Thu
Apr 29 2010 1:12pm
Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-Watch: “The Fortuneteller” (episode 114)

In this episode...

When the gang arrives at a village practically governed by the predictions of one Aunt Wu, Sokka refuses to be taken in. Katara, meanwhile, becomes addicted to the seer’s many predictions, particularly those regarding the young waterbender’s love life. Aang attempts to make Aunt Wu’s predictions justify his budding affections for Katara. Meanwhile, a volcano is about to erupt, destroying the village. Katara and Aang use waterbending to shape clouds as a way to warn the villagers. The village is evacuated, and a big trench is dug to reroute the lava flow. Aang uses some serious airbending to divert the lava, which makes Katara realize that Aunt Wu may have been referring to Aang when she said that Katara would marry “a powerful bender.”

 


Matt

In “I Do,” episode 3.06 of LOST, Kate and Sawyer do it. Half the Lost fanbase goes wild. The other half goes “GET ON WITH THE STORY! I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NUMBERED RABBIT IS!” I was always in the latter half, and could care less if Kate ended up with Jack, Sawyer, both, or neither.

So you can imagine how I feel about the shipper-friendly episode of Avatar, “The Fortuneteller,” which seems a bit more geared towards fans that want to know which of the many hunky benders in the Avatar world Katara will end up with than I can bear. But perhaps I’m taking this episode too personally. The relationship between Aang and Katara is quite familiar to me, as I have been on both sides of that relationship more times than I care to remember. And for that reason I commend the episode. Maybe if I had been 14 when I first watched “The Fortuneteller” I would have thought “Wow. Someone really gets me.”

So even if the amount of romantic hullabaloo in this episode is a tad overwhelming, props to the Avateam for addressing the issues that pre-teens are coping with. Yes, love (and even marriage) are on their minds.

The real star of this episode for the adult me is Sokka, who for all of his silliness is the voice of reason in this episode. I suppose it makes sense for Avatar’s Han Solo to be a skeptic. “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff...” sounds a whole lot like “I’m just a guy with a boomerang” when you think about it. Sokka has always been quick to trivialize bending, but he really shines here, making out fortunetelling to be the farce that it is. Skepticism, logic, and science are themes rarely explored in stories where people can shoot fire out of their fingertips, and snap stone walls in half with a wave of their hands. But here, and as we’ll see later in “The Northern Air Temple,” science plays an important role in the world of Avatar. There was much discussion last episode about a non-bender’s chances fighting a bender. Avatar has its share of Wedge Antilleses and Boba Fetts. But what stands out as a unique and baffling moment in “The Fortuneteller” is when the heroes use magic to bend clouds into any shape they choose, proving that fortunetelling is a sham.

But what are the creators trying to say about seers? It’s okay for fortunetellers to be fakes, as long as the customers hear what they need to hear? The creators are careful not to jump the shark with the Aang/Katara relationship, and watching the slow and delicate evolution is a rather pleasant aspect to the series. The truth is, they don’t have much time to explore their feelings for each other when a military dictatorship is breathing down their necks—as they shouldn’t. So with a few exceptions, the romantic aspects of the Avatar series take a back seat. I suppose, then, that I shouldn’t complain about episodes like this, where the Aang gang is allowed to take a break, and the romantic subplots come to the fore.


Jordan

As the resident shipper of the recappers, I will say that I got into this episode. I think that this episode solidified my Aang/Katara opinion and I was all about them being together through the end of the series. As Matt pointed out, while this episode may seem a bit schlocky to the adults watching, I think the idea of a fortune teller to a 12-year-old is highly appealing. The amount of time I spent between the ages of 11 and 13 playing with Magic 8 Balls, Ouija Boards, and fortune telling websites is a bit embarrassing. And the majority of questions I was asking? Does so-and-so like me? Or who will I marry? I think if the 12-year-old Jordan found out the actual answers to those questions, she’d have a fit. So I completely accept on episode where Katara spends most of her time asking inane questions about her future and what to eat in the morning.

Even Aang got into it. As Matt mentioned, even boys care about who likes them and who they might end up with. I think Aang’s interactions with Aunt Wu are actually quite telling. Matt wondered what the creators were trying to say about seers and I think that her final conversation with Aang sums it up. She tells him he can make his own future. Sounds like Doc Brown to me. I always liked that Aang was an Avatar who loved someone. Over the course of the series, we meet multiple past Avatars and I always found hints of their personal life interesting. For a while I wondered if part of being the Avatar meant that you couldn’t love anyone too much. It would cloud his judgement. I think Aang’s ability to love is part of what makes him so special and why I always enjoyed seeing him fawn over Katara. Watching Katara fawn over EVERY guy she meets? Not as enjoyable.

Sokka, on the other hand, was a miserable oaf who spent the episode disproving Aunt Wu. She may have been wrong about the volcano, but she was right about Sokka. He would rather spend his time being miserable about life than taking the time to be happy. It’s okay though, he’s got a Kyoshi Warrior waiting around for him. I really enjoyed Sokka being so scientific over the course of the episode. Many of my favorite laughs revolved around Sokka being fed up with the townspeople’s blind acceptance of Aunt Wu. “Can your science explain the rain?” “YES!!!!”

One fun piece of info for those rewatching with us. Did Meng’s voice sound familiar to you? It should have! Look it up if you haven’t figured it out. I remember finding out that piece of info while watching season 3, but it is unmistakable when I hear her now. Honestly, it sounds like the same voice. No change in character at all. “FLOOZY!”


John

Okay, so first of all—isn’t that sweet of Aang to make a necklace for Katara...but why would they even need fishing line in the first place? There’s two—count ‘em TWO—waterbenders in the GAang. Can’t they waterbend fish out of the water? Seems like it wouldn’t be very sportsmanlike, but it sure would make hunting for food easier.

I realize Sokka is probably really hungry (you know, since he’s ALWAYS hungry), but that egg the platypus-bear lays? It was like out of it’s body for FIVE SECONDS before Sokka picks it up, hugs it to his chest, and smells it, savoring it for lunch. Dude! Wash that thing off first at least before you go snuggling with it and taking a big whiff. It was just inside that animal’s...you know...CAVITY!

Anyway, as much as I love fantasy, fortunetelling/predicting the future has always been a trope I hated to some degree, mainly because in such cases the rational person (in this case, Sokka), always is made out to look like a fool. So it was especially nice to see that reversed in this episode: Sokka was RIGHT to doubt the silly psychic. Why would anyone want their fortune told anyway? I mean, that’s why there’s such a thing as spoiler alerts, amiright? I think knowing what would happen to me in the future would make life boring as hell.

As for the romance subplot of this episode, I’m all in favor of it. I’ve enjoyed that aspect of the show all along. I’ve been in the same shoes as Aang too—the unrequited love thing, not the world-savior or reincarnated chosen one thing—so I identify with his struggle, as I’m sure a lot of other people do (and not just the target audience for the show). I think it’s part of what really makes the characters seem so real and fully-realized. But can I request that we stop calling it “shipping”? It makes me want to stab myself in the eyes when I see it.

So Meng is disappointed that Aang doesn’t feel about her the way she feels about him. Well, why would he? They’ve never even had a conversation! She just loves him from the first moment she made googly eyes at him, all because Aunt Wu told her her future husband would have big ears. Then again, Aang fell for Katara basically when he first saw her, so I maybe love at first sight is just what happens in the Avatarverse. But I mean, for the love of Roku, give the kid a chance to get to know you before you profess your love for him and then just give up when he doesn’t return it—especially since the object of his affection is obviously not into him. That’s a little unsolicited relationship advice for any of you animated characters out there reading this.

I love the solution to convincing the villagers that Aunt Wu was wrong that the volcano would not erupt—go into the sky and change the clouds! That’s a perfect solution and I never would have thought of that. And then when the volcano erupts and fills the channels they’ve dug out around the village, and Aang does that big airbending move to quash the flames—that’s like the most powerful thing he’s ever done to this point, right? It certainly impresses Sokka, anyway, leading him to utter the line that sets up Katara’s newfound realization about Aang possibly being the person Aunt Wu was talking about, making for a nice ending for the episode.


 

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: Bato of the Water Tribe!


« Episode 113 | Index | Episode 115 »


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.

10 comments
Matt London
1. MattLondon
Yeah.

I wouldn't comment on this episode either.
John Joseph Adams
2. johnjosephadams
Maybe all of our readers are off forming new relationships after I provided that great advice.
mckale
3. mckale
Hey, first time poster here!

I just wanted to let you guys know that I read each of these and that you do an awesome job with every writeup. And yeah, Meng was totally voiced by Toph.
mckale
4. Mark Fender
I don't like this episode if only because a good fortune telling story should involve the non-obvious explanation of the fortune being the real occurence. At the end of this episode, the principles pretty much know the obvious meaning to the fortune. So that's why the twist should have been that Katara ends up with Zuko ("one of the most powerful benders" doesn't necessarily refer to bending power, does it?). This was my initial thought when watching this episode, and, honestly, nothing throughout the rest of the series counteracts it. Zuko and Katara have a touching moment in the ice caves at the end of Season Two. Katara and Zuko's relationship in Season Three remains angry throughout, until Katara eventually melts a little. And sexual tension between teenagers sits a little easier with me than 12-year old love. Plus, Mai? Really? Bleah.

As for Aang's thoughts for Katara being crushed, I think he would have gotten over it. After all, he loved everybody. Maybe not with the puppy dog eyes he had for Katara, but just a general love for all mankind. Besides, they make him out to be pretty monkish throughout the show (he doesn't eat meat, he lived in a monastery).

I also say the kiss at the end of the series was the worst moment of the whole show, primarily because the musical cue was awful (and since the preceding music for the last episode was spectacular, the last bit was a big let down).
Zayne Forehand
5. ShiningArmor
I was amused by this episode. I've never understood rapid fanbases and their "ships" (I find it annoying too John). Story, especially in a carefully plotted arc like Avatar was always much more important. Also, I found the whole fact that they were 12 and 14 years old a little oogie. Despite all that, this episode was entertaining enough. Not the first on my list for re-watching but I wouldn't immediately skip it.

In a slightly unrelated LOST note, I couldn't care less who Kate ends up with. I think they were both better off with Juliet. Elizabeth Mitchell is my hero.
Harrison Levvey
6. hlevvey
I always get the vibe when i watch avatar all the way through, that as the series evolves the writers regret the choice of ages of Aang and the rest of the gang. I find the Zuko arc so wonderfully crafted is because his internal struggle fits seemlessly with every aspect of his character, especially his age.
Episodes like this i find could be more enjoyable if i could forget that Aang is 12 adn they're talking about true love. the metamorphoses Zuko undergoes has a more permanent feel about it i think because he is a 16 year old teenager and its around this time that adult personalities are shaped. Aang is so young i have trouble believing the Katara/Aang love story since it is better suited to kids older.
But thats just me.
Jordan Hamessley
7. Jordache
I was a big fan of the Zuko/Katara potential relationship. I feel like it was a bit of a let-down when he was randomly dating Mai in S3. I figured that relationship would die out leaving him with Katara and Aang as the savior of the world... but that's not what happened.

Roku was married, right? It's not like Aang is the only Avatar who fell in love with someone.

~Jordan
mckale
8. ***Dave
That Roku, Aang's predecessor, was married, and quite happily from what we could see, was part of what later made the Guru's Jedi-like diktat that Aang could only harness the Avatar power if he gave up love so ... weird.

But maybe I'm expecting that everyone who reveals wisdom in the show is revealing the only, sole, true wisdom. And if that's not so, then it's awesome that there are multiple paths to Avatardom. (If only Aang had figured that out before getting twisted up in knots over "failing" the Guru's test.)

("Chakras, chakras, everybody loves chakras ...")
John Riggs
9. jmvreality
When I was twelve I had a monster crush on a girl who I continued to crush on for the next... nine years. If things had turned out a little differently, we would have probably have dated more and eventually married. It didn't, but that doesn't mean a similar situation wouldn't for someone else.

Probably the weirdest thing about the 14yo girl/12yo boy dynamic is the huge difference in ages that they have——at 14 and 12, 2 years is a very big difference. A high school girl dating an elementary school boy.

Two years becomes not as big a difference——my fiancée is two years older than I am, after all——but a teen/pre-teen relationship still seems dodgy.

Always, ALWAYS love Sokka's character. It is so very well written.
mckale
11. sptrashcan
I am probably way late to the party here, but I thought I'd mention an interesting bit of worldbuilding that happens almost in passing in this episode. When preparing to protect the village from the lava flow, the call goes out for benders. Two identical twin boys volunteer that one of them can bend, and the other cannot. Since identical twins share all of their genes, this provides conclusive evidence that whatever determines the ability to bend, it is *not* genetic, or at least not solely so.

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