Avatar: The Last Airbender “The Great Divide” (part 3 of 3)
The Zhang leader gives their version of the story, which is that Jin Wei had dropped the orb, and Wei Jin carried it the rest of the way, only to be accused of stealing it and thrown in prison. And for some reason, while the Gan Jin version of the story was done in the show’s usual animation style, this version is done in a jerky ‘80s anime style that serves no purpose at all, as far as I can see.
Aang’s off by himself with his lemur Momo, and says they’ll be out of the canyon soon enough. Uh, and how are you planning to get out of the canyon, exactly? After a filler gag of Momo eating a bug, the Guide comes up and tells him that getting the tribes to reconcile may be the key to getting out of the canyon. Care to show your work on that one?
The next day, everyone meets back up at the far side of the canyon. Katara and Sokka fight some more, each having taken the side of the tribe they spent the night with. Wow. Who could have possibly seen this coming?
Aang asks them to try to work together to figure out how to get up the wall, and you guessed it, everyone takes this as an excuse to argue some more. Nope, not an ounce of fat in this script. Aang shouts that only taking action will solve this problem, and when both the leaders say he’s right, he gets a big cartoon grin that’s quite unsettling. Unfortunately, the leaders interpret “action” as fighting it out. Man, Aang is bad at this.
After act break #2, the leaders have a fight that’s pretty cool, and up to the show’s usual fight choreography standards. Soon, the Gan Jin leader has lost his beard, and the Zhang leader has lost one of her hair pompoms, and unfortunately, Aang now has to spoil the fun. He jumps in the middle of the fight, and the animators try their best to make him look pissed as all hell, but somehow it just doesn’t work, despite the show doing a pretty good job of it later.
The fight has also knocked a few things over, revealing the food everyone brought. Aang chews them all out for a bit, before making one more bizarre facial expression. It’s because he spots an egg custard, and the script has now proven beyond a doubt that it doesn’t care about characterization, because Aang being a vegetarian is a pretty important part of his character in quite a few episodes before and after this one.
And wouldn’t you know it, all that food invites a whole bunch of Canyon Crawlers. Facing certain death now, Sokka and Katara make up with each other for whatever vague thing they were fighting about, and they now work together to try to get everyone out of the mess they’ve made. Though, after spending a whole episode with these freaks, I’d say leave them to it.
Aang baits one of the Crawlers into a pile, then whacks it with his staff. Which looks impressive, but accomplishes nothing besides padding out the episode. Some more running and fighting ensues, until Aang spots the Crawlers sniffing around the food bags. So he gets the idea to lure the Crawlers in and muzzle them with the bags.
After he demonstrates how it can be done, everyone else gets it done in a jiffy. This includes the two leaders nabbing one together, just to pound in the message a little harder.
Aang climbs onto a Crawler, and waves another food bag around in front of it, which somehow gets them all climbing the wall, while everyone rides the Crawlers out of the canyon. And this is accompanied by a rather unearned triumphant blast of the main heroic theme. It climaxes with Aang throwing the bag back into the canyon so that the crawlers all crawl back in, presumably to starve to death, as they’ve all still got the bags stuck over their mouths. I don’t think we were supposed to notice that, though.
The leaders congratulate each other, but it’s just a fakeout, as they go right back to fighting. Aang gets a frustrated expression that really speaks for all of us at this point.
Then Aang reveals that thanks to the whole getting frozen in an iceberg thing, he witnessed the events they’re feuding about: Jin Wei and Wei Jin were actually eight-year-old brothers playing a game with a ball, and the rules of the game explain all other parts of both stories.
Yeah, I’m just going to assume you all know why this is stupid and move on. Except to note that their referee is a panda. Why? ‘Cause.
So, everyone completely buys this and instantly drops the grudge. They head off together, along with the Guide, who declares, “I’m sick of this place!” Bye, and thanks for making things a little less painful.
Once they’re gone, Aang admits he made the whole story up. Usually, I’d be in favor of this, as it subverts our expectations in a way the show always excelled at, but in this case it’s too little and too late. Plus, any lesson we were supposed to learn is now hopelessly muddled, and we’re left with the impression that one version of the story really is the truth, and whatever tribe was wrong will get to keep denying a horrible wrong from their past. Well, at least it’s over now.
All three episodes that I’ll be writing about did have the good fortune to be followed by an exceptionally well done episode, which served as the perfect palette cleanser. In the case of “The Great Divide”, it was “The Storm”, which took a break from the generally light and episodic tone to give us the full backstories of both Aang and his enemy Zuko, as well as cleverly introduce a certain plot element as a joke so we wouldn’t suspect the important role it would come to play as the show went on.
And from then on, season one improved more and more, until a two-part season finale which was on a bigger scale than we’d ever seen before, and still proved to be only a hint at what was to come in season two, when the show officially went from a fun diversion to a truly great series. But before that potential could be realized, there was another regrettable episode to get past, which I’ll be covering next time with “Avatar Day”.