We told you this was coming! Beezus Murphy, longtime Children's Film Festival Seattle Youth Jury Member, has written this epic deep, deep, deep dive into Avatar: The Last Airbender: Part 2, Earth. Are you ready? Jump in!
WARNING: Spoilers ahead, and give yourself time. A Facebook post literally can't be longer than this! Apologies for my editorial cuts so that Facebook would let me post this!
After Avatar: The Last Airbender’s stellar first season I expected a certain level of quality from season two of this beloved cartoon classic, which I was more than happy to receive. But how were the show’s creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino, otherwise known as Bryke, able to top themselves after creating the impressive by itself season one?
The answer was expansion. Season two weaves a deep intricate story, with new characters and new locations. The season begins just as the previous season did; on a boat. A Northern Water Tribe ship to be more specific. Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), the titular Avatar and last airbender, along with his companions Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack De Sena) depart from their ship ending their journey from the North Pole to the Earth Kingdom. Symbolically letting the audience know that our protagonists are moving on from water to earth. Master Pakku (Victor Brandt) bids the three young heroes with words of wisdom and gifts; for Katara an amulet filled with water from the spirit oasis known for its magical healing properties, for a water bending scroll, for Sokka a simple pat on the shoulder and a “take care, son.” While season one focused on Aang learning waterbending, this season focused on him learning the art of earthbending. But he needs a master earth bender to teach him. Initially Aang sought out his old friend Bumi (André Sogliuzzo) for help, only for him to be captured when his city was besieged by the Fire Nation. While in captivity Bumi told the young Avatar that he needed to find an earthbending teacher who is attuned with the element and has the capacity to wait and listen. Aang, Katara (Mae Whitman), and Sokka (Jack De Sena) were able to find one in the form of Toph Beifong (Jessie Flower); a tough, rabble rousing, blind twelve-year-old master earthbender. Toph is a refreshing subversion of the wise old master trope that’s so commonly seen in popular culture and even in this very show with characters like the aforementioned Pakku, Iroh (the late great Mako), and Jeong Jeong (Keone Young). She’s as old as Aang, physically that is, but she’s a master earthbender who doesn’t allow her age or blindness to hinder her. In her introductory episode “The Blind Bandit,” we see her competing in an underground earth bender fighting ring where she trounced grown men several times her size by waiting and listening to the earth. Toph ran away from her wealthy, overprotective, deeply ableist parents Lao (Cam Clarke) and Poppy (Gabrielle Carteris) to teach Aang earthbending and travel the world with him and his companions, otherwise known as the “Gaang.” The rest of the Gaang has the utmost respect for her and no one looks down on her for her age, gender, and blindness. And despite Toph being an example of a differently-abled mentor she doesn’t fall under any stereotypes; she’s not a wise sage nor does her blindness give her superpowers, she’s more the attack first asks questions later gal and her only abilities make perfect sense with the universe’s established mythos. She uses seismic sense to “see” with earth bending, which she describes as like being able to see with her feet. But it only works if she’s touching the earth. While the show had shown differently able characters before in the form of the paraplegic Teo (Daniel Samonas) who didn’t let his wheelchair limit his capabilities, Toph is rather unique as a differently-abled main character who isn’t portrayed as anything other than who herself. She’s no more of a role model than any of the other heroes are, I’m sure that a lot of the show’s differently-abled viewers were inspired by Toph but that’s not the purpose of her character. The purpose of her character is to kick butt, take names, and teach Aang earth bender.
The Fire Nation also gained a new formidable female character in the form of Princess Azula (Grey DeLisle Griffin); the ruthless, master strategist, firebending prodigy younger sister of the disgraced Prince Zuko (Dante Basco). Azula takes over Zuko’s role of hunting down the Avatar after their father Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamil) declares him and Iroh incompetent. She makes her debut by being informed by the captain of her ship that the tides will not allow them to dock their ship. Azula asks if the tides command her ship and if she were to, say, throw him overboard, would the tides think twice about smashing him against the rocky shores. She tells him not to worry so much about the tides, after all they’ve already made up their mind about killing him and she’s still mulling it over. The captain brings the ship to port. Cold, determined, and utterly unaccepting of failure Azula continues her introduction by tricking her Zuko into imprisonment by telling him and their uncle that father wants them to come back home. Manipulating Zuko’s loyalty to their father and Iroh’s loyalty to Zuko.
Fortunately, her captain accidentally lets it slip that they’re her prisoners and the two of them are able to escape. Soon after the princess is joined in her search by two non-bending companions. Ty Lee (Olivia Hack); a sweet and ditzy acrobat who’s given a leg up on the heroes because her Chi blocking moves which temporarily depower benders. And Mai (Cricket Leigh); a stoic, knife throwing badass with epic odango buns. Azula’s relationship with them is a complicated one, while she views them as tools to help further her success they’re ultimately two of the only people she genuinely cares about. Ty Lee would follow her to the end of the earth, but she’s clearly afraid of the lengths she’ll go to. Mai’s just looking for a good time and her loyalty to Azula isn’t as solid as Ty Lee’s. This is clearly showcased in the way Azula recruits them; she passive-aggressively threatens Ty Lee into joining her, while Mai joins willingly in order to shake her monotonous life a bit.
Each plays their own unique role as antagonists this season. The three dangerous ladies bring something distinctively different as antagonists than Zuko and Admiral Zhao (Jason Isaacs) did the previous season as they combine. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re badass women in a show severely lacking in female antagonists. Something I found intriguing about Azula’s character, in particular, is that much like Tilda Swindon’s Mason in Snowpiercer, if you flipped her gender it would change nothing about her character.
This season’s main focus is Aang becoming more powerful. His inability to master and go into the Avatar state at will becomes a plot point in the first episode when the high ranking Earth Kingdom general, General Fong (Daniel Dae Kim), tries to get him into the Avatar state so that he can end the war against the Fire Nation right then and there. Multiple attempts are made to trigger the Avatar state but none worked as the Avatar state can only manifest when Aang is in genuine danger, such as in the previous season finale when he used the Avatar state to defeat Zhao. And he still hasn’t been able to master it on his own. Later in the season The Avatar state also has a major flaw; if Aang dies while in the Avatar state the Avatar cycle will end with him. Another thing our protagonist struggles with is learning earth bending. While he took to waterbending like a turtleduck to water, earth bending doesn’t come as naturally to him. Which makes sense as Earth is the opposite element to Air. Aang’s gentle ways also clash with Toph’s confrontational teaching style, which she states is exactly his problem; he thinks like an airbender instead of an earth bender. He wants to avoid conflict rather than fight.
Shortly after their training, the Gaang make a voyage to the secret spirit library of Wan Shi Tong (Hector Elizondo), a gigantic owl spirit and the keeper of all human knowledge. They hear about the library from Professor Zei (Raphael Sbarge), the head of anthropology at Ba Sing Se university and Sokka realizes that if they went to the spirit library they could learn information that would be crucial to taking down the Fire Nation. They find the library in the middle of the desert and Aang, Sokka, Katara and Zei enter while Toph stays behind. When Katara asks why Toph points out that she can’t exactly read and someone needs to stay behind to watch Appa (Dee Bradley Baker). Wan Shi Tong at first refuses to grant them admittance on the grounds that humans have used his library to gain an upper hand in war for years and he’s sick of it. The Gaang lie and say that they’re just there to learn so Wan Shi Tong will let them in. It works and Sokka, ever the strategist, manages to dig up some information on a solar eclipse coming in a couple months where all fire benders will temporarily lose their bending. Unfortunately, Wan Shi Tong realizes what the three youngsters are doing and, fed up with humanity’s treatment of his vast knowledge, decides to take his library back to the spirit world. The tower starts sinking into the ground and Toph begins frantically using her bending in order to help her friends escape the structure. The three young heroes try to get Zei to leave with him but he refuses because he’s perfectly fine with the prospect of staying in the library forever. They escape unharmed but they are stricken by a terrible loss; their beloved pet sky bison and mode of transportation Appa was stolen by sandbenders while Toph was trying to save them. And this conflict isn’t resolved by the end of the episode. It’s an emotional gut-punch which seriously affects both the show and it’s central characters. Especially Aang, who not only loses his animal companion but also the last remnant of his former life before the war at the Western Air Temple. Our usually cheerful protagonist becomes sullen and bitter, the first thing he does is angrily berate Toph blaming her for their misfortune. Something Aang would normally never do. Toph is also greatly affected, but in a different way than Aang; she was unable to protect Appa and vulnerable due to the lack of earth to bend around her. Appa is also forced to endure various forms of animal abuse.
After being abducted by the sandbenders he’s sold to some merchants who subsequently sell him to a circus. The owner of the circus, Shuzumu (Robin Atkin Downes), and it’s resident trainer (Dwight Schultz) abuse Appa and the other animals under their care. He’s told by them that he must perform if he wants to be fed. One night while the circus is visiting a village in the Fire Nation, Appa tries to reach for a bale of hay near his cage so he can eat but is unsuccessful. A young boy resembling Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) helps him by moving the bale closer to him. Then Shuzumu and the animal tamer come in arguing about whether or not Appa is ready to perform and the boy hides. The animal tamer says that their latest find needs more training before he can go on stage, but his boss tells him that the bison will perform the following night and that’s final. The next night Appa is forced into a garish costume and makeup then introduced to the circus goers as the last living “wind buffalo.” The patrons laugh at the sight of him. He flies through flaming hoop after hoop, lest he face the wrath of the circus trainer’s whip, as the crowd laughs at him. Unfortunately his costume catches fire and he falls from the air to the ground.
The crowd continue to laugh at his misfortune, angering the bison who’s had quite enough of this mistreatment. He nearly attacks before spotting the young boy who reminded him so much of Aang in the crowd. The boy urges Appa to escape and his encouragement proves to be just what our favorite sky bison needed. Appa wreaths free of his costume and flies away through an air hole in the top of the tent. He braves through the wilderness earning the ire of nearly every creature he encounters before heading back to the last place he saw his friends; the desert which was once home to the spirit library of Wan Shi Tong. Appa finds that the library, and the Gaang with it, are no longer there. He then goes to find a place to spend the night. Appa wanders into a farm, where he goes into an open barn and eats some hay and water. He begins dreaming of his past; at the Eastern Air Temple, an airbending nun is preparing several children to bond with a herd of young flying bison. She gives each child an apple and tells them that whichever bison chooses them they will be bonded with the rest of their life. A younger, tattooless Aang attracts the attention of baby Appa. The young airbender happily remarks that he and Appa are now bonded for life. Meanwhile across the world Aang is dreaming of the first time he met Appa and missing him too. Come morning Appa is forced out of the barn by the farmer and continues his journey. He travels through a forest and runs afoul of a boar-q-pine, ending up being pricked by several quills. The next day he encounters Suki (Jennie Kwan) and the Kyoshi warriors who recognize him from the Gaang’s trip to Kyoshi Island last season. He’s reluctant to accept their help at first, having experienced the cruelty of humans very much as of late, but Suki reassures Appa they won’t hurt him. The warriors of Kyoshi clean his fur of mud and leftover makeup, remove his shackles, and pull out the boar-q-pine quills. But this uplifting moment is cut short when Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee arrive in the forest on mongoose lizards still pursuing the Avatar. They engage in a fight with the Kyoshi Warrior who outnumber but not outmatch them. Three Fire Nation women subdue the warriors, but Suki manages to get Appa to flee the area by lighting a tree branch on fear and scaring him away before Azula can get to him. Appa flies to the Eastern Air Temple where he first met Aang and fondly remembers his days as a calf. He finds but a single inhabitant left; Guru Pathik, a 150-year spiritual brother of the Air Nomads. The guru tells him that even though he knows he’s not who Appa was searching for, he can still help him. He reads Appa's energy, remarking how Appa is so full of love and trust, but at the same time fear is moving in where trust should be. He also tells of how he had a vision of Aang and Appa years prior and came to the Eastern Air Temple to wait for the two. Appa must let the clouds in his mind part to be at peace. He tells the bison that he and Aang’s energies are intertwined. Guru Pathik puts his hand and Appa’s forehead so as to read his energy again and find Aang. He tells him that he must go to the Earth Kingdom’s capital of Ba Sing Se and find Aang. Appa takes the guru’s advice and flies to the city. Only to be captured immediately. Appa breaking free was such a poignant and emotional scene for me because too often in the media is animal abuse in zoos and circuses ignored or even glamorized. The only film I can think of that actually portrayed the abuse of animals with the appropriate amount of realism is Chicken Run, a personal childhood favorite of mine. “Appa’s Lost Days” was so impactful that this episode received a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States in the category Outstanding Children's Programming, which the HSUS Genesis Award press release described as “a mythical tale about animals held captive for human entertainment that resonates with the way animals are used in circuses today.” I couldn’t agree with HSUS more. Finally when the Gaang is reunited with their flying bison companion after his month-long journey, it’s by the person you least expect; their former enemy Zuko.
Throughout this season and the last Zuko has been brought to his lowest point. Admiral Zhao commandeered his ship and crew leaving him with nothing, the three year anniversary of his banishment dawns which brings back painful memories, his own sister tried to take him as a prisoner and took over his search for the Avatar, destroying the sense of purpose that kept him going all throughout his banishment. Soon after Azula’s failed capture of her brother and uncle, Iroh accidentally ingested poison and must be taken to a medic in a nearby Earth Kingdom village. When Song (Kim Mai Guest), the young woman tending to Iroh, asks for his and his nephew’s names, Zuko gives them the aliases of Lee(himself) and Mushi(Iroh). She recognizes them as travelers, mostly likely refugees, offers for them to have dinner with her and mother, Zuko is reluctant but Iroh insists. While having dinner with Song and her mother (Barbara Goodson) they tell their guests about how during a Fire Nation raid on their village, Song’s father was kidnapped by the soldiers and the two women haven’t seen him since. Zuko empathizes with Song as he also hasn’t seen his father in years. Song asks him if his father’s fighting in the war, Zuko says yes. Which he is, in a manner of speaking. Distraught by thoughts of his father Zuko excuses himself from the table and goes outside to sulk. Song soon joins him. She tells him that she knows the Fire Nation has hurt him, she can tell from his scar. Song reaches to touch but he grabs her hand and stops her. She says they’re the same and shows him her own burn scar on her leg. After dinner Iroh thanks their hosts and they wish the two men well. In an attempt to make Zuko feel better, Song tells there’s still hope in the world; the Avatar has returned. Unfortunately, this is the absolute last thing Zuko wanted to hear.
Upon departing Zuko decides to take the small family’s ostrich horse with them as a mode of transportation. Iroh decides to dissuade him but his nephew just tells him to get on the horse, he complies quietly disappointed. Song watches through the window but doesn’t stop him. Zuko soon after turns to crime as his alter ego the Blue Spirit in order to provide for himself and his uncle. When Iroh disapproves, Zuko decides the two of them should part ways. The young man travels across the Earth Kingdom on his ostrich horse with an empty stomach. He nearly ambushes a man, Than (Brian Tochi), and steals his food before he sees that his wife, Ying (Kim Mai Guest), is heavily pregnant. He heads into a nearby Earth Kingdom village to get some food legally. He tries to purchase some water, a bag of feed, and a hot meal but only has enough money for two bags of feed. Some village boys throw an egg at a nearby soldier, the soldier assumes Zuko threw the egg and angrily interrogates him. However, Zuko refuses to let the soldiers intimidate him, which leads to the leader Gow (Gary Sturgis) stealing his bags of feed and “thanking him for his contribution.” The young boy who really threw the egg, Lee (Robby Bruce), thanks Zuko for not ratting him out and invites Zuko to come back to his house. An offer that Zuko doesn’t refuse for lack of other options. When they arrive at the farm where Lee’s family lives he excitedly tells his parents, Gansu (Brian O’Neill) and Sela (Susan Eisenberg), about how his new friend stood up to the soldiers in the village. Gansu welcomes Zuko to his home on the virtue of his opposition to the Earth Kingdom soldiers. The family explains how they’re supposed to protect their village from the Fire Nation, but all they do is terrorize the citizens. Real soldiers like Lee's older brother, Sensu, are fighting in the war. Lee’s mother asks Zuko for his name, which causes him to panic as he can’t very well introduce himself as the prince of the Fire Nation and the name he used last time is already taken, but her husband tells Zuko that he doesn’t need to tell them who he is if he doesn’t want to. They offer for Zuko to work at their farm for room and board. While he helps Lee and Gansu with work around the farm, the former asks their guest numerous questions, one of them being how he got his scar. Lee’s father chides him for asking such a question and Zuko becomes lost in thought. We gain a better understanding of the inner workings of Zuko’s life story. He flashes back to his childhood before his father burned and banished him. We first see young, scarless, uncharacteristically happy Prince Zuko (Elijah Runcorn) sitting at the edge of the palace turtleduck pond with his mother Ursa (Jen Cohn). Zuko shows his mother how his sister feeds turtleducks by violently throwing a large chunk of bread at the ducks, scaring them away, his mother berates him for it and the mother of the turtle bites Zuko's ankle. Ursa explains to her son that when you hurt their young mothers bite back. The two of them leave the pond and pass Azula and her friends cartwheeling in the courtyard. Mai blushes when Zuko walks past, which Azula and Ty Lee are quick to tease her about. Azula asks their mother to make Zuko play a game with them despite his protests. The game consists of placing an apple on Mai’s head and Azula trying to “shoot” it off using her bending, the apple lights on fire and Zuko pushes her and himself into the fountain to extinguish it. Azula proceeds to tease them more about what a “cute couple” they make which causes their brother to angrily storm off declaring that girls are crazy. Not long after Ursa tells her children they’ve received a letter and gifts from their uncle who’s currently sieging Ba Sing Se. For Zuko, Iroh gifted his nephew a pearl dagger and for Azula, a doll. Azula is unimpressed with her gift and eagerly asks her mother if their uncle dies in the war, will their father become Fire Lord. Ursa is troubled by this question and tells Azula that she shouldn’t wish death on her uncle while Zuko asks her how she’d feel if cousin Lu Ten wished their dad was dead. However, the young princess simply says she thinks Ozai would make a better Fire Lord than his brother and when her mother’s not looking burns the doll her uncle sent her. Meanwhile back in the present, Zuko dozes off on a bale of hay in the family’s barn. Lee sneaks in while Zuko sleeps to get a look at his broadswords. The young boy plays with the swords, slashing around wildly before Zuko shows up and corrects his stance. Lee comments that his brother would teach him things like Zuko does. The next morning Zuko mounts his ostrich horse and prepares to leave, the local soldiers deliver his hosts some bad news; Sensu’s battalion was captured. Gow cruelty mocks the family about how the Fire Nation army dressed up its last group of Earth Kingdom prisoners as Fire Nation soldiers and deployed them at the front line unarmed and the same fate will likely befall their son. Infuriated by the tasteless remark, Gansu tells Gow to watch his mouth. Insulted, Gow prepares to strike Gansu for his outburst, but Zuko blocks his advance by positioning his mount between the two parties. Gow feels threatened enough by Zuko that he and his men retreat. Gansu decides to leave and find his son, and Lee if he’s going to leave too. Zuko replies that he is but gives his new friend the dagger his uncle gave him as a child. Lee’s concern for his brother’s safety causes him to flashback to the fateful day his mother received word about the casualties of the siege of Ba Sing Se. Zuko and his sister were playing happily in the garden. Ursa interrupts her children with tears in her eyes to tell them some sad news; their cousin Lu Ten has been fallen in battle. Their uncle has withdrawn himself from the fight following his son’s death and will be returning home soon. While Azula decrees their uncle as a quitter and a loser, Zuko defends Iroh by saying that he’s only doing so because he’s upset over his son’s death. Shortly after while young Zuko practices with his pearl dagger and his sister mocks him for spending all his time playing with knives when he’s not even good, their mother tells them that their father has requested an audience with Fire Lord Azulon (Walker Edmiston) and they all must attend. The two siblings, their mother and father present themselves to their grandfather. In the Fire Lord's throne room, Ozai asks Zuko and Azula how their great-grandfather Sozin won the Battle of Han Tui. While Zuko stammers for an answer, Azula decisively answers correctly. Pleased with his daughter, Ozai asks her to show her grandfather the new moves she demonstrated for him.
After gracefully demonstrating her Firebending moves a wicked smile crosses Azula’s father’s face and he proclaims his daughter a true prodigy, just like her grandfather for whom she is named. She resumes her seat next to her brother whispers to him that he’ll never chance up to her, Zuko decides to prove his sister wrong. He offers to show his grandfather what he’s been learning and the smile disappears from his father’s face. Zuko stumbles with the forms his sister performed with ease and falls to the ground after trying again to no avail. Zuko sadly says that he failed, while Ursa comforts him and says that she loved watching him and that he always keeps fighting because that's who he is. Tired of Zuko wasting his time Azulon dismisses his grandchildren and daughter in-law. While Zuko and Azula hide in the shadows, Ozai tries to convince Azulon that he should be Fire Lord because with Lu Ten dead his brother’s bloodline has ended. This does not please his father who’s angered that his younger son would be so quick to seize the throne from his elder shortly after the death of his only child. The Fire Lord tells Ozai that Iroh has suffered enough, but that Ozai's punishment has only just begun. Zuko runs off after hearing this, but later that night Azula comes to his room to tell him what their grandfather said. Azula says that Azulon said that as a punishment for Ozai’s insolence after the loss of his brother’s son, he must experience the pain of losing his own son. Zuko insists that their dad wouldn’t do that to him and falls asleep muttering to himself “Azula always lies.” Meanwhile in the present Zuko lays in the grass repeating that very thing. Lee’s mother comes to him begging for help; the soldiers came back and Lee pulled his dagger on them, the men took him away saying that if he’s old enough to fight then it’ll be in the war. Sela says that even though she’s only known Zuko for a short time he’s her only hope to get her son back, he obliges and hunts down the soldiers. Zuko fights the soldiers, demonstrating to them and the audience that he got pretty good at playing with knives after all. At first he fights using his dual broadswords as he did as the Blue Spirit but when the soldiers start bending earth at him he switches to Firebending, remembering something his mother once said to him. What Ursa said to her son when she woke him in the middle of night, the last thing she said to him before she disappeared; “Never forget who you are.” With fists ablaze he triumphantly declares himself Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, son of Ursa and Fire Lord Ozai. He defeats the soldiers but the crowd who once cheered for him erupts into nervous whispers. One man is so bold to say he knows who he is; the dishonored prince burned, banished, and disowned by his father. Zuko tries to ignore his hecklers and retrieves the dagger from an unconscious Gow’s pocket. He tries to return it to Lee only for the boy and his family to reject him, even though he just saved them and their village from the corrupt armed force, because of his heritage. He leaves on his ostrich horse, remembering the day his father became Fire Lord. How he was told that his grandfather had suddenly died the night prior, how his mother was nowhere to be found, how the whole Fire Nation came to see their new leader be crowned, how he and his sister stood by their father’s side wearing white robes, how he was so scared and confused and how Azula was in complete control as usual, and how his father, a deplorable man, gained all of the power in the world to hurt anyone he pleased. Zuko rides off into the sunset, deep in thought. A few episodes later after his and the protagonists’ fight with Azula, Zuko nearly loses the one person who has always been there for him; his uncle. After Zuko and Iroh reunite, the former tries to get his uncle to teach him lighting-bending. A Firebending technique so advanced the only known practitioners are members of the royal family, unfortunately Zuko is unsuccessful due to being unable to keep a clear head during the process. Shortly after the two of them travel to Ba Sing Se to live a humble life as tea makers. But Zuko isn’t satisfied.
In the first season the Aang and his friends roamed the earth while Zuko and the reluctant but supportive Iroh chased after them, but this season their paths rarely cross. They finally meet again in Ba Sing Se; the impenetrable city, the capital of the Earth Kingdom, the city of walls and secrets, the one place in the earth kingdom untouched by the 100 Year War. Ba Sing Se is divided in three areas; The Lower Ring, for the proletariat citizens. The Middle Ring; where the bourgeoisie reside. And The Upper Ring; the home of the aristocratic class and the royal family. Despite only being the setting of the last quarter of the season, it’s the backdrop of one of the show’s most important arcs. The Gaang travel there to find Appa while Zuko and Iroh travel there disguised as refugees to start a new life, but both end up finding more trouble than they bargained for. A familiar cabbage merchant who can’t catch a break (James Sie) also appears. Despite not having the necessary tickets or passports, Toph manages to use her family name to score some. Sokka’s confronted by a familiar-looking ticket-taker who seems to know him and the very bewildered water tribe boy asks who she is. She comments that he doesn’t recognize her but asks if he recognizes “this” and kisses him. Sokka realizes that it’s Suki without her Kyoshi Warrior outfit and makeup and is ecstatic. Mere days before her capture at the hands of three very dangerous ladies Suki is helping refugees get to Ba Sing Se. Not long after the Gaang’s chance meeting with their old ally, they encounter the same expecting couple who Zuko almost robbed. Unfortunately this time they really were robbed; someone stole their tickets and most of their supplies so now they can’t board the ferry that will take them to the capital. The only other way to Ba Sing Se is through the Serpent's Pass. The Gaang and Suki decide to help Ying and Than make their way through the pass. Unfortunately, while they make their way through the pass they’re hindered by the giant serpent for which the strip of land is named for and Ying going into labor, thankfully not at the same time. After they fight off the serpent and Katara helps deliver Ying and Than’s baby daughter, Aang’s eyes light up and he smiles for the first time in too long. Aang tells the family that even though he’s had a hard time lately the two of them have given him hope. This is both beautiful and ironic as per Aang’s role as the Avatar he’s the one who’s supposed to inspire hope. Yet he found himself inspired by a pair of refugees who just want a good life for their child, and by his love interest and deuteragonist Katara helping bring a child into the world. After Aang’s declaration, the couple decides what they want to name their daughter; Hope. Meanwhile reuniting with Suki, the object of his affections, brings out a more protective side of Sokka. When she confronts him about his overprotectiveness, Sokka admits he’s acting this way because he doesn’t want to lose her. The loss of his first love Yue (Johanna Braddy) still hangs over his head.
After Sokka tells her how he feels, Suki tries to kiss him but he pulls away and she respects his boundaries. The next morning after making it safely through the pass she tells him she’s going to regroup with the other Kyoshi Warriors, Sokka’s surprised she’s not coming to Ba Sing Se with them. She tells him she only came along to protect him and apologizes for her actions the previous night, but he cuts her off with a kiss. I really love these two and I love how their relationship with each other challenges them and helps them grow. Elsewhere on Zuko and Iroh’s journey across the sea to Ba Sing Se they encounter the Freedom Fighters Jet (Crawford Wilson), Smellerbee (Nika Futterman), and Longshot (Marc Donato) from last season. The three young people are trying to put their former misdeeds behind them and start anew in Ba Sing Se, just like Zuko and his uncle. A small but surprisingly poignant moment occurs when Iroh accidentally misgenders Smellerbee, commenting that her name is an unusual one for a boy. She angrily retorts that she’s not a boy. Longshot manages to calm her down by wordlessly putting his hand on her shoulder and comforting her, she realizes that as long as she's sure of herself then it doesn’t matter what other people think about her. Iroh realizes his mistake and rather than trying to defend himself he simply apologizes and throws in a compliment for good measure calling Smellerbee a lovely young woman.
This moment is quick but it’s surprisingly relevant today with increased awareness in our society about trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people. We don’t know if Smellerbee falls under any of these categories but one thing we do know is that the narrative reinforces the validity of this character and that she doesn’t need to please anyone other than herself. Jet and Zuko bond after the two of them liberate some food from the captain’s quarters and distribute it to passengers on the ship. This makes sense as the two young men share the hatred of mistreatment of others as core characters traits. It’s what got Zuko banished in the first place. Jet also recognizes Zuko as someone who’s suffered underneath the Fire Natio, even if he doesn’t know all the detail. But Zuko refuses to join Jet and his companions in any more adventures. Aang decides to go ahead of Katara, Sokka, and Toph to the city in hopes of finding Appa, but along the way he discovers that Azula is planning to use a massive drill to penetrate the city’s walls and finally conquer Ba Sing Se in the name of the Fire Nation. The rest of Gaang soon joins in his efforts of taking down the drill, only to realize that an attack from the outside won’t work.
Their plan succeeds, but that does little to stop Azula. When they finally arrive in the city the Aang and his friends are greeted by a strange, cheery woman named Joo Dee (Lauren Tom) who acts as their tour guide and repeatedly tells them that there is no war in Ba Sing Se. She escorts them to their temporary home in the Upper Ring. They ask when they can meet with the king, Joo Dee tells them that they will need to place a formal request to him. The processing of which will take six to eight weeks. That the night during the Earth King’s party for his pet bear, which greatly confuses the Gaang who have never heard of nor seen a non-hybrid animal before, they sneak into his palace disguised as guests. They are unable to speak with him due to the interference of Long Feng (Clancy Brown), Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se and head of the Dai Li. The Dai Li is the secretive and elite police force of Ba Sing Se who work to capture, interrogate, and imprison political dissidents. Long Feng makes it known to the Gaang that their king is merely a figurehead and that he and the Dai Li are the ones truly in charge of the city. Long Feng tells Joo Dee to escort them home, only for the four to find a different woman in her place who introduces herself as their tour guide Joo Dee. Back at the ranch with Zuko and his uncle, the strongly anti-fire nation Jet sees Iroh using firebending to heat up his tea. When Jet tries to warn Longshot and Smellerbee they think he’s being paranoid and falling back into his old habits. Jet picks a fight with Zuko in the hopes of exposing him as a firebender, but Zuko doesn’t use his bending for fear of doing just that. His plan fails and he’s abducted by the Dai Li who inform him that he’s been invited by his majesty the Earth King to the luxurious Lake Laogai. He’s taken to their secret headquarters, tied to a chair, and hypnotized while his captors repeat to him over and over again, “There is no war in Ba Sing Se.”
Right smack dab in the middle of this intense arc comes “The Tales Of Ba Sing Se.” It initially appears to be nothing more than a fun, lighthearted filler episode subverts our expectations by being an exploration of the main characters and who they are as people. The episode begins in the Gaang’s temporary residence in the upper ring where Aang, Sokka and Katara get ready for the day while Toph on the other hand wakes up with a case of serious bed head covered in dirt and looking unkempt. Katara offers to take her to the day spa for a girls day out and Toph reluctantly agrees. The two end up actually having fun as they get to enjoy luxuries that were out of the reach of Katara, a Southern Water Tribe peasant, beforehand but were always available to Toph, daughter of the wealthy Beifongs of Gaoling. After a day of pampering and relaxation, the two girls walk home with heavily made-up faces. Then three teenage girls who are walking past start making fun of Toph’s makeup.
As someone who’s been bullied for a large portion of their school years, I can tell you that having people deliberately ganging up in order to belittle you hurts. It always hurts to know that there are people who think that there’s something wrong with how you look, or dress, or act, or who you are. So naturally the girls’ teasing hurts Toph. She tries to brush it off by jokingly that one of their insults is “a good one” then knocking them down a peg with her earthbending, but it hurts her. The worst part of it is that Toph can tell when people are lying, so she knows that the girls’ weren’t just belittling her appearance to make her feel bad; they genuinely feel that way about how she looks. Katara asks if she’s okay and Toph says she’s fine and that one of the benefits of being blind is that she’s never really cared about the way she looks. She knows who she is Toph says as a teardrop trickles down her face. Katara compliments her friend on how confident and self-assured she is, then tells her that even though it doesn’t matter, she thinks Toph’s pretty. And Toph knows she’s telling the truth. Toph allows herself to open up to Katara and be vulnerable, two things the earthbender doesn’t do very often. The next vignette takes place at the market where Iroh is buying a picnic basket for a special occasion. Walking through the marketplace he sees a toddler crying and his mother trying her hardest to calm him. Iroh sings a song to the weeping child, which tells the tale of a young soldier boy marching home from war. The boy stops crying as Iroh sings to him, and he proceeds to thank Iroh by playfully pulling his beard and the two of them laugh. After helping the young boy and his mother, Iroh encounters a group of young boys playing earth-ball in the square. The children’s ball accidentally hits the window of a nearby shop and he tells them that it is always best to admit your mistakes in order to restore honor. But when the shopkeeper threatens the boys with violence, he advises them to make a run for it. While running in an alley from the angry shopkeeper, Iroh gets mugged at knifepoint. The mugger (Quinton Flynn) tells Iroh to give him all his money but his only is to correct the man’s stance. Telling him that a weak stance makes him vulnerable to attack and proves his point by disarming him and knocking him to the ground. Iroh proceeds to help his would-be-mugger back to his feet and informs him that he doesn’t seem like the criminal type. The man confides in Iroh that he’s confused as to where his life is going and turned to crime as a result. The two sit down and have a cup of tea together, the man tells Iroh of his dream to become a masseur which the latter encourages.
The former’s surprised as he states no one’s ever believed in him before to which Iroh replies that while it is best to look out for one’s self, a little help from others can be a great blessing. He reaches his destination; a tree on the top of a hill. Iroh takes out the materials from his basket he bought earlier, lights some incense sticks, and displays them in front of a photograph of his son Lu Ten, whose sacrifice he is honoring today. It’s the anniversary of his son’s death. He confesses that he wished he could have helped Lu Ten, similar to how he had helped those along his way and that his death helped him become a better person. All throughout the day, Iroh was able to relive fatherhood through the people of Ba Sing Se; comforting a crying child, advising the young boys on the best course of action, helping a young man find his path, but none of that will bring his only son back. He sings a somber reprise of the song he used to comfort the young child earlier and, along with those watching at home, cries.
Aang’s tale, which directly follows this one, is more superfluous. It features the last air bender helping a zookeeper build an animal sanctuary. While the plot mostly relies on slapstick comedy between Aang and the animals, who terrorize both Aang and everyone’s favorite cabbage merchant, it helps reinforce a core aspect of Aang’s character; he wants to help people in any way he can. Also I believe that losing Appa help fuel Aang’s desire to help the animals find a home. Similar to how losing his civilization makes him want to protect the world, the young Avatar is motivated by personal tragedy to help others. During Sokka’s tale, the strategist is out of his element in the peaceful city. He wanders aimlessly through the streets before coming across the Five-Seven-Five Society, a haiku class filled with beautiful young women. He peers through the window at them before falling through, fortunately Sokka’s apology and explanation is three sentences long. The first sentence has five syllables, the second seven, and the third five, making it a Haiku. This impresses the girls but their teacher, Madame Macmu-Ling (Melinda Clarke), is less than pleased. The two of them go back and forth trading barb filled haikus, Sokka manages to quickly master the art and win. The students seem quite taken with him until he accidentally adds a sixth syllable to the last line of his haiku and gets kicked out. Much like Aang’s subplot, Sokka’s is mostly comedic but it serves a purpose in reminding us how adaptable the non-bender is. He’s a quick learner who’s willing to try new things, even if he ends up humiliating himself. While working at the tea shop Zuko becomes suspicious one of their customers might have caught on to him and his uncle. When Zuko points her out to Iroh, he realizes that the young lady in question just has a crush on his nephew. The latter turns out to be right when the girl, Jin (Marcella Lentz-Pope), asks Zuko to go out with her. At his uncle’s behest he reluctantly accepts. The two of them meet outside the shop at the sundown and get dinner. Throughout the evening Zuko is predictably awkward while Jin tries to bring her date out of his shell and get to know her better. After they eat Jin takes Zuko to the Firelight Fountain, her favorite place in the city. She excitedly tells him about how when the lanterns are lit the light reflects off of the water in the most beautiful way but when they arrive the lanterns haven’t been lit. Jin is disappointed that she couldn't show the sight to Zuko. He tells her to close her eyes, Jin complies and while she isn’t looking Zuko uses his Firebending to light up the lanterns. She opens her eyes and is overjoyed by the sight. While initially a little confused, Jin realizes that it's best to not question it and simply enjoys the moment she’s sharing with Zuko. She tries to kiss him and Zuko, not realizing her intentions, shoves a coupon for free tea in between the two of them. Jin thanks him and gives him a kiss on cheek before the two-part ways. When Zuko returns to his and his uncle’s apartment he at first ignores Iroh’s question about how the evening went, before admitting that he had a good time with Jin. I find this segment meaningful because it features Zuko learning to accept the kindness of others, and how to give it back. This is especially poignant as when he was shown kindness earlier this season he either rejected it, Song, or it rejected him, Lee and Jet. In all instances, it was because of his Fire Nation roots, but here where he’s from doesn’t affect how he treats people or how they treat him anymore. Zuko is learning and growing more now in an environment where he doesn’t have the responsibilities of being the prince of the Fire Nation or hunting the Avatar weighing down on him. Honestly, I wish they had included Jin in later episodes, I feel like they could have done a lot more with her character than they did. The final tale begins with Momo dreaming of munching on moon peaches with his big buddy Appa, only to wake up and realize that he’s not there. Throughout Momo’s segment he keeps seeing Appa everywhere only to be disappointed every time. Up until this point we only saw how Appa’s disappearance affected the human members of the Gaang but here we see that Momo’s been struggling too. The episode ends with Momo sadly curling up in a hole in the shape of Appa’s footprint.
Not long after the Gaang, fed up with the rigid laws of Ba Sing Se, tries to resume their search for Appa by going outside the law and putting up posters. Unbeknownst to the Gaang the Dai Li are surveillancing their every move and Joo Dee, the first one that is, quickly puts a stop to their endeavors. She comes to their house insisting that they still need to go through the proper procedures. The protagonists are surprised to see her again and ask where she’s been, Joo Dee explains she took a vacation to Lake Laogai. The Gaang is understandably suspicious. Soon after she reports back to Long Feng who is disappointed that she’s still unable to control the Avatar and his companions. She worries that they don’t trust her and for a good reason, she starts to break down. He says to her “The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai,” Joo Dee’s pupils dilate and she calmly replies that she is honored to accept his invitation. Long Feng’s Dai Li agents ask him if they should take the Avatar out but he replies that won’t be a problem. Jet, seemingly fine after his brush with the Dai Li, offers to help the Gaang after seeing one of their posters. Aang, Katara, Sokka are suspicious of his intentions but Toph reads Jet's heartbeat and breathing patterns and pronounces that he is indeed telling the truth. Katara is still distrustful, but agrees to let him help in the search as he’s the only lead they have so far. Meanwhile on Zuko and Iroh’s side of the plot, the teamaker’s skills have earned him renown in the city. So much so that a wealthy patron at the shop they work at, Quon (Kurt Fuller), offers to buy “Mushi” his own tea shop in the Upper Ring. Iroh accepts the generous offer and rejoices, but Zuko remains as unhappy as usual. Zuko sees a flyer for Appa and realizes that he may have another chance to capture the Avatar. He tells his uncle that the Avatar’s bison is somewhere in the city and that if they find Appa it could lead them to Aang. Iroh cautions his nephew that continuing his search for the Avatar could jeopardize the new life they’re building in Ba Sing Se. But this doesn’t dissuade Zuko who still wants to fulfill his destiny. Iroh asks his nephew if he even knows what that is. Along their journey they encounter Longshot and Smellerbee who haven’t seen Jet since he was arrested, an event Jet has no memory of. He claims to have left his rebel days behind him and is now living a peaceful life in the city. Toph is surprised to find that neither Jet nor his former companions are lying. They realize that Jet was brainwashed by the Dai Li to erase his memories of the war and to lure the Gaang out of the city on a false lead. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Jet, Longshot and Smellerbee go to Lake Laogai in hopes of finding Appa. Instead when they arrive there they find that underneath Lake Laogai is the Dai Li’s secret headquarters/brainwashing facility. At Lake Laogai women are brainwashed into becoming Joo Dee; revealed not to be a person but instead a shared false identity. Zuko, donning his old Blue Spirit mask yet again, captures a Dai Li agent to grill him for information. He finds out where Appa is located and goes to the Dai Li’s prison to take him. The Gaang is confronted by Long Feng and several Dai Li agents. A battle quickly breaks out and Long Feng attempts to exert his control over Jet. He orders him to attack and he complies. While Zuko is breaking out Appa, his uncle comes and confronts him. Telling him that he must do the right thing and find his own destiny. Not one thrust on him by his father. Elsewhere, Aang is trying to get Jet to snap out of his trance by reminding him of his past as a Freedom Fighter. Jet recovers, and Long Feng tells him to finish Aang. Jet quickly hurls one of his hooked swords at Long Feng's head, who dodges and retaliates by fatally wounding Jet. Long Feng makes his getaway. Katara attempts to heal Jet but he tells the others that they need to go find Appa and that he’ll be fine. Toph tells Sokka that he's lying. Longshot and Smellerbee stay behind to be with their former leader. Okay, here’s the deal; when the show originally aired on Nickelodeon the Standards and Practices of the network wouldn’t let them show a character dying on screen, but the implication is that Jet is dead. They were able to avoid this problem with Yue the previous season as she didn’t technically die; she just gave up her physical form to become the new moon. They reach the cell where Appa was held and find it empty. Thinking that the Dai Li took him again they go back to the surface, only to find themselves surrounded by their adversaries. Appa swoops down and rescues them in a heartwarming conclusion to this intense, emotional arc. Zuko finally abandons his quest once and for all and returns Appa to Team Avatar without them knowing. His uncle couldn’t be prouder.
After they reclaimed their beloved bison buddy, the Gaang decides to put an end to Long Feng’s reign of terror by notifying the Earth King. The head of the Dai Li tries to convince the king once again that there is no war and that Avatar and his companions are a group of radicals seeking to overthrow him, but the Gaang has irrefutable evidence on their side. One substantial piece of evidence of Long Feng’s treachery being the brainwashing facility under Lake Laoagai and another being the massive, inactive Fire Nation drill still lodged in their city’s walls. King Kuei (Phil LaMarr) is a young, inexperienced monarch who’s never even left his palace, let alone Ba Sing Se. He’s been lied to and manipulated for years by Long Feng, so when the Gaang opens his eyes to everything that’s been hidden from him the king realizes he’s been a fool. Meanwhile Zuko, having made a good decision the episode prior, becomes physically ill and goes into an angst coma. While he is unconscious and his uncle tends to him, Zuko is haunted by a scarless image of himself as Fire Lord and two dragons. The blue dragon (Grey DeLisle Griffin) speaks in the voice of his sister and encourages his destructive tendencies, while the red dragon (Mako) urges him to choose the path of good. Two sides of Zuko struggling within himself. It’s interesting that without his scar he looks just like Ozai, because the scar is and always has been a symbol of how different they truly are. When he awakes he seemingly has chosen the path of good and is optimistic for his and Iroh’s future at their new tea shop; The Jasmine Dragon. After exposing Long Feng’s crimes things begin to look up for our scrappy young protagonists; Aang is invited to the Eastern Air Temple to learn how to open his chakra and go into the Avatar state from Guru Pathik, Toph gets a letter from her mother saying she’s in Ba Sing Se and wants to see her, Sokka goes to visit his and Katara’s father Hakoda (André Sogliuzzo), while his sister stays in the Earth Kingdom to provide guidance the Earth King and his council because someone has too, and the palace hears word of the Kyoshi Warriors coming to the city. Before departing with Sokka on Appa, Aang shares a tender goodbye with Katara that gives him hope for their possible future. While visiting his father’s fleet goes well for Sokka, Aang’s trip goes considerably less so. At the Eastern Air Temple Guru Pathik teaches him how to properly open his chakras. Unfortunately to do so Aang must give up all of his worldly tethers, including his feelings for Katara. This is especially hard for Aang because since the beginning the cornerstone of his character has been that he doesn't want his destiny. He doesn’t want to be the Avatar, he doesn’t want that responsibility, and when the world needed him most he ran away. He doesn’t want to save the world, he just wants to be a normal person. But Aang can’t because of his responsibility to the world. And then things start looking down again. Long Feng is put in prison, but the Dai Li make a point of telling him they are still loyal to him and him alone. Three Kyoshi Warriors arrive at the king’s palace only for the audience to discover they’re actually Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee in disguise. The letter sent by Toph’s mother turns out to be a trap and she is apprehended by two men who seek to return her to her parents and collect a reward. They place her inside a metal box, which she can’t bend her way out of as earth benders can’t manipulate metal. While on break from the king's war council meeting Katara visits the Jasmine Dragon and finds Zuko’s waiting tables. Fearing that her old enemy is still trying to capture Aang, she goes to notify the false Kyoshi warriors. That doesn’t work out very well for her. She’s captured and Azula now has the information of her brother’s whereabouts. The princess forms an alliance with Long Feng to overthrow the Earth King together, imprisons Katara, and arranges for her brother and uncle to be invited to serve tea at the royal palace. Meanwhile, Aang has a vision that Katara’s in trouble and leaves the Eastern Air Temple before he’s finished training with Guru Pathik. He takes Appa to pick up Sokka who leaves at Hakoda’s behest that he must go help save his sister and the Earth Kingdom. Sokka decides to do the right thing rather than stay and spend time with his father after so long apart, the two water tribesmen tearfully say goodbye to each other. Toph breaks free of her metal prison by bending her way out. That’s right, Toph Beifong created a whole new style of bending. Aang and Sokka pick her up and the three of them travel back to Ba Sing Se.
Meanwhile, in Ba Sing Se, Azula is sinking her claws into the Dai Li by instilling both loyalty and fear in them. Soon after “Mushi” and “Lee” arrive at the palace and before long are surrounded by the Dai Li. When confronted by Azula the older man uses his fire breathing move to distract them and get away while Zuko decides to stop running from his sister and prepares to fight her. While Iroh flees the scene his nephew attempts to challenge the princess to an Agni Kai but is captured by the Dai Li immediately. When the Gaang arrives in the city they beseech King Kuei for information about Katara’s whereabouts, but the king, not knowing about her capture at the hands of Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, thinks that she went home after the council meeting. The three protagonists go back to their house and find it empty. Then Iroh arrives and asks them for help finding his nephew as he may be held in the same location as their friend. Despite Iroh being their former enemy the Gaang decides to help him as it's their only hope of finding Katara. Meanwhile, it turns out that Iroh was right about the Zuko and Katara being held at the same location. In an underground cave lit by crystals Katara is very much not enjoying his company. She’s fully prepared to fight him but Zuko rebuffs her as he does not want to fight. Katara lashes at him, blaming the disgraced prince for all the Fire Nation has taken from her. Including her mother. Zuko says that’s something that he and Katara have in common. This softens her somewhat. For so long Katara only saw Zuko as the embodiment of all her suffering at the hand of the Fire Nation, but now she realizes that he’s suffered too. While Toph and Sokka go to warn King Kuei of the coup, Iroh and Aang travel to the cave. Outside of the palace Toph and Sokka see the Dai Li arresting all of the council members thereby overthrowing them. The two of them fight their way into the palace against Mai and Ty Lee. Inside they are treated to an even more gruesome sight of Azula sitting on the throne holding the king hostage. They surrender and Ty Lee chi blocks the two of them, thereby disabling them. They are escorted to the Dai Li’s prison in the catacombs. Long Feng arrives at the scene and orders the Dai Li to arrest Azula, but they refuse as they no longer serve him. Their loyalties lie with Azula and the Fire Nation now. Long Feng thought that he was manipulating Azula but in reality she was manipulating him. She declares that being a royalty unlike Long Feng gives the divine right to rule and claims Ba Sing Se as hers. He surrenders and mournfully muses that she beat him at his own game. Azula tells Long Feng not to flatter himself; he was never even a player. And so with that the season’s main antagonist reigns triumphant after conquering Ba Sing Se, a feat the rest of her nation failed to do for over a hundred years.
While traveling underground Iroh notices that the young air bender is troubled and asks what’s on his mind. Aang confides in Iroh that he was unable to master the Avatar state because he couldn’t give up his worldly attachments. He reassures him that power is overrated and that he was very wise to choose love instead. Meanwhile Katara apologizes to Zuko and says that for so long that she saw only the face of her enemy when she looked at him. He turns away dejectedly thinking she meant his scar. His scar that once symbolized his banishment and his supposed destiny of capturing the Avatar. Katara tells him that she could use her water from the spirit oasis that Master Pakku gave her to heal his scar, thereby symbolically giving the dishonored prince a clean slate. Zuko allows her to put her hand to his scar and begin the healing process before they are interrupted by Aang and Iroh. Thrilled to see her friend, Katara rushes over to Aang and wraps her arms around him, while Iroh makes his way over to Zuko and bestows an embrace upon him as well. The prince and the Avatar exchange a few withering glares before Aang and Katara leave to go help Toph and Sokka. Zuko becomes angry at his uncle for helping the Avatar and Iroh responds by telling him that he must make a decision. He is a better man now, stronger and wiser than ever before but he must decide. Zuko stands at the crossroads of destiny, unsure what to do next. Then his sister shows up. She says that she expected this sort of treachery from Iroh, but not from her brother. She feeds him tales of how this is the most glorious day in Fire Nation history, and that if he joins her, Zuko will gain back his father's love and honor. Iroh begs Zuko to not listen to Azula, telling him that the kind of redemption Azula is offering is not the redemption for him, but Azula says that they will only win if he joins her. She goes to chase after Aang and Katara, leaving her brother to ponder his options. A battle ensues between the three of them while Toph uses her metal bending to break her, Sokka and the king out of their prison cell. Back on the surface he insists they save Bosco, to which his rescuers reluctantly agree. They head to the throne room where they are greeted by a characteristically bored Mai and peppy Ty Lee. They allow them to leave with the bear because Mai’s bored of watching him and Ty Lee can’t control the animal. Continuing their parallel, the protagonist and antagonist are each given a choice. For Zuko; whether to attack Aang and by extension betray Iroh and everything he’s taught him so he can return home to the Fire Nation with Azula for the slight chance that his father might restore his honor, or choose his uncle and a better life as a better person. Zuko chooses the former, both due to Azula’s manipulations and his misplaced loyalty to his father and the Fire Nation. For Aang; give up the last of his worldly tethers and fully enter the Avatar state, or refuse to give up the love he feels for Katara and his friends. Aang chooses the latter, but fortunately, he’s able to activate the Avatar state in order to save Katara from Azula. Aang chose love and Zuko chose power. But then Azula kills the former by using lightning bending. After their triumph, Zuko worries that his father might not restore his honor thereby making his decision void. But Azula tells her brother that he did well today and their father will recognize that. The Gaang plus King Kuei and Bosco flee the city on Appa. Katara is able to revive Aang by healing him using her spirit water. The season ends as she holds him in her arms. Now this might not be the best moment to talk about feminism but I would be remiss if I didn’t call to attention the fact that Aang’s fate was decided by two women. Azula killed Aang because it would be in her and her nation’s best interest for him to die. Katara brought him back to life because of both her love for him and because of the good that he is destined to do for the world. While the finale included two major male characters being forced to make tough decisions, it also featured two major female characters deciding to take action themselves.
Avatar at its core it’s a show just about men or a show just about women; it’s a story about people and choices and the harsh reality of war. It’s a story about how people being hurt by corrupt systems can be very corrupt themselves.
Personally, I found more than a few similarities between the extremist methods of the Dai Li and police brutality in America. Both organizations were created with the noble intention of keeping the peace, but over time they became corrupt and violent. The Dai Li’s brainwashing is essentially government propaganda taken to extremes. In conclusion; this was a fantastic season. Every little detail worked so well together. Avatar: The Last Airbender is available on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Prime, if you enjoyed season one, I highly recommend continuing.