The 23rd episode of Cowboy Bebop, “Brain Scratch,” is one of the anime’s best episodes. The episode follows SCRATCH, the migrate to electronics movement, as they seek to spread their word to their fellow beings. The mysterious Dr. Londes leads the group, who uses the video game Brain Dream to analyze his follower’s brain waves and copy their consciousness into a digital form. What Londes’ followers don’t realize, however, is that they no longer exist once their consciousness has been uploaded.
It’s a strong episode that delves into our inability to accept an end – to accept death. This is why the idea of the live-action adaption attempting to cover it was reason to worry. Surprisingly, though, “Binary-Two Step,” its take on “Brain Scratch,” proves to be one of its strongest efforts.
With the ship grounded due to repairs, Jet asks Spike to make use of the downtime by seeking Dr. Londes out. This leads Spike to go in search of the doctor, while Jet takes care of searching for parts. This leaves Faye to watch the mechanic in his absence. Spike doesn’t appear to know what’s he’s initially walking into after going in search of the doctor. His ignorance will be his downfall, though, as he soon finds himself in a heap of trouble after walking into the A.I.-controlled building.
While Edward, aka Radical Ed, was a part of the team by this point in the anime, Ed was not around yet in the live-action take. We hear references to the fan-favorite hacker, however, Ed is not physically present to help the team tackle Dr. Londes and his cult. She does manage to still send help, though, after sending out a ping. A man comes in to help Jet as he tries to figure out a way to break Spike free of this take on the brain wave.
What works so well in this take is that it is a realistic approach to a strong episode. Dr. Londes does not have a physical form in the series, nor do we see a visualization of what he could look like. What we do see is a computer system that sorts through all of its subject’s consciousness.
As Spike undergoes the brain wave process, we get a deep look inside of his head. Under the machine, he’s forced to face the same nightmare repeatedly – losing Julia all over again. In his nightmare, Spike watches Julia die at the hands of Vicious repeatedly. Worse, though, is that she tries to make him let her go. It’s a hellscape he’s forced to endure until Jet and Faye are finally able to destroy the Londes program. While all fake, it’s clear Spike’s time in the brain wave has left an impact on him. As the episode closes, we soon learn he’s not ready to say goodbye to Julia. The episode is a deep dive into its characters, while still paying homage to its source material.
It’s an episode that truly unites the trio of bounty hunters for the first time. It feels like a true episode of Cowboy Bebop, capturing the tone and feel of its predecessor, while still presenting its own spin on the overall story.