Thursday, February 22, 2024

REVIEW: 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' - Aang Contends With Games While Zuko Fights to Rescue His Uncle in 'Into the Dark'

Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender - Episode 1.04 "Into the Dark"

In captivity, Aang meets a king with a taste for games. To find their friend, the siblings must navigate a dark tunnel - and put their differences aside.

"Into the Dark" was written by Keely MacDonald and directed by Jabbar Raisani

Miraculously, one of Aang's friends from before the ice is still alive. It's not something the young Avatar thought was possible. And then, Bumi presents himself as the King of Omashu. He has a very distinctive laugh. He offers a unique perspective on the world too. It's in contrast to the way the other leaders in the Earth Kingdom operate. However, he's deadly serious when it comes to the choices Aang must make. He shames his friend for still being a child. He abandoned the world when it needed him most. Everyone has suffered as a result. And now, Aang must quickly learn how to make those difficult decisions. It's often having to decide between two bad options. Bumi has lived a lifetime of those compromising choices. He has lived it every single day. That's how he has had to govern. The people of Omashu may believe he's crazy. Jet targeted him for not doing enough to defeat the Fire Nation. The city of Omashu still stands tall. The Earth Kingdom has not fallen. The war has gone on for a century. Everyone has lost something of value along the way. Aang's childish wonder may not be the answer to the world's problems. It's the perspective offered because of who the Avatar happens to be.

The tests still persist. Bumi needs to make a point to Aang. He carefully hides his true motivation. He doesn't need to reveal what he is truly trying to accomplish with all of this. It could just be a carefree game. It could also be the weight of the world crashing down on their shoulders. This is the burden they must face. The world has moved beyond life before the war. Aang and Bumi are the only two people who remember what it was like. For Aang, it's a recent tragedy. Meanwhile, Bumi has been shaped by all the experiences afterwards. It's not until Aang reaches out with his sky bison whistle that Bumi remembers the fun of their friendship. They should yearn for that once more. Of course, they can't deflect from the brutal realities of war. Fire Nation troops are closing in. They are preparing to attack. Aang isn't needed for the coming battle. Omashu is prepared because The Mechanist comes forward as a spy. He never should have felt like the only reason the city was protected. He told himself that was the only way to keep Teo safe. It was a convenient story. It wasn't the truth. Power comes in confronting things head on. The pain of the past still persists though. That's unavoidable too. That doesn't mean the mistakes need to repeat themselves once more.

Throughout the world, Iroh is known as the Dragon of the West. He is the Fire Nation General who laid siege to the Earth Kingdom stronghold of Ba Sing Se for 600 days. He only stopped his attack after learning his son was killed. Leaving the battlefield invites great shame onto him. He is no longer worthy of the praise and respect indebted to the family. People go through the motions of offering their condolences. It's not genuine. Zuko knows what to expect and deliver. He offers a more personal touch. Lu Ten offered him strength when he was struggling. He returns the favor to Iroh. He stands by his side as he grieves. In return, Iroh joins Zuko in banishment. It's not a punishment forced onto him by some action he took. He is precisely where he wants to be. He's honoring those who understand what matters. Before, he was a soldier during a time of war. He was following orders. He was playing his part. That only invited tragedy into his life. He lives in complete infamy. Yet he provides wisdom and counsel to those who seek it. Zuko can't abandon him on the road to the Earth Kingdom prison camp. The guards see no empathy or humanity within their enemy. They must strike when under attack. Iroh is a ferocious warrior. However, he knows the time for death and suffering has come to an end. That's a powerful realization even in a time when few are willing to hear it.

These difficult conversations must be had in order to move forward. Katara and Sokka still carry animosity informed by how their sibling dynamic was forced to develop at Wolf Cove. Their mother was killed. Their father and the other warriors left to join the fighting elsewhere. Sokka was forced to grow up as leader of the tribe. He had a more difficult task because he had to do so all alone. It wasn't like when his father carried the responsibility. He could lean on others for support. Sokka has that in his sister. He just needs to recognize and respect her power. She contributes to this journey. They make mistakes along the way. They believe navigating the tunnels underneath the city is the only way to get to Aang. They think they have to save him. They can't abandon him. They must take action. They are responsible for harnessing the power within them and doing something about it. Jet wants the credit for helping Katara unlock her potential. He has lost his way though. He has allowed hate to fester. He has lost sight of what he's fighting for. Katara remembers that glory. She doesn't want to grow bitter. That would dishonor her mother's memory. She can't hold this all in either.

Katara and Sokka must share their love for each other. They are family. Sokka doesn't need to be the big brother protecting his defenseless sister. She was kept from training for a long time. Once she took ahold of her own story, she was given the freedom to learn all that she is. Her bending power has grown. She is a quick study. Sokka has grown as a warrior too. He has allowed outside perspectives in. His life is validated in ways beyond simply being a soldier and protector. His mind is encouraged to think in inventive ways. The Mechanist recognizes his gifts as an engineer. In turn, Sokka inspires him to do what's right. The path ahead may be difficult. However, the genuine nature of life must be trusted to guide the way. It's a physical display of the overall theme as it pertains to Katara and Sokka's story. They must have love and respect for each other in order to navigate the tunnels. It's only then that they emerge ready to help Aang when he needs it the most. He doesn't have to make the difficult choices right now. He can lean on his friends. They make him better. He prevails because of their support. That's how he intends to lead. It may seem naive to some. It's the way forward. It's what the journey has produced for Aang at a time of turmoil. His story is unique. As such, others need to trust in the process even when it means letting immediate results go.