In our last post, we talked about how the two-parter “The Library” and “The Desert” represented a mid-season climax for Book II: Earth. Though the ending is a downer, there is a sense of peaking action. Having spent much of the season on the run, doggedly pursued by Azula and her cronies, and receiving no quarter from the very people Aang hopes to save (he has been chased out of many of the Earth Kingdom villages he has visited) the story now transitions into a new chapter—the adventures in Ba Sing Se, capital city of the Earth Kingdom.
The gang’s mission is clear: seek an audience with the Earth King and tell him about the impending eclipse as well as what the eclipse means for the war with the Fire Nation. But first, the gang must enter Ba Sing Se. This is no easy task. Thousands of refugees, victims of the Fire Nation’s continuing war effort, seek the safety of Ba Sing Se’s impenetrable walls. The scene at the ferry docks will be painful to watch and instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with international travel during the holiday season. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare.
Though Toph is able to secure the gang passage across Full Moon Bay via ferry, the gang elects to cross the water by venturing on a rocky path known as the Serpent’s Pass. Other travelers join the gang on their journey: a pregnant couple last seen by the wayward fire prince in “Zuko Alone.”
In an unexpected turn, Sokka runs into his old flame, Suki of the Kyoshi Warriors. But their reunion is not all hugs and kisses, as the strong, confident, and beautiful Suki might want. A lot has changed for Sokka since their last meeting. Now the young polar warrior carries some heavy lunar baggage.
Consider the Sokka/Suki relationship for a minute. In most cartoon series, and stories in general, the sweet kiss the two fighters shared in “The Warriors of Kyoshi” would designate them a couple in a serious relationship. I am reminded of the late, great Irvin Kirsher’s commentary on The Empire Strikes Back, describing the single passionate kiss between Han and Leia as “sex.” In a grown-up film, it would have been sex. Can the same logic be applied to “The Warriors of Kyoshi”?
Alas, at the end of “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” Sokka must continue his journey with Aang. The lovers must separate. Then, while Suki stays behind, carrying a torch for Sokka, the rascally boomeranger starts a whole new relationship with another woman. What. Gives? Either we have the first two-timing hero in cartoon history (unless you count Link kissing the Nega-Zelda on the brief animated series) or the first open relationship in all of children’s television.
From a Campbellian perspective, there is nothing morally wrong with Sokka’s actions. His behavior falls in line with the rapscallion archetype. Think James Bond (or for a more recent example, Isabella from the newly released Dragon Age II). Unlike the hero Aang, who has one-true-love from beginning to end, rogues are allowed to play fast and loose with love. But Sokka doesn’t really do that. He is more of a serial monogamist—totally devoted to Suki one minute, and then ready to marry Yue as soon as he meets her.
To further complicate the love triangle, Yue goes and turns into the moon. As if one aangst-ridden hero wasn’t enough, Sokka suffers greatly after Yue’s sacrifice. He becomes overprotective of the women closest to him, especially Suki. He swears he will never fail to protect someone again. Suki, a trained warrior, and more than capable of taking care of herself, finds Sokka’s overprotective behavior annoying and a little insulting.
In other plotlines, it’s only natural that the two handsome anti-heroes of the series, Zuko and Jett, would meet at some point. They make a pretty good team, robbing the captain of his kingly feast. Zuko uses his Blue Spirit swords here to great effect. Afterwards, Jett feels like they have made a connection, and invites Zuko to join his freedom fighters. If only he knew Zuko’s true identity….
At the entrance to the Serpent’s Pass, the gang reads a sign that says, “Abandon Hope.” This is a clear reference to the inscription on the Gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. One would think that if someone wanted to warn people about the rockslides, pitfalls, and bender-eating sea serpent, they would do more than write two words of warning. How about boarding up the entrance guys? How about a sign that says, “Warning—Sea Serpent”?
Aang opts to interpret the sign literally. The only way to cross the path, he reasons, is to remove hope from the mind. This logic falls in line with some eastern philosophy, much of which has been co-opted by the Air Nomads. Monks are not to have emotions. Feelings like Hope and Love cloud the mind, and prevent you from becoming the perfect organism. It’s all very Jedi Knight. This is why Aang gives Katara a humble bow when she offers him a hug. Such an offer would have been a dream come true for Aang just a few episodes ago, but after Appa’s abduction and going into the Avatar State, Aang is now trying to maintain emotional balance. Be on the lookout for more examples of this emotions-are-bad attitude in the remainder of the season. There is a character coming up who exemplifies this belief, and Aang will be tested.
It all wraps up with a schmaltzy ending, with a baby named Hope and a restored status quo as Suki says goodbye. This is definitely a bummer for Sokka, who finally seems to be coming to terms with his feelings for Suki and Yue, even going so far as to plant an Interrupting Kiss on the Kyoshi Warrior.
But then, we get another cliffhanger. Aang watches in horror as a giant Fire Nation drill rumbles towards the outer wall of Ba Sing Se.
A few random thoughts:
- There is a lot of kissing on this kids show.
- Katara in her swim trunks and her hair down: Faaaaaaaaan service.
- Are you carrying any plants or animals with you on the flight? No cabbages for you!
- Great foreshadowing where Suki mentions that the Fire Nation in the area are working on something big. The drill makes its debut at the end of the episode.
- Katara and Aang don’t just part the waters, they guide their group in a protective bubble under the water.
- Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than professing your love to your crush, only to realize you just kissed your crush’s girlfriend? Poor Toph.
- Iroh is back to his goofy old self, enjoying life as a tourist, drooling over large meals, and calling Smellerby a boy. There is more to his renewed goofiness than meets the eye, of course. Tune in next time to find out what.
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. But honestly, at this point, who is really watching it for the first time?
Up Next: “The Drill”!
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for Tor.com, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is out right this second in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He studied film at New York University. Follow him on Twitter.