Avatar: The Last Airbender – Avatar Roku / Winter Solstice: Part Two

The second part of the Winter Solstice storyline, “Avatar
Roku” opens in a race to reach the crescent moon shaped island in the Fire
Nation, home to the temple to Avatar Roku.
It’s a race against time and against enemies with Zuko chasing Team
Avatar toward the Fire Nation borders, and later joined by Commander Zhao.  The importance of “Avatar Roku” comes from
the namesake of the episode, Avatar Roku, who will raise the stakes for Aang
and the rest of the world.

Besides the problem of Zuko below and behind them,
the team on Appa racing across the sky, are confronted with a Fire Nation naval
blockade.  Fire Nation ships hurl burning
balls of flame and tar skyward, piercing the clouds and threatening to set our
poor sky bison aflame.  In command of the
blockade is the aforementioned Commander Zhao, who without hesitation orders
the aerial bombardment despite the danger it poses to Zuko’s ship which is in
the line of fire.  Aang and Company make
it through the blockade in a beautifully choreographed and directed sequence
where the young Avatar leaps forward from Appa and air bends via a side kick a
fireball into smithereens.  His success
comes almost out of surprise to himself, but the danger immediately passed, he,
Sokka and Katara continue on to the temple.

Zuko, however, has regained the focus on the Avatar
that he let slip in our last episode, “Spirit World.”  His ears are deaf to the warnings by his
uncle that once he enters Fire Nation territory, he will be arrested and his
near fanatical desires to catch the Avatar are fortunately (for him) assisted
by Commander Zhao’s decision to let the exiled prince through the blockade (for
the purpose of following Zuko to the Avatar).
It’s an obvious trap, but one Zuko hopes to evade by slipping away on a
smaller boat through a plume of black smoke billowing from his ship after an
unlucky strike from one of the flaming balls meant for the Avatar.  Zuko may not be willing to risk his uncle’s
life for the Avatar, but he has no problem gambling with his own.

Team Avatar find the crescent moon-shaped island and
leave an exhausted Appa to make their way into the temple.   Immediately, they encounter the Fire Sages,
the caretakers of the temple for generations, and whom Aang expects to assist
him, since, as everyone knows, he’s the Avatar.
His assumption is wrong.  In the
century since Aang disappeared, the majority of the Fire Sages had lost hope of
ever serving the Avatar.  Filling that void
of faith was the Fire Nation and the Fire Lord, and now, all but one Fire Sage
has given their loyalty over to the Avatar’s enemies.  That one, however, who remained devout finds
Aang, Katara and Sokka, and leads them to the hall outside the entry way to the
shrine within which stands Avatar Roku’s statue.  Unfortunately, the treasonous sages,
determined to prevent the Avatar from contacting Roku (for the good of the Fire
Nation), had the doors of the chamber.  

Constructed similarly to the doors of the inner
sanctuary at the Southern Air Temple, the doors require fire bending to unlock
and open.  Unfortunately, unlike the
doors at the Southern Air Temple, it requires more than one bender to open them
(unless that bender is a fully realized Avatar).   Sokka
again puts into play his inventive mind and attempts to explode bags of oil
inside the locks to create fake fire bending, but the ploy fails to open the
door.  It does not, however, fail to fool
the fire sages who come running to the door, attracted by the loud
explosion.  As speculated by Katara, the
soot left behind and a handy lemur shadow visible behind the door’s threshold,
does trick the fire sages into believing that the group had been successful.  Frantically, they bend fire into the locks
and the giant doors heave open, while the sun continues to set outside, nearing
the time when Aang must be inside.  

This success is mired by the sudden appearance of
Zuko, who grabs Aang from behind, threatening his ability to make it inside the
doors.  Aang escapes and slips through
them just in time, locking himself inside and everyone else, outside.  Commander Zhao soon joins the party in
waiting, adding to the tension and problems waiting Aang when he
reemerges.  Inside, however, the Avatar
watches a beam of light, focused from a jewel slowly move across a large statue
of Roku.  In our previous Winter Solstice
episode, we learned that the beam shifted with the day and sun, slowly aligning
itself with the eyes of the statue, an idea lifted from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a beam through a crystal denotes
the location of the Ark of the Covenant.
In both occasions, the reward is knowledge, though in the latter, it was
shown to be a fool’s errand to try and harness the power of that knowledge.  

The beam finally activates Roku’s statue and Aang is
pulled into what might be called the Spirit World and before him stands Roku.  The meeting is brief, but the former Avatar
bestows important information upon his successor.  First, it was a comet, now known as “Sozin’s
Comet” named for the Fire Lord who began the assault on the rest of the world,
which gave the Fire Nation the increased power to do so.  Second, that comet was returning and would
once again gift the Fire Nation with the same exaggerated level of power, which
would allow them to finish what was started a hundred years ago.  Third, Aang must master the three other
elements and defeat the Fire Lord Ozai before it arrived.  The weight of the information on Aang’s
shoulders as the Avatar has been exponentially increased.  Mastering the elements is a process that
takes years, how then can Aang learn them in months, is a question Aang asks
Roku.  Roku smiles and reminds him, he
has done it before, he will do it again.
Then with a note that Aang will be able to reach him again in the
future, the moment between Avatars unravels.

Roku tells Aang that while the solstice continues,
he can offer help in dealing with those outside the doors.  We then cut to outside those doors, where
everyone awaits Aang’s return in anticipation.
Commander Zhao is in control with Zuko, Katara, Sokka and the one
friendly fire sage chained to columns.  The
wait concludes as we are shown Aang going into the eye glowing Avatar State,
light fills the screen and then back to Zhao and his soldiers who stand before
the doors with the same light streaking from its frame.  Then the doors swing open and the wrath of an
Avatar is unleashed.

Glowing white eyes, similarly to those we just saw
of Aang’s in the Avatar State appear in the darkness behind the doors, but it’s
Avatar Roku possessing them who steps forward and hurls walls of flame toward
Zhao and the disloyal fire sages.  It’s
another callback to Raiders of the Lost
, as our bound prisoners all turn away from the incredible sight, their
chains melting away, offering them a chance to escape.  Those who refuse to turn away, face a power
they cannot comprehend and are left scrambling for their lives as Avatar Roku
exhibits the awesome power of an Avatar.  
Roku splits the floor of the temple to reveal surging flows of magma and
bends the lava upward through the roof of the shrine.  Roku is bringing down the temple.  Since this is allegedly a children’s show, we
don’t have any melting faces, but the enemies of the Avatar flee for their
lives.  Once Zhao and Zuko have departed,
Avatar Roku fades away, revealing Aang.  

Team Avatar, thanks to a Momo summoned Appa, fly
away from the temple as it collapses into the volcanic cauldron created by
Roku.   The destruction of the temple
mirrors another Indiana Jones film, The
Last Crusade
, which has a temple to the Holy Grail collapse at its
climax.  In both instances, these holy
places were destroyed by those who had failed to remain faithful to what made
them holy.  In the Last Crusade, the sanctity of the Grail Chalice was not respected
by Elsa, who carried it beyond the perimeter of the temple’s seal, which set
off the destruction.  Here, it was the
lost faith of the fire sages which can be said to have resulted in Roku’s
decision to destroy the temple where they were supposed to have respected him
and served the Avatar.  

The episode concludes with a beautiful shot of Appa
flying into a rising moon.  If the moon
rises on the same horizon as our world, it meant they were flying eastward,
which based off the map of the Avatar world, would mean they were flying out
and away from the Fire Nation.  It also
served, intentionally or not, as a foreshadow of events to come, as the moon
will play an extremely important role in the season finale, in a place where
Aang must find a water bending master if he’s to fulfill the duty placed on his
shoulders by Avatar Roku.

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