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.
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.
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.
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!
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.