Cowboy Bebop Ending Explained: She's More Than Just A Pretty Face

Netflix's live-action "Cowboy Bebop" adaptation took some pretty major detours away from its source material, leaving some fans frustrated, others elated, and many a little confused. The 10-episode first season followed space cowboys Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) as they tried to catch bounty-heads and put food on the table, all while dealing with Spike's violent past, Faye's amnesia, and Jet's family problems. 

Showrunner André Nemec promised that the series "wouldn't violate the canon," though it certainly twists the canon in surprising new ways. The live-action series is something like a remix of the anime, a cover song with new bits added. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but it's all in the service of trying to bring one of the world's greatest anime series to life. 

So let's break down that ending, cowpokes, and dig into what exactly is going on in the live-action "Bebop." Buckle up, because it's going to get a little bumpy.

Spoilers for season 1 of "Cowboy Bebop" ahead. 

Trouble at Ana's

Throughout the first nine episodes of the series, Spike has managed to hide his past and former identity from his new partner, Jet. Their partnership is built upon one rule: no lies. Unfortunately, Spike used to be a top hitman for the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. He went by the name Fearless, and at one time was destined to possibly take over the Syndicate. Jet is a former Inter-Solar System Police officer, so Spike decided to keep the whole criminal past to himself. That comes back to bite him when Jet and Faye try to rescue him from Ana's (Tamara Tunie), thinking that he's been taken captive. Fearless's friends Ana and Gren (Mason Alexander Park) face off against Spike's friends Jet and Faye, and his two worlds finally collide. He's forced to explain his past to the Bebop crew, and Jet isn't exactly happy about it.

Jet discovers that Vicious, Spike's former best friend turned bitterest rival, has taken his daughter Kimmie. Furious with Spike for lying, he puts him in the trunk and plans on taking him to Vicious. Faye refuses, telling Jet that Spike saved both of their lives and they owe him. Faye leaves Jet to turn Spike in on his own. When the two make it to Vicious, Jet yells for Spike to start shooting and it's clear that they're at least sort of still working together. Unfortunately, Vicious and Kimmie are holograms, and more armed guards appear to take Jet and Spike into custody the moment the gunfire stops. Things are looking pretty dire for the boys, even as Spike thanks Jet for "giving him a second chance." 

The Whole Deal with Vicious

Vicious (Alex Hassell) has some pretty good reasons for being upset with Fearless. Once upon a time, the two were best friends, growing up together as Syndicate underlings. Vicious convinced his father to take Fearless in and the two were raised as brothers, though Fearless became the favorite. When Vicious started to get out of control, the Elders in charge of the Syndicate, including Vicious' own father, commanded Fearless to kill him. Meanwhile, Fearless was having an affair with Vicious' girlfriend, Julia (Elena Satine), complicating things even further. 

Unable to kill Vicious because of their brotherly love, Fearless asked Julia to run away with him. During their attempted escape, Fearless was shot and left for dead, and Julia was taken back to Vicious. A repeat image in both the anime and the live-action series is a rose Fearless had been holding falling in the rain, and Julia has a rose tattooed on her shoulder. The series hints that Julia might have been involved in Fearless' assassination attempt, linking the tattoo and the falling rose several times. Fearless, however, believes her to be his damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued. 

Vicious gives a big, drawn-out monologue to Spike and Jet about how he had to mourn Fearless. He ties them up in the family crypt and shows Spike the sarcophagi he was supposed to be buried in, right beside Vicious'. Finally, he screams at Spike/Fearless, "you were supposed to love me!"

"I was supposed to end you," Spike tells him, finally revealing his orders from the Elders all of those years ago. Thought Spike has survived "death" once already, it's looking pretty dire when Vicious tells him, "This is where you die for the last time."

Valentine Ex Machina

Before she left Jet and Spike to their possible fates, Faye told Jet, "I won't carry that weight," referring to taking Spike to a near-certain death. It's a reference to the anime series that doesn't quite land. In the anime, the reference to the Beatles song "Carry That Weight" is a major theme, focusing on the idea that your actions have consequences. Actions in the past can lead you to "carry that weight" forever. Ultimately it's a lesson for Spike to learn, and one of the moral through-lines of the anime, where here it feels like a quick reference with little substance. 

Faye could have gone off to find her origins from the clues she found on the video cassette in episode 7, but instead she comes back to save Spike and Jet. She shows up in her con-artist adoptive mother's ship and starts blowing out the cathedral windows in a rain of gunfire. It's a Valentine ex Machina, come to rescue the boys and give Faye something to do. As she opens fire on the baddies, she yells "welcome to the ouch, motherf***ers!", and it's a joyous and fun bit of respite for the extended drama to come. 

Faye gets everyone back to her ship to escape, but Spike has unfinished business. He has to find Julia.

"I'll see you around, Valentine," he tells her, letting her take Kimmie and Jet to safety. Spike heads back into the cathedral, and the Steve Conte version of the song "Rain," a classic from the anime soundtrack, begins to play. 

Let's Talk About Julia

The biggest changes made from the "Cowboy Bebop" anime to the live-action version all revolve around Spike and Vicious' love interest, Julia. In the anime, she's a specter, a character referred to in visions and memories. She has zero agency of her own and only exists for the male characters to fight over. In the end, she dies tragically. She's an idea, not a person, and given how little agency the other women in the anime are given, it's frustrating at best. 

In the live-action series, Julia is initially a wounded, caged animal held captive by Vicious, but once she realizes Fearless is alive, something inside of her changes. She has a reason to fight again. She mocks and berates Vicious for being cuckolded by Fearless, telling him that she could never love him. She later escapes with the help of a female bodyguard, and shows up right when Vicious is about to kill Spike. 

In the anime, Spike dies. The past came back to haunt him and eventually kill him. In the live-action series, it's a little more complicated. Julia shoots Vicious and asks Spike to join her and run the Syndicate together. Vicious killed all of the Elders in a fit of rage, leaving a power vacuum ready for them to fill. Spike has left that criminal empire behind him, and he tells Julia that he doesn't want that life. 

"What about what I want?" she asks, in a moment that feels almost revelatory. Julia is on her way to becoming the series' true villain, but she's doing it of her own will and acting on her own desires. I'll take a complicated villain origin story over throwing women in refrigerators any day of the week. 

See You Later, Space Cowboy

Julia asks Spike why he didn't come back for her if he knew she was alive. She points out how horrible it was being trapped with Vicious for three years, "wondering if today is the day he tosses me from the window." When Spike tells her that he never stopped loving her, her face visibly hardens. 

"That may be, but it's clear now. You are nothing more than a dream I needed to wake up from," she says, right before shooting him in the shoulder and knocking him out of the cathedral window. Instead of Vicious shooting him and killing him, Julia shoots him and he survives. It sets up a very complicated second season, with Julia secretly at the head of the Syndicate and the Bebop crew scattered to the winds, and it also finally gives Julia something to do besides die or look pretty in flashbacks. Her fury with Spike is justified, and it further shows that he's a flawed and often selfish man who doesn't think about how his actions affect others. After all, he hasn't yet learned that he has to carry that weight, but Julia's rejection of him might be the first good hint.

The Elders of the Syndicate aren't supposed to be seen, but instead of putting Vicious in one of the elaborate masks of the previous elders, Julia simply decides to keep him locked up and pretend she's getting word from him in seclusion. Instead she will run the Syndicate, torturing the man who tortured her all the while. She even plays a little game of Russian Roulette with him, showing both Vicious and the audience that she's both ruthless and a bit damaged from all that she's endured.

Introducing Radical Edward

When Jet and Faye return to the Bebop, Kimmie's mom and stepdad are waiting. Kimmie calls her stepdad "Daddy" and runs to him from Jet, which has to seriously hurt. Faye tells Jet that she's going to go find her past, and he just lets her go. When Spike wanders up, bloodied and shot, Jet tells him that if he ever sees him again, he'll kill him. The crew of the Bebop aren't looking so good. 

Spike wanders into an alleyway and collapses from both blood loss and despair, only to be awoken by a high-pitched, excited voice begging him by name to get up. An orange-haired child with goggles, recognizable to fans of the anime as Radical Edward, or Ed, has found him and is trying to get him moving so they can go after "Volaju," referring to Vincent Volaju, the primary villain in the "Cowboy Bebop" animated movie. Ein, who disappeared a few episodes earlier after the crew discovered he had technological "improvements," is there with Ed, and probably helped Ed find Spike. (In the anime, Ed and Ein are pretty much inseparable, and the two communicate in a way no one else seems to understand.)

Ed (Eden Perkins) could help unite the crew of the Bebop and send them into new adventures in season 2. They joined the cast of the anime in episode 9, so showing up in episode 10 of the live-action series works just fine. It will be interesting to see how they make the anime's most traditionally cartoonish character into something palatable for audiences, but there's time for them to figure that out before a potential next season. 

"Cowboy Bebop" season one ends with the title card "See you Space Cowgirl, Somewhere, Someday!" which copies the title card from the episode where Ed leaves the crew of the Bebop before "The Real Folk Blues" parts one and two, which wraps up the series and kills Spike. It's another bit of evidence that this remix isn't afraid to play with the timeline, for both better and worse.

Netflix's "Cowboy Bebop" ended on a bit of a downer, much like the end of "The Empire Strikes Back," so hopefully the next season can pick things up and deliver even more strongly on their unique version of this sci-fi story.