Does Samurai Jack really need to get back to the past? That’s been his mantra for 50 years, the entire purpose of his existence. It’s even part of the theme song (or, for this season, the end of the opening narration). But this season has spent a lot of time reminding us how beautiful the future can still be—and has given Jack an anchor in the form of his relationship with Ashi. If he had the option to go back and stop Aku, thereby erasing all of the people he’s come to know, would he take it? Would he be right to?

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“C” feints at asking this question, as Jack and Ashi’s relationship intensifies, prompting a round of reminiscing. In a sweet, but relatively boilerplate fireside scene where Jack and Ashi eat some unpleasantly chewy food, Jack remembers his childhood, and acknowledges that he likely will never experience his home—or the time before Aku—has anything but a memory. So many people have been taken from him, we know. It’s hard not to see this scene as a restatement of the show’s mission statement, which is a bit unnecessary. Does anyone watching the penultimate episode of Samurai Jack not know the story so far?

The big difference here is that Jack now feels deeply, personally invested in Ashi, perhaps more than he has in anyone he’s met over the course of his entire decades-long stay in the future. He greatly fears Ashi becoming another one of those memories, and even has another vision of himself—this time, the bearded, shaggy version from the beginning of the season—warning him about the uncertainty his new connection brings. But these are mostly things we knew already, so the slow pacing of Jack and Ashi leaving the abandoned ship is excruciating. Something bad is coming, so just let it happen already! There are some nice moments in these scenes, especially when Ashi happens upon Jack showering under a pipe, in a very funny parallel to her emergence with the leaf dress. (Objectify Jack more often, my dudes.) But this is the second to last episode of the show, and I’m not sure any of us can be blamed for wanting to get to the action.

Except that this is Samurai Jack, so there’s a lot more grim reflection before the action really pops off. Jack goes off alone, and finds The Guardian’s time portal—ostensibly the last one, and the one I was convinced he’d use at the end of this season. (Or the one that provided a narrative out in case this season had never been made.) But he sees the smashed sunglasses, and we know for sure: There is no way Jack is getting home. (I mean, the gods could intervene in the finale or something, but then again, the show has never been super clear on what they can and can’t do, and why they would do any of it in the first place.) It’s the type of subtlety I’ve always appreciated from this show, but maybe not the kind it needs right now. It really only feels like “C” has kicked off once the camera pans up to the shadow of Aku, looming over the ruins.

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This should feel climactic, but everything about these last ten minutes just feels a bit off. Scaramouche’s summary destruction after Aku realizes Jack has his sword should be funny, especially after the comical scene of the robot head rolling in on an octopus followed by an awkward dancing shot. But it feels more summary than anything else—this is when Jack is supposed to confront Aku, so it’s happening. Instead, it seems like the episode was building to a confrontation that honestly feels a bit more simplistic than the rest of the season: Ashi is truly a daughter of Aku, birthed from a small piece of the demon Aku gave to the cult many years ago—meaning she’s under his control. So Jack and Ashi have to fight again, I guess.

Honestly, I can see how this development makes narrative sense, but I am not super into it. Instead of really calling back to “Jack And The Traveling Creatures,” the episode where Jack fights The Guardian, it instead winds up riffing on “Jack And The Warrior Woman,” the episode where Jack develops tentative feelings for a woman only to discover she’s Aku in disguise. The fight between Jack and Ashi is smooth and fluidly animated, giving Jack the chance to show off his sword finesse (he’s not trying to hurt Ashi, after all), but it feels more like a sparring match than anything else. And it just doesn’t feel like a particularly gripping development to me. There are only a few possible outcomes: Ashi kills Jack (not gonna happen), Jack kills Ashi (would be dramatically appropriate, and what I thought was going to happen), Ashi shrugs off Aku’s control (lame), or, what actually happens—Jack refuses to keep fighting. (Aku is correct to “Boring!”)

So Jack gives up the sword, and in what is by far the best moment of the episode, we get a watercolor-like shot of Aku holding the blade, framed like the opening to the first seasons of the show. It’s beautiful, and depressing, and presents us with pretty clear stakes for next week’s series finale: Aku has won.

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Stray observations:

  • It is unconscionable that Jack and Ashi didn’t get to bone at least once. This is Adult Swim!
  • Aku, correctly summarizing the last few minutes of the episode: “Boring!”
  • Ashi’s femme-demon form is very cool, and would have been fun to see in a bit more depth. Maybe next week?
  • Ashi pleading with Jack to kill her is also one of my favorite emotional moments of the season, even if Jack does not respond appropriately.
  • Predictions? I am a little concerned this is setting us up for a more conventional finale than I expected, but I will be happy if there are at least three moments of excellent Ghost Scotsman banter.

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