Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender

Korval

Imprisoned

The episode that is widely condemned as the worst Avatar episode ever is The Great Divide. But I disagree, to an extent.

The Great Divide may be objectively (and subjectively) terrible, but this episode pisses me off in ways that one never did. It may not be immediately evident why I feel this way, but the reason will be made clear in the fullness of time.

We open with... padding. Man, these early first-season episodes were loaded with padding. They hear an earthbender doing earthbender things, very loudly. Katara introduces herself, but he sees her and runs away. They decide to follow.

In the village, Katara sees the guy running into a store, so the Gaang follows. When they talk to the guy, named Haru, he says he never saw them before. When Aang says that they saw them earthbending, Haru and his mom freak. They close the doors and shutter the windows, then talk about how dangerous it is to earthbend because "they" might catch him.

Cue the Fire Nation soldiers. They shake the family down for money, then leave. Haru and his mother talks about how the Fire Nation has been there for 5 years, and nobody wants to fight. And that earthbending is forbidden.

Then Katara says an... interesting line. "Haru has a gift. Asking him not to earthbend is like asking me not to waterbend. It's a part of who we are."

Talk about your Funny Aneurysm Moments. We'll see, Katara. We'll see how well that "gift" served you. And... your mother.

Anyway, Katara talks about how they could fight back with earthbending, but Haru's mom says that they'll just take Haru away. Just like his father.

Cut to Haru and Katara talking about his father. He talks about how the village was beaten, the earthbenders taken away, and how he only feels close to his father when he earthbends. Katara starts talking about her mother's necklace, and how that's all she has of her.

Since that's getting boring, we need a bit of action. So cue the mine collapse. Haru and Katara rush over and find a man trapped under some rock. Hello, contrived circumstance, how are you doing today?

So yes, Haru earthbends him free. I was actually shocked that a Fire Nation soldier did not magically appear from off-camera to see it. But no, we need some more padding on this episode. So the Gaang plans to leave at dawn, then goes to sleep.

Cue the Fire Nation soldiers pulling Haru out of bed. And look, they brought the old man Haru saved, who just ratted him out. They take him away, the Gaang being none the wiser.

Katara wakes up and does some waterbending, then sees Haru's mom looking sad. She magically knows what happened without having to say it. She alerts the Gaang to this. Then she comes up with a plan: get herself arrested. By earthbending.

Um, OK.

Katara actually devises a decent plan; they use airbending and vents to simulate earthbending. Unfortunately, Aang is showing his irresponsibility and stupidity by not bothering to pay attention to the details of the plan. Also unfortunately, this will be a semi-recurring feature for Aang for much of first season.

Cue the bad acting.

Fortunately, Aang doesn't screw up the plan too badly; his irresponsibility is just played for Komedy! (This time...) Katara is taken away. The Gaang follow on Appa until they find... a floating platform? It's like an oil platform, only probably without the oil.

Anyway, Cue... George Takei? WTF? He's the commander of the platform. Bending Sulu (not his name, but that's what I'm calling him now) tries to sound nice, until a prisoner coughs. Then he firebends at the guy and throws him in solitary for dishonoring his "host."

I have to say, Takei does not do menacing very well. Maybe it's because I keep imagining Sulu there, but overall this just isn't working.

And then, we get a speech that I really, really hate this episode for:

You will notice, earthbenders, that this rig is made entirely of metal. You are miles away from any rock or earth. So, if you have any illusions about that brutish savagery that passes for bending among you people, forget them. It is impossible.

Why do I hate this? Well, first, it makes no sense to say it. Why? Because nobody has to say that firebenders can't bend wood. Benders bend their element; exactly and only their element. And even the Avatar is limited to bending fire, earth, water, and air.

So why does this episode go out of its way to hammer the point home that earthbenders can't bend metal, when it's obvious due to the fact that metal isn't earth? Why is there a whole speech about it?

It's here to establish that it's a specific rule. To put the audience in that specific mindset about associating earthbenders with metal. And there's exactly one reason for making that association. And it pisses me off every single time I think about it. Because, by making this association, it foreshadows... well, we'll get to that.

See, I don't hate this episode so much for what it is. This episode itself is average to below-average (for first season). I hate it for what it eventually causes. For what it makes inevitable.

I hate this episode because the episode that this one makes inevitable has way too much other awesome in it to hate. So I channel all of my anger into this one.

Back to the episode. Katara finds Haru, and he introduces her to his father, Tyro. After some character establishment, Katara asks what their escape plan is. He explains that their "plan" is to survive.

So Katara gives a speech about courage; she urges them to fight on. And they... do nothing. Nobody is roused to action. As predicted by Bending Sulu.

And now we have come to the other thing I hate about this episode. It's the first in a series I like to call, "Katara is always right, and Katara always gets her way."

Movies, TV, books, and especially comics have trained us to think of prisons as sieves. As buildings that house people for awhile until they get bored and escape. This is rubbish. Unless someone comes to get these guys, they're screwed. They're not going to be able to escape just because they have "courage." Escaping is only going to be possible if the Fire Nation guards to do something stupid. Of course, since "Katara is always right," they will.

When the rest of the Gaang show up to rescue her, she says that she's not giving up on the prisoners. And she stays. This forces the rest of them to stay, because no matter how stupid what she's doing is, "Katara always gets her way."

We cut to some not-comedy padding with Bending Sulu and some people who saw Appa flying away. Bending Sulu is surprisingly competent though, so he orders the rig searched.

The Gaang discuss options for escape. Sokka suggests finding earth for them to bend, and it takes Aang to point out that the smoke stacks indicate that they're burning coal. Unless they're burning wood of course, because bringing coal within possible reach of earthbenders would be stupid. Also, what exactly are they burning coal for anyway?

So they magic up a way for Aang to airbend the coal out of a certain ventilation shaft. Though somehow, the coal isn't on fire even though it was supposed to be burning. And then, with a mound of earth next to them, the earthbenders... do nothing.

This is breathtakingly stupid. Not quite as stupid as the similar scene in the live-action horseshit/movie. But it's up there.

It's the equivalent of giving a prisoner the keys to the entire prison, and then have the prisoner just stand there. Do the writers not understand the difference between, "We're not going to piss off the guards by trying to make futile escape attempts," and "We are too stupid to escape from a tissue-paper prison?"

What's worse is what comes next. Bending Sulu taunts Katara for thinking that they have the will to fight back anymore. Naturally, this causes them to fight back. Man, he's worse than the Emperor in Return of the Jedi (at least he had an excuse: it worked on Luke's dad). If he'd just shut up and dumped the coal back in the furnace, everything would have been fine.

Naturally, the prisoners escape through the guards' raging stupidity, and the only lesson Katara learns is that she is always right.

Except that Katara lost her mother's necklace. Cut to Prince Zuko finding it on the rig.

And if you think I'm exaggerating about Katara always being right and always getting her way, stay tuned. Because that trait's only going to get worse from here.

This episode is pretty dull. Even ignoring the two points that I hate about it, it really is nothing more than average.

Comments

Whats with spelling comedy with a K. Is this some sort of meme or something? More irritating than anything lol

From the looks of that constant mispelling, I take it you don't like the series humor?

As for the explaining metal thing, I have a hypothesis: Because it's not obvious to the viewer. Metal is found in the earth. In rocks, which earth benders can bend. Metals are minerals, so you'd expect earthbending to work on them like any other minerals (earth, rocks, sand). Heck why can they bend coal but not metal? While both are minerals, coals used to be plants, to me the not bending metal thing does need explaining, as it seems completely arbitrary. Why are coals earth but metals are not? What about plaster? Mortar? Cement? Do bones count as earth? It's mostly calcium, like limestone! Heck, why do CRYSTALS count as earth, but not metals? What about metal crystal, like gallium, can an Earthbender bend those?

Heck, why can Firebenders bend lightning? That's not fire. Has nothing to do with it.

So to me the metal speech, while a bit out of place, to me it IS necessary, because bending has completely arbitrary rules that do need explaining, as none of it is based on logic. The writers do need to explain the artificial limits put on their superpowers, because no viewer can be expected to know them.
Ghilz 22nd Jun 11 (edited by: Ghilz)
"Whats with spelling comedy with a K. Is this some sort of meme or something?"

Say it with a thick, stereotypical Russian accent. Then say "Avatar bring good the Komedy!"

That's what I was going for.

"Heck, why can Firebenders bend lightning? That's not fire. Has nothing to do with it."

Well, they are both plasma. And they're both very hot. It's not a gigantic stretch.

"So to me the metal speech, while a bit out of place, to me it IS necessary, because bending has completely arbitrary rules that do need explaining, as none of it is based on logic. The writers do need to explain the artificial limits put on their superpowers, because no viewer can be expected to know them."

I get what you're saying, but you don't need a big giant speech to say it. The fact that none of the earthbenders are bending the metal around them means that they can't. Show, don't Tell.

Indeed, you see them doing this in other cases. Nobody ever says that earthbenders can bend coal. Or crystals. Or any other rock-like material that comes out of the ground. The series simply shows that they can. Why? Because they have similar physical properties; they're all rock-like and they come out of the ground.

That fact only serves to show more why this speech was unnecessary. Because they *only* use it with regard to metal. They never talk about it with regard to anything else.
Korval 22nd Jun 11
Why do I hate this? Well, first, it makes no sense to say it. Why? Because nobody has to say that firebenders can't bend wood. Benders bend their element; exactly and only their element. And even the Avatar is limited to bending fire, earth, water, and air.

Commander Sulu I bet is trying to rub it in that they can't escape. It's called Demotivation, no matter how petty. I imagine he does this speech with all new arrivals.

I get what you're saying, but you don't need a big giant speech to say it. The fact that none of the earthbenders are bending the metal around them means that they can't. Show, don't Tell.

And if they don't explain it, then people might call it a plot hole, and put it under Fridge Logic. Fan assumption is not a good thing in this case. This is a major detail, and they need to establish it.

See, I don't hate this episode so much for what it is. This episode itself is average to below-average (for first season). I hate it for what it eventually causes. For what it makes inevitable.

I am developing my rebuttal as we speak.

Emperordaein 26th Jul 11
This is the first episode I considered good, cartoonish as it was. I saw good elements of the show, but didn't yet see why it was considered so great. But I consider episode 6 to be when the show started to pick up.
BonsaiForest 18th Oct 11
Maybe it's because I've seen a lot worse, but I didn't think the comedy was that awful. Though in retrospect, I get what you're saying about Katara. She's kind of a Mary Sue, even more so than the guy who can bend every element. And the plot of this episode does come across as "good triumphs because evil is dumb".
Morgikit 2nd Mar 13
Padding.....Korval, how exactly is character interaction, giving us reason to care about them, padding? Are you saying that you would just cut out all nonvital conversations? How would that work?
Codafett 5th Dec 13