Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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There's absolutely nothing mysterious about the swamp.We start this episode with Iroh and Zuko. They're in an Earth Kingdom town, and Iroh is begging from the people that walk by. Eventually, a douchebag comes by and asks to sing for money. Iroh, not being particularly shameful, sings a song. The douchebag then draws a pair of swords and has Iroh "dance" by cutting at his feet. You know, the way someone might if they were shooting guns. Only since there are no guns, this scene looks utterly stupid. Get comfy, because that's our theme for this episode: utterly stupid. Buckle up. Zuko buries his head in shame at all of this humiliation. Cut to the Gaang, flying over a swamp. Aang starts to subconsciously fly towards it because he can hear it calling to him. When called on this, Aang says that he's supposed to listen to the earth like Bumi said. Except what Bumi said was that he needed to find an earthbender who listened to the earth, not that he specifically needs to listen to it. But Aang eventually relents, since everyone else thinks it's silly to fly into a swamp. Everyone except the swamp of course, which summons a tornado that dashes them to the ground. And no, I'm not kidding; the episode will strongly suggest that the swamp actually summoned this tornado. More utter stupidity. The Gaang are separated from Momo and Appa. Aang and Katara feel that there's something dark and foreboding about the swamp. Since Sokka is neither the Avatar nor a woman, he obviously feels nothing and starts hacking away at vines with his machete to clear a path. Meanwhile, Momo and Appa make a few attempts to escape, but vines keep tangling Appa up. We get a few bits of Komedy! between the two, but nothing of substance. Which could be said for everything about this episode. Night falls. The Gaang huddle around a fire, then hear a loud screech from a bird. We also see a POV shot of someone looking at them through the vines. They go to sleep leaning against one another; not the most comfortable position, I imagine. Vines grab them during the night and separate the three. Each of them is able to escape the vines, in their own idiom; naturally, Katara gets a lengthy scene of badass waterbending.
Then... crap. This episode has been desperately trying to build a sense of foreboding about the swamp. It has tried to build atmosphere and suspense. And to be fair, it has been doing a pretty good job. This is instantly discarded and shat upon once we see two rednecks wearing leaves on their heads. And I'm not kidding when I say that they're rednecks. They talk in an over-the-top southern accent and display the intellect of the common stump. It is now impossible to take the episode seriously anymore; all the time and effort spent building up the atmosphere was completely wasted. The pair (who have actual names given in the show but I hate them too much to bother using them) see Appa's footprints and decide to follow them and eat him. We see Appa having an encounter, but it's just padding. Finally we cut back to something worth a damn. Katara's looking for the group. She sees a woman in the mist and tries to talk to her. But as she approaches, she recognizes it as her mother, from behind. She runs over to find that... it's a stump in a beam of sunlight. She breaks down crying. Sokka has a similar experience, only a bit more intimate. He sees an apparition of Yue in a beam of light. He's skeptical, but then the figure says, "You didn't protect me." She then disappears, only to reappear for a jump scare. Aang sees some random girl with a winged white boar. She laughs and leads Aang on a chase. We cut to Appa, meeting up with the rednecks in canoes, who brought backup. How they tracked Appa when he was swimming is not explained. Nor is it explained how they got in front of him. After some Komedy!, Appa runs off. Then, and I shit you not, one of the rednecks starts swinging his arms wildly to use waterbending as a means of propulsion to chase him. To put a cap into how utterly stupid it is for rednecks to be waterbending, the scene is very poorly animated. Stop-motion would have looked more convincing. The Gaang reunites and they swap stories. Katara and Sokka saw people they knew, but Aang's never met the girl he saw. Katara said that their visions led them to this spot... which isn't true at all. Katara and Sokka weren't following their visions, so they didn't lead them anywhere. Anyway, Aang looks up to see that there's a giant tree here, and that this is the center of the swamp. Aang says that it's what has been calling them, but Sokka doesn't buy it. Suddenly, a swamp monster appears, made of vines. It grabs Sokka, but Aang cuts off its "hand" with some airbending. The vines reattach to its body, then it picks up Sokka and flees. Right into Katara. She waterbends at it and throws it around. But she's eventually knocked away. And as we see Sokka get pulled into the mass of vines, desperately struggling to escape- We cut back to the rednecks. And thank God for that; we almost had some tension about that whole "battle to the death" thing. Good thing we avoided that crap. Especially for a scene in which nothing of consequence happens. They chase Appa. Momo is captured, but Appa keeps running. And then the scene ends. Totally necessary. The fight scene continues, and Katara frees Sokka with some icebending. Katara throws blades of water at it, revealing that there's a person inside controlling the vines. After a little airbending, the person is revealed. Aang thinks that this person called them there. The guy's name is Huu (No, Huu's a jerk. Black Mage!... These are the jokes, people), and he was controlling the vines by bending the water inside them. He says that he protects the swamp from people who want to harm it, like Sokka. Um WTF? You protect a swamp from a single guy with a machete? The swamp is miles across; it wouldn't even notice the loss of a few vines. Attacking people just for that is utterly stupid and makes him an asshole. Huu says that he "reached enlightenment" under the tree. He never bothers to explain what exactly that's supposed to mean, though. He says that the whole swamp is just a single tree, who's branches have somehow turn around, sunken into the ground, taken root, and risen back up. I'm fairly sure branches don't work that way. He then spins some nonsense about how the world is one big organism, that people are just branches of the same tree. You know, the usual pseudo-mystical claptrap that will be accepted as wisdom, but forgotten by the end of the episode. When Katara asks about their visions, Huu says that the swamp shows them people they've lost and cared for, saying that time and death are illusions. So Aang's vision was of someone they hadn't met yet. Sokka ends this nonsensical crap by pointing out that they need to find Appa and leave. Aang uses his Avatar powers to feel the tree and track it back to Appa. He sees a vision of Appa being captured. Now the two plots finally collide. The two sides fight, but the fight ends when the rednecks see that Aang and Katara are waterbending. Huu shows up, since he knows them, and peace is made. Am I supposed to be glad that I didn't get to see these redneck stereotypes ground into paste? Cut to them all eating together. They talk about what happened, and Sokka asks how Huu pulled them down with the tornado. Huu says that he can't do that; he can only waterbend. Sokka dismisses this with the page quote. The only substantive thing that happens in this whole episode is what we see next. The douchebag from the beginning of the episode is walking along. He hears someone and spins around, drawing his swords. He is then attacked, disarmed, and thrown into boxes by a figure that is revealed to be... the Blue Spirit. He claims the swords, and now he's back to his old form. This episode is crap. Not The Great Divide-level crap, but crap nevertheless. The episode tried to establish atmosphere and tension, but the subplot with the rednecks pretty much murdered all of that. Coupled with the kind of new-age touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo that I hate, this episode offers little if anything in terms of actual entertainment value. It's also stuff with needless padding, stretching out scenes for far longer than is necessary, just to cover the fact that not very much happens in the story.
The ep forshadowed Toph,Bloodbending, the "Seperation is Illusion" theme used by The Guru and Lion-Tortoise, and Aang's spirirt powers. Not at all "useless."
I agree with you about this episode being crap but: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_(tree) was probably the inspiration for this tree. As well as this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Banyan. So it's another hybrid, with qualities of both.
Think of the Screaming Bird as symbolic of this episode. Sometimes the mysterious thing is in truth ridiculous. And sometimes it's a megaorganism screwing with causality.
I thought the redneck swamp waterbenders were awesome. But that's considering how close I live to the southern swamps of the US. From my POV they got the creepy , mystic, yet utterly ridiculous nature of the area right.
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