By Matthew Moorcroft
Chapter 13: The Blue Spirit – Highest Recommendation
Chapter 14: The Fortuneteller – Strong Recommendation
- Directed by Dave Filoni
- Starring Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Dante Basco
The Blue Spirit is an episode that really only could have worked right after last episode as it once again taps into the duality between Aang and Zuko. It’s placement in the series is pretty perfect in that regard, as it’s main premise of an escape attempt from the now Admiral Zhao is one that on paper works pretty much anywhere in the season but it’s all about what they choose to focus on.
In fact, the majority of the episode isn’t even about the escape attempt. Sure, the bravura action scene that follows is a masterclass of choreography and geography, and the animation is some of the best it’s been in the entire series, but the majority of this episode is character building for Zuko who realizes that his honor might be out of grasp. This is an important step for him to truly realize who he is as a person, and while his ultimate decision comes down to “let’s rescue the Avatar and capture him for myself” it’s the first sign of him trying to find his own path. Aang is the exact opposite of this, trying to find a cure for his friend’s sickness throughout the entire episode that he never once thinks of himself; his much earned sleep at the end of the episode is warranted, I think.
And beyond all of that, it’s just a spectacularly paced 23 minutes. It’s hard to put into words when one of these episodes work cause Avatar is one of those shows that just feels right – when something is a vibe, it’s always difficult to describe those vibes. But the best I can do is that by the time you finish you are already blinking wondering where the time went, and that’s the mark of a truly great episode.
Obviously it’s follow-up doesn’t exactly live up to that, but it’s a strong episode nevertheless and highlights Avatar at it’s funniest. I’m always a sucker for a great Sokka episode and this is honestly one of his best showings even early on. Placing him, a normally logical thinking character, in the midst of a illogical situation is a recipe for great conflict and they mine so much material out of his natural pessimistic attitude as well as his more scientific worldview. In fact, the entire episode is very funny, using the multitude of character relationships already established and just letting them bounce off one another to great effect.
It’s mainly a romance building episode though. Aang’s crush on Katara was mostly side thing before that you could tell if you were paying close attention, but now it’s more obvious and being played more seriously… well, as seriously as you can at the moment. It’s still mostly a lighthearted affair, and Aang’s increasingly attempts to woo Katara are great cringe humor. It also wonderfully shines a light on his overall naivete and his general outlook on life with the actual fortuneteller herself; when he sees the future that is in store for him, one of great battles and fire, he ignores in favour of other things. He’s still running away and this will of course bite him in the ass as we go forward.
Honestly the slice of life stuff here is so good that once a conflict does arrive, it actually feels some perfunctory and doesn’t need to be there. It seems mostly there to elevate a story into a more important one, but one of the beauties of Avatar is how it’s able to make every episode feel important even when it isn’t a grand scale event. Still, it’s hard to beat the moment where Aang singlehandedly freezes the lava with his air – still one of the most impressive displays on airbending in the show and it pushes Katara’s feelings towards Aang into a more romantic direction that would increase as the show progresses.
And that’s what Avatar has always done best. It’s character progression continues to be unmatched, and how it allows it’s story to develop is nothing short of masterful. Even in it’s weaker episodes, there is a sense that the writers are perfectly in tune with each other and where they wanna go, and these episodes are proof of that. Just great stuff across the board again.