In most action series, moral decisions are rarely given the depth of focus they deserve. Choice, to the extent the concept is even brought up, is seen as a relatively simple affair - anyone can merely choose, at a moment’s notice, to make the “right,” or “smart” choice. And if they can’t? Well, then they’re “evil,” or at the least, mindless servants of the local Great Dark Lord, whose slaughter is easily dismissed without much thought.
This is a narrow and frankly privileged perspective, possible only from the vantage point of a dogmatic individualist who can afford to hold simple Manichean views on ingroup-outgroup conflict. Which is why Samurai Jack’s climactic battle in the third episode was so refreshing - and tragic.
For starters, the dramatic irony hovering around the Daughters of Aku isn’t just thick - it’s suffocating. We’ve been following these girls from the very beginning, and when you strip them of all the fantasy trappings, you’re essentially left with textbook child soldiers - physically and emotionally abused from birth, forced to undergo “training” designed to butcher the soul, brainwashed into thinking black is white and up is down, and set loose on the world with little of their humanity intact. And they had zero choice in any of it. The most poignant part of the episode for me wasn’t Jack’s reminiscence in the cave; it was when the DoA encountered the two deer in the woods. Being battle forged into emotionless killing machines from birth, the fact that they seemed utterly incapable of recognizing basic affection when they see it was both funny and seriously heartbreaking.
With that understanding in place, Jack’s little ultimatum - that they either turn back and live, or potentially die by his hands - feels almost cruel. Of course they weren’t going to back down; they’ve been trained all their lives to see him as the great evil in the world. Would Jack have turned the other cheek if Aku made the same offer? And yes - considering how Jack was raised in a similar (if more benevolent) fashion, the comparison is more than apt. Both he and his abused teenaged nemeses were led to their current predicaments - their “choice” a secondary influence to the forces who shaped their destinies before they were born.
Like Jack, I took no pleasure from the final fight. It was undeniably cool, but also hollow at the same time.
Jack doesn’t know a thing about these girls, and when survival is on the
line, you can’t be faulted for doing whatever it takes to be the last
one standing. But cheering him on in the aftermath would have felt like congratulating a soldier after mowing down a group of drugged-up 12-year-old Liberian child militia reserves. I hope as the series progresses, we’ll see how this delicate understanding of choice - and its lacking - informs and enriches the narrative.