Episode 2.10, “The Library,” marks the halfway point in Season Two of Avatar and in the series as a whole. This is when stuff starts to get intense. Follow along with us after the cut.
We start off very light with Aang and his singing moles. The Aang Gang has been taking mini-vacations while Aang continues his training. When it is Katara’s turn she chooses The Misty Palms Oasis. However, when the gang arrives in a desert, they realize that their map is extremely out of date. In a bar in the desert town, the gang meets Professor Zei, an anthropologist who informs them about the Knowledge Spirit’s library. Sokka chooses the library as his mini-vacation, and the Ang Gang and Zei are off!
This is the halfway point of the season and the series. It sets up everything that happens from this point on. And not just the throwaway line about the lion turtle.
There is a lot of discussion of Ba Sing Se and going to Ba Sing Se and the urgency of getting the gang to the king of Ba Sing Se. This episode sets up the Day of Black Sun—the solar eclipse that will sap the firebenders of their power. Appa is abducted. This traumatic event is the beginning of a plotline that will carry on for many episodes and affect all of our heroes greatly. This episode also ties back to season one, when Admiral Zhao discussed his trip to the library.
This episode was very upsetting for me the first time I watched it. It was more upsetting upon re-watch. Initially I was very angry with Toph watching this episode for losing Appa, and I cried. Upon re-watch, I cried for Appa and Toph. (Because I’m a girl and they’re my two favorite characters and whatever.) Knowing where the episode was going, it was interesting to see how the writers set up Toph’s inability to see in sand. There are many references to her blindness, her weaknesses and shortcomings. Her blindness takes center stage in this episode—not as simply a characteristic that identifies her, but as a real weakness. She still makes light of it, but you can imagine that it frustrates a free spirit like Toph not to be able to do everything she wants. When the gang is searching for the library, everyone rides Appa, on the lookout for signs of the library’s location. What can Toph do in this situation? She sits there, bored, with the hot desert wind in her face, unable to participate or help. She can’t even read a book. Toph has a pretty intense resentment of books, because she can’t read them, although something tells me that with Toph’s heightened sense of touch she could feel the elevated ink on a piece of paper. And really, does the infinite library not have any books in Braille?
The Sandbenders are pretty darn scary. We first see them with the gang enters the bar in the oasis. Appa clearly doesn’t like them. When they arrive and pull a Gulliver’s Travels on everyone’s favorite sky bison, they become a new villain. What kind of bending do the Sandbenders do? Are they highly (or lowly) evolved Earthbenders or perhaps some crazy breed of airbender? There certainly never was a Sandbending Avatar.
As a former anthropology student, I take issue with the portrayal of Professor Zei. He measures Aang’s head, which is more than a little offensive. He comes across as almost crazy—suicidal. If I were a kid watching this I would think anthropologists were kind of lame. And anthropologists are not lame. Professor Zei shows an overwhelming obsession with his work and an ignorance about modern times.
The big scary owl Wan Shi Tong may be the best monster of the week in the whole series. Bounty hunter lovers—feel free to fight me on this one. The owl is not demonic. He is simply a spirit, neither good nor bad. I find this chilling. The initial dialogue with the gang reflects his cold, intellectual opinions, and his cynicism about humans. Sadly, the owl does have a point. The world’s greatest scientists always seem to be employed in developing the next greatest deadly weapon.
Sokka does much to prove the owl correct. He lies, he steals, he seeks only the knowledge to defeat his enemies. In many ways, Aang and company are the villains of this episode. They betray the owl’s trust, and misuse the library just as Admiral Zhao did. I didn’t hate the owl for trying to kill the gang. He was just protecting his knowledge and his principles. And the way his neck stretches as he turns into a grotesque monster bird? Holy koalaotters, that is scary!
To the parents of Avatar watchers: the show has many emotionally dark and sad moments. Are your kids made noticeably upset by these moments? For example, at the end of Toy Story 3 I was a complete wreck. My six-year-old brother had no idea why. Who has a stronger emotional response to the tough moments in Avatar, you or your kids?
I leave you with this thought: Sokka rides Appa without a shirt on…for the ladies.
Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes may abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.
Up Next: “The Desert”!
Jordan Hamessley is an Earthbender and wants a second Appa doll for Christmas. She is an assistant editor at Grosset & Dunlap/PSS at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Club Penguin, and Dinosaur Train publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She can be found on Twitter as @thejordache.