Chapter Forty-Two: “The Headband”
(Rating Out of 15)
Time heals all wounds indeed! I was prepared to hate this episode like I’ve done so many times in the past. I was ready to curse DiMartino and Konietzko and company for blowing the good will they’d built up over the course of a season-and-a-half and a great seasonal opener by having the second episode be an idiotic homages to 80s films. Hell, I even had a great quote from music critic George Starostin about how not to use influences: “It is not a sin to be infected with any sort of influence — it is a sin to extol the very fact of your being influenced as your artistic statement.”
But alas, I cannot bring myself to write such a review. The truth is that “The Headband” didn’t offend me like it did before, and the 80s homage, while still present and occasionally annoying, is more subdued than I remembered it to be. Plus, DiMartino and Konietzko and company manage to merge it in pretty well with the plot—which in itself (with its “express yourself” message) oozes 80s cheese anyway, but I digress.
HOWEVER—and this is a big however—just because this stuff doesn’t offend me anymore doesn’t mean I actually like it. There are certainly parts of “The Headband” I find amusing, but on the whole, it’s just OK. I could easily have done without the filler elements of the episode, because that’s all it really is.
The major plot points (which, as usual, all but make episodes like this impossible to disregard completely) are as follows: 1) our heroes get new clothes to blend in with the Fire Nation; and 2) Zuko, unable to figure out what to do about the Avatar still being alive, sicks a bounty hunter on him.
The former seems rather silly compared to Zuko’s turmoil—which shouldn’t surprise me, really—but it truly is the only thing of importance that happens to Aang and the gang. Everything else, from the going to school and showing Fire Nation kids how to express themselves, is superfluous.
So Aang is enrolled in a school because the disguise he chose is actually a school uniform. Whoops. He instantly stands out because he knows not the rigid etiquette of the Fire Nation education system, nor their pledges of allegiance, nor their “history.” On top of that, spontaneous bursts of movement and dancing is forbidden. Why? Because it cannot be controlled by the authorities. I guess.
So what does Aang do about this? He holds a big dance party so to at least gives those poor kids a taste of freedom and probably start a chain reaction that will lead to the kids eventually doing their own thing. Does it work? I don’t know. We never see those kids again. For all we know, they were all lobotomized after that night. The price of freedom, I guess.
Anyway, those dance party scenes are actually really fun and energetic. My favorite moments are Aang and Katara’s tango and the free-styling kid (which apparently was done by Konietzko himself). I kind of wish the free-styling was animated on one’s instead of two’s, but I’ll reserve my nerdy needs for now.
Is this dance scene make up for an otherwise boring episode? Sorta kinda. It certainly doesn’t make up for that bully, who is just one-dimensional and cliché. Nor does it make up for the fact that I really hate 80s feel-good/be-and-express-yourself films. I find them stupid and artificial, and totally removed from reality. If I ever want to watch something that will encourage me to be outrageous in a rigid authoritative environment, I’ll just watch M*A*S*H.
But enough about Aang and the gang. Zuko is in this episode, too.
He takes nightly trips to visit Uncle Iroh in prison. During the first trip, he curses Iroh for “judging him” about the decision he made in Ba Sing Se. During the second trip, he asks for advice on how to deal with the fact that: 1) he’s still not happy; and 2) the Avatar is still alive. Zuko never gets a response from Iroh. In fact, the old man has his back to Zuko the entire time. As much as Zuko deserves this, I do still feel sorry for him. And Iroh, too, who is obviously saddened by Zuko’s turmoil.
And so Zuko calls upon a weird-looking bounty hunter—later known as Combustion Man—to track Aang down and kill him.
Well, at least for all the kid’s trouble, he’s got Mai. Now, I try my best to avoid topics such as “shipping” because, frankly, I think they’re a waste of time and energy, but Zuko and Mai are clearly made for each other. They’re both such dorks!
Mai: Orange is such an awful color.
Zuko: You’re so beautiful when you hate the world.
Mai: I don’t hate you.
Zuko: I don’t hate you, too.
Whatever. My motto is, “If it’s love, don’t fix it.” That’s also why I’ll never blame Yoko Ono for breaking up the Beatles, nor John for finally finding happiness. Sometimes, love is all you need.
P.S. This lackluster episode may have been written by John “JOB” O’Bryan, but guess what? He also came up with the idea for Combustion Man. So next time you shun Mr. O’Bryan for writing “The Great Divide,” remember you’re also shunning the man who came up with one of the coolest bad guys in Avatar: the Last Airbender. Deal with it!
All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.