This episode covers some of the issues of cultural appropriation and destruction that “The Promise” (one of the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics covers). I’d say this episode does a good job of it too and that in this episode you really feel the loss of Aang’s people as he walks through the changed Air Temple. This is a sad and powerful episode as it is a story of the Aang and of the Refugees who have made the Northern Air Temple their home.
“The Northern Air Temple” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.
The story involves Team Avatar stopping at the Northern Air Temple after Aang hears rumors about Airwalkers being alive and wants to see for himself. It turns out an inventor and his group or refugees have taken refuge there after their homes were destroyed by the Fire Nation. Their settling has lead to the destruction of much of the Temple which angers Aang and things get worse when he discovers that the Inventor is also a weapons maker for the Fire Nation. From here the story unfolds.
The Pros: The Inventor – The inventor is a compelling character and Rene Auberjonois does a good job voicing this character as his character is complex, unlike the stereotype he played in “The Divide.” His care for his son is what leads to him revitalizing the Temple as a workshop where his people can fly now and he only sold weapons to the Fire Nation so his people would not be destroyed. This doesn’t stop him from standing up and fighting though or from forming a deep friendship with Sokka as their planning minds come up with the plan that defeats the Fire Nation forces that seek to destroy them and the temple.
Teo – Teo is the Inventor’s paraplegic son and he’s a great guy. Aang recognizes he has the “Spirit” of an Airbender and even makes him an honorary one when they go to the room that only Airbenders are supposed to be able to open. The guy is great and is a funloving kid who stands by his friends when the Fire Nation threatens them all and is the main part of the air force along with Aang.
The Fire Nation Army – There is a great battle in this! The Fire Nation has tanks that benders fire fire from and that can correct themselves when they’re turned over. They are only stopped by Katara’s Waterbending in the end and the Slimebombs from the War Balloon.
Sokka – Sokka works with the Inventor to get the War Balloon working that destroys the Fire Nation forces attacking the Temple. We seeing Planner Sokka in this episode and his dynamic with the Inventor is a lot of fun. He is a good strategist.
Katara – Katara is mostly support in this episode but we see her empathizing with both the refugees and Aang showing just how important both sides of this story are. She is our eyes in this episode and reminds us to remember the dead while caring for the living. She also destroys one of the Fire Nation Tanks in some pretty badass Waterbending.
Aang – Aang is fantastic in this episode! We hear how he used to play games at this Temple and had friends here before everyone died and he even makes friends with Teo, who reminds him of his Airbending friends of the past. He also makes the Inventor accountable and kicks out the Fire Nation who are using it as a base to build weapons. He is the moral core of his episode.
The Message – The message is that destruction of cultural artifacts is bad (Aang watches as the Northern Air Temple he once knew is completely changed by the Inventor and later how it’s being used to build weapons for the people who destroyed his people) but also that the dilemma of the Refugees must not be forgotten. Aang wants them to stay after the battle and realizes that he can help them remember his people while still focusing on the living so that Airbender Culture will not fully die. We also see some great cultural open mindedness when Aang takes in Teo as a honorary member of his tribe and recognizes his “Spirit” that was in the Airbender people.
This episode was powerful, had stakes and dealt with important issues like safeguarding memories of the past, remembering the dead and taking care of the refugees. We see Aang and Team Avatar do all those things and even help fight off a Fire Nation assault. It’s an empowering episode that shows even in horrible circumstances, good can still be found and lived. Desperation does not always lead people to do bad, people can and do have a choice.
Final Score: 10 / 10. One of my favorites for sure after this.