Chapter Fifty-Nine: “Sozen’s Comet, Part Two: The Old Masters”
(Rating Out of 15)
Practically all of the action sequences in “Sozin’s Comet” take place in Part Three and Part Four, once the titular comet arrives. You could not find a more varied collection of such sequences in terms of quality. This is even more astonishing when you realize that the episodes are still good; the mediocre-to-awful sequences kinda bring down the good-to-great sequences, thus more or less balancing everything out. What better way to get into these sequences than by examining them from the very worst to the very best? As a great Waterbender once said, “Let’s fly!”
By far the worst action sequences in these episodes are those involving the members of the White Lotus in Ba Sing Se. I don’t understand how DiMartino and Konietzko and company could possibly take Uncle Iroh and four of the most beloved minor characters in all of Avatar and then have their final moments to shine be completely and utterly boring.
Where’s the tension? Where’s the suspense? Where’s even the slightest hint of danger for these guys? Were they really expecting me to think that anything bad was going to happen to crazy ol’ Bumi? Hell, I would expect a swordsman and a Waterbender to at least have some difficulty fending off Firebenders with ten times their usual power.
Maybe the point of these scenes was to show that these old geezers are still at the top of their game, as we bear witness to master Benders—and a master swordsman—strut their stuff over swarms of Fire Nation grunts. That’s an entirely valid reason for the existence of these scenes, but it still doesn’t make up for the lack of excitement and interest, not to mention memorability. I can only recall two distinct moments from these scenes: 1) Bumi knocking the tanks into a high stack; and 2) Iroh burning the Fire Nation banners that hang on the palace. The former is typical Bumi madness, and the latter is actually a neat story point (I’ll discuss that much later).
These old masters deserved a much better final hoorah than the one they got here. Maybe there just wasn’t enough setup for one. I mean, the real final bosses Firelord Ozai and Azula are being handled by our young heroes, leaving the old masters without a truly formidable opponent. What a pity.
If there’s one consolation about the scenes with the old masters, it’s that they are all pretty short. That’s not the case with the scenes of Sokka, Suki, and Toph on the warships; those scenes drag and drag and drag. Thankfully, they’re not as boring and there’s at least some suspense—not to mention some really neat action—but once is enough for these sequences.
Now I just said there is some suspense in these sequences. Truth be told, the whole thing is handled rather clumsily, and more often than not the smaller moments that are cool and entertaining in themselves end up, on the long run, canceling out the tension and making for a mostly boring watch. (I just completely contradicted my original complement, didn’t I?)
For instance, near the end, Sokka tells Toph to Metalbend the warship’s tail so that it crashes into the other ships. Toph does exactly that, and during this extremely dangerous endeavor, you’d think the kids would be kind of concerned about being knocked off of the top of the ship by the force of the crash. No, instead we get some witty banter:
Sokka: Have I ever mentioned how sweet it is that you invented metalbending?
Toph: You could stand to mention it more.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand that, as the wisecrackers of Team Avatar, Sokka and Toph are guaranteed at least one comic relief moment per scene so things don’t become too serious. This moment in particular, however (along with another one I’ll have to wait to discuss in Part Three), I have a slight problem with because: 1) the banter, while amusing, isn’t nearly funny enough to warrant its existence; and because of that 2) it really highlights just how little suspense there is. See, comic relief is usually just that: temporary relief from the tension. So when you inject comic relief in a situation that wasn’t all that suspenseful to begin with…well, it kinda defeats the purpose, wouldn’t you say?
This is especially a problem since, as mentioned before, no one seems capable of the D-word. It really makes me wonder if DiMartino and Konietzko and company should have even bothered with presenting death as something possible in the Avatar universe if they were just going to pussyfoot around the subject every time an instance where death seems pretty much inevitable comes around. But hey, that’s just the bizarre compromise that comes with being a kids’ show, I guess. Sometimes they make it work (like in “The Puppetmaster”), but sometimes it’s just awkward and ridiculous.
I guess it goes without saying that my absolute favorite moment in this sequence is when Sokka and Toph appear to be doomed.
It’s a great moment because all the while I’m wondering, “Is Toph going to die?” Naturally, I could care less about Sokka, but I really must give DiMartino and Konietzko and company credit here: they can be really clever bastards when they want to be. It’s like they somehow knew I wouldn’t give a shit about Sokka’s well-being, so they literally put Toph’s life in his hands. Either they both die, or they both live. You can’t have one without the other. So my pleasure in seeing Sokka this close to death conflicts with my concern for Toph’s safety. That’s just diabolical genius!
Of course, Suki saves the day in a fashion just as ridiculous as anything else in these sequences. I’m not going to complain, though. This is the closest the writers ever came to killing Sokka, and that’s satisfying enough for me.
Before moving on, I should mention that Toph’s impromptu metal-armor fight scene is really neat, but I have to ask (because I’m sure there’s an answer): with all that fire hitting the metal that was protecting her, shouldn’t she have gotten cooked in that armor, brazen bull-style? (Without the morbidly amusing “bull bellowing,” of course.)
Aang’s fight with Firelord Ozai is, amazingly enough, pretty damn exciting, and definitely one of the few genuine highlights of the finale.
Of course, the main question during this very long fight is whether Aang will actually kill Ozai to defeat him. I’ll deal with that particular tidbit much later, so let’s just say that it neither enhances nor detracts from these magnificent sequences. See, unlike those scenes with the White Lotus members or with Sokka, Suki, and Toph, these scenes work regardless of whether you’re emotionally invested in the situation or not. So even though I still don’t care at all about Aang, I’m still blown away by the way these fights are put together. Watching Aang do his best to evade Ozai’s blasts is fun, but it does get a bit tiresome overtime: even with the masterful animation of the ever-reliable JM Animation Co. Ltd., these sequences become as repetitive and predictable as a Nirvana album.
But then Aang accidentally recovers the Avatar State and…I want to save discussing this scene for later, too.
All right. Combine the brilliant JM animation with the fantastic and sorrowful score of the Track Team—even as a non-fan, I have to admit that they really outdid themselves this time—and the fact that I absolutely do care about both Zuko and Azula, and you’ve got one of the greatest action sequences in the entire series.
Should I even really have to explain this one? That Zuko having to fight his own sister to the death is equally inevitable and heartbreaking? That Azula’s nearly final slip into insanity makes her defeat that much more difficult to witness? That Zuko saving Katara so that she could save him finally provides her with the closure she needed all along? She may not have gotten to save her mother, but at least she could save Zuko (at least, that’s why I think she’s the one thanking him afterwards). And let’s not forget this haunting image.
Again, these wonderful moments stick out like a sore thumb amongst everything else, which comes across as business as usual. And that’s just the action sequences. We haven’t even gotten to the drama and comedy stuff yet. Not that I’m in hurry to review much of it…
All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.