Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 1 – “The Avatar State” – The Cost of Fear

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     We return to The Avatar Universe reviews with the first episode of Book 2. “The Avatar State” is really the episode that shows there is no easy path to peace and victory for any of our heroes. Be they Iroh and Zuko or Aang, Katara and Sokka. In this we also see how those who may present themselves as allies may be just as big of enemies as any person serving Lord Ozai in the Fire Nation.

     The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Aaron Ehasz, Elizabeth Welch Ehasz, Tim Hedrick and John O’Bryan.

     The story picks up where we left off at the end of Book 1 with Aang leaving to go and meetup with Bumi so he can be trained in Earth Bending. As they leave Pakku gives Aang scrolls to train and Katara water from the Spirit Oasis to help in a time of great need. From here they meet up with General Fong who asks Aang to go into the Avatar State so they can destroy the Fire Lord. When Aang is unable to do so and is having nightmares of the power of the State Fong goes to greater and more desperate means to get the results he seeks. Elsewhere Azula arrives meets with Iroh and Zuko and attempts to lure them into a trap.

The Pros: General Fong – Daniel Dae Kim from “Lost” plays the voice of this character and does a great job of showing a man driven by desperation to defeat the Fire Nation. You get the feeling he’s been fighting a losing battle and that Aang is his last option. For this reason he goes to desperate means to trigger the Avatar State and doesn’t even care after the Avatar State destroys his base. At this point he has lost the trust of Team Avatar for attempting to kill them though. He’s a great complicated character who shows the moral grey that is pretty common among folks we’ll meet in the Earth Kingdom.

Karata – Katara is the voice of reason in this and listens to Aang about his nightmares that he is having of himself being destroyed by his Avatar State. She protests when he volunteers to try and induce it to make up for all the time he’s been away and she ends up being right as the Avatar State ends up being far more dangerous than anyone realized.

Aang – Aang is driven by guilt this episode as he gives into the pressure Fong puts on him because he want to end the war as he feels guilty for the 100 years he was gone after he ran away. He learns he can’t rush it though when Roku warns him that if he is killed in the Avatar State than the Avatar Cycle ends.

Avatar Roku and the Warning – Roku saves Aang from himself this episode and educates him that the Avatar State is the experience of all past Avatars but because of that it is also the time when the Avatar can be ended. You see worry in his voice too as he realizes how young is and how easily he is pressured.

Iroh – Iroh suspects something is up and is Zuko’s protector. He defends him from Azula killing him an all the special troops she brought with her. We see how deeply he cares about Zuko, even trying to be kind to Ozai to make Zuko’s isolation easier.

Zuko – Zuko is conflicted. He has the action of his Uncle who truly loves him but his obligation he feels to his father who hates him. His desire for acceptance makes him easily manipulated by Azula and his anger blinds him in the fight against her. Where family is concerned and his father Zuko is raw even calling Iroh lazy and someone who doesn’t appreciate how great his father is. He doesn’t apologize either, revealing that the blind spot is still very much there.

Azula – Azula is ruthless and manipulative and also a fantastic villain. She threatens the captain of the ship to have them reach Iroh and Zuko and we see her defeat Zuko easily and Zuko not being killed only because Iroh directs the lightning she shoots away. That is right, she is perfectionist who can use lightning, just like Iroh. On her own she is only stopped from capturing them but is in no way defeated and the episode ends with her putting up wanted signs throughout the Earth Kingdom for Zuko and Iroh’s capture.

Okay: Sokka – Sokka is supportive and a good ally but doesn’t do much this episode but try to help Aang escape and support him when he is initially trying to induce the Avatar State.

   This is a solid episode and a great way of setting the stage for Book 2, both in establishing Azula as a villain to fear, the conflict of Zuko’s path and how high the stakes are for Aang and the importance of him learning all the elements before facing the Fire Lord. The theme of desperation turning allies into villains is a theme too as we see Zuko wanting nothing more than acceptance from his father and willing to go to any means to do it, and General Fong and his threatening of Aang’s friends and Aang’s life in order to make him go into the Avatar State.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

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