The image of the lone warrior taking up arms against a tyrant is something that’s been in hero mythos for as long as time has existed. Even with allies, there’s usually a solo do-gooder standing firmly opposite the forces of darkness. That’s a very lonely stance, especially if you’re a stranger in a strange land.
Jack in Samurai Jack is the very epitome of this stoic, lone hero completely out of his element, looking to defeat Aku and go home. Perhaps finding someone to share that adventure might be nice; he might be able to let his guard down a little, but in a land such as this, no one is safe.
Jack learns this lesson in Episode VI, “Jack and the Warrior Woman.”
Last week’s foray into outer space may have given Jack something to do, but don’t think he’s forgotten about his quest, or what the Woolies told him. Since it’s been probably 13 years since I’ve watched this series, I forgot a lot about it, including how episodes refer back to other episodes. Jack’s quest is still the quest, and even if he goes off and saves random people or creatures, he’s always off to find the evil Aku. While watching this episode, I thought it’d been awhile since we’d seen the Master of Masters aside from his opening credits narration. Maybe, I thought, they could only get Mako for a few episodes, and though Aku’s presence looms large, we wouldn’t get to see him too much. I was wrong.
Jack follows the Woolies’ map to a desert town. I really like this location, because it’s obviously based on somewhere in the Middle East, but with aliens wearing traditional Arab garb. (The music in this by James L. Venable, as well as every episode, is excellent and eventually becomes a mixture of electronica and traditional.) Jack makes his way to a shop and inside a small creature says he knows what Jack is looking for…something he has traversed a great deal of time to find…a RUG! Jack’s confused; he doesn’t want to buy a rug. The old creature looks at the map and recognizes it to be from the Woolies and so takes Jack in a back room where he looks into a large beam of light and reads the future. He says there is a giant crystal that can send Jack back in time, but it will only work for the pure of heart and noble of spirit. But beware evil.
Right then, some robotic beasts break in and attack. Jack can’t get to his sword and he attempts to defend himself with a skewer of chicken and a wooden thing for a shield. Naturally, it doesn’t work too well. Just then, a woman breaks in and begins dispatching the robots. Eventually Jack grabs his sword and begins doing the same. She’s an interesting sort, and seems very sure of herself. Jack is suspicious about why this stranger would be helping him. She takes off and Jack gives chase, just as the elder creature regains consciousness and says the evil is here.
The woman tells Jack her name is Ikra and she says she’s been looking for five years for that place because Aku killed her family and she’s sworn revenge. Jack vows to help her and they decide to both track down the magical jewel. A tiny little mouse creature comes out of the ground and wants some food. Ikra tells Jack it’s harmless and the thing cheerfully eats from his hand. Then it goes over to Ikra but refuses to eat, looks scared, and burrows back under the Earth. This should give Jack some red flags, but no.
We then get a montage of Jack and Ikra running around the desert, finding towns and cities, fighting different monsters, laughing together around the campfire, and it’s pretty clear that Jack is starting to like her. Like, LIKE her.
Finally, they reach an oasis in the middle of the desert and enter the small, grassy area. Jack proclaims what he’s looking for and the jewel appears and begins to scan them. Jack is confident it will work because of their pure hearts. It doesn’t work, though, and a giant, six-armed blue creature appears with the crystal on its head. Jack is confused, but Ikra flies around like a bad and then grows to the size of the beast and fights it, eventually knocking it down and forcibly removing the jewel from his headdress. Jack is overjoyed that they can finally leave this accursed Aku-controlled land. But he spoke too soon. Ikra begins to laugh and smashes the jewel on the ground.
Horror of horrors, Ikra reveals that she isn’t who she says she is — she’s actually been Aku in disguise all this time. Jack is gutted. Aku laughs at him and calls him a fool — he’d heard of such a jewel that could take someone back in time, but he didn’t know where to find it. Luckily Jack was able to lead him right to it. Jack grabs his sword and attacks, but Aku turns into a bat and flies off. Jack calls the evil being a coward, but Aku says they’ll only fight once he’s discovered the key to beating the samurai, and laughs and flies off. Jack falls to his knees, totally defeated.
This is a totally heartbreaking episode. In only two weeks since the premiere, Jack has had his heart essentially ripped out and hope snatched away again. Though his resolve deepens, he still opened up to a person he thought was a kindred spirit only to have it be the evil entity he’s hated through all of time.
What I appreciate most is that the makers of the show allow Jack to suffer this grief. He doesn’t just go “Aku! You tricked me!” He’s legitimately crushed and Phil LaMarr’s vocal performance, while always awesome, is especially great in those moments, with the most believable, frustrated scream of “NOOOOOOO!” that’s ever been uttered in a cartoon.
Next week, let’s hope things get a little lighter for Mr. Samurai Jack. It’s bound to be a little more fun with Vikings and robots and bowmen who can’t see. “Jack and the Three Blind Archers” is next time.
Kyle Anderson is the weekend editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Enjoy his hilarity on Twitter!