"Waltz for Venus" (Season 1, Episode 8; Originally Aired on December 11, 1998)
“Waltz for Venus” has always struck me as a bouncy but uneven episode. I rather like the way it shows us how Spike’s Zen philosophy on life affects his relationships with people. I also appreciate the way that episode writer Michiko Yokote, a pen name for a group of screenwriters, only strengthens the parallel between Spike and Faye that was initially in “Honky Tonk Women.” But there are several things about “Waltz for Venus” that either feel over- or under-done.
On the one hand, the connection between Faye and Spike is spelled out pretty clearly (more on this later) but nothing really comes of it. On the other hand, Yokote wastes too much time developing the relationship between Roco Bonnaro, a well-meaning and tenacious bounty Spike forms a bond with, and Stella, Roco’s little sister. Then again, I think Stella is just a poorly realized character and it shows in the way that her interactions with Spike suffer just as much as her implied relationship with Roco does. Still, had Yokote done a little more with Spike and Faye’s relationship and a little less with Stella and everyone else, “Waltz for Venus” would probably be a little more thoughtful and a lot less bathetic.
The only relationship that Yokote gets exactly right in “Waltz for Jupiter” is Spike’s inexplicable bond with Roco. Roco first meets Spike after he wakes up on an inter-stellar flight to Venus and summarily decks the terrorists that try to highjack the commercial spaceship. Spike does this just by yawning and stretching (it’s like a Jackie Chan or a Charlie Chaplin routine, almost). Impressed and not a little awestruck, a heedlessly ecstatic Roco asks Spike to train him: “Can you teach me how to move like that? Is it judo? Or kung-fu[…]I want to be strong, like you.” Spike responds with an unkind blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders. He tries to ditch Roco by an elevator bank only to discover Roco waiting for him as he exits. Roco then gets the best of Spike when he gives Spike a pill that he claims will help Spike get used to the excessive helium in Venus’s atmosphere. Though Roco protests when Spike snatches the pill and wakes away, he also anticipated that Spike wouldn’t help him. So he only gives Spike a cough drop placebo.
Beyond Roco’s bull-headed but well-meaning persistence, Spike has no real reason to like Roco. When he talks with Stella, who has an adverse reaction to the local vegetation on Venus and is now blind because of it, Spike can’t articulate why he’s pursuing Roco. By this point, he knows that Roco has an insignificant bounty on his head and that Roco’s in over his head after having stolen an exotic Gray Ash Seed plant from Piccaro Calvino, his mob boss. Spike hesitates when Stella calls him one of Roco’s friends and later corrects her: “I might be one of those bad people he hangs out with.” Stella’s reply makes me wish that she wasn’t even in the episode or perhaps was just seen and not heard. “Maybe,” she replies serenely. “Maybe you are. But you’re different. I can tell. Roco and you both have something beautiful deep inside you.” For some reason, she goes on. “It’s hard to tell, but it’s there. I can see it.” And then she adds insult to injury with this patently unnecessary line: “That’s why I’m offering you tea like this.”
I dislike Stella’s speech not only because it’s cloying and clichéd, but because it tries too hard to foster a connection between Roco and Spike. That connection can’t exist. Yokote even acknowledges this at the end of the episode. (Spoiler!) When Roco dies, he whispers to Spike, “If I knew you earlier, would we have been friends?” The answer to that question has to be, “No,” considering that Spike lives by Bruce Lee’s famous catch phrase-cum-philosophy of “be[ing] like water.” When Spike tells Roco, “The flow is more important…not power,” you can easily substitute “power” with “lasting relationships.” It’s why Spike tells Stella at the end of “Waltz for Venus” that Spike was everything she knew he was.
Spike doesn’t know who Roco was but he wants to believe that his death meant something. So he lies to Stella, or more accurately he exaggerates to cover up the fact that he doesn’t know enough about Roco to truthfully respond. “He was a great guy,” Spike says. “Just like the one you knew.” That line should conclude “Waltz for Venus” but it doesn’t. Instead, Yokote gives us a completely gratuitous confirmation of Spike’s groundless assertion when we see plant spores falling poetically from the sky as Spike and Stella look on in a daze. This just confirms my suspicion that Stella’s character brings out the worst in the episode.
By contrast, the fact that Yokote doesn’t do anything with the parallel they draw between Spike and Faye isn’t as egregious. Spike tells Roco, “Water can take any form. It can flow along slowly or beat down aggressively, right?” Throughout “Waltz for Venus,” we see Spike “flowing” but when the episode shifts to Faye’s search for Calvino, we see that she’s “beating down” on her foes. I love the way Faye disarms almost everybody during the bar scene in “Waltz.” We see the barflies raising their guns and then individual shots of each of them being disarmed. Then another shot rings out and a supporting beam crashes down on the bar. Only then do we find out that Faye is responsible for disarming and knocking almost all of the bar’s patrons out. “Can you remember now,” she whispers huskily to the man she’s leaning on for information. Naturally, after all that, he can.
It’s too bad then that that relationship is never capitalized on. After all that effort, Yokote chose to end the episode with that maudlin finale scene. Spike, Roco and Stella’s relationship already had a good enough ending during the earlier hospital scene. The scene with the floating spores just feels like overkill, especially when that time could have been spent doing something with Faye and Spike’s implied connection. “Waltz for Venus” is not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a little rough around the edges.