him, as much as Julia ever did, in favor of once again trying to reach for something that isn't there, and now that Julia is dead, can never be again. What does killing Vicious accomplish? Nothing, it won't destroy the syndicate permanently, and it doesn't give Spike a new start. It's Spike's old fashioned morality, the feeling that he can't let someone one up him that drives him to do this, it's purely selfish.

However, it may have been something he had to do. Spike was so damaged, unlike Faye, he may never have realized that his place was on the Bebop. If he had stayed, he may have become more depressed and detached from the world. He was ready to die before Julia died, so with Julia dead, he'd certainly be even more willing to go. In the end, as the song over the end credits says, Spike finally was free of his past, and with the death of Spike and Vicious, we see the end of an outdated moral code, that says you have to seek revenge. Jet lets the man who took his arm go, while Spike can never forgive Vicious. Jet lives, while Spike dies.

It's notable that the series, which at first idolizes Spike, at the end disapproves of what he does. Audience sympathy is definitely with Faye and Jet at the end, or at least mine was. I was really annoyed that Spike went after Vicious and let himself die, when he's got people who really care about him right there. This disapproval of Spike is a huge change from the beginning of the series, where we see Spike as this impossibly cool guy, who never gets hurt, and can never be phased. At first, you'd think Spike's lifestyle is what the creators are espousing, but at the end it's far from it. There's a shift from valuing emotional detachment and cool, to valuing emotional connections, and concern. It's subtly done, and doesn't really hit you until that scene with Faye, but it's there the whole time. To me, Spike is someone you are in awe of at first, but as the series goes on, you realize all his flaws, the calm center that is Jet becomes a much more admirable character.

The song at the end, which talks about finally being free, it's not just about Spike. Jet is free of his emotional restrictions, and may be able to have a deep and meaningful relationship with Faye. Faye is free of her emotional "debt," and the burden of her past. She is ready to start moving towards the future. The Bebop will carry on, without Spike, because while Faye and Jet dealt with their past and found their home, it's something Spike could never do. Rather than living in the present, he kept reaching for an idealized past, and in this show, the longer a character lives in the past, the shorter their future.

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