Sunday, February 8, 2009 02:13 PM
On the Viewer - Avatar: The Last Airbender (Book One, Chapters 17-20)
 by Fëanor

"The Northern Air Temple"
The gang hears stories about flying people frequenting the Northern Air Temple, so they head over there, with Aang hoping against hope he will find more airbenders. Instead, he discovers that a bunch of normal people are now living in the ruins of the temple, and are using gliders to get around. One of them is a young man named Teo, who, when he's not flying, has to get around in a wheelchair. He gives the gang a tour of the temple, and Aang is horrified and offended by the way the building has been remodeled to accommodate these people and their leader's many machines and inventions. In fact, he's so pissed that when a wrecking ball knocks over one of the few remaining untouched parts of the temple, Aang knocks the machine off the mountain! It's a surprisingly violent and destructive move for Aang. The leader, it turns out, is Teo's father, and he moved his people here when his village was destroyed by a flood. Sokka is impressed by his inventions and starts hanging out with him and helping him with his ideas. Sokka does some surprisingly clever stuff in this episode, actually. Who knew he had a little inventor in him? Teo, still determined to be friends with Aang, shows him the temple's sanctuary, which is still locked and untouched. At first Aang refuses to open it, preferring it remain sealed and protected, but eventually he gets to like Teo and agrees to open the door for him. But inside they find a storehouse of weapons. Turns out the inventor has a deal with the Fire Nation - he'll provide them with weapons if they leave him and his people alone. Teo and the others are horrified, and when a Fire Nation agent shows up for another load of weapons, Aang sends him off empty handed. But of course this means the deal's off and the Fire Nation will now come to destroy the temple. Aang says no matter; they'll fight them and win, because they control the skies. So the inventor and Sokka work together to create a hot air balloon from which to drop bombs on the enemy, and everybody heads out to defend the temple from the Fire Nation in a giant climactic battle. As one might expect, the Fire Nation is beaten back and all seems well for our heroes. Aang has even decided he's happy there are people living in the temple after all. But a final scene reveals that the Fire Nation has recovered the hot air balloon, with the officer in charge stating, "This defeat is the gateway to many victories." Uh oh.

I found it a little hard to believe that the inventor and his son would continue to be helpful and friendly toward Aang and his buddies after Aang insults them, breaks their stuff, and then brings the Fire Nation down on their heads. But the episode has plenty of realistic, emotionally effective scenes, too, as well as lots of the exciting action and hilarious comedy I've come to expect from the show. It was nice to see Sokka get to do some clever stuff for a change, too.

"The Waterbending Master"
At long last, the gang arrive at their destination: the city of the Northern Water Tribe. It's pretty impressive, too! And they even get a royal welcome, with a big feast, and Aang is promised instruction from master waterbender Pakku. Unfortunately, Admiral Zhao figures out that's where they're headed and puts together a gigantic fleet to go get them. He even steals Zuko's crew (and on music night, even! Heh) and tries to get Uncle Iroh to be a general in his army. Iroh declines, but Zhao recognizes two swords on the wall in Zuko's cabin as those used by the Blue Spirit. Uh oh! And hey, the pirates are back! Zhao hires them to blow up Zuko's ship. Zuko's the only one left on board when it happens, and it seems as if he's died. But actually he's just faked his death so he can infiltrate Zhao's crew. Iroh accepts Zhao's offer to be a general so he can be on inside, too, and help Zuko. Meanwhile, Sokka is trying to pursue a romance with the hot young princess of the Northern Water Tribe, Yue. But because she's a princess, she's promised to someone else, even though she doesn't love him, blah blah blah. It's the same old story. Katara is pissed that the hard-ass waterbending master refuses to teach girls, and challenges him to a duel. It comes out that her grandmother was originally from the Northern Water Tribe, and was promised to be married to Pakku, but fled one day, leaving him hurt. Katara surmises she left because of the stupid rules that the Northern Water Tribe has for women. Apparently moved by her connection to his lost love, and impressed by her skills and determination, Pakku finally agrees to teach Katara.

I'm not sure I really followed why Pakku would suddenly decide to teach Katara, after he was so determined not to, and after she insulted him and his culture and even attacked him. But I'm willing to buy it. My least favorite thing about the episode is not that, however, but Yue, and her relationship with Sokka. Yue is a pathetic stereotype, constantly weeping, and her story is just one big cliche. It's disappointing, and not worthy of a show that has otherwise been so clever and imaginative.

Still, besides that it's a pretty good episode. It's good to see Katara and Aang finally learning waterbending from a master, and I really enjoyed the Zuko subplot this time. Plus, a big showdown is coming, and that's exciting.

"The Siege of the North Part One"
As the episode opens, it looks like Katara has already advanced a lot in her waterbending training, but Aang not so much (although I think the thing where he turns himself into a snowman is cool, even if Pakka and Katara don't agree). Then all of the sudden the Fire Nation navy appears and attacks! Aang flies out and takes out some ships, but there are too many for him, and he's not strong enough. The Fire Nation halts the attack when night comes on, as it is almost a full moon, a time when waterbenders are nearly invincible. But Zhao says he has a plan to take care of the moon problem. Meanwhile, Sokka volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the enemy disguised as a Fire Nation soldier, only to discover that Yue's future husband, Han, is also on the mission and, unsurprisingly, he's an insensitive jerk. Sokka gets into a fight with Han and is kicked off the mission; he is then ironically reassigned to protect Princess Yue. Zuko, still disguised as a Fire Nation soldier himself, prepares for his own dangerous infiltration mission; he plans to sneak into the Water Tribe alone and capture the Avatar.

Aang hears the story of the Moon and Ocean Spirits and wonders if they can help him fight the Fire Nation. Yue and Katara go with him to the most spiritual place in the Northern Water Tribe, the Oasis. It's a warm cave with a pond where two large fish, one black and one white, are swimming in a circle. Aang hopes that if he meditates there, he'll be able to contact the spirits. But just as he falls into his meditative state, and his spirit leaves his body, Zuko attacks, defeats Katara, and escapes with Aang's unconscious form.

Another exciting episode, with lots of action and interesting twists.

"The Siege of the North Part Two"
In the real world, Sokka, Katara, and Yue mount Appa and fly off in search of Zuko and Aang. In the spirit world, Aang meets up with Roku, who tells him the spirits of the Moon and the Ocean crossed over into the real world many, many ages ago and thus their mortal identities are unknown to anyone except a very old spirit, a creature called Koh. Roku tells Aang to seek out Koh, but to be careful; if he shows any emotion, Koh will steal his face. Aah! Meanwhile, in the real world, Zuko finds himself pinned down in a cave by a blizzard, and there's an interesting character moment as he talks to Aang's unconscious form about his life and his family.

As General Zhao and Iroh are talking, Han, disguised as a Fire Nation soldier, suddenly runs in to attack them, but Zhao disposes of him with one simple movement and they return immediately to their conversation as if nothing has happened. It's a truly hilarious and fantastic sequence, and a wonderfully ignominious defeat for Han. Zhao reveals to Iroh that he found a secret library many years ago where he discovered the mortal identities of the Moon and Ocean Spirits, and now he plans to kill them. Iroh is horrified.

Next we see Aang's confrontation with Koh, which is a particularly eerie, disturbing, and powerful sequence. Koh is a horrifying creature, like a huge centipede with a white mask where his face should be. He constantly replaces the mask with one of the many faces he's stolen, and tries to shock Aang into showing emotion so he can steal his face. But Aang successfully avoids showing emotion, and not only learns who the spirits are (the two fish in the pond at the Oasis), but that they are in danger of being killed. Aang returns to his body and Katara and the others arrive in time to help him knock out Zuko. Then all of them rush back to the Oasis to save the spirits. But Zhao is there already and has captured the Moon fish in preparation for the terrible deed. Just picking up the fish has already caused the sky to turn red and eliminated the Water Tribe's bending abilities. Aang points out that killing the Moon Spirit will have more far-reaching consequences than Zhao realizes. Iroh appears and agrees with Aang, warning Zhao that whatever he does to the Moon Spirit, Iroh will visit back on him tenfold. Good old Iroh! Unfortunately, Zhao is not convinced, and kills the Moon Spirit, causing the moon to instantly disappear out of the sky. Holy crap! Zhao and Zuko both escape in the ensuing chaos, but Aang enters into the Avatar state and merges with the Ocean Spirit, becoming a gigantic glowing monster that steps out into the harbor and totally wrecks the entire Fire Nation fleet.

Yue reveals that when she was born, she was born dead, and her father prayed to the Moon Spirit to bring her back to life. She decides it's time to return the favor, and gives her life to bring the Moon Spirit back. She, in effect, becomes the moon. Meanwhile, Zuko has caught up with Zhao and they get in a furious battle. When the Ocean Spirit sees the moon has returned, it places Aang safely on top of a wall and heads back toward the Oasis. On its way back, it grabs Zhao. Zuko tries to save him, but Zhao refuses the banished prince's help and allows himself to be swallowed up by the water.

Wow! Incredible episode. Whenever the show does anything with spirits or the spirit world, it ends up being awesome, and this episode is no exception. The scene with Koh the face-stealer is so creepy and imaginative and well done. I love magical, fairy tale-type moments like that. Then the way the Moon Spirit is killed, the way Yue sacrifices herself to bring it back, and the way Aang fuses with the Ocean Spirit and kicks ass - it's all just breath-takingly epic and powerful. I really disliked Yue in the previous episode, but I like this very much as a resolution to her story - admittedly partly because it means she'll be out of the show for good now, but also partly because it makes her character stronger and redeems her in many ways. And I love the look of the Ocean Spirit when it fuses with Aang. It reminds me very much of spirits as depicted by Hayao Miyazaki in his films - huge, impressive, eerie. It's also great to see Zhao finally meet his richly deserved end. And it was really powerful and brutal the way Zhao wouldn't even accept Zuko's help to save his own life - that's how little he respects the guy. Wow.

It's brilliant stuff, and it makes for an epic, mind-blowing ending to the first Book.
Tagged (?): Avatar (Not), Cartoons (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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