I just finished the last episode of the recent season of Samurai Jack. Also finished up the rewatch of the old stuff before I did the new season in two sittings (plus the last episode a day later). So, spoilers for the finale episode and probably various episodes of both recent and classic Samurai Jack.
To start off with, Daredevil. Specifically the Daredevil Netflix series. Which I have tried to watch twice now, and mostly enjoyed it, yet both times I stopped watching at the same point because I just kind of lost interest. The fact that it was at the same point both times hints that it wasn’t just personal mood as I thought the first time. It was watching Samurai Jack (classic) that I realized what the problem was. At least for me. Daredevil, and Jessica Jones as well, doesn’t have story arcs. I mean, in an episode to episode sense. The original Samurai Jack was very episodic. Monster of the week or innocents in danger of the week. That sort of thing. Yet I really enjoyed it because it was well done and often involved interesting ideas. It had the big picture story of Jack vs Aku and Jack trying to find a way back to his own time, yet that was motivation and not story for most of the episode events.
Side note: I still find it somewhat amusing that we don’t actually know Samurai Jack’s name. Jack isn’t it. He even introduces himself as “The people of this time call me Jack/Samurai Jack”. Because the first people he talked with after the time jump used the name/word Jack like modern folks might use “Dude” as seen in this clip. Even in the new one we don’t actually learn his name at any point. End side note.
Television shows have moved away from episodic storytelling and for the most part that is a good thing. Continuity and narratives spread over several episodes allows for broader stories. However, Daredevil and Jessica Jones (and I suspect the other Marvel Netflix shows) go too far in the other direction. From what I’ve heard they go for season-long story arcs. Which ends up being like 10-20 hours. Which is much too long for my tastes. The problem is that I didn’t get any closure or plot-success until that point. The story just goes on and on and on and on without any real break. Little things, like Daredevil rescuing that one kid, happens but that’s just a drop in the ocean of the ongoing narrative. Heck, that’s treated as sort of a throw-away plot device to move other parts of the show along. Really, 3-4 episode story arcs are my favorite. Enough that it doesn’t feel like the story is crunched down to fit in one episode but short enough that I can go from beginning to end without losing interest.
Back to Samurai Jack. For the most part, I enjoyed the new season. Heck, I found the ten episode run way too short. I want more! It also managed to do the balancing act between episodic and season(-ic? not sure how to do season version of episodic) length stories. We get the Daughters of Aku subplot for a few episodes, then Jack and the sword, then the finale confrontation. With other character arcs and callbacks to the original woven in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I would have done several things different here and there, but that’s just armchair driving.
Spoilers of the end of the season.
The ending disappointed me. In a minor fashion in that my headcanon was that Samurai Jack couldn’t go into the past until he defeated Aku in the present/future. Sort of a temporal symmetry situation. Also because going back to the past would erase the present/future and therefor nullify all the struggle, suffering, and success of the people and cultures he meets. By beating Aku in the present/future… Okay, we are just going to call it the future. Past is old-time Japan, future is cyborg-mythology cyberpunk fantasy world. So, by beating Aku in the future he validates and frees the people suffering there. Which not only ‘earns’ his right to going back to the past but means that he isn’t just running away and/or ignoring the future. I mean, one of two things will happen. Either the timeline is overwritten and wipes out everything and everyone Jack had met in his travels or parallel timelines happen and both Aku future and non-Aku future both exist. In the case of the former, that is depressing because it means nothing Jack did mattered in the slightest. In the latter option he would be leaving an entire world in the grip of unstoppable Aku. So defeating Aku before going back to the past would be best for all.
That, however, was my minor complain. That the show writers didn’t use my idea is annoying but ultimately just a nitpick on my part. The way they did end things annoyed me on a bigger level.
So, Jack goes back to the past due to plot device and defeats Aku. He beats the bad guy, gets to marry the girl he fell in love with. Who then disappears during the walk up to the altar. The unintentional amusing bit was that it was apparently looney tunes temporal physics. Everything was fine until she realized the paradox and then she disappears. Like a cartoon character runs off the edge of a cliff but only falls when they look down. I can’t think of any other explanation why it happens right when it does. So… Jack doesn’t get anything in the end. Actually… This honestly reminds me of the ending of the third (fourth?) Austraeoh ponyfic story that made me drop that series. A moment of closure and reward and comfort for the characters that gets ruined at the last minute. Samurai Jack was better in that it wasn’t a terrible depressing moment. I mean, him being sad and coming to terms with the loss isn’t all that bad. Just seems… Shallow and mean is all. After 50 years of hopeless fighting, he finds love and gets to have a normal life with a wife. That would be a nice ending. Him getting no reward, like Aki is trapped in the future or something, would have been a good ending. The mix of the two just kind of sucked. I will never like the out of nowhere twist that turns a happy ending into a non-happy ending. A twist can be nice when pulled off, but it has to be foreshadowed or be something really interesting. This was neither.
Plus, I was really hoping for more then just ten episodes. When I heard Samurai Jack was coming back I was hoping for at least two or three full seasons of it. So disappointment on several levels. Still worth watching. Just could have been amazing and it was merely decent to good.
I can think of several ways off the top of my head the ending could have been improved. Maybe going back in time did split the timelines and Aki only exists in one. So Samurai Jack decides to live in the Aku-wrecked future instead of back home to be with the woman he loves. Could even throw in his actual name in a scene where his parents call him by his actual name and he responds that his name Samurai Jack. Cheesy, but it could be a powerful moment pulled off correctly. Even if Aku gets defeated in the future it would take more than that to clean up the entire planet of the evil and curses he left behind. Samurai Jack and Aki would have a lifetime (maybe several) of constant fighting against evil (lesser than Aku but still evil) but at least they would have each other.
Another idea: Samurai Jack has to make the conscious choice between defeating Aku now or having Aki by his side. Let’s say the piece of Aku inside of Aki starts to leave her but then the empire mystics tell Samurai Jack that he must destroy it with the sword or it will become Aku again. Which is right when Aki realizes the time paradox of her existence.
So, lots of good bits, some disappointing bits, but in general I would call it a worth successor to the original four season series.