Samurai Jack's Finale Was a Beautiful Send-Off to a Beautiful Show
More than 15 years after premiering on Cartoon Network, Samurai Jack's series finale is a spell-binding cap on one of the greatest TV shows ever made. The creative team devoted much of the episode to what had come before -- callbacks, references, and a satisfying, gorgeous wrap-up to the serialized saga that began with the new episodes that aired in Season 5.
Series creator Genndy Tartakovsky brought back every single character he could possibly squeeze into a 30-minute time slot, from Scotsman or the Archers or the Woolies to Jack's martial arts masters and even Robin Hood, who we last saw in the series' feature pilot. He even brought back the dogs introduced in those same early episodes to the giant robot that Jack piloted once in the series.
Aku -- of course -- was defeated. Jack fulfilled his promise to get back to the past to defeat him, through narrative hoop-jumping that allowed Ashi, imbued with the powers of Aku, to send him back into the past after overcoming his influence on her. The pivotal moment that became a thematic focal point of this entire season was Jack telling Ashi that he loved her.
Love might have been enough to defeat Aku's hold over her, however, but it couldn't correct the time paradox of Ashi's existence without an Aku to create her. After 10 episodes of getting to know Ashi and the two of them finally getting a chance at happiness together, the cruelty of her final scene with Jack, fading into nothingness before even getting to the altar, felt inevitable and crushing. At the same time, the poetry of the entire sequence was breathtaking to watch, an interplay of color and movement unlike anything the show has attempted for Jack before, even if it crushed his heart and wrote Ashi out of existence entirely.
The journey Tartakovsky -- a committed creator addicted to action and dedicated to presenting it within very specific parameters in Samurai Jack's artistry -- began in 2001 has really come to an end. There can't possibly be another season in this. "CI" wrapped up in much the same way the show began, even seamlessly working the original Samurai Jack opening sequence into the episode. Putting Jack on the air again years later, more than a decade after the death of Mako, the original voice actor of Aku, was always going to be a colossal challenge. (His replacement Greg Baldwin carried the torch this season with flying colors, especially in this episode, which presented their work side-by-side by including Mako's original opening monologue.) But every second of this episode and the season that preceded it felt like reverent fan service, executed the most artful way possible, to the point where one of Aku's lines in this episode summed up that creative season's approach perfectly:
"Sometimes the the simplest solution is the best one."
It was never going to be perfect, of course. The finale might have been a bit rushed, more time might have been spent on a few of the characters beyond the Scotsman, but in its early seasons Samurai Jack never lingered too long on any one place or setting. It knew just when to see its way out -- when you were wholly invested. And if Ashi disappeared, that means all of Jack's friends in the future and all of their lives also disappeared. They mattered in the end, of course, but only to Jack. They'll only exist in his memory now, making good on his point to Ashi earlier in the season, that all he has left of the past are memories. It's bittersweet and poetic that the show would end with him living out that same fate, but for those he left in the future, those same characters like the Archers or the apes who "jump good" that the series' diehard fans spent years getting to know.
Either way, you can't deny how beautiful it looked. It ended on this frame -- a victorious Jack alone, but ultimately hopeful with his mission accomplished. That's as perfect as you could hope for.
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