The following post is written while listening to my new iPod Shuffle, whose name is Pipsqueak. Our CEO gave everyone in the office an iPod Shuffle. This place rules.
To be honest, I was expecting a little more awesome from the finale. "Siege of the North" was epic in pretty much every sense of the word, and I think this finale actually suffered from Nick's stupid scheduling. "The Guru," on its own, is solely a setup episode, and it is at times interminably slow. As a single episode, it's fine, and it would whet our appetites for the final episode of the season. But by packaging the finale as a one-hour extravaganza, you frontload the "finale" with way too much boring setup. Wouldn't it have been better to get into Finale Mood JUST for "Crossroads of Destiny," which is where all the awesome shit happens?
Okay, well at least one piece of awesome shit happens in "The Guru": TOPH IS A METALBENDER OMG!!! SHE IS THE GREATEST EARTHBENDER IN THE WOOOOOORLD. I do agree that she may have become a WEE bit too powerful, but I hope that her metalbending is kept in check, or else there's no reason for her not to, you know, singlehandedly take down all the Fire Nation War Machines. Still, Toph is awesome, and anyone who thinks different is WRONG. I mean, the girl figured out how to bend metal. Because, like Guru Pathik said, it's just a form of earth, after all. And no one else is as One with the Earth as she is because she's like the Daredevil of the Avaverse.
And speaking of Toph, let's talk about Sokka. Whose storyline is another reason "The Guru" is sort of lame: Sokka meets his dad, and...his dad is happy and Sokka is happy and everyone is happy? O...kay. I mean, good for Sokka, but it's not the most compelling thing ever. It was nice, I guess.
So the whole chakra thing was both good and bad. I really liked the philosophy of it all (like upanashad said, how cool is it that they're using so much Eastern philosophy in a kid's show?), and I of course loved the use of flashbacks (great callback to "The Deserter," I love that Aang still feels guilty about that, poor kid) to show all of Aang's emotional trauma. But the bad is that last word: TRAUMA. That Aang gets over in, like, three seconds. Yes, I know we have to move the plot along quickly, but it's still a little hard to swallow. I mean, opening chakras is supposed to be hard. This should be a BIG DEAL. Maybe it's a good thing the Avatar is a twelve-year-old, though, four years younger than usual. His emotions are less complex and easier to subdue, maybe.
Really, though, the entire chakra thing is redeemed by the writers' totally awesome self-awareness as ranted by Aang: "How can it be bad to love Katara? Three chakras ago, that was a good thing!" SO. HILARIOUS. Sometimes I forget I love Aang, and then he says something like that and I remember.
Oh oh oh: ZUKO. WELL-ADJUSTED ZUKO. NEVER AGAIN, MIKE AND BRYAN. PLEASE. Soooooooo weird and creepy.
The best plotline in the episode (which, geez, this show is juggling a lot of plotlines, huh?) was DANGEROUS KYOSHIS IN BA SING SE. Ty Lee makes fun of Mai's emo makeup: priceless! Ty Lee randomly proclaims her admiration of Azula's confidence: er, bizarre! Mai looks cute in Kyoshi makeup, though.
Azula is fast becoming one of my favorite villains of all time. I love that she manipulates Long Feng into thinking he came up with her plan. I was all ready to call foul on Ty Lee and Mai's RIDICULOUS CONVERSATION out on the steps, so I was really glad that it turned out to be staged for the wall-crawling Dai Li. And it was brilliantly done because first we think, "Man, how dumb are the Dai Li for buying it?" And then we think, "Um...we did." Because it totally works for Mai and Ty Lee to possibly be doing that. Azula would not be talking like that out in the open, ever.
And then Azula arranges a family reunion, and we head into the real finale, where so much shit goes down, it may well literally be insane.
(Holy crap, I just found out the Earth King is Phil LaMarr!)
So how long do you think the writers have been saving Iroh's "Dragon of the West" demonstration? Because you KNOW they knew he could breathe fire all along. Remember, in "Siege of the North," he told Zuko that firebending is all about the breathing, and that the "fire breath" move he taught him could save his life. This is why this show rocks, you guys. You can go back and be amazed at the foresight.
I'm not even going to discuss the Zuko/Katara scene because it's part of crazy 'shipper land, and I'm just REALLY GLAD Katara didn't waste her magic healing water on Zuko's scar (people have asked why she never thought to use it on Jet, and...I don't know! Because she still didn't like Jet. Or something). The scene still worked, though, and I did think it did end up being an interesting confrontation, especially Katara's admission that Zuko was basically "the face of the Fire Nation" to her, the face of the enemy that killed her mother.
I love Toph. This is no surprise. But I loved that she recognized Iroh from their bonding experience in "The Chase." I was actually a little surprised, though, by Aang and Sokka's reaction. Because, well, I suppose they know Iroh is Fire Nation and Zuko's uncle, but they've never had anything to fear from him, specifically. He stood up for them and against Zhao at the North Pole. He stood with them against Azula. It didn't seem right, and the "Er, help me find the guy who's trying to kill you" is conflict enough already.
Remember what I said about Azula being an awesome villain? Even the Dai Li recognize it: she's "terrifying...and inspiring." Somehow, she's able to win over the Dai Li, whose loyalty was previously to Long Feng, not the Earth Kingdom. It is a little odd that they would follow someone from the Fire Nation, but that just goes to show how convincing Azula is. Long Feng bows to her because he knows it's over, that she's beaten him at his own game. And then Azula smacks him down good: "Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player." IT'S AWESOME BECAUSE IT'S TRUE. It was her game all along; that was the whole point.
Okay, the last ten minutes or so is when everything goes to hell. Because suddenly all the characters are in the same room together and that can ONLY END IN PAIN AND BADNESS.
How awesome was the recreation of the Blue Dragon/Red Dragon fever dream? Seriously, HOW AWESOME? I don't care that it was totally obvious because it was SO COOL and made SO MUCH SENSE and ZUKO IS SO CONFLICTED OMG. Seriously, you could meta about Zuko all day, the way Azula and Iroh represent his two paths in life, the way each of them is pushing him away by pulling too hard, the consequences of past and history as we know it in "Zuko Alone," where Zuko's mother fits into all this, and...he's just an amazing character. And he's changed so fucking much. Go watch some episodes in S1 if you don't believe me. You'll barely recognize that Zuko. And the thing is his character development has been both ridiculously subtle and incredibly drastic. There's been a LOT of work to get him to this point.
And then we have a CRAZY FOUR-WAY FIGHT with Zuko ATTACKING EVERYONE IN THE FUCKING ROOM AT SOME POINT OR ANOTHER and Aang shooting air silhouettes and Katara using the Octopus and slicing Azula's hair and the entire Dai Li arriving to fuck things up and Zuko CHOOSING AZULA OVER IROH and Aang CHOOSING THE AVATAR STATE OVER KATARA and HOLY FUCKING CRAP OH MY MOTHERFUCKING GOD AZULA SHOT HIM IN THE AVATAR STATE AND I AM TEARING UP JUST WRITING ABOUT THIS. And Katara uses the healing water to save him but (Mai: "Just take the bear" ahahahaha) THEY LOST YOU GUYS.
Do you understand? Ba Sing Se just FELL. The Fire Nation just WON. And Zuko JOINED AZULA, WHO ALWAYS LIES.
See, everyone had convinced me, that Zuko would totally join Aang, and I had sort of resigned myself to it, even though it ALWAYS HAPPENS. The broken villain character eventually becomes a fully functioning member of the gang. And I thought, hey, at least maybe with Zuko, it could work; he's a good character, and his destiny is intertwined with the Avatar's, etc.
That major question, I could never answer. Because it was something I was just willing to accept when the writers gave their reason, but I couldn't think of really good, compelling reasons other than IT ALWAYS WORKS LIKE THAT.
And then...it didn't. They...did something horribly different. And...I don't know why Zuko would "lose fans," as has apparently been happening. Because it only makes Zuko all the more complicated and interesting, the best developed character in the whole bunch. He's got so much shit brewing around in his head, you never know what he'll do, but you know that when he does it, it'll make some sort of fucked-up sense, whether he realizes it or not.
The more discussion about Zuko's decision, the more and more it makes perfect sense. We all want Zuko to become Fire Lord. But he was labeled a traitor as it is; would the Fire Nation bow to a traitor on the throne? He first has to become part of the Fire Nation again. Like Azula against the Earth Kingdom, he has to take it down from the inside. birdsarecalling points out that the audience always thought Zuko would join the good side and reject Azula because Iroh thought he would, and Iroh is awesometacular and never wrong. But he is wrong. He can't even tell when flowers are poison. We side with Iroh, but Zuko sides with SENSE. Everything was set up so perfectly and we were all just blind to it.
Hell, I'm still trying to figure out what the hell happened in that room. So between good and evil, he chose good. Between Azula and the Avatar, he chose the Avatar ("I must capture the Avatar and restore my honor."). And then Katara got in the way of that, so he attacked Katara, despite their bonding moment. Basically, in THAT ROOM, out of Azula, Katara, and Aang, the only person he could possibly ally himself with was his sister. She was the only one who would even accept him, unquestionably.
And then Iroh arrived, and he could have chosen him, except for the fact that Azula has the ENTIRE DAI LI at her disposal, and aligning himself with Iroh means facing the Dai Li, and...the kid is so traumatized from the choosing that he stops.
And he KNOWS he sucks, even though Azula tells him he's all right.
(Also, that was some high-quality firebending he was doing there. And I think it was because he had released some of that inner turmoil: if lightning comes from a place of calm, then Zuko has moved closer to that by making choices and becoming more confident in his own destiny. So it showed in his increased firebending skill.
And rage just seems to enhance bending, period.)
birdsarecalling points out that Zuko's decision totally mirrors Aang's decision to give up Katara for the sake of the Avatar state: it's rash and impulsive and he believes it's his only choice. And it brings the season full-circle: the premiere was entirely about the Avatar state. But what OF the Avatar state?! If anything, I think at the very least, Aang won't be able to enter the Avatar state, which sucks because PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER! even though it's unfairly tipped the scales in his favor too many times, in my opinion. The real, HORRIFYING question is whether Aang really just broke the Avatar cycle. Because I am very afraid that he did. Because they spelled out the consequences in the premiere, and they would not do that if they were not prepared to follow through on them. Is Avatar Roku's spirit gone forever? Because that would be VERY BAD, given that he would be the most powerful ally they have against the Fire Nation. Is Aang the last Avatar as well the last Airbender? CRIMINY.
Oh man. This show.
If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to read these three excellent posts and, more importantly, the discussion in the comments. It's all so FANTASTIC.
After Avatar, BSG cannot compare, especially when it's this boring. So I heard this rumor that Lee and Kara sorta like each other? Did you know?
Mostly, my feelings about this episode can be summed up by the question "WHERE THE HELL DID THEY GET A BOXING RING?" This story was much better on Oz, when there was more cursing and people died.
I did like the sexual-tension-filled flashbacks with Adama and Roslin, and I guess it was interesting to learn some of the stuff that happened on New Caprica, but I just didn't care that much. And so I'm not going to waste any more time writing about it.
Instead, I'll write about Heroes, which is always worth writing about, although I can't think of what to say anymore. I almost fell off the couch laughing at Hiro's assertion that "Save the cheerleader, save the world" was an if, then statement. And he knows, because he said it! Which writer is writing Hiro and Ando? Because they seem to get the best dialogue.
D.L. phased a bullet through his head, and that was cool. Niki/Jessica had a cool Gollum-esque conversation, and that was cool. Otherwise, though, that was boring, and I'm one of the few who LIKES her. Dudes? When you're more boring than MATT'S STORY, there are problems.
Matt's story had the benefit of Clea Duvall flirtage, though. And the awesome feedback loop when Peter absorbed his powers.
And Claire! Oh, I love Claire. "I've died before. It's no big deal." And oh my God, Mr. Bennet! I loved you, but you're fucking evil again! You brainwashed her best friend. That was so sad. Oh, Zach. And poor Claire does not even suspect that her dad would DO such a thing! Even though he very creepily asked who else knew about her powers. But why would her dad do that to her, right? And then...the Haitian can speak! And he has his own agenda! INTRIGUE. And...holy shit, Claire's mom has been brainwashed. Repeatedly.
I'm liking sober Isaac much more! He plays well off Hiro; I'm glad they finally met. And HOLY GOD HIRO VERSUS A DINOSAUR!! This show is pushing all my buttons. He really needs to find that sword.
Eden! Again, with her own agenda, just like I said! And I liked her, and now she's dead. I need to stop liking people. But she blew her brains out to keep Sylar from getting her power, which is awesome.
Also, Mohinder: how do you like it when people don't believe YOU, huh?
Finally, Peter has another prophetic vision-type thing and...holy shit, it's Peter who blows up New York. I...this is another example of a "surprise" that makes perfect sense but is surprising due to audience expectations. Pretty much everyone assumed one of two things: Radioactive Man would go nuclear, or Sylar would absorb his powers and go nuclear. The former is just sort of a meh idea, whereas the latter, I imagine, is one more people were inclined to believe because Sylar is the Bad Guy, right? So he would do Something Bad like blow up New York? But...why? Why would Sylar kill himself? That doesn't make sense, right? What does make sense, however, is that Peter absorbs Radioactive Man's powers and can't control them. Some people have speculated that Nathan is coming to fly Peter away so that he doesn't hurt anyone, but Peter doesn't have the scar! He needs the scar! Man, who knows what the hell is going on in that scene?
I love the NBC marketing department and their ability to take mundane phrases and turn them into cool catchphrases. We've gone from "Save the cheerleader, save the world" to "ARE YOU ON THE LIST?"
Did you hear that Aaron Sorkin Cares About Black People? And Katrina victims?
It was a good episode, though. The "To Catch a Predator" sketch was actually funny! Tom's delivery of "He had been visiting young girls for what he described as 'years'" was PERFECT.
And Cal broke a table. With a coconut. That they needed to make snow. Because apparently there is no other way to make fake snow. Whatever, coconuts are funny.
The whole Danny/Jordan thing was pretty cute. Well played. I continue to love Jordan. Also, I never expected to like Jack from the pilot, but he's come a long way. And, see, this FCC battle? That's an issue that's appropriate for a television network. I still think there's a little too much High Road being taken, but at least it makes more sense than religion or war or racism or Communism or whatever else the Issues of the Week have been.
So, yes, good episode. Whee for good television.