So now that Jack is back to “classic” Jack as of last episode, having wrapped up his arc about re-discovering himself and coming to terms with his past mistakes, one has to wonder how the rest of the season is gonna play out. Will it be the more traditional structure of the original, episodic run or will we still get to see new developments for Jack before he reaches his final showdown with Aku? Turns out the answer is a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B. This week’s episode might be the most straightforward one we’ve had all season, and the most reminiscent of the first four seasons: the story is driven primarily by action and set-pieces as Jack and Ashi fight a new enemy along their journey to defeat Aku. Even so, it manages to throw in elements that tie into both heroes’ overarching story…
… and oh man is it a doozy.
I know some of you may have called it, but I’m actually surprised the show didn’t just go there, but how it went there.
We start the episode by watching some kind of monolith-looking spaceship crash land in the desert after getting hit by asteroids. We’ll get back to that later.
Jack and Ashi are hanging out at a middle-eastern looking marketplace similar to one featured in the show’s original intro as they wait for a transport that will take them to their next destination. Shout-out to Billy West as the voice of that anthropomorphic walrus that sounds like a Swedish Dr. Zoidberg. I’m also assuming it’s a stealthy reference to Wally the Walrus from the “Woody Woodpecker” cartoons, who also has a Swedish accent. His dialogue implies that he’s confusing Jack and Ashi for a couple, though it goes over Jack’s head.
Once onboard their transport, they’re surrounded by a posse of green cat people, some of which flash shit-eating grins at the two of them. It becomes so crowded that Jack and Ashi are pushed up against each other. It’s here that they encounter their greatest challenge yet: awkward sexual tension.
And boy is it awkward. There’s even a joke about Jack “poking” Ashi, but it turns out it’s just his sword. I guess when you’ve already had a guy whose head looks like a penis a few weeks ago, the sky’s the limit when it comes to dick jokes. Oh yeah, this is probably a good time to remind you that this episode takes the show back to the TV-PG rating again. I suppose that when your show airs on a Saturday night, TV-PG takes on a very loose meaning, as other examples coming down the line will show. Also, shout-out to the soft mood music that plays during the scene.
The duo’s compromising position is alleviated a bit when they notice something weird about the jackets the cat people around them are wearing.
The two make quick work of the cat men, though the narrow spaces make it hard for them to keep their distance from each other, inevitably making the tension pop up again, as even the slightest touch from the other makes them nervous, even if briefly. Props to the composer for mixing the mood music with the fighting music.
The two decide to ditch the transport and continue on foot, which means having to walk across the desert; a decision that doesn’t seem to bother them as much as you’d think. The two make their way across the desert, letting us sink in some more of that gorgeous desert scenery. Wisely, the animators play around with the colors and the contrast of Jack and Ashi against the backdrop quite a bit here, keeping the view nice to look at even though we’re just watching them walk for a bit.
Along the way they find an oasis where they can get some water. Jack even takes the time to make hand-made straw hats for the both of them. Yeah, small fun fact about Jack for those who don’t know: back in the day, he was shown to be wearing a straw hat from time to time, and in one episode we even get to see that he makes them himself.
Hope you’re enjoying watching these two make kissy faces at each other, ‘cause we’re not even halfway through that yet.
Eventually, the two get caught in a sandstorm (they even lose their hats!) and have to look for shelter. They find the crashed ship from the beginning of the episode and go inside. After walking around for a bit, they conclude that the ship is some sort of prison, yet it doesn’t seem to have any prisoners at the moment. Ashi gets bitten by some sort of blue leech, making an infection begin to spread. Thankfully, Jack is able to suck out the poison from the wound.
It may not be explicit, but I’m adding this one to the “sexual tension moments” list. Mostly because I have a dirty mind.
Jack and Ashi hear a loud screech coming from behind them. Not looking to find out what it is, they try to make their way back out of the ship. Unfortunately, the ship is built like a maze, with some parts even looking like a small city with futuristic-looking M.C. Escher stairs, and the two eventually get lost. They’re eventually cornered by the thing that was chasing them: a monster composed of hundreds of blue leeches like the one that attacked Ashi.
It’s one of the coolest, and also most daunting monsters to come about on this show in a while. Between being able to morph its shape into a swarm, its ability to throw leeches at them, and its seemingly endless supply of them, it proves too much for our heroes to handle, so they run away again. They find a security terminal where they learn the monster’s name, Lazarus 92, which we’re told has regenerative properties.
I’m sure you’ve heard the name before, but for those of you that don’t know its origin, here you go: one of the most well-known uses of the name is in the Gospel of John: Lazarus of Bethany was a man miraculously resurrected by Jesus Christ after four days of being dead. It’s a reason why the name “Lazarus” has been attributed to words like “resurrection” and “rejuvenation”. To use a more pop culture-y example: The Lazarus Pit from “Batman” canon is a pool of restorative chemicals used by the villain Ra’s al Ghul.
A computer tells Jack about a weapon that can be used to subdue Lazarus. Too bad Ashi accidentally sets off an explosion that makes Jack skip over the part where the computer tells them how the weapon is activated. The computer goes offline (isn’t that inconvenient?) and hands Jack the weapon, which looks like a Roomba. Ashi is eager to fight Lazarus again after knowing they have a weapon specifically built to fight it, but Jack can’t bring himself to tell her he doesn’t know how it works.
It’s not really touched upon, but Jack seems worried that telling Ashi that either she’s the reason that made him skip the instructions on how to use the weapon or that he just doesn’t know how to use it will make her angry at him. Jack, I know you’re still sorting out what’s going on with you and Ashi, but maybe you can do that AFTER you’re safe and the monster is dead? I think figuring out how to do that is more important right now. If it means you two can be alive by the end of this, it should be worth it.
It’s only a matter of time before they run into Lazarus again. Throughout the fight, they take turns in one keeping the monster at bay while the other attempts to figure out how to activate the weapon. Complicating the matter, at least for Jack, Lazarus proves to be pretty crafty, as he sends a sneak attack of leeches at Ashi that eat through her clothes, leaving her completely naked.
Even in the heat of battle, Jack can’t help but to be distracted by his own embarrassment. With some quick thinking, he takes off his gi (I guess that what you call that thing he wears), telling Ashi that she “needs protection”, leaving him to fight wearing only his underwear (I can’t find the word for what that thing he wears under his gi is supposed to be). Ashi thinks Jack is being weird, but seems to appreciate his concern.
What could’ve easily been gratuitous fan service for it’s own sake is played more like a small, fun character moment for both of them. Props.
Lazarus splits into multiple monsters and surrounds them. In one last ditch effort, Ashi covers Jack while he tries to work the weapon, which he does right before they’re engulfed by leeches. If that wasn’t painful enough, the weapon unleashes bolts of electricity that fry the leeches until they pop like firecrackers, and since they’re right in the middle of it, they get to feel all that voltage. The same infection Ashi had earlier was beginning to spread on both of them, but the shock appeared to neutralize it (sure, why not?). By the end of it, they’re exhausted, in pain, and covered in fried bug juice, doing their best to catch their breath, which leads us into a hard-cut to…
When I say hard-cut, I mean that literally. One moment, they’re just standing around, looking at each other, and then next shot, BAM! There it is.
Full disclosure. When I woke up to write this review the morning after watching this episode, I had to double-check to make sure that I didn’t actually hallucinate that ending. I guess now we know how these two get their rocks off, and whenever they do, they like it rough. Now that’s what I call “self-discovery”. Shout-out to Ashi caressing that neck. Looks like Jack isn’t as much of a square as one would imagine. Until proven otherwise, I’m just gonna assume that those two take their throbbing biological urges all the way right after the credits start rolling. Oh yeah, and it’s a shot so nice, they actually play it twice.
Ok, enough of that.
So yeah, that’s how the episode ends. A roll of the credits and, instead of the traditional theme song, we get played off by Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” all the way up through the closing logos, which I think it’s the first time this show has ever used licensed music that wasn’t a sample. I can’t help but be reminded of the last time I saw a Tartakovsky production use a licensed song to great effect. If you ever get a chance, look up A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song” sequence in Sym-Bionic Titan. That guy knows how to use those needle drops like a pro. You’ll probably have to watch the whole episode to appreciate it fully, though. Much like this one, it’s also a doozy. In about the same way.
…Where do I even begin?
As a whole, the episode fits the bill of classic “Samurai Jack”: A new exotic location where Jack encounters some new ally, enemy, etc. and has to fight his way out of a dangerous situation, where the action scenes push the narrative along. While the last couple of episodes haven’t been short on action at all, it’s been a while since these scenes get to be a driving force for the plot, as opposed to the emotional/personal stakes that develop in between said fights. For example, last week we saw Ashi crush an entire army of orcs single-handedly. While this was mostly spectacle (an awesome spectacle!), the sequence was capped off with her having to fight her own mother to protect Jack, where she finally lets go of her past once and for all. What made that scene work was watching Ashi face the person responsible for turning her into a killer and putting an end to her ways definitively, setting her path as Jack’s accomplice in stone. Now that both her and Jack have generally wrapped up their respective arcs, it seems the creative team realized they needed something to fill in the void left by that. Part 1 of that plan seems to be to give us the kind of battle Jack would encounter on a regular basis: a monster with power leagues above his own and find a way to defeat it. In terms of the versatility, power, and even intelligence it displays, Lazarus 92 deserves to be remembered among the great battles that Jack has had over the series. The fights with this thing were tense, forcing Jack and Ashi to get creative with their approaches and be quick on their feet, putting forth some of the coolest fight choreography we’ve had in a while.
As for Part 2, there’s…well, the development between Jack and Ashi that builds over the course of the episode and culminates at the very end. Part of me wants to criticize the decision of pushing these two to be a couple, given how so far there really hadn’t been a need for that, and how refreshing that had been. Still, watching their budding romance blossom was genuinely sweet and funny, if not a bit crude at times. Tartakovsky and his team admirably handle the shifts in tone well, never making a scenario too serious for it to be jarring when it gets deflated by a joke. On top of everything, it feels earned. The team knew better than to start throwing in these moments before establishing a meaningful connection between the two. Jack and Ashi understand each other and the kind of people they are/have become. The way they’ve helped each other become better and get over their hang-ups has made their relationship up until now very symbiotic. They share the same goal, and have become willing to put themselves on the line for each other. At this point, Ashi is in on Jack’s quest for the long run, so having things end up between them where they’re leading up to is not the most outlandish thing one could imagine. They really do make a good couple, in that they’re both born-and-raised warriors with very little skills outside of that, awkwardly discovering their feelings and how to express them as they go along. So yeah, I’m hooked and I wanna see how this ends up once it unavoidably comes crashing into having to fight Aku and what could happen afterwards. Who knows? Maybe having an extra person around is exactly what Jack needs to not fall for Aku’s tricks again.
Plus, if The Scotsman can find the time to make himself an army of daughters, who says Jack can’t catch a break, too? I’m assuming he’ll want to find a cure for his agelessness now, provided he wants to go all the way with this.
At the end of the day, in a season full of firsts for the show, not only is this one the biggest surprises it has brought forth, the execution of it is genuinely great. I’ve made this comparison before, but so far this has played out like the “happy ending” version of the episode “Jack and the Warrior Woman”.
So, that’s it for now. Next week, Jack seems to encounter a familiar-looking place. See you then!