‘Samurai Jack’ 5.04 ‘XCV’ Review: Jack In The Belly Of The Beast

Samurai Jack

After spending three episodes developing the Daughters of Aku and having its hero come to terms with many of his personal demons (and facing an unexpected week-long hiatus courtesy of a Rick & Morty-themed April Fools’ Day joke), Samurai Jack takes a brief respite from the darker aspects of the revival’s narrative to put the title character (and an unexpected, erm, “ally”) on a fantastic voyage of sorts.

Because we all knew that that fall at the end of the previous episode wasn’t going to kill him, the show wastes no time in showing that Jack is no worse for wear… And, for that matter, neither is Ashi, because the narrative’s established her as being too important to die just yet. Unfortunately for the pair of them, they’re soon swallowed by a giant beast that comes out of nowhere. While Jack tries to keep Ashi safe against his better judgment, Ashi’s more concerned with the samurai’s death than her own well-being, and does what little she can to speed up his demise. Hilarity ensues as Jack and the unwilling, ungrateful escort that he’s trying to save make it out of the monster’s gut.

If this concept sounds a bit familiar, then it should – this premise was used in a Season 2 episode when Jack had to enter a dragon to relieve its illness (something that Jack alludes to when explaining to Ashi that he’s been in this situation before). But while that episode was more or less an overlong flatulence joke that outstayed its welcome, this episode is more creative with its implementation of a journey through the interior of a behemoth, from the start with Jack and Ashi’s brief aerial duel to the episode’s inclusion of an entire ecosystem of fauna that lives within the beast’s belly. The color palette on this episode also proves to be interesting, even if the scope of the episode’s overall art direction is comparatively limited to the previous episodes of the revival.

Aside from that, Ashi’s attempts to kill the one person who’s trying to keep her alive never cease to be amusing, and provide for a bit of interesting choreography during the episode’s obligatory fight scenes. The episode is also considerably lighter in tone than its predecessors, and in many respects feels closer in tone to the previous four seasons than the current one. As it turns out, this is a fairly welcome change of pace, as it works as well within the context of the show as the inclusion of a singing robot assassin that does a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation or the show’s big villain putting himself through a therapy session.

That being said, there’s still a lot of interesting character elements with this episode that usually wouldn’t be present in the more episodic format of the show’s initial run – as evident by his continued hallucinations, Jack is still haunted by the people he’s killed, even though it was in self-defense. It almost seems as if Jack’s newfound acceptance of use of violence against the Daughters ultimately provides our troubled hero with a subconscious motivation to “save” one of them, even though the logical option would be to let her go or to kill her. In the meantime, we get an even better look into Ashi’s mind – between the hilariously-ineffectual death threats against Jack and her brainwashed loyalty to her dark lord, we get more of an indication that she’s as much a victim of Aku’s evil as Jack is. But in the end, we see that she’s able to figure out that maybe, just maybe, she’s been lied to about Jack when one of her only happy memories resurfaces at the end of the episode. Perhaps there’s still hope for her yet.

While this might be my least favorite episode since the revival started – simply because, aside from the color-filled climax involving Jack’s escape using the animals of the beast’s gut, it’s just the least visually-interesting episode we’ve seen so far – that’s not a slam against it. It’s still absolutely great from start to finish and has a solid contained narrative on its own. The only thing keeping it from being even better in my book is that the three episodes that preceded it were just that good. It really says something when the show’s relative “low point” is still above and beyond most other shows of its kind.

Samurai Jack airs on Saturday evenings at 10:00 PM CT on Cartoon Network.