Man, I’ve gotten behind with SPN and now an Avatar (the good one) disc arrives to encourage my sloth.
Chapter 17: the Northern Air Temple
It is not only a delight to see Rene Auberjonois return in a roll more befitting him, but an episode that answers a lot of questions for us in that best way: showing, not telling. One of the biggest questions overhanging this season is just how the fire nation could wipe out the air tribes. In today’s world, you can’t win a war if you don’t control the sky, demonstrating that with hard to reach bases, the powers of flight, and more, air should logically have been the most powerful nation just in terms of military. So how did fire wipe them out? Why are earth and water nations (who should go down much easier) still standing while air is gone?
The answer we’ve been able to gleam this season is that it’s taken the fire nation the better part of the last century to conquer air, thus leaving water & earth alive until fire could turn its attention to them. But that still left the question: how could fire attack air in the first place? With this episode, we see the tools and technological marvels the fire nation used. Now, we can see in our minds the campaign that commenced, and can imagine the horror the air nation experienced when they learned that their sanctuaries weren’t so impenetrable.
Nothing much to say about the rest of the episode, pretty good execution, though the writers and directors still can’t seem to bring Aang’s darker emotions to fore. They execute flawlessly his happiness and goofing around but just can’t get him to do sadness or anger when he really needs it.
18: the Waterbending Master
Oh noes! Zuko is dead? (no, of course not – and I know this just because people have told me he has a story in the later seasons)
So with this episode we get to the northern water tribe – the first “major” story arc we’ve gotten besides the main ones as things will happen around here for 3 episodes. Hmmm… seems tough to talk about just one episode then, isn’t it? I know! I’ll talk about stuff just relating to this and then talk about the north in general when I ramble about season 1.
Once again we have another “sexism is bad” episode. What I hate is that this could have been a really good episode if the message hadn’t gotten in the way. Why do I say this you ask? Do I have some hang up with sexism? Not exactly…
Thanks to technological innovations, the differences between men and women have been greatly reduced. Oh they’re still there, but their impact on our society isn’t as great as it would be in primitive ones. When you have less developed societies, the differences between boys and girls become more pronounced. Heck, just from a demographics standpoint, a town/nation of several thousands or millions of people can afford to lose fertile women more than a tribe of only a few hundred. So where does the world of Avatar fit in all of this? Well on the one hand, the technology is still too primitive to reduce the sexes’ differences. However, there is another “equalizer” in this world: that of bending (as bending skills seem to follow individual trends but not any genetic/gender trends).
What’s the point of all this? Well the writers took the “easy” way out storywise instead of really tackling all the implications of the world of Avatar (the good one). They make the refusal to train females a “cultural” aspect of the city (they even hint that it might be a personal hang up of the main trainer). But really, if the world is in an actual “total war” situation, can the city afford not to have every capable fighter (and benders certainly fulfill that role) on the front lines? Gender shouldn’t matter that much if the culture is desperate for survival. On the other hand, healing & medics are very, very important to a war effort. The healing powers of the waters should be their greatest edge against the fires as they can keep their soldiers fighting longer. Also, how has this city been through all the wars? If enough of their women are water benders and get sent to the front lines, would the city be able to survive a prolonged fight or would natural selection finish the fire nation’s efforts? The fact that none of this is brought up or addressed in order to give Katara her”grrrl power” episode just serves to undercut some of the world building efforts they made earlier in the season.
And let’s take a moment to talk about Katara. Yeah, she’s young enough that I can write off some of her errors as part of the flaws of youth but… I mean she just got injured recently when Aang tried fire bending and demonstrated the usefulness of water’s healing on herself. Could she at least demonstrate some remembrance, of this? With everything they’ve gone through recently and everything that Aang & company will probably have to go through in the future, it never occurs to her that learning the secrets of healing will be very useful to keep her brother and lover alive? No she doesn’t have to be a doormat, but could we at least have gotten some internal conflict with her battling between her personal desires and what is good for the group? Argh! I hate wasted drama!
19: the Siege of the North (part 1)
At last we get a set up for a rocking season finale! This is a pretty straight forward episode overall, lots of fighting, preparations for war, etc. We learn that of course Zuko isn’t dead but using his mad ninja powers to sneak around. No real complaints about this episode except that Aang’s goofy expressions during the early skirmishes break the building dread and tension of the coming battle. Definitely a good episode all around.
20: the Siege of the North (part 2)
The panda spirit returns, definitely a welcome return. Of course, this episode is reproduced almost shot for shot in the live-action movie so… let’s just do a compare contrast.
- Zuko & Aang – The movie tweaked so many things that could have been improved in the first season, I couldn’t believe they let this go. In the show Zuko takes the precaution of actually tying up Aang! (he doesn’t put a gag over his mouth but I’m not sure how aware he is of Aang’s breath powers) And at least Zuko tried to get Aang out of the battle zone – in the movie Zuko just hangs around even though he knows the two armies fighting at the moment would both like to kill him! Why did he pick up the idiot ball here?
- Zuko vs Katara – Very similar in both, though I don’t remember Zuko getting his “sunrise” power up in the movie.
- The spirit world – much richer and more interesting in the show. Here we get to see that the spirit realm isn’t all bunnies and flowers – some parts of it are indifferent if not hostile to the Avatar. In the movie it was more like a “always good” place. And they replaced the face-thief with a dragon! True, I love dragons but the face-thief would have been bad-ass to see on the big screen (plus we get the joy of watching Aang fight something without actually fighting). P.S. I am officially sick of the previous avatar Roku. He keeps showing up to give Aang advice just when the boy needs it. Why can’t he give advice other times like… how to master the other elements? Why travel anywhere? Why can’t Aang just hunker down in the spirit world and train with his previous self? Ugh – this whole reincarnation business gets annoying.
- Aang’s final move – Actually… both are good for their mediums. The water kaiju works well for television while the giant tidal wave was gorgeous on the big screen. Applause for equal differences!
All in all, a good ending to a pretty good season…
…Man I’ve talked a lot up there. Let’s table the season 1 discussion for tomorrow.