For the mobster turned bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, life is but a dream. One that he is convinced he will wake up from, someday. A very distant character, he is a man of few words, and the words he does say are often saying more things than one. Knowing what he’s like isn’t something that is easy to peg, but give me a chance and I think that I might have a pretty good idea. This is just my interpretation, so feel free to disagree. But from where I’m sitting, Spike was a man who realized that his time was coming to an end, so he was choosing to take nothing seriously. Any day could be his last, so he lived without worry. This man and the view he had on life has been one of the guiding stars of mine for a long time.
When you first meet Spike, he seems to be the most carefree man in the world. He chases “bounty heads” with his partner, Jet Black. Things are pretty simple. He chases bounties, catches them, and scratches up what meager living he can. It’s a hard life, and he is perpetually broke, but this doesn’t seem to bother him. Except when he chooses to stir up shit because of it. Still, he doesn’t seem to care about this fact, beyond Jet’s outright lies about the fact that it’s not bell peppers and beef.
Something that you notice is that Spike doesn’t like jobs unless they are dangerous. Many times, he is utterly bored by anything that is even a little bit complicated. He’s just in the game to blow off steam. Spike will pursue any job that is dangerous. The more the better. In fact, when there is a job that has a high risk of death, he is all over that. There’s a reason for this. One that he has been carrying with him for many years. You get the first hints of it in Episode 5. There, you see a figure from his past make a return – Vicious.
Growing up, Spike was a member of a crime syndicate called the Red Dragons. He was an enforcer, believed to be one of the best. He was teamed up with Vicious, and the two made quite a pair. It’s hinted that during their time, not only were the two respected by the syndicate, but Spike was clearly feared. When his former boss is about to be killed, he remarks that Vicious would never have attempted such a thing when Spike was still in the mob. But then something happened, which would change Spike’s life forever. He met a young woman named Julia. In the film that followed the series, Spike described her as the person who woke him up from the life that he led for the mob. Their love has to be kept quiet, because of the fact that Julia already has something with Vicious.
Eventually, Spike wants to run away from the mob. He wants to leave the life behind, and find his own way. He goes to Julia and asks her to come with him. Tells her to wait at a certain spot, and then the two of them would leave. However, she doesn’t show up. Realizing that he is going to be alone in his mission, he goes on one last mission. A mission to cut the ties to the syndicate permanently. It is a bloodbath, and it is believed that Spike died in the ensuing chaos. Thus gives him the exit he wanted, but now he’s alone.
When you look at how violent his past is, it stands to reason why he sees the life that he leads on the Bebop as a dream. That principle is the guiding force behind everything that Spike does. His belief that everything that he is doing is just part of a dream that his is unable to wake up from. A belief that infuriates his former partner, Vicious. After he goes after Spike’s former mentor, the two have a confrontation. Upon learning that his former comrade simply views everything that happens in his current life as a bad dream that he can’t wake up from, Vicious’ hatred of Spike becomes clear. He doesn’t understand why this man who threw everything away, betrayed the syndicate, and stole the woman he loves can view everything in such in such an empty way.
At the center of his personality, that is the real key. Spike’s life is empty. He lives moment to moment and beat to beat, but the truth is that he takes nothing seriously because he doesn’t allow himself to be invested in anything or anyone. But does that mean that he doesn’t care about anyone? Hardly. The truth is that you see between the cracks of Spike’s visage when you look at the relationships that exist in his life.
The first is Jet Black. When you see them starting out, it is just a partnership. Both of them are experts in tracking and taking people down. But as time goes by, both of them grow to trust one-another. While there are points where they are at each other’s throats, you can clearly see other points where there is real friendship that can be seen. Such as in the episodes, “Jupiter Jazz.” Spike hears the name Julia, and goes running. Jet, growing tired of his companion’s sudden urge to throw himself into danger the moment that his past comes up tells him to bring something back or don’t come back at all. After everything is said and done in the episode, Spike returns to the ship. Jet asks him if he has anything, to which Spike replies that he doesn’t. Without saying anything more, he tells him to dock, as they are going to be taking off. Little points like that show that these two have a respect and affinity for one another that goes beyond just being business partners. In the last episode of the series, they both share a genuinely human moment, laughing at a joke. Both of them realize that they are likely saying goodbye, and understand why they are doing it. By lighting his smoke, Jet and Spike share a cathartic moment together. While you never know the truth about what happens to Spike, you do know that the two of them are friends, and will remain so.
Next up is Ed and Ein. These two are definitely low on his list of people that he has any amount of affection toward. Ed in-particular grinds Spike’s gears. He has no love for children, and sees this little girl as the most annoying person in his life. But while he clearly doesn’t like her, he never openly shows disdain for the child. He will often castigate Ein, but only when the dog has done something that meets with his disapproval. During the episode “Toys in the Attic,” he is shown looking out for both of their safety. Or at least trying to. He ends up having his own problems. Like trying to light a cigarette with a flamethrower. The most insane decision of all time, but what can you do.
By far the most complicated relationship in the series is between Spike and Faye. The first time the Bebop comes across her, he treats her like any other dame that he can clearly tell is going to be trouble. When she becomes a regular member of the crew, he is openly sarcastic and seemingly-hostile with her. He gives her shit all the time, even when there is no reason for it. But when you see how little he cares about most anything, the fact that he actually will take the time to address Faye and her issues is telling. There is no clear point where their relationship turns. It’s the most subtle transition in the entire series. But there are lots of little clues. During the episode where Faye talks about her history with Ed and Ein, he overhears the whole story. When she asks him his thoughts, his response is smarmy, but also helpful. He tells her that she is never going to be able to move forward with her life so long as she is tied to the past. A lesson which is very ironic, considering how their last interaction goes. When Faye falls under the sway of a cult leader, Spike goes to rescue her. She wakes up and finds him waiting in the room, smoking a cigarette. The two have a human conversation. One of the signs that there is affection of the romantic sense is in the episode “Pierrot le Fou.” Upon learning that the insane assassin is challenging him, he poses the thought that this fight might be his last one. Faye is visibly shaken by his calm demeanor in the face of death, which leads him to then asking if she would come and rescue him, if he was about to die. That proves to be rather prophetic, as she does try and save him. Though, he verbally castigates her when she arrives.
The last interaction between these two characters is one of the highlights in the entire show. It shows just how strong their emotional bond has become. Faye has had to accept the truth about herself, and the fact that she has made very little of her life and has no past to return to. The Bebop is the closest thing to a family she has. Now, Spike is going off to a fight that it is almost-certain that he will lose. One that he will die taking on. She tries to stop him, and he tells her the truth. One of his eyes is fake, and the fake eye can only see into the past. His past is the dream that he can’t escape. Now, for the first time, he is trying to escape from it. Julia is dead, and Vicious is the final loose end. That last piece of his past that is left unaccounted for. Faye tries to convince him to stay, even going so far as to threaten him with violence. She is willing to go that far, to make sure that someone that she has grown to have real feelings for doesn’t walk out of her life. She tells him that she has nothing but the Bebop. It almost feels like she is begging him not to leave. He tells her that he has to solve what’s happened. It’s not for Julia. It’s so that he can finally have a reason to live again. It’s implied that if he comes back from this fight, he is actually going to make good on this idea that the dream is over. But he also acknowledges that it is almost certain that death is the end of his journey.
Which is what the ultimate truth about Spike Spiegel is. He is a man that is looking for a way to die. It’s why he throws himself in danger time and time again. No matter how dangerous something is, he will charge in headlong, simply because by throwing himself in danger, he is able to feel like he is alive. Death is the freedom from his dream, allowing him to wake up. Over the course of the series, he grows to care about the people in his life, but that last loss, of the woman he loved more than any other, makes him willing to throw it all away. A man who lives believing that his life is a dream. Perhaps it’s telling that Spike and Vincent Volaju have a kinship in the film, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” Both of them believe that life is just something that they will wake up from.
I love this character so much because of the fact that I feel the same way. For so long, I have believed that living is just something that I have to do. That one day I am going to be able to wake up from this bad dream. It’s why the idea of death doesn’t frighten me all that much. I live in the moment, taking things beat to beat. After all, what does worrying about the future actually accomplish. Whatever happens, happens. There’s nothing we can do about it. So just live life as best you can. But maybe someday I’ll find what Spike did – a reason to keep living. After all, that’s what he told Faye. He wasn’t looking for a place to die. He was looking to see if there was a reason to keep on living.
How many of us feel the same way? It’s a good question.
Until next time, a quote,
“Look at my eyes, Faye. One of them is a fake ’cause I lost it in an accident. Since then, I’ve been seeing the past in one eye, and the present in the other. So I thought I could only see patches of reality. Never the whole picture. I felt like I was watching a dream I could never wake up from. Before I knew it, the dream was all over.” -Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Bebop