End of Spike Spiegel

[SPOILERS FOR COWBOY BEBOP DUH]

Achilles was doomed from his birth to lead either a long and plain life or a short and glorious one.  Despite all of his mother’s precautions, he made his choice and headed to Troy.  Hector dreamt he would die by Achilles’ hand.  Despite the pleas of his people, he entered the field and fought Achilles.  Achilles killed Hector, and later on Achilles himself was killed.

Then there’s Spike and Vicious.

vicious

“Life is a dream.”  The words flash across the screen so often that they threaten to turn from thoughtful motto into banal slogan.  The concept itself has been bandied around so much: Chuang Tzu’s butterflies, Calderon de la Barca’s play Life is a Dream…  The beauty of Cowboy Bebop is that it changes the concept and makes it something much more powerful.

The classic “life is a dream” is made up of two equalities: life = dream;  waking up = dying.  A certain devaluation of life comes along with the concept.  Calderon de la Barca was a Catholic priest, and so in his view death was the real beginning of life, a life with God in Heaven.  The sage Chuang Tzu took everything lightly as he couldn’t ever be sure life wasn’t just a dream.

life

But that’s not what happens with Spike.  Spike tells Faye that he’s woken up, so obviously the second equality falls to the ground.  And the reason is that the first equality doesn’t hold either: it’s not life as such that’s a dream, it’s self-alienation from our own destiny.  Spike’s awakening is his discovery that he has been running away from himself.

Vicious’ Red Dragon coup and the death of Julia are the catalyst.  All of a sudden Spike remembers his destiny is to stop Vicious.  Years ago he strayed from that road and he’s been dreaming ever since.  The epic/tragic aspect is the fact that Vicious had already told Spike that only he was strong enough to kill him.  So that for Spike, a fully awake life (eyes wide open) must lead him to his death.  Becoming who is means dying soon thereafter.  Like Achilles, or like cherry blossoms for that matter.

fate

I worry that casual viewers will simply conclude that life is a fluffy thing that “cool” people like Spike can toss about and throw off at will, but that’s not it at all: life in Cowboy Bebop is a serious affair.  And it’s not that Spike goes off to die (as Faye misunderstands), he goes to live.  Death is but a consequence of that.  And avenging Julia’s death (as satisfying as that might sound at some level) doesn’t really need to enter Spike’s calculations.  After all, Julia herself was simply acting on her decision, taken years ago, of running off with Spike.  A decision that brought her to her death, a death that should have happened already.  So if anything, Spike avenges not Julia’s death as such, but the bind that Vicious put her in for siding with Spike in the past.

I’d go so far as to say that Vicious’ coup was really an elaborate plot to draw Spike, a fully awake, fully armed, ready Spike, for one final confrontation.  When the elders capture him, he asks them to kill him, knowing full well that they won’t and that he’ll escape.  I think Vicious might be the only character in Cowboy that didn’t ever dream, but just waited and planned  for the moment the others would wake up!

who you are

Let me bring the “Mushroom Samba” hallucinations into play.  My interpretation is based on this simple logic: if in the middle of your dreams you hallucinate, then it means at that moment you’re seeing reality.  Spike finds himself going up a stairway.  A little frog reminds him that the steps will lead him to heaven, and is shocked that Spike would keep going up.  Reminds him!  Spike tries to brush the frog off.

Usually, we would be happy to go to heaven, so the situation is unexpected to say the least.  But I feel that it’s just a faithful portrait of Spike’s life at that point.  Spike is bounty hunting one criminal at a time.  Capturing criminals, especially after having belonged to a criminal syndicate like Red Dragon, means making little steps toward heaven.  Spike is doing the job mechanically and although he pretends to be lively and carefree (like Kaji in Evangelion) he’s really like a zombie up a stairway.  The frog is something like his conscience, trying to get him to snap out of it and get working.  Spike is in denial and brushes his conscience off.  At some level, he might realize that becoming who he is will not only cost him his own life, but Julia’s also.  Vicious’ activities take care of that dilemma for Spike, allowing him to act…

***

I was thinking of doing one post on the destinies of the crew of the Bebop, but this post on Spike is long enough as it is.  I’ll write about Ed and Faye in my next post…

~ by Haloed Bane on May 7, 2009.

12 Responses to “End of Spike Spiegel”

  1. That’s an awesome take on the subject.

  2. Beautiful post, if I may say so. There was something in this show that I never felt like I was really grasping and always wanted to get a better grip on it, and I think you’ve captured exactly what I was looking for here. Especially with the acid trip par because that was something I really always wanted to have a meaning. As such, my mouth was agape when I read this post and I really felt like it was a revelation. Amazing work.

  3. [Plays ‘See you space cowboy’ on iPod]

    it’s self-alienation from our own destiny. Spike’s awakening is his discovery that he has been running away from himself.

    Spike goes out to find whether he’s truly lived. I find his statement strange, in light of your analysis. He only one functioning eye, and a ‘mystic’ one. This should be another layer of this waking dream that you speak of I believe.

    In any case, there is something fatalistic in Spike’s decision. There was no possibility in it: He was going to kill Vicious or be killed. There was nothing beyond that. Well, since Julie died for real there wasn’t much for him to look forward to. [This should stomp on the shoots planted by the Spike x Faye shippers, ARE YOU LISTENING GHOSTLIGHTNING?]

    And it’s not that Spike goes off to die (as Faye misunderstands), he goes to live. Death is but a consequence of that. And avenging Julia’s death (as satisfying as that might sound at some level) doesn’t really need to enter Spike’s calculations. After all, Julia herself was simply acting on her decision, taken years ago, of running off with Spike. A decision that brought her to her death, a death that should have happened already. So if anything, Spike avenges not Julia’s death as such, but the bind that Vicious put her in for siding with Spike in the past.

    Faye is right, Spike goes out to die. He assaulted Vicious with not much of a plan save to rely on his own fighting prowess. Granted Jet was still hurt, and perhaps he didn’t want Faye to be involved, but he knew that the odds of survival are slim.

    Life was a limbo of sorts, neither a paradise of gardens nor a lake of fire and sulfur. Instead of a snake road Spike runs on a hamster wheel, and to get off is to face Godot, who wears his white hair long and wields a sword.

  4. sigh need to watch cowboy bebop again, watched A LONG LONG time ago forgot the details but really enjoyed with I watched.

    dream and life, fate and cause and effect, all very good topics

    great post AK !

  5. thanks guys, i’ll be churning out something about faye real soon.

    Now, ghost, I see where you’re coming from so let me explain my view a little more. Say he “goes out to die”. By which I’m assuming we mean “he goes out in order to die”. Which means, since no one is forcing him, that he wants to die! I just don’t see that. He goes out to stop Vicious, which means certain death, so he is reconciled to the fact but that’s not his purpose in going out. Maybe this is a semantic issue..

    “Finding out whether he truly lived”. If you’ve been dreaming for so long that you’re not sure now you’re awake or still dreaming, how can you tell? You pick up where you left off the “night” before (i.e. before you slept). For Spike that means heading straight for the syndicate and challenging Vicious.

    I know this is a somewhat extreme view, but the best metaphor for what happened to Spike IMO is this: you play a movie, pause it toward the end and forget about it. Later on you remember about the movie, you unpause it (no need to go back to the beginning) and finish the movie off…

  6. I haven’t seen Cowboy Bebop in ages, and I wasn’t really paying attention then either. But I realise great character insight when I see it.

  7. Gotcha, I think.

    I argue however that Spike goes out to die as if he wanted to commit suicide, but rather as an unreflected negligence. He knew he was going to be killed and subordinated that to the gratification of his immediate revenge-fulfillment needs.

    It’s like smoking. You know it’s gonna kill you, but thinking about Cowboy Bebop just isn’t the same without cigarettes lol.

  8. Spike goes to live. It’s true. In another way, I think of this form of living is not solely continuing with the path but fulfilling the life. If he would have stayed in, he wouldn’t have been fulfilled, he would remain empty… his death (perhaps in his own eyes) is somewhat arbitrary after this fulfillment. Of course, we, the viewer are/should be moved by this heart-shattering awesomeness of a character. Plain unforgettable.

  9. Spike never really belonged in life. Remember what he said to Electra? He wasn’t afraid to die, because life never really mattered to him. It was only when he started to dream (Julia) he became afraid to losing it, so he quits the red dragon and asked julia to escape. When spike talks about “dying”, “i’ve already died”; he’s talking about the fact julia never showed up and he never knew the whole truth. Did julia love me? Did she stood me up? he was in LIMBO, watching a dream that would never happen.

    Going to see if he was alive , imho he means if his will to live will make him survive the encounter..and it hasn’t because he didn’t want to live. “let’s end it all” (julia, THE DREAM IS DEAD AND NO MORE LIMBO= HE IS AWAKE FROM HIS DREAM, and his reality is VICIOUS) he says to vicious which he responds “as you wish”. Vicious, heh he dreamed too man. people think he never did, but you are wrong. Vicious liked spike alot, he was the only person he could believe in. Clues? “She’s a snake, be carefull”, “you are the one who kept people out of the loop(jupiter jazz)”,etc etc (many more,just watch;). The old vicious dressed WHITE (symb?), even smiled friendly and had fun with the trio (watch the cowboy bebop official art gallery). When spike betrayed him, he lost his dream and became the vicious we know. I would go as far to say that his betrayal to Gren was a way to deal with spike’s betrayal, his transformation from still a beast to a “nothing to believe in” beast.

    Cowboy bebop is beautiful, it has many interpretations which i love to read. RIP Spike,Vicous and Julia:)

  10. that’s in the movie, right? spike says he wasn’t afraid to die until he met Julia. then he was afraid to die, but now he doesn’t seem afraid to die anymore.

    your interpretation is interesting. i particularly like the notion of vicious doing to gren what spike did to vicious. i can see that!

    i wish they released a fully detailed canon chronicle of the Titan War!!

  11. I read from Wikipedia that Watanabe had said…”I’ve never officially said that he died. At this point, I can tell you that I’m not sure if he’s alive or dead.” He also stated that he believes fans would be upset if there was a continuation.
    I’m not too sure why the fans would be upset if there was a continuation.
    So who knows…

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