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.When I sat down to watch episode 10 of Samurai Jack, I had completely forgotten the name of the episode or what it was about and I didn’t bother looking it up or even reading the description because really what difference would it make, right? As it turns out though, I’m glad that I went into this episode as a little bit more of a blank slate, because it featured a very unique approach, one that closely mirrored an artistic medium that, despite possessing a massive influence, rarely reaches out to touch film and television. That medium? Video games.As we’ve touched on in previous installments, Samurai Jack is a pastiche, a delicious hodgepodge of influences, references, tropes, and in-jokes. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the age of the creators, as well as the medium and genre that they’re working in, the vast majority of those influences tend to originate in film and television. “Jack and the Lava Monster,” however, does something different, structuring the entire episode around what can only be described as the “lava level” of a video game. But what’s most impressive about the episode is that it still manages to feel like a Samurai Jack episode, courtesy of some fantastic trope-twisting at the end.The episode starts off in a familiar fashion: Jack, sans context, wanders silently through a lovingly rendered landscape. This time out, it resembles a northern European moor or tundra. While some people criticize the show for its sometimes lackadaisical pacing, the anime-esque tendency to linger over long, silent shots, it’s something that I truly love about the show. What’s more, I actually respect the restraint that it indicates, as the show’s storytellers are confident enough in their ability to not worry about packing every single moment with action.That somewhat sedate opening sequence also serves another purpose here, however, beyond just impressing geeks like me: It establishes a tonal baseline from which the episode quickly deviates. Before long, Jack, having discovered that the landscape has been blasted and defiled, follows a beckoning voice, climbing an ominous mountain to reach and, presumably, confront it.And there, once Jack is inside the mountain, is where the video game similarities really kick in. Our hero finds himself subjected to a seemingly endless series of traps. Spikes and chomping teeth, lava and flame, Jack is faced with a gauntlet of death, a gauntlet that he must run through. And that’s the really interesting part, something that is addressed soon after Jack finds himself amongst the traps: Jack cannot go back, he can only move forward. And as he moves forward? The traps get more and more treacherous.As Jack traverses this “lava level,” one of my favorite moments of the episode stands in stark contrast to the dire straits in which the samurai finds himself. While on the run, he barrels out over a cliff and, for a brief moment, does a Wile E. Coyote-esque hang in the air before plummeting downward. It’s a brief bit of comic relief that helps release the tension so that it can start to build anew as Jack confronts his next challenge: The level’s boss.And fittingly for a “lava level,” the boss is a giant made of volcanic rock and molten lava, a villain that Jack must face and defeat because, well, that’s not exactly clear. Up until this point, the show has followed a classic platformer video game story progression, and shares the same problem as many video games: The stories are merely a delivery method for the gameplay and action, which comprise a video game’s true appeal. If Jack were to simply face, fight, and defeat the monster, it would be an exciting, action-packed episode for sure, but ultimately, it’d be a bunch of empty calories. Fortunately, the show’s creators found a smart, clever solution.That solution was to once again have Jack mention the very problem he was confronted with. But just as earlier, when he observed that he could not go backward, only forward, Jack’s observation isn’t some fourth wall breaking bit of meta-narrative. It’s actually built into the story, as he refuses to simply brawl to the death with the Lava Monster for no real reason.It’s a deceptively simple solution and one that allows the episode to seamlessly slide back out of its video game logic and give some background for the Lava Monster. And that background? It shows us that prior to becoming a Lava Monster, he was actually a man, a warrior not unlike Jack, who struggled, fought, and lost in a battle with Aku. Furthermore, he, like Jack, was not merely beaten by the demon, but was condemned to observe his utter defeat. As Jack was catapulted into the future to find a world that Aku had dominated, the viking warrior that became the Lava Monster was forced to watch, helpless, trapped within a mountain.Ultimately, Jack gives the Lava Monster what he wants, and the two have an epic duel. But the reason why Jack decides to give in and fight is an important one, as it’s only because of his similarities to the Lava Monster, and the knowledge that defeating him in battle, allowing him to ascend to Valhalla, is an act, not of senseless video game violence, but of mercy.These are some of my favorite episodes of Samurai Jack – ones that abandon the driving overall narrative to allow for diverse types of stories, ones that not only explore tropes, but turn them on their heads in service of the story. And we’re in luck, because next week sees us tackle another of my favorites, one that introduces one of my favorite cartoon characters ever. It’s episode eleven of Samurai Jack’s first season, “Jack and the Scotsman.” Watch along with us on Hulu!Aubrey Sitterson is a Los Angeles-based writer whose most recent work is the Street Fighter x G.I. Joe 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!