Doug Walker On: “The Southern Air Temple”
I’ve been meaning to write something (read: anything) in response to Doug Walker’s journey through Avatar: the Last Airbender, but the last thing I wanted to do was go through each and every single episode with him and go through his opinions beat-by-beat. Such an extravagant effort would be a waste of time and energy, especially considering I’ve already delved into the vast majority of the episodes myself anyway.
Instead, I’ll only comment on select episodes, particularly if:
- A certain theme, motif, etc. deserves elaboration.
- I strongly agree/disagree with Doug.
- Doug provides insights I missed in my own viewings and my reviews.
And with that, let’s examine what he has to say about “The Southern Air Temple.”
First of all, I am both surprised and overjoyed by just how quickly he gets Zuko. (He even goes so far as to say that Zuko practically owns the episode.) Doug recognizes how easily Zuko could have been a stock villain with little-to-no redeeming qualities, and how the story provides him ample opportunity to display his humanity, honor, and vulnerability. And all the while, Zuko is still notably a teenager, and the show always handled Zuko as a kid better than it did with Aang, who too often felt like a walking plot device than a human being. Zuko’s relationship with Uncle Iroh also helps to bring out the best in him. I can’t wait to see how Walker responds to Zuko as the series progresses.
Doug’s comment on Zuko’s fight with Zhao is probably the most intriguing of all. Zuko is such an original, complex and unpredictable character not only are you “almost rooting for this guy,” but the show actually fooled Doug into believing Zuko really did strike a finishing blow when Zhao was down. Only the reminder that he was watching a kids’ show—which, of course, wouldn’t let that happen—brought him back, but he’s definitely correct that even for a kids’ show to provide a split-second of ambiguity is impressive. Once again, I’m reminded me of Michael Barrier’s comment on the Disney film Dumbo:
A character’s abrupt turnabout need not be in the least unconvincing, if that character’s reality has been established before the change occurs…People…are highly complex beings who are capable of a lot of things, good and bad. If a film makes that complexity real, an abrupt change can be far more convincing than a change that occurs as the result of planting some prop…Let me point to an abrupt change in a character’s behavior at the end of a film, a change that bothers no one—a change that seems perfectly natural, in fact, because we have gotten to know the character. At the climax of Dumbo, when Dumbo is falling from that great height with the magic feather in his trunk, and Timothy is begging him to fly, we have no reason to believe—from the plot mechanics alone—that Dumbo will respond.
In addition to this, Doug brought up something I never really considered, or perhaps took for granted. Typically in stories of the fantasy genre, there’s a prophecy that someone will save the world, or something to that effect. In Avatar, that’s not the case: it’s not a prophecy so much as a fact of life in this universe. There will always be an Avatar, and whoever that is—whether they like it or not—will have to keep the world in balance, with varying results (i.e. Aang’s hundred-year-long disappearance was not very helpful).
It’s also intriguing just how much Doug hates when those aforementioned fantasy tales have a prophecy child who is told at too young an age that he is a prophecy child. (Admittedly, such pressure would damage the child’s psyche to a degree.) Thankfully, while Avatar does it as well, it at least addresses the subject as a bad thing. (Gee, where was this attitude in The Legend of Korra?)
Doug does like all the characters, but he spent the most time speaking about Zuko. Hmm…
On a closing note, Doug wonders why the writers don’t just make up names for the hybrid animals. I wonder how he’ll react to the rooster-pig or the tiger-armadillo…