Samurai Jack, Season 5 – Episode 5 – “XCVI”

Episode 5, already? It feels like it’s only been less than a month since Samurai Jack started, but evidently we’re already halfway to the end. Quite a bit has happened since Season 5 first started, and there’s still plenty of territory left to traverse. Unfortunately though, as we hit the halfway point of the story, the season hits a bit of a snag with this episode: a mid-life crisis, if you will.

The episode opens by bringing us back to Aku and his plot, as he awakens to find his lair besieged by a fairly massive army. Soldiers in tanks, soldiers atop giant animals, and an entire fleet of female soldiers on foot, all of which are being led by none other than The Scotsman, now wheelchair-bound and sporting a gatling gun on his leg. Aku decimates most of the soldiers except for the Scotsman and his daughters, and he decides to confront Aku head-on. However, he vaporizes the Scotsman into bones and dust, much to the shock of all his daughters. Yet almost immediately, he manages to resurrect into a spirit resembling his more familiar younger incarnation thanks to the power of Celtic magic. Right away, something isn’t quite right with this scene, mainly because of how quickly it moves between its major plot beats. Typically, something like a character resurrection would take longer than just 2 minutes *after* they die, so the episode just kind of rushes into this without any breathing room, which is an odd creative decision.

Meanwhile, Jack and Ashi manage to make their way off the island as the latter continues to question everything she’s been taught about the world and Aku’s involvement in it. Eventually, she caves in and demands that Jack explain what exactly he knows about the Master of Darkness’ actions. He obliges and illustrates every example of Aku’s evil that they come across, and once again there’s something that just feels wrong about how this is all handled. There’s some cool visual designs that convey the contrast between the beauty of nature and the destruction of the land caused by Aku, but there’s a bizarre amount of spoken dialogue for a Samurai Jack episode. The environmental/character designs shown off, while fairly interesting, are massively undercut with Jack’s constant exposition, feeling less like a proper exploration of Aku’s grasp on the world and more like he’s narrating a National Geographic special. In fact, most of his exposition sounds uncomfortably similar to the opening monologue that introduces each episode of this season, as if he’s reciting a more detailed early draft of that intro.

Once Ashi realizes the truth, the two of them encounter an injured blue creature who informs them that several children from his species have been captured for experimental purposes. They’re pointed in the direction of an industrial facility where they’ve been taken, but they’re quickly ambushed by the aforementioned children, having been experimented upon to be turned into savage killing machines. Jack unfortunately gets caught in the massive swarm of attackers while Ashi goes off to find a way to free them, eventually running into the main control room where she is captured and tortured by the facility’s overseer. She eventually manages to defeat him and shut down the control systems manipulating the creatures, knocking them all unconscious. Jack, horrified that they all appear to be dead, once again finds his own psyche pushed to torturous extremes, once again seeing the shadowy samurai swordsman clouded in green mist beckoning for him, and Jack agrees to follow him off into the mist. However, it is quickly revealed that the creatures are still alive, but Ashi now has no clue where Jack has gone to.

At this point, the unusual writing decisions become extremely hard to ignore. To start, the dialogue-heavy nature of this episode negatively impacts the pacing, as by the time we reach this last act of the episode, it already feels we’ve breezed through nearly 3 episodes of plot. The clever visual storytelling of the series takes a backseat to scene after scene of talking, undermining what few cool visuals we get. The most interesting bit of animation we get is an illustrated parable about the formation of the sun, moon, and stars, but the constant dialogue fails to let the visuals speak for themselves, and it fails to give the experience the proper breathing room. In addition, the introductory sequence with the Scotsman’s armies battling Aku has such clumsy pacing that the death of the Scotsman feels more like a badly bungled punchline. The resurrection feels so badly rushed; generally, something like this would happen at least one episode after the initial death, but it comes across as though the writers were in a rush to skip over a handful of important plot beats.

And then there’s how the episode ends: Jack just abandons Ashi in following this mysterious figure with no real explanation as to why he would. Even given the psychological torment that’s defined his arc through this season so far, it’s hard to believe this as a decision that Jack would ever make. It almost feels like there was a scene missing that connects the dots between his panic and him giving in to this figure, whoever he is. The fact that Jack wouldn’t just wait around for a bit for the eventual reveal of the blue creatures’ survival cements that the writing in this episode is forced in a way that Samurai Jack has never been. Hopefully this is just one awkward stop-gap and the second half of the season still manages to satisfy like the first four episodes did.

Samurai Jack airs every Saturday at 11 PM only on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on Adult Swim’s website the day after they premiere.

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