Back I am and if the logic applies, so are you, to talk more about the new Samurai Jack. If you missed the first discussion, click here and get up to speed. So let’s waste no more time because this episode was phenomenal!
Episode 2 - “XCIII”
“Live to die another day.”
The episode starts pretty hot as we get out first look at the new Aku: ruler of everything, lazy, super chill just being the masters of masters, accepting offerings and not caring for that Samurai at all, even when a brand new ultimate killer beetle bot that is totally going to destroy said Samurai is presented. Who cares? Certainly not new Aku.
Except he totally does. Aku is bored outta his mind and maybe even depressed, all thanks to Jack and his lack of not dying of old age. As Aku explains to his therapist (amusingly, himself) by destroying the time portals Aku was planning to make Jack die either by age or by some of his machines. So, that backfired horribly. The scene ends with what is practically Aku talking to the audience, hoping for someone to solve his problem. It’s funny and lighthearted, contrasting brutally with the rest of the episode.
First let me say that Aku’s new VA -Greg Baldwin, has some huge shoes to fill, and I believe he’s doing a damn good job all things considered but, there is something off about this Aku. I’m not sure if it is the script or his acting but Aku feels less menacing, and you might think it’s weird for me to say this when the overall mood of this scene is so light and happy-go-lucky, but Aku has demonstrated that he can be funny while being evil as heck, just google “Aku on forgiveness” and you will see what I’m talking about. Here’s hoping that I’m wrong about this.
Next, we cut to a wolf taking a stroll through the forest, eventually coming to a fork in the path. He chooses the left path. Then we see Jack in the similar situation making a similar choice. The parallel is immediately established and is resolved by the end of the episode: the wolf kills the three tigers (I mean, I think they are tigers?) but gets badly injured and possibly killed, while Jack, well, I’ll get there soon enough.
Back to Jack, we watch him dispose on the new beetle drone like it’s nothing, only to be ambushed by the Daughters of Aku the next moment. From there is all downhill for Jack. The Daughters absolutely destroy his gear one by one (not even the beard escaped!), in a display of power that puts Jack on the run. One funny thing: Jack goes from having no shoes to having them back in a span of seconds, a little continuity mistake I hope to see fixed in a Blu-Ray release (there has to be one in the future!).
Anyhow, during this scene where Jack is getting wrecked, we see him taking his machine gun and fire it in all directions while screaming. That moment we cut back to the wolf doing the same (screaming and then attacking, not wielding a machine gun) and we see the wolf getting hurt. Real hurt. This was the moment that everyone paying attention knew that Jack was about to have a bad time.
And what do you know, a bad time he had. Forced to play defensively, Jack flees for his life and hides. A strong rain starts to fall. And Jack’s hallucinations return.
And I love this exchange so much because it gives us a clear picture of Jack’s current mental state. He has become a survivor, fighting only to see the next day, piling robots day after day, a fact Jack assures himself off, and if that isn’t dramatic irony I don’t know what is. His other side, manifested in his classic outfit, is his suicidal self. All it does is point out how bad the situation is, that he never faced something so powerful before (uh, hello, The Guardian sends his regards), and he stands no chance without his sword, while Jack is reassuring himself that he is doing fine without his sword and his enemies are just nuts and bolts.
And then suicide Jack suggests that he should just join his ancestors and witness your childhood hero even suggest such a thing it pretty damn sad.
Thankfully Jack quickly dismisses the idea, something that really hits Mind Jack in a painful spot, as it was quick to point that it will not spend eternity on that forsaken time. A heartbreaking scene to watch, to know he has such ideas in his mind, constantly nagging him. It’s not pretty.
This is the last scene containing dialogue in the episode, from there we have only ten minutes of heart-pounding chase. Jack flees, the Daughters just behind him, they reach the temple and a game of hide-and-seek begins. Also, can I just point out how fantastic this last bit is? The slow motion, Jack using his ears to locate his pursuers and the music! My God the music is so good! The track that plays during the pursuit gives the Daughters a dangerous and relentless feel thanks to that violin, and the fast tempo makes gives it such a strong presence! And then there is the other track, that we gonna discuss in a bit.
After Jack gets found (he pretty much walked into a trap in the dark corridor) is action from start to end. I would like to point out how this corridor is used to set up the next scene (and by far the best moment of this season, maybe even the whole show, at least so far) and how masterfully light and shadow are used here. Genndy was always the man in using color for visual impact (Like in the episode Samurai Vs Ninja) and here is no different. We can only see what’s happening when blows are exchanged and it looks fantastic!
And so, Jack’s escape takes me to...
Episode Highlight: The Ecstasy of Steel
I don’t think there’s a scene in any medium out there that made me feel as tense and anxious as this Tomb Scene as the Internet has come to call it. I would also like to say I tried really hard to not highlight this moment as it is obvious, but I suppose sometimes the right thing is the obvious thing.
It starts with the Daughters following Jack’s trail and arriving at some sort of burial site, much akin to the way the Egyptians buried their pharaohs (with an army), with the exception that the ruler of that people was instead sit down in a throne right in the center of the site, instead of you know, in a fancy coffin.
This kind of world building was always one of the show’s strongest points. Since they are never held back by any kind of established lore or realistic limits, Samurai Jack can always give us fantastic scenarios such as this one, a mix of Aztec architecture with Egyptian culture and if such society doesn’t make you at least a tiny bit curious I don’t know what will.
The music steals the spotlight and for that, I have to give major props to Tyler Bates, the man credited as the responsible for the music, because the very first notes of the music in this scene foreshadow the outcome, and I refuse to believe it’s a coincidence.
Are you familiar with Enrico Monroe? He is the composer of many iconic tracks in western movies, with one of his most recognizable tracks being The Ecstasy of Gold. This is a song that plays in the cemetery scene from the (all time classic, go watch it) “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. In case you somehow are unfamiliar with it, first I pity you, and second the scene goes as following: a man is searching a huge cemetery for a specific grave that contains a lot of money. And he eventually finds it, perfectly synchronized with the music.
Now listen to the piano line right at the start of both songs (no seriously, open a new tab and Google it. I’ll wait). They are practically identical! So much that I almost jumped from my seat when it started. So you see where this is going, right? With just that few seconds of music, we already know exactly how this is going to end.
But unlike The Ecstasy of Gold, the music here is far from being triumphant and adventurous. The guitar, drums, the strings all work to give this one a feeling of tension and that the road ahead is bleak. As the music gets ever more intense we switch back and forth between Jack; hiding in fear inside a coffin, realizing that he trapped one of those insects with him, the fear that realization brings to him (look at his eyes!) and the clinging to the sword he found there; and the Daughters, searching the place and realizing that all they need to do is find the noisy coffin.
As the song draws to its inevitable conclusion, the bug finally goes silent but we know it’s too late. Jack jumps out of his hiding spot in the last possible second, only to be overpowered again. He loses the last piece of armor he had left (thanks to the most powerful kick ever. Remind me again why these girls need weapons? They might as well just punch Jack!) and we see him screaming again. If memory serves, we also get reminded of the wolf all the way back to the start of the episode. I bet he too is not having a good time.
But Jack flees again.
Running trough the maze-like corridors of the temple, Jack ends up facing one of the Daughters, and in a desperate moment ends up killing her, but not before getting stabbed in the torso. And this changed everything. Jack had never drawn blood before and added to the fact that these girls are incredibly young, this is going to do horrors to his already unstable mind.
Finally, Jack uses Scaramouch’s sword to blow up the exit of the temple, before falling unconscious into a river below. The last scenes show Jack floating, leaving a bloody trail, and that the wolf defeated the tigers, but lies badly injured on the ground.
End of Episode XCIII.
Nothing about this episode’s violence was glorified: the wounds, the biting, the killing, the blood Jack leaves on the walls after getting stabbed, everything was depicted with no fanfare or just cause, showing that survival is brutal, messy and moments of life and death come and go in an instant and ultimately, there are no winners. Jack doesn’t have his indestructible weapon anymore, having to make due with whatever he can get his hands on. It’s a very mature way of depicting violence, one that elevates this sequence way above your traditional Shonen manga and even some TV shows.
To end this piece, let’s talk how Jack parallels both Aku and the Wolf in this episode. Some of the most interesting things to notice are that the parallel is mostly one of inversion. Aku talks to himself in the comfort of home to solve his Samurai problem. It’s all very lighthearted and peaceful, even the color palette reflects that, being composed mostly of light and vibrant colors. It looks nothing like the fortress of evil you would expect.
Poor Jack on the other end of the spectrum is talking to himself inside the remainders of some machine, under heavy rain, being chased and with his mind stuck on the “kys” setting.
As for the Wolf comparison, the way I see it he represents Old Jack. White, always calmly walking forward and respectful and aware of his surroundings. He meets his foe and faces it head on, even if it means being outnumbered and outmatched.
Current Jack, however, is dressed mostly in dark colored armor, rushing ahead with his bike and never having time to watch the beauty of the world. When he faces this enemy that is way more powerful than he, Jack flees.
On the last scene of the Wolf lying possibly dead on the ground, a few theories surfaced. One being that this means Jack will succeed in his quest but ultimately die in the process. Another says that this is supposed to represent what would have happened to Jack had he not decided to flee. Pretty interesting stuff, but ultimately we’ll only know when the next episode starts.
This episode, oh man, it gives me the shivers just from writing this! I’m having a hard time thinking of a way Genndy can one-up this breathtaking sequence of events! If I have some nitpicks, it would be that the Daughters are shown to be incredibly OP but maybe that’s because they had The Power Of Teamwork, given how Jack was able to defeat one in singular combat; and I wished we could see more of shogun Jack but I understand that with only ten episodes to end it all they have to make every minute count, and that is such a shame because I can safely say that this episode skyrocketed Samurai Jack to one of the best shows of 2017 as well as one of my personal favorites of all time.
Thanks for sticking around! You can catch the show every Saturday on Adult Swim and watch the past seasons on Hulu. See you next time!