“Cowboy Funk” begins with Spike very nearly catching Teddy Bomber, the bounty-head-of-the-week. Cornered and thinking he’s done for, Bomber admits to Spike that every bounty head out there is afraid of being hunted by him or some stranger named Andy. Knowing what we do about Spike, and after seeing Andy act like a total prat not two minutes later, this is kind of a strange statement. Why would bounty hunters be afraid of Spike, who comes from a crew with an embarrassingly high failure rate, or Andy, a man who can’t stop boasting about himself even when he can’t recognize his target? But then the episode unfolds and the answer becomes clear: where these men go, destruction, and sometimes death, follows.
First off, let’s think about why so many of the Bebop’s adventures end in failure: their targets die. A lot. Asimov, the eco-terrorists, Decker, and the space pirates all died because the crew couldn’t capture their prey without some kind of problem occurring. Furthermore, Spike and Faye tend to forget about the consequences to their actions when they are pursuing targets. Neither one is that delicate, much to Jet’s irritation, and will do outrageous things in their attempts to get paid. Just remember their plan to shoot at two cargo ships in “Wild Horses,” thinking that they could deduce which one was their target based on which one fought and which one fled. They were willing to fire upon an innocent cargo crew and had completely forgotten that the possibility that neither were their target still existed. Anything to get paid. (Well, usually; there have been times when we’ve seen the group forego a payday for altruistic reasons.)
So when the bounty hunter known as “Cowboy Andy” shows up, directly and indirectly causes property damage, accuses Spike of being Teddy Bomber, then rides his horse over Spike, we realize why Andy is so feared. His obliviousness may not result in many of his targets going to jail, but it does cause lots of injury for people he encounters. And while Spike is smart and generally aware of himself, his stubborn personality and desire to finish the job has led to plenty of injury and destruction. His friends point this out right away, but Spike can’t believe that he could be compared to someone as stupid and dangerous as Andy.
As the episode goes on, the crew continues hunting for Teddy Bomber, and each time they get interrupted by Andy. Andy’s involvement endlessly irritates not only Spike, but Bomber himself, as each time Andy arrives, he is in the middle of explaining his motivations to Spike. Bomber is actually not too different from Spike and Andy either, as all three are very full of themselves. Andy is the most outwardly so, as all he can talk about is himself, and his home (a houseboat) reflects his personality to an unsettling degree. Spike has a level of confidence that borders on cockiness, and he flies off the handle when Jet and Faye suggest he might have similarities to the doltish Andy. Despite some obvious parallels, admitting their similarities would destroy Spike’s good image of himself. Bomber’s problem is that he hates being ignored, and all he wants out of life is for people to recognize his brilliance. He makes a point of blowing up buildings after warning people so that his bombs won’t injure anyone. He doesn’t want to hurt people, he wants to educate them, and he thinks that the only way to get people’s attention is to blow up buildings. He claims that he is making a statement about society by blowing up large buildings, but the statement is so convoluted and unrelated to his actions that people must actually listen to him in order to understand his message. By the end of the episode, Bomber basically begs Spike and Andy to show up at his crime scene, then chastises them when they are “late.” He does set a trap for the pair this time around, but it seemed almost a secondary concern, seeing how easily Spike would have taken him in if not for Andy’s interference. (I want to say that he was counting on their bickering to lead them into the trap, but he seemed genuinely surprised when they ignored him to snipe at each other.)
The episode effectively gets us to reexamine Spike, who is pretty much the default lead character. For most of the series, we have seen him as a flawed anti-hero who is a good fighter and intelligent part of a crew that is incompetent despite itself. But by placing Spike next to someone who embodies his worst traits, amplified to absurd levels, we have to ask: is Spike the Bebop’s weak link?
Up next: Andy begins narrating over strange images that have no meaning outside of context. He claims he’ll be coming back in the next episode. Spike is not amused.