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

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