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.As mentioned in our previous installment, the fourth episode of Samurai Jack is the first to be written and storyboarded by someone other than series creator Genndy Tartakovsky and frequent collaborator Paul Rudish, though Tartakovsky did co-direct the episode with Randy Myers. What makes that fact so significant, so interesting, so fascinating is that this episode, “Jack, the Woolies and the Chritchellites,” more than any of the three that preceded it, is a pure expression of what the show truly is and what it does best.While it might, at first, seem surprising that the first episode of the show not written or storyboarded by Tartakovsky is the one to achieve this distinction, there’s actually a pretty solid explanation for it. Tartakovsky exhibited an extraordinary amount of control over the first three episodes, co-writing, co-storyboarding, and directing the entire “Premiere Movie” himself. Over the course of those three episodes, he introduced us to the series’ eponymous hero, he established the character’s backstory, and he placed him in a new, many-faceted setting moving forward. In short, Tartakovsky built a storytelling engine.With that storytelling engine established and all fueled up, ready to go, the writers and storyboard artists of this episode, Chris Reccardi & Chris Mitchell, were able to hit the ground running in “Jack, the Woolies and the Chritchellites.” With a bizarre, futuristic setting already established, populated by aliens, monsters, mutants, and anthropomorphic animals, and with a vast, uncharted world to discover, Samurai Jack is able to truly shine as a medium by which its creators can explore… whatever they want.In this episode, the series delves into issues of cruelty and empathy, courtesy of the vicious, bullying little Chritchellites and the hulking, gentle-natured Woolies that they enslave and torture. At its core, however, this episode is about technology, as it’s the high-tech orb that not only allows the Chritchellites to enslave the Woolies, but also enables their cruelty, eliminating their empathy by separating themselves from the violence and brutality that they so readily mete out.The Chritchellites are cruel, narcissistic little beasts, fully abstracted from the suffering they cause, even in the midst of watching Woolies tortured for no reason other than their own amusement. One of the many things that’s so impressive about this episode, however, is how expediently the Chritchellites’ despicable nature is conveyed to audiences.Even beyond the Chritchellites actions, before we’ve even fully glimpsed how cruel they are to the Woolies, we know that they’re more than worthy of our disdain. First up, and most notably, they’re completely interchangeable. Having races or species that look exactly alike isn’t entirely unusual in cartoons, but the Chritchellites take things even further, as they all have the exact same voice. And in that nasally, grating tone, they readily express their delusions of grandeur and their clearly false beliefs in their history and relationship to not only the Woolies, but to the land itself.My favorite bit of characterization in this episode, however, is a brief gag that takes place as the camera pans the Chritchellite village. As they eat and converse, one Chritchellite crows at another about a collectible that he has, bickering over its value and even referencing another one that is still in the packaging. It’s a clear, obvious shot across the bow at a very specific type of person: The nerd completely given over to a consumerist, collector’s mentality. And worst of all? The collectible at the center of the discussion is a statue of a Chritchellite, further nailing home the little monsters’ all-consuming solipsism.And this commitment to consumerist culture? It ties back in to the earlier characterization of the Chritchellites, as the consumerist impulse can only be sated, can only exist even, through technology. Without mass production, without the commercialization of art, there can be no collectors, there can be no collector mentality. All of this, all that the Chritchellites are, sits in stark contrast to the simple, idyllic existence of the Woolies, a blissful life unsullied by technology and the loss of empathy that so often comes with it.Though it seems to have little to do with the episodes that came before, though Jack’s nemesis Aku is only mentioned briefly at the very end of the episode, “Jack, the Woolies and the Chritchellites” is a perfect introduction to how the series will progress and operate over the course of its four season original run. That’s because with Tartakovsky’s storytelling engine already built, creators like Reccardi, Mitchell, and Myers are able to quickly and expediently get hip deep into some very heady issues… like the corrupting effect of technology upon empathetic cultures.It’s important, however, not to confuse Samurai Jack with a series of parables or fables, as it’s doing something far, far smarter. In a parable or fable, there is a specific lesson or moral takeaway that is being imparted to the audience, making it, at best, a teaching tool and, at worst, propaganda. But a good story, a well-crafted story, doesn’t exist to force its audience into a specific point-of-view, but rather, is meant to encourage rumination on a larger issue through thoughtful exploration. “Jack, the Woolies and the Chritchellites,” piggybacks off of the audience’s preexisting feelings and notions, using copious shorthand to convey how we should view the two races depicted in the episode. That’s exactly what Samurai Jack, and good stories, do best.Join us next time as we discuss episode five of Samurai Jack‘s first season, “Jack in Space.”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.
- Rewatching Samurai Jack Episode 4 Jack the Woolies and the Chritchell