Rivers and caves and wolves, oh my! Welcome back, loyal readers! Today I look at the third episode of Samurai Jack Season 5. There’s quite a lot to get through, too, so let’s not waste any more time and dive in like we just got stabbed in the gut and found a river!
Following Jack’s first battle with the Daughters of Aku, he is left bleeding out while floating downstream.
After the shock of going over a waterfall, Jack regains consciousness long enough to grab onto a log, and is later startled by a frog sitting on the log that shouts, “They’re coming!” causing him to panic. Jack finally gets to shore, leaving a few patches and handprints of blood. Finding a cave, he drags himself into it, finally pulling out the dagger from his stomach before collapsing again. HalluciJack returns, looking a lot more monstrous this time.
(And yes, I know they used this joke in the show.) He taunts Jack about having killed a human for the first time, not simply a robot… although he also points out that Jack has left literal piles of robot corpses in his wake, (at least one of which was sentient, which is pretty close to killing a living person). Jack is so weak he can barely speak, much less argue with his alter-ego. HalluciJack continues, saying that the rest of the Daughters will still be coming after him, and that he will have to kill them, or let them kill him instead… or is that exactly what Jack is counting on? Jack denies it. The white wolf from the previous episode also comes into the cave, but sensing that Jack is a kindred spirit, the wolf doesn’t attack, instead allowing him to share the den. Pulling himself together a bit, he uses a piece of bone and some plant fibres as needle and thread to stitch up his own wound. Jack continues to spend time with the white wolf as they both recover from their injuries. The wolf helps Jack find food, licks his wounds and even curls up with him on cold nights. Eventually, the wolf is back to its full strength, and sets out, leaving Jack to ponder.
Jack has a flashback to his childhood before the return of Aku, when his father, the Emperor, had his carriage/palanquin/whatever-they-used-in-ancient-Japan-to-cart-around-Royalty attacked by bandits. After killing all the guards, the bandits call him out. The Emperor calmly tells him them to leave peacefully, or they will be killed. When the bandits refuse and attack anyway, the Emperor slaughters them in seconds. Jack is watching through a gap in the door, and has his face splattered with blood. Later on, the Emperor cleans Jack’s face, and tells him that everyone is a product of their choices. This memory gives Jack the resolve to fight the Daughters, even kill them if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Daughters have managed to find their way out of the collapsed temple, dragging the body of their dead sister. However, they simply dump her body and leave, stating that “Death is failure.” The remaining sisters travel down the river, finding the occasional evidence of Jack’s trail, following it into the forest. While in the forest, they see a deer. Having never been outside their Cult’s temple, however, they are unsure exactly what it is, presuming it’s a minion of Aku. Then the larger buck steps into the open, and they conclude this is a stronger minion, that will kill and eat the smaller deer. Instead, the two start nuzzling, which totally surprises and even weirds out the Daughters.
As the Daughters stalk closer, they hear Jack’s voice from the trees. He gives them the same ultimatum his father gave the bandits, to leave or stay and face their “destiny”. Ashi retorts that “Our destiny is your death!”, and they reject his offer. Jack suddenly bursts out from under the snow, using handmade spears to kill three of them in rapid succession. The remaining three Daughters team up and manage to hold their own for the most part. However, Jack has prepared the terrain too well, and after a running battle, they have a final showdown on a fallen tree over a high cliff face. Forced by the narrow arena to face him one on one, the Daughter quickly find out that Jack still outclasses them individually. The first sister (who uses a spear) he fights barehanded, eventually throwing her off the tree, presumably to plunge to her doom. The second sister attacks and Jack punches her so hard her neck is broken, and she too falls. The final sister (Ashi, who else?) manages to put up the strongest fight, but even she is ultimately defeated and left dangling from her chain, losing her mask in the process. She goes into a furious tirade against Jack, insulting him, and vowing to never stop trying to kill him. Jack is unmoved and calmly unwraps the chain from his arm and lets Ashi drop, still screaming imprecations. He breathes a sigh of relief… then the tree below him snaps off and he too falls.
Thoughts on the Episode
Jack hallucinates a lot in this season, doesn’t he? The frog, the haranguing from HalluciJack, the weird blood-trickling-everywhere scene when he meets the wolf; the list goes on. I think this is justified due to his 50 years of induced mental issues, plus massive blood loss. No, really, with all the blood spilled it’s a wonder he has any left in him five minutes in. Although HalluciJack does state that the wound itself is not the reason he becomes so weak and feverish (“You’ve survived worse.” Yes, but not on-screen, HalluciJack!), but instead the realization that he has killed another human being for the first time. This episode confirms that up to this point, Jack has only fought or killed robots, certain previous season episodes about bounty hunter team-ups notwithstanding. Hurray, we can stop arguing about it now! And it only took 13 years, too.
The white wolf returns! As I mentioned in my previous episode review, the parallel story of the wolf being included in it strikes me as unnecessary. Here he actually plays a role in helping Jack to survive, so he has a valid justification for inclusion. In my opinion, the wolf’s appearance here in this episode would have worked equally as well had it been the first time we saw him. We know who the wolf is and how he was injured, but I would have preferred the air of mystery. It would have worked well with the frog, too, to create an “even nature wants Jack to survive” theme. Ah, well, their story, their blatant symbolism and unnecessary clarity, I suppose.
The interlude with the Daughters and the deer is simultaneously amusing and saddening. It highlights just how ignorant the Daughters are of the world they are supposedly trying to defend by killing the Samurai. The one Daughter opining, “I don’t like it!” when the deer are showing affection makes it clear just how little affection the Daughters have experienced themselves in their lives, to the point where it’s an alien and uncomfortable concept to them.
Moving on to Jack’s flash back – once again, the sheer beauty of the animation and the skill of the writing are demonstrated – the colours are fantastically vibrant, and the way Jack and his father share a moment of quiet awkwardness in the wake of what would definitely be a shocking experience for a young child is simply wonderful storytelling. The expressions let us experience the emotions of the two better than any dialogue could. And the father’s explanation of what happened and how it was necessary, even if unfortunate, is exactly how a good father would discuss a difficult topic with a young child. Choice and consequence: people must decide their own path and they have to accept the outcome of their choices. And if that means you have to kill them to defend yourself and your family, then that’s their responsibility, not yours. How good a moral that ultimately is, is an exercise left to the reader.
Jack’s rematch with the Daughters is awesome. Jack shows just how skilled a warrior he is, and turns the tables on them perfectly by ambushing them in turn. Reality Ensues: training from birth is not effective as 50 years of fighting experience, not to mention Jack’s own extensive training with multiple weapons. Only as a group do they have any chance of defeating Jack. A thought here about the Daughters: they do clearly know how to work together and fight as a unit, as their Ashura mode shows.
I like the way Jack uses his battle experience to good effect to lure them out to where he makes his stand, choosing a place where the terrain nullifies the advantage of their superior numbers, allowing him to basically curb stomp them one by one. Ashi is the only one who manages to injure Jack when alone, and even then it was more that Jack was allowing her attack to hit so that he could use the chain against her.
Ashi’s final tirade against Jack smacks of a child throwing a temper tantrum, and Jack clearly treats it as such. He barely bothers to listen as he unwraps the chain and drops Ashi. That he follows her in free fall a few moments later is quite ironic, and gives us a downer ending (pun intended). It was not something I expected, to be honest, so good for you, writers! On another note – Jack definitely kills the first three sisters, and the one he punched probably died immediately, but apart from Ashi, there was one more sister he simply tossed off the tree, who by rights should be alive. Although she fell into a different place than it seems Jack and Ashi did, and may therefore have made landfall in a rather more fatal fashion. Still, it’s possible she might return.
This episode crammed a lot in: Jack’s recovery, his flashback and the final fight, but it managed to do it all with aplomb. If the previous episode had a gripe-worthy element or two, this episode pretty much redeems all of that. Plus yay for white wolf survival! This fox approves. Season 5 goes from (slightly lowered) strength to strength. Join me again soon as we find out who will be dropping in on the next episode. Same fox-time; same fox-blog.
Stay sunny side up and don’t forget to WATCH OUT! (Like Jack did.)