Now that M. Night Shyamalan and his team have gotten me interested in the upcoming The Last Airbender film, I’ve embarked on a journey to watch the entire (now completed) series and all of Shyamalan’s films available on Netflix as preparation. I have a few people happy I’ve made that decision.
There’s too many episodes to try and get a post up for each one, so each 5 or 10 episodes I’m trying to get a post up. I may or may not do an overall review, but you can at least follow me through the series.Episode 1 starts off setting the tone. The first characters we meet are Katara, the teen protagonist, and her brother Sokka, the comedy relief character. We’re given a few reminders of this early on, where we also learn that Katara is a water bender (I happened to learn what this was during the two episodes I watched during the original run of the series) and that Sokka thinks this is weird, which indicates that they’re relatively rare.
Katara, inexperienced at her powers and enraged by her brother, strands them on an iceberg. I’m not minding the show at this point. Katara apparently cracks the iceberg, which releases a twelve-year old boy with distinctive tattoos- and yes, they do give a quick but plausible explanation as to how he got into an iceberg, faulty science notwithstanding. I quickly realized that this was not the “mature young boy” hero I was expecting based on the premise and my previous experience with shows with a pre-teen protagonist (again, I point to my belief that Katara is the true protagonist of this show).
Aang, apparently, is the protagonist for the viewers that are too young to deal with this show. Avatar: The Last Airbender is said to appeal to a much more adult audience overall than the average Nickelodeon show, which means that a total ADHD character is required for the standard Nickelodeon audience.
We’re also introduced to the antagonist, a short-tempered Firebender whom we later learn is the exiled prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko, on a mission to find the Avatar. Early on in the episode we’re shown that he’s barely mastered the basics of firebending, and shortly after that we’re shown that the twelve year old Aang is a veritable master of airbending.
At this point, I want to point out that Wikipedia says that the director of this is the same director as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni. I have yet to decide what I think about this. I don’t watch The Clone Wars, though I’ve seen the movie/pilot and plan to pick up the DVD.
Anyway, the rest of the first episode is used to show that Fun is awesome, Animal Cruelty Equals Pure Heart, and other kind of antics. It also develops why Sokka has the mindset that he does.
As we move on, Aang is exiled from the village, until Zuko shows up. It’s clear that despite Zuko’s relative green-ness, he’s still far more badass than anybody in the small water village, until Aang returns. Aang surrenders to keep the village safe, a nice touch of character that helps endear this character I don’t much like to me. We learn after his capture that he is apparently more skilled than an entire ship full of firebenders, and also that this show needs something comical immediately after literally every serious minute because they’re afraid they’ll overcome the audience. For anybody who grumbles when Shakespeare sticks a comedy skit in the middle of a serious Act, you will hate this aspect of the show, though I’m trying to ignore it.
Katara and Sokka follow Aang, picking him up after he reveals that he is the Avatar and completely pwns Zuko, and then instead of returning home decide to go wherever he wishes en route to the North Pole, where Aang and Katara are going to learn waterbending.
By the end of the 5th episode, we still haven’t made it there, but we have visited several locales. Aang finds definitive proof that he is the last airbender, and he is also learns that he is immature and prone to letting attention go to his head. Sokka gains similar character development, and we even meet one of Aang’s old friends that does not question the fact that he’s 112 and Aang is only 12. Nah, no worries. But we’re shown several times how dangerous having Aang around is, both by his actions and the actions of Zuko.
Speaking of Zuko, once he’s been proving to be bumbling and incompetent, we’re actually treated to a shared episode of development for him, where he defeats a firebending Master, and his uncle- who is also proven to be the Uncle Chan/Yoda/Mr. Myagi type comic relief/wise sage, decries his opponent’s lack of honor and speaks highly of Zuko’s. It’s kind of late to give him some degree of skill, but hey, maybe he’ll be more of a challenge later on.
The one thing that stands out to me about Zuko’s approach is that I’d expect the main antagonist of such a war-town nation, looking for the most powerful individual on the planet isn’t making any effort to get him on their side. They might be that cocky, but I’d like to think this is because we’re dealing with an amateur-ish first season antagonist, and that the Fire Lord is going to be that much wiser and more powerful, attempting to sway Aang to the fire cause when it’s too late.