Book 1, Episode 3: “The Southern Air Temple”

This blog comes to you a day late but only because I was starving yesterday and had to chase a flying lemur all over the place until it brought me a peach. Now we are BFF’s and we watched Avatar together so I could bring you this blog a day later. Here we go…

  • Upon my first watch, this episode changed the way I thought about the show. Avatar went from being some kids show to something much deeper and more complex than I ever imagined it could be.
  • We learn a lot of new information during this episode and meet a few new character.
    • We meet Momo, the flying lemur who accompanies Team Avatar throughout the rest of the show. We also meet Commander Zhao, the season’s main villain. Zhao is voiced by Jason Issacs, also known as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. Finally, we meet Aang’s mentor Monk Gyatso through flashbacks and comments Aang makes.
    • We learn Uncle’s name is Iroh and that he is the Fire Lord’s brother. We also officially here that Zuko is the Fire Lord’s son though it was always implied he was so since he is a Prince and is from the Fire Nation.
  • A big theme of this show is war and all of the areas war touches. We see the war from various angles. Zhao talks of it with Zuko and Iroh, telling them that the Fire Nation will soon claim victory in the war once they take the Earth Kingdom capital. We see Zuko comment on the war, specifically referencing his father’s part in it and that his father is a fool if he believes the world will blindly follow the Fire Nation. Finally, we see the war from Team Avatar’s perspective, specifically Aang’s. The trio have all lost loved ones to the war. Sokka and Katara lost a mother and now their father is away fighting. Aang finds that his home has been destroyed by the Fire Nation, killing everything he held dear including the Monk who taught him everything he knows, Gyatso. It is a really dark theme for a kids show but is handled beautifully.
  • This episode switches back and forth between Aang’s storyline and Zuko’s. Both are being forced to grapple with their past and both are mourning over the loss of their father figures. Aang must deal with the loss of his people and his mentor. Zuko must confront his relationship with his father and his Nation by fighting Zhao and sparing his life. Both storylines are strong.
  • The concept of Team Avatar becoming a family is introduced in this episode. When Aang realizes that Gyatso was killed and his entire race destroyed, he becomes very upset and Katara talks him down by telling him that they can be a family now. All of them have lost someone dear to them in the war, but they still have each other. It is a bit cliche but I am a sucker when a story shows characters growing so close to one another and viewing each other as family.
  • As I mentioned, we meet Momo in this episode. There is an awesome podcast called “The Avatar State” and one of the hosts, I assume, took Japenese. When they discussed this episode, the one host mentioned that Momo means peach in Japanese which is very nicely juxtaposed with Momo giving Sokka a peach.
  • Throughout the episode, it is made clear that visiting an Air Temple is basically unheard of. Air Temples are in the sky, making them uniquely accessible to only Air Benders. While Sokka complains of hunger, Katara reminds him that he should be marveling at being one of the only outsiders to step into an Air Temple. We see a lot of cool flashbacks to what the Air Temple looked like 100 years ago. It was once very vibrant and full of life. Now it is full of death and destruction. Aang notes that he, Appa, and Momo are all that is left of the Southern Air Temple.
  • Aang once again enters the Avatar State, a term we won’t be familiar with for some time. It seems Aang enters this state when he feels a strong emotion or when he is at his weakest point and the Avatar must take over. When he enters this state, the statues of past Avatar’s begin to glow and we see a Fire Nation Temple where a guard tells another to send word to the Fire Lord that the Avatar has returned. When Aang enters the Avatar State, he begins to levitate and is surrounded by a tornado. The elements take over. We will see a lot of the Avatar State in future episodes.
  • I love seeing all of the past Avatars. Their statues are all lined up in Air Temple Sanctuary. When Aang first enters, he says he has no clue who these people are but feels as if he knows them. This makes sense since these are all his past lives. (Side note, I hope to talk about the religious undertones of this show in future blogs). As I watched this on Amazon Prime, a note popped up that I found very interesting. It said, “When in the sealed Air Temple room, Aang looks at the statues of the former Avatars, specifically at the statue of Roku. The statue next to Roku should be Kyoshi, a female Earthbender, but a male with a sword is shown as the previous Avatar to Roku.” I imagine this was a simple mistake made during the animation and don’t take it too seriously. My hope is that one day this show will be restored in 1080HD and this piece of animation will be fixed. Fingers crossed! Aang wonders how the past Avatars can speak to him if they can’t speak. This will come into play when Aang connects with his spiritual side.
  • Monk Gyatso is such an interesting character and gives us a great picture of what it looks like to be an Air Nomad. Aang comments that Gyatso has taught him everything he knows. We see an example of this through an important flashback. Aang is reflecting on his new identity as the Avatar and asks if the Monks made a mistake. Gyatso says the only mistake was telling Aang before he was 16, “but we can’t concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is.” Gyatso then tells Aang that when he is old enough he will enter the Air Temple Sanctuary where all of his questions will be answered and he will meet a guide for his Avatar journey. When Aang shows frustration, Gyatso asks Aang to help with the cakes he is making and they blow them off onto the heads on meditating monks. Gyatso tells Aang his aim has improved as they laugh. This scene reveals to us that Gyatso was a very silly but very wise man. This is reflected in Aang and brings up the question, is Aang silly because he is a child or is he silly because Gyatso too was silly and reminded Aang not to take life to seriously? Or both?
  • Another theme present in this episode, specifically in Aang’s storyline, is change and accepting what has happened.
    • In the beginning, we see Katara trying to warn Aang that the Southern Air Temple may look different from when he last saw it. She warns that the Fire Nation destroyed the Air Temples and were ruthless. Aang, who still has not come to the full realization that 100 years have past and a lot has changed, is excited and does not accept Katara’s warnings.
    • The episode gives us a good look at what the Temple looked like 100 years ago. 100 years ago Aang played ball with his fellow Airbenders. He shows Sokka and Katara where the flying bison slept. Where there used to be monks, flying bison, and lemurs there is overgrows weeds and emptiness. In the flashback with Gyatso, we saw the Air Temple was full of life and now it is full of rotting and death.
    • Katara tries to hide the truth from Aang when she realizes his mental state is so fragile. In the end, Aang does find out as we have already discussed.
    • Aang must accept what has happened, no matter how hard. “I really am the last Airbender,” he says aloud.
  • This is the first episode that really affected me, mainly because of Zuko’s storyline. Zuko and Iroh went from being the typical villains, to much more complex and interesting characters. Suddenly, I was questioning if Zuko was even the bad guy in this show. The way things are set up, it seems that Zhao is the real bad guy, along with the Fire Lord.
  • Uncle Iroh proves himself to be the most badass character. During their confrontation with Zhao, Iroh remains perfectly calm and has to reprimand Zuko more than once. He puts on a calm face but inside is very calculated and aware. While Zuko fights in the Agni Kai, Iroh coaches him and tells him to break Zhao’s root and stick to the basics after Zuko is continuously attacking and getting nowhere but tired. When Zhao tries to attack Zuko from behind after losing the Agni Kai and being spared, Iroh immediately jumps into action and reveals not only his fast reflexes but his amazing strength. He tells Zuko, who is extremely angry, not to taint his victory because the great Commander Zhao is a sore loser. He then says, “So this is how the great Commander Zhao acts in defeat. Disgraceful. Even in exile, my nephew is more honorable than you. Thanks again for the tea, it was delicious.” I love that line so much. All of this begs the question, what else don’t we know about this man?
  • The Agni Kai is an amazing scene. Not only does it show off the tactics of Firebending but it also has a great character moment from Zuko and amazing music. The music is scored by Jeremy Zuckerman who would also go on to score Korra. Unfortunately, none of the music from Avatar is for sale (question – WHY??) The music will prove to be of the highest quality as the show continues. Agni Kai is a traditional Firebending dual that proves one’s honor. It is won when the opponent burns the other. The term combines two words. The first, Agni, comes from the Sanskrit term agniḥ which means both fire and the deity presiding over fire. Kai is the Japanese word for “meeting.”
  • Lots of hints are dropped about Zuko’s past in this episode.
    • When Zuko tells Zhao that his father is a fool if he thinks the world will blindly follow him, Zhao comments, “Two years at sea have done little to tamper your tongue.” This suggests that Zuko was banished for words he said, but what? Zhao later says that Zuko is a disgrace to the Fire Nation.
    • Zuko comments that he has been hunting for the Avatar for two years. Two years since he has been banished and all those years he has been hunting the Avatar.
    • Zhao takes it a step further and comments that Zuko is just a banished prince with no home, no allies, and his “own father doesn’t even want [him].” Zuko says he is wrong and that when he captures the Avatar his father will welcome him home with honor. What did Zuko do to tamper with his honor?
    • Zuko’s search for a father figure is made apparent in this episode. Zhao taunts him and says his father doesn’t want him; if he did want him, he would have welcomed him home already no matter if he had the Avatar or not.
    • When Zhao and Zuko agree to an Agni Kai, Iroh asks Zuko if he remembers what happened during his last Agni Kai? The camera focuses on Zuko’s burnt face and ear. Zuko says he will never forget. It is safe to assume now that Zuko’s face is burned based on the hints dropped throughout the series thus far. We learned that an Agni Kai is fought between Firebenders and is won when the other burns their opponent. This suggests that Zuko fought and Agni Kai, lost and was then banished. Why was the Agni Kai fought and against who?
  • What I adore about this show is how nothing is spelled out for you. Characters don’t give long monologs explaining certain concepts or rants about their personality to make it easier for the viewers. This show asks a lot from its audience, and that audience is meant to be kids. In other words, the show doesn’t talk down but talks with the audience. It challenges the viewer to figure things out on their own and not the way Dora challenges children. This is a much more complex form of asking the viewer to be an involved participant in this story. It doesn’t dumb itself down to reach a certain audience but chooses to tell a story and tell it well. It allows characters to learn things and then move forward with what they have learned.
  • This episode is one of my favorites. It reveals so much new information, moves the plot forward, and gives us amazing character moments. And yet it seems to raise more questions than answers. Questions like – How did the Fire Nation reach the Air Temples to destroy them? Why was Zuko banished? How much did Monk Gyatso know? What else is there to learn about the fascinating Iroh? And most importantly, how the heck did Momo survive everything that has happened? Was he somehow frozen too? All in all, a fantastic episode. I can’t wait to watch more!

That is it for my thoughts on Book 1, Episode 3 of the Last Airbender. If you like what you read and want more, be sure to click the follow button on the right for email updates when new content is posted. I also invite you, dear reader, to let me know what you loved about this third episode! Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading and here we exit The Secret Tunnel for this week of September 19th 2016.

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