Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 18 – “The Earth King” – The Dai Li Cover-up and Separations

ATLA Book 2 Ep 18

  The Dai Li felt like a threat again this episode! Though I didn’t really like the slapstick elements or the Earth King. Besides these two issues though this is a good episode at setting up the Finale of “Earth” and giving a darker tone to the events that are to come.

   The episode was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by John O’Bryan.

   The story involves a last ditch effort by Team Avatar to warn the Earth King about the Dai Li and the threat of the Fire Nation and the War. They succeed in reaching him but must confront Long Feng and reveal the war before the Earth King loses patience. Zuko also faces a Fever Dream where his identity as the Son of the Fire Lord faces the freedom and morality of Iroh who is beyond being a member of the Fire Nation.

The Pros: The Dai Li – The Dai Li feel like a threat again and we see them in full force keeping Team Avatar away from the Earth King. It is only because most of the Team are Bending Masters that they get to him and even though they reach him Long Feng is able to trap them when he convinces the King to get them to surrender.

Long Feng – This is where we see the intelligence of Long Feng, from him easily controlling the Earth King, from destruction of the Fortress underneath Lake Laogai and the fact that the Dai Li are still loyal to him after his is locked up in prison. He is a great secondary antagonist to Azula.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar is at their best and we see where their hearts are too. From Sokka and Katara getting a letter of where their father is and going to visit him, Toph wanting to visit her Mom and the Guru at the Air Temple…pulling Aang back to one of his homes. This is after they defeat the Dai Li showing just how much mastery they have over the Elements and their noble nature in how they are able to convince the Earth King of the Dai Li Plot and War with the Fire Nation.

Zuko’s Dream – Zuko’s dream is wonderful showing the conflict within him with the Blue Dragon with the voice of Azula asking him to die and sleep while the Iroh Red Dragon commands him to fight on. He is in torment and we have no idea where he ends up in his crisis of identity of being the son of the Fire Lord. It is a great nightmare.

Return of the Trio – The Trio is back pretending to be Kyoshi Warriors! It was this scene and others that show just how dangerous this group is and that they do no need an army to conquer cities.

Toph’s Capture – The two Earth Bending Masters that Toph’s parents sent capture her with a false letter and put her in a metal cage. This had good payoff in it showed Toph’s care for her parents and how smart they are as mini-antagonists.

The Cons: The Earth King – The King is really bland and has a pet Bear. I had no idea what his desires and interests were so it was hard to take him seriously as a leader of a nation. Wish Azula would just finish this guy off.

The Humor – The humor feels stiltled this episode from Long Feng’s robe being blown up to show Appa’s bite mark to the slapstick nature of the “Trial” it was a shame it was presented this way as it broke the entire dark tone of the episode.

This was a good episode but the Earth King and humor really bring it down. Still it is setting up a good finale…and it was awesome to see Team Avatar in all their Bending mastery in one of the best action sequences of the series.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 10 – “The Library” – Knowledge to Hurt

The_Library

     “The Library” was one of the episodes I still remember to this day. In this episode we see just how short sighted Sokka can be and also how deeply his understandable vendetta against the Fire Nation goes. All of what goes wrong this episode can be tied back to Sokka and his desire to get back at the Fire Nation for all they’ve done (and his fear for what will happen when Sozen’s Comet arrives).

    The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by John O’Bryan.

    The story involves Team Avatar taking individual vacation breaks with Katara choosing the Library when it is mentioned by Professor Zei from Ba Sing Se University who is seeking it. Things unfold when they discover it and Sokka seeks a vulnerability of the Fire Nation as the Knowledge Spirit warns them against seeking any action that could be used to harm another. Outside Sand Benders kidnap Appa and Toph is unable to stop them.

The Pros: The Library – The Library is very cool! Fox Spirits as the bringers of knowledge with the Owl-Dragon Knowledge Spirit as it’s Guardian who doesn’t trust humans after Zhao stole knowledge of how to kill the Moon. It has a great design and I like how it was buried beneath the sand before being discovered.

Professor Zei – Zei is all about knowledge and even when he is about to buried beneath the sand he chooses to stay in the library showing for him knowledge was never means to an end. I really liked this character and could relate to him.

The Sandbenders – The Sandbenders have a great design and are a great minor threat. We see them first eye Appa and the group and later are the ones who follow them into the desert to capture Appa. Curious to see how they will be explored later beyond being traders and thieves.

Katara – Katara loves books we learn as she chose the Library for that reason and we see her most committed to that and not using the Library as a means to an end. She is the balance to Sokka who sees it only as a tool against the Fire Nation.

Toph – Toph is blind so can’t read any of the books (which she points out to the group when they ask her to come) and we get to see her humor at work as well as her commitment to her new friends as she tries to protect Appa and hold up the Library for as long as possible so Team Avatar can make their escape.

Sokka – Sokka is all about defeating the Fire Nation so much so that he often misses the point of places. They do need to find a way to fight the Fire Nation but he broke a deal with a very powerful spirit and showed humans could not be trusted. This is the consequence of how Sokka’s activeness and vendetta against the Fire Nation can sometimes lead to trouble.

The Knowledge Spirit – The Knowledge Spirit has an awesome design! It is a mixture of Owl and Dragon and is super threatening and distrusting as it witnessed what happened when he let Zhao in and one of his fellow spirits was killed in the process. He is a great character and I wish we’d have seen him again in ATLA.

Okay: Aang – Aang is just kind of there, he agrees with Sokka and doesn’t fight him on seeking knowledge to hurt and it costs him Appa and access to the Library so he feels the consequences of his actions but that is largely on Sokka, Aang was a small player in Sokka’s game.

   This was a good episode that is worth checking out. More could have been done with the theme as we don’t really see the dangerous knowledge that the library holds. I see that as a missed opportunity given the superweapons like the Drill that we will see later. Still, I recommend the episode for sure, a great Sokka episode.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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

Aang's_spirit

     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

Zuko_and_Iroh's_wanted_poster

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 19 – “The Siege of the North Part 1” – Songs of Ice and Fire

ATLA 1 19

        “Avatar: The Last Airbender” does Finales really well. In the 1st Part of this 2 Part Finale we get the building of relationships, specifically of Princess Yue and Sokka as well as Aang’s relationship to his Team and establishing the threat of Admiral Zhao and the Fire Nation really well. The build is constant and doesn’t stop until the end in the Finale Part. This is the review of the First Part though so I will focus on that.

     “The Siege of the North Part 1” was directed by Lauren MacMullan and written by John O’Bryan.

     The episode begins with Yue and Sokka dating and getting to know one another better when all that is interrupted with the arrival of Admiral Zhao’s fleet. Aang attacks and manages to destroy 12 ships but not before he realizes just how outmatched he is and that he needs to find another way if he is going to win, which leads to him seeking out the Spirit World for help. Elsewhere Zuko infiltrates the the Northern Water Tribe to capture Aang and Sokka meets Yue’s betrothed.

The Pros: Iroh – Iroh is the word of warning to Zhao as Zhao sees them as making history and ending Water Nation culture for good after this battle. Iroh treats Zhao with empathy though as he remembers all he has lost and that history is not always kind to it’s subjects.

Admiral Zhao – Zhao does a good job in his attack and we see his arrogance on full display when he is attacking. His true colors and depths he’s willing to go for victory are not witnessed until next episode though.

Master Pakku – The guy has calmed down a lot and considers Katara his best pupil. We see him congratulate her and this plays a part later in Part 2 as in Part 1 she is largely shown to be the focused one to Aang’s crazy which deeply annoys Master Pakku.

Chief Amook – We never get why he likes Hahn but he continues to trust Sokka, both having him prep his troops for infiltrating the Fire Nation’s army and also when he asks Sokka to protect Yue.

Sokka – Sokka is shown to have class as he stands up to Hahn’s objectification of Yue and only seeing her for the benefits he’ll get from the relationship and his sensitivity whenever he is with Yue. They are friends who became very quickly more than friends by sharing one another’s worlds.

Princess Yue – Princess Yue is the woman trying to make her own path in a world where most of her decisions have already been made for her. Sokka is that freedom to take a different path and it puts so much conflict on her. Her focus on having a different path that still looks after her people is in becoming a member of Team Avatar too, as she brings Aang to the Spirit Oasis where Tui and La are and tells the story of how the Ocean and Moon Spirits are Yin and Yang and keep the world in balance as they are constantly pulling and pushing against each other as well as the story of how the Moon was the first Waterbender and taught it to the Northern Water Tribe.

Katara – Katara is the cool headed one to Aang’s lack of focus and energy and we see her treated with the respect she’s earned as Pakku’s best pupil. We also see her being Aang’s protector and defeating Zuko until the sun rises and Zuko’s bending, which is now stronger, knocks her out.

Zuko – We see Zuko’s drive and intelligence again when he infiltrates the North. For one he notices that the Turtle Seals need air when they went into a cave so follows them which eventually leads him to the North. He then manages to defeat Katara showing how much he has advanced, and we see his Pride when he describes his people as the Sun before he takes Aang who has passed into the Spirit World.

Aang – Aang feels pretty powerless this episode. He defeats 12 ships but Zhao’s fleet is so large he feels like there is nothing he can do. This leads to Yue taking him and Katara to the Spirit Oasis, where he meditates into the Spirit World when he is the Yin and Yang in the Fish swimming in unison.

The Cons: Hahn – Yue’s betrothed is a dick, there is nothing to like this guy which I see as bad writing. He can be imperfect without making Sokka look good by default. The guy is a tool and is a character who no one is rooting for. He’s arrogant, doesn’t listen to anyone and we never get the reasons why he was betrothed. What does Yue’s family get out of this? They’re already the leaders of the Northern Water Tribe.

Northern Water Tribe Politics – See Hahn, Yue keeps saying that Sokka doesn’t understand, but we aren’t given any reasons to understand either. It just makes the drama feel contrived, especially since Yue has a much bigger destiny in store.

  This was a really good episode, except for how Hahn is a needlessly shallow antagonist and that the politics behind his character’s existence are never explained. The ominous ending is wonderful though with Zuko leaving into the snow carrying Aang who has left his body and is still in the Spirit World. The moments with Sokka and Yue are great too, as well as the Zuko moments where we see just how much of a threat he really is.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 14 – “The Fortuneteller” – A Matter of Attraction

ALTA  1 14

       “The Fortuneteller” is an episode that the entire first 2 seasons of “Legend of Korra” could have taken a lesson from. This episode is romance and relationships done right as we see so many characters dealing with their attraction to others, also “Bad Advice Sokka” makes an appearance too. It’s also a message episode, and one I appreciate.

        The episode was directed by Dave Filoni and written by John O’Bryan and Aaron Ehasz.

      The premise involves Team Avatar saving a man from a wild animal but him believing he was safe anyways because the town’s Fortuneteller Aunt Wu had predicted it. This leads Team Avatar on a detour to the town where the Fortuneteller’s student Meng is attracted Aang, while Aang deals with his attraction towards Katara (he makes her a necklace at the beginning of the episode). When the nearby volcano is about to explode, going against Aunt Wu’s predictions, it is up to Team Avatar to save the day.

The Pros: Meng – She is a character who is very flawed and young (she stalks Aang) but also is honest and has a good heart. She deals with Aang telling her the truth of him not being interested in her in that way and gives him the book they need to shape the clouds into the warnings of destruction so that the town will be forced to action before they are destroyed. She is stubborn and strong and an awesome minor character.

Aunt Wu – Aunt Wu isn’t perfect and most likely can’t tell the future, though she does have some awareness in reading people and situations and we do see a huge event occur in that she predicts the finale of the series (Aang’s finale battle) without knowing he is the Avatar. So she is perceptive in some ways. She also thanks them for saving the village and changing the clouds.

Katara – Katara is shown to be pretty naive in this episode. She wants Aunt Wu to tell her everything, but she isn’t naive enough as to not listen to reason…for example when Sokka and Aang tell her about the lava they’ve seen in the volcano and the knowledge it will blow, she acts and is part of the act that convinces Aunt Wu to follow their plan to protect the village. This is also the first episode we see where she notices Aang when Sokka comments he is a really powerful Bender.

Sokka – Sokka is the skeptic this episode and honestly the one who is the most right. It sucks that he is presented in a negative light until the volcano moment. It does do a good job of showing of how some people will believe anything regardless of the evidence. I really liked Sokka in this episode, it was an unexpected part of his character. Though he gives out some really bad relationship advice, “Be aloof, girls like someone who doesn’t care.” Wow, really Sokka? “Bad Advice Sokka” in a nutshell. The guy who has never been in a relationship, doling out relationship advice to Aang.

Aang – Aang is shown to be powerful in this and to be attracted to Katara. We see his power when he stops the lava with his breath when the trench plan that Sokka comes up with isn’t enough to stop the lava…and we see him speak honestly to Meng when she says she’s attracted to him. It’s a great moment and we see at the end that he is willing to go with the flow with Katara even though his feelings are unvoiced. This relationship dynamic is wonderful and felt much more believable than the Bolin, Mako, Katara love triangle.

Okay/Cons: Message Episode – For me in regards to storytelling the story should take importance over the message and this one the message felt like it was the most important thing. I agree with the message in regards to skepticism when dealing with the unknown but even though I agree with it, we’d seen nothing to show this as a character trait in Sokka prior.

   This is an episode that is worth seeing, even though it is kind of filler. We get to see that Aang is attracted to Katara, Katara’s desire for knowing in her search for the future and Sokka as the planner. These are all things I really liked in this episode, even if the message was sometimes like a hammer on the script.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 9 – “The Waterbending Scroll” – Tricking the Tricksters

ATLA 1 9

         “The Waterbending Scroll” is a filler episode, it is also a really fun episode that still manages to loosely connect itself to the overall arc of the series of Aang learning all the Elements and developing Team Avatar’s relationship further. Which makes it really enjoyable.

      The episode was directed by Anthony Lioi and written by John O’Bryan with Aaron Ehasz as overseeing writer per usual.

    The premise of the episode involves the group stopping to water bend and when Katara starts teaching Aang, but she soon becomes jealous when Aang has a natural affinity to Waterbending. When his Waterbending leads to the loss of their supplies they go into town to get more which leads to Katara stealing a Waterbending Scroll and seeking to outdo Aang while the Team deals with the threat of Pirates whom the Scroll was stolen from and Zuko.

The Pros: The Pirates – The Pirates are a lot of fun and they are a diverse lot. With their captain looking like a traditional European Pirate but his crew members looking like they are from every one of the Nations. I wanted to learn more about them and what got them into waterbending. The Captain also held is own against Zuko to the point of a draw even though he and his crew were non-benders, they were better than the Fire Nation troops in many cases.

Iroh – The only reason Zuko even ends up where the Avatar is is due to Iroh misplacing his White Lotus chip (a reference to later and his role in the greater game in establishing balance in the World) and wanting to go replace it. He is funny too and his accidental proverb of how fighting lead to them loosing their ships was fitting as this would be Zuko’s problem on many occasions.

Zuko – Zuko is a bastard in this episode. From his threatening Katara and Sokka and blackmailing Katara with her mother’s necklace in order to find out Aang’s location show just how bad he is when he is obsessed. He gets his comeuppance though when he loses his ship and Iroh had his lost White Lotus chip all along.

The Action – There are some great action sequences in this episode. From the pirates chasing Team Avatar, to Zuko’s Troops against the Pirates and Team Avatar’s escape, each feels seamless and manages to have stakes and be comedic.

The Cons: The Moral – Stealing is wrong unless it’s from pirates. The whole act of stealing was never real dealt with and no taking from people who have stolen isn’t exactly right either.

   This was enjoyable filler and if you like the series thus far, you will probably like this episode. Great Team Avatar moments, fun minor characters in the pirates and some great action sequences made for a very enjoyable episode.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 5 – “The King of Omashu” – A Matter of Perspective and Thinking Outside the Box

ATLA season 1 ep 5

     “The King of Omashu” is another great episode that is largely an Aang focused episode as it begins with a flashback and we meet his crazy friend Bumi who is an important member of the city. We don’t know how important until we get to current day where the episode begins. This is an episode that really explores the philosophy of martial arts too as so much of is the quest for balance and thinking in different ways to tackle situations within yourself and when sparring.

    The episode was directed by Anthony Lioi and written by John O’Bryan and Aaron Ehasz.

     The story begins with them arriving at Omashu as Aang is on the search for his friend Bumi, but mostly just wants to ride the mail system that is a system of slides that have the carts moved by gravity and Earth bending. It is after riding the slides that they are captured by the King who holds Sokka and Katara hostage while he puts Aang up to three challenges in order to rescue them.

The Pros: The Music – The music is amazing in this episode and uses a lot of drums to create tension and give it an Earth Kingdom feel.

Omashu – This is another fully fleshed out Earth Kingdom nation. They have an ecclectic King, are a bit dodgy around outsiders because of the Fire Nation aggression and are interconnected through bending and the use of the slides. It’s a really cool city too with Pyramids where the palace is located.

Aang – Aang is the one who grows a lot in this as the King is forcing him to think outside the box and opening up his mind to new possibilities. It is by not facing things head on but thinking that he is able to solve each challenge. In the end he finds his friend Bumi again, who it turns out was the King all along seeking to prepare him for his role as Avatar.

The Challenges – A key in a waterfall. Aang tries to climb the ladder inside the waterfall first and next dive through and finally defeats it by using Airbending to split the water and breaking off rock to use as a spear in order to capture the key. The second challenge involves getting Flopsie for the King and realizes that the big scary animal is actually nice and Flopsie, not the meal for Flopsie which he thought it was initially. The third challenge involves facing the King and using his Airbending to attack rather than to avoid as avoidance is allowing the King to walk all over him. The battle ends in a draw and his friends were never in danger and Aang learns the important lesson of thinking outside the box again and to not judge by appearances.

Bumi – Bumi is the King who is a bit mad but has a good heart. You get why he wanted to train Aang as Aang had responsibility and he owed it to his people to make the Avatar responsible and to train him. He is a great minor character and a badass. He fights using Tiger Stance and is one of the best Earthbenders in the series and the universe as a whole. He also enjoys puns, which as an appreciator of puns I very much enjoyed. “Let us go.” -Katara. Bumi eats some lettuce he has on the plate. So much gold with this character.

The Messages – Don’t judge by appearances (Bumi appears weak at first but is actually an Earthbending Master, and the large threatening animal Flopsie being sweet) and think outside the box on challenges, don’t face things head on that can be solved through an easier path, don’t fall into a cycle…adapt, change.

Okay: Katara and Sokka – They get captured and are mostly just doing commentary. They were not used at all this episode which hurt it as they are Aang’s new friends where Bumi was his old friend. There is more that could have been done with that.

  The episode is still great, and one I’d recommend. It goes into the philosophy of martial arts on adapting to situations and in it finding balance as well as the importance of not judging by appearances. It’s handled very well and  is well worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10.