Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: Book Two—”Return to Omashu,” “The Swamp”
What do teenage girls like? Martial arts? Bounty hunting?
Two episodes in, I didn’t think I could love Azula more than I already do. And then BAM!—a merry band of teenage girl thugs!
Return to Omashu
We left off last episode with Team Avatar discovering that Omashu has been taken over by the Fire Nation. Katara and Sokka both think they should get while the getting’s still good and find an Earthbending master elsewhere instead of striding into a Fire Nation city, but Aang’s determined to rescue his BFF King Bumi.
It’s pretty easy to sneak into the city: All they need to do is trek through a sewer. They do, and Sokka makes this face:
Sokka’s attacked by some baby octopus things, which leave marks on his face. It’s gross, but it’s also convenient when they’re found by Fire Nation guards, whom they manage to convince that Sokka has a completely fictional disease called Pentapox. Aang’s “Look at me, I’m so innocent!” expression doesn’t hurt, either.
From there we meet May, daughter of Omashu’s new governor, whose very first line is “There really is no fathoming the depths of my hatred for this place.” Essentially, she’s a bored and somewhat haughty teenage girl. OK, I like ‘er. Her parents, however, are portrayed as genuinely sweet people for all they’re Fire Nation lackeys, which is nice. The family is attacked by the Omashu resistance, but they get saved by Aang, who just wants everyone to stop killing everyone else, Jesus. Unfortunately, the guards think Aang, Sokka, and Katara launched the attack. A brief fight scene follows, in which May gets her knife throwing on. The real resistance shows up and rescues Team Avatar, after which May gives a sigh of “That was relatively entertaining, I guess. Now back to the unbearable monotony of my everyday existence.”
Meanwhile, Azula decides her hunt for Zuko and Iroh could use some stealth, so she ditches the royal procession and assembles a team. The first person she searches out is her childhood friend Ty Lee, a bubbly nobleman’s daughter who left behind the court lifestyle in favor of literally joining the circus. Ty Lee informs Azula that, for all she wants to help her—and you can tell she does, because actual lady villain friendship circle—she’s actually pretty fine where she is (“My aura’s never been pinker!”). Azula tells Ty Lee she respect her decision, but she wants to watch her show before she goes on her way.
Resistance leader Beardy tells Aang that King Bumi totally punked out when the Fire Nation attacked, just surrendering without even trying to fight back. Aang, though shocked and disappointed, realizes that maaaaaybe Bumi had a point with the whole “violence is not the answer” thing. Strategic retreat, in this case, could be better. If all the Earth Kingdom citizens in Omashu pretend to have Pentapox, they’ll be able to leave the city, regroup, and figure out what to do next. Sokka, Katara, and the resistance marshall the civvies, while Aang chooses to stay behind and look for Bumi.
It all works out perfectly, except for the part where the Governor’s baby son ends up leaving the city with the “plague”-ridden Omashu citizens. So, of course, the Governor assumes the resistance kidnapped his child, because they’re “so clever, so tricky, just like their king, Bumi!” Whatcha plannin’, Bumi? Whatcha plannin’? The governor proposes a trade: The kid for King Bumi, whom Aang has had no luck finding. But look who he did find…
Back to Azula, who cooly intimidates the circus ringmaster into setting Ty Lee’s safety net on fire and releasing wild animals while she’s balancing on a highwire. Maaaaan, that is some dick behavior toward your friend! After the performance, Ty solemnly informs Azula that “the universe has given me strong hints that it’s time for a career change,” so she’ll be happy to join her in her hunt for Iroh and Zuko.
(Rhetorical) question: Does Ty Lee know Azula, not “the universe,” was the one responsible for her last show being really dangerous? She has to, right? “The universe” doesn’t tell a circus attendant to light a net on fire, and Azula wasn’t exactly subtle. So either Ty Lee is incredibly, incredibly naïve about what her friend’s capable of, or she knows it was Azula and says “Yeah, OK” because that’s just how their friendship works. Teenage girl aristocrat BFFS who hunt down fugitives together and casually almost murder one another. Or at least Princess Azula’s down with threatening violence as a friendship exercise; I can’t imagine anyone else would be foolhardy enough to do the same.
Azula and Ty Lee roll into Omashu to collect the third member of their gang, May. We’ve seen that May’s personality isn’t exactly sparkling, but Ty Lee was pretty sweet… until she joined up with Azula, after which point she’s sweet and enjoys inflicting violence upon her enemies. It’s like getting within 20 feet of Azula causes people to harden up and smart evil smirking. This is me about the trio’s relationship dynamic:
Azula gives the governor hell for making a mess of things in Omashu and says “I’ll let your teenage daughter handle the hostage exchange instead, because she won’t fuck it up. BTW, I’m renaming this city New Ozai. Love ya, pops.” Meanwhile, Sokka is convinced that the hostage exchange is a trap, but Aang says he has a good feeling about it.
Of course, now that Azula’s running the show things do go pear-shaped for Our Heroes, since Azula doesn’t think baby-for-king is an equal exchange. May agrees, even though the baby is her brother. Aang escapes with Bumi, who’s been encased in this weird prison coffin, and Azula goes after them, leaving May and Ty Lee to fight Katara while Sokka escapes with the baby. This is the look on Aang’s face when he realizes, shit, I’m going up against an actual competent adversary this season:
Bumi helps Aang get away from Azula, while Katara and Sokka just barely defeat May and Ty Lee (the latter of whom I think has a Vulcan neck-pinch type move that temporarily turns off bending powers? LOVE.). Bumi explains the theory of “neutral jing” to Aang, which is basically hanging around and doing nothing until the perfect opportunity to act presents itself. Basically, YOU FUCKED IT UP BY TRYING TO RESCUE ME, AANG. YOU FUCKED IT ALL UP. I HAD EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL. Neutral jing is the secret to earthbending, meaning Aang will have to find someone who’s really good at it to train him. That won’t be Bumi, since he has to stay behind in his quasi-coffin and wait for his time to shine.
Before skipping town, Aang drops the baby off with his mom and dad all incognito-like, so they’ll never know it was the Fire Nation’s #1 enemy who saved their son’s life. Azula, Ty Lee, and May leave the city, determined to capture Zuko, Iroh, and Aang, whom they now know is the Avatar. Oh, and there’s some implied history between May and Zuko. Tell me more.
I found this episode a little dull, to be honest. It suffered from what came directly before it. No murder princess teenagers in this one, folks.
We start with a Zuko and Iroh scene, which is cool, but then no more Zuko and Iroh until the very end of the episode. Basically, now that they’re in hiding they have to beg for coins, which Elitist Little Prick Zuko objects to on the grounds that he’s the goddamned prince and people should be giving him whatever he wants. Needless to say, he doesn’t rake in the dough, but Iroh uses the power of puppy dog eyes and does pretty well. Then a complete and utter douche comes up to the duo and thinks in his little douche brain: “You know what I’m going to do? Humiliate an old homeless man.” He makes Iroh dance for a gold coin, and Zuko looks like he’s going to murder him.
Then, at the end of the episode, we see Zuko in his Blue Spirit mask chase the man into a dark alley and beat him up.
The pair of scenes isn’t much Zuko in terms of quantity, but quality-wise I think it’s incredibly important and also quite well-done, because it shows that Zuko’s transition from antagonist to protagonist (I assume) will be spurred not only by realizing his dad’s a dickweed, but also by a realization that there’s a whole wide world of justice out there. Last time we saw him he was emotionally affected by a complete stranger opening her home to him. This episode, he smacks down a bully who takes advantage of the weak. It’s a gradual process, but he’s finally coming into his own and realizing what he’s all about and who he wants to be.
And then there’s some shit with Team Avatar and a swamp. OK. Whatever.
They’re flying around when a giant swamp is all “Hey! Aang! Hey Aang hi!,” to which Katara, Sokka, Appa, and Momo respond “YEAH NO LET’S NOT LAND THERE.” Aang, respecting the fact that going into the swamp would make his companions hella uncomfortable (cupcake!), decides to keep going. Except than a tornado pops up and does a Scorpion GET OVER HERE!!!, causing Appa to crash into the swamp. There’s an odd b-plot where Appa and Momo, separated from their human companions, are hunted and almost eaten by some swamp rednecks. It’s… cute, I guess? But kind of pointless. The only thing I took away from it is that waterbenders can use their powers to create motorboats:
Sokka’s the guy in a haunted house movie who insists that their new digs aren’t haunted even when there’s blood running down the walls—he continues chopping down vines left, right, and center even though Aang and Katara point out maybe don’t do that, because there is something clearly weird about this forest. Normally I love your skeptical tendencies, but you were abducted by a giant panda forest spirit last season, Sokka. Tone down the Scully.
The creepy forest separates our central trio, each of whom see a vision of someone close to them. For Katara, that’s her mother. Once she realizes it’s only an illusion
she breaks down crying. For Sokka, it’s moon!Yue, who gives him shit for not protecting her. Aang sees a women in a fancy dress with a flying pig.
The visions lead the trio to a big-ass tree, where they’re attacked by a GIANT GREEN SWAMP MONSTER THING. Katara and Aang both kick some ass, and eventually they realize the GIANT GREEN SWAMP MONSTER THING is actually a bender named… Huu? He’s the Lorax of the swamp, basically. And he appears to be decent guy, even though he basically tried to kill Sokka for slicing up the swamp instead of maybe just… asking him not to do that? Just a thought. Anyway, Huu explains that the swamp is actually one giant tree, everything’s connected, the great circle of life, yada yada. Aang uses his newfound The Lion King knowledge to find Appa and Momo and rescue them from being eaten by the swamp rednecks. Everybody bonds over eating giant bugs. Slimy, yet satisfying.
Also, the tree is the one who sent our heroes their visions—for Katara and Sokka it was someone they lost, and for Aang it was someone he’s yet to meet. Which means we get MORE FLYING PIG, maybe? Yessssss. A flying pig is the subject of one of my favorite books growing up—I’m always down for more of them. The explanation that “the tree has magical powers [Sokka groaning in the distance] and showed you visions” doesn’t explain why moon!Yue guilt tripped Sokka for not saving her—we didn’t know Yue for long, but I’m 99% sure she wouldn’t do that. So the swamp’s just a dick, basically.
Sokka ends the episode insisting that there’s nothing magical about the swamp at all—the visions were just hallucinations, and the tornado was because… because weather happens sometimes. Yeah.
That episode felt pointless to me. Aang actually makes progress next time? Maybe?
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