Samurai Jack, Season 5 – Episode 6 – “XCVII”

I’ve heard of nostalgia bombs before, but this is ridiculous.

Picking up from last week, Ashi sets out on a journey to track down Jack, taking her all across the land and into every location and landscape possible. Starting on an airship, she is ambushed by two large figures who view her as a threat to Jack’s safety, but when she makes her intentions known, we’re treated to a pleasant surprise. It turns out the two figures are the Woolies, the giant talking mammoth-like creatures from “Jack, the Woolies, and the Chritchellites,” and they begin to relay their experiences with Jack’s heroism to her. It’s a fun little stroll down memory lane, especially seeing how Jack’s heroics play out through the lens of those that he rescued. When the pilot points her in the direction of where Jack went off to, she jumps out of the airship and into the forests below. While roaming around, she eventually encounters another blast from the past: the archers possessed by darkness from “Jack and the Three Blind Archers.” They take Ashi on a tour of their civilization, now thriving with light and life thanks to Jack’s actions. Once again, it’s a nice little scene that helps catch us up on the changes between the original series run and this new season. Up to this point, we’ve only really seen the changes in the world through Jack and Aku’s perspectives, but Ashi’s journey allows us to connect with the world through both a fresh perspective as well as the many entities Jack has encountered throughout his travels.

Continuing from there, Ashi finds herself caught in the middle of a massive rave/concert, and when she asks about Jack, the spotlight falls onto her as the rave’s DJ (revealed to be Olivia from “Jack and the Raid”) leads an elaborate dance number recounting their experiences with Jack. As for this scene, I think of it as the least well-executed of the various callback scenes in the episode. To revisit last week’s episode for a minute, the dialogue-heavy script was an issue there because the exposition lacked any sort of real personality or perspective, and while this week’s episode is also quite packed with spoken exposition, it at least works here because it’s not solely information dumps. Each encounter provides a clever flashback to accompany them which gives us not just backstory, but also perspective in terms of how all the disparate societies of this world view Jack’s heroism. With the rave scene however, while there is some striking visual direction as the dancers excellently illustrate their views on Jack (with the saturated neon colors, black-and-white silhouettes, and memorable choreography), for some reason the DJ feels the need to sing over this scene and literally explain what we’re seeing, as if the audience can’t piece it together anyway. Much like with most of last week, this episode needlessly undercuts an otherwise excellently directed scene with pointless dialogue, almost like taking a museum tour with one of those headphone/audio guides dryly explaining everything to you.

Getting away from the main plot for a minute, there’s the B-plot in which we learn that the robot assassin Scaramouche is somehow still alive, although simply reduced to a talking head. We follow his attempts to get back to Aku and inform him of the situation with Jack and his sword, and this whole plot quite hysterical. It’s fun to hear more of Tom Kenny doing his best Sammy Davis Jr. impression, and his various conflicts in trying to reach Aku are varied with plenty of funny jokes throughout. The most memorable is when he manages to sneak on a boat by pinning his head onto a passenger with an extremely narrow/small head. And yes, Scaramouche does observe that his head looks like a big penis (his words almost exactly). He also gets himself tossed off the boat after arguing with a bunch of talking dogs while trying to contact Aku, including on which weirdly resembles Astro from The Jetsons, which is a funny little cameo to throw in just for laughs.

Back in the main plot, Ashi continues her journey and finally decides to shed the intense layer of smoke and ash that was actually the contents of her “outfit” (her skin was “ashy.” GET IT?). After fashioning a new outfit out of leaves that matches the shedding of her aggressive dark past, she walks into a bar ran by none other than Da Samurai from “Samurai vs. Samurai” (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key this time around). The patrons, all victims of battles with Jack, gather around as Da Samurai recounts his own battle with the samurai, and I like how this mixes up the trip down memory lane with a character who was more of a knowing antagonist than a victim of negative circumstances. Interestingly, the gathering is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Demongo, who I’m pretty sure is supposed to be dead. In fact, didn’t Aku personally crush him once he failed to steal Jack’s soul? I guess he gave Demongo a mulligan out of boredom or something.

Ashi eventually lucks into a lead which brings her to a graveyard where Jack is sitting solemnly, approached by the shadowed warrior figure that’s been haunting Jack for a while. The warrior finally reveals himself as a warrior’s spirit that’s been trying to convince Jack to kill himself for his lack of honor in failing to defeat Aku (the most extreme manifestation yet of Jack’s constant nagging guilt). A battle ensues in which Ashi tries to convince Jack to live and complete his mission as she fights off the warrior spirit, and once again there’s some excellent visuals in this fight with the misty hazes of sickly green permeating throughout the graveyard. The essence of death, guilt, and regret hang over the entire battle and saturate every corner of every shot of this scene, and I like how this battle acts as the sort-of culmination of Ashi’s development across the past couple of episodes, finally cementing her as a worthy companion on the remainder of Jack’s journey. Jack also gets in a pretty humorous light-hearted line once he regains his courage and fends off the spirits, which is a fun little character moment for our two leads.

The strong visual direction and better incorporation of world-building and exposition makes this episode a nice recovery from the sub-par plot progression of last week, with some excellent attention to detail being payed to the variety of cameos and callbacks to past episodes. There’s a nice variety of cameos that the episode draws from, pulling at least one episode/scenario from each of the first four seasons to bring back here. It creates a nice spread/snapshot of the entire show up to this point and functions as a neat way to fill us in on some of the gaps between then and now. There’s even a little non-character nod in the B-plot, as the ship port that Scaramouche visits is the same one from the episode where Jack lost his memories and the Scotsman had to help him recover. Overall, this week’s episode was a big step up from last week and bringing things back to form, and I’m eagerly awaiting the quest to find Jack’s sword.

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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