Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 3, “Fire” Retrospect – Finding Peace in the Flames of Conflict and an Amazing Ending to one of the Greatest Shows

BOOK 3: FIRE 4: Amazon.co.uk: DVD & Blu-ray

 

        It has been a while since I’ve returned to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and it was an amazing return to one of my favorite shows after so long and finish up reviewing the Books. Book 3 is the only season I have yet to review. This is easily the best of the 3 Books and there are very few issues I have with the overall execution of the narrative. I’ll get into those problems below but if you need a spoiler free recommendation I highly recommend this show and this is easily the strongest season of them all. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko truly created an amazing story.

    The premise picks up where we left off, as an injured Aang recovers from his defeat by Azula and Zuko last season. Team Avatar helps Aang recover as they help the rebellion prepare for the invasion of the Fire Nation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Consequences of “Book 2” – Part of what makes this season work so well is it plays directly off last season. Nothing is retconned and we have the consequences of last season explored. Aang is disconnected from the Avatar state after Azula killed him and the invasion fleet is making their way to the Fire Nation to attack during the Eclipse when Firebending will no longer work. We learn it has been weeks since Aang was brought back by the Moon Spirit Water and Katara and eventually he tries to leave to take on Ozai on his own. He quickly discovers how broken and weak is. This accumulates in events that force Aang to complete his training and learn Firebending as the threat of Ozai and Sozen’s Comet hangs overhead as a ticking clock. It is beautifully done. We have the Fire Nation victorious and our rebels barely holding onto hope.

A Return of Old Allies – This season we see a bunch of old allies return. We have all the Earth Nation folks from the Swampbender Tribe, the wrestlers who Toph defeated, the Southern Water Tribe army, the mechanist and others. Each of them plays a part in the Invasion and we see just how competent the rebellion is. Sadly, what ups the stakes is that all these old allies lose to Ozai and his forces. We also have the return of June the Bounty Hunter and the different Elemental Masters and Suki as the season progresses further. Seeing the return of these old allies in the roles they play against Ozai and is forces is absolutely fantastic.

The Failed Invasion – The Invasion is a brilliant plan. Attack the Fire Nation Capitol and defeat the Fire Lord when his entire nation cannot Firebend for the minutes the Eclipse is active. We know that our allies are strong enough as Team Avatar has taken on powerful foes before and we see the Rebellion use all their tools to defeat Fire Nation forces until their retreat is eventually cut off by the secret Airship Armada that Ozai was holding in reserve. All the men surrender and we have Team Avatar and the kids of the rebels leave together as the original plan is forced to take place. Aang needs to train and become a fully realized Avatar in order to defeat Ozai.

Order of the White Lotus | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

The Order of the White Lotus – This is the season where we finally learn about the Order of the White Lotus. The White Lotus are a secret organization that believes knowledge belongs to all and seek philosophy, beauty and truth. It is this order that Bumi, Iroh, Jeong Jeong, Pakku and Piandao are members of. All are masters within their craft and it they who see their role as the liberation of Ba Sing Se while the Avatar faces Ozai. It is wonderful seeing the return of the masters who taught members of Team Avatar through the series and in turn we get the motivation of why they did this in their role as members of the White Lotus.

Iroh – Iroh is my favorite character in the series and this episode illustrates so many reasons why. He breaks himself out of prison after warning the guard who was kind to him to not be around when he does (he does creating enough heat in his body wreak havoc and defeat the guards and breakout). Once he is out Zuko eventually seeks him out and the resolution of this relationship is so beautiful. He tells Zuko that he never hated him and was only wanted him to find his way. In the end he says he cannot defeat Ozai either as even if he could defeat Ozai it would keep the old system in power and that only the Avatar’s defeat of Ozai gave the possibility for the Fire Nation to change. God, what an amazing character. His logic makes sense and the apolitical goal of the Order of the White Lotus follows this philosophy.

Consequences of the Fire Nation Threat – The Fire Nation victorious is a story of consequences as we learn that Ozai wants to do what Sozen did during the last comet. His goal is extermination as we learn in the Fire Nation War Room that the Fire Nation will need to send far more troops to the Earth Nation in order to sustain the occupation. Azula also controls the Dai Li who help prevent the invasion from becoming successful. The Southern Water Nation loses their entire army during the invasion as well so the only ones standing against Ozai’s extermination are Team Avatar and the Order of the White Lotus. One small note, I wish we could have witnessed more of the occupation. This would have been a great side story to see what the Fire Nation victorious is like. But, we do see a lot of the occupation in the past 2 Books so I get why they focused purely on Team Avatar and the Fire Nation during this Book.

An Exploration of Forgiveness and Justice – One of the most powerful themes of the show is that of forgiveness. Katara near the end of the series goes on a quest with Zuko to find the man who murdered her mother. We see her freely use bloodbending (showing how much she’s changed since learning it) and it is after she sees how pitiful she is that she chooses not to kill. She does not forgive him but she refuses to be changed by him. This was so beautifully done and I love how it isn’t clear cut. She doesn’t forgive the man who murdered her father, but she grows from the experience. The same applies to Zuko when he confronts Ozai and refuses to kill him and calls him out for the scar he gave him. He holds him accountable and says the Avatar will be the one to defeat him after sticking around long enough to show Ozai that he is standing against him in his own way.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this season and is made all the stronger for it. We have Suki after her rescue from “Boiling Rock” and we have Zuko when he leaves the Fire Nation during the eclipse and becomes a friend and mentor to Aang and the Team. Sokka is the glue and it is his plan that initially fails during the Eclipse. He makes up for this though when he, Suki and Toph stop the Fire Nation airships meant to destroy the Earth Kingdom. Katara has one of the best arcs this season as we see her face the loss she’s dealt with as she was Sokka’s mother figure because of the Fire Nation’s killing of her mother and her father leaving to fight the war. This abandonment arc ends with peaceful resolution with her dad and confronting her mother’s killer. Toph is around as the strongest member of the party in battles as she saves our heroes on multiple occasions and also helps characters grow as she is the one who first tells Zuko that Iroh probably doesn’t help him since he’s helping Team Avatar now. We also have Aang who has to finally deal with the fact that he has to face Ozai. This arc of him learning Fire Bending and finding peace within himself is very well done as he finds the strength he needs to confront Ozai and find a way to defeat him without ending his life.

The Final Battles – We have Aang versus Ozai, Katara and Zuko versus Azula (now made Fire Lord when Ozai named himself Phoenix King). the Order of the White Lotus liberating Ba Sing Se, Toph, Suki and Sokka against the Ozai’s fleet and Aang against Ozai. Each of these battles is compelling enough on it’s own and the direction is has them flow together seamlessly. We have consequences from the battle too. Sokka is injured as they take the Fire Nation airships and Zuko is nearly killed by Azula when he saves Katara from Azula’s lightning strike. This is the accumulation of 3 seasons and the end of 4 episodes and the payoff is truly one of the best parts about the show. When we come down from this we have Zuko’s coronation as the new Fire Lord and his call for peace and Iroh’s Tea House where Team Avatar celebrates the end of the war.

The Cons:

Ozai | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

Setting Up Fire Lord Ozai – Fire Lord Ozai is the mastermind between the events of the last few books post. His presentation in the final fight is fantastic. His power and cruelty are fully on display but…we never see him raise the stakes prior to this. All past victories could be attributed to Azula or his troops. Like Palpatine in the original Trilogy of “Star Wars” he doesn’t show up until the end, and it hurts the overall threat of him. This is a shame as Hamill does a great job voicing him but even he gets quickly knocked back when Zuko leaves the Fire Nation to join Team Avatar. We needed more setup to really see that this is a man who can take on the Avatar. We don’t get that, as good as the final battle is. Ozai needed victories he could call in before this as it was Sozen who exterminated the Air Nomads not Ozai.

Deus Ex Dragon Turtle – I get Aang’s moral dilemma of refusing to kill, but we needed setup of Energy Bending prior in the series. Like Ozai the concept of Dragon Turtles and ancient beings with a connection to the Avatar could have saved this out that is given to Aang. The Dragon Turtle even drops him off at the final battle making his role as Deus Ex Machina complete. The Dragon Turtle is a cool concept and has a beautiful design, we just needed to know more of what it could do and it’s existence earlier.

There is so much to explore about this show and I only touched on it. I’ll do a full series overview at some point. This is the kind of show where you’ll notice something new in each rewatch. The characters have amazing arcs, the overarching plot is one of the best and the world is so rich that you could deeply explore any single point of the world. I look forward to returning to this world again and writing the full series overview.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A near perfect season that only had a few things holding it back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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 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 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 14 – “City of Walls and Secrets” – City of Fear

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   “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 12 – “The Serpent’s Pass” – Moving Through Grief

The Serpent's Pass

  “The Serpent’s Pass” is another great episode that gives us some great character exploration! Especially in regards to Jet, Suki, Sokka and Aang who are all dealing with meaning in a world thrown into chaos and in the case of Sokka and Aang recovering from the recent losses they’ve experienced. It’s a powerful episode and also has some great action too.

    The episode was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Joshua Hamilton and Michael Dante DiMartino.

     The story involves Zuko and Iroh’s and Team Avatar’s quest to reach Ba Sing Se. On their quest to get their Iroh and Zuko meet Jet and his gang who are also refugees seeking the shore and Team Avatar meets up with Suki who works with them to help some Refugees on the Serpent’s Pass after their lack of passports means they cannot take the lake to Ba Sing Se. From here the story unfolds as Zuko deals with his role as outcast and Aang and Sokka deal with their losses.

The Pros: The Refugees – The Refugees are from everywhere which really shows that the Earth Kingdom is losing the war. So many villages and people have lost their homes or left their homes because of the Fire Nation threat. This can’t be understated and we see that everyone outside of Ba Sing Se is a victim of the Fire Nation in the Earth Kingdom.

Jet and his Crew – Jet and his crew make an appearance and we see Jet make friends with Zuko seeing as they are both outcasts who no longer work alone and steal from the rich captain so that they and their friends can eat well. We also see friendship between the crew as Longshot sticks up for Smellerbee after she is mistaken for a by Iroh. There is a lot of coming together this episode.

Toph – Toph has a crush on Sokka! It is in this episode where we see how powerful the Beifong family is too as she is able to get them tickets even though it is against the rules since her family is so powerful. All that is lost though when Aang helps a ticketless family through the Serpent’s Pass. On the Serpent’s Pass she falls into the water and is saved by Suki and asks to be drowned when she kisses her thinking she was Sokka. This is a great Toph episode that shows she doesn’t put up with crap and also feels unthanked too when she saves them on the pass.

Suki – Suki is the idealist fighting for her people of the Earth Kingdom. It is here she joins to protect Sokka and also to see if he is interested in a relationship. After he deals with the loss of Yue in the episode he is and her action of kissing him at the beginning ends with him kissing her. It is really sweet and the romance is handled really well.

Zuko – Zuko is learning and where Jet is still raw, Zuko admits that he thought he should be alone but found that with Iroh he has found what was missing and that it is okay to count on others. It’s powerful and I like his friendship with Jet as they both have a vigilante streak.

Katara – Katara is the leader again and we see her use her Waterbending skills to protect the Refugees and fight the Serpent with Aang. She also is there for him and helps him deal with his loss of Appa and to focus on the mission.

Sokka – Sokka is facing the loss of Yue and though he doesn’t get into the details he shares some of it with Suki. When he talks about it and has time to face what he’s lost he’s ready for a relationship with Suki and returns the kiss she had given him twice. Once again, I love this relationship.

Aang – Aang is focused on the mission and just trying to be tough but he too opens up to Katara and shares what he is going through in regards to his grief. It is seeing the Refugee family having a baby that reminds him of what he is fighting for and gets him out of himself. It’s a powerful scene and he is again reminded of his mission when he sees The Drill heading to Ba Sing Se.

Facing Grief – This episode is all about dealing with grief and how important it is to talk but also to have space to heal and deal with on own. That process is different for everyone as everyone’s losses are different. It doesn’t make the losses any less valuable or any process better but it takes time and this episode shows how it is for two characters.

   This is a powerful episode with some great action that I’d highly recommend. The writers haven’t forgotten Yue and we see what her loss has meant to Sokka but also that he is healing as he and Suki initiate a relationship together. Aang also finally opens to Katara about what he is going through and how important it is for him to find Appa. These scenes are powerful.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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

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     “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 9 – “Bitter Work” – Learning to Stand

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     “Bitter Work” is a favorite episode. This is the episode that explores the philosophies of Firebending and Earthbending and through these learning about Airbending and Waterbending and how all of them are connected and can help strengthen whatever Bending a person is born with. It is within this quest of balance that we get to see just how wounded Zuko is as well as see Aang changed by the teaching of Toph to find the balance within himself in order to accomplish Earthbending.

    The episode was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Aaron Ehasz.

    The story involves Toph teaching Aang how to Earthbend and his trouble doing so since Airbending is Earthbending’s opposite and Iroh helping Zuko learn how to bend Lightning so that he can take on Azula. Each goes into the philosophy of the practices and deals with the dilemmas both Aang and Zuko face within themselves.

The Pros: Katara – Katara’s learning is compassionate and we see how receptive the pacifist Aang has always been to it compared to the blunt and brutal Toph. They have a great dynamic and we see just how much she cares about Aang both as a friend and teacher.

Sokka – Sokka gets trapped in the ground and it is up to Aang to rescue him. We see him swear he’ll be a vegetarian and after not as he tries to negotiate with the little animal he was trying to catch. When it’s giant mother arrives he panics and even trapped he listens to Aang rant even though Aang’s metaphorical situation is where is currently. He really shows how great of a friend he is.

Toph – Toph is a brutal teacher and we see that she is of the mindset that a person needs to discover what she is teaching on their own. In this way she eggs Aang on until he stands up for himself as Earthbending is all about holding your ground and not letting anyone knock you down.

Iroh – Iroh is truly a Bending Master. He learned how to bend Lightning away and redirect it from studying Waterbenders and we see that the other benders philosophies inform his own. This is why he has such great balance and tries to help Zuko experience healing too as after he was hit by Azula Iroh relived the memory of his boy and the loss of him at Ba Sing Se.

Zuko – Zuko is imbalanced because of the abuse he experienced from his father. To him the world and how unfair it is is his Father and him learning the Elements is not only to defeat Azula but to impress his father and gain his honor back. This leads to him leaving Iroh to seek death in the storm as he rages as how the world has never let off on him and always punched him down, the world in this case is clearly Ozai, the demon who haunts his past and present.

The Philosophy of Bending and Finding Balance – Balance is acceptance of the past, being able to adapt like a Waterbender, passion of a Firebender, tranquility of an Airbender and strong and steady as an Earthbender. This is Aang’s quest and metaphorically the quest of all our characters for it is only in balance that inner and outer victory is achieved.

This is a great episode that shows us that even though Iroh has been through so much loss with his exile, the death of his son and wounded Zuko that he still manages to find balance within himself. He is the example that all our characters strive to be in each of their own ways as it is only through balance among all the Elements that Ozai and Azula can be defeated. This is never stated outright but it is implied in the power that comes from knowing all the Elements and the power revealed when all are working together or philosophies from them are used by Iroh to strengthen his own Firebending. Seeing Zuko’s pain was powerful too and you realize just how much damage his father did too and that he hasn’t fully faced the abuse he grew up with.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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