Aang is discontented by the actions of the titular location’s new residents.
Last time on Avatar: Aang learned a lesson about self-control through Jeong-Jeong’s words and Zhao being an example of its lack.
Gliding, Not Flying
One night, a man is telling stories about “air-walkers”. Aang is pleased to Katara’s amusement and the boy admits that he laughs at gravity all the time. Passing around a hat for change afterwards, he deems the trio cheap, unaware of their limited resources. Then it turns out the man’s elderly relative saw the air-walkers last week, not long ago.
It’s time to go to the titular location, where the sky bison polo championships were held. Katara is hopeful that they’ll find air-benders there and asks for her brother’s opinion.
“Do you want me to be like you, or totally honest?”
“Are you saying I’m a liar?”
“I’m saying you’re an optimist. Same thing, basically.”
At first Aang remains hopeful when he spots gliders around the temple, but then he realizes they’re just gliders and air-bending isn’t being used. One boy flies nearby and is gleefully laughing. Katara points out that contrary to what Aang said, they seem to have plenty of spirit to her. Sokka thinks they should find solid ground before it finds them so Appa lands on a patio of the temple. I’m just reminded of Toy Story with its “falling with style” versus flying arc.
Up in the air, a grumpy Aang is more or less racing the aforementioned glider. A few of the kids down below cheer for the glider, whose name is Teo. To the glider’s astonishment, Aang does some air-bending, but the other boy then uses a smoke canister to make a grumpy Aang face out of smoke. This does not improve Aang’s mood.
Aang lands next to his friends. Teo lands and some people remove the glider part away from his wheelchair. He soon realizes that Aang is a real air-bender and thus the Avatar. Sokka’s impressed by how the wheelchair works.
Teo’s dad, the Mechanist, made it. He’s voiced by Rene Auberjonois, who had portrayed the Gan Jin tribe leader in “The Great Divide” earlier this season. The Mechanist has been industrializing the temple to make it more habitable for its new occupants. Sokka admires it, but Aang hates it.
Hot air funneled through pipes is often used to power various gizmos, including an elevator-like contraption. Katara explains to Teo since Aang regularly came here a century ago, he’s probably just shocked by all the changes. Aang is not happy to see a fading mural that’s partially covered up by pipes nor about the green gloop near an air bison state.
Then an air-bender statue gets smashed, along with part of a wall, to make room for a bathhouse. This is where the Mechanist is first seen/heard. Aang is so furious about what’s happening to the temple that he air-bends the makeshift wrecking ball off the mountain top.
The Mechanist explains there was a bad flood in their village years ago that badly injured the infant Teo and ‘lost’ his mom as well. Finding the nearby abandoned temple, the Mechanist was inspired to create a new, equal life for his son in the air. Candles with spark powder at intervals are used to tell the time. Also, he lost three fingers while trying to create a finger-safe knife sharpener, unnerving Sokka.
While Sokka’s off with the Mechanist, Teo wants to show the other two something. He brings them to the doors that can only be opened via air-bending like the ones in the Southern Air Temple. Teo figures that the room beyond is untouched. Aang wants to keep it closed so it stays that way, which the other boy understands.
The Mechanist uses lanterns full of fireflies for light as the duo heads down a flight of stairs since the bugs are nonflammable. At the bottom there’s a chamber full of very flammable natural gas. There are occasional gas leaks but they’re hard to find since the gas can’t be sensed until it induces an explosion.
Teo is encouraging Katara to glide and Aang realizes that Teo knows about spirit. Initially nervous, Katara soon enjoys gliding. Aang reminds her to keep her mouth closed so she doesn’t swallow bugs; Momo is gliding along, eager to do just that.
Aang lands, recognizing that Teo has the spirit of an air-bender. Katara doesn’t know how to land and ends up swallowing a bug, grossing her out.
A hot air balloon model is seen as the Sokka and the Mechanist enter the latter’s study. A rotten egg is smelled, so the pair start to look for it. At the same time, Aang opens up the doors in a partially CGI sequence. Both the Mechanist and Sokka are inspired that they could put rotten eggs down in the natural gas chamber to ensure the gas smells like rotten eggs so they can find the leaks. Then a bell starts ringing, so the Mechanist exits.
Standing Up to the Fire Nation
Aang, Katara, and Teo enter the chamber but it’s the most changed out of the lot. He goes, “This is a nightmare.”
He’s furious that the Mechanist has been making weapons for the Fire Nation when the man shows up, followed by Sokka. Teo is also upset and disappointed in his father. The Mechanist reveals that about a year after they settled in some Fire Nation soldiers found their new home. In order to keep their new home from also being destroyed he offered his services as an inventor.
Teo and Aang follow him to another room, still upset. A Fire Nation emissary shows up to pressure the Mechanist to supply them with weapons or the temple will be destroyed. Aang shows up to refuse him; the guy leaves, promising that the threat will be carried out.
Just outside the temple, Aang reveals to the other three that he plans to use “air power” against the Fire Nation. The Mechanist shows up, wanting to help. In a room, he and Sokka lead the council where most of the residents are present. Sokka helped figure out how to get the war balloon working and there are four types of bombs to be used- smoke, slime, fire, and stink.
“Never underestimate the power of stink,” the Mechanist says.
At the entrance, everybody is waiting to engage the Fire Nation in battle. Aang and Teo are among those gliding as Fire Nation soldiers trudge up the zig-zag path to the temple. As they use the bombs against the soldiers, the gliders easily have the upper hand in the fight. Aang even buries some under snow. Appa is floating nearby, with Katara on his back to hand out more bombs as needed.
Giant chains are used to pull up tank-like things. They do their best to remove the grapple hooks so the tanks tumble down, but fail. There are fire-benders within the tanks. Now spark-powder candles are being used as ammo as well. Aang starts air-bending the tanks over, but they can flip over so the interior is right-side-up again without involving the treads.
Teo recalls from what his dad worked that the tanks use water in the counterbalancing systems. Katara gets close to help take out two of the tanks, but many more are coming. Appa comes to the rescue, Aang and Katara getting on him.
The soldiers are nearing to Katara’s concern. Sokka and the Mechanist float out in the war balloon. The Fire Nation doesn’t attack it because they figure due to the emblem on it that it’s on their side. Sludge bombs are used to take out more enemies but they have no more ammo. Then they smell rotten eggs and pinpoint the source of the gas leak.
Sokka decides to use the balloon’s fuel source to set off an explosion. The ensuing explosion is indeed massive, but the temple remains standing as the soldiers retreat. The war balloon is falling down fast but Aang comes to the duo’s rescue.
Later, Aang is now glad the refugees live here now since they found an empty shell and made it their home. Both sides protect each other. There’s cheering but the Mechanist is still concerned about the future.
Unfortunately, he’s right as some Fire Nation soldiers find the discarded war balloon. Their leader comments, “This defeat is the gateway to many victories.”
Another wonderful episode because the show has mastered combining heart, humor, and action. The art book says the creators feel better about the appearance of this air temple rather than the Southern one. I find both to be gorgeous. There’s almost a whole page devoted to how the war balloon works in addition to two sketches about the tanks and a sketch of Teo’s glider-chair.
Speaking of whom, I really do appreciate that Teo was in a wheelchair without that being the focal point of his characterization but also not entirely ignored. It was like, yes this character is in a wheelchair but that’s not the cornerstone of who he is- he’s spirited, he’s happy, he’s creative, he’s brave, he has ethics, he can express sorrow/disappointment in his dad when he learns of his parent accepting the blackmail of the Fire Nation. He’s fine with who he is.
Aang learned that it’s okay for things to change. While clearly abandoned, the Northern Air Temple looked like Aang remembered. But the Southern Air Temple had been altered due to the Mechanist making it a better fit for non-air-benders to live in. I appreciate that unlike in Lord of the Rings, industrialization isn’t depicted as wholly evil. As seen with the Fire Nation, it can be used for evil but that doesn’t make it evil. In fact, Legend of Korra proves that this world is on the brink of an Industrial Revolution and era of globalization.
While a sympathetic character, the Mechanist did err in creating weapons for the Fire Nation but did seem to not be able to know another option. And it’s understandable that he didn’t want to lose another home for his village so soon after losing the first one. Sadly, him being pressured by the Fire Nation into designing their weapons has and continues to give an edge to the Fire Nation in the war.
The final three episodes of this season take place in the Northern Water Tribe.
Next time on Avatar: Katara takes on the sexist Master Pakku.