Monday, August 19, 2013

Avatar S1E7: The Spirit World (Winter Solstice, Part 1)

Last time on Avatar, Katara taught us all that the systematically oppressed are not instant rebels, just add speeches. If you really want the people to rise up and crush their oppressor, give them weapons and let said oppressor provoke them himself with his unrelenting cruelty. Also, Zuko found Katara's necklace OH SNAP. This time, Katara observes dreamily how fluffy the clouds look, "like you could just jump down and you'd land in a big, soft, cottony heap." When Sokka wisecracks that she should try it, Aang actually does, coming back to dry himself with airbending and reporting simply, "Turns out clouds are made of water." I big puffy heart you, Aang.

Neither Katara nor Sokka even feel the need to comment on Aang's antics at this point. Katara just moves on and introduces the plot of the episode by asking, "Hey, what is that?" of a burned-out patch of forest that Sokka describes as "like a scar." Aw, Aang, no, listen to Katara - it's not your fault the Fire Nation likes to burn things! It's kind of implied. Also, you are a child. You are the same age you were a hundred years ago when Monk Gyatsu felt that you were too young to teach things like how to see dead people. It's good that he mentioned that you'll need to do it, though.

But enough of Aang's despair over not knowing how to ask Avatar Roku, his last incarnation, how to do his job. It's time to give the people what they want: Iroh taking a relaxing soak in a hot spring. This is certainly what Iroh wants, and Iroh does what Iroh wants. Oh look, his nephew's come to test this. Zuko's troubles cannot be soaked away! Not even by premium nostril-steamed hot springs! (Try putting that on a brochure.) Iroh's response to Zuko's impatience is pure, unadulterated trollface: he agrees to get a move on while standing up, causing his nephew to flee from his nudity and give him another "few minutes." How much you wanna bet that'll end up meaning a few hours instead? Iroh: 1. Zuko: 0.

LMAO! Chucking acorns at people's heads: best cheering up method or best cheering up method? I mean, sure, you have to pair it with the explanation that these acorns are evidence that the forest will rebuild itself in time, but come on. Katara could've just cut straight to the words, but would that have been anywhere near as fun? I love that when this old man comes up and asks Aang if he's the Avatar due to his flying bison, he turns to Katara for assurance that he should admit his identity. I love a show where lessons stick around in characters' behavior once learned.

So, this village is under nightly attack by a black and white spirit monster, which has "already taken three of [their] own." Considering the show we're watching, these people might well be both nommed and savable. Heh, these dudes really must be desperate not to notice Aang's lack of confidence about the whole great-bridge-between-the-worlds gig ("Riiiiight...that's me..."). Katara sure does, though, and she's so concerned that she gets a little Whedon-y, calling Aang "Great Bridge Guy" when she calls him over for a chat. Oh, Sokka, your delivery makes your pessimism absolutely transcendent. When Katara tells Aang she knows he can take care of this monster problem despite not knowing a thing about the Spirit World, Sokka's face completely shares Katara's supportive expression and his voice stays kind all through the "Yeaaahhh..." that precedes "...we're gonna get eaten by a spirit monster." Just beautiful.

Tee-hee, snoring Iroh. I was right about the "few minutes" thing. Whoa, hold up - stop the presses, everybody! This tiny rodent that just woke Iroh up and adorably walked right into his hand? He called it a meadow vole. That's right, just a meadow vole, and it is clearly just an animated version of the actual creature that lives in our actual world. This is the first animal we've seen in this world that falls completely outside the ignore-the-wings-it's-a-lemur naming convention! Ohhh, Earth Nation soldiers, y'all are gonna wish you ain't did that. Nobody puts naked Iroh in a corner formed by the near-intersection of three suddenly-unearthed pointy rocks! Oh no you didn't just call him "once great." Oooohhhh, you're gonna get iiiiiiittttt....

Oh, Aang. You poor thing. "I' to try to help stuff!" This creature must be weeping at your eloquence. (Because I can't help myself: Just the stuff, then? Let it keep possibly eating people, but heaven help it if it breaks a pot!) Sokka! <3 Thank you, writers, for making it clear that his issue with staying in while Aang's out facing this spirit monster isn't tied with the super annoying self-centered man=warrior=worthy crap from before; what he doesn't like is sending his little friend out to face the beast alone. Holy CRUD this Hei Bai Spirit thing is big! And it roars blue light and breaks waaaaayyyyy more than pots. How are they supposed to be safe inside a house when all these houses are getting taken out with one blow from the two front fists of this six-legged, laser-breathed beast? Also, where are the rest of the villagers? Are there people in those houses just cowering and waiting to die while these two dudes tell Sokka to let Aang do his thing?

Let's be real, though, they may not realize that Aang's "unusual" (read: highly ineffective) methods are the result of complete lack of knowledge, but while that makes them a bit unobservant, it doesn't make them stupid. They seem to know the most about the spirit world out of anyone present, and if they say that only the Avatar should be messing with this shit, then only the Avatar should be messing with this shit. I hope Sokka doesn't lose patience or panic about some impending danger for Aang and rush out to get taken/eaten/absorbed. Oh, no! Aang just got brutally backhanded by the Hei Bai Spirit after commanding it to turn around (lesson learned: don't try to give orders to giant fucking spirit monsters). There is no way Sokka isn't going to - yep, there he goes. This thing clearly wants respect, so outright aggression? Not the best approach.

Oh, Sokka. You're trying so hard and you just want to help your friend. But even the sound effects know there still ain't nothin' valiant about flinging a boomerang at your enemy's butt. Nooo, Sokka, you meant so well! "We'll fight him together, Aang." *gets picked up and carried off in the middle of Aang's declaration of intent other than fighting* After Zuko quickly demonstrates that he is better at putting two and two together than his soldiers are (also, awww, he comes back after dark, which means when he said he'd give him another few minutes, what he meant was that he was willing to chill out about his one hope for redemption just to let his uncle enjoy his lovely self-heated bath <3), we see Aang try and fail to save Sokka before he disappears into the spirit world with the monster.

Dude! Iroh lay siege to Ba Sing Se for 600 DAYS back in his glory days as a general. These soldiers may in fact have been children growing up there at the time. I already understood their resentment of him despite my love for his current character, but dang. Sieges are hard, y'all. And yet Iroh's cuddly exterior is so compelling that the soldiers even fall for it despite knowing all about his bellicose past. When Iroh yawns and thunks down onto the ground beside the bird, the soldiers just exchange decidedly un-suspicious glances and help him up while he grins wryly at the sandal he's left for Zuko to find.

Take note, future writers, animators and actors of shows: Katara is a character who stays optimistic in the face of adversity and remains believable and likable. We get to see that she feels the pain of the uncertainty of the situation while responding with solemn certainty that everything will be alright, rather than seeing her turn a blind eye to what's happening around her. Oh yeah, and Aang's blue. He's also a wee bit see-through and unable to speak to either Katara or the old man, because he's in the spirit world, too!

Heh. Sandal stench worthy of a horror music sting and an expression of abject disgust? Casual Zuko: "Yeah, it's Uncle Iroh." Aw, not even Appa can see Aang! But it's okay, because Katara's here to cheerily offer him treats. Uh, Aang? How exactly did a shiny light approaching from up in the sky look like Sokka to you before you were able to tell it was a dragon? Does Sokka often become airborne and hurtle toward you while glinting like metal in sunlight? Huh, so this dragon is Avatar Roku's animal guide, "like Appa is to me." The dragon communicates this to Aang by touching his forehead with one of his moustache-y tendril things. What will Appa use to transfer knowledge to future Avatars? Will he lick them?

IROH. IROH WHY CAN YOU SEE THE SPIRIT DRAGON IROH. Oh, nice, asking the soldiers to tighten your shackles because their jangling hurts your "old bones" is genius! Who turns down a request to restrain a prisoner further? Except observant viewers of this show. Note to self: always assess whether future kidnappers might be Avatar fans. If yes, bond over love of Iroh rather than attempting to emulate Iroh. Go go nostril power! Owwwww, I feel bad for the soldier who got his hand pressed against the red hot metal cuff (which should burn Iroh, too, right?). Hope his hands are plenty callused to reduce the damage a bit.

This dragon's so stoically unamused by having to answer a new question for each answer he gives Aang. By the time he gets to the final, so, when this light hits Roku's statue on the solstice, we can have our special talk? question, he just basically snorts in response. Doesn't even incline his head a smidge. Now Iroh's been caught, encased in rubble and surrounded by soldiers saying they're not bringing him to the capital anymore, because he must be dealt with right here, and severely. He is surreptitiously smug about this. Meanwhile Zuko spies with his little eye a big-ass beaver-tailed buffalo. He assumes the Avatar is the one guiding it across the sky and looks conflicted, but I feel no doubt that he'll continue following Iroh's trail. You don't tamp down your royal impatience and temporarily freeze your mission in its tracks to accomodate your uncle's leisurely bathtime if you don't care deep down far more about your uncle's wellbeing than said mission.

The dragon gives precisely zero fucks about Aang's apprehension about the speed with which they're approaching the rock his body's sitting on. Roku's guide is right, Aang. It's best to take it at a run if you're scared! Unless a house elf is dicking you around, in which case your poor owl is going to get knocked around in her cage something awful and likely require medical treatment in the back of everyone's minds. Anyway...

Iroh, I know I'm supposed to just think you could've broken those chains at the last second, but that was the last second right there and you weren't breaking them. Seriously, there is a limit to even your reflexes. Yeah, you've got this whole Batman Gambit thing going on, but even though banking on your nephew's desire and ability to come and save you serves you well, deliberately (as you made clear with that look earlier) pissing off your captors enough to have them about to CRUSH YOUR HANDS so that Zuko has to arrive to kick the boulder away at this exact moment in order to save you from this fate is no longer relying on manipulation. You're just straight up making demands of the plot at this point. You are calling its bluff and throwing yourself into more danger to force a quicker rescue. You fucking KNOW how valuable your likability makes you, you old genre savvy snake in the grass!

And so it was that the two outcast members of the Fire Nation's royal family engaged in beautifully choreographed badass bonding and the younger of the pair did verily desire that the elder put some clothes on. Awwwwwwww, look at the cuddly giant panda inside of the angry Hei Bai Spirit! I freaking love that this problem is ultimately solved by cheerfully handing Hei Bai an acorn and I could just hug that moment when the big fuzzy panda accepts the tiny little acorn and lumbers away, appeased. Ha, of course Sokka needs to use the bathroom after being separate from his bodily functions for 24 hours! I wonder, how long has it been for the other three? In other news, we're still on episodes I've seen before and the panda statue Aang sees right after being flown back into his body still looks more like a brown bear to me, while the Hei Bai Spirit does indeed look like an incredibly fucked up panda when it runs despite being so utterly unlike any mammal I've ever known.

Sokka gets right to the point! Village dude says the classic "If there is any way we can repay you" thing and he immediately responds that they could use "some supplies, and some money." Katara elbows him, but he's just like, "What? We need stuff." Katara gives a great grimace when Aang tells them they need to go to a Fire Nation island so he can talk to Roku during the Solstice tomorrow.

Tune in next post, when our heroes will boldly go to a place that two of them would clearly prefer to avoid. There is no way their plotline won't finally meet Zuko's again once they're on his home turf, so maybe Katara can finally get her necklace back! And maybe Iroh will have put some clothes on. Maybe. Iroh does what Iroh wants.

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