Jul 30, 2011
Avatar: The Last Airbender “Avatar Day” (part 3 of 3)
And now for the single worst moment of the episode. After the mayor simply says the Avatar killed Chin, Aang begins his rebuttal. And I’ll just transcribe it verbatim to give the full effect.
Aang: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m about to tell you what really happened. And I will prove it with facts. Fact number one: Uh… [Sokka reminds him about the footprint] Oh, right. You see, I have very large feet. [pan down to his tiny feet] Furthermore, your temple matches your statue. But I was in a painting at sunset, so there you have it. I’m not guilty!
This really just makes me hate Aang, seeing as how his friends went to all that trouble finding evidence for him, and he lets it all go to waste by refusing to explain it in a way anyone can understand. Thanks for making a good chunk of the episode completely pointless, Aang. And we go out on a “comedy” cut to Sokka and Katara’s faces as they take in how much Aang has screwed the pooch.
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But like a welcome splash of cold water to the face, it’s back to Zuko and Iroh. It’s nighttime, and the two are in the cave they’re currently living in. Iroh again questions where all the stuff is coming from, and tells him not to be ashamed of their situation, as it has its own honor. He also urges Zuko not to give into despair, now that not even capturing the Avatar can solve his problems, but Zuko just walks away. Honestly, the difference in quality between the writing in this scene and the scenes with our heroes is staggering.
Meanwhile, Katara gets around the trial rules by calling Kyoshi to the stand… by dressing Aang in her clothes, hoping this will trigger some kind of hocus pocus. She presumably stole them from the museum, so now both siblings have really put themselves in a terrible light here.
And as you probably guessed, this leads to another lame gag where Aang tries to pretend that Kyoshi is talking through him. At least we get a semi-decent Sokka line out of this: “I do believe in the power of stuff.”
But we’re running out of time here, so Kyoshi actually does show up to speak through Aang, and explain the whole thing. Apparently, she did kill Chin, but it was because he was a vicious warlord trying to take over her land.
First, she blew his clothes off just for show, then she used all four bending arts to split her home away from the mainland and form what would become Kyoshi Island. After all that, Chin still refused to admit defeat, and died when the brand new cliff he was standing on collapsed under him.
This scene is the other reason this whole story isn’t a waste of time. It’s the first time in the series that we’ve gotten a firsthand look at what a fully powered Avatar is capable of, and it’s definitely not a disappointment. It’s just a shame we had to sit through so much crap to get to it.
Speaking of crap, we’re thrown right back into it, as Aang is found guilty and the mayor orders his men to bring out the Wheel of Punishment. I smell more wackiness approaching!
Meanwhile, Zuko comes back to the cave, having thought over what Iroh told him. And he’s concluded that there’s no purpose to them staying together anymore. Iroh accepts this, and gives Zuko their ostrich-horse. Yeah, there are a lot of animals like this on the show, but they’re almost always downplayed, except for one hilarious moment late in season two that I won’t dare spoil.
So it turns out the Wheel of Punishment is exactly what it sounds like: a huge wheel with different horrible deaths that the guilty party has to spin to decide their sentence. It’s a nicely twisted idea, and adding to the atmosphere is various people in the crowd calling out for their favorites. But it’s way too late to save this episode now.
The wheel ends on Aang boiling in oil, just in time for the Fire Nation soldiers from the first scene to attack the village. The mayor naturally turns to Aang for help, reducing his sentence to community service so he can take care of this.
As Aang gets to work, the mayor hides behind the wheel just as it’s speared by one of the rhinos, and he’s almost nailed in the crotch. I have no idea how that happened, since the horn in question curves upward, and it rammed the wheel straight ahead.
Katara and Sokka join the fight. After an odd bit where a soldier takes a very long time to notice his bag of explosives has been hit with a flaming arrow, the explosion blows Sokka’s boomerang back to him. Sokka exclaims, “Boomerang, you do always come back!” Which would’ve been funny, if I wasn’t so completely drained by now.
And like always on this show, the fight’s pretty good, and features a nice variety of techniques. The main problem is that Aang’s still wearing the Kyoshi makeup throughout all of it, which is especially embarrassing when they try to do a dramatic close-up of him staring down a soldier.
Soon, everything’s taken care of, and the mayor announces that from now on, Avatar Day will celebrate how Aang saved the village. Yeah, that totally makes up for what a scumbag this guy’s been the whole episode. After one more lame gag about the holiday food being raw dough (in reference to Aang not being boiled alive), Sokka astutely comments, “This is by far the worst town we’ve ever been to.” And on that perfect note, the credits roll.
Unlike “The Great Divide”, or my pick for season three’s worst episode, this one did have the occasional good moment. And it did have real potential. The problem is that it just didn’t have enough time to live up to it.
In a half hour episode, minus the commercials, the opening and closing credits, and the Zuko and Iroh subplot, there isn’t nearly enough time to develop a good mystery plot, with the heroes finding clues and gradually realizing the truth. Instead, we have a few cursory investigation scenes, and a bunch of lame jokes, before everything’s solved with a double dose of deus ex machina.
As I mentioned last time, all three of these episodes were followed by very good ones. In this case, that episode is “The Blind Bandit”, which introduced Toph and permanently altered the dynamic between the main characters. If Toph had been around in this story, she definitely would’ve busted Aang out of jail against his protests, and took him along to help figure out the mystery, and this all would have been over that much sooner.
Luckily, season two improved greatly with Toph’s arrival, with more and more plots taking the time to build over multiple episodes, until the season’s entire second half became one huge story arc, with an incredibly emotional and gripping climax. Then came season three, which was a bit of a letdown, because season two was just that good, but still a respectable effort in its own right.
But it still gave us the final Worst of Avatar: The Last Airbender entry “The Painted Lady”, which is coming up next.