Between all the lists out there that exist on the internet, Ballad of Fallen Angels is often regarded as the best in the series. The first few episodes of Cowboy Bebop are fine and dandy, but none of them really give it that statement that Cowboy Bebop needed at that point. Ballad of Fallen Angels is that statement. If you were to sum up Cowboy Bebop in one episode, this would be it.
It also was a complete about face from the previous episodes. While the previous episodes were light hearted, even goofy affairs (dog chasing, humans turning into monkeys kind of stuff), this one was dead serious. The tone, imagery and violence were turned up a notch. If the previous episodes are Better Call Saul, this episode is Breaking Bad...Season 5.... Part 2.
Admittedly, I didn't really like the episode upon first viewing. I thought it was slow, long, and there was just too much being thrown at me. At that point in the series, there was no mention of Spike's past. This one was full of it, and a bit confusing too. Who was Vicious? Who was Mao Yenrai? Who was Anastasia? So many new characters, important ones, were introduced in this episode, and it made it hard to figure out who was who upon initial watching.
The pace was also different. The other episodes were pulpy, fast, and full of witty one liners. This one was darker, and the first dark episode, and pulled you in slowly with mystery and suspense. As with my number 3 choice, when Cowboy Bebop goes dark, it does it well.
I initially wasn't going to put it on this list, but since it was so critically applauded, I watched it again. After viewing the whole season, I was able to pick up on things that happened in this episode. Then I realized how great it was. The characters were fleshed out for me now, not blobs that I had to figure out. Spike's struggle and the fragmented past introduced were clear as day. I not only understood Spike better, but also his enemies.
And let's talk about that action. Though not up there with the best "action" episode (Pierrot Le Fou), it's pretty good. Shootouts are grisly but slick. And Spike's duel with Vicious is better than any other battle he's had with him. I don't want to give away the plot too much, so I won't get into that. Just know that this episode deserves all the praise it gets.
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