Let’s talk about mirror scenes, which we previously saw in Jack rescuing a couple dogs from beetle drones like he did in the first show. This time, we get a callback to when the water aliens agreed to build a totem in Aku’s honor in exchange for living in his domain. There, he wasn’t particularly emotional or hammy like his usual self, but he seemed to take a little joy in the idea of ruining a species’ homeworld and having them grovel before his essence. But in this episode with a similar situation, except replace water with apparent fecal matter, Aku’s just apathetic and irritable. He couldn’t care if this race sang songs about his magnificence, because he’s just not feeling it. Because what he really wants is beyond his grasp. He wants Jack dead, but Jack keeps evading death. On and on and on, until Aku feels a Myth of Sisyphus crisis going, knowing that fifty years of evil have done little in harming Jack. And ignorant of Jack’s sword being misplaced, Aku’s stuck with the knowledge that he and Jack are at a standstill. Such an issue that even he’s talking to himself the way Jack is, but in less of a psychological way and more psychiatric.
But all of that’s hampered by Greg Baldwin’s performance. Needless to say, he just doesn’t sound like Mako enough. He was a good enough Iroh that it was hard to notice the difference, but his Aku doesn’t have that right tenor. Greg sounds a little like Kevin Michael Richardson doing a Mako impression in a few lines. I’ve heard he sounds much better in future episodes, but there’s some oddness in seeing a lighthearted scene that’s not out of place from the previous seasons, and Aku sounds like he has strep throat. Giving Aku a new environment would have alleviated this issue, but a need for visual consistency wins this round. Still, the idea of Jack and Aku’s battle starting with giving each other life (Jack’s father accidentally giving Aku sentience, and Aku unintentionally giving Jack agelessness) and leading to a mental war of attrition is intriguing no matter the voice actor. Jack waiting days after villagers have died before bothering to fight. Aku no longer reveling in his villainy. It’s yin and yang almost about to merge and become a pool of gray, but each side is too stubborn to let it happen.
Which was more fascinating than all the talk about Jack finally killing a fellow human. Jack’s killed plenty of sentient creatures and robots in the past, some of whom weren’t evil like X9 was. What makes a human life worth more than a non-human one? It would’ve been more interesting to focus on how the Daughters are Aku’s answer to Jack’s training, being raised from childhood to fight and kill a legendary foe, and how Jack essentially slayed a version of himself. Have him focus on the face of the dead Daughter, and he comes to a slow realization that children are being raised to fight him the same way he was raised to fight Aku. Jack’s lived in this world for 50 years and has gotten used to its brutality, yet he has to assure himself that his foes are mere nuts and bolts? But maybe it’s a sign after all these years, Jack still had a lingering trace of idealism, and a belief that humans could do no wrong.