What good does holding on to the past do? Faye and Ed both got nothing but pain for trying to recapture theirs. When Jet tried to reconnect with Elisa, he learned more about himself then he wanted to. And when Jet tried to reconnect with his old partner, he learned more about him than he wanted to. Then there is Spike. He has spent the entire series claiming he had already died and that he’s just watching a dream he can’t wake up from. He’s not suicidal, but he’s in no hurry to go out of his way to preserve his life either… unless he thinks he can reconnect with the mysterious Julia. He sought out Mao Yenrai’s killer, despite knowing that he was most likely walking into a trap, and he went to Jupiter to find Julia, with his only lead being the fact that the name “Julia” was being used in some run-down town.
The difference between the characters is how they react to these developments. Ed and Jet learn from their mistakes; Ed realizes that she has to look forward, while Jet ignores his past as best he can. He uses the past to his advantage if he can, such as choosing a mechanical arm to ensure he always remembers the lessons his mistakes have taught him, but generally focuses on the present. Faye has a hard time letting go of the past, and trades one for the other when she returns to the Bebop because she has nowhere else to go. But the Bebop also holds a future for her, especially now that she has dropped her cynical and selfish personality traits. She initially tells the others, and herself, that she comes back to deliver a message to Spike, but she could have easily done that by phone. She is familiar with the Bebop, and believes that it’s the only place she belongs. It doesn’t hurt that Spike is there, and she has grown to love him. Unfortunately she fell for the man who just can’t let the past go. Once again, when a lead on Julia presents itself, he can’t pass it up. Even if it means he’ll probably die.
In Spike’s world, with Julia must come Vicious, and the very reason Julia has resurfaced is because Vicious attempted to stage a coup against the leaders of the Red Dragon Syndicate. When it failed, the Elders put hits out on everyone ever connected with Vicious, including Spike and Julia. Vicious is an interesting case. Unlike Spike, who goes through the motions of life and has no greater ambitions than getting something to eat, Vicious has big plans and intends on running the Red Dragons. As has been established, he and the elders have a difference of opinion on how the syndicate should be run, and he wants to do everything he can to ensure his view wins and that he becomes the new leader. He has tremendous foresight and he looks to the future, unlike his rival. But his great downfall is that he does share Spike’s fatal flaw: as much as Vicious is forward-thinking, he just can’t let Spike or Julia go. Even when his coup eventually succeeds, due to his ability to predict the behavior of his enemies, he chooses not to call off the hit on Spike and Julia. And when Julia dies, he knows that Spike will come to him for a final showdown. The thought makes him the closest emotion to happy that Vicious can feel.
No other episode lays on thematic elements of “the past” thicker than “The Real Folk Blues.” It’s on everyone’s minds, and each approach it differently. Jet wishes people wouldn’t hang so much meaning on it. Faye accepts that she has to take what is available to her, even if it isn’t ideal. Julia wants to leave it all behind and run away. And Spike and Vicious can’t see reason. They are too blinded by what has happened to move forward with their friends. Even when Vicious gets everything he wants, it’s not enough; Spike must dies. Even when Spike loses everything that mattered to him in his old life, he can’t realize that he has a new life with people who want to be with him. All he can do is seek revenge. The saddest part is that no other moment in the series so perfectly shows that, underneath their indifference and insults, Spike and Jet really do get along as friends, and that Faye does feel like she wants to be with Spike. Sometimes, people can’t see what’s right in front of them because they are too focused elsewhere. And in this case, the consequences for doing so are grave.
The final preview, for “Part 2,” showed nothing but images of Spike and Julia together in a cemetery, as Spike and Jet talked about what they learned over the course of the series. Faye mumbles philosophy, completely unaware of what the other two are discussing. And the series ends not with the credits, but with a shot of the sky of Mars, as the camera continually pans upward. A bright star blinks out, and the dream comes to an end.