Rewatching Samurai Jack Episode 5 Jack in Space
After 12 years away, one of the best, most critically acclaimed cartoon series of all time, Samurai Jack, returns to television later this year with original series creator Genndy Tartakovsky at the helm. To help you get ready, Geek.com’s Aubrey Sitterson is rewatching the entire series in order.In the first four episodes of Samurai Jack, there’s been a clear delineation between the means and tactics of the show’s eponymous hero and his fated rival, the monstrous, demonic Aku. While Jack represents the height of human achievement and ability, trained in countless disciplines by masters from all over the world, Aku is… something else. In Jack’s own time, Aku’s otherness manifested itself as magic, most notably the monster’s shapeshifting abilities, but when Jack arrives in the future, he finds that Aku has found another way to subjugate humanity: Technology.From the moment that Jack steps into this brave new world, he is buffeted by what is, to him, unknowable degrees of technological advancement. Flying cars, robots, massive television screens, mechanized doors, and laser guns – to Jack, these must be just as bizarre and disconcerting as any of Aku’s foul magics. To put an even finer point on things, the majority of the Aku drones and robots we’ve seen up until this point are all reminiscent of insects, further removing them from humanity and further driving home what is the crux of Samurai Jack as a television show: Man’s struggle to retain his humanity and that of his fellows.And all of that? It’s what makes Samurai Jack’s fifth episode, “Jack in Space,” so fascinating. Beginning with the type of silent, meditative opening sequence that the show excels at – showing supreme confidence in storytelling by dedicating minutes of screen time to Jack wandering wordlessly through the forest – “Jack in Space” starts off by reminding us of not only Jack’s humanity, but of the connection to the natural world that it necessitates and demands. We don’t just see him walking through nature, we see him becoming nature as he stops to drink from a stream beside a deer. But this opening sequence isn’t just an artful flourish. It serves an important role, setting up the drastic juxtaposition between this peaceful, sylvan setting and the straight forward science fiction that comes next.Amongst the towering trees of the forest, Jack stumbles across a group of would-be astronauts, desperate to escape their Aku-ruled Earth through a massive rocket. This is important because it’s the first time in the show that technology is seen, not as a tool of the enemy, but as a way to escape his influence. Even more crucial is the fact that, unlike the monsters, mutants, aliens, and anthropomorphic animals that Jack has interacted with so far, the astronauts he aims to help are all decidedly human.Not only are they human though, but the spacesuits they wear and even the rocket they’ve built all seem to be pretty much in line with what we would expect from contemporary, real-world space travel. They’re the first we’ve seen of normal humans in Samurai Jack’s futuristic world and, notably, they are attempting to put science to good use, to utilize their ingenuity and intellect to – just like Jack – protect and retain their humanity. While Aku and his insectoid robots aim to use technology to suppress and contain, the astronauts of “Jack in Space” intend for their technological advancements to help them transcend and ascend into a better, more free society.Suddenly, a show that, at first glance, might appear to be overly romantic toward the past, anti-technology, or even a full-on Luddite, is revealed to be something a little more complex. This notion is aided by the fact that Jack, despite having no familiarity with or understanding of the complex science that goes behind the astronauts’ creations, is unafraid of strapping on a jetpack or hopping into a spaceship. In fact, not only does Jack bravely don the jetpack, but he’s able to figure out how to use it expertly without directions, another tangible triumph of human drive and ingenuity.Thus, Jack approaches the ensuing space battle with his typical confidence. The samurai zipping around space in a jetpack, attacking bug-shaped robots with a simple sword… it’s a perfect blend of technology and the more traditional methods in which Jack was trained. Jack knows nothing of space travel or even gravity, but because of the basics he learned as a child, because of the open-mindedness and bravery instilled in him, he is able to adjust on the fly.Ultimately, however, even with all of this wondrous technology at his disposal, Jack must lean on a decidedly lo-fi tactic in order to defeat a certain group of insectoid robots. Like mechanical ticks, the robots aim to burrow their heads into the hull of the spaceship, destroying the lives of those it contains within. But Jack, remembering back to his simpler childhood, thinks about how he used to remove organic bloodsuckers: Touching their back end with a smoldering piece of grass.After heating his katana with the flames from his jetpack, Jack is able to forcibly remove the robo-ticks from the spaceship’s hull, seemingly clearing the way for the astronauts’ escape, and his light-speed enabled jump back into the past – the thing that Jack has sought ever since arriving in the future. But, when the remaining insect robots form a massive gun, one that threatens to destroy the ship, another one of Jack’s old ideas, chivalry, comes into play.Instead of clinging to technology, hoping for it to deliver him from oppression, he subjugates his own goals to the safety of those who have placed their trust in him, exiting the spacecraft, countering the gun’s blast with nothing more than his katana. And in doing so? Jack embraces his humanity through sacrifice, giving up a chance to go back to the past and stop his nemesis, Aku.Join us next time as we discuss episode six of Samurai Jack’s first season, “Jack and the Warrior Woman.”Aubrey Sitterson is a Los Angeles-based writer whose most recent work is the Street Fighter x G.I. Joe comic series from IDW, available at your local comic shop or digitally on Comixology. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website for more information.