Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Fortuneteller

The idea of destiny is tied to the identity of the
Avatar.  The Avatar’s mission is to bring
balance and harmony to the world and often the foregone conclusion that if
there isn’t balance and harmony, then he or she will make it happen.  Our avatar, Aang, initially ran away from the
responsibility of being the Avatar, but in the course of the last few episodes
has matured enough to accept what he must do because of who he is.  Yet, every episode begins with Katara telling
us she believes that Aang will save the world.
It’s an expectation and some might say, Aang’s destiny.  In ‘The Fortuneteller,’ the central focus is
fate and destiny, but it has nothing to do with the destiny awaiting Aang as
the Avatar, but instead, the destiny of our characters as two individuals meant
for each other.  

Romance or love is present throughout much of the Last Airbender, be it between Katara and
Aang, Sokka and Suki (with a lunar flirtation thrown in there), or Zuko and
Mai.  The central focus is the first one
listed and this episode resets one water bender’s perceptions of who she will
fall in love with while at the same time mirroring her behavior in the person
smitten with her.  But let’s get to the
episode.

We open with the gang parked on a river bank and Sokka
excitedly noting a splashing fish, who may not realize it, but has meal written
all over its scales.  Sokka rushes to
grab a fishing line only to discover it missing, Aang had appropriated it to
make Katara a replacement necklace.  It’s
a thoughtful gift and virtually any time a fellow gives a lady a piece of
jewelry, that gift is laden with romantic affection.  Katara models the necklace prompting Aang’s
jaw to drop and Sokka to quickly mock Aang’s obvious crush on his sister.  Unfortunately for Aang, it’s not obvious to
Sokka’s sister and Katara dismisses Sokka’s tomfoolery and declares Aang just a
good friend.  As the Oxford English
Dictionary would say, “BURN.”    

Aang isn’t left long to suffer his unrequited love, as a
commotion in the woods draws everyone’s attention to a traveler facing off with
a platypus bear.  The traveler betrays no
sense of fear or alarm, deftly dodging the bear’s attempts to go full Sokka on
him and make him a meal.  The team runs the
bear off and then incredulously learn that the man was fearless because a Fortuneteller
in his town had told him he would have a safe journey.  Enter Sokka’s role as professional doubter
and defender of reason, one he will play the rest of the episode.  Sokka points out that the man’s travels weren’t
safe, he was almost eaten by a bear, to which the man responds, that the
fortune was correct because he was saved by them.  This leaves Sokka in fits and the man leaves
the gang to return to his travels, but not without the gang deciding to go
visit the Fortuneteller for themselves.

Team Avatar arrive in the village and are escorted into
the Fortuneteller’s  house where they
were told they were to be expected.
While they wait to see the spinner of fortunes, a gangly girl with wild
braids serves them refreshments and instantly zeroes in on Aang, love in her
eyes to which Aang is instantly oblivious.
It’s the start of an ongoing theme for the girl, mirroring Aang’s crush
for Katara while Aang plays the role of the waterbender in simply not noticing
or picking up on the cues of affection.
For those with sharp ears, the girl’s voice actress is none other than
Jessie Flower, who will return to voice the incredible Toph Beifong next
season.  

Katara insists on seeing the fortuneteller first and
demands to know about her romantic future.
She’s told she will end up married to a powerful bender, among many
happy things, and instantly falls down the slippery slope of giving over
control of her life to fate, as she continually seeks the Fortuneteller’s input
on everything down to what she should eat for breakfast.  Knowing one’s future, or the illusion of
knowing one’s future, is a seductive ideal, as it relieves an individual from
worry or provides them hope.  Notably,
the only negative fortune the Fortuneteller provides goes to Sokka, warning him
that he will be the source of his own misery for much of his life.  It’s this element that eludes the fortunes
provided to virtually everyone else, when one is given bad news for the future,
then the opposite occurs, dread, worry and loathing.  But the village is charmed by their good
fortunes, dutifully following the predictions of their local seer.

Aang’s own fortune is explosively written in bone and
presented dramatically that the very fate of the world rests on his shoulders,
to which Aang shrugs and declares that he already knows and simply wants to
know about his future love life, i.e., when will he be with Katara.  The Fortuneteller tosses Aang something of a
generic response, but one which builds his spirits.  Meanwhile, Sokka has started a second career
criticizing the villagers blind reliance on the Fortuneteller’s predictions, be
it an individual who wears red shoes every day to meet his future love or a
grinning cloud of dust who refuses to take a bath.  

Not long in their stay in the village, the group is
witnessed to the Fortuneteller’s annual prediction on whether the village will
be safe from the volcano that looms over it.
In a big spectacle, the Fortuneteller references a book of symbols and
reads the shapes of the clouds to announce that the village will indeed be safe
for one more year.  This act of prophecy,
the gang learns, occurs in lieu of the village sending a runner up to the rim
of the volcano to see with their own eyes whether there is danger or not.  Fortunately, Aang drags Sokka up the rim for
the purpose of plucking a special lily that grows at the top of the volcano,
and the two discover that contrary to the Fortuneteller’s prediction, the
village is in imminent danger.

Unfortunately, the power of the Fortuneteller’s
prediction deafens the villagers to the group’s warning, leaving them only one
alternative, to get the Fortuneteller to do a second reading, this one on
clouds manipulated by Aang and Katara aboard a flying air bison.  The ruse works, granted with some help from
Aang’s secret admirer who confronts him much in the same way that Aang should
probably confront Katara, and the villagers are finally aware that their lives
and homes are in danger.  A mad effort
ensues with Sokka devising a plan to build a trench around the village for the
expected lava to flow through and out of harm’s way.   The work is done in the nick of time as the
molten rock gushes down the mountain side and turns the trench into a temporary
moat of lava.  

Something must be said for this scene, the village is
empty with everyone having retreated to a safe distance with the single
exception of our heroes.  Two teens and a
tween are essentially the bravest (or foolish) individuals present, standing in
the face of potential death.  A hero or
heroine is shown true by their actions and this moment definitely reveals the
three as heroes of our story.  It also is
a moment important to the development of the romance between Aang and
Katara.  Immediately, it appears the
trench was not deep enough and the lava flow begins to once again threaten the
village, but the danger is averted by Aang drawing vast gusts of wind (not in
the Avatar state) to cool the lava into stone, creating a wall of cooled lava
that protects the village.  It’s
definitely an awesome display of ability, one that makes Sokka casually remark,
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a powerful bender Aang is.”  The words ‘powerful bender’ click with Katara’s
memory of the Fortuneteller’s prediction and for the first time, Katara see’s
Aang as something more than just a friend.

In the aftermath, Sokka is treated to one more aneurism when
a villager points out that the prediction that the village would be safe came
true, in much the same way the villager at the beginning of the episode argued over
his encounter with the platypus bear.  As
a note, Sokka was hounded by a goose for at least one scene, and the same goose
or a very similar goose made it into the foreground or background of some of
the scenes.  In some Asian cultures, a
goose is often a wedding present symbolizing a number of things, but obviously,
attached to love and wedding.  It seems
hard to believe that it’s repeated appearance was just coincidence.

Ultimately, ‘The Fortuneteller’ is an episode about
destiny, but not of heroes saving the world, but the romance between Aang and
Katara.  At the same time, there is a
difference between prediction and destiny.
A prediction is allegedly news of something that will happen, while
destiny is the understanding that something will happen.  In this case, Katara and Aang operate on
terms of predictions, both believe they know how something will happen, while
we the viewers are given the understanding that their romance is their
destiny.  The message concerning
predictions in this episode is one of blind faith, characterized quite
dramatically in an exchange between a villager and Sokka.  After Sokka rants about perfectly rational
and scientific reasons for everything that happens, the villager retorts, “Can
your science explain why it rains?” Sokka exasperatingly replies, “YES, YES IT
CAN.”  (Incidentally, it’s the knowledge
of what clouds are that allows the heroes to manipulate them in the
episode).  

Despite the point driven through much of the episode by
Sokka about the predictions, they do come true.
However, they come true because of the interference of others to save
those who are relying on the aforementioned faith in the prophesied word.  Much like our own world, where faith and
reason coexist, the episode works to show while one may exist at the irritation
of the other, both have their places in our lives in balance.

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