Samurai Jack, Season 5 – Episode 8 – “XCIX”

Let’s cue up some Marvin Gaye, kids!

The episode opens in space, showing a giant spacecraft of unknown origin colliding with comets, suffering massive damage and crashing down to a desert on Earth. Afterwards, cut to our heroes in a bazaar as they wait for a method of transportation to arrive, killing time as Jack consumes some bad fish he gets from a walrus Zoidberg. I guess he had to find something to do with his time when Futurama got cancelled again.

Jack and Ashi hitch a ride on a massive transportation camel, forced into some awkward romantic tension as they’re surrounded by green tigers and pushed closer to each other. The moment is interrupted once Jack realizes they’re all looking to kill the two of them, and a fight breaks out between our heroes and the ambushers. This is a pretty cool fight scene with our heroes having to fend off a large wave of attackers in a fairly confined space, and the humorous romantic tension lends itself well to some interesting fight choreography. Eventually, they manage to lose their attackers and continue the journey on their own, with their bond evolving as they roam the landscape. Unfortunately, they get caught in a massive sandstorm and are forced to seek shelter in a nearby structure, which turns out to be the spacecraft from earlier.

The two begin navigating their way through the dauntingly massive structure, trying their best not to get lost within the winding and confusing inner architecture. As they proceed, our heroes notice several cages and gated-off areas that lead them to conclude that the structure is some kind of an interstellar prison. However, all the cells are empty, forcing them to stay on their toes, especially once an otherworldly alien shriek starts echoing throughout the walls of the prison. Jack and Ashi scramble in an effort to find the exit of the prison, but the two eventually get pinned up against a dead end, forcing them to confront the enemy, which is revealed to be… James Marcus from Resident Evil Zero?!

Yes, the prison was holding a giant hive-mind mass of leeches (one of which had attacked Ashi earlier), and our heroes attempt to defend themselves, but the leeches are simply too much to handle at the moment. They retreat into a hidden weapons stock that is thankfully shut off to prisoners, and Jack discovers a weapon specifically designed to take down the leech mass, but he gets distracted by Ashi and misses the crucial instructions for its activation. Caught in an awkward spot, Jack decides to take the weapon with him as he and Ashi confront the leeches in a tight corridor, attempting to figure out how to activate the device in the middle of battling the enemy. The tension continuously ramps up, as the leeches form several different physical amalgamations and use the nearby tubes as tunnels to sneak around and attack from behind. Jack’s efforts to work the device constantly fail as he and Ashi are overwhelmed by the creatures’ sheer strength and mass. Eventually, he gets lucky and triggers the weapon which sends out enough electric shocks to simultaneously kill the entire leech army, giving our heroes a well-earned victory and a moment of rest after such a relentless assault.

There’s quite a lot to like about this episode, especially with how the major actions set pieces are constructed. The fight against the green tigers has a cool setup with it being confined to a tight space, and this works as a clever bit of foreshadowing as the same type of dynamic is presented once on the prison: our heroes battling a homogenous mass of attackers in an uncomfortably tight space. There’s some really visually impressive fight choreography and animation in the final confrontation with the leech mass as our heroes make great use of their limited resources and space. The prison invites quite a lot of obvious comparisons to Alien, and those comparisons are well-deserved, as the geography of the prison has a similarly claustrophobic and disorienting feel to it. It’s also worth noting that there’s some particularly strong music in this episode, especially once things begin to heat up in the prison. Tyler Bates’ penchant for heavily industrial orchestrations is in full effect here and helps reinforce the sci-fi horror vibe of the episode, and the hard heavy smacks of piano keys help to amplify the sense of anxiety and panic that such a setting would generate. It’s a pretty entertaining episode on all fronts, even if it admittedly doesn’t advance the overall narrative much.

But let’s be honest: that’s not really what you want to hear about. You wanna hear about the sexual tension between our leads, don’t you? Well it certainly can’t be ignored, as the chemistry between Jack and Ashi is the driving force of the character development in this episode, and it even impacts the battles as well. The green tiger fight has our heroes constantly touching hands with each other as they try to play off the romantic tension like it’s nothing. There’s a cute little bonding moment where Jack constructs hats for the two of them, and it’s a legitimately charming brief scene. Things really ramp up in the space station, as the romantic tension is cranked up to full blast, especially during that final fight. There’s a point where the leeches dissolve Ashi’s outfit, leaving her naked much to Jack’s shock. The scene plays out like a gag out of Austin Powers with how the weapons, leaches, and shot frames attempt to censor Ashi’s body whenever needed.

And then the episode ends… and our heroes celebrate by sucking face.

This seemed to be the real make or break moment for most of the audience, or at least the portion of it that was reacting in real time online. From my own personal perspective, I’m perfectly fine with the romance and the conclusion it reaches here. I was mentally preparing myself for this back in episode 4 when Jack was attempting to bond with Ashi out of the kindness of his own heart, so I can’t say I’m thrown off by this episode ending as it did. Now, there’s an argument to be made that Jack’s characterization was thrown off in order to make this work, as his shyness is portrayed in a manner similar to a stereotypically awkward high schooler. I can see how someone would view this as contrived and force, but it didn’t really bother me. Why?

Well, mainly because of the finer details of those last few moments. The exact second where Jack and Ashi start making out is sudden and immediate, smash-cutting after a 20-second moment of silence after their victory, and the music cue of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” just sends the scene even more over-the-top. It caught me off-guard in such a delightful way that I honestly couldn’t have any reaction other than joy. And ya know what? Since the two of them were nearly killed by a giant leech mass, I think Jack and Ashi earned the right to blow off some steam the good ol’ fashioned way. There’s two more episodes left to go, and the final battle with Aku very well should be upon us by next week, so I’m eagerly anticipating the penultimate episode of Samurai Jack. Play us out, Dean!

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 air.

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