Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Serpent’s Pass

While “The Library” and “The Desert” were tied
together by both geography and the loss of Appa, “The Serpent’s Pass” has only
the continuation of Aang’s grappling with loss to connect it the prior
two.  It’s the emotional third act of a
three part arc which ties together Aang’s initial loss, inability to express
his grief, and finally, the resolution of his coping decisions to deal with the
air bison’s absence.  In the process,
while it ties up this end, it also ignites a new storyline with the introduction
of an old face, Jet.  

Last seen bound by ice to a tree by Katara in the
appropriately titled first season episode “Jet,” Jet’s reintroduction comes as
a means to mirror the evolution of our own anti-hero, Zuko.  Jet is a creation of the horrors of the Fire
Nation, willing to sacrifice innocent lives for the purpose of defeating its
soldiers. Zuko once embodied the Fire Nation and its relentless pursuit of
world domination.  Bringing the two
together is not only an interesting dynamic, but it illustrates Zuko’s own
evolution from being a figure defined by an obsession to someone trying his
best to let go of it.  Jet similarly is
attempting to let go of his own obsession and the fate of both men will boil
down to how successful they are in doing so.

At the end of “The Desert,” we learned that Appa had
been sold and was likely on his way to Ba Sing Se, a destination that the group
also wanted to visit for the purpose of informing the king of the Earth Kingdom
of the upcoming solar eclipse.  Guided
out of the desert, presumably by the very humbled sand benders, the group find
a massive lake between them and the fabled walls of the Earth Kingdom
city.  At a glance, it seems a narrow
pass, better imagined as an isthmus, is the only option left to them.  In a thoughtless moment, Sokka absently
states that there options are limited since they don’t have Appa.  Everyone immediately focuses on Aang,
expecting the Avatar to react, but Aang’s demeanor is calm and he simply
responds with the emotional equivalent of a shrug that he’s dealing with Appa’s
loss better now and just wants to make it to the Earth King.

Before any further talk can commence, a trio appear,
two of which are the same couple that Zuko encountered with the watermelon in “Zuko
Alone.”  They break the news that the
Earth Kingdom has ferries moving refugees across the lake, a much more
appealing manner to reach the city than lugging it through a narrow pass.  With no hesitation, the plan changes and the
group heads for the ferries, docked behind a large wall with a gatekeeper
demanding a passport before offering a ticket.
Aang’s request for passage is bluntly denied, despite his claim of being
the Avatar for two reasons.  One, he’s
not the first to claim to be the Avatar and his costume is not nearly as good
as the others.  Two, no animals allowed,
which means Momo is banned.  A bit
surprised at being rebuffed, it’s a sign that as the group approaches Ba Sing
Se, the treatment they have been accustom to from those honoring the Avatar
changes drastically.  

There is, however, one person who knows how to get
the treatment she expects.  Toph steps
forward and presents an official passport complete with the glossy golden
flying boar seal of the Beifong family.
Awed by a representative of the Earth Kingdom’s richest, or at least,
one of its richest, families, the bureaucrat quickly provides tickets for the
group for passage aboard the ferry.  A
safe, calm, passage appears assured, until they find the trio from earlier
begging for help, having had their passports and belongings stolen.  Aang is determined to help them to Ba Sing Se
and so the path through the pass returns as the only viable option.

There are two and a half other notable things from
the scenes taking place by the ferries.
First, the area abutting the ferries is filled with refugees who have
essentially found themselves in a purgatory of being unable to turn back and
not allowed to proceed forward.  It’s a
reflection of real refugee camps around the world, where often a place in a
camp is the only welcome provided for those who have fled their homes.  Second, Sokka runs into his favorite Kyoshi
warrior, Suki.  Inspired by Team Avatar’s
resistance to the Fire Nation, the Kyoshi warriors had left the island to join
in the war and ended up as guards in the ferry area.  Suki appears in Earth Kingdom uniform and
without the distinctive face paint of the Kyoshi Warrios and is forced to give
Sokka a kiss on the cheek to help him recognize her.  The kiss also serves a gentle reminder of the
affection between the two when they had last departed.  Upon hearing of the decision to try the pass,
Suko elects to join them, opening up an opportunity for exploration into Sokka’s
character.  Finally, for no reason
needed, our favorite cabbage seller appears only to shriek in horror as a
platypus bear is ordered to destroy his wares over fear they might contain a contagion
dangerous to Ba Sing Se produce.  A nice
touch.

The serpent’s pass is essentially a high narrow
cliff with a path through the midst of a giant lake.  For the duration of the trek, Sokka exhibits
near paranoid concern over Suki’s safety and over Suki’s growing impatience
with his attempt to treat her with kid gloves.
Eventually, there’s some quiet time and the two share a seat framed by a
wind carved stone feature.  Underneath
the informative gaze of a large moon, Sokka finally explains why he’s behaved
the way he has.  The moon as our cue, he
infers, but doesn’t say her name, Yue, the princess of the Northern Water Tribe.  He tells Suki that he lost someone he cared
about from his own inability to protect that person and now, he doesn’t want to
feel (carry the guilt) of losing another person he cares for.  Suki accepts his explanation and in no better
terms, puts the moves on Sokka.  The two
almost kiss before Sokka turns away, afraid of committing himself to the
possibility of losing another loved one.

While Team Avatar plus three have ventured through
the pass, the episode has not forgotten about Iroh and Zuko.  Aided by passports and tickets from the White
Lotus Society, unlike Aang and company, the two successfully boarded one of the
ferry’s for Ba Sing Se.  Despite being on
the coveted ferry, Zuko complains about the conditions and the spoiled food
served to its passengers.  His complaint
is a cue and a voice offers its agreement.
Behind him stand Jet, Smellerbee and Longshot, and the crazy dynamic of
bringing these two characters, Jet and Zuko, is begun.  Jet, still in his mind a hero of the people,
invites Zuko to join him on a raid of the ship’s pantry, where a cornucopia of
food sits, reserved for the Earth Kingdom officials.  Zuko agrees and in this agreement, takes one
more step on his path of redemption begun in “Zuko Alone.”  

The raid is successful and surrounded by passengers
delightfully eating good food, Zuko, Iroh, Jet, Smellerbee and Longshot, eat
together and engage in small talk.  Slipped into the conversation is Iroh
mistaking Smellerbee for a man.
Smellerbee, insulted, stomps off only to be lured back by Longshot who
gives her a reassuring look with Smellerbee agreeing, “I know, you’re right. As
long as I’m confident with who I am, it doesn’t matter what other people think.
Thanks, Longshot.”  The inclusion of this
brief scene continues a defining element of Season Two, assuring outsiders that
they don’t have to conform to societal expectations, be it Toph refusing to be
the weak, proper daughter of a wealthy family, or Smellerbee, who can assume
the appearance she prefers, even if it doesn’t match up to stereotypical
appearances of the female gender.

Back in the conversation after Smellerbee’s return,
we learn that Jet is headed for Ba Sing Se for a fresh start, to wipe clean a
slate of past decisions he’s not proud of.
Iroh, in Iroh wisdom mode, agrees that he believes in second chances,
but adds with a touch of foreshadow for the viewers, anyone can change their
lives if they truly want to.  It’s a
statement that hangs heavily over the heads of both Zuko and Jet later stand by
themselves on the ferry.  Jet identifies
with Zuko, noting they’re both outcasts, and should stick together.  Zuko simply responds he has learned that
being on your own isn’t always the best path, bringing to an end the turmoil
which drove him to leave Iroh earlier in the season.  Zuko, by no means, has overcome all the
problems in his mind and heart, but slowly, assuredly, he is finding the right
path.

On the path on the pass, an intimate exchange occurs
between Katara and Aang.  Under the same
moon which reminded Sokka of Yue, Katara approaches Aang about his behavior
earlier in the day, which had been almost perfunctory and solemn.  At the outset of the trip, the air nomad had
rebutted the idea of hope as something good, but as a distraction, and as
something that will not help them find Appa or get to Ba Sing Se.  As the person with the best insight into Aang’s
emotions, she calls him out on it, telling him it’s okay for him to miss Appa. Aang
responds that he had lost control of himself in the desert and he hated feeling
how angry he had become over Appa.  He
resolved that he would not let himself lose control again.  Rightfully, in response, Katara reminds him
that Aang was now electing to feel nothing at all, and needed to allow himself
to care, to hope. She offers him a hug, and Aang emotionlessly thanks her for
her advice, bows and walks away.  

The last barrier of the pass happens to be a giant
serpent, similar to the unagi from the Kyoshi Islands.  Aang and Katara successfully fend it off,
allowing everyone else to reach the safe confines of the other side of the
lake.  No sooner was safety found, than
another problem arose, their pregnant escortee had entered into labor.  We learn from Katara that she actually has
had plenty of experience delivering babies while aiding her grandmother back in
the Southern Water Tribe, and quickly takes charge, again.  Katara doesn’t exhibit much in the way of
character development over the past three episodes, so much as rise to the
challenge of being a leader when one is needed.
She’s simply incredible.  

With little drama other than Sokka passing out at
the sight of the birth, a baby girl is born and proves able to do what even
Katara could not, break the barriers that Aang had raised to avoid feeling any
of the pain of Appa’s disappearance.  The
Avatar’s face breaks into a smile as the new parents name their daughter, “Hope.”  Aang himself turns to Katara and identifies
his own problem with dealing with his pain, admitting that he had confused
running away from his feelings with being strong.  Thanks to the happiness of the family, he was
reminded of the joy Appa brought him, and also, his affection for Katara, whom
he cashes the raincheck from earlier and hugs.

Other affections are also out coming, as faced with
the realization that Suki was not continuing on with them to Ba Sing Se, Sokka
begins to apologize for his freak out the night before.  Suki accepts the apology mid-sentence with a
kiss to his lips, which he passionately returns, sealing the affection the two
hold for each other.  With the world
seemingly righted, in terms of feelings at least, Aang sets off ahead of the
group to start a search for Appa, only to see from the top of Ba Sing Se’s
giant wall a massive Fire Nation drill moving ominously toward the city.  Incidentally, the conclusion borrows a bit
from “The Cave of Two Lovers,” as it, too, was a significant chapter in the
romance between Katara and Aang, and similarly, ended with the dreams of safety
and a journey over, crushed under the surprise activities of the Fire Nation.

“The Serpent’s Pass,” provided a conclusion to Aang’s
relationship with grief.  In “The Desert,”
he could not find a way to express it, and as a result, found himself awash in
feelings of anger and pain.  In “The
Serpent’s Pass,” he overcorrected and rather than focusing on the positive
feelings he held for Appa, tried to avoid feeling anything at all.  Only when he understood what he was doing,
reminded of the love he already had within him, was Aang able to truly accept
what had happened and confront it in a positive manner.  Likewise, Sokka had his own hang ups, his own
attempt to run away from feelings he was developing because of the pain and
guilt of the loss of Yue.  Just like
Aang, he overcame them by the conclusion of the episode.  The episode also served as banner for
feminism served not just by Katara’s strong continual leadership and incredibly
displays of water bending, but also by Smellerbee’s confidence in her own
appearance and identity, as well Suki’s demonstrative abilities in the light of
Sokka’s over protective shadow.  

Incredibly wrapped into all of the above was the
reintroduction of Jet and his meeting with Zuko.  Both men are headed to Ba Sing Se for a fresh
start and to escape their past lives which had been defined by obsession with
one thing or another.  The lingering
question, prompted by Iroh’s thoughts on second chances, remains to be answered
as Season Two pushes toward its downhill slope to conclusion – which of the two
will truly want to change who they are?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s