Five More Minutes – 25Sep16

Re-watch of Avatar: The Last Airbender S1E5 – The King of Omashu

Five More Minutes – 19Sep16

Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-Watch – S1:E4 – The Warriors of Kyoshi

Five More Minutes – 11Sep16

Re-watch of Avatar: The Last Airbender S1E3 – The Southern Air Temple

Five More Minutes – 05Sep16

My re-watch of Avatar: The Last Airbender S1E2!

Z

Five More Minutes – 28Aug16

I begin an every-Sunday re-watch series of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I begin with S1E1 – The Boy in the Iceberg

Avatar: TLA Re-Watch S1E10 – Jet

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.”

Additional Notes:

* 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.

Avatar:TLA Re-watch S1:Ep9 – “The Waterbending Scroll”

“Stealing is wrong… unless it’s from pirates!”

Not exactly your typical children’s show morality.

Then again, they do have only a matter of months to save the world, AND the thing they stole would be legitimately helpful, AND the people they stole it from had themselves stolen it in the first place. That definitely puts it in “stealing bread to feed your starving family” territory, but it’s nonetheless a bit more complex than we usually get from cartoons.

As we begin, the Aang gang is still reeling from Avatar Roku’s message at the Fire Temple. Time is short, and they are still weeks away from the North Pole, (where they hope to find a water-bending master).  In the meantime, Katara volunteers to help teach Aang. She may not be a master yet, but maybe she can at least get him started.

Turns out, Aang is a natural, and within minutes, he has surpassed the techniques she has spent years learning. It’s not completely surprising, he IS the Avatar after all, and she was never officially trained in the first place. That said, it’s also very understandable that she would feel a little jealous. Being a water-bender has always been a big part of her self-identity, and she has had to work very hard to get where she’s gotten with it.  Seeing Aang pick it up so easily would have to be frustrating, even threatening. She has been thinking of her water-bending as her contribution to the group; if Aang learns how to do it too, what do they need her for? It’s irrational, but completely understandable, especially given her age.

Aang’s not exactly a water-bending master himself yet though, as evidenced by his accidentally washing their supplies away down the river. This show treats that sort of thing seriously. The kids have finite money and supplies, and when they lose stuff, that means something. They got by for a while on the money supplied by King Bumi and the supplies given to them by the village they saved from Hei Bai. Now all that is gone, and the show doesn’t forget that.

They head into town and Aang squanders one of their three copper pieces on an apparently-useless whistle. No extra points for guessing that it won’t actually be useless, however. When they investigate a ship selling “curios”, they discover a water-bending scroll, obtained through “High-risk trading”, AKA Piracy. The pirates are asking far more than the kids could ever hope to afford, (even given Aang’s top-notch haggling skills), and so Katara decides to steal it. This leads to a chase through the city, as the pirates try to recover their lost scroll. The kids escape unscathed, though the Cabbage Merchant’s wares are not so lucky.

The other kids are surprisingly non-judgemental about Katara’s theft. Aang doesn’t say anything about it directly, and Sokka’s objections are purely on the level of being angry that she put them at risk by angering the pirates. This concern is justified, as not only did they have to escape the pirates, but when Zuko and Iroh show up, the pirates are complaining about the little bald monk who stole a water-bending scroll.

When Katara and Aang resume training, this time with the scroll, she snaps, shouting at Aang in anger and jealousy. He is hurt, and she immediately regrets her outburst, promising not to be so competitive. But then, when the others are asleep, she takes the scroll again and leaves camp to practice. It’s not completely clear, but it’s quite possible that Zuko and the pirates would not have found their secluded camp unless they had spotted her out on the riverbank.

Zuko captures her, and sends the pirates after Aang and Sokka, who are also captured, but Sokka cleverly points out to the pirates that the Avatar is worth way more than their lost water-bending scroll, and then the kids are able to escape in the resulting kerfuffle. There’s some great teamwork between Aang and Katara as she recognizes the power they can wield when they water-bend together, instead of making it a competition. And in the end, Aang’s “useless” whistle saves the day, when it summons Appa for a last-second rescue.

Additional Notes:

* Pretty mountain scenery with the rivers and waterfalls

* While interrogating Katara, Zuko reveals that he has her mother’s necklace

* Air-bending not so good against nets

* Three cheers for Momo taking out the lizard-parrot thing

* Those of us re-watching the show will likely recognize the significance of Iroh’s lotus tile, and so we understand that his real errand in town was not exactly what he told Zuko it was, especially given, as he points out later, he really had the tile on him the whole time!

Avatar: TLA Re-Watch S1:E8 – Winter Solstice Part 2

Stakes: Raised.

With this episode, the series-level threat has finally been established. Sozin’s comet is coming at Summer’s End (a matter of months!), and when it does, Fire Lord Ozai will use its power to finish the war once and for all. It also helps explain how the war started in the first place. After all, a hundred years of consistent war seems like it would have been decided one way or the other by now. Instead, there was a devastating first attack leading to a lot of destruction and occupation, followed by lower level fighting over many years. It seems clear though, from Avatar Roku’s warning, that another dose of the comet might just get the job done.

We begin this episode with Aang making a noble, (but kinda lame), attempt to leave without Katara and Sokka, in the interest of keeping them safe. They are not convinced that this trip needs to be made anyway, given that they don’t have the benefit of Aang’s vision. If they can’t talk him out of it though, they’re determined to come along, and the race is on. Shortly after they leave the village, however, Zuko shows up and beats their destination out of the village elder. Chasing after Aang isn’t quite so simple for Zuko though, because, after all, he’s been banished! And Uncle Iroh warns that if they are captured in Fire Nation territory, there is nothing he’ll be able to do to protect him. Worse, the Fire Nation blockade is commanded by our old friend Captain Sideburns… er, I mean, Commander Zhao.

It’s the worst game of Red Rover ever, when Team Aang, (pursued by Zuko) have to run the blockade. Dodging giant fireballs is pretty harrowing. It did occur to me to wonder why they didn’t simply fly higher to avoid them, but then, they did try that at one point, and it wasn’t high enough, plus the clouds prevented them from seeing the projectiles coming. It also occurred to me that “FLYING BISON”, so I decided not to worry too much about it.

Zhao lets Zuko through the blockade with the intention of following him to the Avatar, and Zuko kind of implies that he has some secret plan which ultimately seems to amount to: “Lead Commander Zhao to the Avatar”. Later Zhao says “Your smokescreen didn’t work,” but it seems to me more like the smoke made them easier to follow. Whatever.

When Team Avatar arrives at the Fire Temple, it appears that the Fire Sages are now loyal to the Fire Lord. All but one, anyway, and he leads them to the sanctuary. It’s worth noting that the Sages lost their faith because the Avatar took so long to return. After a hundred years, it’s hard to really call them fickle. Just like the Air Temple had an air-bending lock, the Fire Temple has a fire-bending lock. Unfortunately, Aang’s not a fire-bender yet. Sokka has a pretty ingenious plan involving lamp-oil explosives, but alas, it doesn’t work. (Does this suggest that there is something more to fire-bending than simple flames?) Regardless, Katara’s follow-up plan to PRETEND it worked is inspired.

Zuko shows up out of nowhere and almost spoils the party, but Aang is able to break free and enter the sanctuary, but not without risk. After all, Katara and Sokka are still held prisoner outside! Then Zhao shows up to take EVERYBODY prisoner. Meanwhile, Aang is communing with Avatar Roku, and learning the deal about the comet. He states that it usually takes YEARS to master each element, but Aang needs to do it in about three months. Still, despite the incredible odds, Roku expresses optimism. “After all,” he says, “You’ve done it before.”

Then Roku helps Aang Avatar-out with some mad fire-bending skillz, yo, and brings down the whole Fire Temple. Zuko manages to escape from Zhao back to his own ship, and the kids leap on to Appa. The Fire Sages aren’t so lucky though, because if Zhao can’t have the prisoners he wanted, he’ll take what he can get.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-watch S1:E7

Episode 7 – The Winter Solstice Part 1 – The Spirit World

This episode kicks the main plot back into gear. The show is too well-written to call any episode “filler”, but to be sure there are some episodes which are more focused on character and world-building than on the larger story. The last several episodes did that, but this one moves things forward more than any episode since the opening two-parter.

We start with some silliness involving clouds, though it’s kind of delightful how Aang is able to just throw himself off of Appa with impunity to check them out. When the kids discover a giant burned-out scar in the forest though, things turn a bit more serious. Katara and Sokka aren’t exactly happy about the destruction, but Aang takes it personally. As the Avatar, it’s supposed to be his job to protect the world from this sort of thing, but he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. The monks never taught him about being the Avatar, beyond the idea that his previous incarnation, Avatar Roku, would tell him what he needed to know.

Aang’s lack of teaching is brought home when the local village is threatened by an angry spirit. The Avatar is supposed to be the bridge between the living world and the spirit world, so in theory, Aang should be the perfect man for the job. Unfortunately, this spirit is unexpectedly huge and scary, and it doesn’t seem too interested in listening to a little kid. Even worse, the solstice is approaching, and every day, the spirit is getting stronger and angrier.

Given Sokka’s initial skepticism, it’s nice to see him leap into action to save Aang. It’s just like when he tried to defend the water tribe village, and just about as effective. When the spirit creature kidnaps him, Aang pursues, failing to recover Sokka but inadvertently entering the spirit world instead. It’s a nice touch to see that other avatars have animal companions as well. Aang has Appa, Roku apparently had his dragon, Fang. Fang shows Aang to a Fire Temple, where he learns that he will be able to speak to Roku on the day of the solstice. There are also flashes of a giant fireball in the sky, which isn’t at all ominous.

When Aang returns, he’s able to calm the spirit in the same way that Katara reassured him earlier. Acorns, as a promise of eventual re-growth. It’s a little bit easy, but kind of poetic and meaningful, so I’m willing to forgive the convenience factor. All in all, an exciting way for Aang to be introduced to the Spirit World, and gives Team Avatar a destination… in the Fire Nation. Yikes.

Meanwhile, we also get a nice story of Iroh and Zuko, continuing the show’s trend of making the villains more complex. After all, in this portion of the episode, Zuko and Iroh are the protagonists, and the Earth Kingdom soldiers are the antagonists. We get a lot more background on Iroh, and everything we learn just makes him that much more interesting. We see this laid-back, tea-loving guy, and learn he was once known as “The Great Dragon”, a general who laid siege on the Earth Kingdom Capital for 600 days, only to suddenly withdraw for heretofore unspecified reasons. We get the feeling that “My men were tired” is far from the end of that story.

He is also remarkably sneaky and badass, managing to leave a trail for Zuko to follow. It’s only a brief moment, but we also get a nice beat from Zuko where he chooses to continue following his uncle’s trail, rather than divert to go after the avatar. Then, at the end, it’s nice to see them fighting together to escape. (And then we remember: Wait, these are the bad guys!)

Additional Notes:

* “Yeah, we’re gonna get eaten by a spirit monster.”

* A boomerang in the butt is insufficient for the defeat of an enraged panda spirit.

* Apparently, air-bending doesn’t work when you are non-corporeal

* Did you catch how Iroh was able to see Aang in the spirit world?

* The Earth Kingdom Soldiers War-Ostrich-Horses are cool, but the animal of the episode has got to be Hei Bai

Avatar: TLA Re-Watch S1:E6 – “Imprisoned”

After last week’s silliness with King Bumi, this episode turns a bit serious again.

For starters, the episode begins with the kids literally scrounging for nuts (and rock-like nuts which may just be rocks) in the forest. After Kyoshi, they understand how it can be dangerous to stay in one place too long, but constant travel carries its own problems.

While the city of Omashu seemed far away from the war, in this episode we get a peek at what things look like under Fire Nation occupation. Though it’s an Earth Kingdom village,  the Fire Nation soldiers have been in charge for five years, forcing the villagers to work the local coal mines in order to feed the massive Fire Navy. All the Earth-benders (except for Haru), have been taken away to a place where they won’t be able to bend, but will still be able to work. The lazy corruption of the soldier asking for protection money is sickening. “You can keep the copper ones,” he says, dropping the coins on the floor.

It doesn’t speak well of the Fire Nation, of course, but the show never allows things to be quite that black-and-white. When Haru is arrested for bending, it is the Earth Kingdom miner that he saved who turned him in.

Katara, of course, feels responsible, so she is determined to rescue him. (They bonded! And she showed him her mother’s foreshadowing, er, I mean necklace!) And the only way to be sure that she would be taken to the same prison is to get arrested, not just for bending, but for earth bending! (After all, if they arrested her for water-bending, they probably would not send her to a floating mining rig. We get some nice humor with Katara and Sokka’s terrible acting during the plan, and it’s fun seeing how Katara’s bogus insults about Sokka’s ears seem to touch a nerve. Note also how the plan (blowing the rock using the ventilation shaft) sets up the eventual solution with the coal.

At the floating prison, we meet the warden, voiced by Sulu himself: George Takei. Despite his lovely voice, the warden himself is shown to be egotistical, vain, and borderline incompetent even from the start. He may be a big fish on the rig, but it’s kind of a crap job for any real Fire Navy officer. Still, he’s got his prisoners broken and he knows it. Katara is naive enough at first to believe a simple motivational speech will be enough to rally them, but she is mistaken. (Honestly, it would have been a bad move tactically as well. Until Aang provides the coal, they have no way to defend themselves against the fire-benders.) Note how unconcerned the warden is as she speaks.

Katara isn’t used to seeing people give up. After all, her mother was killed fighting the  fire nation, and her father, as well as the rest of her village’s warriors, are off fighting it now. She is determined not to abandon Haru and the earth-benders to their despair. When Sokka and Aang arrive on Appa, she refuses to leave, even against Sokka’s protests. They form a plan, but even once Aang provides the coal, the earth-benders are too afraid to fight. All but one, that is. Haru throws the coal at the warden, then his father saves him from the warden’s reprisal. Then it’s on.

The fire-benders aren’t used to this level of resistance, and they are quickly routed. You can see the joy the earth-benders have in using their skills again, especially in the service of fighting the enemy. (And I especially loved Aang’s air-coal tommy-gun!) The earth-benders seize the rig and the ships, and we last see them as they plan to take back their village. “And take back all our villages!” This victory, along with the Avatar’s return, has given them new hope.

We finish, however, with the reveal that Katara lost her mother’s necklace during the fighting, and that now Zuko has found it. I am shocked, SHOCKED, that the necklace turned out to be relevant! *Dramatic Music*

Additional Notes:

* Act Natural!

* “That lemur! It’s earth-bending”

* A nice little bit of bending rules: Earth-benders can’t bend metal, but can bend coal.

* “Well, was it a buffalo or a bison?” … “I’m not sure what the difference is, but that’s not really the point, is it, sir?”

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