Short Version: Well, this turned out better than the last time Jack was travelling alone with a woman…
Last week, Samurai Jack came face-to-face with the unthinkable, possibly the most dangerous opponent he’s ever encountered. An enemy so vile, so powerful, so unpredictable that it pushed him to his very limits, and even then, he was defeated. In fact, Jack never stood a chance. No contest. It might just be the most brutal loss he’s ever had.
Now, who was this villain? Who could possibly get away with something like this so effortlessly? Was it Aku himself? Turns out that it was someone far worse. Someone far more dangerous. Someone far more…meta.
So yeah, Adult Swim had some fun this April Fools with the surprise premiere of Rick and Morty Season 3 by marathoning the first episode all Saturday night when Samurai Jack fans were expecting to see the continuation of this final saga. Many didn’t think it was all that funny, though as a fan of both series, it was about on par with having my car keys misplaced at home so I have to borrow someone else’s car for a night: I’m still a bit irritated, and it’s not the car I want to be driving right now, but it’s still a very nice car.
Tortured metaphor aside, let’s get back on track with this week’s actual episode. Hopefully, we can now continue without any interruptions.
We begin with our hero having survived falling off a cliff and crashing through some tree branches on his way down. I know Jack can take a beating, but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if this man wasn’t actually Jack and it turns out that he’s been replaced with some sort of robot. He grimly stares at the nearby carcass of one of the Daughters of Aku, the one named Ashi, that he killed until his mind begins to slip again and hears the caws of nearby crows as if they were calling him a murderer. Jack defends himself by claiming that it was the Daughters’ choice to fight him.
Ok, so Jack is pretty new to this whole “killing humans” thing, so I think it would be understandable why he would fill guilty regardless of the circumstances of his encounter. Still, given the events of the previous episode, where he seemed pretty determined to fight the Daughters even if he had to kill them, it’s questionable where exactly his head is at the moment. He’s obviously fighting against a life-long standard, and even though he had a flashback of his father that appeared to justify his decision to kill, he’s still having second thoughts. This could be a symptom of his deteriorating mental state; he was already not quite right by the time the season began, so throwing in a whole bunch of extra psychological hang-ups into the mix certainly isn’t helping. Whatever is happening is something that will have to wait to be answered, as Jack has some unfinished business to attend.
Turns out Ashi is still alive and attacks Jack but is quickly subdued by him when he ties her up in a chain, leaving her to dangle helplessly as she gives him another earful of curses and claims about Aku’s greatness. Jack attempts to set the record straight and tell her that she has it all wrong, but it’s clear that she’s not gonna listen. Before their conversation can get any further traction, a colossal beast shows up pretty much out of nowhere (the ground gives way beneath them to reveal its jaws) and swallows both of them whole.
Wow, this episode is pretty restless. It’s…different for this series.
On their way down, Jack saves the largely helpless Ashi, though she’s anything but grateful about it. In fact, she takes great joy in thinking that this is truly the end for Jack now that he’s been eaten by the monster. Of course, this isn’t Jack’s first giant monster rodeo, and appears largely unphased by his situation, claiming that he’ll find a way out.
So, the thing about this particular monster is that it’s apparently so gigantic, it has living organisms living inside of it. I’m not talking about bacteria, I’m talking living, breathing organisms. In fact, the monster is so vast, it actually hosts a variety of ecosystems inside it that resemble real world environments, such as oceans and deserts. It’s one of the most colorfully arresting episodes the series has ever put forth, with the constant shifts in palettes recalling episodes like “Seasons of Death”, where Jack endures different challenges to his endurance in a variety of times and places. So much in this episode is popping out so vibrantly and animated so gorgeously and smoothly; easily the biggest showcase of how much the budget has been pushed for this season so far.
The rest of the episode plays as a team-up between Jack and Ashi as they traverse the monster’s insides to look for an exit, fighting the smaller monsters and environmental hazards along the way. However, Ashi remains tied up for the majority of this time, with Jack carrying her on his back. She unwittingly goes along, switching back and forth between being mad at Jack, talking smack about him, and praising Aku as if he was some sort of god. At one point, Jack angrily (and unsuccessfully) tries again to tell her that she’s wrong about him and Aku, going so far as to say that everything she believes is a lie. Jack, buddy, I know what you’re trying to do, but even if you’re right, you’re probably not gonna change her mind with that attitude. Just because you have the answers doesn’t mean you can just dump all over someone else’s worldview just like that. Obviously, you’ve never seen Sausage Party.
Jack’s journey across Aku’s future has been a largely solitary one, so it was always nice to get episodes where he teams up with other characters, particularly ones that compliment his generally stern, taciturn demeanor which can often lead to humorous situations, showing off sides of Jack’s personality that we don’t get to see very often. This is definitely the case here, as Jack is forcing himself to take care of what amounts to a very cranky, very violent, adult-sized toddler who spends the entire journey either shouting in Jack’s ear or staring daggers at him. I pointed this out previously, but there’s a child-like innocence to the Daughters of Aku that contrasts very strongly with the violent things that they do. They’re like the original Powerpuff Girls, except the story doesn’t frame the juxtaposition of their ultra-violent actions in a funny (let alone heroic) way, taking the time to dwell on how messed up it is to have a mindset such as theirs doing the things they do. However, this gets to be played for laughs this time around, as Ashi has no intentions of putting up with Jack and will likely kill him at whatever next chance she gets. At least, that’s the plan. Even so, it’s just nice that Jack gets someone to talk to, as it allows him to express himself in ways he wouldn’t get a chance to do so in a lonelier scenario, even if most of their interactions are attempts at bonding and/or humanity met comically with defiant discontent.
Along the way, Jack has more hallucinations of his inner psyche, with whom he debates whether it’s a good idea to save Ashi’s life. Jack is obviously conflicted, feeling like it’s the right thing to do even though she’s his enemy; he feels responsible for putting her in their current situation. He doesn’t seem convinced that he can make a difference with her or turn her to his side, but he does it anyway. His visions even tease him about it after saving her life again is met only with scorn. The episode doesn’t seem too interested in actually stopping to think about what’s going on with Jack’s logic right now, so hopefully this will be addressed once this business with the monster is over. For now, here’s some speculation. I feel like this is something that fans of the show’s original run will find easier to grasp than any newcomer. It’s a natural instinct for Jack to drop everything he’s doing if it means he can help someone in need, even if it comes to his personal detriment. There are plenty of episodes in previous seasons where Jack comes very close to finally going back to the past, only to come up short by putting the needs of others before his own. It’s part of his Bushido tradition to lend his services to those in need, but it’s a double-edged sword: he gets to do good for others, but it often comes at the price of not doing some good for himself. In this scenario in particular, Jack may save Ashi’s life, but he just might end up enabling her to kill him. It’s one of Jack’s biggest strengths as a character, but also one of his weaknesses. While this is something that’s shown more through his actions rather than words, I think it would be nice if the show paused to address this. Perhaps Ashi’s presence will come into play with this at some point, but for now, I like that despite his less than healthy mental state and traumatic new chapters in his life, Jack still fights to adhere to the moral code he’s been following all his life.
Eventually, the duo find a way out through the creature’s blow hole, which is located over a pool of acid. Between the two is a group of creatures that resemble deep sea life except, you know, they’re floating on air, not water. With the help of some of the less violent creatures, and also “jumping good”, he makes his escape along with Ashi. By this point, the monster has made its way to a large body of water, forcing the two to seek dry land. At this point, Ashi is free from her bonds. As Jack is taking a break by the shore, she decides to make her move to kill him. She grabs the chain’s sickle and proceeds to sneak up on him, only to be distracted by what looks like a ladybug hovering in front of her. This triggers a memory where she gets distracted by another ladybug while sparring with one of her sisters. She appears to like it, but is told by her mentor, the High Priestess of her clan, that creatures like these aren’t part of Aku’s vision, squishing the bug right in front of her. When Ashi sees Jack react similarly to the ladybug as she did all those years ago, her killer instinct is tempered, she drops her weapon, and sits down to take a break as well.
So…yeah, saving her life did absolutely nothing for her but looking at a ladybug is all it took for her to turn herself around.
OK, seriously, it’s still a bit too early to tell what is exactly going through her mind (sounds familiar); all we know is that she’s starting to doubt what she’s known about Jack so far, and that what she’s been told is Aku’s order may not be something she actually wants. It’s definitely helping that she got to see firsthand the kind of person Jack really is, as opposed to a second-hand account from an Aku worshipper, and while we don’t know much specifically of what she’s been told about Jack, this past experience is starting to shape whatever that perception is differently. I believe that wherever the story goes from here, Ashi is possibly being set up for an arc about learning to see the world through Jack’s eyes and maybe even becoming an ally (call it the “Vegeta” story). Still, before any of that, we’re probably gonna need these two to have a talk about their feelings and why Jack felt it was OK to kill her sisters but spare her. Given this episode’s emphasis of action over development, I would welcome a chance for these two to catch their breath and come to terms with all the new stuff going on in their lives at the moment.
I know I made a cheeky reference to Sausage Party previously, but much like in that movie, I feel like there’s a similar religious theme at play here, particularly when it comes to Ashi. She’s been led to believe all her life that things are a certain way, but is beginning to doubt that worldview. She’s been bred to believe that Aku is the creator of the world; that he’s the good guy, and Jack is evil. The ending feels like she’s being sent into a crisis of fate, and will have to come to terms with whether she wants what Aku wants or if she can start to follow a different path, one possibly led by Jack. It’s still a little early to call it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ashi’s story ends up being about how her alleged “god” is a false one and finds a better sense in life by joining Jack’s side…
…which would really further vindicate those things I said before about how Jack is kinda like Jesus. Now that I think about it, Jack WAS carrying Ashi on his back throughout most of the episode like a literal cross for him to bear. See?! I’m not crazy!
So yeah, this episode is definitely a good time, but given what’s going on with the characters at the moment, maybe the level of action seen here isn’t what we need at the moment. It’s not unheard of for Samurai Jack to have some quiet moments of introspection, so I do hope it finds the time to properly address the changes happening with these two. Still, the unlikely team-up of Jack and Ashi is a welcome change of pace that brings us back to episodes about Jack bonding with the people he meets in his journey. By and large, this plays out like the episode “Jack and the Warrior Woman”, but in reverse. Our two characters meet at odds with each other, only to become closer over the events they take part in together, ending up in much even terms. It’ll definitely be intriguing to see where they go from here. Will they help each other with their problems? Will they go back to their old ways when it’s all said and done? Have fans found the perfect excuse to ship the two of them with each other, as if they ever needed a reason? If the preview for the next episode is any indication…who knows? But, we do get to see some sort of resistance army fighting against Aku, which shows us a certain familiar face…
Exciting! See you next week!