And so it came to pass that I found myself staring at Sokka and Katara and thinking “could you two just grow up a little already?” Some people enjoy endless petty drama between fictional characters. I don’t unless it’s funny, and this is wearing thin.
The starting point for this episode is the kids about to get going when Sokka springs a decision. No flying on Appa. It’s too dangerous as the Fire Nation keep spotting Appa. Katara argues. I’m not sure she’s actually got a good reason other than Sokka said it. And honestly, they both come through as a pair of dicks. Lets break it down:
Is this a good idea? Maybe, although I can’t help but feel a better safety precaution is “don’t fly near the coast so Zuko’s ship can follow you easily” (albeit plot detrimental) and I’m not sure it matches up with their timetable. Still, nobody points out those two things, or actually thinks as to whether Appa is how Zuko keeps finding them (it seems to be visiting settlements from what I can tell).
Should Sokka have just sprung it on people at the last moment rather than securing consensus the night before? If he wanted consensus, no he shouldn’t. That’s a gimme.
Why does Katara act out? She doesn’t seem to have a problem with the actual idea, just that Sokka just went “I’ve decided, this is what we’re doing”. Which is kinda fair. But do you know what encourages people to spring things at the last moment rather than get consensus? Being a dick when they make decisions. And as for the merits of challenging a leader solely because they’re an adolescent just like you, haven’t kissed someone just like you… kill me.
Aang just kinda sits it out being Aang. He doesn’t disagree with Sokka being leader over him.
Wait, I’ve just realised I forgot the actual opening scene before this point, which is Momo running into a Fire Nation trap. Aang rescues Momo, turns back to rescue the other animals, and Sokka says this is taking too long and uses his boomerang to release the other traps. We’ll probably mention this again later.
Anyhow, off they march, burdened under their packs which for some reason they carry rather than sticking on Appa. In fact, why don’t they just ride on Appa as he walks along? They’re so busy arguing for the hell of it that they don’t bother to scout ahead, or notice fire smoke, and march right into a Fire Nation camp.
The fight at least diverts me from the cheap drama. Ish. Because Sokka tries to bluff it out, fails, but the soldier he’s talking to is knocked out anyway.
Aang: Nice work, Sokka! How’d you do that?
Sokka: Uh, instinct?
I guess it fits with the theme they’re going for but it’s a really unlikely feeling answer.
Anyway, this is where Jet and his freedom fighters enter the fight. They take down the Fire Nation no problem, with Jet being particularly great, and upstaging Sokka repeatedly. For some reason the ten ton fluffy monster plays no part in the battle. After the victory, Jet charms Katara a little, they find some blasting jelly, and go back to the hideout. It’s in the trees, sorta Hook Lost boys style. Jet gets a rope to lift Sokka without warning, and goes up with Katara in a super romantic clinch.
Note by the by the earlier insult Katara threw at Sokka. Working on the principle most people often uses insults about things that bug them, is Katara feeling a little vexed about not having kissed a boy? I think the writers might have wanted us to be thinking this way.
Jet continues to charm Katara and Aang, making Sokka dumb and jealous, which Jet accepts equably. Probably does his ego no harm, right? Notice too how whenever he refers to the Fire Nation, he refers to them in animalistic terms to deny them their humanity. But he’s got a bit of charm for Sokka when Sokka threatens to having the gang fly off. It involves a super special mission!
The mission is attacking some Fire Nation dude. Sokka’s joined Jet with two of his fighters (Pipsqueak and Smellerbee), which subtly makes the point that Jet’s humouring Sokka. He doesn’t need an extra body here and while he’s impressed at Sokka sticking a knife into the tree to hear what’s coming better, he doesn’t really need that either. The Fire Nation dude comes into sight and Sokka is horrified, as it’s an old civilian. Sokka manages to keep the situation to just a robbery, despite Jet’s clear anger at the guy (which mirrors outbursts Sokka’s made in earlier episodes).
Back at the hideout, Sokka wants to leave immediately. Jet’s a thug he says. Messed up. But Katara wants to hear his side, so they do. At which point Jet brings up that the guy was Fire Nation – doesn’t change that he was a harmless old man, as Sokka said – and then says he was an assassin, producing a knife. Sokka says he was there and saw no knife, but Katara buys it. Sokka goes to pack his things while Katara and Aang agree to help fill a reservoir.
At this point you could construct a few theories about what Jet is, but I think most of them would have to include “he’s a liar who says what people want to hear”. We know there was no knife; AtLA’s not the sort of show to play tricks like that. Katara doesn’t know that of course. Now, she should be able to spot that Jet’s happy to use Sokka as a butt for jokes one moment and is very conciliatory the next when he needs him. But it’s obvious why she doesn’t, twice over. One is she’s happy to believe the worst of Sokka. The other is she’s got the hots for Jet. Just like Suki was very nice to Sokka, and Aang laughs at Katara’s jokes, Katara is all over Jet’s charms. See also real life. This part is well done.
Now I’ve typed this, I wonder if Aang shouldn’t have been jealous. Ah well.
Sokka appeals to his instincts again as a reason why they should go, but Katara shoots it down with “my instincts tell me we need to stay here a little longer and help Jet.” Aang’s on her side. Sokka does a horrible job explaining himself. Katara does a horrible job of keeping a rational view on things. Yeah, Sokka is jealous, but he’s not a liar. Besides, an old man (Jet never disputes that part) as an assassin? One who never tried to fight back? Yeah right.
Sokka hears Jet and his freedom fighters in the morning, and trails them to the dam. Jet plans to blow the whole thing up, wiping out soldiers and villagers alike. The Duke protests, but goes along with Jet. Before Sokka can go, he’s captured by Pipsqueak and Smellerbee (great names). I really like the conversation between Jet and Sokka, because it really nails Jet’s manipulative tactics – flattery and an assumption the other person will agree with him. It’s top fun to watch. Sokka’s taken away.
Jet puts more charm on Katara before the two benders get to work. Katara says meet you at the reservoir, Jet says make it the hideout. But once done, Katara decides to go to the reservoir anyway. Katara’s whole “I don’t care what you said I’ll do what I want” schtick is about to be really useful!
But first we see Sokka escape his captors. He leads them into the Fire Nation traps we saw at the very beginning.
Anyhoo, Aang and Katara arrive at the reservoir and are all “but why do you have explosives at the dam you want to fill”. Aang puts 2+2 together and gets the correct answer – that Jet is lying. Poor besotted Katara is still getting 5. Jet wouldn’t do that.
Jet tries to persuade Katara he’s doing the right thing, but he makes a mistake. He presumes he can appeal to her ego by telling her she’s smarter than Sokka.
Jet: I want you to understand me Katara. I thought your brother would understand, but—
Katara: Where’s Sokka?
Jet manages one more word before he gets the fire hose treatment. Don’t threaten Katara’s brother, folks. It doesn’t end well.
Jet does manage to stop Aang gliding off. The resulting fight is super acrobatic, super fun. It ends with Katara freezing Jet to a tree, which still allows him to whistle the blow it up signal. There’s several consistency questions we could ask here but I don’t want to.
The dam explodes, but we discover Sokka warned the village in time, and was believed thanks to the old Fire Nation man. Everyone’s happy but Jet. It ends with Sokka saying he went to the village on instincts and sometimes they’re right… and Aang pointing out they’re flying the wrong way. Sometimes they’re wrong too. Since I’m paying attention to “did the writers think the kids needed to learn”, that’s a bit wishy-washy, but it is a spoken acknowledgement he did some things wrong in this episode to the others.
I know some fans think the writers didn’t do justice to Jet, made his story too simple. They’re not wrong, but Jet’s story here is to serve as a lesson in the story of the others, and that precludes too much depth in the format. In truth, I don’t need every villain to have full complexity. Jet’s lost to his anger and violence; let that be enough. A talented, charming one with a sympathetic reason, but fuller explanation would have simply been going deeper into what we could tell with not very much.
The problem for me is I’m not sure what lesson he serves. The theme of this episode, sort of, exists in the traps in the beginning; how indiscriminate hate and violence hurts whoever’s in the way, and doing good means rescuing more than just those you care about. Well and good.
But Sokka’s raged plenty at the Fire Nation. Does he learn anything about his own rage? No. Neither does Katara. Do either of them really learn anything about instincts and emotional judgments? Despite the final words, I don’t think they do. How much cooler would the ending have been if Sokka had explained how he actually thought through going to the village.
I like this episode but it’s very style over substance, and to give it substance would have required a two episode arc. In a lot of ways, Jet is a dark mirror for both Sokka and Katara. I’d have loved to have seen them go deeper into that. You could have got more out of the Freedom Fighters too, and maybe more out of Aang. And maybe a real sense of change. It’s not like they didn’t have the space to do so in this season.
Instead they did things like The Great Divide. Looking forwards to watching that one…