Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Sozin's Comet: The Path of Sokka
Padding, Padding, Pad-ding!
Sitting around the house has made us pretty lazy. But I know just the thing to change that. Beach party!We open with Zuko training Aang in some firebending stuff. He urges Aang to be more ferocious, which leads to Aang triple firebending strongly from his arms and mouth. Katara offers a "glass" of watermelon juice, even though she's holding hollowed-out watermelons, not glasses. Aang heads over, but Zuko stops him since his lesson isn't over. Suki suggests that it's just a break, and Zuko relents angrily and walks off.
So Sokka speaks the page quote and everyone but Zuko goes to the beach. I'll just assume this is the private beach for Ozai's private beach house. We got shots of miscellaneous goofing off, which serves only as Komedy! and padding for the episode. Four episodes for the finale, and they felt the need to add padding. Something actually happens when Zuko shows up and starts attacking Aang. He chases Aang into the house and sets it on fire while stalking him. This eventually forces Aang to fight back, so he blasts Zuko out of the house. Naturally Katara appears and righteously wrecks his shit for... oh way, that doesn't happen. I guess we'll just forget that whole, "You make one step backward, one slip-up, give me one reason to think you might hurt Aang, and you won't have to worry about your destiny anymore. Because I'll make sure your destiny ends right then and there. Permanently!" thing. Idle threats are idle. So now, after 4 minutes of actual episode time, we get to the plot. Zuko asks how they can have a beach party when Sozin's Comet is 3 days away. Everyone else just kinda looks around. Eventually, Aang says that he was planning to fight Ozai after the comet. He says that he's not ready, and Sokka says that if he goes up against him, he'll lose. Katara even points out that the reason for fighting Ozai before the comet was to stop his conquest of the Earth Kingdom. Which is pretty much finished, since he took Ba Sing Se. OMG, logic is being employed! However, what they don't know is that the Avatar-verse runs on the Rule of Destiny: Aang's going to fight Ozai under Sozin's Comet, and no logic is going to get around that. So what exactly was Zuko thinking the day before? Or the day before that? He didn't bother to ask what their plan of attack for getting to Ozai was. He didn't ask what day they were planning to leave. He just assumed that they were going to go and that the plan was only available on a need-to-know basis? He picks now, 3 days until Sozin's Comet, to even bring it up? Anyway, Zuko decides to tell them about what actually happened at that war meeting. There's Zuko character stuff that I'm not getting into yet, but the gist of it is this: Ozai is planning to use the power of the comet to "rain fire" on the Earth Kingdom from their airships. He claims that they will destroy everything and build a new world on the ashes. Zuko sums it up succinctly: "if you don't defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes, there won't be a World to save anymore." First, I don't buy this plan as being a threat to the Earth Kingdom. We see the airship fleet and there's no way that they will be able to cover even a significant part of the Earth Kingdom in fire. I guess the idea is that we're supposed to buy into the Avatar-verse idea that flying things move at infinite velocities, but I don't. The absolute best you can say is that maybe they're trying to start a self-propagating firestorm that will somehow persist cover the entire Earth Kingdom. However, for the purposes of this episode, I'll just ignore this. Let's just take the episode at its word: this is an existential threat to the entire Earth Kingdom. Allow me to quote Aang's next line, "Why didn't you tell me about your Dad's crazy plan sooner?" Aang's an idiot, but that's a damn good question. And Zuko's response is not exactly fulfilling: he says that he didn't think that he had to, since he thought they were planning to fight Ozai before the comet. Really, Zuko? You know of an existential threat to the Earth Kingdom, and you figure it's not important to bring up because they will be assassinating Ozai anyway? And what happens if the Fire Nation army decides to burn the Earth Kingdom down in retaliation for murdering the Firelord? It's not like Sozin's Comet would have stopped if Ozai was killed. Is this more Chess logic, where the Fire Nation instantly stops being a problem when they lose their leader? Anyway, the Gaang decides to attack Ozai together. Why Ozai? If they're so convinced that Aang can't take down the guy, then why not just destroy his airship fleet. Without the airships, the plan fails, right? So why not go deal with that instead of attacking the guy who they can't defeat? Oh right, Chess logic; they don't actually win until the King is captured. So the Gaang has a group hug to celebrate their togetherness. I guess Aang forgot about that whole thing from the intro, where he specifically didn't want anyone else fighting Ozai with him. He's gone from "I've always know I'd have to face the Firelord. But now I know I need to do it alone," to "Fighting the Firelord is going to be the hardest thing we've ever done together. But I wouldn't want to do it any other way." Destiny wasn't listening this time Aang. You made your bed, now lie in it. Cut to Zuko teaching Aang lightning redirection. It's odd how Zuko doesn't try teaching Aang what he knows about generating lightning. Yes, Zuko never mastered that trick, but now that he's a super-special-awesome Sun Warrior firebender, you would think that he'd give it a shot. Anyway, we get a quick bit of padding flashback, where we see The Only Awesome Thing Zuko Has Ever Done And Will Ever Do: shoving Ozai's lightning back at him. We also get a bit of dialog telling us that Katara doesn't have anymore spirit water. I don't know why; it seems obvious from how she healed him back then that it was gone. Why bother even bringing it up? New viewers won't know what you're talking about, and regulars of the show already know it's all gone. The next few scenes are all about Aang's plot, so we'll cut to the next morning. The Gaang wakes up, packs their stuff, and is boarding Appa to go kill Ozai. Suddenly they realize that Aang's not there. All that time, and only now do they realize that he's not here? So they decide to split up and search the island. The Blind, Snarky Earthbender instantly claims Zuko, since everyone else got to have a character around Zuko. Yeah. Anyway, Cut to Katara and Suki running across some people shouting "Aang". Nope, it's just Not-Aang from the previous episode. We then cut to the BSE and Zuko. She's talking about how she kept running away from home, while Zuko ignores her, saying that they should focus on finding Aang. This scene exists to remind the audience that the BSE doesn't have a character. But it's more than that; they're basically taunting us with the fact that they didn't give her character. They're not just aware of her weak character status; they're directly rubbing our noses in it. The writers are saying how much they personally hate anyone who wants Toph Bei Fong to be an actual character. Cut back to the house; none of them found Aang. After a bit of Komedy!, every looks to Zuko for suggestions. When he ask why, they point out that tracking the Avatar is kinda what he does. So he decides to take them somewhere in the Earth Kingdom. After skipping a scene, we cut to the Gaang in a bar finding... continuity: June. You know, that tracker from one of the episodes they didn't talk about in the last episode, and thus missed the opportunity to avoid exposition in this episode. Exposition that Sokka is kind enough to deliver. June is fighting Not-Ryu; naturally, instead of beating the ever-loving shit out of her like the actual Ryu would, Not-Ryu simply jobs out in a few seconds. June isn't interested in finding the Avatar for them, as it doesn't sound particularly fun. Zuko then says, "Does the end of the world sound like more fun?" Apparently, this convinces her to work for them, likely for free. What, did he explain everything to her off screen? And she bought it? Oh, and her Shirshu can track things anywhere in the world. Look, I know that June said that it should smell a rat from a continent away, but I just assumed that was just hyperbole. I never even imagined that it was an understatement. Anyway, her Shirshu smells Aang's staff, then walks around in a circle and puts her head down. June says that this means that Aang is gone. As in, not in the world. Not dead; he doesn't exist. ... what? Back in Bato, of the Water Tribe, it was pretty clear that the Shirshu worked by physical means. By tracking a scent. Sure, it's nonsense physics (as smells don't travel that far), but it is at least conversant with actual physics. Now, it is able to determine, from scent alone that Aang isn't in a place, that he isn't findable. If Aang were removed from the world, wouldn't it just take them back to where Aang last was? Since Aang is in an unfindable state, Zuko figures that he could find someone else. So he fishes out one of Iroh's sandals. You know, from way, way back in The Spirit World, which also wasn't set up properly last episode. Naturally, this trip takes them back through where to where Iroh has been, from back in his cell and every... oh I forgot; they decided that Shirshus work by pure magic now. So it goes directly towards Iroh, instead of following where Iroh's been like it did with Katara. They wind up just outside of a big hole in Ba Sing Se's wall. June decides to leave them there, rather than going straight to Iroh. Because the plot doesn't actually incorporate her; she's just a convenient plot device to get them where they need to go. I'd like to point something out. The Gaang has flown from the Fire Nation to a random Earth Kingdom tavern (God only knows how many they had to search through before finding June) then all the way to Ba Sing Se. In the course of two days. Less, actually. That is beyond absurd. Appa basically flies at the speed of the plot, and June's Shirshu is capable of running at the speed of the plot as well. The writing in this section of the episode is incredibly shoddy and contrived.
The Old Masters
King Bumi: So what about you guys? Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse?
Sokka: No, not really.So with the Fire Nation on the very eve of burning the Earth Kingdom to the ground, the Gaang decides that now's the perfect time to take a nap. Yes it's night time, but seriously, show some urgency here. It's not like you have a firm plan for dealing with this yet. Anyway, the Gaang are awoken in the middle of the night when their camp is encircled by flame. As the Gaang gathers, they see 4 people before them. And then... Bumi speaks. Oh good. Because that's what this episode about stopping an existential threat to the Earth Kingdom and saving the world needed: his crazy old man schtick. He's with Pakku, Jeong Jeong, and Piandao. Since we only saw one of these characters in the last twenty episodes, it's time for exposition. Because, it's not like we had a whole episode devoted to telling us about what happened prior in the series or anything. Oh and Pakku married Kana in the intervening 5 months, which makes total sense. Yep, she didn't want the NWT's traditions running her life, but she still marries that guy she was promised to marry in the first place. And obviously, neither of them were made so different by the separate lives they've lived for decades that they were no longer compatible. Piandao tells us that they're all members of the Order of the White Lotus, which transcends the division of the four nations. Sure why not. Apparently, they were gathered together by Iroh. I wonder if Iroh also called on the members of the orders who were just good Pai Sho players. You know, the ones who aren't badass benders or Mary Sues. Bumi explains via flashback that he broke out during the eclipse. Because he was waiting for something. It'd have been funny if Sozin's Comet came first. Anyway, since he's not a 12-year-old blind girl ostensibly trained by badgermoles, he doesn't manifest an impossible power to escape. He simply used his facial muscles to bend some nearby stone to break himself out of the box. At which point, he drives out all of the Fire Nation soldiers, tears down the large Ozai statue, and flings it off of his city. Yeah, this makes no sense. Back in The Library, the Gaang found out about the eclipse because they ran across some old records called "The Darkest Day in Fire Nation History." Which probably means that the Fire Nation scholars remembered what happened that day. And since it was a pretty dark day, I imagine that they wouldn't want a repeat. Now, the Fire Nation is clearly the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet. People have been predicting solar eclipses for millennia; they were making semi-correct estimates of them in Babylonian times, 700BC or so. Not to mention, the Fire Nation must have been able to predict the arrival of Sozin's Comet, since you can't make a coordinated attack on four separate targets without being able to predict something to the very day. Their celestial mechanics skills must have been finely honed, so I'm not buying that the Fire Nation couldn't know when eclipses were coming. And even if somehow the Fire Nation was completely ignorant of the coming eclipse, Azula told them about it! What, did Ozai not think to inform his troops elsewhere that there was an eclipse coming, so tighten security beforehand? Cut to the Order of the White Lotus's camp. BTW, where did they get all these uniforms and such from? Are they a secret society or a secret army? Piandao points Zuko towards Iroh's tent, and Zuko slowly walks to it and sits down in front of the door. After some scenes I'll cover later, we cut to the next day, with the Gaang+Iroh having breakfast. Again, I'll cover this in more detail later. But the important parts of this for our current story is that Iroh's going to retake Ba Sing Se with his Army of the White Lotus. Basically, they decide that destiny will take care of Aang fighting Ozai (which I'm not sure constitutes a solution), so Iroh tells Zuko to go back to the Fire Nation to fill the power vacuum. Zuko decides that the best person he can take with him to help deal with Azula is Katara. After some talk about destiny, Sokka asks Iroh about his destiny, and Iroh asks him what he thinks it is. So he says that they (Suki and the BSE) should take on the airship fleet. Plus, they'll be on hand in case Aang needs help against Ozai. This division of labor makes absolutely no sense. Especially considering the issue at hand. If we are to believe that the Fire Nation's airship fleet poses an existential threat to the Earth Kingdom as a whole, who cares about Ba Sing Se? Why don't they martial all of the White Lotus and the Gaang against the actual problem, the airship fleet? Nobody even suggests this. So maybe it could be due to a lack of transportation; maybe they don't have enough "Eel-hounds" to carry all of them there. So they can only take 3 people. Even though technically they could carry a good 4-5 on Appa as well. But let's limit it to 3. Why not take their biggest guns: Bumi, Iroh, and Piandao? (Pakku wouldn't be useful without a source of water.) Why are you sending three teenagers on the most important mission? Maybe the metal-bending BSE's badass enough to sub in for Piandao, but Sokka and Suki? Two normals? Up against super-powered firebenders? Hell, given what we see later of this fleet, Iroh or Bumi alone could take the fleet down. I know that Iroh cites his destiny, but I don't see that as being a coherent argument. Cut to Piandao telling them that the airships are stationed on a small island off the Earth Kingdom coast. How in the hell does he know that? Any information Zuko would have gotten from the meeting must have changed; there's no reason for the Fire Nation not to simply alter their attack route. So how does Piandao know where the airships are? Did the Order learn about the attack, but just assumed somebody else would take care of it? Well, I guess the writers ran out of actual contrivances and callbacks, so they decided to just cheat to get the final battle they want. This episode ends with shots of Sozin's Comet entering the upper atmosphere, setting the sky ablaze.
Into the InfernoAs the eel-hound is swimming across the sea, Suki comments on how beautiful the glow from the comet is. When they finally arrive, they see the airships taking off; they're too late. The Blind, Snarky Earthbender is able to earthbend-catapault them onto the airship. Just by Sokka pointing at it. Sure why not. The trio make their way to the control room of their airship; apparently nobody saw them before. The BSE knocks on the metal door, then metal-bends it into armor around herself and takes out the super-powered firebenders with metal bending. Sokka decides to dump the crew off in the water by flying low and then telling the crew to go to the launch bay. Which of course works, because obviously machines like those that power the airships can be left unattended to celebrate a birthday. No really; that's the excuse Sokka gives, and the crew buys it. Sokka heads his airship towards Ozai's, which is in front of the formation. Not because it makes sense for his to be out in front of the flying wedge, but just so that Sokka can't simply ram his ship and remove him as a threat to the world that way. After a few more scenes we'll cover later, Sokka's airship isn't able to catch up with Ozai's before he, standing at the head of his ship, starts blasting fire down onto the rocks. Why he's burning random rock and forest instead of starting the attack at an actual town with people in it, I don't know. Sokka celebrates however when he sees Aang take out Ozai's airship and start the epic duel. But that's for another time. Suki suggests helping him, but Sokka simply claims that it's Aang's fight, that they need to focus on the airship fleet. Wow, someone who has actual priorities. Sokka takes his airship out to the side of the formation, then turns it towards the other ships. After setting course, he gets everyone up to the top of the ship, just as it crashes into several of the airships. However, the head of their airship comes off, leaving Suki stranded on the rest of the ship, while Sokka and the BSE go flying into another airship. After a lot of stuff happens, we cut back to Sokka and the BSE. He has her bend the rudder of the airship they're on into a turning position, so as to cause it to ram into others. Afterwards, he strokes her ego a bit, which she accepts. Granted, maybe he should have thought farther ahead, as a firebender shows up to attack them. They dodge and fall down, with Sokka using his Black Sword to try to slow their descent. Of course, being a sword designed to cut things, it doesn't help much. They fall onto a metal ledge. Since we have to up the tension, Sokka's the only one on the ledge; he's holding the BSE by the arm, so she's unable to do anything useful. A couple of firebenders show up on ledges beside theirs and prepare to attack. But Sokka one-handedly throws is boomerang to take out one guy, and throws the Black Sword to take out the other. Now technically, because we can't have people falling to their deaths on a kid's show, both guys are tethered to the airship. But somehow, falling off their platforms puts them out of the fight. A bunch more firebenders show up, ready to kill them. But then they see something off-camera and run away. It's Suki, who has managed to take control of an airship and rammed it into theirs. How they all escape this sequence is never seen, since both airships are probably non-functional after that. This is all a pretty good storyline. It wraps up Sokka's character arc nicely. Sokka matures throughout the series. He goes from being an insecure prick who feels the need to prove himself, into a capable leader who can think on his feet and inspire those around him to greatness. There are some issues with the story, but it works overall as a swan-song to his character. I'd say the biggest problem is the lack of immediacy of the threat from the airship fleet. One of the most effective ways that the Battle of Helm's Deep in Peter Jackson's The Two Towers stopped being about just a cool fight was the frequent reminder of the trapped civilians that were going to die if the good side failed. That reminded us that actual people's lives were at stake. It wasn't just about stopping an army; it was about saving people's lives. And that is something that this sequence lacks. There's no sense that the airship fleet is an immediate threat to actual human beings. Oh sure, some forest gets burned down, but so what? Yes, we know that if the airships are allowed free reign that there will be a problem. But we never really dwell on that fact; it's all very abstract. So instead the sequence lingers on the threat to our heroes. Which is fine, but having them fighting for others as well as their own survival could have amped the tension up dramatically.
Oh, and as for Aunt Wu... well, let's look at her prediction. "Your future is full of struggle and anguish, most of it self-inflicted." Yeah, he saved the entire Earth Kingdom. He took out an airship fleet and came out of it with only a broken leg. Yes, he had help, but he was just as clearly the mastermind of this whole thing. He also was able to fight two superpowered firebenders literally one-handed whole holding the BSE with his other hand. And he's going home to his immensely proud father and to get hot, naked sex from his Ninja-Geisha girlfriend. Sokka has to suffer the anguish of being awesome. You may want to seek a new profession, lady.
Not sure reviewing the finale by "storylines" was the way to go, all the "i'll cover later" or "stuff happens" gives your recap a chaotic feel and makes it REALLY hard to follow. Think you'd have had more success reviewing the episodes as they come, and only do the storyline by storyline thing for the evaluations at the end. Not counting that if you will re-visit scenes again and again, this may get rather annoying.
Naturally Katara appears and righteously wrecks his shit for... oh way, that doesn't happen. I guess we'll just forget that whole, "You make one step backward, one slip-up, give me one reason to think you might hurt Aang, and you won't have to worry about your destiny anymore. Because I'll make sure your destiny ends right then and there. Permanently!" thing. Idle threats are idle. I REALLY wish this had been adressed in the show. Specifically, there should've been a moment after Sokka says "Zuko's attacking Aang" where Katara acts all shocked, saying that Zuko's finally going after Aang now that he's won all of their trust. But then Sokka would remember when he last saw Zuko and the "teaching you a lesson!" line and put two and two together and realize that no, Zuko's just throwing a hissy fit at Aang. Everyone would be like "oooh" but still give Zuko a big What The Hell Hero when they catch up to him. Not only would that bring Katara's threat back up, but it would also subvert it by having all the ensuing drama you think would happen...not happen. That would've been cool.
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