Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: Book Two—”The Avatar State,” “The Cave of the Two Lovers”
No one has ever deserved a flower crown more.
The second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender starts us off with some new drama and a new character, Zuko’s sister Azula. This is my Tigh from Battlestar Galactica moment. Readers. Friends. I think I’m in love.
The Avatar State
But before we get to Azula (*grumble grumble*), Aang’s having a dream where he’s watching himself in his Avatar state, and booooooy is the doppelgäanger angry.
The next morning, it’s time for Master Paku (who’s going to the South Pole Water Tribe) and Team Avatar (on their way to Omashu so Aang can learn earthbending from King Bumi) to part ways. As a going-away present, he gives Katara a pendant with water from the Funky Spirit Oasis. CHEKOV’S JEWELRY. To Aang he gives waterbending scrolls, though he warns they’re no substitute for a real master—meaning Katara. Everybody always comes around to Team Katara. Sokka gets a pat on the shoulder.
Meanwhile, after spending three weeks on a raft with no food or water, Iroh and Zuko have made their way to what’s technically a village but looks like a spa. Naturally, Iroh’s digging it. Even more naturally, Zuko’s sitting around in his new comfy clothes being all grumpy, because it’s the third anniversary of his banishment. Iroh tries to comfort him, but his pep talk—at least your dad cared enough to banish you!—doesn’t go over particularly well.
She’s leading a ship of soldiers to capture Zuko and Iroh, whom she says have brought disgrace to Fire Lord Ozai. You might be inclined to hesitate, she tells her peons, what with the fugitives being part of the royal family and all. But if you do, I will “not hesitate to bring you down.” She also threatens to kill a guy for saying they can’t dock their ship yet because of the tides, because who commands the ship, me or the tides, huh? HUH?! WHAT NOW, PUNK?!??!
Oh, and she’s a lightning bender.
Back to Team Avatar, which has met up with the Earth Kingdom’s General Fong, who’s going to escort them to Omashu. At first he seems like a nice guy, welcoming Aang, Katara, and Sokka as heroes and showering them with praise. But he has an ulterior motive: Instead of Aang continuing his training, he wants him to learn how to go into his Avatar state voluntarily. The sooner Aang fights Fire Lord Ozai, the sooner the war can be over.
Aang, still feeling guilty over being on ice for 100 years, agrees to his plan. Katara objects, reminding him of things like “practice” and “discipline.” “The Deserter” was four episodes ago, meathead. Always listen to Katara. We know this. I do love, however, how their differing opinions isn’t mined for drama. Aang and Katara each think the other is wrong, but they each respect each other enough not to make their disagreement personal.
It’s a moot point for a while, as none of the tactics Aang, Fong, and Sokka try to release Aang’s Avatar state work. This happens, though:
Eventually, Katara sits Aang down for a heart-to-heart about how seeing him in his Avatar state before was a really scary experience. She’s seen what it’s like, and it ain’t pretty. After another dream sequence of the doppelgäanger, Aang realizes that Katara was right all along. Thank you. He wakes Sokka up to tell him about his epiphany, and instead of arguing just says “Yeah, OK. Avatar knows best. I’m going back to sleep now.”
Back to the
best worst family reunion ever. After an amazingly badass entrance (“What nice seashells I’ve been collect—OH SHIT, AZULA’s HERE.”), Azula informs her baby brother (whose childhood nickname was “Zuzu.” All my chuckles.) that their dad regrets banishing him and wants him to come home.
Oh, man. That’s evil. I love it. My favorite thing of all: Azula challenges Zuko, who’s in shock, about not being grateful enough, and then demands a thank you for schlepping all the way out to deliver the news. He preys on her little brother’s emotional issues and need for fatherly approval so she can trick him into turning himself in to a lifetime of imprisonment, and then she tries to guilt him into thanking her for it.
I love everyone in this bar!
Iroh rightly senses bullshit and reminds Zuko—who 100% believes Azula because he wants so much for her to be telling the truth—that A) Ozai’s never regretted anything a day in his life and B) our family is incredibly fucked up, so it might not be best to take Azula’s offer at face value. Zuko insists that his father really does care about him (ow) and lashes out at Iroh, accusing him of being a “lazy, mistrustful, shallow old man who’s always been jealous of his brother.”
In the end Iroh decides to go with Zuko, which gives me all sorts of feelings, because Iroh knows it’s a trap, but he’ll risk any fate to protect the kid whom he sees a son. And this is Zuko’s face when he sees Iroh is coming with him:
Azula’s plan almost works, too, but a numbnuts guard slips and refers to Iroh and Zuko as “the prisoners.” I’ve developed a headcanon in which that guard is secretly Zuko’s real father, and he’s been working behind-the-scenes to help his son out. Because there’s no way someone can be that stupid. The look of pain and betrayal on Zuko’s face needs no caption:
Iroh’s face, on the other hand…
And Azula ain’t even bothered—she answers Zuko’s “You lied to me!” with “Like I’ve never done that before” and sashays onto the ship so she can fight her brother while Iroh’s dealing with the guards.
Back in Aangtown, General Fong hasn’t taken the news that Aang’s not going to continue with Avatar state plan particularly well. To be specific, he figures that if the only way Aang can enter the state is if he’s in danger, he should put him in danger by siccing his men on him! There are not enough words in the English language to express how stupid this is. From the afterlife, Admiral Zhao is nodding and thinking to himself, “Yeah, that could work!”
Things are going pretty well for Aang until Sokka and Katara show up to defend him and get knocked out and taken hostage, respectively. Fong threatens to kill Katara if Aang doesn’t transform into the Avatar state. And there are tears in Aang’s eyes, he’s trying so hard to do what Fong wants. Fong earthbends Katara into the ground, making it look like he’s killed her, and FWOOM. AVATAR AANG. Fong reveals that Katara is alive and is all “Yeah! Awesome, buddy! Everything worked out! Let’s go kill Ozai.” Shockingly, that is not #1 on Aang’s mind right now.
Before Aang can cause anything more than property damage, Roku swoops in and takes his spirit out of his body so he can go all Yoda and tell him about the Avatar state. When Aang’s in Avatar state he’s pulling upon the power of every previous Avatar, so it means he’s more powerful, but it also means that if he’s killed while in his Avatar state, the cycle of reincarnation will be broken. Am I the only one who finds Roku a little bit hilarious? I imagine him chilling in the afterlife, eating Cheetos and playing poker, until he gets a vision that, shit, his future self is about to do something stupid. BRB, Abe Lincoln, don’t peek at my cards. C’mon, spirit dragon, we just have to go out for two minutes to stop Aang from ending the world, and then you can go back to watching your Real Housewives marathon. Aang, next time, is there a way I can e-mail you this life-saving information or…?
Roku’s handy-dandy FYI gets Aang back to normal, and Sokka nonchalantly reaches down from the duck-horse he’s riding on and bops Fong on the head.
They’ll go to Omashu by themselves, thanks.
While Aang’s been fighting earthbenders, Zuko’s been fighting his sister, and it’s fair to say she vastly outmatches him. She doesn’t even have to use lighting—she’s just dodging him. It’s also fair to say that this is in the top ten days of her life, because she is loving it when she tells Zuko that good ol’ dad considers him a “miserable failure” for not finding the Avatar and wants to lock him up so he won’t be an embarrassment to the family anymore. She goes in for the lightning strike, but Iroh redirects it and shoves Azula off the ship, giving him and Zuko a chance to escape.
The episode ends with Azula beginning her hunt for Zuko and Iroh in earnest, telling the spa village employees that anyone who harbors them will face the WRATH OF THE FIRE LORD. Zuko and Iroh, meanwhile, take out ceremonial daggers and cut their hair off. Is… is that it? Did it finally happen? Did Zuko just realize his dad is a fuckhead and cut off allegiance from him? Pleeeeease.
The Cave of Two Lovers
Ki-iiiiiiinda. You’ll get there, Zuko. I have faith in you.
Also, part of me wants to make this recap nothing but a dozen screencaps of Aang in a flower crown, because that happened. Aang predates all your flower crown faves. Sorry Athelstan, Podrick Payne, Will Graham. We have the OG right here:
But I should probably actually recap the episode, huh? We start with Katara giving Aang waterbending lessons—boy makes an adorable octopus, and he gets all flustered when Katara gets close to him, so we know that crush is still going strong—when they’re found by a band of stoners. Wait, “nomads.” But, really, surfer dude stoner hippies, led by this guy:
His name is Chong, and he and his traveling ukelele band immediately set about braiding Appa’s hair, giving everyone flower crowns, and talking about all the cool places they know. The wet blanket, now as always, is Sokka, who points out that they have no time for hippie-dippie bullshit, because they need to get to Omashu. Katara, though a bit more receptive to the stoners’ “It’s more about the journey than the destination” philosophy, agrees with Sokka, because the destination is pretty flipping important if it involves saving the world, after all. Then Chong informs Team Avatar of a shortcut to Omashu. THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF SONG.
Aang says that the secret tunnel sounds awesome and all, but Appa hates going underground, and they really like to do what makes him comfortable. Flash to Team Avatar steering him through a barrage of fiery death, and yeah, Appa’d really prefer to go underground on this one, please. So the tunnel it is.
Meanwhile, realizing he basically has no chance at ever regaining fatherly approval has made Zuko even more of a grumpy teen, of the “I WASN’T MEANT TO BE A FUGITIVE, I DON’T LIKE HAVING TO SCROUNGE FOR FOOD, THIS SUUUUUUUUCKS,” variety. Can’t say I blame him. I wasn’t exactly the least irritable when I was forced to go on camping trips as a teen (nature is gross), and I didn’t have Zuko’s abundance of issues to make me even pissier.
So Zuko’s being traditional Zuko, and Iroh’s being traditional Iroh: He sees a beautiful flower that either makes a nice cup of tea or is a deadly poison. He decides to give the tea thing a shot. Turns out it’s poison (oh, Iroh), so the duo heads to a nearby Earth Kingdom village to get treatment. If their true identities are discovered they could be killed, but if they head toward the Fire Nation Azula could find them, so it’s really a no-brainer. Also, this screencap is modern art:
Right before Team Avatar and the Stoners (great band name) head into the SECRET TUNNELLLLLL, Chong informs them that there’s a curse on the tunnel: Only those who trust in true love can make it through. Oh, and it’s also a maze. JSYK. There’s no time to reconsider flying to Omashu, though, as Fire Nation soldiers are right behind them with their tanks. Into the tunnel they go. But instead of deciding to follow Aang, the only kid who can defeat them, into the tunnel to capture him, the Fire Nation soldiers reason, “Heyyyy, haven’t you heard that song? We’ll just trap him in the tunnel and let the curse take care of it!” The Fire Nation thinks it’s so impressive, but really they’re the biggest dorks around.
Sokka’s determined to get the group to the other side by making a map, but that turns out to be less than useful when the tunnel walls start moving. They’re attacked by a wolf bat, Sokka accidentally burns Appa’s paw, Appa goes apeshit, and boom, part of the maze is brought down and Katara, Aang, and Appa have been separated from Sokka and Chong’s crew. Chong tries to cheer Sokka up by singing. It doesn’t work.
Zuko and Iroh have made their way to a nearby Earth Kingdom village, where the latter gets some much-needed medical assistance from a teenage girl named Song. Our merry Fire Nation fugitives are incredibly unsuave, slapping each other with awful fake names (Junior and Mushi) and, in Zuko’s case, dramatically declining a dinner offer. Only there’s food involved, so Iroh accepts on their behalf.
What follows is a poignant pair of scenes where Song and Zuko bond over how much it sucks to have the Fire Nation ruin your life. Of course, Song’s absent dad was abducted by the Fire Nation and Zuko’s is the Fire Lord himself, so it’s a liiiiiittle awkward. But the awkwardness is outweighed by the AAAAAAAANGST. Zuko looks so much like a kid here. It’s legitimately distressing.
Because Zuko’s not cured of his assholery quite yet, as he and Iroh leave, he steals Song’s duck horse thing. He seems to have accepted that his dad’s a major fuckwit, but he’s in that in-between zone where he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself yet. Also, when Song tells him not to lose hope because the Avatar’s back, he responds with an ominous “I know.” Zuzu, let it go. You cannot still be going after the Avatar.
Back in the labyrinth, Aang and Katara come across the tomb of the two lovers at the center of the legend of the secret tunnel, which also happens to be the earthbending origin story. Oma and Shu were your typical Romeo and Juliet couple, pulled apart by warring tribes, so they learned earthbending from the badger moles so they could make a SECRET TUNNELLLLLL in which to meet. Only the man, Shu, died in the war, so Oma lost her earthbending shit and told everyone to get along or so help me.
There’s a cryptic message in the tunnel about how “love is brightest in the dark,” so Katara figures if she and Aang kiss, it might help them get out somehow. Aang tries to play it cool and in the end makes Katara mad at him, because he’s as romantically un-smooth as you’d expect a 12-year-old to be. Eventually they do kiss, which lights up some crystals so they can find their way out.
Sokka, meanwhile, is attacked by GIANT BADGER MOLES. AMAZING.
Sokka and the stoners subdue them with the power of music, because badger moles love them some ukelele. They ride the badger moles out of the tunnel and meet up with Aang, Katara, and Appa. Before going off to wherever, Chong tells Sokka he hopes he learned a valuable lesson about not letting plans get in the way of the journey. Sokka’s not exactly in PSA mode, though, so he tells Chong to just GTFO and keep playing his songs. I am not impressed by you, you weirdo.
Turns out Umashu’s been attacked and occupied by the Fire Nation.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BUMI?!
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