After adapting one iconic episode of Cowboy Bebop, the Netflix version barrels right into another with “Sad Clown A Go-Go,” which borrows from the horror-infused “Pierrot Le Fou.” But unlike the previous installment, many aspects of the storytelling are kept the same—and the amusement park to which Le Fou lures Spike (John Cho) is as terrifying in live-action as it was in animated form.
Sure, the opening is different (rather than Spike by himself playing pool, he’s at a bowling alley with the crew where they “celebrate” Faye’s birthday), but the essence of Le Fou’s initial attack on Spike remains, right down to a few shots that show them as swirling shadows on a brick wall. In the end, the outcome is the same, too—Spike winds up getting hurt very badly, and the Bebop crew takes him back to the ship to heal him. One crucial difference, though: On Netflix, Le Fou isn’t just killing to kill. He was hired by Vicious (Alex Hassell), who wants him to get Spike out of the way.
Spike heals up, and the group makes a plan to go after Le Fou. He sent a broadcast summoning Spike to “Earthworld,” an old amusement park Le Fou frequented in his younger years. Jet gets them all to memorize the plan, but in the end, Spike goes rogue and soars off by himself—presumably not to endanger his friends. (In the anime, he thinks he’s going to a raging party and has no idea Le Fou is behind it). This ends up being an extremely bad idea, since he winds up outmatched by Le Fou and his army of animatronic soldiers.
Visually, the episode is stunning—there is a particularly memorable moment involving Le Fou and an animatronic clown behind glass that makes them appear one and the same, as well as a trippy scene where Spike winds up somewhere he’s “not supposed to be.” The whole room turns into a virtual cliff’s edge and tells him to “go play outside!” Since “Pierrot Le Fou” relied heavily on visuals in the original, it’s heartening to see care being taken with it in the adaptation, and it is, by far and away, the best episode of the Netflix series.
But “Le Fou” did have some deeper themes, and “Sad Clown A Go-Go” addresses them, too—if not quite as adeptly. While Spike’s off in Horrorland, the rest of the team discovers who Le Fou actually is. It turns out that he was a lab experiment, tortured for years. The experiments reversed his mind back to a childlike state, which explains the return to Earthland.
And, as in the anime, Le Fou’s downfall is pets. Here, he hates dogs rather than cats, having had to listen to barking dogs while he was experimented on. And it’s a barking dog toy from a dilapidated store that eventually saves Spike: He throws the toy at Le Fou, and it fractures his concentration enough for Spike to stab him in the leg. “Mama!” Le Fou sobs, sounding like a lost child and not a mass-murdering psychopath. “It hurts! It hurts!” The guy is horrible, but in that scene, it’s hard not to feel bad for him.
Speaking of mass murderers and psychopaths, Vicious gets what he wanted in this episode: The Syndicate throne, and no one to share power with. Julia’s deal with Mao goes horribly awry—turns out that Vicious had Santiago pretend to be him with the use of a face-changer, so when Mao killed “Vicious,” she was really killing Santiago. Vicious then mortally wounds her and takes on all the guards and Elders by himself, saving the middle one for last.
Turns out, that Elder was his father, and he calls his son a “scared little boy” as he dies. And with her dying breaths, Mao sells out Julia (Elena Satine), telling Vicious that she wanted him dead. That spells deep trouble for her, as a blood-covered Vicious walks into their bedroom and tells her he’s had a good day at work. Poor Julia might be headed for her source material ending…
Cowboy Bebop, all episodes now streaming, Netflix