ATLA 1-13: The Blue Spirit

When Aang is captured by Zhao, the titular being comes to his rescue.

Last time on Avatar: During a storm, Aang revealed his past to Katara while Iroh revealed the circumstances of Zuko’s banishment to some of the sailors.

 

Sick Siblings

The episode opens with Zhao at a fortress evidently commanded by a Colonel Shinu where the famously skilled Yuyan archers are housed.  Zhao wants to borrow them in his quest to capture the Avatar instead of Shinu using them as “mere security guards”.  But Shinu stands firm on denying his request as well as calling him for this quest being a “vanity project” for him.  I’m not sure whether Zhao is very tall or if Shinu is just short.

Then a hawk arrives with a message that Zhao has been promoted to admiral, thus turning his request into an order.  That’s some remarkably good timing.  On the roof above the watchtower where the two men are talking is the eavesdropping Blue Spirit.

The Gaang is holed up among the ruins of a stone city.  Sokka has come down with a serious cold due to being out in the storm last episode and says some pretty nonsensical things throughout this episode.  Aang has found a map and there’s a nearby herbalist institute.  Katara starts coughing as she starts to get sick as well.  Determined to find medicine for his friends, Aang sets out on foot after telling Appa and Momo to keep an eye on the siblings.  He leaves behind his glider as it’s still stormy out.

The Lieutenant from last episode (possibly he’s the Jee referred to later) is now working with Zuko to find a way to track down the Avatar.  Iroh is playing Pai Cho with some other sailors.  Some of Zhao’s soldiers drop by to try to get information out of Zuko to no avail (it doesn’t hurt that he actually doesn’t have anything useful to tell them).  Almost as soon as Zhao’s men leave, Iroh wins the game and then does his best to bait the others into another game.

A pair of soldiers is in a blind near a path.  One is reading the Avatar’s wanted poster out loud and is impressed but his companion thinks it’s just propaganda.  But then they see Aang zoom past and thus the previously cynical one blows his horn to pass on the news.

Sokka and Katara are getting thirsty so she tries to tell Momo to retrieve water for them… but a snippet from the lemur’s POV reveals he has no understanding of human language.

Aang arrives at the institute to find only an elderly herbalist and her fluffy white cat Miyuki as he lists off the symptoms.  Apparently his map is out of date; the others left years ago but she stuck around and helps out the occasional wounded Earth Kingdom soldier.  She starts looking for an ingredient for what she’s making.  Aang is frustrated by her slow pace.

Zuko is angrily fire-bending on the deck when Iroh arrives.  The teen is upset that due to his greater resources Zhao is certain to capture the Avatar before him.  Ergo Zuko’s only chance to get his old life back- including his role as the next Fire Lord- will be gone.

It turns out the herbalist was just making her cat dinner.  To cure his friends’ colds, she advises him to have them suck on “some frozen wood frogs” before they thaw out.  She tells him where to find the frozen frogs as well.

Captured!

Aang leaves but nearly gets captured by the Yuyan archers.  They even do a form of zip-lining when Aang uses air-bending to go down a nearby cliff.  After a brief bit in the nearby woods, Aang lands in the valley’s frigid river and starts collecting frozen frogs.  But he gets pinned to a felled log and then netted.

The show cuts to the boy chained up in a well-guarded chamber in a tower in the middle of the citadel that has multiple walls surrounding it.  Zhao shows up to brag and to aggravate Aang.  The Fire Nation won’t kill him as the Avatar would just be reincarnated into the Water Tribe and thus the search would have to start all over.  Via his mouth, Aang air-bends Zhao across the room.  But the commander points out that no one will come to rescue him.

Momo returns with a rodent.  Katara stresses to the critter that they need water and is confused as to what’s taking Aang so long.

The Blue Spirit is spying from bushes near the fortress.  When a wagon approaches, he clings to its bottom to avoid initial detection and sneaks inside it when the time comes for the guard to check the wagon’s underside (after having checked the interior).  Once inside the fortress’ walls, the Blue Spirit heads deeper into the area.

Meanwhile, Zhao orates from a balcony down to a mass of soldiers.

“We are the sons and daughters of fire, the superior element.  Until today, only one thing stood in our path to victory- the Avatar!  I am here to tell you that he is now my prisoner!”

*cheering*

“This is the year Sozin’s Comet returns to grant us its power!”

*cheering*

“This is the year the Fire Nation breaks through the walls of Ba Sing Se and burns the city to the ground!”

*cheering*

Aang is getting worried because the frogs have thawed out.  The four guards outside his chamber are confused by the frogs’ presence as they hop away.  Then an empty helmet clangs down to their feet.  One turns the corner down the hall and gets attacked.  Two more guards head down to the location only to find their comrade tied to the ceiling.  The Blue Spirit attacks them as well before taking out the final guard.

Escape

Entering Aang’s cell, the Blue Spirit takes out his double blades.  Aang panics and screams but the Blue Spirit uses his blades to free the boy from his chains and shackles.

“Are you here to rescue me?” he asks.  Okay, it’s fact that at least one key person on the crew is a huge Star Wars fan, so I doubt this is a coincidence.  Silently the Blue Spirit indicates for Aang to follow him.

13BlueSpirit&Aang

When Aang is freaked out by the departing frogs and tries to grab a few, the Blue Spirit just drags him off.

By now Momo has brought a ton of stuff back to where the others are.  Sokka is still pretty out of it while Katara is just annoyed.

The Blue Spirit and Aang are sneaking their way through the fortress.  Zhao is pleased with his speech and wants to send a copy to the Fire Lord for extra kudos.  But then he and the scribe find the tied-up guards.  This leads to the discovery of Aang’s escape to Zhao’s anger although the scribe is more focused on whether this means he shouldn’t send a copy of the speech to the Fire Lord.  Zhao’s mood isn’t helped by a frog’s presence.

The alarm goes off and Zhao alerts nearby soldiers as to why.  Soldiers start to guard the closing gates but Aang and the Blue Spirit team up to take them out non-lethally.  Aang snaps off the point of a spear to use it to ‘helicopter’ himself and his rescuer up onto an outer wall.

More soldiers keep coming and I’m reminded of the Helm’s Deep level in the LEGO Lord of the Rings video game.  They use some of the bamboo ladders to escape to the outermost Gate.    When Zhao shouts a reminder to capture the Avatar alive, the Blue Spirit seems prepared to kill the Avatar rather than have him be held captive by Zhao.

Zhao seemingly lets them go.  But as the duo backs out slowly towards the woods, there’s a Yuyan archer ready to knock out the Blue Spirit with an arrow.  And once he’s knocked out, Aang whips up a dust storm to buy some time.

Removing the mask, Aang is astonished to learn his rescuer is Zuko but takes the unconscious older boy with him.  Zhao is angry by this defeat but the serious moment is broken by a frog showing up.

In the woods, Zuko wakes up and there’s a worried Aang nearby.  Apparently during his global travels Aang made a lot of friends… including a Fire Nation boy named Kuzon.  He wonders if the two of them could have been friends back then.  Zuko emits some flames and Aang dashes off.

The boy returns to the river to get some frozen frogs while Zuko returns to his ship, having missed music night according to Iroh (the ruby-eyed monkey necklace is his apparent audience for his horn playing).

Aang returns with the frozen frogs and sticks one each into the siblings’ mouths before flopping down on Appa’s tail on his back.  When a still out-of-it Sokka asks if Aang made any friends on his trip, the younger boy responses in the negative and turns onto his side.

On his bed in his cabin, Zuko turns away from the wall with the Fire Nation banner in a neat bit of foreshadowing as well as paralleling Aang’s action in the previous scene.

As the frogs thaw out, the siblings are grossed out while Momo is more interested in chasing the amphibians.

Conclusion

Although there were some funny bits, mostly featuring the frogs or Momo, this was overall a fairly serious and impressive episode.  The reason for that, the art book reveals, is that there was a chance this could have been the season finale.  The two-page spread gives a lot of focus to Zuko’s Blue Spirit disguise.  But there are two small colored images of the fortress.  There are also two examples of Yuyan archers- a female and a male- as well as a hand close-up and two angles on a bow and an arrow (all in black and white).  In addition to the gender equality, apparently the designers created at least the option to have a left-handed archer.

The gender equality is further underscored in Zhao’s speech and there is historical precedent in even comparatively short wars (Civil War and WWII) that women end up taking on more masculine roles in the homeland while men are off fighting.  Of course that effect would be magnified exponentially due to a hundred years’ war (and to the fact that there are female benders just as powerful as their male counterparts even if they haven’t been seen much yet).

Sokka, Katara, Appa, Momo, and Iroh were all largely side-lined this episode as it was about Zhao, Zuko, and Aang.  It’s definitely interesting how the antagonists are layered- Aang is being chased by both Zhao and Zuko, but the two fire-benders are also at odds with each other.  Zuko wants to capture the Avatar to regain his honor while Zhao wants to do so to gain glory.  While their motives seem similar on the surface, they are in fact different.  Zhao doesn’t need to capture the Avatar to have a good life by Fire Nation standards but Zuko does.  Zuko wants his father’s respect while Zhao wants general admiration.  That’s why Zuko is already sympathetic while Zhao is arrogant.

 

Next time on Avatar: The Gaang comes across a village under the sway of a fortuneteller.

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