Mon
Apr 19 2010 12:55pm
Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-Watch: “The Great Divide” (episode 111)

In this episode...

The Aang Gang arrives at the world’s largest canyon. They are ready to cross when two feuding tribes arrive, but do not want to cross the canyon together. Aang sends Appa with the sick and elderly of both tribes over the canyon, then leads both tribes across the divide with the help of a fatalistic tour guide earthbender. Aang resolves the feud, and the two tribes continue on to Ba Sing Se. Aang and crew continue on their journey. 

 


 

John

Throughout this whole episode, I was really distracted by the fact that the leader of the Gan Jin was voiced by Odo from Deep Space Nine. He has such a distinctive voice, it doesn’t really seem well-suited to voice-over work like this, not if you’ve seen him before anyway. But this episode has bigger problems.

I think one of the problems is it’s another throwaway episode that doesn’t really advance much of the plot, and it’s so very CONVENTIONAL. You know, the whole: two bitter tribe rivals forced to work together to get through a dangerous situation, brought together by the chosen one, etc., etc. Not only that, but the backstory behind the feud seems mighty familiar too. I’m pretty sure I’ve played through some variation on that story in a video game before. And it’s really just a super-simple morality play that doesn’t live up to the otherwise high standards of the show’s writing.

Aang’s solution to getting them out of the canyon is pretty clever, though, and not something I saw coming at all. Admittedly, I think it MIGHT be a bit harder than that to get a giant wild bug creature to do what you want it to, and those sacks don’t really look like they could contain those powerful jaws, but still—how else were they supposed to get out of that canyon? Here’s where Appa could have come in handy again—surely he’s delivered the elderly and infirm by this point, so couldn’t Aang use his bison whistle to summon him?

I also really liked Aang’s fiction about Wei Jin and Jin Wei being brothers playing a game; I’m not sure I buy that he could have convinced the two tribes of his story, especially since the Gan Jin voiced by Odo appears to be pretty old, so even if these events did happen over a hundred years ago, surely Odo knew someone who was alive when it happened, who would have been able to provide a first-hand account.

Ultimately, though the episode really feels like a very contrived situation. I don’t get why Aang sends the elderly and infirm away on Appa’s back. Why doesn’t he just offer to fly everyone over, making several trips, especially since the canyon is reputedly so dangerous? How far could it be? Sure, we don’t know how fast Appa flies, but it seems a lot faster than walking. I guess it’s kind of Aang’s duty to step in and help people in situations like this, and to REALLY help them, I guess he had to figure out a way to patch up their differences, but by the end of the episode the dangerous situation they go through doesn’t even bring them together; it’s only Aang’s lie that convinces them to try burying the hatchet, which he could have still done just by talking to them after they flew safely over the canyon on Appa’s back.

All that said, I didn’t get too worked up about this episode. It’s far from the best, but it’s not the worst, it’s just very simplistic and not up to the show’s usual standards.


Jordan

This episode is one of my least favorite episodes by far. As John said, it does nothing to advance the plot and the premise of the episode itself is not very original.

Like John, I also wondered why Aang didn’t just have Appa fly everyone across the canyon. Yes, I’m sure Appa would’ve been tired and the two tribes still would’ve fought over who got across first, but it would’ve saved a lot of time and bickering.

I also take issue with Aang’s little lie to unite the two tribes. If Wei Jin and Jin Wei were EIGHT a hundred years ago, surely they would’ve been around to tell everyone to stop fighting over a silly game of “Redemption.” I don’t see why two tribes who clearly had been fighting for close to a century would fall for that. The story I was expecting was that Wei Jin and Jin Wei were, in fact, the same person. I think that would’ve been a much more interesting story. But the fact is, we have NO IDEA why the two tribes fought.

This episode also wasn’t very subtle with its comparisons between Sokka vs. Katara and the two tribes. I guess that’s just something that comes with the territory of being a kid’s show, but I feel that in other episodes, the writers managed to be much more subtle with stuff like that.

One moment I did like was when both Katara and Sokka realize that the tribes both brought food in. The leader of the Gan Jin tells Katara that they assumed the Zhang brought food, so why should the Gan Jin suffer? Then we cut to Sokka being told by the leader of the Zhang that THEY assumed that the Gan Jin assumed that the Zhang brought food along, so the Zhang brought food because they figured they could. What whacky logic. So many assumptions. And we all know what happens when you make assumptions... YOU GET ATTACKED BY CANYON CRAWLERS!

So we have hit our first true filler episode of the series and survived. Congrats.


Matt

I have not kept my feelings towards this episode a secret. I second everything John has said in terms of the simplicity, predictability, and logic problems with this episode. I’ve (blasphemously) never watched a lot of Deep Space Nine, so the Odo connection has never been an issue for me. I know that actor better from his supporting role in The Eyes of Laura Mars, which is a fun film if you want to time travel back to the  70’s. ANYWAY, what distracts me in this episode is the voice of the Zhang leader, who sounds like every single old woman in this series. That, and the buster sword’s scabbard she keeps strapped to her back.

Despite my dislike, there were a few things in the episode that I conceded were pretty cool. First, a giant monster chucks some dude thirty feet and breaks both his arms. That’s gritty stuff. I suppose he’d get eaten if it were a show for adults, but oh well. I’ll settle for incapacitation. Also, the fact that Aang lies through his teeth to get the tribes to stop fighting is pretty hilarious, even if it doesn’t send kids a great message. It’s pretty amazing that when Katara says, “That’s so wrong,” her eyes say, “Take me for a ride on your flying bison and kiss me like you mean it, Avatar Man!”

The music and the art are the real stars of this episode. It’s fun to see the animators play around with different styles for the various rashomon retellings. There are a lot of music themes introduced here, and it gives a sense that “The Great Divide” is something of a suite.

Not much else to say, and that’s probably a good thing. “The Storm” is next, and I could write forever about that ep.

 


 

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 Storm!


« Episode 110 | Index | Episode 112 »


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.

14 comments
Doug M.
1. Doug M.
Spoilery discussion relating to Season Three follows.

I agree that this isn't a great episode. But I don't agree that it's a useless filler episode.

What's this ep about? Aang being a peacemaker. This is the first ep where we see him doing this, and IIRC it's the /only/ ep that's entirely focused on Aang's peacemaking skills.

The Avatar is about peace and harmony: between the human and spirit worlds, between the four elements, and among different groups of quarreling humans. That's the whole point of being Avatar.

Now, for most of the show this gets lost in the shuffle, because Aang spends a lot of time running from pillar to post and having cool magical kung fu battles. This is the only ep -- up until late in season three -- where it's absolutely central.

Now, what's the main conflict in Season Three? It's not about Aang versus the Firelord. It's about Aang's need to prevent a genocide -- a totally willful and deliberate genocide, that's being planned carefully in advance, right down to the hour -- and the fact that /he can only do that through violence/. Aang spends half the season, and most of the finale, grappling with the fact that he can only stop the Firelord by killing him. In the end, because this is a kid's show, he gets off the hook -- but only at the eleventh hour, and after he's tried everything possible.

None of this makes sense or has any punch unless we know that Aang is a quasi-Buddhist pacifist who -- constant magic kung fu battles notwithstanding -- sees peace and harmony as the meaning of his life. And for that to work, we need at least one ep like this one.

You can argue that they should have done a better job with it, and I won't disagree. But the ep itself had to happen. So, I don't think it's a filler at all.


Doug M.
M Linden
2. mlinden
I can't argue that it's not the best episode ever, but I have a soft sopt for this episode that, I think, puts it in perspective.

The Great Divide was the first episode of the show that I ever saw. Hadn't even heard about the show beforehand, I was just flipping through channels and saw some bald kid sitting on a big white flying cow-thing. Intruigued that something so inventive and wierd would be on Nickelodeon, I settled in with cautious optimism. The guide did some kind of funky earthbending thing (keeping in mind that I had no idea what "earthbending" was), and I was hooked enough to hunt down the rest of the episodes I had missed.

So, while it's far from the best episode of the series, with nothing else to compare it to, The Great Divide was good enough to reel me in. Or, to put it another way, even the bad episodes of Avatar are better than most of the stuff out there.

-M
Matt London
3. MattLondon
Doug M and Mlinden,

You both make great points, and have made me love this show just a little bit more.
Kate Nepveu
4. katenepveu
Trivia: if the Internet can be believed, "gan jing" means "clean" in Mandarin, while "z?ng" means "dirty."

Yeah, that's all I got on this one, too.
Brook Freeman
5. LongStrider
What Aang is willing to do to solve this dispute makes an interesting contrast with what they were unwilling to do to fight the Fire Nation in the previous episode. Both of these episodes work toward defining for the audience Aang's morality.
Doug M.
6. Confusador
I think the shows writers put it best in their recap of season one:
"Look, it's the Great Divide, the biggest canyon in the Earth Kingdom!"
"Eh, let's keep flying."

I did rewatch it though, just so you guys didn't have to suffer alone. I have to agree with Doug's point @1, but it was just so poorly executed.

Jordan, I love how you nailed Katara's reaction at the end!
Jordan Hamessley
7. Jordache
@Confusador I WISH I had come up with that line about Katara... but that was Matt. It's totally true, though. I'm a huge Katara/Aang shipper and I love moments like that.

~Jordan
Doug M.
8. Confusador
Whoops! Don't know how I got you guys backwards.
Have to agree with Kataang as the OTP, so it's fun to watch it grow.
Doug M.
9. Doug M.
Couple of other points.

The guide getting his arms broken shows us that bending normally requires free movement of the arms. This will become very relevant in a couple of future eps: it's how Ty Lee takes down benders, and a bit later, it will be how the Fire Nation imprisons King Bumi. I don't know if the creative team had this in mind at the time, but I'm inclined to think so.

Second, the Avatar's world -- planet, I guess; it has a north and shout pole -- is geographically diverse! This ep is set in a gigantic, rather Grand-Canyon like canyon with a rugged, arid landscape. But other eps will be in deserts, swamps, ice caps, tropical beaches, and temperate hardwood forests. One OP mentioned the music, which is indeed good; I'd point to the pleasant sense of scale. You do get the impression that these kids are spending weeks and months flying around a decent sized world.

In that sense, Avatar is more like a traditional fantasy trilogy than it is like a kid's TV show. Every ep starts with the map at the beginning -- just as every volume of a trilogy starts with a map in the frontispiece -- and the gang's adventures are firmly grounded in the fictional geography and timeline.


Doug M.
Doug M.
10. Elizabeth Randall
I acknowledge all this episode's flaws. However. "Queen of the Twigs" is still my fictional band name.
Lexie Cenni
11. LexieGirl
Heh I loved the fact it was Odo in the episode--I like him, the actor that is--and having fandoms mix is always a good time for me.

I am not a big fan of this episode at all. It was annoying and tried too hard and didn't seem to...sit well after an episode like Jet. The GAang goes from learning an important lesson to acting like the naive heroes of before. Regression will not defeat the Fire Lord!

Plus I think the whole story was stupid and to my mind promoted lying above anything else. 'Look kids! If you can't find a real solution to a problem, make one up to placate the ignorant folk!' What kind of morality tale is that? And as y'all said, logic doesn't add up. It would have made more sense if the story was maybe two centuries old--any firsthand accounts would have been warped in the retelling of the tale through the three or so generations that passed.

ah well. we move on.
Doug M.
12. GreyDuck
Oddly enough, just like mlinden above, this was my first Avatar episode... and it made me curious enough to watch another episode or two, and... the rest is history, as it were.

So I have a soft spot for it... but not TOO soft.
James Jones
13. jamesedjones
I've got to disagree about the episode. Aang's lie at the end shifted the whole half-hour in my mind.

When it started, I'll admit to being a little annoyed with the issues they were facing. But, whatever reasons he might offer regarding the fire nation and security, this guide's bending activities were all about padding his own pocket by making himself necessary. I was sure I'd hate the episode after that. And for 23 minutes, I wasn't denied my aggravation.

Aang's solution to the feud was just so much fairy tale garbage that I almost changed the channel. But then, just a few seconds later, the whole perspective changed when Aang admitted the lie to his friends. I loved it!

Maybe I watched waaaaaaaayyyyy too many cartoons when I was little (okay, of course I did). But none of them did this. It tied a nice pretty bow around a dog's dinner, and then called shenanigans on itself. While I can appreciate the lack of substance that most viewers disliked, because of this twist at the end, it's still one of my favorite episodes.
Doug M.
14. Whatevergirl
@ Jordan I HOPE YOU DIE YOU TROLL! THERE ARE ABSOLUTLEY NO BAD EPISODES OF AVATAR THIS EPISOD KICKS ASS AND ANYONE WHO DOESN'T LIKE IT OR SAYS IT'S BAD IS AN IDOIT AND SHOULD DIE OF CANCER!

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