So, here’s something that totally slipped my mind last week: there was a scene in the last episode where Jack is surrounded by crows and hears their caws as if they were calling him a “murderer”. Yes, Jack is being called a “murderer”…by a bunch of crows.
Because…”murder” of crows, you see.
As a pun enthusiast, that’s a 10/10 right there. If it wasn’t so creepy, I probably would’ve drawn attention to it back then. Anyway…
This week’s episode hits the ground running by showing one of Aku’s spires (which are used as gateways to his domain) being attacked by 3 different armies: one looks like ancient Romans riding on tanks (Awesome!), another looks like medieval knights riding on armored rhinos that shoot cannonballs out of their horns (Also awesome!) and then there’s an all-female unit of Celtic warriors; a full-figured ocean of red hair and plaid skirts, like Amazons if they were from the Scottish highlands. Wow, we’re only like a minute in and this is already a solid 9 in my book. One of the coolest parts of this series has always been about discovering the existence of warriors from our reality that still manage to exist in Aku’s future, showing off how they’ve been able to adapt, usually with a high-tech flourish. In his travels, Jacks has encountered everything from Spartans, ninjas, cowboys, Shaolin-style monks, and even Depression-era gangsters. It presents a world that draws from all walks of history, and yet somehow time has managed to stand still for them, enduring for presumably thousands of years. It’s like an action nerd’s dream come true, where the possibility for action scenarios truly feels limitless.
Anyway, leading all three armies is an old man with a gun for a leg, but not just any old man with a gun for a leg.
Hell yeah! Samurai Jack wasn’t really known for having side characters. Tartakovsky and his team made the conscious decision to make Jack’s journey a largely solitary one (This is where a lot of inspiration from the show Kung-Fu comes in). The Scotsman was the big exception to this. Introduced way back in the first season in “Jack and the Scotsman”, he’s the opposite of Jack in almost every way. He’s large, loud-mouthed, proud, and not afraid to speak his mind, which usually manifests in some of the most long-winded insults you’d ever hear. Despite this, the two became allies the same way all badasses worth their salt do: by building mutual respect through showing off their combat abilities. They were both looking to free the world from Aku’s tyranny, and while The Scotsman would brag about how he would be the man to do it, he eventually developed hope in Jack after he helped him, his people, and even his wife, on several occasions. Voiced with much gusto by the ever-great John DiMaggio (Adventure Time, Futurama), he would show up a few times during the original run and he was always a delight to have around.
Despite being 50 years older than the last time we saw him, other than being bound to a wheelchair, the man hasn’t missed a beat. He’s even upgraded his machine gun leg to a mini-gun! As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s apparent that every single one of the ladies backing him up are his daughters.
….Wow. Maybe THAT’S why he’s in a wheelchair. I would feel sorry for his wife, but having seen her…yeah, I’m sure pumping out that much babies was no problem at all.
The Scotsman does his best William Wallace and leads the charge against Aku, who’s more annoyed by the noise than anything else. He takes this as a chance to get out of his funk and engages his attackers with incredible ease, wiping most of them out in a matter of seconds. The Celtics make their retreat, with The Scotsman staying behind to give them a chance. He gives Aku some of that old smack-talk, prodding him about how he’s still scared of Jack and how he keeps inspiring people to rise up against him.
Unfortunately, much like in Wallace vs Longshanks, things don’t go well for our dear Scot as Aku responds by vaporizing him with a comical lack of effort. Bummed out by bringing up Jack again, he crawls back to his hole. The Scotsman’s daughters mourn his death and bow revenge. Thankfully, before we can get too sad/angry about his death and/or disappointed of not having a reunion between him and Jack, The Scotsman’s ghost rises from his own ashes, taking the form of himself in his prime. Apparently, there were magic runes in his sword that would allow him to carry on in the mortal world in spirit form after his death, like a Force ghost from Star Wars.
He declares to his Daughters that they will form a bigger army, only this time, they’ll get Jack to join them so they can be rid of Aku once and for all.
…yeah, not sure why that wasn’t Plan A to begin with. Now a bunch of warriors are dead for no reason. I’m not sure if these people were getting the right kind of inspiration from Jack. Still, if this is any foreshadowing to a big finale, I’m completely game for it. I always imagined Jack’s final fight would be a one-on-one effort, but having that final showdown along with people he has inspired to make a stand against Aku would kick all sorts of ass.
Meanwhile, in the middle of nowhere, Jack is sleeping off the insanity that has been the last few days of his life, while Ashi sits nearby, having hallucinations of her own. She can hear the voice of her mother, the High Priestess, calling her weak and a failure for not taking the chance to kill Jack. Ashi’s response is that she wants to see for herself whether what Jack has told her about Aku is real.
I haven’t brought this up yet, but now seems like a good time to do so: Since her introduction at the beginning of the season, Ashi has been purposefully made to stand out among her sisters by showing how she’s struggled more than the rest to adapt to their brutal training regime, sometimes distracted by admiring the beauty of the world (like she did with the ladybug in the previous episode), while being gaslit by her mother into thinking that these were not worth her time, hinting that, unlike the others, there may be a glimmer of humanity that can be tapped into to make her see what’s really going on. I like how this is something that’s alluded to be a part of Ashi, as opposed to simply being thrusted upon her by someone like Jack; that even with a life as tragic and violent as hers, the potential to do good, even become its ally, not only exists, but endures.
This seems to be the path she’s heading down so far, though she clearly still has her reservations, which is why after returning to dry land (by taking a ride on a giant sea serpent) she berates Jack into showing her proof of what he said about Aku’s evil. Jack appeared to not want to do anything with Ashi anymore, going so far as to claim she would not change even if she knew the truth (an awfully close-minded thing for him to say, though I guess he’s been burnt a few too many times to think otherwise), but begrudgingly accepts to do so after Ashi is all like “You don’t know me!”. Lesson #1 is telling her about how it wasn’t Aku who created the stars in the sky. He tells her a legend passed down to him by his own mother about how they were created by the personification of the sun and the moon, who rode a phoenix and shot arrows into the sky which exploded into light, forming the stars.
Yeah, kinda dubious, but hey, Ashi seems to like this story. I’m not entirely sure whether this is actually based on an actual legend, but given Jack’s history of telling tales he heard as a child, I’m inclined to agree. In the episode “Jack and the Baby”, the last episode before the show’s first run ended, he tells the story of the hero Momotaro, which is an actual part of Japanese folklore. Regardless of this, the series has always played a bit fast and loose when it comes to adapting real-world mythology into creating its own, so I don’t think accuracy to real world should matter all that much. Let’s not forget that Jack’s sword was crafted by what we’re told are three mystical monks, which turn out to be the gods Odin, Ra, and Vishnu. No, really.
The following morning, Jack takes Ashi on a visit to several places that recall typical locations that Jack has encountered on his quest: a destroyed forest where a single tree remains, a bleak, industrial city that serves as a terminal for criminals from other worlds welcomed to raise hell here on Earth, and the charred remains of a village. Along the way, Jack “borrows” some new clothes, which I like to think are a callback to his poor fashion sense as presented in the episode “Jack’s Sandals”.
Hmmm…a grizzled old man travelling along with a young girl that becomes an ally/follower to him? Maybe this is more like Logan than I originally imagined. Hopefully, it doesn’t end the same way.
This tour is enough to convince Ashi of Aku’s intentions to breed destruction for nature and carnage for the innocent. When she asks what can be done to stop all of this, Jack declares there’s nothing that can be done, sharing his feelings on how it’s become hopeless to stop Aku after so many years of trying, echoing the same mindset he’s presented us since the beginning of the season. Before Ashi can rebut, they find a survivor among the wreckage of the village: a furry, blue, monkey looking alien that looks like a more anime version of Beast from X-Men.
It tells them that all the village’s children have been taken to a nearby factory. When the duo head there to save them, they’re confronted by said children, who go feral and attack them after a high-pitched sound goes off.
While Jack distracts them, Ashi looks for the sound’s source, which brings her face-to-face with the factory’s operator: an armored man referred to as Dominator, who exposes to Ashi about how the children have had chips implanted in their necks that make them go crazy violent when exposed to a certain audio frequency. After capturing her, he proceeds to not waste any time torturing her with electric shocks, in which he takes sadistic pleasure.
I know this episode got a TV-PG rating as opposed to TV-14, but we’re really edging it here.
So, this is quite the pickle for our heroes: Ashi is captured and Jack refuses to hurt the creatures because they’re just children. (It’s only a matter of time before he’s in rags again). Luckily, Ashi shares the same quality as Jack of going absolutely HAM after taking enough punishment.
She breaks free from her bonds (which were crushing all four of her limbs, BTW), powers through the deadly shocks, and takes out Dominator. I was disappointed to not find he was actually a sexy lady under that helmet when it came off (High-five if you get that reference). She throws his body into the machine producing the brainwashing signal, making it explode (yeah, that dude’s dead). So, good news for Jack, right?
Well, turns out the process of being set free from the mind control is pretty painful, as all the children collapse to the floor around Jack, while screaming in pain and emanating some high voltage. Jack believes the children to be dead and his minds begins slipping again. The Horseback Samurai returns, this time telling Jack that “It is time”. Jack agrees and follows him, leaving the factory before Ashi can catch up to him. She confirms that the children are all actually alive, but unfortunately, Jack is gone.
Ok, where to start? Well, the sequence as a whole is pretty damn terrific, though it clearly feels like a stepping stone to get to further developments between Jack and Ashi. It’s very effective at creating a sense of dread, where the odds are too big for Jack to take, even with Ashi’s help. The creatures are presented as a swarm; My first point of reference would be something akin to the “infected” variety of zombies like in 28 Days Later or Left 4 Dead, though the more accurate reference would be something like fire ants, or the zombies that behave as such from the movie World War Z. They’re deadly fast and pile on each other as they run, all to get to Jack and Ashi; a mess of blue hair, claws, and fangs. Dominator makes good use of his very short time; while I wouldn’t say he’s as memorable as someone like Scaramouch earlier in the season, he succeeds at being just the most colossal son of a bitch; an enthusiast of torture, kidnapping children and turning them into killing machines, so at least I can say I’ll remember him.
At this particular point, it seems like the series has subtly changed from Jack to Ashi as the POV character for the audience; a smart decision to make her journey of self-discovery feel more realized. Just like her, I feel a sense of respect for Jack in his current state, but definitely question his decision to have thrown in the towel. The teaser for the next episode alludes that it will be centered on Ashi as she looks for Jack. I’m still not sure what the episode will seek to accomplish, as Ashi seems to have already accepted Aku as a menace that needs to be stopped, but will cross that bridge once we get to it. As for Jack, I never really doubted that the Horseback Samurai he keeps seeing is in his head, but here we finally see something that separates it from the other visions: Jack actually listens to what it says. So far, he’s ignored the fearful, mocking, selfish voices in his head, yet this vision now appears to have taken over Jack with nothing but its mere presence. Despite being downplayed, at least compared to the others, it’s been the most persistent apparition; the most effective at making Jack succomb to his inner demons. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop here, but given the trend of visions Jack has had, I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy turns out to be another representation of Jack’s damaged psyche, the same way the other hallucinations have. Whatever it turns out to be, it seems to be pushing Jack to succumb to a dark impulse, possibly the allusion to suicide mentioned in a previous episode, and he won’t be able to get out of it on his own.
With this episode, we have reached the halfway point of Jack’s big comeback (bummer). While there will be time to assess how this has turned out once we get to the end, I want to say for now that this new season has done a very good job of matching my expectations of what a “darker” version of this series would play out while staying true to the show’s roots and surprising me with new developments/additions, particularly in the form of Ashi, who’s shaping up to be a character of great vitality, perhaps the most important character to the show after Jack and Aku. Next week, we’ll see how Ashi handles herself with her new outlook on life without having Jack around. Will we have more revelations about her? Will she learn how to interact with the world in a not-as-violent way? Will she be able to save our samurai from…himself? Let’s find out together next time!