Avatar: The Last Airbender Episode 5 takes us on a messy journey to the spirit world

"Spirited Away" gives us a fully fleshed out spirit world adventure with a solid side villain. But there are more questionable changes to the original show.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024 /

The fifth episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Spirited Away," sends our main characters into the Spirit World, where they face their troubled pasts and their biggest threat yet.

The journey kicks off in an annoying way, with Aang inexplicably bringing Sokka and Katara with him as he tries to find a group of villagers who had gotten lost in the Spirit World. "Somehow I brought you with me," he says. Then five minutes into the trip, they stumble upon the spirit owl Wan Shi Tong for a quick exposition dump on why it's dangerous for Katara and Sokka to be here. Before I saw this show, I wrote about how it would be weird for Aang to just stumble upon Wan Shi Tong in the Spirit World, but that's literally what happened in the show instead of a Commander Zhao flashback, which is a bit disappointing.

Although he journey gets off to a shaky start, things get more interesting as Katara and Sokka are kidnapped and tormented by Koh the Face Stealer, who is just as terrifying (if not more so) as his animated counterpart. Koh being voiced by the great George Takei is icing on the cake; his deep and mysterious voice serves the character well. Katara is forced to relive a memory of her mother's death, which gives us a front row seat for the deep trauma she endured as a child. Meanwhile, Sokka relives a memory of his father lying to him about being a capable leader, and then talking behind his back about not believing in him.

These scenes are great for developing Katara and Sokka as characters. They must face their damage head on and coule potentially come the other end as stronger characters. We'll see if the show pays off this set-up.

I also think this expanded role for Koh was a good choice. He very briefly shows up in the animated show where he tells Aang how to save the moon spirit, but giving him a legitimate villain arc was fun. They even included a reference to the expanded story he gets in the comic book, as Aang has to retrieve an artifact from Koh's ancestor the Mother of Faces.

Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Arden Cho as June, Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2024 /

Avatar: The Last Airbender review, Episode 5, "Spirited Away"

Aang has his own mini-journey where he reunites with Monk Gyatso, which I have very mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I think it's pretty endearing that Gyatso decided not to "move on to the next stage of enlightenment" so he could advise Aang in the future. It also gives Aang a bit of closure when it comes to his guilt about not being there during the Fire Nation attack on the Southern Air Temple.

On the other hand, I feel like Gyatso is taking the place of Avatar Roku in the story, who would legitimately have more useful information to tell Aang. Unfortunately, the Netflix version has established the rule that Aang can only talk to previous Avatars when he is in one of their shrines. And the live-action version of Roku is... interesting to say the least, but we'll get to that in the next episode. Also, it is very unclear how exactly Gyatso is appearing to Aang. Is he a permanent resident of the Spirit World like Iroh in The Legend of Korra? Or was this meeting a one-time thing? This scene brought up just as many questions as answers, and the solution Gyatso gives Aang to his Koh problem is to just go talk to Roku anyway. It all seems a bit convoluted.

As for the Fire Nation characters, Ozai seemingly pits Azula against Zuko when she tries to direct more resources to Zhao. Although he grants her request, Ozai makes her feel bad when he points out that Zuko was the one who found the Avatar, not Zhao like she said. This move makes Ozai somewhat worse in this show because his animated counterpart straight-up favors Azula almost without question. But the Netflix version of Ozai takes pleasure when he sees how his words affect Azula, which cranks his horrible dad meter up to 11.

Zuko and Iroh also hire the services of June the bounty hunter and her mount Naga. These characters look fantastic in live-action and it'll be fun to see June paralyze more scrubs with Naga. All in all, this episode is another mixed bag of solid material and unnecessary changes to the original show.

Episode Grade: C+

Avatar: The Last Airbender improves on Zuko's original story in Episode 6. dark. Next. atla 6

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