At the same time that Cowboy Bebop’s trio of heroes is keeping busy hunting down valuable bounties, they’re also living in the shadow of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate, an organisation from Spike Spiegel’s past that begins catching up with him in the present day as Netflix’s new series begins. Before Jet and Faye, it was Vicious and Julia who Spike most considered his family, and the lives that trio led together were happy… to a point.
Though Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop introduces Julia (Elena Satine) and Vicious (Alex Kessell) as the femme fatale and lunatic villain whose presences prompt Spike to spring into gear, the pair go on to become much more dynamic characters with surprisingly understandable motivations for what they do. Like in the original anime, Julia and Vicious play key roles in how Cowboy Bebop’s first season builds to its climax. But the live-action show features a number of moments that take them both in surprisingly different directions and deviate from the source material in order to give them new levels of depth.
When Gizmodo recently sat down with Satine and Kessell to discuss the unexpected places the first season leaves their characters, the actors broke down how everything we see Julia and Vicious do is grounded in a logic that’s really only clear to them. But those around them find out they should have been paying closer attention.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, Gizmodo: By the end of the season, we see this completely different side of Julia who takes Spike and Vicious by surprise with her actions. In that final episode, how has Julia’s relationship with power changed compared to where she’s at at the beginning of the season?
Elena Satine: At that point, she’s been through so much in her relationship with Vicious. She feels really betrayed and lied to by Spike because he pretty much, according to her, abandoned her and didn’t come to rescue her knowing the situation that she was left in. When we find her in the cathedral, she’s just fed up. She’s fed up with both of them frankly, and really wants to take control of her own life. She really embraces this moment and this power and realises that she doesn’t need rescuing, which is such a wonderful place to try to land on considering that you know what we see her go through in her marriage.
Gizmodo: What other aspects of Julia are there that you want to explore now that she’s in this new position of autonomy and agency?
Satine: I’m really curious to see how that translates to what is going to happen with the Syndicate because we see her sort of, in a way, advising Vicious throughout the season. You can tell that he listens to her. You can tell that he takes what she says, and he believes that she’s smart and she knows what he’s talking about, and he believes that she’s his partner and she’s on his side. So clearly she knows a lot more about the Syndicate than she lets on. So I’m really interested to see how that plays out.
Gizmodo: Even though the show spends so much time telling us how much Vicious and Spike are in love with Julia, what you can see is how intense that brotherly love between the two of them is, and how it’s a part of what makes them act the way they do. To you, what was the more complicated emotional reasoning Vicious was working through that went deeper than “I love this woman, and I want to kill you?”
Alex Hassell: It’s really, really useful to have episode nine, which is this flashback episode where we get a lot of Vicious’ backstory with the way that he was brought up and the absolutely horrific way in which he saw his mother commit suicide. He’s had this horrible pressure from his father to be a certain sort of idea of masculinity and violence and strength, so I guess I tried to think a lot about what Vicious might have been like before he was Vicious. You know, when he had an actual name and was a boy, and maybe had a real soft core and an artistic kind of fine-ness that was kind of brutally abused out of him.
I think that that’s something that Spike brought out of him — a sense of play and a sense of hope even, and a sense of being supported. So I guess it’s always useful if you’re playing characters that are, for want of a less productive word, “bad,” to try and think about the counterpoint to that. Most people don’t think that they’re making bad choices. They’re trying to make good choices that they think will help their situation, however selfish.
Gizmodo: So much of this show ultimately ends up being about people finding their families, and I’m curious to hear from you both. What is family exactly outside of that literal thing for Julia and Vicious? What does it mean to them both?
Satine: I won’t speak for Vicious, but I think for me, it’s having somebody that is on your side and no matter how, no matter how messed up the situation is, which explains a lot of this relationship. You can make excuses for bad things that are happening to you if there is a person that is on your side, and I feel like both of these characters are pretty alone in the world, and what they have is each other. So in a way, they make excuses for how horrible their relationship is because at the end of the day, they go to bed together and they are their partners.
Hassell: The way that we leave Vicious is that he really has no idea at all. No guidance as to what family — certainly a loving family — would be. I think he feels betrayed by everyone, incredibly isolated, lonely, and really broken. Part of the reason that he is the way that he is, is that he has no good model, and that’s a very difficult place to be.
Cowboy Bebop is now streaming on Netflix.