Chapter Ten: “Jet”
(Rating Out of 15)
Thematically speaking, “Jet” finds DiMartino and Konietzko and company getting pretty ambitions. Avatar: the Last Airbender isn’t simply an action/adventure fantasy kids’ show anymore: there are heavy themes and ideas going on beyond just the foundation of the plot—which was pretty heavy itself, but I digress.
There’s a lot going on here. The title character, Jet, is the leader of an underground resistance movement that vows to take down the Fire Nation by any means necessary. His family was killed by the Fire Nation, so there you go. He’s a smooth talker and a charismatic leader, and pretty infamous among the Fire Nation for constantly sabotaging their flanks. The guy’s pretty skilled with those two swords of his, but strangely, he hasn’t mastered the art of one-liners: when he first appears and takes down a squad of Fire Nation guards, all he can come up with is an impressively lame “Down you go.”
Predictably, Katara falls for him. Jet’s a charmer, for sure, but on top of everything Katara: 1) despite(?) her quest to change the world, is pretty naïve; and 2) comes from a small village in the South Pole, where every available male her age might as well be her cousin. Maybe it helps to that Jet’s complexion is as dark as hers.
Sokka, on the other hand, immune to Jet’s charms, doesn’t trust him at all, especially not after witnessing him nearly kill an old man who just happened to be from the Fire Nation. It’s clear to him that Jet is a well-meaning, but diabolically unethical bastard who will hurt innocent people just to see the Fire Nation go down. Sokka tries to warn Aang and Katara, but neither of them—especially not Katara—is convinced until it’s far too late. Jet tricks them into Waterbending enough water out of the ground to—after Jet and crew blow up the reservoir—will completely wipe out an entire village, Fire Nation and otherwise.
This is some pretty dark material for a kids’ show, and this should be a very unnerving and remarkable episode. But it was not be.
None these themes and ideas are explored with any subtlety. “Jet” is so melodramatic that its off-putting. I’m not sure whether DiMartino and Konietzko and company were deliberately pandering to their audience, or if they didn’t yet know quite how to handle this material within the confines of a kids’ show. This is the Experimental Season, after all, so I’m sure it’s the latter. It’s a shame, too, because it really brings the episode down.
This particularly harms the integrity of Jet himself, who should be an incredibly compelling character, but instead comes across as unfocused and unconvincing. The voice acting by Crawford Wilson is solid, but he can’t save Jet from the fragmented nature of the script, as he crudely shifts from nice guy to psychopath.
Limited characterization also affects the members of Jet’s crew, a collection of half-realized, one-dimensional cutouts who are not given a chance to develop beyond their vague backstories and uninteresting attributes. Only Pipsqueak stands out because he gets a few good lines.
It’s interesting to note that this is probably the first time sympathy is directly distributed to Sokka. He doesn’t trust or like Jet, but Katara dismisses this as jealousy of Jet’s superior leadership skills. Because of the heavy-handed tone of this episode, we know that Sokka is right, but we have to wait until the end to see him redeem himself. Until then, the writers pretty much made everyone else an asshole towards him. Even in the first scene, despite the validity of his concern, Katara berates his notion that flying on Appa gives them away too easily and that walking instead would be better. The “instinct” jokes get old really fast, and, honestly, if this is what it takes to make Sokka sympathetic then I can easily do without ever sympathetizing with this loser again, thanks.
Aang seems pretty useless in this episode. Yes, he’s not the focus of the episode, but when he gets into his fight with Jet near the end, he’s getting his ass handed to him big time. I used to think this was a flaw, but actually it says something very important about Aang: if he’s having this hard of a time fighting a guy with two swords, how in the Hell is he going to win a war against the Firelord? Was this intentional? I certainly hope so, because that’s the kind of subtlety I wanted more of.
Why couldn’t the entire episode be more like that? Why do we need a sequence in which Katara is whisked away dreamily in Jet’s arms, completely with cheesy romantic music and diffused imagery? It’s much better when Sokka tells her that her “boyfriend” is a thug, and she doesn’t even bat an eye at the word “boyfriend.” (Actually, after a quick look back at the episode, her actual response was, “No he’s not.” Not what? Boyfriend? Thug? That’s so vague!)
It’s times like this that I have to remind myself that Avatar is first and foremost a kids’ show, and I’ve already mentioned why I see that as a problem.
It’s not like the episode has no merits at all. When the kids stumble upon a Fire Nation guard camp, it’s funny, as are Sokka’s dwarfed attempts to take action and make himself useful.There’s a hilarious moment when Momo, scared by Aang’s newly acquired bombs, starts grabbing them from his pouch and hurling them at his feet.
Of the more serious moments, the flooding of the village and the steps leading up to it are effective. It’s pretty neat how Sokka saves the village thanks to the support of the old man from earlier. Katara’s fury at Jet near the end works well, too, and there’s an especially great reaction shot as she realizes the flooding is about to occur.
But “Jet” should have been much better than this, and should have, dare I say, taken itself a little more seriously. In the end when the kids leave Jet frozen to the tree, and the kids fly away on Appa, we’re treated to yet another “instinct” joke. That’s it. The episode finishes like the end of a bad sitcom. Where did the ambition go, guys? It didn’t go into the next episode, that’s for sure…
All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.