Welcome back for another weekly review of Avatar! This week, we head to Crescent Island for a meeting with Avatar Roku. How does the episode hold up? Here are my thoughts.
1. Start With Action.
Unlike the previous episode, it takes less than two minutes to launch into an action scene as our heroes have to fly through Zhao’s armada. With only a minimal amount of bending involved, the directors deliver a tense scene as Team Avatar dodges flaming projectiles and falls through the sky while Zhao and Zuko steadily progress on a collision course towards one another. And never forget that, as with most great scenes in this show, the music completely sold the moment. This episode goes pretty heavy on story later on, so I’m glad we got some heart-pounding action up front. Oh! And by the way:
2. Zhao’s Back!
Awwwww yisssss. For the first time since his first appearance back in episode three, Commander Zhao is back, and as ruthless as ever. When I was younger, I completely forgot he was even in the first season; from later rewatches, I remember him being in this season a lot more. Turns out the truth is somewhere in-between.
But wow, are these infrequent appearances powerful. With Zuko and his small, weak crew chasing after Aang this season, it’s nice to see the contrast of a powerful member of the Fire Nation military. He commands an entire fleet of ships equipped with heavy weaponry. His orders are not to be questioned. He doesn’t give a second thought about potentially hurting Zuko.
Zhao brings a strong presence to the episode that reminds us of the threats in the greater world that we’re still getting to know. And speaking of greater threats…
3. Sozin’s Comet
With a single scene, we’re set on the trajectory for the entire rest of the series. As Roku says, the Fire Lord is going to harness the power of Sozin’s Comet at the end of Summer in a final blow to end the war. So, Aang has until then to master all of the elements.
Ultimatums and long-game set-up like this are why the storytelling in Avatar works so well. We always have a clear goal, a clear direction. There may be bumps and twists and turns the entire way, but we always have that end goal in mind, along with a vague notion of what needs to happen before we get there. It’s rare to have a series this structured, this focused for its entire run, and the path gets laid out here.
4. The Fake-Out
Mild spoilers: With so many big moments in this episode, I wanted to point out a small moment that was really effective: The team needs the Fire Sages to open the door to the sanctuary, but the Sages see them as enemies. The Sages are heading up there after hearing a noise. Katara and Sokka hide and get the Sages to open the door. After the door is open, Katara and Sokka jump the Sages, music ramping up, and their friend yells, “Now, Aang!” And…
Silence. Aang is not there.
“Aang, now’s your chance!” Katara yells. Still silence.
DOOM. Zuko walks out holding Aang, his hands tied up.
It’s a tiny moment that hits just the way it should, riding the momentum of the scene and subverting expectations just when we expect the payoff. Bravo to whoever thought of this, whether it was DiMartino (the co-creator of the show who wrote this episode) or the writing staff as a unit.
5. Fire Nation Architecture
Oh, and we also get a bigger glimpse at Fire Nation architecture! I know very little about architecture, but according to “The Art of Avatar,” this temple is based on Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China, originally built circa 223 AD. The small Southern Water Tribe buildings were all small structures made of snow, and the big Earth city of Omashu consisted of hundreds of inter-locked stone buildings, here we get something much more regal and refined. There’s lots of red, lots of geometric structures stacked on top of each other, lots of long, pointy corners, and wow, I really wish I was better at describing architecture. But you get the point: it’s pretty, it’s well-researched, and it fits the personality of the element.
Fun fact: The real-life Yellow Crane Tower was destroyed and rebuilt twelve (!) times. Fitting.
What did you think of the episode? Are you happy to have a direction for the rest of the series? Do you love Zhao? Hate Zhao? Do you have any useful information about Southeast Asian architecture? Let me know in the comments!