TV Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1, Episodes 11-12

By Matthew Moorcroft

Chapter 11: The Great Divide – Solid Recommendation
Chapter 12: The Storm – Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by Giancarlo Volpe (Episode 11), Lauren MacMullan (Episode 12)
  • Starring Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Dante Basco
  • TV-Y7

Two things can be true at once. Yes, The Great Divide is indeed Avatar‘s worst episode, and it’s reputation is somewhat warranted. For a show lauded for it’s serialization and attention to detail, it sticks out like a sore thumb as a standalone episode that neither progresses the main story nor any of the character development that has been so integral to the success of the series. It’s obvious the episode was likely made to appease Nickelodeon and deliver them an episode they could air without context so new viewers wouldn’t be confused, but it process it grinds the show to a halt.

However, it’s also true that The Great Divide, taken on it’s own merits, is actually not really that bad – in fact it’s quite good, and it’s worth a shot even if you’ve heard negative things about it. After all, it does feature Avatar‘s moral complexity that it’s also known for, this time in regards to how we interpret history. History is always written by the victors, but what happens when it’s been centuries and neither party remembers the exact circumstances behind their rivalries? No clear cut answers here and while the resolution is mostly played for laughs it’s a more tangible, interesting angle then simply making one party the bad guys and the other the good guys.

It’s an absolute shame then that it’s followed up by The Storm, which is quite easily one of the best episodes of the entire show and makes pretty much everything before it look like child’s play. Having parallel stories between Aang and Zuko is nothing new – the show constantly has that duality between the two characters – but here it’s more blatant then ever as their backstories are slowly and finally given to us. It’s not everything, of course, particularly on Zuko’s end, but it’s enough to where we actually have a picture on where our heroes and villains are coming from and where they stand.

A hero that does the wrong thing and a villain that did the right thing, both punished in different ways for their actions. Aang feels guilty about his abandonment of his duties as the Avatar, meanwhile Zuko feels like he failed his father and fails to see the obvious abuse that he faced. The complex feelings on both ends permeate throughout their entire characters, giving them purpose and direction even if unhealthy. And both, in their own way, find solace within their own inner storms; the people with them being their ground, their rock in the darkness. The look they give at the end of the episode is poignant and one of my favourite moments in the show – it’s a brief look of understanding, if also that of hesitation, and it’s a great piece of visual storytelling.

The rest of the episode is filled with this. The actual storm is filled with fantastic animation and moments – Iroh’s own redirecting of lightning being a highlight – but it’s also filled to the brim with symbolic meaning. “The calm before the storm” was very much the name of the game prior to this episode, and after this episode the show changes forever and becomes something far deeper and more dramatic. Once the storm hits, all has been changed forever.

Once the storm reaches you, it’s impossible to turn away. Destiny awaits.

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