Where we last left our heroes, Jack was ready to stop running away from his problems and get his shit together, starting with finding his sword. With Ashi in tow, he sets out to restart his mission to save the world. But first, a journey of self-discovery and introspection. Trust me, it’s not as boring as it sounds.
We begin with Jack telling Ashi the story of how he lost his sword in flashback form. We get to see him in his classic look as he finds himself in a scenario typical of the Cartoon Network days of the show: he’s climbing up a mountain to find a portal that will take him back in time, but before he can go through, Aku shows up to stop him and to taunt him. He destroys the portal, claiming it to be “the last in existence”. Jack goes berserk on Aku, but knowing better than to mess with Jack’s sword, Aku turns a couple of rams in the mountain into monsters to fight Jack while he runs away. Jack murders them, but they revert to their original, adorable forms once they’re dead. Shocked by this, he drops his sword, which falls into the chasm where the time portal used to be.
As sad as this scene is supposed to be, I couldn’t help but to smile throughout most of it, as it’s classic Samurai Jack almost the whole way through. It even starts out similar to a regular episode of the show: emphasis on atmosphere as Jack calmly makes his way to his next objective. His encounter with Aku is no different from plenty of others he’s had before. It reminds us what makes him such a good villain: he’s evil incarnate, but he carries his power in a very “chaotic evil” sort of way. He’s manipulative, merciless, and even sadistic, but he’s also very arrogant and shameless about it, taking every possible chance to belittle people like Jack with his dry sense of humor. It’s bad enough for Jack to feel almost powerless in the face of Aku, it’s worse when Aku is a real dick about it (He even gets to pull a sort-of “U mad, bro?” on Jack).
I typically don’t enjoy villains who’re all “high and mighty” like this, but there’s a certain flippant charm to Aku’s antics that makes them so enjoyable. It also helps that he really DOES have the power to get away with that kind of flaunting. This is the first time we get to hear Greg Baldwin in a more traditional Aku performance (you know, before his “Why is he still alive?” blues), and while it can’t be helped to still miss Mako Iwamatsu, Baldwin carries himself more than suitably.
As for Jack, this is supposed to be the moment that sent him down the slippery slope he’s currently in. As I’ve mentioned previously, even back in the CN days, it’s been implied that Jack has fought in a non-lethal capacity when faced with non-robotic opponents, relying more on skill than power. He’s always had a temperament, but it’s one that usually pops up when he’s in battle and things are getting out of hand. He’s been able to use it as a tool to help him power through certain encounters. Here, it’s the first time that Jack lets his anger get the best of him, to the point that it makes him kill something innocent. While he has lost his cool in a way that forced him to fight an embodiment of his anger in the episode “Jack versus Mad Jack”, that was largely because of one of Aku’s spells. This right here is all Jack all the way.
Presumably, this is the time where the hallucinations of the unhinged version of himself that have shown up several times this season started to appear. It also helps contextualize his first encounter with the Daughters of Aku in a new way, where he believed them to be more of Aku’s robots, only to be caught completely by surprise when he learns that they’re human. They weren’t the first to be killed by him (though probably the first time he’s directly killed another human), but it shows that spending so many years adrift in Aku’s future without the hope of going back in time made him lose some key aspects of his humanity and strength in character, despite still acting like everything’s normal on the surface. He began to see anything that stood in his way as just another robotic minion sent by Aku to try and stop him. He stopped putting thought into who/what was fighting him, it’s just another obstacle that he can just eliminate without hesitation.
Jack returns with Ashi to the place where he lost his sword, though it’s nowhere to be found. However, we learn that getting it back isn’t just a matter of looking for it elsewhere. If Jack wants the sword back, he must earn the right to wield it again. Looking back on the animation of Jack dropping his sword, it almost looks like the sword “wanted” to fall down that hole, as if it wanted to get away from Jack. His explanation implies that the sword vanished since it didn’t have someone who could use it anymore. This wouldn’t be the first time that the sword is shown to have something of a mind of its own, or at least something that could be interpreted as such through a magic spell.
In the episode “The Birth of Evil Pt. 2”, we see the original forging of the blade, learning that it was powered by the righteous desire of Jack’s father to protect his kingdom from Aku. In “Jack and the Zombies”, when Aku tries to use the sword against Jack, we learn that not just anyone can use it. If the wielder is evil, or uses the sword in a non-righteous way, it will be completely ineffective. Through the current episode’s flashback, we get another glimpse at how it “works”. When Jack strikes down the rams (in a shockingly bloody fashion, no less), Jack is suggested to have involuntarily forfeited his right to use the sword. In a sense, the sword is almost like the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, except its “philosophy” is in the opposite direction: instead of seducing people with its corruption, it makes the owner work for its noble power. Putting it like that, I feel it has less in common with the One Ring and more with Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, at least the Marvel Comics version of it: only those it deems worthy can carry it.
Huh, now there’s a crossover I would love to see.
Anyway, Jack sets out to find his sword, but it turns out it’ll be more of a mental trip than a physical one. He assumes a meditative position and takes a trip inside his own consciousness, manifested as lush green hills and a river that takes him up to the sun and eventually a small house in the middle of a body of water, where a monk asks him to make some tea.
Meanwhile, Ashi is sitting around waiting for Jack to do what he must. Thankfully (or not), the wait won’t be boring as a massive army of orc-looking creatures begins making its way up the mountain. The leader claims they’re going to kill the samurai (how did they know where he was, we don’t know), but Ashi claims she will stop them, which the army finds funny (They may be numerous, but they don’t appear particularly smart). As soon as they charge her, Ashi unleashes hell on them.
And it’s pretty damn glorious.
If you had any worries that Ashi’s friendlier new “her” would make her any less efficient as a warrior, you can put those fears to rest. The very first thing she does is pick up one of the orcs and use him as a battering ram, knocking down all the other orcs on the mountain trail. She follows it up with tearing the rest of the army apart (sometimes quite literally) with her bare hands. All of this is humorously juxtaposed with Jack having just the chillest time, as he slowly and methodically prepares some tea in the dead quiet of his surroundings.
When Ashi finishes off the horde, she notices she missed someone going up the mountain. In the nick of time, she stops a volley of arrows from killing Jack. The mysterious attacker is revealed to be…
OK so, I guess now we know who told the army to find and kill Jack. Mom must’ve gotten tired of waiting for her daughters to come back with a dead samurai, found out about Ashi’s betrayal and the death of her sisters, so decided to take matters into her own hands. Total wild guess, but I feel it holds up.
The High Priestess chastises Ashi for her failings, but gives her one last chance to redeem herself and kill Jack. Ashi refuses, so now she must fight her mom to the death.
While not as visceral as watching Ashi mowing down orcs, the stakes of the battle become more personal, as Ashi puts her new system of beliefs on the line for Jack once again as she must fight against her past one last time. I feel like this is something that was meant to happen eventually, but it was still surprising having it be here and now instead of later. It even gives some closure on a question I had been tossing around in my head for a while: what does Ashi think about Jack killing her sisters? Turns out that she puts more of that blame squarely on her mother than she does on Jack, as she recognizes that they had been bred to kill the samurai all their lives, so it was inevitable that they would die, further pushing the idea that she believes that getting a chance to see things through Jack’s eyes saved her life. It’s not quite as clear-cut as I would like it to be; there’s a lot of moral grey being tossed around here without much time to reflect on it, which leaves me little choice than to chalk it up to Ashi and Jack being victims of their respective circumstances and finding a balance once things aren’t so hectic. Also, I can’t let the scene go by without pointing out how all the things that the High Priestess sees in Ashi as weaknesses, like believing in Jack, are the things that allow Ashi to rise above and eventually kill her, which she does by throwing, not shooting, an arrow at her so hard, it goes straight through her belly, causing her to fall to her death. She’s not gonna be in Episode 8.
…or WILL she? Yeah, probably not.
After Ashi collapses from permanently dealing with her mommy issues, we cut to Jack still having his tea ceremony. However, the monk tells him that it’s terrible; that while he has all the necessary ingredients, it lacks the most important one: balance.
When Jack asks him to show him the proper way, he refutes by saying he must find it on his own. This causes Jack’s inner demons to pop up once again, demanding to know how to find his sword.
He believes that it’s his right to have it after everything he’s suffered and that he’s the only reason why Jack has carried on as long as he has. While these apparitions have had varying degrees of edginess (both in their literal physical design and their dialogue), this scene shows how they’ve all been one and the same; a culmination of Jack’s worst impulses: not just anger and frustration, but also fear, doubt, selfishness and pride. Jack gives Edgelord Jack the ol’ “I was blind, but now I see”, clearing his mind of those thoughts, though not before disappearing with an ominous “YOU NEED ME!”. With this, Jack finds the “balance” he needed.
Like his father before him, he comes face to face with the gods Odin, Ra and Vishnu (told ya!), who restore him back to his original appearance (complete with a shave and a haircut) and give him back his sword (and also the scabbard which just kinda appears on his hip again).
Sorry, I…I think I have something in my eye.
I love the idea that Jack’s white kimono is a part of his good self, though it’s probably gonna get teared again, like it always does.
Also, shoutout to that classic way that Jack sheathes his sword.
Jack finds Ashi passed out but fortunately she’s not dead (Was the fake-out really necessary?). Now, it’s finally time to take the fight to Aku.
We’ve been on this ride for about two months, but it’s only now that we can officially say that Jack is truly back. As I described up above, it’s pretty self-explanatory what’s happened: he let himself be consumed by the bad impulses stewing within him, and while he still acted very similarly to what he’s usually been before, there was still that feeling that something wasn’t quite right, and I’m not just talking about the hallucinations. Taking this more subtle route rather than having some strong, obvious change in his personality is the more effective option, as it makes it easy to empathize with Jack’s newfound struggle of maintaining who he is deep down, no matter how much he used to deny that nothing was wrong. Jack has always been a paragon of decency and nobility: a warrior at heart who still believes in the value of selflessness and compassion. Here, he’s forced to come to terms that he’s not quite that anymore, and like his own personal rehab coach, forces himself to accept it, which becomes the first (though only) step to become better and find his resolve once again. It’s not very complicated, but it probably doesn’t need to be. I’ll probably get into it little more when the season wraps up, but for now, my takeaway is that Jack has always been about those simple truths about believing in what’s right and acting upon it; and what makes it stand out is the circumstances of how/why he does it.
As we come ever closer to the season’s conclusion, I cannot wait to see how it all comes together. The preview for next week’s episode is pretty cryptic, something about being trapped in a labyrinth, so we’ll see what that’s about next time.
The past could be just over the horizon, everyone. Stay tuned.