Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2, “Earth” Retrospect – Destiny, Consequences and the Dangers of Attachment

ATLA Book 2 Ep 17

    “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Book 2 is great. It is also not as great as I remembered it being though as scenes I watched when I was younger didn’t feel as big now as I could see events coming and I felt that the Dai Li were severely underutilized and that more could have been done with exploring Zuko’s dilemma and him having more than just a hostile relationship with his sister and father. It is still a fantastic season though! For one we are introduced to Toph and Team Avatar is explored really well, as are Azula and her Trio. This offsets the ways that it being a kids show limited some of the exploration that could have been done with the darker elements of the show.

  So without further ado, lets get into the details of what worked and didn’t work about this Book.:

The Chase

The Pros: The Rough Rhino Riders – These guys are minor antagonists who we see hunting Zuko and Iroh and at one point Team Avatar. They have a diverse range of weapons and served with Iroh during the Siege of Ba Sing Se. They were rewarding everytime they made an appearance.

June the Bounty Hunter – June is the Bounty Hunter who nearly catches Team Avatar at one point but is only beaten because of trickery. She is fun too as she has no loyalty to the Fire Nation or Team Avatar and is a true Bounty Hunter only after cash. She doesn’t fear Zuko or Iroh or anyone for that matter.

Azula and the Trio – Azula and the Trio are a great group who have a fascinating dynamic. Azula rules through fear, Ty Lee through fights through trickery and flirtatiousness while Mai is an assassin  who is cold and calculating. They made this Book great.

Mai – Mai has feeling for Zuko but hasn’t really had the chance to express them yet as most of the time we see her hunting the Avatar. She does a good job and is able to best most Benders she faces and is good about thinking before she jumps.

Ty Lee – Ty Lee is spontaneous and Chi Blocks Benders who she fights. She was happy at the circus until Azula blackmailed her into joining the Trio and we see that she is the one who gets along the best with Team Avatar as she flirts and has fun with whomever she is facing.

Azula – Azula is the primary antagonist of this Book and she is wonderful! She is able to take on multiple members of Team Avatar at once and even mortally wounds Aang when he is in  the Avatar state. She is highly manipulative and turns Zuko against Iroh as well as the Dai Li against the Earth King showing that she is one of the best antagonists to come out of this series. She is also the greatest Firebender besides Iroh and Ozai.

The Cultures of the Earth Kingdom – The Earth Kingdom is really diverse and has many different cultures that make it up. We see that especially this season with the different General in villages, the Dai Li, Kyoshi Island and the diverse array of citizens of Ba Sing Se. This has always been a strong part of the series and it is done very well this season.

Suki – Suki makes an appearance and we see her relationship with Sokka grow as she shows she likes him and her courage gets him to act to the point that we see that they are dating now. We also see how involved she is in the war, from protecting Appa from the Trio, getting refugees to Ba Sing Se and being active in battles across the Earth Kingdom against the Fire Nation.

Jen – Jen is a minor character in Ba Sing Se who Zuko dates. She is kind and we see that she has prejudice against the Fire Nation but also honors Zuko’s silence when he doesn’t feel comfortable talking. They have a great relationship for the episode it happens.

The Exile in Ba Sing Se -Zuko and Iroh’s exile in Ba Sing Se is fascinating as we see Iroh become so good at making Tea that he opens up his own Tea House, we see Zuko eventually give up fighting the Avatar when he is about to take Appa from the Dai Li and for a moment he is at peace until Azula manipulates him back and brings him back from his Exile ending his Uncle’s happiness.

Iroh – Iroh is at peace in exile and makes a lot of observations about how he has become a part of Ba Sing Se by what he has given to the city and how they welcomed them. He also tries to guide Zuko away from the false honor of his father to help him find true honor within himself. He succeeds for a while until Azula’s gambit is successful and he is captured protecting Team Avatar as they get an injured Aang to safety.

Zuko – Zuko is conflicted this episode as he deals with the internal choice within him…to be like his Father or his Uncle. In the end he chooses to be like his Father as he does believe he should be Fire Lord and he loses his Uncle because of it as well as the friendship he was building with Katara.

“Tales from Ba Sing Se” – This is a great short episode that honors Mako who died during this time. We see a short story from all of Team Avatar’s perspective (even Momo) and the life of Ba Sing Se is illustrated as well as defining traits of our characters. It is an episode I highly recommend.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this Book as Toph becomes a member, which causes conflict at first as she is stubborn and prefers to be the loner but eventually they come together when they face adversity and discover new things about themselves in the process.

Sokka – Sokka is moving on from the death of Yui in this and we see that process involve him keeping boundaries with Suki but eventually embracing her feelings when he is at peace. It is a powerful arc and we see more that Sokka is the planner and not just the comedic relief of the Team (though his humor is usually always great).

Toph – Toph is wonderful in this! We see her introduced winning an underground Bender Fight and ruled by fear of her parents to eventually going her own way and finally opening up to those who are kind to her. It’s a great arc and her bluntness and humor add a lot as she helps people grow through the truth and always has their back. She also learns Metalbending during the episode “The Guru.”

Katara – Katara is the glue of the Team and in this we see her compassion helping people change. Whether it is Jet finally letting go of his hate or Zuko beginning to question the hate and fear within himself. She is also a strong Waterbending Master too and she is able to take on both Azula and Zuko in order to escape with Aang when he is injured and she later uses her healing and the magic water to save Aang.

Aang – Aang’s arc in this is dealing with his feeling for Katara and his conflict between Duty and Balance as Sokka’s desire to fight the war leads to problems and the loss of Appa and his fear of Katara getting hurt leads to him abandoning his training so he never fully masters the Avatar State. The consequence is he loses Ba Sing Se to the Fire Nation and nearly loses his life to Azula. Aang is beaten and just barely alive after this Book.

Okay: The Dai Li – I liked Minister Long Feng a lot but the Dai Li were missed potential. They were either overpowered or super easy and that made their fall to Azula feel hollow. The idea behind them is powerful and when they are done well they are great but when they fail they fall hard and it hurts the story.

Zuko’s Turn – Zuko’s turn was alright but I would have liked to see more of what his identity meant as being Ozai’s son and why he wanted to rejoin the family that hated him. I felt that it was never fleshed out besides out isolated and trapped he felt in exile in Ba Sing Se working at a Tea Shop he never wanted.

The Cons: The Earth King – The Earth King is derpy. He is just kind of bland and there and I never believed that he had any will of his own even when he stood up. Would have rather he just died honestly.

The Magic Water – This McGuffin is never explained and it being used to resurrect the “dead” which Aang seemed to be was too overpowered. I like that it was finally used but it’s existence was a story problem.

    This was still a solid season, but in retrospect “Book 1” Water handled it’s arcs much better than Book 2 of “Earth” did. When this season worked it worked really well, but it had a few things working against it since it was trying to accomplish so much. It was for this reason Zuko’s turn felt rushed and the Dai Li were brushed over to reestablish the Fire Nation as the big threat. These elements bring it down but it is still a great season that I would definitely recommend.

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

Zuko Alone

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