Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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The Guru 1/2
You are definitely your father's son.The Guru is an episode that is half-setup for the season finale. The other half of the episode is, for all intents and purposes, actually part of the season finale. Each of the Gaang members has their own little story, and this episode is very dense. Therefore, I'm dividing this episode into parts. This part will cover Aang and Sokka's travels. Everything that happens in Ba Sing Se, which is part of the finale, will be covered with the season finale, all in one go. Just like a regular two-part story. And what of the lady Bei Fong, you ask? Oh yes, Toph Bei Fong, your time is upon us. But that... happy moment will have to wait until next time. For now, our look at Sokka and Aang begins with them sitting on Appa, near the watertribe camp. Sokka is very nervous about meeting his father, but Aang speaks some reassuring words. Of course, when Sokka asks if Aang is nervous about meeting the Guru, he says he isn't. Because Aang isn't allowed to show anything that might be considered actual human emotions. Anyway, Sokka gets off Appa and heads into the camp. A number of watertribesmen approach him and welcome him warmly. Though apparently the show couldn't afford more than one extra, so there's a lack of background dialog here. They silently show Sokka to the tent where Hakoda is, and Sokka goes in. Bato, from that one episode a season ago, nudges Hakoda so that he notices that his son came in. Hakoda then gets up and hugs Sokka. Aww... After some stuff we'll talk about later, we cut to Aang reaching the Eastern Air Temple. Oddly enough, every episode that prominently features an air temple is specifically named after it, except for this one. Aang finds Guru Pathik and they start to chat. It's the typical pseudo-Asian metaphysical crap about finding balance within oneself before bringing balance to the world. Pathik then puts Aang on a strict diet of onion/banana juice, much to his chagrin. Komedy! After more stuff, we cut back to Aang and Pathik, standing in a cave at night. Pathik says that Aang must open his Chakras in order to master the Avatar State. Aang doesn't know what those are, so Pathik takes a good minute of screen time to explain this concept in the most roundabout manor possible. Why? I have no idea; the specific nature of Chakras will not matter one bit in the future. Yes, that Chakras exists and affect the Avatar State does matter, but this technobabble serves no purpose. All we need to know is that Chakras are linked to controlling the Avatar State. This episode is already full to bursting; spending this much time explaining something in this detail, particularly in the metaphorical way Pathik does, is taking screen time from things that really need some. Anyway, FYI: Chakras are pools of energy that go up the body, and they can be blocked by emotional issues. So Aang must deal with his emotional issues to unlock the Avatar State. See? 10 seconds. Add 20 to provide character appropriate dialog, and you've gained plenty of time for other stuff in the episode. Cut to another cave. Pathik says that they'll be opening the Earth Chakra first; it is blocked by fear. As the two meditate, Aang starts having visions of himself in the Avatar State, culminating with an image of Firelord Ozai bearing down on him with fire everywhere. Aang is panicking at this. Pathik breaks through the vision to remind him that it's not real. He says that Aang must surrender his fears. And... Aang does. He meditates for a bit, and some kind of weird sound happens, and he has opened his Earth Chakra. Really? That's it? That's all it takes for Aang to master fear? Anyway, cut to yet another cave, where the pair will be opening the Water Chakra. This Chakra is blocked by guilt, so he must delve into himself to find and confront his guilt. He remembers how he ran away from home and how he attacked the earthbenders all the way back in The Avatar State. Pathik says that Aang needs to forgive himself. And again, he does. We get the plink sound again, and he has opened his Water Chakra. And yes, this is going to happen four more times. Of course, the last Chakra will be a curve, but this gets tedious and incredibly repetitive. Good thing they put it into an episode where actual things happen. Speaking of which, cut to Sokka and Hakoda. The tribe has set up mines (the floating kind) to protect the waterways leading to Ba Sing Se. Why? I don't know; the city was able to survive a six hundred day siege. If that couldn't get through, a few Fire Nation ships won't matter. Anyway, they engage in some light banter, and after Hakoda makes a lame joke that Sokka laughs at, Bato says the page quote. Anyway, they spot some Fire Nation ships approaching. Hakoda tells the men to get ready for battle. Sokka asks what he should be doing, and Hakoda repeats his command. Sokka beams at him and runs off with the other warriors. Aww... After a couple of scenes, we cut back to Aang and Pathik, set to open the Fire Chakra. This one is blocked by shame. I'm not sure how different that is from guilt. Indeed, Aang's greatest shame is when he firebended and burned Katara, which really seems more like guilt than shame. Pathik says that Aang needs to accept that he is the Avatar and therefore must learn to firebend. Again, we get the plinking noise, and Aang's opened the Chakra. Though this time, Pathik says that it didn't seem to open very well. I guess it doesn't matter how well you open it as long as its open a bit. Which begs the question: do Chakras close? Do you have to do periodic maintenance to keep them open? After some awesome stuff that we'll get to later, we go back to Aang and Pathik. Pathik never says what this one is called, but it deals with love and is blocked by grief. Except that grief is an expression of love. Ignoring that, Aang has visions of the Air Nomads. He watches one by one as they disappear in puffs of smoke. Pathik says that love is a form of energy, which is reborn in new love. The smoke of the Air Nomads forms into: Katara. Because one hot chick is all Aang needs to get over the death of ALMOST EVERYONE HE HAS EVER KNOWN! Cut to the next Chakra, the Sound Chakra. It is blocked by lies, specifically lies told to one's self. So we get flashbacks of Aang back in his Reluctant Hero phase, saying how he never wanted to be the Avatar. It takes Aang about a second to get over this. Since you know, he got over it last season. Cut to the next Chakra, the Light Chakra. It is blocked by illusion, which is somehow different from lies. Specifically, the illusion Aang needs to overcome is the illusion of separation. Pathik says that things that seem separate are not. Everything is connected. You know, what Aang learned back in The Swamp. I'm going to do a full post-mortem on this Chakra in the next one, because it really has nothing to do with Aang. We don't even get to see this Chakra opened, because we cut part-way through this to...
—Bato, after Hakoda makes a lame joke
Moving on, we cut to nighttime. Aang and Pathik are sitting on top of a tall building, and they're finally down to the seventh Chakra, the Thought Chakra. It is blocked by earthly attachment. So now Aang must let go of earthly attachments. Namely Katara. Naturally, Aang won't. Sure, he can get over the death of just about everyone he ever knew, but he won't let go of Katara. Note that Aang says nothing about his attachment to Appa, which has been driving quite a bit of the action for the last 8 episodes. Indeed, this attachment was the character focus of Aang for a full two episodes, and it is what made him throw Joo Dee out and decide to stand up to the Dai Li. But nope. It's all about Katara. Not Sokka or Toph or Appa; they can die and Aang won't bat an eyelash. Isn't he such a wonderful friend? Aang starts arguing with Pathik, asking how being attached to Katara is bad, when it was good three Chakras ago. All Pathik says is that he must let her go. And now Pathik joins Master Yoda in the "Not Getting It" club. Just like in Revenge of the Sith, rather than just explaining what the concept of "letting go" actually means (namely, that you're prepared for them to die so you won't go batshit crazy when their life is threatened), all Pathik says is that Aang needs to let her go.
After a cut to some Katara-related stuff, we get back and Aang is adamant about not being able to let her go. But all Pathik has to say is, "Aang, to master the Avatar State, you must open all the Chakras. Surrender yourself." And that's all it takes for Aang to have a go at letting her go. A few minutes of meditating is all it takes, and Aang now has a vision of himself walking above the world on a platform of light. A giant figure of himself in the Avatar state looms before him, and he walks into its hands. Then, quite suddenly, he sees a vision of Katara in danger (the Ba Sing Se stuff we didn't talk about yet). This shatters his vision, returning him to his body. And he runs off to help Katara. Pathik says that, by choosing attachment, Aang has blocked the Chakra. Not only can he not control the Avatar State, he can't go into it at all. Naturally, rather than taking a few minutes to finish his discipline, he gets on Appa and flies off. After we cut to some... thing, we cut to Sokka, prepared for battle. Wow, it really took the Fire Nation ships a while to get here. Anyway, Sokka says that he wants to make Hakoda proud of him, but Hakoda tells him he's already proud of him. That's why he left Sokka to protect the village. Aww... Gee, I wonder what's happened to the village, since Sokka's here and not there protecting them? Oh well, I guess they'll be OK. It's not like they were left defenseless against the ravages of Fire Nation raids or anything. On the plus side, Screw You, Aunt Wu: 5+Yue for Sokka having a loving, proud father. Yeah, his life is just full of misery. Anyway, Aang shows up to spoil this. We see a scene of Sokka flying off, staring back at his father. And that's it. Well, for Sokka and Aang. The Sokka stuff is fluff, but decent. It plays into his previously-established need to impress his father, and helps guide Sokka's further character growth. As for the Aang stuff...
Time and ChakrasI'm generally not a fan of random Asian philosophy. That's not to say I hate it specifically, but I'm not particularly drawn to it either. And I certainly don't care if the Chakra stuff presented in this episode properly matches up with real-world practice or not. I just don't care. But I do know one thing: this concept could have been handled so much better from a writing and character perspective. Just look at the structure of this episode. You have Aang having to face 7 fundamental emotional forces within himself and overcome them. This is the stuff of epic character development; entire books have been written about characters facing just one of these. The opening of each Chakra has sufficient material to be worthy of a whole episode at least. As a perfect example, consider the unnamed "love" Chakra. Aang has, to my estimation, been running from confronting the fact that everyone is dead. And the needs of the plot have allowed that; he doesn't have time to stop and grieve, so he is able to keep from doing it. In order to open this Chakra, he must finally confront the death of almost everyone he's ever known. Aang should have been emotionally crippled by this. He should have been utterly broken by it, possibly to the point of considering suicide. The rest of the Gaang would have to help him through it, which would so much better symbolize the renewal of love than Pathik talking about it. And this is just what I thought of off the top of my head. Each Chakra has real possibilities for character development and growth. Yet we see none of that. Aang is no different after this than before. All the writers had to do was introduce the Chakra stuff earlier. The Library would have been an excellent opportunity. Aang could have found some information on the Avatar State and how to use it, thus leading to him needing to open his Chakras. From that point on, he could be spending a little time each day trying to get past one of his Chakras. And the "love" one could have been a great replacement for The Tales of Ba Sing Se. Couple that with a B plot involving the Appa/Suki/Azula arc, and you've saved an entire episode's worth of time. And what the finale really needed was a good episode's worth of time to help set it up and execute it. But no. We had to have Sokka engaged in a Haiku battle and Aang freeing some animals. Because that stuff was so much more worthwhile than actual character development.
I'm going to do a full post-mortem on this Chakra in the next one, because it really has nothing to do with Aang. We don't even get to see this Chakra opened, because we cut part-way through this to... Huh. I think I had that same reaction of pure rage to the end of the Pain Arc in Naruto. Aang doesn't know what those are, so Pathik takes a good minute of screen time to explain this concept in the most roundabout manor possible. It's an unsaid rule that mentors or Watchers who have answers have to answer every question in the vaguest, most convoluted words possible. And it's dumb. Especially when their vagueness causes disaster (Thanks, Rachel Alucard.) Naturally, rather than taking a few minutes to finish his discipline, he gets on Appa and flies off. Ughhh. Hated this. ALWAYS hated this. It and everythign else makes the finale play out like an episode of Seconds From Disaster.
Stole your top of page quote thing for my liveblog. M Wahahhaha and stuff.
1. Meeting your long lost father isn't the same as a guy who you were just Im'd Aang is definitely capable of Emotion as you will and have seen. 2.Even if The City is impregnable they still don't want enemy ships running around on their soil. 3. The Grief and love are associated with each other because they're in the same Chakra, from your pandering to the concept, it's obvious you dislike the spiritual aspects of the show, which is fine, but seems to deviate from your usual (and preferred) structural/plot-centric critiques. 4.Illusion is a concept of seeing what's not their, confusion/disasosiating/bigotry etc. A lie is someone deliberately trying to instigate a mistruth, also good piece of continuity nodding with how fast Aang gets over the Sound Block, thought you would've of like the consistency, odd. 5.Their are no Water Benders in the South, the FN considers it a non threat, they're a bunch of poor, powerless women and children what the hell would they care about it for? 6. And now for the Doom-Bomb, ill give you one thing; you know your literacy skills. Great organic foreshadowing to this climax.
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