Episode 10: Jet could be seen as a filler episode, in that no progress is made in the fight against Fire Lord Ozai. However, no episode of this show is ever wasted. Even when we aren’t advancing the main plot, the show spends its time developing the characters and themes that will ultimately drive the central conflict.
We begin with a bit of silliness with Momo, (though it also sets up the way Sokka ditches his captors later), and then the kids have a discussion about tactics and leadership. Sokka observes that, although flying on Appa is fast, it’s also very noticeable, and may well be why Zuko is always a step behind them. Sokka also argues that he is the leader of their little group, Katara questions whether they even need a leader. (It’s also worth pointing out that she says “Why do BOYS always think…”, which shows a little bit of reverse sexism on her part. Not a big deal, but interesting.)
Sarcasm abounds as the kids try walking for a change, and whoops! “Sokka’s instincts” lead them straight into the middle of a Fire Nation camp! It’s not looking good, but then the kids are saved by the arrival of Jet and his Merry Men! Together, the Jet Set and Team Avatar defeat the whole camp. Though Sokka’s getting good with his boomerang, he didn’t get to do anything in the fight, as Jet kept stealing his opponents. “Gotta be faster next time.”
It’s another indication of how well-thought-out this show is that we meet and learn about a half-dozen of Jet’s crew. We learn their names, we learn their reasons for fighting, they all have their own distinct look, and they each get a moment to shine in the battle. A lazier show would have given all the glory to Jet himself, and the rest would be generic spear-carriers.
Team Avatar follows them back to their hideout in Ewok Village, but while Katara is crushing hard on Jet, Sokka is suspicious. His “instincts” are warning him, but how much of that is just jealousy? Jet is pretty charming, and with his speech at dinner, we see why his crew follows him. Especially after Katara’s bout with envy in the last episode, it’s easy to imagine that it’s just Sokka’s turn.
Then things turn darker and more complex. On a scouting mission, Sokka watches in horror as Jet, Smellerbee and Pipsqueak bully and rob an old man. Sure, he’s from the Fire Nation, but is this the sort of thing these “Freedom Fighters” call a victory? When Sokka tries to tell Katara and Aang what happened, Jet claims that the man was an assassin with a knife and hidden poison. The episode places us in the same position as Sokka, where we’re suspicious, because we didn’t see any knife, but how can we prove it? Jet says the knife was concealed. Is it possible we were wrong? Katara is determined to believe the best in people, and sides with Jet. (“I made him this hat.”)
Sokka is not convinced, and so he follows when Jet leaves the hideout in the middle of the night. Turns out, they plan to blow up the dam, and flood the occupied Earth Kingdom village. The show then presents us with an interesting question of whether all really is fair in war. It’s a good topic for discussion on the face of it, but the show gives it an additional character twist.
It’s telling that Jet doesn’t try to defend this plan until he’s caught in his lies. If he genuinely respected Katara, Sokka and Aang, and wanted them on his side, he would tell them the truth and try to persuade them to take his side. Instead, he lies to them, manipulates them… He is USING them, to further his own desire for violence against the Fire Nation. We can be sympathetic to his motivations, but murdering an entire village is beyond the pale.
The show is clever and subtle with how it portrays Jet. It shows us how he uses flattery, insight and flat-out deception to get people to trust and follow him. When Sokka tries to get Smellerbee and Pipsqueak to question the plan, they confess to blind faith in Jet. “We do what he says, and everything turns out okay.” Then, when Aang and Katara discover the plan, Jet attempts to play on Katara’s infatuation, touching her cheek: “I want you to understand me.”
She’s not falling for it this time though, not with Sokka missing, and when his manipulations fail, Jet resorts to physical violence, fighting Aang to keep him from warning the village. We get a great fight sequence in the tree-tops, but it’s looking like Jet is going to win, when Katara Fire-hoses him into a tree, then freezes him to it. Though we’re glad that she’s no longer fooled by Jet’s superficial charm, it’s heartbreaking to see her feelings of betrayal and regret, especially because it’s now too late to stop Jet from blowing the dam.
Thankfully, we see that Sokka, instead of trying to stop the bomb, has gone to warn the villagers. So although the village has been flooded, the people have been saved. We see a cute little girl find her dolly just to drive home that not every citizen of the Fire Nation is a scary soldier.
The exchange near the end says it all. Jet shouts: “We could have freed the valley!” and Sokka replies: “Who would be free? Everyone would be dead.”
* A crate of blasting jelly and a crate of jelly candy. “Let’s not mix those up.”
* Katara’s canteen is a very clever source of water for bending, and flowing it back in like sheathing a sword is way cool.