[SPOILER WARNING] This article may contain spoilers on the fifth season of Samurai Jack.
I was prepared. I stocked up chips and drinks, switched off my phone, set up speakers, rearranged the couch, and turned off the lights, replicating a Director's Club cinema just to watch the final episode of Samurai Jack.
It has been 14 years. So why not?
The final episode of Samurai Jack aired on May 20th and all of the sudden, I can see where companies like Naughty Dog and Valve Corporation begin to hesitate moving forward. Naughty Dog's Uncharted went from one amazing game to being one of the greatest franchises in gaming history. The adrenaline rush of destroying ancient cities, epic gunfights, and high graphical detail of Uncharted made gamers want more. And it had been a good run with Naughty Dog delivering four games. A Thief's End, the final game, had been a stretch by the developers, a risk they didn't seem eager to take but did and they pulled it off.
Valve, on the other hand, appeared to have chickened out on the success of Half-Life. The franchise had received one critical acclaim to the next. The final entry, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, was released in 2007 and has left us with one of the damndest cliffhangers in storytelling. Valve is keen on keeping us in the dark about its sequel, so most of us envision that Half-Life 3 or HL2: Part Three is the perfect game that we'll never play.
Having said that, this is where Samurai Jack failed. The Season 4 finale had Jack babysitting an infant, an episode that we can believe symbolizes that our wandering samurai's journey is only beginning. And this cannot be more untrue as we begin Season 5, set 50 years since Jack and the baby had parted ways. Jack himself, displaced in time, prevented him from aging.
The five decades that Jack has spent wandering alone has not been kind to him. Months before the Season 5 premiere, we are teased a more hardcore, violent, darker themed Samurai Jack. We saw the brutal scenes play out, one cut after another, raking our nerves with static electricity to watch the entire season.
We were promised something grand. Something that told fans that the wait had been worth it and the parents who grew up with Jack will have something to show their kids. Samurai Jack after all is about family, forging lasting relationships, and bridging together diverse cultures no matter how weird and alien they are.
Unfortunately, the end result happened to be nothing but marketing. The darkness that dwelled in Season 5 faded over time, light cracking through its roof, and just like that, this was the exact show we've seen and gotten used to in the first four seasons. It's not a criticism to point that out. The return of the more lighthearted tone is a reflection of Jack's own mental and spiritual state.
However, this makes the high level of violence in the early Season 5 episodes feel cheap and filthy. It is targeted to shock and, to excite both old and upcoming fans. We were led to believe that there was a point to this. Not by the violence initiated by the series' antagonist, Aku, or his henchmen, but by Jack himself as he laid waste to his human enemies, sparing only one: Ashi, who becomes Jack's companion, friend, and lover. We were led to speculate that killing was a hard lesson Jack must learn and will play a significant role later. SPOILERS: it did not. Will it had helped shape him as a ruler off-screen? Perhaps, but that's a different tale to follow.
This isn't to say that Season 5 is bad. Nine out of 10 episodes in this season have been amazing and satisfying. It's just that of all episodes that could have been the black sheep of this season, it had to be the final episode.
Episode CI has a standard 30-minute time slot. It's not something you would expect from a finale from a big series like Samurai Jack. You'd imagine it would be at least 40 minutes. Or you would expect it would end the same way how it started. The first three episodes of Samurai Jack were compiled into a single animated movie called Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie. And considering the first four seasons had 13 episodes each, you'd hope there would have been a The Finale Movie.
What happened then was a poor outcome. What could have been an emotional reunion for Jack and his friends felt shallow and forced. It would have been the perfect moment, in a sense, travelling back in time. The final battle with Aku... wait, there wasn't even a final battle. It was just one scene after the next in a fast-forward pace.
There was no heightened sense of emotion as we have seen in past episodes. It was a constant barrage of sword swinging, spear tossing, puns, and less favorable animations. Had they run out of budget? It was a complete contrast how the action sequence played out in the second episode of Season 5, where the animation was fast and fluid, giving us the most intense fight scenes in the entire show. Did they spend the entire budget there?
However, there was redemption in the final moments of the episode. Let's ignore the loopholes in time-travel this episode had presented to us. This isn't hard science-fiction and we can forgive Samurai Jack for that. But based on how things were unfolding in these final scenes, you knew that something was up, and you were just waiting for whatever it was to happen. It was a super-charged battery pack waiting to explode. And when it did, it's the most heartbreaking scene in the series. And we can mourn with our friend who had been through the worst decades of his life.
The closing scene made me nostalgic of legend director, Akira Kurosawa, how nature and the elements fueled a sentimental and hopeful emotion as the credits begin to roll out one last time. It wasn't a great finale but it did have a great ending.