Samurai Jack: The Time Portal Problem

I’ve recently been watching Samurai Jack, and because this is the future, I can watch all the episodes in whatever order I want at any time I want, and tend to get through two or three at a time going strictly in order. This is not the viewing experience Samurai Jack was originally intended for. Samurai Jack was originally intended for audiences who would catch an episode when it was on but would also miss episodes occasionally or even regularly. As such, Samurai Jack is extremely episodic and relies on continuity almost not at all. This doesn’t diminish the show at all. It knows exactly what it is, a story of a wandering samurai fighting the evil of Aku, shapeshifting master of darkness, in a distant future-fantasy world of robots, demons, and aliens.

Watching the whole thing all the way through, though, the sheer number of time portals Jack is able to find does get to be kind of ridiculous after a while. And this would not have been a difficult problem to solve! Explanations for the time portals, or minor rewrites to remove them so they’re not quite so dense, would have been easy to insert into early episodes without breaking the flow of either that episode’s self-contained plot. I’m only on season two right now, but here’s a couple of very minor tweaks I would’ve added to the first season to resolve the time portal problem. Although I have neither of the necessary skills and no intention to commission them, these tweaks are intended to be so small that a good copycat animator and impressionist voice actor would plausibly be able to insert them seamlessly into the show).

  1. Move episode 12, Jack And The Gangsters, back to episode 4. This places Jack still in the neighborhood of the city he first arrived in, presumably the same city where the gangsters hang out. This is presumably Aku’s capital (for now – it’s established in this episode that Aku can move his castle, and he does so after Jack’s failed assassination), so having Jack be able to show up to attempt an assassination makes it feel less like the world is so small that Aku’s castle is always within walking distance, and more like he flung Jack into his capital city when he was sending him to the future. This makes sense, since the capital would be Aku’s greatest stronghold and most likely to kill Jack more or less on arrival. It also makes sense that Jack would be seeking a means to finish his mission and slay Aku right now, since he hasn’t yet heard of any way to get back to the past.
  2. Move episode 5 (of the first season’s 13), Jack In Space, up to episode 8. This episode has faster-than-light time travel as a key plot point, and moving it deeper into the season helps make this kind of thing feel like it’s less typical.
  3. Move episode 6, Jack and the Warrior Woman, up to episode 12. In episode 4, Jack saves the Woolies from captivity, and in gratitude they tell him of a wish-granting oasis whose powers could send him back in time. This plot thread is tied off in episode 6. By moving Jack and the Warrior Woman up to the penultimate episode, the motivation of “I must get to the oasis the Woolies told me of” can replace “I must reach yet another time portal” as a MacGuffin.
  4. This means that episode 4, Jack, The Woolies, And The Chritchelites, is now episode 5, which will establish a “main plot” that most of the rest of the season will sort of follow, in that Jack’s presumed goal in other episodes is not to find a time portal which have apparently been left lying around like gravel, but rather is traveling in the direction of the wish-granting entity the Woolies told him about. Besides changing some expository dialogue near the beginning, this will not have any other impact on those episodes’ plots.
  5. Episode 7, Jack and the Three Blind Archers, is now episode 6. Establish in a throwaway line while Jack is talking to the pirate captain that he must pass by the Three Blind Archers’ tower because the only other routes north are too heavily guarded by Aku (if I expanded the thought experiment to allow for more drastic revisions, I would add an entire extra scene here that demonstrates how powerful Aku’s defenses are on the other routes north, which would be more in keeping with the show’s reliance on visual storytelling, but sticking to my “could plausibly be accomplished by a talented fan edit” restriction, a throwaway line will have to do). The well of the titular archers now grants martial prowess exclusively, which Jack could use to defeat Aku, but he instead destroys the well rather than risk whatever monkey’s paw curse would accompany the power up.
  6. In episode 9, Jack Under The Sea (now episode 7), the bait in the trap is not a time machine, but an underwater corridor that will allow Jack to bypass much of his journey (this is also something that can be established with a throwaway line, like “that tunnel would take me directly to the desert the Woolies told me of” – once again, if I allowed more substantial edits, I think giving Jack a map showing the path of his journey would help make this clear while relying even less on dialogue, especially since the destination can be marked with a swirly time-portal symbol). There is no tunnel, so the best Jack’s underwater allies can do at the end of the episode is deliver him to a convenient shore.
  7. Episodes 10 and 11 involve no time portal, just Jack traveling and happening across adventure. By coincidence, their numbering in the overall season isn’t even changed. Since the narrative of the season is now framed around reaching the desert that contains the magical oasis, however, Jack’s travel in these episodes now feels purposeful rather than like aimless wandering.
  8. Episode 13, Aku’s Fairy Tales, remains unchanged as well. The demonstration of the sense of hope that Jack is spreading amongst the populace and the hypothetical final confrontation between Jack and Aku at the end is a good way to end the season on a high note after the “main plot” ended in failure in episode 12.

So far, it’s been season two where the time portal abundance has really taken off, with Jack trying and failing to reach a portal to the past being a fairly common throwaway intro. I don’t really have any idea where I’d even begin fixing the problem with that one. Maybe I’ll have an idea by the time I reach the end of the season.

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