TV Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1, Episodes 9-10

By Matthew Moorcroft

Chapter 9: The Waterbending Scroll – Strong Recommendation
Chapter 10: Jet – Strong Recommendation

  • Directed by Anthony Lioi (Episode 9), Dave Filoni (Episode 10)
  • Starring Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Dante Basco
  • TV-Y7

In 2005, western animation just didn’t really do serialization if at all. There were a couple of shows that experimented with longer arcs – Danny Phantom was already making waves on that front, and the DC Animated Universe was the groundsetter in a lot of ways – but for the most part episodic was king. After all, if you wanted to air a random episode on TV without the need for knowledge on prior episodes, making your show episodic without much in the way of story arcs was the way to go. While Avatar: The Last Airbender, we know now, was a show that had an ongoing storyline that required watching it in order, it had really yet to make that known.

And then comes along The Waterbending Scroll, an episode of television that pretty much becomes impossible to understand if you haven’t seen at least the rest of the show up to this point. From it’s usage of Katara’s necklace as a Chekov’s Gun, the follow up to the Winter Solstice storyline, and even it’s placement the middle point of the series, it can be enjoyed on it’s own but the real treats of the Waterbending Scroll is seeing just how much of Avatar‘s serialization is beginning to bear fruit.

It’s a really fun time even outside of that – who doesn’t love a good pirate adventure? The episode deftly balances between a comedic romp with pirate hunters, actual pirates, and the search for a Lotus tile and actual character development and setup with ease. Katara’s own insecurities haven’t been touched on much compared to the other two protagonists so seeing her in a more vulnerable light is refreshing while also giving her some much needed development in her waterbending skills.

Jet is a little bit less successful, but picks up the slack by simply being downright gorgeous. The deep fall reds and the beautiful oranges pop off the screen as we head into the forest with a Lost Boys-esqe scenario that almost feels like it’s from Hook (not coincidentally also starring Dante Basco), albeit with a darker, more morally grey twist. The idea of “heroes and villains on both sides” is nothing new, but I like the angle that Avatar comes at it with. Instead of framing Jet as a villain, Jet is instead seen as a sympathetic character who is simply traumatized and acting in a way that feels more like a trauma response then straight up hatred. It doesn’t make it right, obviously, but it’s clear that Jet has his own issues he needs to overcome.

And then of course the action here is top notch. Aang vs. Jet in particular is a blast of a time and it’s the first really great 1v1 in the series, with the two of them bouncing through the treetops and trying to get the one up on each other. Jet’s weapons of choice – sword hooks – also allow for some really great and unique animation and choreography choices. In my mind, this is the first really strong showcase of what the series can do in terms of great action sequences, as well as unique bending uses. Katara using her breath to freeze Jet? That’s badass!

And while the show still has a little bit to go before it can fully shave off it’s edges and become the show it’s known for nowadays, Avatar continues to be a fun, well written time. It’s not everyday a show on Nickelodeon ends up with this level of quality – take it in folks, it’s only going to get better from here.

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