In this episode...
Sokka gets sick from the storm, and then Katara gets sick from Sokka. Aang runs off to find medicine. On his way to collect a cure, Aang is captured by a squad of Fire Nation archers. The archers work for Admiral Zhao, who has redoubled his efforts to get the Avatar. The mysterious Blue Spirit rescues Aang, but when the masked man is knocked unconscious during the escape. Aang discovers that the Blue Spirit is none other than Prince Zuko. Aang offers him friendship. Zuko says “Huah!” and throws fire at him.
I love seeing the search for the Avatar increase in importance. It kind of seemed a little odd that the Fire Lord would have been taking it so lightly even after it was proven that the Avatar had returned. It made some sense that he assigned the banished prince to hunt down the Avatar when everyone believed the Avatar cycle to have been broken, but once it was proven that the Avatar was actually back, it makes sense that the Fire Lord would make his forces de-prioritize their current assignments and make finding the Avatar their primary action item (to paraphrase Fight Club).
I also love seeing Aang showing off more of his skills, though I wondered why he doesn’t use more often that RUN (literally) LIKE THE WIND power, as it seems like it would come in handy. It was also great, though, to see the guards reading the wanted poster and smirk at it disbelievingly, dismissing it as Fire Lord propaganda. “There’s no way that’s true,” they say, as Aang runs by their guard shack so fast it knocks the walls down.
Did anyone else think archers are a bad idea to send against an airbender? Since, you know, arrows travel through the air? Admittedly, those are the elitist elite archers ever. A bit TOO elite, if you ask me. Though it got me wondering what an airbender archer would be like. Now I could see THEM being the elitist of the elite when it comes to archery. Firebenders, though, well these guys seem to just be part of the Fire Nation, not actually benders since they don’t set their arrows on fire or anything. They’re just like super awesome ninja archers.
Because Aang is the Avatar, we have what is basically the first situation in the history of film, books, and TV, in which the hero is captured by the bad guys, and there actually is a 100% logical reason for not just killing him. He’s the AVATAR! If they kill him, he’ll just be reborn again, and they’ll have to start the search all over.
It’s cool that Aang is able to send a little attitude Zhao’s way after the admiral finishes taunting him, but what I would have really liked to see is instead of blowing the man down, how about sucking the air out of his lungs? I guess that would be more of an Avatar State kind of thing to do, but come to think of it, why the heck DOESN’T Aang go into the Avatar State when he’s captured? I’d like to see Zhao be smug when he’s writhing around on the floor gasping for air.
When Aang and the Blue Spirit are using those ladders to sort of stilt-walk out of the Fire Nation fortress, I love how one of the firebender guards sensibly runs up to it and just lights the damn thing on fire.
One kind of important criticism from me on this otherwise outstanding episode: It goes on for about a minute too long. It clearly should have ended with Sokka asking Aang, “So did you make any new friends?” and Aang replying “No, I don’t think I did,” followed by the cut to Zuko turning his back on the Fire Nation flag. Boom.
Here’s a question: Is it not COMPLETELY obvious that Zuko is the Blue Spirit from the moment it’s seen? Okay, maybe not the first time, but the reveal didn’t come as a surprise to me. Over the course of the series there are multiple reveals that I saw coming (King Bumi and the Blue Spirit are the first two). I’m curious how these reveals went over for the target audience. How about all of you people watching for the first time? I wonder how conscious the writers were about making these reveals true surprises. For example, for a viewer with a keen eye, the Blue Spirit swords have been hung up in Zuko’s room since the first episode. Obviously, the writers knew what they were doing.
Rewatching this episode reminded me of how funny it actually is. My memories of this episode mainly focused on the Blue Spirit aspect and totally forgot about Sokka and Katara’s illness. From Sokka’s discussion of Appa’s hilariousness to Momo-Vision, this episode is packed fully of funny moments. I love that the frozen frogs defrost in Sokka and Katara’s mouths. It was a funny moment to end on.
Aang’s eyebrows are all over the place in the episode. They are constantly twitching in reaction to what he’s encountering, whether it’s an old lady cooking her cat some food or being attacked by crazy archers.
I love how much Aang and his animals care for Sokka and Katara. Momo tries his best to help them out, but fails in hilarious ways. And Appa is always willing to be a big fluffy bed for sick pals. Aang ran up a mountain in an attempt to find a cure what their sickness. None of this is surprising because they have been a team for so long, but it is nice to see the lengths Aang will go for his friends.
Clearly, this episode represents a shift in Aang’s opinion of Zuko. I love that. Nothing is black and white on this show. The Zuko/Aang relationship is my favorite aspect of this show (aside from Appa’s existence, of course) and I look forward to rewatching it grow and change.
Props to Avatar continuity. Sokka is sick because of the weather he was exposed to in the previous episode, “The Storm.”
This is one of the most violent episodes in the series, with the sword-wielding Blue Spirit, deadly monster-of-the-week archers, an infinite number of Fire Nation guards, and snarling Com-, er... Admiral Zhao. It’s also one of the funniest episodes, with delirious Sokka, a baffled Momo who just can’t get Katara’s order right, and the nutty Cat Lady on the Mount. Is there a wider trend of crazy ladies living in isolated greenhouses? This character reminds me a lot of Lois Smith in Minority Report. Is anyone with me on this?
The first time I watched “The Blue Spirit,” I was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the episode. From the moment Aang rushes out of his team’s hideaway, and the pounding drum music starts, driving him ever-forward through the episode, I was glued to my television screen. This is some of the best directing in the show. As Aang hurries to save his friends, we know he is on a collision course with Zhao.
It seems from the setup of the archers that Aang probably fares better than the snipers’ previous quarry, but in the end they capture the Avatar. I find it rather amusing that in “The Waterbending Scroll” Aang’s air blast was thwarted by a net (his air goes right through the holes), but here he can knock high-velocity arrows off their mark with relative ease. I guess that random net had some sort of magical anti-airbending properties imbued in it.
Props to John for pointing out the awesome point about why Zhao lets the Avatar live. Evil Overlords everywhere should take note.
My biggest issue with this episode the second time through, ironically, is the Blue Spirit. There are just so many questions raised by this delightful twist—that Zuko has mad ninja skills and is the best swordsman we have seen on the show. When was Zuko trained? Where? Was Piandao his master? Why is this never explained? Where does his identity as the Blue Spirit come from, and why do we never hear about it again? If he is such a killer swordsman, why doesn’t Zuko fight with his dual swords all the time? The biggest injustice here is that the Blue Spirit never plays a major role later on in the series. I’m not saying this as a fanboy wishing I could watch all Blue Spirit all the time. There is not enough time or information dedicated to this character to really justify it (sad as I am to say it, because part of me geeks out when he lands on top of that wall, squares off against two squads of guards, and then gets whisked away by helicopter Aang). Imagine Avatar Season One is literally a book. At the end of Chapter Twelve, we learn that Zuko was scarred in a duel with his father and was banished from the kingdom. Then at the end of the chapter, there is a one-sentence paragraph that reads, “Oh, and by the way, Zuko is Batman.” And then Zuko’s superhero identity is never addressed again for the rest of the book. That’s basically what the Blue Spirit is.
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Up next: The Fortuneteller!
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and a columnist for Tor.com. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.
Jordan Hamessley is a children’s book editor at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Chaotic publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She is also an assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. She can be found on twitter as @thejordache.
John Joseph Adams (www.johnjosephadams.com) is an anthologist, a writer, and a geek. He is the editor of the anthologies By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), Seeds of Change, and Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. He is also currently the fiction editor of Lightspeed Magazine, which launches in June 2010, and the co-host of Tor.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.