Friday, December 26, 2008 07:41 PM
(Last updated on Friday, December 26, 2008 07:42 PM)
On the Viewer - Avatar: The Last Airbender (Book 1, Chapters 13-16)
 by Fëanor

"The Blue Spirit"
This episode sees Aang running to find a cure for a fever that Sokka and Katara caught from being out in the storm last episode. A crazy old herbalist tells him they need to suck on frozen frogs from the swamp, so he runs to get some, but is ambushed by Fire Nation snipers (read: extremely accurate archers) under the orders of Admiral Zhao. Aang is put in a walled fortress and it seems he has no chance of escape. In a particularly surreal and funny sequence, the frogs Aang still has in his coat start to thaw, and drop down to the floor and drag themselves out of his cell, to the surprise of the Fire Nation guards, who are even more surprised when they start getting picked off one by one by a mysterious blue-masked figure whose skills in fighting and infiltration are top notch. The Blue Spirit is a really cool character, and the sequence where he and Aang escape the prison is extremely exciting and impressive. Even though the Blue Spirit could really only have been one person, the reveal of his identity was still a surprise to me. And the quiet moment afterwards in the forest between Aang and the unmasked Spirit is very well done. The episode has plenty of the usual comedy, however, this time in the from of a delirious Sokka, and frog-sucking!

"The Fortuneteller"
In this episode the gang comes to a town where all the residents allow their lives to be ruled by the predictions of the local fortuneteller, Aunt Wu. This drives Sokka crazy, but Aang and Katara are more open-minded and both get their fortunes told. Aunt Wu's freaky-looking assistant Meng is hoping that Aang will turn out to be the true love Aunt Wu predicted she'd meet, but Aang is hoping Aunt Wu will predict that he is Katara's true love, and vice versa. Ah, bitter sweet unrequited love! When Aang gets the expected prediction about how he'll be part of a great battle between good and evil that will decide the fate of the world, he's like, yeah, yeah, I already know that, what about my love life? Aunt Wu is flabbergasted. Aang makes the mistake of asking Sokka for advice in love, advice which fails completely, of course. Eventually they discover the fortuneteller was wrong about the volcano near town, and that it's going to erupt. They find they have to use some fortunetelling trickery to get the people to realize their danger and help save themselves. Aunt Wu points out that Aang can use this same technique to take his future in his own hands and find the love he wishes for.

This is a pretty cute episode with some more development of the Aang/Katara relationship, and some funny scenes with turkey-geese. Plus I enjoy the way Meng calls Katara a floozy at the end.

"Bato of the Water Tribe"
The gang randomly runs into a man from Sokka and Katara's tribe (the titular character, in fact), and there's a warm reunion. Aang feels left out, and when he learns that Bato could take his friends to their father, and that they'd love to go, he's certain they're about to leave him and wanders off, dejected. Bato has been waiting for a message containing a map to the place he'll reunite with Sokka and Katara's father. The man carrying the message meets Aang on his way to see Bato, and Aang accepts the message to pass on. But realizing what it will mean if he does pass it on, he crumples it up and hides it. Argh! This bothers me for a couple of reasons: one, why would the messenger give such an important map to some random kid who just claims to know Bato (isn't it a map to a secret rendezvous? And aren't the Water Tribe at war?), and two, why would Aang act like such a jerk? I know he really wants his friends to stay with him, but it's hard to understand why he'd do something so selfish and terrible. Anyway, later he finds himself in the middle of a Water Tribe coming of age ceremony with Sokka and Katara where he's given the position of trust, and then at the end is about to be given the mark of the trusted. It's all far too symbolic for him, his guilt boils over, and he reveals the fact that he's been an ass and has been hiding the map. Sokka and Katara had resolved to go with Aang and not follow Bato to their father, but after they learn what Aang has done they're furious with him and leave with Bato after all. That's what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, this happens to work out sort of in their favor, as Zuko has hired a tracker named June with a giant mole that's following Katara's scent (which it got from the necklace Zuko stole from her). Zuko assumes this will lead him directly to the Avatar, but of course they find Katara and Sokka after the gang has split up. Aang realizes what's happened and flies to their rescue. There's a nice big fight involving perfume, and poor Appa takes a beating but makes it out okay, and deals out some hurt himself.

The plot of this episode was deliberately constructed in order to split up our main characters for a brief time, and it's a bit contrived and irritating. But it's also dramatic and effective, there's a big fight at the end, and some very funny scenes with Uncle Iroh, such as the one at the end, when he pretends to be paralyzed out so he can cop a feel. Heh. Oh, and Aang gets Katara's necklace back, and gets a kiss for his trouble. Good one, Aang!

"The Deserter"
I was very surprised and excited to discover as I watching this episode that it contains many references, in its plot, character, and dialogue, to Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness, as well as Star Wars, and possibly even DC comics. It opens with the gang discovering an advertisement for a nearby Fire Nation festival where Aang thinks he might be able to find a master firebender to teach him. Near the advertisement, however, there's also a series of wanted posters, one of which is for Aang (another, in a wonderful touch of background detail, is for the Blue Spirit). Despite the danger, they decide to go into town in disguise. Luckily its traditional to wear masks at the festival, and everything is going fine until Katara is pulled up on stage for a magic act. Aang, like a complete dumbass, doesn't get that it's just a trick, decides Katara is really in danger, and jumps up on stage to save her. He also takes his mask off and reveals his identity to the whole crowd. Gah! He drives me crazy sometimes. Anyway, they have to run, but luckily a guy with an armload of bombs helps them escape (Appa also assists). The guy is Che, a Fire Nation soldier who has deserted. He tells them of another deserter, the first and most famous, a firebending master named Jeong Jeong (a name that immediately made me think of the Martian Manhunter's true name, J'onn J'onzz; and, as we all know, J'onn's weakness is fire). Many think he's crazy, and he lives up the river with a tribe of natives. Sound familiar?? This is where the Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness references begin in earnest. Che is clearly the Dennis Hopper character, and Jeong Jeong is Kurtz. Che and Aang are both hoping Jeong Jeong will teach Aang firebending, but Jeong Jeong doesn't even want to see him, as he can tell Aang has not yet mastered water- or earthbending, and feels he must know those first before he can take on firebending. But there's a very cool moment where Avatar Roku speaks to Jeong Jeong through Aang and insists that he teach him. Jeong Jeong accepts, to Aang's joy. But Aang is a lot less joyful when the instruction begins; Jeong Jeong's teaching techniques are very similar to the kind of teaching you see in old school kung fu movies. Jeong Jeong has Aang walking up mountains, holding difficult stances, breathing, and concentrating - everything but doing any actual bending. Jeong Jeong feels that firebending is a terrible curse, and Aang has so much power that before he can even begin bending he must learn control and discipline, or he's likely to hurt someone. He even describes firebending as walking a razor's edge between humanity and savagery, which is the idea at the heart of Apocalypse Now (Marlon Brando even uses the same metaphor of a razor blade early in the film).

Inevitably, Jeong Jeong's prediction comes true; Aang gets impatient and carried away and accidentally burns Katara. Luckily, Katara discovers she has healing powers. Meanwhile, Admiral Zhao comes down the river in Fire Nation boats, seeking Aang (Zhao is therefore taking on the Martin Sheen role from AN, except he's far harder to sympathize with). Turns out Zhao was Jeong Jeong's former student, but he had no discipline or self-control and wanted only power and destruction. Sounds very similar to many teacher/pupil situations in Star Wars, where the student turns to the Dark Side - especially the Obi-Wan/Darth Vader relationship. That makes Aang Luke, and in fact, when he shows up to save his new teacher from his former pupil, Jeong Jeong looks over at Aang, smiles, and then disappears in a burst of flames, in a scene very similar to the one in A New Hope where Obi-Wan falls smiling under Vader's blade. Except in this case Jeong Jeong has not died, but only escaped into the forest. Luckily, Aang has learned enough about Zhao from Jeong Jeong to know how to defeat him; he taunts Zhao mercilessly and avoids all his strikes, letting his own lack of self-control defeat him. It's a pretty awesome sequence.

Unfortunately, Aang's mistake with Katara leads him to swear off firebending for good, which obviously is not going to work. He has to get over that if he wants to save the world!

This was probably my favorite episode on the disc, and not just because it was loaded with references to things I love. It also has a very clever story with lots of really neat moments, not to mention plenty of fighting, drama, and magic.

I believe the next disc contains the last chapters of the first book (finally! Sure has been a long book. Not that I'm not enjoying it), so I'm looking forward to seeing how it all winds up.
Tagged (?): Avatar (Not), Books (Not), Cartoons (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not), TV (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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