It's always a little tough to narrow a series down to the best episode, especially one as consistently amazing as Cowboy Bebop, and I've been going back and forth for a bit now as to which one I think is the king of the mountain. I was able to narrow it down to what I believe is one of the best character-building episodes of all time: "Speak Like a Child."
Not much really happens story-wise, as Spike and Jet go on a rather amusing hunt for a betamax player, and Faye pretty much just spends money betting on horses (because it's Faye), but that's what makes it so incredible. The search, the gambling, and bits of footage from the beta tape are interspersed between each other, and it just works so well. You're intrigued from the very beginning, despite its more subdued nature, catching images of a younger Faye and wondering who could have sent this to her (and expected her to pay postage, which hahaha this is Faye we're talking about). It ends bittersweetly, and it's not really resolved until several episodes later, in "Hard Luck Woman," but it doesn't really matter. "Speak Like a Child" is a love letter character study, beautifully poignant in its presentation, especially now that I'm older. I suppose I wasn't as impressed with this episode in its first run because it didn't have any gunfights or as much witty banter, but now, I identify strongly with it. If I had made a message to my older self like Faye did, what would I have said? Would I have felt punched in the gut like Faye as she saw a younger version of herself cheering her on and encouraging her to "do your best" and "don't lose me?"
Gah, without even knowing that Faye had no memory of her past at this point, it just kills me. There's so much happiness and light in that girl, and that juxtaposed against the hard-edged nature of the Faye we know now is just heartbreaking.
I really wish that shows in the U.S. would look to good foreign television like this, because damn if I wouldn't actually get more invested in TV.