Welcome back for another weekly review of Avatar! This week, we have a fun breather as we wait for the eclipse to arrive. As conflict-light as that sounds, idle minds have a tendency to go strange places…
1. Comedy interlude!
The first two episodes of the season oriented us into this new Fire Nation world, and then we went into some character spotlight episodes. Now that those are done, we had a horror episode, and next up we have the weighty long-awaited eclipse episode. So what does that mean for this week? It means it’s the perfect spot for a comedy interlude!
I tend to watch these episodes first thing in the morning, and this one left me with a smile for the rest of the day. I genuinely laughed through the entire 20 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, is this episode important? Not exactly. Avatar has done a sleep deprivation episode before, and nothing is gained here that couldn’t be a throw-away joke in another episode. Even the Zuko story repeats similar beats from other episodes.
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But I’d still argue that it’s a necessary episode from a pacing perspective. As I said above, we’ve just come off a horror episode, and next episode’s eclipse is the moment that we’ve been building to ever since we learned about it twenty episodes ago. I think we needed something light and fun to settle us in before moving forward. And even if you disagree, I think we can all agree that it’s a damn fun episode in its own right.
2. “You know, there is such a thing as overtraining.”
The episode’s conflict comes from the fact that Aang is ready and willing to fight the Fire Lord, but he has to wait — and because he’s sitting around waiting, he starts to deteriorate.
To get a little personal for a moment, I’ve been in a similar situation where I’ve been waiting to hear back about a few creative projects, and the idleness has been playing with my head. I want to train more, but training at this point is futile. I want to power through to the point where this will all be over, but time can’t be powered through, and any attempts to do so will wear out your mind and body. I’ve had the same type of nightmare five times in the last month, and they were remarkably similar to Aang’s, where he’d show up to the big day only to find that he’s unprepared.
That all said, I think it’s brilliant to build an episode out of these feelings and fears. I’m sure it’s something anyone can relate to, while also not being something storytellers would typically spin into a story. For me, at least, it was deeply relateable.
3. Building insanity.
This episode exists on a thread of slow-building insanity. Things start with a fairly tame nightmare, then progress into a more alarming nightmare, before the daydreams start, which turn into hallucinations right when the nightmares become acid trips, after which the daytime hallucinations become acid trips, too, and soon all the acid trips become even worse acid trips. One moment Aang is simply kicking a bush or smooching the air that he thinks is Katara, and pretty soon Appa and Momo are speaking during a samurai duel while koala-sheep come to life and cheer as a line of rocks circle around Aang. It’s insanity.
As much as I appreciate the slow-build, I especially love the flips between Aang’s perspective and the rest of the characters’ perspectives. Intense percussive training music plays as Aang beats on a tree, displayed as a close-up of Aang’s face from the perspective of the tree, and we immediately cut to Katara watching from a distance with only the light “paff paff” of Aang’s fists in the audio track. Likewise, at one moment we’ll see Aang talking face-to-face in English with Momo, only to cut to him making bizarre lemur sounds as a confused Momo looks at him.
In these cases, insanity is comedy, and the delivery is everything.
4. Nightmare homages.
Aang’s nightmares and hallucinations provide the perfect opportunity for the show to homage some of its influences. During each of the nightmares, Aang takes on a different shonen protagonist look, ranging from “Dragonball Z” to “Trigun” to “Naruto.” Likewise, the Appa vs Momo fight is inspired by classic samurai movies, and Momo’s design looks to be an homage to the “Usagi Yojimbo” comic. During Aang’s later acid-trip, we see a castle reminiscent of Barad-dur from the Lord of the Rings movies. I’m sure there’s a ton of other references that I’m missing- if you caught more, let me know in the comments!
5. “Prince Zuko, is something wrong?”
Over in the Fire Nation royal palace, Zuko has a subplot that succinctly sums up his life’s journey. At the start of the episode, he is a celebrated and loved Prince, literally waited on hand and foot. He then realizes there is a royal meeting he hasn’t been invited to, feels FOMO, and foolishly tries to take it out on others by not going, which only makes himself more angry. He finally attends when others are asking for him and he briefly feels relief, only to realize he wasn’t comfortable there anyways. This is his entire emotional journey over the last 48 episodes, summed up in a few minutes.
On a related note, I want to shout out Azula for being such a tactful manipulator. While it’s never hinted at, she most likely told Mai about the meeting because she knew Mai would mention it to Zuko, and Azula knew this would provoke him. There’s also this great exchange:
Azula: You probably just weren’t invited because it’s so obvious you’re supposed to be there.Zuko: Well, were you invited?Azula: Of course! I’m the princess.
These lines are structured like a joke, but since we’re in Zuko’s shoes, we can’t see it as anything but frustrating. They also bring up the question: Why didn’t anybody else mention the meeting to him? Was it Azula’s job to tell Zuko, and she used it as an opportunity to mess with him?
I’m not sure, but we do know that Zuko is back at a crossroads, and we’ll finally see some major change next episode.
Thoughts on the episode? Did you laugh as much as I did? Do you know any of the references I missed? Let me know in the comments!
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