In the past week, the internet has reunited over Netflix releasing the beloved Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. People have been remembering the best of the show; from the brilliant writing to the finale being the animated equivalence of “Return of the King”. Netflix renewed interest in the near-perfect show. When talking with friends and observing critics, the consensus that the “worst” episode is merely flawed. After talking with some of my friends, I thought more about Season 1: Episode 11: “The Great Divide” and how it could be improved on.
The episode follows Team Avatar helping a guide navigate two feuding tribes traverse through the Great Divide, a canyon with the grace and beauty of the Grand Canyon. Halfway through the journey, they’re attacked by canyon crawlers, leaving the guide injured and nearly leaving them stranded. As tensions flare up, Aang has Katara and Sokka watch over and learn from the tribes, though they both take sides in the conflict. In the end, this years-long feud ends up being about a children’s game, as Aang claimed to have witnessed it a hundred years ago, before he was trapped in ice. And even then, it is heavily hinted that Aang was lying.
There is a lot to like about “The Great Divide.” It’s a cool concept; Aang having to learn the responsibility the Avatar has when to keep peace, going from resolving squabbles about chores to a generations-old conflict. It even gets more interesting when Katara and Sokka learn the perspective each side has. It’s only the resolution that needs to be tweaked.
In my re-write, the warding off of canyon crawlers is replaced with a band of Fire Nation soldiers, leaving the brutish Zhangs and well-kept Gan Jins to protect the elderly along with the Avatar. During the conflict, the two leaders save the other and recognize the strengths that the other has; for example, the Gan Jins being nimble and the Zhangs being the tanks of the group. As the dust settles and the Gan Jin leader has dirt on his white robe, the Zhang leader jokes about it and the Gan Jin can’t help but laugh. This leads them to learn that the past will be hard to mend, but the road ahead can be forged as they work to help their needy together.
One of the greatest challenges fixing this is that you can’t change too much, else it becomes indistinguishable from fan fiction (which I guess it is). It’s not a story that needs a complete rewrite. There really isn’t an awful episode in its sixty-one-episode run; just a poorly executed concept.