Apr 16, 2015
Avatar: The Last Airbender “The Great Divide” (part 2 of 3)
There are more new arrivals in the form of the Zhang tribe, who are your typical dirty, uncouth savages. We learn they’ve been feuding with the Gan Jin tribe for a hundred years. And the Zhangs are led by a woman who quickly gets to fighting with the Gan Jin guy. So… any more guesses on this episode’s lesson now?
Eventually, the Canyon Guide arrives. And then, the rest of the Gan Jin tribe arrives, so finally, everyone’s here and we can move on.
The two tribal leaders start arguing some more over who’ll get to go through the canyon first, because the Gan Jin and the Zhangs have old and sick members, respectively. And it turns out the Gan Jin leader is voiced by Rene Auberjonois, who would thankfully turn up later in this series as a much better character.
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Katara rather presumptuously puts Aang on the spot by announcing to everyone that he’s the Avatar, and can come up with a compromise. But all Aang’s got is that they could travel together, and naturally, both tribes refuse. And we’re now six minutes in, and already I’m bored as hell from knowing exactly where this is going.
Finally, Aang yells at everyone that they’ll all go through the canyon together with him, Sokka, and Katara, while Appa flies the old and sick people across. After a rather pointless exchange between the three just to reiterate the setup that’s already been explained, the Guide announces that they can’t bring any food into the canyon, because it’ll attract predators. And the people themselves won’t attract predators, why?
At least this gives the Guide the chance to say, “Would you rather be hungry, or dead?” He’s really the one shining light of this whole thing, as a grizzled old guy who refuses to take any of these people’s crap. Oh, and you may have noticed this show doesn’t have a problem with mentioning death, another thing that makes it stand out among most American cartoons.
Both tribes race to eat the food they’re carrying, with the Zhangs tearing into chicken legs with their hands, while the Gan Jin daintily eat dumplings with chopsticks. You know, just in case you’d forgotten how different they are. Aang gets the old and sick onto Appa and sends them off, and you can practically feel Appa’s gratitude at being written out of the rest of the episode.
As everyone heads into the canyon, there are some neat scenes of the Guide using his earthbending skills. For example, he uses his abilities to save everyone from an avalanche, and complete their trail all the way down, which is intercut with him cheerfully talking about angry earth spirits. Then he wrecks the path behind them so the Fire Nation can’t follow them down. This guy really does come close to saving the episode all on his own.
Then comes the arrival of the Canyon Crawlers, giant insects which I can easily imagine would have terrified me, had I been a kid when this show aired. Another thing to recommend about the show: it wasn’t afraid to be genuinely scary when necessary. In fact, there’s one particular sequence in the season one finale involving a giant centipede-like creature that still freaks the hell out of me.
But for now, there’s just one Canyon Crawler, which all three heroes try to fight off. Aang finally succeeds by airbending a tornado, which slams the Crawler high up against the canyon wall. Unfortunately, the Guide’s arms are broken in the attack, and there are no other earthbenders around, meaning they’re all trapped in the canyon. Now there’s an act break for you.
So, everyone’s stuck in a seemingly hopeless situation. What better time for the two tribe leaders to play the blame game some more, and each accuse the other of having snuck food in with them? This will become especially stupid later, but for now it’s just tiresome.
Once again, Aang loses it, and says that if these guys still refuse to get along, they can just take two separate paths through the canyon, as marked by a quite convenient steppe right in front of them. He also tells Katara to go with the Gan Jin, and Sokka to go with the Zhangs, to get more information on what started their feud. And I’m now taking bets on where everyone knows full well this is going.
As the sun sets, both tribes set up tents, and surprise, surprise, it turns out Sokka and Katara both discover their chosen tribe agrees with each of them in regards to their earlier tarp argument. Just in case you were having trouble following what’s going on here.
After nightfall, the Gan Jin all whip out the food they smuggled in, with the leader justifying himself to Katara by saying the Zhangs doubtless did it too, so there’s no reason his people should go hungry. And Katara accepts this instantly. She really doesn’t come off very well in this episode.
Katara gets the Gan Jin leader to tell her the origin of the feud: a hundred years ago, the Gan Jin’s patriarch Jin Wei was completing an ancient ritual of transporting an orb, when it was stolen by a member of the Zhang named Wei Jin. Yeah, “Jin Wei” and “Wei Jin”. Now that’s subtle. Katara believes this without hesitation, and gives the Zhang camp a dirty look. Yes, yes, can we move along please?
The plot locomotive keeps chugging along, as it’s revealed the Zhangs also brought in food, for the same reason as the Gan Jin. For his part, Sokka’s too busy eating to question this, so at least he’s being just as stupid as his sister here.