Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Blue Spirit

Zuko is Batman. Okay, Zuko isn’t Batman, he is the Blue Spirit, but he uses the Blue
Spirit persona much in the same manner that Bruce Wayne uses Batman, to do what
he cannot normally do given society and cultural expectations.  Bruce Wayne can no more identifiably be a
back alleyway vigilante than Zuko can walk in and free the Avatar.  Both men rely on their secret identities to fulfill
long held desires, but ultimately, that is the purpose of a mask for
anyone.  When one’s identity is hidden,
they are allowed to adopt a new one and to behave in ways that their original
submerged identity could not.  In this
instance, Zuko’s desire is to return home to the Fire Nation and it cannot be
satisfied by allowing Commander Admiral Zhao to capture Aang, which for
the purpose of the Fire Nation’s military ambitions, is actually a much better
thing.  At the end of the episode, Zuko
gazes at a Fire Nation banner on his bedroom wall, and then turns away.  This sums up what it meant to be the Blue
Spirit for our Fire Nation prince.

Our episode opens with Commander Zhao demanding the use
of elite archers from the colonel in charge of a menancing metal Fire Nation
fortress.  The colonel denies Zhao the
archers on the grounds that he needs them there for the purpose of waging the
war.  Like mana from heaven, a Fire
Nation carrier hawk appears with a message for Zhao.  Congratulations, you’ve been promoted to
Admiral!  In the swipe of a pen, Zhao
outranks the colonel and orders the archers to bring him the Avatar.  Triumphantly, Zhao gazes out across his new
command, while above him, out of sight, a figure in a demonic blue and white
mask gazes down, eavesdropping.

Elsewhere, Aang, Katara and Sokka, are holed up in the
ruins of a once magnificent Earth Kingdom city.
It’s hard to tell how old the city is, if it was depopulated by the Fire
Nation, or empty long before their invasion of the Earth Kingdom.  A statue of a badger mole is prominently
displayed, a hint of their role in the Earth Kingdom’s past to be explored
later in Book 2.  It’s a beautiful touch
in the world building efforts by the artists and writers of the show.  Sokka is sick, delirious even, and Katara is
not far from joining him in that condition.
Aang resolutely declares he will seek out a healing station that he
found on a map and departs in a fury.

Aang quickly makes his way to the healing station to
discover an old woman and her white feline friend, Miyuki.  Aang also quickly determines that the woman
is crazy, but none the less, she informs Aang that the cure for Katara and
Sokka is a chemical excreted by frozen frogs in the bogs below.  The Avatar thanks her and departs, only to
encounter the arrows of the elite archers sent to capture him.  A chase scene ensues with moments reminiscent
of Aang and Jet’s forest fight, unsurprisingly, as this episode’s director,
Dave Filoni, also directed “Jet.”  This
isn’t a criticism and the archers demonstrate the death defying tactics of
soldiers competent in their skills and pursue Aang over a cliff and then
through the forest.  Aang makes his way
to the bog, but as he desperately hunts the frongs, is snared and taken away.

Zuko’s ship, meanwhile, has been boarded by a soldier
loyal to Zhao to convey the order that no ships are being allowed in or out of
the area, as the Fire Nation’s forces are being directed toward the capture of
the Avatar.  Our Fire Nation prince is
expectedly annoyed by these restrictions, while Uncle Iroh appears to happily
win money off the crew members foolish enough to play him in Pai Sho.  It’s a short scene meant to convey Zuko’s
frustration with Zhao’s interference, which helps to support Zuko’s actions
later in the episode.

Throughout the episode, we cut back and forth to Katara
and Sokka ailing away in their sleeping bags, waiting for Aang.  A running joke involves Momo, who Katara asks
to find and bring back water, while Momo continually retrieves everything but
water to the sick Southern Water tribe siblings.  The cut aways, while meant to provide a nice
source of levity, are also meant to add an urgency to Aang’s actions, be it
when he’s hunting for the cure or finding himself in chains inside the Fire
Nation citadel.  Perhaps because of the
humor, Sokka and Katara never truly feel like they are in trouble, and it’s
curious to ponder how the same situation would have been treated in later
seasons of The Last Airbender, when
the show creeps continually toward darker moments for its heroes.

Speaking of dark moments, Aang awaits to find himself
manacled and under the control of Admiral Zhao.
The admiral gloats over the Avatar and informs him that he need not
worry about his life, as killing Aang would only result in yet another search
for his successor.  Granted, one would
assume THAT Avatar would hardly be a threat at age three or seven, providing
plenty of time for the Fire Nation to do what it desires.  But what’s an Avatar in the pocket versus one
in the bush?  Instead, Zhao, informs
Aang, is the intention to keep him alive, barely alive.  The implications are quite dark, revealing
the show’s preference to rely on the viewer’s perception of events versus
simply depicting them.  A lifetime of an
Avatar, chained in a dungeon cell, skin and bones, under the Fire Nation’s
thumb, is what comes to mind, and coincidentally, the solution our “good” guys
make when dealing with nemesis in the future in Legend of Korra.  

While Zhao has his Saruman moment speaking to his
assembled troops about the Avatar’s capture and the plans to use the power of
Sozin’s comet (now obviously, not a big secret) to bring down the walls of Ba
Sing Se, our Blue Spirit figure stealthily makes his way into the fortress and
confidently makes his way through Fire Nation guards and the building to Aang’s
cell.  The Blue Spirit speaks through
actions, not words, and frees Aang from his chains and so begins a beautiful
escape sequence as someone finally notices the pair making for the exit.  It involves the skills of both the Avatar and
the masked fighter to overcome one obstacle after another, no less than a dramatic
ode to Hong Kong martial art’s gravity defying bravado, when the pair precariously
balance on bamboo ladders like giant stilts to make their way to the final
wall.  The pair are allowed through the
gate, only after the Blue Spirit threatens to kill Aang.  

Zhao, who has watched his forces fail repeatedly
confidently watches the pair move away from the fortress, before ordering one
of his archers to knock out the Blue Spirit.
The archer’s arrow flies true and strikes the Blue Spirit in the mask,
knocking it ajar and knocking its wearer out cold.  Aang has a moment to realize the identity of
his savior, Zuko, before making a quick decision to save him and flee the Fire
Nation troops.  

Zuko awakes in daylight to find Aang sitting on a tree
root nearby.  The Avatar tells Zuko about
Kuzon, a friend of his from a century ago, who was of the Fire Nation.  It’s a feeler from Aang and a point that will
be taken up in the final season of the show, in which we are shown a Fire
Nation that is not just one obsessed with military conquest.  Once the Fire Nation was simply one of the
four nations and its people were just people one would find everywhere
else.  It’s a moment of quiet reflection
for Aang, recalling how things used to be, but also a moment of appreciation
for what Zuko had done and a suggestion that perhaps they could be more than
just enemies.  Zuko then precedes to launch
a fire ball at the Avatar, who disappears into beautifully painted wooded
background.  Zuko returns to the ship,
where we learn he had missed music night and Uncle Iroh’s playing of the tsungi
horn.

Aang retrieves more frozen frogs and comically dispenses
them into the mouths of Katara and Sokka, who quickly begin to feel better
until they realize what’s between their lips.
Aang, worn out from the night’s events, passes out, a scene immediately
mirrored by Zuko laying on his bed facing the earlier mentioned Fire Nation
banner.  Zuko’s actions as the Blue
Spirit represent a deliberate separation between his own goals and the goals of
the Fire Nation and arguably, when he rolls away from the banner, he’s also
turning his back on its militaristic goals which were highlighted in Zhao’s
speech to his men.  His actions were
personally motivated and those motivations will increasingly become questioned
by the Fire Nation prince as the series continues.  Admiral Zhao’s increased powers by order of
the Fire Lord also reveal that Ozai has no faith in his son, and also,
importantly, he has no desire to bring his son home if he is building barriers
to prevent Zuko from fulfilling his exiled quest.

Arguably, Zuko adopts the Blue Spirit as a means to
express himself outside of his role as a Fire Nation prince and commander.  He relies on his swords, not his fire
bending, and when the mask is on, his actions are for his own desires, not the
betterment of the Fire Nation.  Thus, the
Blue Spirit is a sign that Zuko is evolving as a person and seeking his own
identity, it’s his gateway to participating in a world where his desires matter
most and not those expected of him.

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