Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Library   Rewatch 
June 18, 2015 5:54 AM - Season 2, Episode 10 - Subscribe

The gang goes to the Misty Palms Oasis, where they meet Professor Zei, who takes them to find the mysterious Wan Shi Tong's Library, where they learn more about how to defeat the Fire Nation and what happens when you make a spirit angry.

Things to note:

We return to the Library in Book 2 of Legend of Korra
The Misty Palms Oasis is also a major location in Book 3
Aang looks at an illustration with lion-turtles
The firebender that destroyed all the books was Zhao, when he learned how to destroy the moon
posted by Katemonkey (12 comments total)
This is seriously one of my favourites. I love the library. And Wan Shi Tong! And all the books! And the professor! And the books they find! And the planetarium! I love that defeating the Fire Nation will not be about brute force, but about planning, and strategy. All Sokka Style!

(We'll save the other Wan Shi Tong discussion for when we get to Book 2 of Korra, but I really do love that great big owl. And his library.)

And then you get Toph outside. And the decision she has to make. And it's heartbreaking, not just because Appa's gone, but because she has to apologise to him, because she can't do both, and she's already in a place where she can't see and it's just...aw man, feelings. Nothing but feelings.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:59 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know if it's just the creepy owl design, but I find Wan Shi Tong almost as unnerving as Koh, albeit in a different way. One of the things they do well in this show is making the spirit world creatures feel truly alien and not to be trifled with. They have a different sort of presence than the human characters, and even the Avatar, who is supposed to be the 'bridge' to them, often seems very small next to them.
posted by Kosh at 7:14 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd like to spend my vacation at the library! (Sorry Toph, you gotta work here a little longer before you qualify for vacation time.)

Kosh, great point about the other-worldliness of the spirit creatures. They take no stock in the suffering or concerns of humans, otherwise the Gaang could have reasoned with Wan Shi Tong that the Fire Nation was pretty much trying to complete it's genocide of the Airbenders and plans for world domination, which included killing the moon. But the only thing Wan Shi Tong cares about is his temple of wisdom, and gaining (stealing?) more wisdom, eve if no one comes to appreciate any of it.

We return to the Library in Book 2 of Legend of Korra

I hope the professor is still there, after Wan Shi Tong realizes that he is a true and good person, interested only in wisdom and not in war. The foxy foxes can bring in food with their deliveries of scrolls and books.

I was hoping the Sandbenders were coming to teach Toph, after they sensed a great disturbance in the sands. Alas, those Tusken Raider Tuareg look-alikes were just Appa-thieving jerks. Poor, poor Toph.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

This episode is arguably Toph's highest and lowest moment at the same time. She held an entire vast complex of buildings in place, pitting her strength against a millennia-old spirit, and held out long enough for her friends to (page through the calendar looking for an eclipse and) escape! But she lost Appa. Her voice as she apologized -- kudos to Jessie Flower; I teared up.

(Also kudos to H├ęctor Elizondo and Raphael Sbarge for Wan Shi Tong and Zei.)

I would stand up to Wan Shi Tong to get a chance to spend a day (or year) at that library. My motives are totally non-nefarious, I swear! I just really love knowledge! And architecture. I am thirding the appreciation for his intimidatingly alien worldview. Apparently, for all his long life and breadth of interest, he's the spirit of Knowledge but not of Context.

If we count weird spirit-creatures, this episode is at an all-time high for non-hybrid animals. An owl, foxes, and there was even an entirely unspiritual dog at that desert town.

Speaking of the desert town, I love that there's this grizzled dual-wielding swordsman who's got a job serving flashily-prepared fruity drinks out in the middle of nowhere.

Other than Toph's apology, my favorite line:
Professor Zei: You're a living relic!
Aang: Thanks. I try.
posted by bettafish at 8:37 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh! Four kinds of non-hybrid animals, if we count the groundhogs or marmots or whatever those were.

We are now halfway through the series! And the best is yet to come.
posted by bettafish at 9:04 AM on June 18, 2015

I hope the professor is still there, after Wan Shi Tong realizes that he is a true and good person, interested only in wisdom and not in war. The foxy foxes can bring in food with their deliveries of scrolls and books.

Well....nah. Not gonna spoil that for you. But you should watch Korra.
posted by emjaybee at 9:44 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Katara! Not in front of the fox - he's with the owl.

Best animal is of course the foxy knowledge seekers, but the singing mole/prairie dog whatstits were good, too.

Kosh, I'm with you w/r/t Wan Shi Tong being as creepy as Koh. That neck - eeuugh.

This was an especially good episode for Toph, from the heart-rending ending (poor Appa, poor Toph) to the close-ups of her dirty feet and the way she's sucking down that fruit beverage while the rest of the Gaang are in the middle of their planning.

It's a good thing Wan Shi Tong was so very, very wrong about Sokka not being very bright. He's not very sly, sure, but he's clever when it counts.
posted by minsies at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2015

Creepy creepy Owl! Especially when his neck gets super long! Nightmare inducing, that guy!

I just want to hang out in that planetarium all day long. That place looked super cool!

The sand was making vision super fuzzy to Toph. I wonder if sandbending is a mix of airbending and earthbending...

I thought those sandbender glasses they were wearing reminded me of 80s New Wave attire.
posted by jillithd at 6:49 AM on June 19, 2015

I wonder if sandbending is a mix of airbending and earthbending

Both shows play with this idea a lot. I think the strict answer is no, it's only earthbending, because the world setting never shows a single exception to the assertion that only the avatar may bend multiple elements, but that restriction doesn't stop single-element benders from being inspired by other types (I'd assume what the sandbenders are doing is focusing on the movement of those tiny particles of earth and propelling them in such a way as to create a breeze), nor does it stop the show from introducing techniques that blur the lines a little bit or do all sorts of weird and creative things. We just saw that with Iroh and lightning redirection, with what the sandbenders do in this episode... there's also the plantbenders we recently saw in the swamp, whose abilities hint at something far darker that we'll see in the third season of ATLA. We'll later see sufficiently advanced--or temporarily super-powered--firebenders that can fly, too (and may have already seen Azula do that a little bit in Omashu, I think? I can't remember.)

One thing LoK establishes that lavabending is actually earthbending, not firebending; I'm pretty sure the only person we see lavabending in ATLA is Roku at the Fire Temple in book 1 and in flashbacks, so it would be easy to mistake it for a firebending sub-technique. (I would expect that a firebender could achieve a similar effect by bending the heat within the lava instead of bending the rock in the lava itself.) It also later shows how bone-chillingly lethal an airbender can be when not bound by the moral code of the Nomads.

And honestly, while they tend to be presented as the more 'benign' elements (maybe because of the characters they're attached to), some of the more advanced water and air techniques are far more terrifying than anything the firebenders or earthbenders can do. Firebending in particular is nothing if not direct and unambiguous, and while metalbending (which we'll see later) and sandbending require some subtlety, earthbending is a close second in having those qualities.

One of the things this had me thinking about, too, is the fact that while the Avatar may be the most well-rounded (by definition), they are rarely the best, not even necessarily with their native element. The unique and creative techniques (well, aside from Aang's air scooter thing that earns him his master tattoos) are pretty much always demonstrated by the single-element benders in both shows, as far as I can recall.
posted by Kosh at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

"There it is! ....is what you guys will say when you see it. :D"

Giving Meat and Sarcasm Guy a run for his money, Toph.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:30 AM on June 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

One of the things this had me thinking about, too, is the fact that while the Avatar may be the most well-rounded (by definition), they are rarely the best

Yeah, the Avatars are all-around powerhouses, but while we do see them inventing techniques (the air scooter, as you noted) or picking up on particular subspecialities (the least spoilery example being Roku's lavabending), with four types of bending plus the Avatar State to master they have neither the time nor the impetus to really push the boundaries the way a single-element master might. So much creativity comes from working around limitations, and the Avatar has fewer than anyone.

I enjoy also that the single-element masters have different forms of mastery. You have Katara, the highly disciplined quick study with a breadth of knowledge; Toph, the innovator who's developed her own unique style; Azula, who fits on the spectrum between the two. Then you have the Old Sages in Pakku/Bumi/Iroh, but how great is it that for most of the series the most badass benders we see are teenage girls?

Though at this high a level of bending, the difference in single-element skill level between Aang/Korra vs Katara/Toph/Azula seems pretty minute. Like okay, technically the Olympic gold medalist figure skater is better than the bronze medalist, but from the perspective of the layperson on the couch...

Zuko is the poor guy who's really really good by the average metric but keeps placing in fourth or fifth, in case anyone's wondering. And yeah, a better analogy would have been running or downhill skiing or some other speed sport in which first and third can be divided by hundredths of seconds, but then I would never have thought of AVATAR FIGURE SKATING AU, so there.
posted by bettafish at 5:13 PM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Long thoughts here...(Filthy Light Thief, spoiler warning for Korra on your part!)...and shorter thoughts below!

The writing for Toph in this episode is top notch, particularly with little jabs at something a lot of people do around those with disabilities, forgetting they have them. Between books and seeing the library, it's handled with finesse. Perhaps one of the greatest flaws of the show was never making a one off buddy episode with Toph and Appa, "What's up?" "Everything is fuzzy, I hate it!" They're the odd couple that need to be paired together! Her anguish at losing Appa while saving everyone else is the most powerful emotional moment of the episode.

In addition to the Tusken Raiders-lite, there are a number of Raiders of the Lost Ark tip offs in the episode as well, none less than having an archaeologist hunting a mythical treasure and source of knowledge and power in a desert. Incidentally, there's also a theme of forbidden knowledge - in Raiders it's the Nazis who want to use the secrets of the Ark of the Covenant for their own evil ways (against other humans), and here, we have Sokka wanting to use the knowledge of the library for his own war (Sokka =! Nazi). The result is a loss, for the bad guys, it's their lives, and here, it's the library and Appa. If the group had followed Wan Shi Tong's requirement of not using the knowledge for their own gain, the library would have never sank and Toph might have been able to defend Appa (or they would have never stayed long enough in the first place for the sand benders to catch up). It also reflects the fruit of knowledge and the loss of Eden, in a way, too.

Ah, Misty Palms Oasis, never change...
posted by Atreides at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2015

« Older Movie: Thunderball...   |  Podcast: The Adventure Zone: E... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments