Episode 9: The Waterbending Scroll
While teaching Aang about waterbending, Katara realizes her skills are inadequate. Luckily, she comes across a waterbending scroll at a boutique.
Boutique: n. a small store selling fashionable clothes or accessories.
[Glances at pirate ship in the episode] Yeah, sure, why not?
Great episode all around! Cabbage Guy returns, the action infuses Chinese camera and editing techniques (see Jackie Chan’s Police Story), and we’ve got that narrative drama that I love oh so very much. Katara tries to teach Aang the little she knows of waterbending and he picks it up on his first try whereas it had taken her months to learn.
Sorry, Katara, but there are some people out there that are better than you. It’s a lesson we all learn at some point in our lives (hopefully).
Nice to see the necklace from a few episodes ago make its guest appearance here, as well as continuing Iroh’s hijinks to annoy Zuko. Momo proves himself to be a valuable member of the group and Aang proves himself to be the life of the party!
Episode 10: Jet
A band of rebel guerrillas with a charming, roguish leader rescues Aang, Sokka, and Katara as they’re fleeing the Fire Nation’s minions.
It’s nice to finally have a Sokka-centric episode, but it’s unfortunate that he’s also sidelined.
The first third of the episode is constantly shifting perspectives, the middle third focuses solely on Sokka, then the final third is even messier than the first. Jet himself is an interesting character with motives that parallel Sokka and Katara’s, but I don’t feel like a real emotional clash happens outside of lip-service and a physical battle. Still, I’d be more than happy to see him return in a later episode, even just to be reminded of Spike from Cowboy Bebop.
The direction of this episode is the real highlight, done by Dave Filoni who would later helm The Clone Wars series and also become the lead director of The Mandalorian. Though the writing is just okay, he manages to find the humanity in the right places as well as provide great shot composition and action sequences.
Hey, I’m halfway through the first season now!
Episode 11: The Great Divide
Arriving at a giant gorge, Aang and his friends encounter two feuding refugee groups fighting over the right to cross the abyss.
Man, the world of Avatar is WEIRD. Not only do we have the already high concept of people being able to control the four elements, but you also have spirits, orbs of power, and man-eating monsters (then again, Appa is a flying bison, so maybe I should just let these things slide).
It’s a filler episode for sure, and it’s good until the ending. The two groups in question hate each other for a squabble from a hundred years ago, both of which viewing the story from different perspectives. However, they must overcome their differences to cross the canyon alive, which they end up doing when under attack by bug monsters and saddling them to climb a wall.
In the major dramatic catharsis of the episode, Aang does an invirtuous thing: He lies.
He claims to know the people of the squabble a hundred years ago and “reveals” that it was actually just a game played by eight year olds. He claims that there was no orb of power and no one was sent to prison but instead it was a ball game and one of the kids had to sit in the penalty zone for stepping out of bounds.
The feuding groups accept the lie, though, which works as a message of how stories or legends can change over time to fit a personal agenda or justify misbehavior, but it goes against Aang’s ideals as a hero (or, at least, what we’ve seen so far of his character’s progression). And in this day and age where the United States history taught in schools has gaps or glosses over details to fit a certain narrative, lying about history to bring peace doesn’t sit well. Ignorance may be bliss, but what are you ignoring?
Subtextual issues aside, the episode on the surface level is just okay, but loses points for being a filler.
Episode 12: The Storm
When Aang, Katara, and Sokka find themselves broke, Katara urges Sokka to take a fishing job. But the plan goes awry when the angler recognizes Aang.
In my opinion, this is the best episode so far.
We start off with Aang’s dream, casting doubt on whether or not he’s worthy of the Avatar title, and later get an origin story for not only how Aang became the Avatar but also how Zuko became banished. (I would like to note that I thought the general was Zuko’s dad up until it was clearly stated in this episode that Zuko’s dad is the Fire Lord and a completely different person. I blame the similar beard/hairstyles.) Both origins aim to make the audience sympathize with the characters and it does it extremely well, especially creating a strong catharsis for both characters to parallel their catalysts in the flashbacks. Oh, and firebenders can bend lightning (fire and electricity are friction-based, so it checks out on my end)!
Just when I was starting to get a bit hesitant on the quality of the show, that maybe it truly was just an overhyped kid show mostly due to being people’s first taste of well-developed animation, this episode blows the series out of the water and convinced me to believe in these characters and their journeys. It showed me that those running the show know what they’re doing and I don’t need to question their judgement on the decisions from here on out (but I’m a critic, so I kind of have to be judgy).
I believe this episode brings us to the overarching Act Two, and I’m all in.
But first… How did that old lady climb up the mountain in the heavy rain so quickly?