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    Five Thoughts on Avatar: The Last Airbender’s “The Serpent’s Pass”

    By | August 9th, 2018
    Posted in Television | % Comments

    Welcome back for another weekly review of Avatar! This week, we take a trip through the deadly Serpent’s Pass. Read on to see how the episode holds up!

    1. Jet and Suki return!
    Earlier in the season, we returned to Omashu and met up with King Bumi, and then we briefly visited Kyoshi Island again. Now, the kids finally meet back up with characters their age! Season one was spent traveling around the entire world, where we met plenty of characters who could have come back. I think the writers made a good choice with Jet and Suki. Those two were some of the most memorable characters we’ve met: Jet, the bad boy extremist, and Suki, one of the show’s earliest forays into explicit feminism with strong ties to a past Avatar. As we’ll discuss below, the two characters also get remixed here as they’ve grown, they’re on new paths, and they now get to interact with different characters than they did in their first appearances. Bringing them back makes the world of the show feel that much more cohesive, and it makes it feel like any other character or story beat could return.

    2. Zuko the Freedom Fighter.
    Pairing Jet and Zuko together was an inspired choice. Season one Zuko was in a completely different place than he is now, and one could make the same argument for Jet, too. As we’ve seen, Zuko has gone from a dejected prince, still hanging onto a false sense of pride and entitlement from belonging to the Fire Nation royal family, and started to grow beyond that as a refugee. Jet, on the other hand, went from being an anti-Fire Nation extremist, happy to murder innocent Fire Nation civilians, to someone just looking to start a new life. The two were previously at polar opposite extremes and have sanded down their rough edges enough that they can meet in the middle as equals.

    Jet hasn’t completely let go of his old ways, though. He still has a twisted sense of morality. And Zuko is just vulnerable enough to go along with him on a heist of the ship captain’s food. I love that Zuko uses his broadswords, his weapon of choice as the Blue Spirit, during their heist, reminding us of his anti-establishment past. And this whole situation makes you wonder: If Jet still holds on to these negative aspects of his past, and if he can so easily sway Zuko like this, what’s in store for Zuko’s future? Will he be able to rise above the temptations of the other Jets of the world?

    That’s not even mentioning that a Jet/Zuko pairing is a powder keg waiting for a spark, given that Jet still has a burning hatred of the Fire Nation.

    3. “Look, I know you’re just trying to help, but I can take care of myself.”
    Does that line sound familiar? We’ve heard Toph say something like it a few times since her introduction. Here, however, it’s Suki who says it.

    Back during Suki’s first appearance, I wrote about how the show was still a little confused in regards to its feminist messages. That episode focused on the male character learning a lesson from strong females who wouldn’t be seen again for the rest of the season, leaving the one female lead underdeveloped. The season two introduction of Azula, Ty Lee, Mai, and Toph changed things, though, showing these females as strong and independent in their own right. This all also happened just as Katara gained new agency as a waterbending master. So now that we have Suki back, we can examine how the show’s approach to feminism has changed.

    Suki is still the same warrior that she was, now out in the world to better the lives of others. Her entire subplot in this episode deals with Sokka feeling overprotective of her, but it’s not exclusively about teaching Sokka a lesson. Suki shows, repeatedly, that she’s even more capable than Sokka in certain areas. The biggest moment that comes to mind is when Sokka goes to save Toph, who is drowning, and starts to take off his shoe, while Suki immediately jumps in the water fully clothed to save her. The show doesn’t need to use on-the-nose dialogue to belabor the point, because it’s clearly represented in the subtler actions. Suki really can take care of herself, and since that’s a given, Sokka’s actions purposely end up feeling out of place.

    Continued below

    The subplot ends with Sokka coming to the realization that he’s been overprotective after losing his last girlfriend, Yue (peep the moon in the background during the almost-kiss). In the end, I see this Suki subplot as being about the struggles in their relationship. Both characters are fully developed and capable individuals, and they’re each dealing with issues that only they could. Since the feminist attitudes are on full display, we don’t need to spend the extra time pointing it out. Suki ultimately leaves to continue her own journey, but we get the feeling this won’t be the last we see of her.

    4. “The monks used to say that hope was just a distraction. So maybe we do need to abandon it.”
    Oh yeah, Aang’s in this episode, too. It’s so cool that the show has evolved to the point that the main character’s arc is one of the least notable parts of the episode. But I digress.

    If last episode showed Aang going through denial and anger over losing Appa, this episode is all about his depression and, finally, acceptance over the situation. He’s not his normal self, detached and overly pragmatic, and that’s no more clear than in his above quote about hope. So I was surprised to learn that abandoning hope is an actual Buddhist teaching.

    It’s not quite as dire as it sounds. The Buddhist teaching is more about living in the moment so that you’re not constantly waiting in expectation for something that may not happen. It’s actually an apt and, I think, inspiring message that could help Aang through his loss. In his current emotional state, however, Aang distorts “abandoning hope” into losing all emotion and focusing on a task at the expense of appreciating its purpose. It’s so distorted that he circles around to doing the exact thing the monks would advise against.

    By the end of the episode, traveling with the young couple and seeing them deliver their baby restores his hope. Or rather, a version of hope. And with that, I think Aang has fully digested the monks’ message. He’s no longer closing himself off from emotions, nor is he so emotionally invested in finding Appa that he’s dooming himself to a life of unhappiness until that goal is achieved. In the end, it’s a message about balance, as so many others in this show are.

    5. Serpent fight!
    So, if the other points didn’t make it clear, this episode went heavy on plot, character, and philosophy. Part of the reason is because this episode originally aired side-by-side with the next episode, The Drill, which is about as all-out-action as an episode of Avatar can be. Still, we get a great fight scene against the serpent here.

    Just about every character gets their moment to shine. Katara creates ice bridges for everyone to walk across, invents this awesome move where she forms ice around her feet and zooms through the water, and works with Aang to create a whirlpool and trap the serpent. Sokka becomes the leader of the non-benders to lead them to safety. Suki has her moment where she saves Toph, who in turn saves everyone from drowning using her earthbending.

    The scene is really just there as a way to add some action and make the stakes of the actual Serpent’s Pass a bit higher, but hey, an awesome action scene is an awesome action scene.

    What did you think of the episode? Happy to see old friends return? How do you feel about the show’s treatment of Buddhist philosophy? Let me know in the comments!


    //TAGS | 2018 Summer TV Binge | Avatar: The Last Airbender

    Nicholas Palmieri

    Nick is a South Floridian writer of films, comics, and analyses of films and comics. Flight attendants tend to be misled by his youthful visage. You can try to decipher his out-of-context thoughts over on Twitter at @NPalmieriWrites.

    EMAIL | ARTICLES



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