Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Blue Spirit
March 30, 2015 6:54 AM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Sokka and Katara fall ill and Aang is forced to leave them under the care of Appa and Momo while he searches for a cure. The urgent quest is interrupted when Aang is captured by Commander Zhao, but just when all seems lost, a mysterious blue-masked fighter appears to the rescue. Also reappearing, Uncle Iroh's tsungi horn and the red jeweled monkey statue.
posted by Atreides (23 comments total)
What a twist! I watched some or all of the first season of Avatar when it first came out, but it's been so long that all I recall are snippets. So with the reveal of the Blue Spirit, I thought "oh yeah, that is why this mysterious fighter knows his or her way around the Fire Nation fortress." For a while, I thought it was going to be a young lady behind the mask, because I gave the show that much credit for gender diversity in its badass warriors. I assumed the Blue Spirit was a fire bender, due to a blast of fire coming back down the hall when some of the guards went to investigate, but I still failed to put the beginning of the episode together with this, nor did I wonder why we hadn't seen more of Zuko after the beginning.

Then the ending of this episode is so good, with Aang talking to Zuko about his long-dead (we assume) fire nation friend and wondering aloud if he and Zuko could ever be friends like that.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:55 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had the name of this episode confused with "The Painted Lady", so was preparing for a totally different series of events.

Jet already taught us that the enemy of our enemy might be our enemy too; this is the first glimpse of the fact that our straight-up enemy might be our friend, or would have been our friend, under different circumstances.

Zuko's still doing the right thing for the wrong reasons; he can't be let back into the family if some other jerk catches Aang first. But Aang's speech at the end plants a lot of seeds of cognitive dissonance. And bless Aang for being open and vulnerable to Zuko, and bless the writers for making a character for whom that is not out of character.

In other news, Momo will steal the shit out of anything to help his friends.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey, at least he took most of it back (at the end, their little temporary lair was considerably less cluttered than when he came in with the crown for Korra).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:27 AM on March 30, 2015

There are many excellent lessons in this episode...but it's the excellent silliness that also gets me. Like the herbalist lady and her plum-blossom loving cat, or Aang yelling, "My friends need to suck on those frogs!" as half-thawed frogs use whatever limbs happen to be viable to get themselves the heck back to their pond.
posted by angeline at 10:33 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Favorite episode! Okay I can't pick one. But this is up there.

I too love the conversation between Aang and Zuko, and also how well they work as a team before Aang recognizes him.

I hope I'm not the only one who frequently tells household pets, "Momo, GET WATER!"
posted by chaiminda at 10:48 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The longer thoughts here for those interested. Shorter thoughts below!

For those in the re-watch, we've lost the enjoyment of the reveal, and I can honestly say, it's been so long and I've seen this episode enough times that I can't recall what my immediate reaction was. A lot is laid down in this episode that will come back later.

Again, another awesome job by Dave Filoni for the directing, but also with the background artists who are creating such beautiful scenes like the ruined Earth Kingdom city, the healing station with the crazy lady and Miyuki, or the woods where Aang is speaking quietly to Zuko. The action scenes with the archers chasing after Aang, Aang's reactions to the arrows, and then the escape sequence with Zuko and Aang, each relying on their special abilities to pull off one incredible escape, be it Aang using the broken spear as a makeshift staff to the tenuous balancing on the bamboo ladders (very cinematic kung fu). The episode was just jam packed with the goodness.

I love how the Blue Spirit allows Zuko to step out of his role as Fire Nation Prince and into a persona where he gets to truly be himself, by acting on his own desires and not what's best for the Fire Nation. It's not a mistake that the episode ends for Zuko with him turning his back on the Fire Nation banner.

"You're crazy, aren't you?" "Uh huh!"

This episode sets Zhao up as the ultimate bad guy for the rest of the season. Ozai is in the background, always there, pulling strings or what not, but Zhao is now front and center the guy to defeat.

For those familiar with Korra, I kind of did a double take when Zhao's plans for Aang were eerily similar to the way the Red Lotus was treated (minus the starving part).
posted by Atreides at 11:38 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

For those in the re-watch, we've lost the enjoyment of the reveal

That is my thought exactly. Oh, wow, did I just love that reveal the first time.

I love Aang's dust cloud to cover him up while he figures out what to do with the Blue Spirit. Zuko seems like such a verbal person, so I just intuitively imagined him having a hard time not speaking - especially when he was collaborating with Aang to escape.

And, yes, the half-frozen frogs half-jumping down the hall! We needed that bit of laughter to lighten up the otherwise intense episode.
posted by jillithd at 11:46 AM on March 30, 2015

Another thing I loved was that moment on Zuko's face when he woke up in the woods. It's one of those rare moments where his face isn't twisted up with frustration or anger. It was calm and at peace, sorta, as he listened to Aang.
posted by Atreides at 11:49 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is my favorite episode of the first season, and easily in my top five for the entire series. The amazing, cinematic action sequences are huge part of it, of course, but The Blue Spirit transcends the other "good fight!" episodes because Bryke and company had enough nerve and ambition to wrap it up -- and "it" could have meant the entire series, if Nickelodeon hadn't decided to order more -- on such a melancholy, ambiguous note.

Aang's speech to Zuko (Aang is such an excellent human this episode, I love him) encapsulates the entire ethos of Avatar -- it's about redemption, reconciliation and regeneration, not just who can win in which fight. I enjoy how much work we have to do to get into Zuko's head after he's spent 12 episodes as an open book. When he turns away from the Fire Nation banner, is he hiding in shame because he was willing to betray his country for selfish reasons? Or is he already starting to realize what a loss it is at his father's policies have no room for people like Aang -- not the Avatar, but the boy willing to reach out in friendship to his enemy?
posted by bettafish at 11:59 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fun Blue Spirit facts!

The haunting wind instrument we hear during the Blue Spirit theme is an Armenian duduk, enhanced with a bit of trombone to make it sound brassier. Its use in the score is frequently though not exclusively associated with Zuko -- I know of at least sharp-eared listener who figured out what was going on with the Blue Spirit because of that.

In-universe, the duduk-trombone is the sound of the tsungi horn, the instrument we saw Iroh buy in The Waterbending Scroll and which he was playing when Zuko returned to the boat. According to Bryke, Zuko himself is a very good tsungi horn player. He's just not a big fan of Music Night, is all.

The design of the Blue Spirit mask went through numerous iterations (including "ancient Korean Spider-Man," a show I would totally watch) before the final design. We find out a little more than the show offers about why Zuko picked this particular mask in the comic The Search and it is full of feelings and also neatly ties into The Ember Island Players, which we'll get to a few months down the line.
posted by bettafish at 12:21 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also! I've been meaning to ask, is there any other character who shows as much facility with both bending and non-bending combat as Zuko? I feel like he might be the only one, which does make him stand out where his bending alone doesn't but seems like a shame.

okay done now for real
posted by bettafish at 12:25 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

As far as I recall, Zuko is the only one who is this versatile. There's a comment made in a season three episode (Day of Black Sun, I think) that makes me think that it's unusual for anyone in the Fire Nation to be armed with both bending and actual weapons. The army will have artillery if needed, but I don't remember seeing anyone else offhand that had bending and close quarter combat skills like Zuko's.

I suspect he focused on weapons skills partly because he liked them but also partly because he felt insecure about his bending - as we'll see more of coming up.
posted by angeline at 12:58 PM on March 30, 2015

>We find out a little more than the show offers about why Zuko picked this particular mask in the comic The Search

Oh, wow, I hadn't read The Search and watched this ep close enough together to make the connection. So many feelings!

>is there any other character who shows as much facility with both bending and non-bending combat as Zuko

We see enough of Iroh for me to suspect that he does (or did, during his youth.) That he would highly value being good at everything and encourage Zuko likewise makes sense.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:21 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Azula shows a lot of agility, and I wouldn't doubt she's got some non-bending weapon skills, but we never see her pick anything up that I'm aware of (why do I feel like a knife was in her hands in The Search?). This episode was definitely a display of raw ability with weapons over those with bending capabilities, be it Zuko's ease at taking down the fire bending guards or the archers successfully capturing an air bending master.
posted by Atreides at 1:37 PM on March 30, 2015

The Search really does an amazing job at picking up on a couple of stray show details and synthesizing them into FEELSPLOSION.

I suspect he focused on weapons skills partly because he liked them but also partly because he felt insecure about his bending - as we'll see more of coming up.

We see enough of Iroh for me to suspect that he does (or did, during his youth.) That he would highly value being good at everything and encourage Zuko likewise makes sense.

I agree with both of these things -- and suspect, also, that Zuko probably worked so hard on the twin dao because he thought he could impress his dad with his prowess the way he couldn't with bending. Not that that would have worked.
posted by bettafish at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like filthy light thief, I thought the reveal was going to be a female - I didn't at all suspect Zuko, though I obviously should've since he was missing from everywhere else. I think I might have gasped a little when Aang took off the Spirit's mask, because I was that engrossed in the episode.

This episode seemed longer than the others - but not in a bad way. It just felt like there was a lot of ground to cover, especially against some of the other episodes that were mostly about getting from point A to point B, like "The Great Divide".

The best animals are the frogs, especially the half-melted ones. Honourable mention goes to Momo for his ability to bring back anything but water. His Katara-vision was great.

There were a lot of baffled facial expressions in this episode - Aang's eye twitches quite a bit and there are eyebrows moving all over the place. Sick Sokka might be the best Sokka?
posted by minsies at 10:50 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now that I think about it, the wood frogs and the healer's cat not only give this episode two non-hybrid, non-fantastic animals, but two non-hybrid, non-fantastic animals that none of the characters seem to think are unusual.

That's got to be something of a record for the series.
posted by crake at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I never noticed that! Which makes a certain much later exchange about bears somewhat confusing, but, eh, show.
posted by angeline at 12:08 PM on April 1, 2015

I dunno. That cat's favorite food is a FLOWER. My cat liked to eat grass, but flowers? That's kind of unusual.

And the frozen frogs were delicious. I'm not going to be trying out that "non-fantastic" theory anytime soon. :-p
posted by jillithd at 1:06 PM on April 1, 2015

Sokka thinks blubbered seal jerky is delicious, I don't know that I trust his "delicious" judgment.
posted by angeline at 2:10 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the 'King of Omashu' I was sure that Momo fights a cat while the gang is flying through the delivery system on the cart. I found a frame capture only to discover the cat had tentacles (like a catfish) growing out of its muzzle and had weird eyes.

For a few seconds of screen time, they still had to go hybrid. Whackos.
posted by Atreides at 2:19 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even the "normal" animals in the Avatar world have the extra intelligence and almost-everything-could-be-a-pet syndrome that the hybrids do, so I wouldn't be too surprised at anything that cat did or ate... It always seemed like a conscious decision on the part of the show to me, since they stick to it pretty consistently, as opposed to unconscious cartoonization of the wildlife. It would've been surprising if the Earth King's bear buddy COULDN'T sit at a dining table to eat.

I hadn't noticed the tentacled cat! Gotta find that later.

The whole taxonomic scheme used for the hybrids is interesting. There are platypus bears and skunk bears, but (almost) no bears. So "bear" isn't so much a species as a set of qualities a species could have, or not, and which people recognize even if they've never heard of a "normal" bear. If this applies to all animals, a "normal" cat is just a member of a species that has only "cat" qualities, not mixed with "lizard" or whatever. Just so happens that unmixed cats aren't so rare, whereas plain bears are.

Jeez. It's not enough I think about real animals too much, I gotta do it with made-up ones too...
posted by crake at 3:04 AM on April 2, 2015

The best kind of plot twists are those that you don't see coming, and then when they're revealed, you say "I totally should have seen that coming." Because they make such perfect narrative sense, that once they're revealed you realized it couldn't have been any other way. I often cite the twist at the end of Kill Bill vol. 1 as an example.

The Blue Spirit being Zuko was one of those.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:11 PM on April 4, 2015

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