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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Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 20 – “The Crossroads of Destiny” – Zuko’s Choice and Azula’s Gambit

ATLA Book 2 Ep 20

   Book 2 wasn’t as solid in it’s arc as “Water” was in some ways but it had the best payoff though and was really good at covering the themes of how attachment leads to suffering and how that fear and need for approval can lead to suffering in not staying true to self and letting others define you and what is most important. It’s a powerful episode with consequences and a good Finale for “Earth.”

    The episode was directed by Michael Dante DiMartino and written by Aaron Ehasz.

   The story involves Azula taking control of Ba Sing Se, Team Avatar’s rescue of the Earth King and Katara and Zuko facing the choice of being Son of the Fire Lord or someone who will fight for Team Avatar. Azula’s plans that she has set in motion come to a head with lasting consequences on our heroes.

The Pros: Long Feng and the Dai Li – We learn a lot about Long Feng in this, like how he was someone who was once lower class who clawed his way up to the top and it was through his ability and strength he became the leader of the Dai Li. Sadly Azula being royalty ends up trumping his claim and he submits to her.

Mai and Ty Lee – These two have a more minor part to play but they still do a good job fighting Team Avatar though Mai is done when they are coming to get revenge for how easily they took out Katara last episode.

Sokka – Sokka’s care for Katara is a major part of this episode as we see that he is just as driven as Aang to find her and willing to put asides his differences with Iroh who to him is an enemy because he is Fire Nation in order to rescue his sister.

Toph – Toph schools her captors and is a major force in the rescue as she wipes out most of the enemies she faces. She is cut off from helping Aang though, which is a shame as she could have turned the course of the battle if it had been her, Katara and Aang against Zuko, Azula and the Dai Li.

Iroh – Iroh shows that he doesn’t care about the Fire Nation, he lives for Zuko and when Zuko betrays him he is saddened that Zuko still let others define his happiness and honor. He defends Team Avatar too showing that he is truly their ally.

Katara – Katara shows why she is a Waterbending Master when she is holding her own against Zuko and Azula and doesn’t get overwhelmed until the Dai Li reinforcements arrive. We also see how deep she is too when she is ready to forgive Zuko and wants to help him with his suffering until he betrays her…after that she is Aang’s protector and uses the Magic Water in order to revive him after his near death.

Zuko – Zuko makes a choice and chooses to be Son of the Fire Lord. In this choice he turns on his Uncle, Team Avatar again and helps Azula succeed in taking control of Ba Sing Se. He is still empty though as he realizes he hurt the people who were only trying to help him heal and grow and maybe honor isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Azula – Azula is truly a mastermind. She takes control of Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li and mortally wounds the Avatar as well as turning Zuko to their side. She is the greatest threat in the series thus far and this one makes her feel much more dangerous than Ozai ever has felt. She is in control and an expert manipulator.

Aang – Aang is forced to give up Katara as he realizes the Avatar State is the only way he can take on Azula, Zuko and the Dai Li. Sadly when he is going into the state Azula mortally wounds him, cutting off his connection to the past Avatars and leaving him weakened…all of this because he left his training early. Aang is once again feeling the power of his failure to fulfill his destiny as an Avatar as another nation falls before the Fire Nation.

Fall of Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom – The Earth Kingdom now belongs to the Fire Nation and all they have resistance fighters. It is a powerful scene and our heroes are battered and broken while Azula and the Fire Nation are triumphant. It is very much like “The Empire Strikes Back” and is a story full of consequences.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 20 – “The Guru” – Attachment and Suffering

ATLA Book 2 Ep 19

 “The Guru” is a great episode! It reminded me a lot of Luke on Dagobah as it Aang’s attachment that is his downfall in the end as his fear drives him to be reckless and in the end has a much greater cost for the World in the next episode when the consequences of this episode pan out. It is a great philosophical episode too.

   The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

    The story involves Aang traveling to Guru Pathik while Princess Azula uses the Dai Li to begin the process of her overthrow of the Earth King and destruction of the Avatar, Toph learns Metal Bending and Sokka gets to fight with his Father in the war against the Fire Nation.

The Pros: Long Feng and the Dai Li – Long Feng is still somewhat in control in this even though he is falling into Azula’s trap. He “traps” and negotiates control of Ba Sing Se with her in order for her to get control of the Avatar if he gets Ba Sing Se. He is great in this as the one behind the scenes as we see the Dai Li being a great threat again.

Azula and the Trio – Azula and the Trio set up Long Feng and the Dai Li as well as Iroh and Zuko too as all of the web Azula has weaved begins to slowly constrict upon our heroes as she captures both Zuko and Katara…her chips for getting control of the Avatar and turning Zuko.

Guru Pathik – Guru Pathik is the Yoda figure of this movie as he helps Aang let go of his attachments to tap into the Avatar state which is beyond all Elements and People and connected to everything. He is a good teacher too as he has humor and is very much an Airbender in his philosophy.

Zuko – Zuko is happy for once as he realizes that there is so much to be positive about. In this we see that for the moment he has let got to the hatred and honor that were turning him into his father and that he is becoming more like his mother was…kind and aware of others.

Iroh – Iroh is in a good place and says as much to Zuko as seeing Zuko happy is what he has always wanted (as well as owning a tea shop), when he receives a letter that they will be making tea for the Earth King he is even more elated too as he will be able to enter the Forbidden City as a guest rather than a conqueror.

Katara – Katara is first to realize the coup as she is helping the Generals and gets captured in the process. In this we see just how involved she is in the war effort.

Sokka – Sokka gets to fight the Fire Nation with his father though he eventually leaves after they have some humorous moments together as Aang’s vision is calling them back to Ba Sing Se.

Toph – Toph is able to see Earth in Metal and Metalbends her way out and captures the two men who had caught her in the cage. In this she demonstrates just how much of an Earthbending Master she truly is.

Aang – Aang progresses a lot in reaching the Avatar state but in the end his vision of the present and Katara captured brings him back so he is not able to complete the process of becoming the Avatar. His fear for Katara and love for her is his biggest blindspot showing just how human he is.

   This was a great episode and one of the best in the series. It had consequences, explored Buddhist, Daoist and Hindu philosophy and our characters go through changes and events have consequences, leading to one of the best Season Finales (next episode) of any show. Suffice to say I highly recommend this episode.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 17 – Jet’s Redemption and the Terror of the Dai Li

ATLA Book 2 Ep 17

   I think the Dai Li were defeated way to easily this episode and given how much emphasis they’ve been given as being a threat this book that is rather sad. This is a good episode for seeing our heroes rock, but part of what makes a good villain is being able to take them seriously and how this episode ends puts a permanent mark of shame on the Dai Li.

       “Lake Laogai” was directed by Lauren MacMullan and written by Tim Hedrick.

      The story involves the Dai Li sending out mind controlled Jet to lure Team Avatar into a trap. It fails when his old friends help him relive his past bringing them to Lake Laogai and the confrontation with the Dai Li as they search for Appa. Zuko is also seeing Appa but doesn’t take into account Uncle Iroh who follows him in his quest.

The Pros: The Underground Fortress – The Fotress under Lake Laogai has a great design and the creepy training of the Joo Dee’s to spout the party line is really creepy…as well as Jet’s flashbacks of torture and conditioning that he had. Sadly when the Dai Li show up it goes down hill.

Jet – Jet has a good arc and I think he realizes how complex things are now. His nation isn’t all good and has villianous people like the Fire Nation, and he most likely dies because of it from Minister Long Feng who attacks him.

Smellerbee and Longshot – These two friends come through and help Jet find himself in the conditioning and support him through his pain. They are great people and stay with him as he dies.

Team Avatar – Humorous but nothing really new except finally having the payoff of being with Appa again. Toph has some great jokes, from complimenting Sokka’s art (she’s blind) and calling Ba Sing Se the worst city ever. They also overwhelm the Dai Li in their own base and Appa is back. We also see Katara forgive Jet and try to save him and them reach some sort of peace as he is no longer lying and trying to redeem himself.

Zuko – Zuko is seeking his destiny and his torn mind is expressed in the Blue Spirit as he is about to capture Appa to try and regain what he has lost until Iroh calls him out and asks him to make his own destiny and the one that he desires (as well as pointing out he would have died in the North if not for the Avatar and his friends). This gives him some semblance of balance to give up being the Blue Spirit and cast off the mask.

Iroh – Iroh shows why he is the best character on this show in how he is loving in his support of Zuko but not as Zuko is hurting himself and hurting the Avatar and his friends and not having any sort of plan. He shows why he is a great mentor and friend in this.

The Cons: The Dai Li – Long Feng kills Jet most likely but the Dai Li lose to Team Avatar even when they are out in force because a free Appa is enough apparently. This was sad given that they are a police who have been controlling a city for generation and now a bunch of kids and their Sky Bison can defeat them like that? It was very Scooby-Dooish,

This was still a great episode though I hated how the Dai Li were handled. I hope Jet actually died as his arc is completed and his loss means something now. This episode could have been better if Jet’s death had been more clearer and if Team Avatar had just escaped with Appa. Their clear defeat of the Dai Li makes the Dai Li mean nothing in the city they control.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 16 – “Appa’s Lost Days” – Appa Doesn’t Catch a Break

Appa_captured

  Team Avatar doesn’t catch a break. This episode is Appa going through trial and tribulation for weeks on end and in the end he still isn’t home. Seeing the world through Appa’s eyes was very cool as he is just kind of there for most of the episodes prior and we don’t get to know the character all that well. In this we understand Appa’s motivations and see just how connected he is everyone in this series. In this way, it was a very well done episode.

  The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

   The story involves Appa’s adventures and misadventures in his quest to find Team Avatar and reach Ba Sing Se. It is a roundabout adventure as he must fight the elements, other creatures in the forest, Firebenders and corrupt humans who want to use him to their own ends.

The Pros: Appa’s Adventures and Loss and Regaining Self – Appa’s adventure is a pro, especially as we see the adventure slowly break him down. From the Kyoshi Warriors being his only relief until Guru Pathik is found at the Eastern Air Temple and gives him a letter for Aang. Besides this he faces a wild boar, Firebenders, Azula and the Trio and in the end is captured by Minister Fong. Appa’s story is tragic and it is no wonder he almost goes feral in the process.

Suki – Suki takes care of Appa and makes it her and the Kyoshi Warrior’s mission to protect him and bring him back to Aang. Sadly they aren’t able to do so as the Trio attacks and they are outmatched.

Guru Pathik – He is the philosopher of Avatar outside of Iroh and he helps Appa calm his mind as well as showing him where Aang is located. He is funny and calm and I wish we could have got this guy’s backstory as he is drawn to the Air Temple but doesn’t have any Bending abilities. What is his story?

Minister Long Feng – Uses a whistle to capture Appa leaving only Appa’s foot print which we saw Momo sleeping in last episode. The guy is brilliant.

  This was good for what it was as we see much more of the Earth Kingdom, see baby Appa with Aang and when Aang chose him and understand their connection a lot better. We also see our villains in action to a good degree too. I can’t help but feel more could have been done with this episode though and that some of the places he was captured at could have been cut down or expanded to include characters that matter to the plot.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 14 – “City of Walls and Secrets” – City of Fear

Dai_Li_agents

   “City of Walls and Secrets” is a dark episode that shows that the Fire Nation isn’t the only foe to fear and sometimes the worst enemy is the enemy who claims the best good, which in this case is the name of culture and tradition. Ba Sing Se is a scary place and shows what life is under in a tyrannical state.

    The episode was directed by Lauren MacMullan and written by Tim Hedrick.

    The story involves Team Avatar’s time in Ba Sing Se and being kept from seeing the King by their tour guide Joo Dee. They soon learn that no one talks about the war as Ba Sing Se is seen as a paradise and that stability is more important than the truth. When Team Avatar attempts to meet the King, Joo Dee is killed and replaced and Minister Long Feng explains why the Dai Li keeps the peace and order as Jet is mind controlled by the Dai Li in one of their bases.

The Pros: Zuko and Iroh’s Life – Iroh works at a tea shop and becomes famous for how good he is at taking care of the customers and making great tea. Zuko still feels trapped but has a chance to fight again when Jet accuses them of being Firebenders and he has to best him in a sword fight. It’s a great scene that shows that Iroh and Zuko have found acceptance and want to stay hidden as much as all the other refugees.

Jet and Co. – Longshot and Smellerbee leave as they are done fighting and see that Jet is still living the war, which leads to the Dai Li arresting and mind controlling him so he won’t talk about the War anymore. His story is a tragedy as we see his pain lead to greater pain under the tyranny of the Nation he is a part of.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar has some great moments in this. From Katara and Toph sneaking in to the King’s party (where Aang and Sokka where as bus boys) and their running into Long Feng who immediately knew something was up. We see they aren’t all powerful in this too as Long Feng forces them to not talk to the King by threatening to kill Appa and much darker things to all of them. For the first time, their hands are tied in the war.

Minster Long Feng – Tom Clancy is wonderful as the leader of the Dai Li! He is all about ends justifying the means as he lives for order and peace within Ba Sing Se by any means necessary. He is also a character with no fear as he threatens the Avatar and is not afraid of any consequences from it. He is a true believer in harmony at any price and sees himself as the true leader of the Earth Kingdom as the King is more symbolic. In this way he is much scarier threat than Zhao ever was and much more closer to home for Team Avatar than Azula.

False Appearances and Fear – There is “peace” in Ba Sing Se but it is only through the tyranny of the Secret Police. Everyone has to be happy and because everyone has to be, there is so much fear that Team Avatar isn’t able to learn anything until they speak to the man who created the fear in the first place…and they succumb to it too as they have things to lose while the Dai Li has nothing to lose.

This is a great episode and one I’d highly recommend. It shows that fear is not just from the Fire Nation but from those closest to home as the Dai Li is a much scarier threat than the Fire Nation as they go about breaking people, while the Fire Nation just wants them dead. They are also scary in that the Dai Li are true believers and this true belief motivates their horrific acts in the name of peace and tranquility even if it means breaking or killing their own people.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 13 – “The Drill” – Team Avatar Gets Their Name

Fire_Nation_drill

      “The Drill” is a good episode, it is largely action focused but we still get some good character moments that strengthen the episode. We also see Team Avatar be given the name of Team Avatar by Sokka and see all of them working together to stop the amazing Fire Nation Drill.

    The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

    The story involves the Fire Nation’s assault on Ba Sing Se with their Drill. It is up to Team Avatar to stop them after the Wall defenses of the Terra Team fall before Azula’s Trio. From here the story unfolds as Team Avatar must deal with the threat of the Trio and the Drill.

The Pros: The Drill – The Drill is powerful and takes a lot to destroy it. From within the Drill Team Avatar needs to steal a layout of it from an Engineer, next they need to weaken the interior before Aang crushes it from above to cause it explode. It does a lot of damage before it goes though and manages to break through the Wall before it is stopped.

The Trio – The Trio are once again awesome! Ty Lee takes out the Terra Team and isn’t afraid to get muddy when Sokka and Katara make their escape through the waste pipe of the Drill, though she gets captured in the overflow in the process, and Mai has a funny moment where is disgusted and chooses to stay in the drill. Azula does a great job fighting Aang until she is knocked off the Drill when it is about to explode and Aang finishes it off.

Team Avatar – Sokka calls them Team Avatar when he is inspired by the Terra Team for giving them a cool name. Outside the Drill Toph pushes against it, and she provides cover for them to get inside. Sokka comes up with the plan for weakening the interior and Katara and Aang weaken the Drill using Waterbending to break it down from the inside before Aang uses Earth and Airbending to break it. Katara also gets revenge on Ty Lee for Chi Blocking her.

Okay: War Minister Qin – Qin is just kind of there and has an arrogance to him. He was still smart for using the Drill, he just declared victory way to early and depending on Superweapons just isn’t smart since if the weapon fails you lose.

The Cons: Earthbender Forces – The Earthbender forces are pretty weak and the General is largely incompetent. This has sort of been a pattern in the Earth Kingdom which I might analyze at the end of Book 2. They lose way too quickly and their rocks don’t do anything to the Drill.

   This was a good action episode, but there weren’t that many character moments, and the weakness of the Earthbender forces was sad given that this is the Earth Kingdom Capitol. You would think someone in the Earth Kingdom would take the threat of the Fire Nation seriously. Suffice to say, it was still good action though.

Final Score: 8 / 10