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Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
Korval

[table of contents]
The Blue Spirit
If you die, you'll just be reborn, and the Fire Nation will have to begin its search all over again. So I'll keep you alive, but just barely.
Admiral Zhao

We open with... not padding! Commander Zhao is begging a Colonel Shinu for the use of a group of people called the Yu Yan Archers. They are, as the name suggests, archers, each one of them easily the equal of Green Arrow. Shinu says no, until a message arrives from the Firelord. Seems Zhao's been promoted to Admiral now. Apparently, this ranks him above a Colonel, so he now just orders Shinu to hand them over.

However, a figure in a blue mask, heretofore known as the titular Blue Spirit, is spying on them.

Cut to the Gaang. Sokka is ill. Well, that's putting it mildly. He's to the point of delusions, and if you think this will be the last time Sokka's hallucinations will be played for laughs, you obviously don't know the writers very well. Aang knows of an herbalist nearby, and once Katara starts up with her own Cough of Impending Death, he high-tails it. There's a thunderstorm, so he leaves behind his staff. And Appa. Apparently, badass airbenders can super-speed like the Flash, and Aang takes the opportunity to do so.

Cut to Zuko on his ship. Another Fire Nation ship shows up, asking for info on where the Avatar might be, on orders of Admiral Zhao. Zuko tells them to ram it. Meanwhile, Iroh is busy hustling the crew at Pai Sho.

We get some Komedic Irony when Aang blows past a Fire Nation lookout post. They signal the others after Aang passes.

Then, we cut to Katara. Here, we get some more Komedy!, where the now bedridden Katara asks Momo to get some water. If you've forgotten, Momo is a flying lemur. We even get a camera shot of Momo's view of what Katara's saying, and it's gibberish. And yet, Momo takes Katara's water bottle and goes off to do something.

What follows is even more Komedy! as Aang deals with the crazy herbalist. Zuko meanwhile is angrily slinging fire around on the deck of his ship. He's despairing because, thanks to Zhao's new rank, he stands little chance of finding Aang before Zhao does.

We have a bit more Komedy! with Aang as he finally gets instructions from the herbalist. He has to get frozen frogs from a swamp and have his friends suck on them. When he leaves, he encounters the Yu Yan Archers. He's able to swat away their initial barrage of arrows with his airbending. Then, he starts running away.

He jumps off a cliff, followed by the Yu Yan. He survives by using his airbending. They survive by... using arrows with ropes on them to break their fall. I guess that works. Eventually, Aang gets to the swamp and starts scooping up frozen frogs. While being attacked by the Yu Yan, mind you. That clever airbending move he used earlier to deflect all of their shots? Yeah, that doesn't see use anymore. Eventually, the Yu Yan pin Aang to a wall (because we can't have arrows actually going into someone on a kid's show), and he is captured.

Now, we don't see any of the transition scenes between when he's pinned and when he get imprisoned. Why? Because it would raise too many questions. Most of the time when Aang escapes from someone, it is during transport. People grab Aang all the time; it's holding on to him that's hard. So, to avoid having to actually think about how the Yu Yan get him to the prison, we just jump-cut to him in chains.

Zhao walks in and does his one cool thing for the episode. Or ever, to be honest. He taunts Aang about being the Last Airbender, and then delivers the page quote with a surprising quantity of malice. Granted, Aang slams him into a wall with the power of his breath, so that undercuts the threat level a bit. Still, it's an effective scene.

After some pointlessness with Katara and Momo, we cut to a cart approaching the fortress where Aang is held. The Blue Spirit is underneath the cart. The guards display a shocking degree of competence as they actually look under the cart. Of course, the Blue Spirit's ability to teleport while off-camera saves him. Because there's no way he could actually climb into the cart without being spotted.

Zhao delivers a speech about using Sozin's Comet to break the walls of Ba Sing Se and burn the city down. Promises, promises; you'll never live to see it.

We get some more Komedy! when the frogs Aang collected start thawing out, and he keeps screaming at them to stay frozen. After more Komedy with Katara and Momo, we get to something actually interesting. The Blue Spirit takes out the four guards protecting Aang. And again, we see actual competence from these guards.

First, one of them hears something, so he goes to check it out. When they hear the sound of a quick fight, two more go, but are clearly being careful when they investigate. The last guard picks up a horn, knowing good and well what's coming, but the Blue Spirit takes him down before he can blow it. Yes, all their preparations were for naught, but at least they weren't beaten by their own stupidity.

The Blue Spirit cuts Aang free, and the two escape. After some Komedy! back with the rest, and another scene of Aang and the frogs, we get to see the great escape. They're stealthy for a time, but they're spotted trying to get over the first wall. A fierce action scene ensues, where Aang and the Blue Spirit fight in tandem.

More competence is displayed by the guards, and eventually Aang and the Spirit are cornered. Zhao says that Aang must be taken alive. Immediately, the Blue Spirit puts his swords to Aang's throat. After a long moment, Zhao lets them go.

Of course, Zhao still has his snipers. As the Spirit takes Aang away, a Yu Yan Archer fires a shot into the Blue Spirit's mask, knocking him out. Aang immediately airbends a cloud of dust. But as the Spirit is lying on the ground, he spots something. He pulls off the mask to reveal...

Prince Zuko! What a twist!

Aang starts to leave him there, but then waits. Another long moment passes. When the dust clears, both Aang and Zuko are gone.

Cut to morning. Aang's sitting in a forest with Zuko. Well, I guess his friends weren't in dire straits or something. What with Sokka having a fever high enough to make him hallucinate and all. When Zuko wakes up, Aang starts talking about his best friend Kuzon from a hundred years ago. And he was a citizen of the Fire Nation. Aang wonders if they had known each other back then if they could have been friends. Zuko responds... with firebending. So Aang runs off.

Aang gets the frogs and has them suck on them, to their eventual horror. Zuko goes back to his ship to sleep. The end.

Man, I haven't seen an episode undermine itself this badly since the last time I saw the Star Trek: Enterprise episode Silent Enemy. In that episode, you have the crew struggling against an enemy that shrugs off their weapons, takes the Enterprise down without sweating, boards their ship and assaults crew members, is impervious to phasers, and leaves what is effectively a combination between a bomb and a listening device on board. They are at this species's mercy. But every few minutes, they have to cut to some idiotic B plot about Hoshi looking for Reed's favorite food. It just murders the tension that the episode is trying to build.

I know this is a kid's show. But even kid's shows need tension. And cutting back to Sokka hallucinating or Katara getting a bunch of crap from Momo is simply not helping the tense situation with Aang. And even worse is all of those times when Aang is talking to the frogs in the fortress. All these things do is hurt the effectiveness of the main thrust of the episode.

This episode could have been a classic. But the side plots and slow nature of it means that what everyone really remembers is the last 10 minutes of it.

The fact that we never see the Yu Yan Archers again (with the possible exception of a single guy who gets punked out in 2 minutes. And he had backup) also serves to hurt this episode. They're shown to be super-effective against Aang, yet they will not be used again. For anything. They were just a one-time plot device to get Aang captured and force an Enemy Mine situation with Zuko.

Speaking of whom, we get the continuation of a running theme that I like to call, "Prince Zuko, Jobber to the Stars." The term "jobber" comes from wrestling; a jobber is a person who loses matches. A good jobber tries to make his opponent look as strong, menacing, and powerful as possible. A "Jobber to the Stars" is someone who consistently beats low-grade wrestlers; this allows him to have some basic credibility as a threat. But this is only so that he can be beaten by the upper-crust wrestlers, to show them as greater threats.

This is an accurate description of Zuko. He is allowed to be awesome when his opponents don't matter. We saw this back when he rescued Iroh from the earthbenders. And we will see this many times in the future. If the enemy doesn't have a name or never appeared before, Zuko's probably going to beat them down. Otherwise, Zuko always loses. The only exception to this is Zhao.

Basically, what happens is that the writers keep trying to have Zuko impress us. But they can't let him beat Aang. So he has to beat everyone but the guy he's trying to capture.

28th Jun '11 9:56:08 PM flag for mods
comments
Basically, what happens is that the writers keep trying to have Zuko impress us. But they can't let him beat Aang. So he has to beat everyone but the guy he's trying to capture.

What a true, very common plot device.

Although I'm trying to hold back on reading your liveblog because I don't want my expectations for the show colored by disappointment (as I'm only up to the early second season as I type this), I am noticing that a good number of your complaints are based around storytelling devices that are quite common. That doesn't mean they're not dumb storytelling devices, but they're pretty much par for the course, unfortunately
BonsaiForest 18th Oct 11
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