Doug Walker On: “The Great Divide”
And here I was thinking there was nothing more that could be said about this brown stain of an episode; all the more reason to be glad that Doug Walker decided to finally give Avatar: the Last Airbender a publicized chance!
Doug may not hold “The Great Divide” in as venomous regard as I (and many people) do, but it’s still notably the first episode of the series to piss him off. Why? Because the ending ruined whatever theme or message the episode seemed to be going for. The moment Aang reveals that the story he told to settle the conflict between the two tribes was a lie, all meaningful musings on prejudice, its oft idiotic origins and parasitic nature were thrown out the window.
Before that, however, Doug found the episode to be rather clever. He liked that Aang’s smug position as world mediator was challenged by this silly tribe bickering. He liked that Katara and Sokka got split up with each group to find out why the conflict existed, and then subsequently got dragged onto that respective tribe’s side. He liked the contrasting viewpoints of the single event that started this whole mess. He even liked the (untruthful) reveal that the event was merely a misinterpreted and extremely exaggerated account of a simple game between two kids.
On paper, maybe this is clever stuff, and could have been worth investigating further in a better-written episode. But that is precisely the rub: irrelevant of how noble the initial ideas were, from a purely technical and writing standpoint, “The Great Divide” is an embarrassing and irreconcilable disaster.
The conflict between the tribe is neither involving nor funny. Every character becomes an idiot in order for the plot to work at all. The animation is the laziest it’s ever been, and the dialogue is even worse: at one point, a character actually says, “I guess it’s OK if everyone’s doing it.” The decision to display each tribe’s recollection of the event in radically different animation style is more distracting than clever. The canyon crawlers—whose pre-hybrid origins are difficult to pinpoint, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—make no sense. The moral is confused.
And when it’s all said and done, “The Great Divide” is practically indistinguishable from your average American animated children’s program. When the concept of a program is as unique and original as Avatar‘s, that alone is perhaps its greatest sin.
Long-time readers will know, of course, that I’ve made all these criticisms before, and I only repeat them now to further illustrate the difference in my and Doug’s viewing experience. I’ve seen the entire series, and more to the point, I’ve seen the greatness that Avatar is capable of; episodes like “Zuko Alone,” “The Crossroads of Destiny,” and especially “The Southern Raiders” gloriously transcend the limits of the American animated children’s program. That an episode like “The Great Divide” can even exist in the same bloodline as these masterpieces just make its aggressive mediocrity all the more deplorable. Doug will reach those heights eventually, and once again I can only envy him for being able to experience them for the time.
But beyond this, Doug brings up something I missed and that makes “The Great Divide” even worse than it already is.
In the beginning, our heroes made it their goal to get to the North Pole, but along the way, Aang wanted to take many detours and to make irrelevant pit stops in various places just for the fun of it. But then the two-part “Winter Solstice” episodes gave them a deadline that rendered such childish dawdling detrimental to their cause. The kids even seemed to realize this in the following episodes (“The Waterbending Scroll” and “Jet.”) Where was that concern during “The Great Divide?” Did they just forget about harmful these stops were to their cause? Did the writers forget?
Honestly, the sheer pointlessness of this episode boggles the mind. You could literally erase it from the Avatar storyline and it wouldn’t impact a single thing.
On a closing note, watch Doug’s video again, but this time listen closely whenever Doug expresses his anger and fascination at how the ending totally destroys the story. You’d almost think he was talking about The Legend of Korra…