(Disclaimer: The intro to this review was written the day before Episode 9 aired)
Before we begin, there’s some unfinished business from last week that we need to discuss.
While saying that Episode 8 was a big deal is an understatement, the exact implications of “why?” and “how much?” would only dawn on me until after a few days of processing what happened. Before this, Ashi had already broken new ground by becoming not just another ally or friend of Jack’s, but a companion for his journey; someone who would join him on his mission to right Aku’s wrongs and someone he could depend on to have his back. But then, in a move that can only be described as ballsy, this last episode, the third-to-last of Samurai Jack ever, spent just about the entirety of its runtime to take that relationship to the furthest possible extreme by establishing a romance between the two. It wasn’t a subplot or an aside, it was the entire point of the episode. While Jack has bonded with plenty of people who also want to fight Aku, this marked the first time ever that his life/mission has intertwined so intimately with that of someone else other than his own family. In a season full of firsts for the series, this is probably the biggest one yet, one that rocked just about any longtime fan who saw it to their core one way or another and singlehandedly changed a lot about what we think of the show up to this point. Personally, I loved it. So much so that I’ve gone back to watch the highlights almost every day this last week, it’s made my mind rush with speculation as to how this will impact the story now that it’s so close to the finish line, and it made me feel stupid for realizing that the last 10 minutes were basically an extended analogue for Jack and Ashi having a sexual encounter, something I’m sure Genndy Tartakovsky relished in putting together on a TV-PG rating no less, only after I posted my review. It was funny, stylish, and pleasantly surprising.
Still, one must never underestimate the power of fictional characters exploring love to make fanbases set themselves on fire.
Even a cursory glance at social media made me see how divisive “Jashi” becoming canon has been, with plenty of detractors claiming that the whole thing is somehow wrong and getting into heated bickering with its defenders/supporters. There’ve been plenty of anti-Jashi arguments made, such as the perception of Jack and Ashi’s relationship as a father/daughter or teacher/student thing rather than a romantic one, the claim that the character’s ages are too far apart to make this OK, accusations to the Samurai Jack team of pandering to shippers, or just general frustration at either putting the final battle on hold when there’s so few episodes left or that the show would add a romance element when it didn’t need to in the first place. It escalated so much, that Adult Swim’s official Tumblr page couldn’t help but to throw some shade on the whole thing: http://adultswim.tumblr.com/post/160484485344/everyones-so-salty-right-now#notes
If Tartakovsky had any kind of presence online, there would’ve been no shortage of people looking to jump down his throat for what he did. I do have some thoughts on some of these arguments, but I’m saving that for later. For now, I just want to say this: if you’ve enjoyed Samurai Jack so far, please consider giving Tartakovsky and his team the benefit of the doubt and wait to see where this is going. Every episode so far has been a significant step forward for the story, and I’m sure that what happened in Episode 8 will have consequences in 9 and 10 (see below). Once you see how it all comes together in the end, maybe then you can pass a final judgment on this. Also, Jashi fans? Be cool. I know you’re both excited (and scared) for what could happen. I feel the same. But, try not to get into fights over this. I know you feel like you must push back, but I would advise to not provoke anyone. It’s not worth it.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled episode review.
We begin by picking things up immediately where we left off at the end of last episode: Jack and Ashi having a make-out session. However, they soon realize they’re covered in gross leech juice and they can taste it in their mouths, so it’s probably a good idea to clean up. The sandstorm outside the ship has died down, so Jack goes take a look outside while Ashi looks for new clothes. She finds a sweater and a pair of boots in a locker, that actually look pretty good on her. She goes to Jack to return his gi, but finds him in a bit of a compromising position.
I guess now she understands why Jack was so flustered before. Also, that face is priceless.
She politely leaves him his gi and gives him some privacy. As Jack is getting dressed later, he has a short talk with his own reflection, which takes the form of bearded Jack, which alludes to the point I made earlier about him and Ashi. He’s never connected with anyone the same way she has with her, and is obviously worried about not just putting her in danger, but losing her. We know Ashi can take care of herself, but Jack presumably loves her too much to take a risk. I guess we’re really gonna do this cliché, huh?
But, we’ll get to that later. That night, Jack and Ashi hunt for food and make a campfire outside the ship. After some uncomfortable silence, Ashi asks Jack about his home. He reminisces about living in his family’s palace as a young boy, watching the beautiful transition of the seasons.
He’s briefly comforted to do this, though tells Ashi that these memories are now the only way he can hope to see it again, strongly suggesting that even though he’s back to his regular self, he really has given up hope to going back to the past…even though he still talks about it in the show’s intro and is like more than half of the words to his theme song. So far, there’s been no new hint that there’s another way for him to try, and with time so short before the big finish, I’m actually starting to doubt whether it’s even gonna happen. I’m still open to anything happening, but I have no clue as to how.
When Ashi wakes up the following morning, Jack is nowhere to be found, Yup, we’re really doing this, I guess.
Meanwhile, Scaramouch is still alive somehow. He’s gotten himself an octopus (?) body and is using it to make his way to Aku to tell him the totally not fake news that Jack has lost his sword. When he arrives at Aku’s lair, a drive-thru style speaker-box cutout of Aku is standing outside of it, telling passerby’s that he’s not taking any visits anymore. Nonetheless, Scaramouch persists and climbs his way inside where he delivers the news to a very grouchy Aku, who perks up immediately after hearing the news. He’s so happy, that he gives Scaramouch his body back and they both have an impromptu dance.
Let it be known that this series’ version of the devil is a massive dork.
Jack is walking across the desert solo until he stumbles unto a familiar-looking location: what looks like a graveyard littered with broken down robots. At the center of the place is a structure that’s been destroyed. He notices a pair of broken red glasses scattered nearby.
Yeah, this is gonna piss some people off, isn’t it?
For context: There’s an old episode of Samurai Jack I’ve brought up before called “Jack and the Travelling Creatures”, which is the first time he visits this place, where he heard he could find a portal to take him back in time. It was protected by a warrior simply known as The Guardian, who claimed to have done so for a very long time, waiting for the one prophesized to defeat him and gain access to the portal.
This guy was all sorts of awesome, easily one of the most remarkable characters Jack had ever encountered. Not only does he have a cool design, he was played by the great Kevin Michael Richardson. He was brash, but had the skills to back it up. He was dutiful to his task, yet flippant in the face of opposition. He was imposing yet so much fun to watch. His fight with Jack was one of the best in the whole show. Jack was fighting at the top of his game, but The Guardian still gave him hell like no other enemy had done so until then. The fight ended with Jack passed out, but before he was killed, the portal told The Guardian to spare him, as apparently it WAS Jack who was prophesized to defeat him, but he had to become stronger to do so. It’s a plot point that a lot of fans, myself included, had been latching on to as a possible final challenge for Jack to finally fulfill his destiny…
So yeah, I’m pretty disappointed that we’re apparently not gonna see that happen because not only has the portal been destroyed, it’s suggested that The Guardian was killed. I guess Jack must’ve come back for Round 2 at some point but Aku ruined everything? So much for all that time waiting for something to happen.
Ashi catches up to Jack at the graveyard, where he gives her his “I’m pushing you away to keep you safe” speech which, to his credit, is far less angst-y than I thought it would be. Kudos to Phil LaMarr for his heartfelt delivery. Also, while this kind of thing is a bit played out, it feels earned coming from Jack. He really has suffered for so long, and has been forced to watch constantly how Aku’s evil destroys everything, including the lives of good people, people that Jack cares about. Ashi appreciates his worry, but reassures him that they’ve come as far as they have because of working together, and is confident that the two of them can defeat Aku.
Well, I guess that’s that. We went to the graveyard and found nothing, and now Jack looks like he’s ready to get over his “I love you, so I must let you go” thing, accepting that Ashi wants to fight with him. Nothing but smooth sailing from here on out to fight Aku, right?
Huh, we still have seven minutes left. I’m sure nothing shocking is gonna happen.
Aku arrives at the graveyard, along with Scaramouch, to gloat about Jack having lost his sword, though Jack quickly makes them eat their words. Upon realizing this, Aku doesn’t hesitate to blow up Scaramouch before he can even realize he played himself. Yup, that’s all she wrote on Scaramouch. It’s been real, bro.
Wow, so much for another anti-climax. Looks like this can only end the way it always does, right? I have to admit I was feeling a bit smug right about here, feeling that I knew exactly where this was going: Aku trying to leave with his tail between his legs. I mean, what else could the show throw at us right now that would make this encounter between Jack and Aku feel surprising? I mean, they’re both here together once again, so we might as well finish the fight already, right?
So, imagine my reaction when I found out what all of this had been leading up to: Aku “smells” himself inside of Ashi…
…and remembers that one time he visited a cult of Aku worshippers and was like “I like what you people are doing! Here, have a cup full of my ooze!”. He deduced that the leader of this cult must’ve drunk from the cup, and not long after that, The Daughters of Aku were born.
So, yeah. Turns out THAT isn’t just a catchy title…
COME. THE BALLS. ON.
This show had the gall to pull an Empire Strikes Back on us, and it worked. It works so well, I’m still kinda speechless. I mean, how do you even process that?! Aku is a dad?! One of his daughters is the woman Jack loves?! The one good thing he had going on in his life up until this point?! Of all the cruel things that have happened to Jack, this might just be the new benchmark. I kept comparing his relationship to Ashi to that of Ikra from “Jack and the Warrior Woman” and how this is the “happy” version of that, but now it might actually be even worse! He got himself emotionally tangled up with a woman and now it’s come back to haunt him hard all over again, though it only gets more devastating from here on out.
Jack charges at Aku, but before he can even touch him, he’s blocked by Ashi, who is being forced to fight him by Aku. Remember a couple episodes ago when Ashi killed her mom and we all thought she was finally free from her past? Turns out it wasn’t even close. Being a part of Aku (good lord I can’t still believe that’s a thing!) he can control her like a puppet and make her kill Jack. Jack can only defend himself, as he doesn’t want to hurt Ashi. He pleads her to resist Aku’s power, but she’s helpless.
This might be the most insidious thing the show has ever pulled. We wanted to get to this fight between Jack and Aku all season long, and now that we’re finally here, we have a scenario where we DON’T want to see any fighting. We want it to stop. Aku has twisted the situation to make Ashi and Jack fight each other and it’s all sorts of heart-wrenching. It’s like the final act of Captain America: Civil War, where we finally got our fill of heroes fighting other heroes and it’s time to confront the real bad guy, but then he drops a gut-punch of a revelation that causes all logical reason to stop the fighting to go away, sending the characters into an overdrive that makes Steve, Tony and Bucky almost kill each other. This is basically Samurai Jack’s version of that.
Aku starts to get impatient, so he heightens Ashi’s power. She becomes engulfed in his darkness, turning her into one of his minions, which looks an awful lot like The Beast from Over the Garden Wall.
Jack has no idea what to do: Ashi is coming at him with killer intent and he can’t bring himself to attack her. He accidentally cuts her arm, which briefly makes Ashi regain control of herself. She begs Jack to kill her so he can then kill Aku, but Jack can’t bring himself to do this. He falls to his knees and drops his sword, admitting defeat. Before Ashi can kill him, Aku orders her to stop and claims his sword. The only thing that can kill him is now in his possession.
I don’t know what else I can add to this that simply doesn’t speak for itself. It’s sad and heartbreaking, yet it was astounding watching it come together. Once again, this show proves that while Jack’s humanity is one of his greatest assets, one that has helped him endure for so long, it’s also his greatest weakness. It’s not just about nobility or compassion, it’s about being asked to kill someone who came to mean a lot to him. And it’s what has defeated him now. I know it’s easy to be a little snarky and facetious (kinda like I did several times here), but the reality is that this show has played me. It knew exactly how to make me fall for its tricks. After spending the entirety of last week building up Jack and Ashi’s love, having it come crashing straight into Aku the way it did isn’t just crafty, it’s a team of creators that know exactly how to string along the audience and pull the rug out from beneath at exactly the right time in exactly the most effective manner. I was definitely exaggerating my alleged disappointment at stuff like the sudden exit for Scaramouch and the lack of an appearance from The Guardian, but truth be told that was just an exaggeration for effect. The former was legitimately funny, and the latter helps show off just how much the stakes have been raised between then and now, and how much desperate Jack’s fight has become.
So much of this season has been about Jack re-discovering the balance he needed so that he could finish the fight with Aku, and while that’s already happened, I have to admit that deep down, regardless of what’s been happening with Ashi and finding his sword again, things were once again gonna get worse before they got better. I guess I’m just gonna have to wait until next week to see how Jack gets out of this one…
…which isn’t just the last episode of the season. It’s the last episode of Samurai Jack EVER. And I have no idea how they’re gonna pull it off. I mean, here’s a short list of the stuff we need to wrap-up by the end:
A definitive yes/no on Jack going back in time.
How will Jack defeat Aku?
Whether Ashi can be saved or will she die.
That final stand against Aku that The Scotsman is putting together.
I trust the show to go out with a bang, no matter how it turns out, though I can already hear the cries about how it’s “rushed” or that the pacing was bad or whatever.
The night may be darkest just before that dawn, but that dawn suddenly feels so distant. It’s gonna be a long week…
…oh yeah, and the preview for next week’s episode shows no new footage so…yeah. I got nothing. That’s it for now.