Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender


The Library

We'll finish our vacations, and then we'll look for Sokka's "intelligence."

We open with... not exactly padding. Aang is sitting in a savannah, with the Gaang standing behind him. We get some clunky exposition that tells us that they're taking mini-vacations. Aang apparently thinks he's earned one, due to working "his arrow off" learning waterbending and earthbending. Presumably, this means that montage we saw.

Really, how much time has passed since the last episode anyway? Maybe a couple of weeks? How much training could he have possibly had that he feels he needs to take a vacation?

Sokka points out that they need to find information on the Fire Nation, like where to find the Firelord. Far be it from me to question an idea that's rooted in actually accomplishing something, but finding the Firelord shouldn't be difficult. You go into the Fire Nation and ask someone where the capital is. It's not like everyone there knows who you are or anything.

Katara then says the page quote. Right, because trying to actually do something is stupid; they shouldn't bother trying to plan or accomplish anything. Sadly, considering the fallout from this episode, and how much the Avatar-verse runs on the Rule of Destiny than anyone actually coming up with ideas on their own, that probably is exactly what the show is trying to say.

Because Katara is always right.

Katara decides to take her vacation at an ice spring next to a desert. And that's literal; a natural spring that slowly fountains ice. Frozen water. Next to a desert. Look, I know that there's bending and all, but this doesn't even come close to making sense.

The Gaang goes into a bar, where they encounter Professor Zei, the head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University. Um, whatever. Zei is pleased to meet an airbender, and starts asking him questions about the Air Nomads. Since they're, you know, extinct.

Sokka asks Zei if he has a map they could use. Zei's map is only of the nearby Si Wong Desert. At Katara's questioning, he exposites that he's taken many trips into the desert to find the library of the great knowledge spirit, Wan Shi Tong. Sokka, being all about the gathering of information, decides that his vacation will be at the library. Toph gets a moment to grouse about her not getting a vacation, which is here primarily to remind us that Toph exists.

Thanks to Appa, the Gaang will be able to thoroughly explore the desert. When they go outside, they see some guys in wrappings accosting Appa; Zei informs us that they're sandbenders and shoos them away. And thus, the Gaang is off.

What do you mean I'm an attention-starved twat?

So they're flying around the desert. We get various scenes of the group farting around on Appa's back. Then, Toph points into the desert and yells, "There it is!" She's obviously pointing at nothing, since she's blind, and she says that that's what it'll sound like when one of them spots it. Besides showing that Toph is being an asshole, what does this scene accomplish? What are they trying to say about Toph's character here?

Eventually, they spot the top of the building buried in the sand. Toph uses her Toph-Vision to see inside the building, and she says that the inside is fine. There's a window in the building's top, so they can still get in. Toph decides to wait with Appa, since she can't read. You know, being blind and all.

The Gaang-1+1 goes in. There, they encounter a giant owl, Wan Shi Tong himself. He says that his library is off-limits to humans. We now find out that this is the library that Zhao found, where he discovered how to find the Ocean and Moon Spirits. Wow, you mean Zhao had an actual purpose in the show? Wan Shi Tong says that humans only learn to beat other humans, and he pointedly asks Sokka who he's trying to destroy.

Sokka tries to lie, saying that they're here for knowledge's sake, but Wan Shi Tong isn't an idiot. What with him being an all-knowing knowledge spirit. Sokka then gets Aang, the Avatar and bridge to the Spirit World, to vouch for them. And Aang does; he lies that they won't misuse the knowledge. After accepting a few donations of knowledge to the library, Wan Shi Tong lets them look around. Unsupervised.

Cut to Toph speaking with Appa. This scene exists to exposite that Toph-Vision doesn't work very well on loose sand.

Cut to Aang, looking at pictures of giant Lion-Turtles. I say this because it's a plot point for the future, a reference that marks this moment as the nadir of the episode.

Sokka finds a burned parchment that speaks of the darkest day in Fire Nation history. The parchment doesn't say what happened, but it does have a date. The Gaang-1+1 heads to the Fire Nation section of the library (why didn't they go there immediately?), only to find that Zhao burned it down. Which probably explains why Wan Shi Tong was so adamant about not having humans there.

One of Wan Shi Tong's helper spirits, a fox, appears, pointing the Gaang-1+1 to a door containing a planetarium. Sure, why not. They can input dates and see what things were like at that time, celestially. When they input the date on the parchment, they find that it was the day of a solar eclipse. Because firebenders loose their powers under a solar eclipse.

Sokka then devises a plan. They'll go to Ba Sing Se to meet with the Earth King and raise an army. Then, when the next eclipse comes, they'll invade and defeat the Firelord. There are two problems with this plan. First, they have not at this point determined when the next eclipse is. What's the point of making plans based on this unless you know that one is coming before Sozin's comet arrives?

And second, Wan Shi Tong shows up; he overhears all of this and is rather ticked off. The Gaang-1+1 try to console him, saying that the Fire Nation is evil. Wan Shi Tong glibly says that they aren't the first to think that their war is justified. Which would only make sense if the Fire Nation hadn't invaded. This is a war of defense, not aggression, and defense is always justified. After all, Wan Shi Tong is about to violently defend his library.

Rather than pointing out this hole in the great knowledge spirit's logic, Aang just says that they want to protect the people they love. So Wan Shi Tong tells them that he's going to protect what he loves, and performs some spirit magic. He causes the building to sink. Then his neck extends several dozen feet and he attacks them.

Cut to Toph and Appa. Toph realizes that the library is sinking, and she then jams her fists into the top of it to try to keep it from sinking. This only serves to pull her into the sand, so she hardens the sand under her feet into stone and tries again. This time it works, and the library stops sinking.

OK, this is absurd. Toph is able to just resist spirit magic now? How much more power can they shove into a 12-year-old girl? Sadly, this is not the apex of Toph Bei Fong's ridiculous earthbending prowess. Just wait for it.

Cut back to the Gaang-1+1, running from Wan Shi Tong. Professor Zei tries to appeal to the spirit not to destroy the library (which I'm pretty sure isn't his plan), but Aang pulls him out of the way before he can become a spirit snack. Aang then airbends Wan Shi Tong away temporarily.

Sokka then realizes what I pointed out before: that they don't know when the next eclipse is. Katara says that they'll find out later, but Sokka says that they won't, that they need to find out now. Sokka brings Aang to the planetarium so that they can search for eclipse dates.

Cut to Toph and Appa again. The sandbenders are back. Because Sand Is Water, they ride in sailing ships that are powered by throwing sand into their sails. They attack Appa, but Toph can't really see what's going on (hence the plot point earlier).

Sokka and Aang eventually find the date of an eclipse before Sozin's Comet. I'll ignore that they don't find out where that eclipse happens (since eclipses are location-specific).

Cut back to Toph. She drops the library (my God, that's stupid) and hurls sand at the sandbenders. But she misses, because she can't see. Then she goes right back to holding up the library. Meanwhile, the sandbenders have subdued Appa and are dragging him away. She tries a few more attacks, but hits nothing, so she returns to holding up the library. And she gives a defeated, "I'm sorry, Appa."

Cut to Katara fleeing from Wan Shi Tong. After some running, she decides to stop and fight. Wan Shi Tong boasts that he's studied all forms of waterbending. Of course, what he doesn't know is that she, even as a novice, was able to hang with an old master waterbender. Before she gets to fight him, Aang drops Sokka on him and Sokka hits him with a book, claiming that that's "Sokka-Style." Um, whatever.

As the Gaang-1 prepares to leave, they find that Professor Zei wants to stay, to learn all of the information here. And likely become a "stuffed head of anthropology" when Wan Shi Tong finishes with him. The Gaang-1 decide to leave him to his fate and escape.

Just in the nick of time, as Toph apparently can no longer hold up the library and it sinks. Sokka and Katara celebrate that they have a plan to deal with the Fire Nation. But Aang realizes that Appa is gone.

This is a good episode overall. Toph is handled a bit strangely this episode. Her stuff in the early part of the episode made her seem like an attention-starved twat. But her stuff later, when she fails to stop a few pesky sandbenders from capturing Appa, all because she's blind, works reasonably well. The details of this will be discussed in the next episode.

Wan Shi Tong comes off as suitably creepy. Not exactly evil, but not exactly friendly either. Aang however is a terrible bridge between the Spirit World and the regular world, as he does nothing remotely bridge-like here. He lies to take advantage of the spirit's trust in the Avatar. I wish this act had some consequences down the road.

But beyond those things, this episode is important. Because ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the Arc.

A Series in Three Acts

Avatar: The Last Airbender, as a series, effectively has a three-act structure. Season 1 and early Season 2 has our setup. The heroes are assembled. They meander around for a while, and their characters are shown to the audience. Then, Avatar Roku shows up to deliver the Call to Adventure. They meander their way to the North Pole, having adventures and so forth. They do this, not so that Aang can learn waterbending, but so that Katara can and therefore teach him.

There's a big fight, and more of Aang's Avatar powers are revealed. The group passes their first major hurdle, but our setup isn't finished yet. We now introduce the villain (and no; Zhao doesn't count). We put Zuko on his path, now a fugitive from the Fire Nation. We find Toph Bei Fong, thus pushing forward with the need to train Aang.

We ended the first act with The Chase, where our main villain showed herself to be a major threat (way, way too well). And the previous episode worked as a kind of intermission.

This episode marks the beginning of the second act, because something completely new happens. For once in this series, the Gaang have a plan. They're not just aimlessly wandering around, stumbling upon other people's problems and trying to solve them. They're not training Aang for some future fight against the Firelord. They're now working towards a specific goal.

Sokka has discovered vital intelligence (up yours, Katara!) that the Gaang now intends to exploit for the purposes of actually resolving the plot. The Gaang have shifted from being reactive to being proactive. This is new and different. And it sets in motion all of the events that will carry us to mid-season 3.

This episode's contents may be the single most important event that happens in the entire show, from a plot perspective. Everything before it was prologue. Now, the Gaang are actively trying to shape their destinies.

Of course, since this is only the second act, you can guess how well that works out.


Besides showing that Toph is being an asshole, what does this scene accomplish? What are they trying to say about Toph's character here?

It's meant to be a funny scene. But I guess that OMG!CHARACTERHUMORISN'TFUNNY, THISSHOW'SWRITING SUCKS!, huh? Will the nitpicking ever end? 22nd Jul 11
"Besides showing that Toph is being an asshole, what does this scene accomplish?"

It's funny
PataHikari 22nd Jul 11
Besides showing that Toph is being an asshole, what does this scene accomplish? What are they trying to say about Toph's character here?

Okay. I cannot defend you anymore here. This is nitpicking of the pettiest kind of all. IT'S A BLOODY JOKE.

Toph is handled a bit strangely this episode. Her stuff in the early part of the episode made her seem like an attention-starved twat. But her stuff later, when she fails to stop a few pesky sandbenders from capturing Appa, all because she's blind, works reasonably well. The details of this will be discussed in the next episode.

Right. Because one harmless prank/joke at her team should be the judge of her entire character. Good god that is petty.
Emperordaein 22nd Jul 11
What are they trying to say about Toph's character here?

That she has a sense of humor? Really?
Ghilz 22nd Jul 11
"It's meant to be a funny scene." "IT'S A BLOODY JOKE." "That she has a sense of humor?"

But it wasn't funny. None of the characters laughed. They gave her looks, but that's about it. And it wasn't even funny for the audience.

It's just petulant behavior.
Korval 22nd Jul 11
It was funny to the audience, a lot of people found t funny.
PataHikari 23rd Jul 11
Honestly, you guys, you're getting pretty worked up about this. It's just Korval's opinion, even if he's nitpicking. Going "WHEN WILL THE NITPICKING END," well...
poshiyoshi 19th Aug 11
^ "It's just his opinion." Laziest. Stock Excuse. Ever.
ManwiththePlan 30th Aug 11
I too thought the joke Toph made was mildly amusing, and a nice character moment for her. In fact, I like seeing her make jokes about her blindness. It didn't bother me at all, quite the opposite.
BonsaiForest 24th Oct 11

DrDougsh 23rd Apr 12
It was a joke dude. Seriously it was just a joke. I get that you don't like Toph, but that was clearly just a gag. Stop acting like humor is the worst part of this show, it's what gives it a soul.
Codafett 5th Dec 13