Because fans should be critical, too

Announcement: Next Retrospective Delayed Until Next Saturday

My retrospective review for the “Winter Solstice” episodes of Avatar: the Last Airbender won’t be posted until next Saturday. By then I’ll have actually had the time and energy to work on it. This week has been crazy busy, culminating on Saturday with the wedding of a good friend of mine. It’s out of state, so I’ll be away for the entire weekend. Once I get back, I can resume my work here. I was hoping I could get this one done in the midst of all this, but it just wasn’t working out. I’d rather put it off and give it the proper due than try and rush this thing (especially for these episodes, two of the best in Book One and in the entire series).

Speaking of proper due, I haven’t been true to my word in responding to my commenters  on the days I established. I swear I read all of them, and they’ve all been insightful in one way or another. For instance, latenightscribe’s last few comments taught me all about head writer Aaron Ehasz’s ideas for the Book Four that never happened because of the production of the live-action trilogy (that also never happened) , and how “shipping” created rifts in the writers’ room. The behind-the-scenes drama of Avatar and Korra is becoming just as interesting–if not more so–as the series themselves. I may write something on this in a post separate from the retrospective when I have the time.

For now, sit tight and I’ll be back next week with the retrospective on the two-part “Winter Solstice.” All I’ll say about them now is that they reminded me just how wonderful Avatar really was. This retrospective would not be nearly as tolerable if I had to watch Avatar and especially Korra straight through on their own. Even a terrible episode of Avatar is more inspiring and forward-thinking than any episode of Korra past Book One, so I’ll gladly sit through Korra every other week if it’s means watching Avatar again.

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9 responses

  1. Thanks for the mention. No worries on ever responding to my comments, especially the info dump stuff. Life gets busy. My friends and I have just accepted that we’ll pass a lot of things to each other that we won’t have time to respond to. I think this season is especially busy for the “Avatar” fandom since we’re at the stage in life when there are tons of finals, graduations and, if your experience is anything to go by, weddings.

    As for production stuff (some more below), I agree there’s definitely a story here. I really hope we get to learn all of it at some point. At the same time, I think you’re right in saying that’s a story that, at least for now, should be a separate topic. Maybe one day you’ll be putting that all together in one of those “Behind the Scene” Production Books. On this point, from what I can tell, I think you and “Avatar” will have a long history together. I will not be at all surprised if in the future you’re part of a team trying to remake “Avatar” for a new generation or modernize the animation. Just in case you do, would you tweak the end so we have a Zutara ending? Book 3 may also need to be rewritten or redone to make it more on par with Book 2. Book 4 may also need to be added (probably in a different direction from the comics) since it seems to make sense thematically.

    In case I left it out, there’s no official evidence to corroborate the stuff I sent before (e.g. the stuff on Book 4) or the stuff I’ll put in a second comment below, it could easily be internet hearsay or fan canon that got warped into “almost canon”. I will try to keep looking for a solid source—when my friend and I get free in a little bit I do want to see if there’s a way to find any information on Aaron Ehasz’s guest lecture in Berkeley from people who may have been there (thanks for the indirect reminder, I actually forgot I wanted to do this). I have a feeling they may have actually filmed the event, but made it a private video or something, possibly on his request. (It is a little curious though that Ehasz and, possibly many of the other staffers, do not seem to be on record anywhere.) Unfortunately, smart phones were still spreading in late 2011 so that may be the bigger reason. Moreover, “Korra” hadn’t come out yet at this point as well, so the fandom may not have seen a need to focus on the other staffers.

    While I will have to play it safe about Book 4 (rumor until proven otherwise), from what other fans and I can tell, some of the production rumors are consistent with what we’ve seen in canon (“Avatar”, “Korra” and the comics).

    For example, Aang finding Air Nomad survivors or descendants of survivors.
    It’s “Avatar” canon that some Airbenders successfully escaped the Air Temple genocide and ran off into the Earth Kingdom. Unfortunately, those survivors were subsequently killed by the Fire Nation. To catch these survivors, the Fire Nation placed Air Nomad relics in various caves throughout the Earth Kingdom and spread rumors of these being the location of survivors. When the actual survivors arrived, they were ambushed by Fire Nation troops and killed. Those they couldn’t trick they used bounties to finish. (I didn’t know this when I originally brought up the Airbender massacre, but it’s in an apparently obscure comic “Relics”. Unfortunately, I became too busy to follow up on that.)

    It’s plausible that the Air Nomads who fled into the Fire Nation had more success, because hiding in an obviously dangerous place may be safer than hiding in a place that seems safe, since you’ll be more vigilant in the former. Moreover, the possible “fire-air” tie may have made it so many Fire Nation citizens hid Air Nomads, who then mixed into the population. (As I believe others have noted, some Fire Nation citizens would have genuinely supported the war. This implies some genuinely disagreed with the war.)

    In “Korra”, this idea has some support. In season 2, a Fire Nation woman has spent her life protecting Air Bison. Then in season 3, the Air Nomads are reborn amongst various individuals (these are Earth Kingdom, but it’s possible there were offscreen Fire Nation converts). It’s speculated by fans that these individuals are descendants of Air Nomads.

    Finally, on the production side (this is a rumor), two of the returning writers, Tim Hedrick and Joshua Hamilton, were allegedly more in line with Aaron Ehasz’s vision of “Avatar”. It’s very likely the original surviving Airbenders idea was recycled into “Korra”.

    The supposed alternative Zutara ending to “Avatar”—where Zuko and Katara have a quiet conversation outside Iroh’s tea shop talking about how the world had changed, implying their future together—also has some plausibility based on “Korra” as we have this image at the beginning of the Korrasami ending. https://am23.akamaized.net/tms/cnt/uploads/2014/12/KorraFinale.jpg
    It’s not impossible for this to be a recycled idea.

    This is subjective, but thematically, Zuko and Katara seemed to have made more sense and towards the end of season 3, they really looked like they had a strong chemistry, like at the very least these two were going to be strong friends. Character-wise, “Fire Lady Katara” has a strangely nice ring to it (Fire Lady is fan canon for how to address the Fire Lord’s wife. It sounds like it would be the right title.). Symbolism-wise, it’s noted how the Fire Nation attacking the Air Temples, is like fire spreading because of air. A Fire Lady from the Water Tribe would then be water bringing a wildfire back under control.

    Finally, this is my speculation, but the fact that Zutara is such a “fan-preferred couple” (even for the people making “Avatar”) suggests to me that that was where the story was naturally progressing. As you, Rosemont, edbva andothers have mentioned for other things, blocking a story’s natural progression doesn’t end well.

    (I know you don’t want to deal a lot with shipping, though, so I’ll try to avoid that, except maybe for the “Avatar” series finale and maybe “Korra” because that was definitely part of the show and can’t be avoided)

    May 20, 2017 at 12:41 am

  2. (Part 2)

    In the future, I’ll just continue to drop these pile of links and excerpts into your old research request post, since doing so in your Retrospective will clutter the comments (feel free to suggest otherwise since I want to do what’s most convenient for you). The only part I feel bad on is that the other commenters may not be able to vet them. Moreover, I’m curious to know what everyone has to say, so I’ll leave these here this one time since it’s an Announcement post.

    (Info dump)
    Some more internet hearsay from what I vaguely recall, TV Tropes and other unsourced places (also some comments on these points):

    -I think on TV Tropes I read that Korra and Mako being the intended couple was kind of trying to give the fans Zutara. Unfortunately, as others have noted, Korra and Mako didn’t have enough development to work, whereas Zutara is plausible by the end of the series—not necessarily as an outright couple but possibly as an implied future couple.

    -On a pro-Zutara site (so take this with a grain of salt), there is mention that the episode “The Headband” was originally supposed to be an episode about Kuzon, the friend Aang mentions to Zuko at the end of “The Blue Spirit”. Unfortunately, Bryke allegedly wanted to do something for Kaatang, which is why there’s this episode with the whole “Kaatango” at the end. This may be a genuine case of the shipping war entering the writing room.

    At the same time, I feel it’s a little unfair to say the shipping war extended into the writer’s room. Writers were just playing around with it and thought it might have some potential down the line. (Moreover, I think another internet commenter suggests that the writers were playing with the idea before Zutara had a fandom, hence some of the ship teases in Season 1. I don’t know when the fandom started to appear but the writers started considering the idea in the second part of Season 1. I think that’s a fair thing to happen.)
    This Tumblr answer by Araeph makes that point as well (the writers had preferences but weren’t shippers in the fan sense).

    -(Comment on TV Tropes about “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) “I heard that Season 3 was meddled with by the higher ups at Nick – they apparently disliked the season-arc structure of Season 3 and demanded more episodic stories like before – Bryke compromised by making self-contained episodes that contributed to the world-building and to an overall story-arc (and character arcs).” (This may explain why Season 3 seems a little off)
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Headscratchers/AvatarTheLastAirbenderProduction

    – (Another TV Tropes comment) “The entire third season is sometimes treated as non-canon because it is full of filler and the pacing is all over the place. Many plots that Bryke said they would explore such as Kuzon’s backstory, Zuko finding Ursa (which did happen in the graphic novel trilogy The Search, though the storyline was fairly divisive in addition to the Fan-Disliked Explanation), and Combustion Man’s identity were never touched upon at all. The ending is also highly controversial within the fandom.”
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Discontinuity/WesternAnimation

    -(Reddit Comment) [–]Never give up without a fightXandralis 1 point 1 year ago

    “Scripts/plans that were leaked before the end of the ATLA season 3 hiatus indicated that the creators were toying with the idea of aang seeing murals in the western air temple depicted very high level bending techniques (light bending I think?), leading him to believe that the airbenders couldn’t have been wiped out, and eventually finding them, with zuko’s mom.

    Either the creators scrapped that idea, or it was a fake leak. But it did have information about the season finale that turned out to be accurate. It said that sokka, with a broken leg, would protect toph from falling rubble on the zeppelins (which is pretty damn close to what happened), and some other stuff that I’ve forgotten. So I believe it, personally.”

    (I tried looking but not sure I can find this leak)

    Stuff I can back up or is easier to back up
    -More Stuff on the Ehasz’s, you might be interested in the section talking about how Aaron Ehasz biggest contribution to the show may not have been with respect to Zuko but with respect to Aang. Araeph argues that Bryke may have been too favoring of Aang and hence unwilling to challenge him enough. Ehasz made sure Aang did have tests of character.

    This sort of matches what a writer-artist (possibly Bryan) told my summer class. As they were developing “Avatar” in Season 1, the writers/creative team* felt that they needed to challenge Aang more, since it felt as if he was defeating the Fire Nation too easily. The creative team then asked themselves what made the Fire Nation the Fire Nation. Why were they able to conquer so much of the world? From that point onward, the Fire Nations spears and everything started becoming more distinct from those of other groups. Moreover, Aang’s victories would become more difficult.

    I believe this summer class happened in 2006, but I don’t quite know where “Avatar” was in its creative development when this creative team discussion was happening, so I don’t know which episodes began to make the Fire Nation more challenging. I do remember watching “The Blue Spirit” after and thinking that this was the writers making the Fire Nation more difficult.

    *(this term is meant to include Bryke, since Bryan may well have been giving the talk. Unfortunately, being a 7th grader at the time I don’t think I quite caught this artist’s name and I don’t remember his fiancé’s name who he was doing this guest talk for.)

    -On “The Last Airbender” front, I’ve read some rumors(?) on movie sites that suggests Shyamalan may be trying to make “The Last Airbender 2”. From what I read on another website, the failure of “The Last Airbender” is why “Avatar” is not a bigger phenomenon. Fortunately, in this movie climate, it’s not impossible to see a remake. A director just needs to figure out whether “Avatar” can be translated from a TV series into a movie (or movie series).

    A likely additional reason “Avatar” isn’t a bigger phenomenon is likely, the problem you mentioned: the first part of the first season is difficult for viewers to get through. I’ve seen this first hand trying to introduce it to a friend recently (she enjoyed the movie) and having introduced it to a roommate before (our neighbors and I really liked it). Both began watching the show because of the hype, but the hype makes the first few episodes underwhelming and it’s not clear why you should push through.

    Fortunately, my roommate eventually came around to “Avatar”, though I forgot when he got super into it (maybe Book 2, maybe a little earlier). I’ll see whether my other friend follows the same route.

    On a final note, the episode clusters you’ve chosen seem to be the right way to go.

    May 20, 2017 at 1:39 am

  3. goombattista

    It’s good to see you back at work on this. I just binge-read the posts up to this point and hopefully I can get involved in the discussion now. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like going back and forth between Aang and Korra but you’ve been able to make it work. It shows how well they contrast by putting Avatar’s strengths next to Korra’s weaknesses.

    May 23, 2017 at 4:53 pm

  4. Ian

    Hope your ok man. 2 weeks past due on a post with no update, hope everything is ok.

    June 5, 2017 at 12:07 am

    • Ian! You haven’t commented in a while, I was actually hoping the same thing! (Figured you might be busy with finals and the like, though.)

      June 13, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      • Ian

        Hey Marshall! Glad to see your alright 🙂

        I’ve actually tried to start and write responses for almost all of your posts since “The Boy in the Iceberg” but haven’t been able to find anything new or interesting to talk about. I’ll give it another go soon though, and I’m sure as we get further in the show I’ll have more things to discuss!
        Have a good day sir!

        June 13, 2017 at 4:11 pm

  5. lukepearson

    I hope you are not giving up because I was really looking forward seeing you tearing apart Korra, it is so hard to find anyone analysis and talk about it,s problems instead of people parsing it all the time or when I think I found someone talking about it it is just some greasy loser sitting in front of a camera with bad sound quality making shit up as they go along. All I want is for some one to actually do a proper review of it.

    June 12, 2017 at 7:27 pm

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