ATLA Episode Reviews – 204-206
Airspeed Prime back once again with some ATLA episode reviews. I took a break from these last week to give myself the time to do a review of The Promise Part 3, but now these will be back to being a weekly thing.
This time the 3 episodes I will be reviewing are: 204 The Swamp, 205 Avatar Day and 206 The Blind Bandit
204 The Swamp
Written by: Tim Hedrick
Directed by: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: April 14th 2006
The Swamp, an episode filled with mystery and spirituality. It is a bit of an oddly placed episode coming directly after such a plot important episode like 203, but it plays a very important role in terms of character development and keeping the plot going forward, add to this the wonderfully insightful scene with Huu at the end and it all makes for a great episode.
I will start with what is just a small part at the start and end of the episode, that being Zuko and Iroh’s section of the story. We see what a bad position to two are in, no money and no allies, so they are forced to beg and perform for money. The interesting thing here is the contrast between Zuko and Iroh, while Iroh has no problem and in fact embraces the chance to perform, Zuko’s pride and want to keep some sense of his royal heritage means he refuses to join in and hates every second of this. ¬†Iroh’s people skills and infectious personality draw people in and they do actually make money, but when a swordsman humiliates Iroh, Zuko has had enough despite Iroh having no problem as he did earn money from the man. It is then we see the return of The Blue Spirit as Zuko attacks the swordsman and steals his swords, which starts Zuko on a path of stealing to help himself and Iroh. This scene is also notable because we get to hear that stunning song that is “It’s A Long Long Way To Ba Sing Se” thanks to a stirring rendition from Iroh.
I suppose the next part of the episode to cover is the various mysteries in this episode, the first and most unresolved one is “Where on earth did the tornado come from?” Not even Huu knows about it and it does appear again in the comic “Divided We Fall” this may just be part of the fact that the Swamp seems to have the power to draw people into it as shown when a Zoned out Aang steers Appa down to it. My guess is that the Swamp needed to show Aang, Katara and Sokka their visions to aid their journey, with Everything being connected as a theme of this episode and the show as a whole this makes sense….kind of, though I would like an explanation.
Next has to be a property of the swamp that is explained, that being it’s ability to show people in it visions of the past and in Aang’s case, future. These visions that Aang, Sokka and Katara have are a key part of the episode that presents us important issues for these characters. For Katara she has a vision of her Mother, with this we see from Katara something we have not really seen before, how big the loss of her mother was to her, we know that she was dead in like episode 1, but the impact it had on Katara has not been touched on, ¬† because Katara is such a strong character. But here we see her feel about her mother, the sheer joy that she feels when she thinks her mother is there is clear to see, she is crying tears of joy and when it turns out to be just an illusion, she breaks down into tears of despair on her knees, this was so important to show, that the loss of her mother was a huge event in Katara’s life, a much needed and well done scene. Then Sokka’s vision deals with something not yet addressed from him, how he feels now after Yue’s sacrifice in the Northern Water Tribe. His vision is of Yue who tells Sokka that he did not protect her, but this is how he feels about what happened not her, why is this so important for Sokka you may ask, because his father also tasked him with a mission of protecting, in that case his sister and tribe, so for him to fail at protecting someone really affects him. Then we come to Aang’s vision, we later learn that this is Toph, who will become Aang’s earthbending teacher, but in the vision she looks nothing like an Earthbender, she is dressed in fancy clothes and is mischievous, Aang is ultimately led back to his friends as they talk about their visions. Which itself is a good scene as Sokka’s scepticism comes out again as he tries not to take the vision seriously, but admits that he thinks about Yue a lot, but the group realises there visions are leading them though the swamp.
Leading off of this has to be when Aang, Sokka and Katara after a confrontation with Huu and his plantbending, realise they are not enemies and sit down with Huu to talk about the swamp. He was after them because Sokka was hacking up the swamp with his machete, Huu reveals that he too was called to the swamp and then achieved enlightenment under the banyan tree which is at the centre of the swamp and is the focus of the swamps mystical properties. Huu stresses to the group and Aang specifically that everything and one is connected, just like the swamp is just one tree spread out.
“Sure. You think you’re any different from me? Or your friends? Or this tree?If you listen hard enough you can hear every living thing breathing together, you can feel everything growing. We’re all livin’ together, even if most folks don’t act like it. We all have the same roots, and we are all branches of the same tree.”
It is a powerful line that even makes you yourself think, which for a show to be able to make you think so deeply about something like this is huge and shows that there is so much more to this show than humour and bending, it can deal with more serious and spiritual topics well. In the end this is kind of the theme of the whole show, as Aang ultimately gains allies from all nations and together – connected they bring balance to the world and this theme even continues into “The Promise” with the idea of the 4 nations being connected a big thing.
“In the swamp we see visions of people we’ve lost, people we love¬†folks we think are gone. But the swamp tells us they’re not.¬†We’re still connected to’em. Time is an illusion, and so is death.”
Lines like add to the depth of this show in that the show can teach you these life lessons, how to get over grief and a reminder that death =/= gone forever, that is powerful stuff and from a Nick show. Aang even uses this newly learned lesson to locate Appa and Momo, everything is connected and so through the swamp he connects to them and locates them.
I suppose the last thing is just the newly introduced tribe of The Foggy Swamp Tribe, another water tribe unknown to the north or south, nor do they seem to know of the other tribes themselves. It is interesting to note the history of this tribe, in that they originate from the SWT thousands of years ago and stayed in the swamp because of all the water, which I suppose adds to the already interesting history of the water tribes, in that the Southern Tribe originally came from the north, so all tribes have their origins in the north. Their unique bending style and culture makes them very interesting and by Korra time it will be very interesting to how they adapt to new technology.
Overall this is a great episode, that delves into our main character’s issues and they all learn an important lesson from a new tribe. Some deep themes and odd mysteries also add to this episode. ¬†Only negative would be some unexplained things.
Favourite Moment/¬†When Huu explains to Aang that everything is connected, such a deep scene.
Favourite Line/¬†”Sure. You think you’re any different from me? Or your friends? Or this tree?If you listen hard enough you can hear every living thing breathing together, you can feel everything growing. We’re all livin’ together, even if most folks don’t act like it. We all have the same roots, and we are all branches of the same tree.” – Huu
205 Avatar Day
Written by: John O’Bryan
Directed by: Lauren Macmullan
Animated By: DR Movie
First Aired: April 28th 2006
Avatar Day, this episode has a bit of everything that makes Avatar great. Humour, randomness, bending and in this case a stand out part of the episode, a look into the life of a past Avatar in Kyoshi. It covers some interesting issues with Chin Village’s hate of the Avatar while still being one of the funniest episodes of the show.
I will begin with Avatar Kyoshi and that section of the Avatar, probably one of podcast co-host, Callum’s favourite scenes with the issue of fish killing that it brings up. More on that in a moment. Without this part of the episode, I do not think it would be anywhere near as good as it actually is, anything about the past in Avatar, especially the past of another Avatar is just a huge moment in Avatar, this is no exception. I love how a big moment in Kyoshi’s time as the Avatar comes into play here in Chin Village to hinder Aang and friends. Kyoshi is put in a similar situation to Aang at this moment with a tyrant taking over the world, she confronts Chin the conqueror at the peninsula that links her village to the main land and to save her people separates her people from Chin’s control, in the process killing many, many fish and Chin is also killed as he refuses to move from a crumbling ledge (What did he think would happen !!!!!), this plays a role in the series finale in the way different Avatar’s deal with conflict, Kyoshi confronted Chin and despite it being an accident would have ended him regardless, Aang would never have done that. Nice to see different personalities between the Avatars. This is also the story of the formation of Kyoshi Island, which is just an amazing way of giving that Island seen in episode 4 more story than just being a place they visited. Kyoshi actually appears to the present day Chin Village and confesses to killing Chin and this presents Aang with having to deal with something he had nothing to do with, he is going to be boiled in oil for something that happened before he was born, the village blame Aang for Kyoshi’s actions and in the end he shows them that he is different by saving the town from the rough rhinos, who immediately afterwards quickly change their tune and celebrate Aang.
Speaking of the citizens of Chin Village, and especially Mayor Tong, they are absolute idiots. They do not even know the history of their own village, how do they not know that Chin was a conqueror. Then you have their justice or rather “just-us” system which as shown by the prisoners that Aang meets are actually just normal guys who more than likely did not even do anything, it is so over the top that it is funny how silly they are, they decide punishments by spinning a wheel which includes on the same wheel, community service or……being EATEN BY SHARKS, that is a huge difference in severity of punishment to be decided by luck. The whole village is played this way on purpose to make you dislike them and set up Sokka’s line at the end of the episode about it being the worst village ever. You just love seeing Tong cower in fear with his village as they are forced to beg Aang and his friends who they have treated terribly to save them. It was an interesting thing to do, having a non fire nation town that hates the Avatar, completely unexpected and they give them a reason which adds into the plot here, great. I hope at some stage someone goes to that town and knocks some sense into them.
Sleuth Sokka and his assistant
watson Katara, this was great in the episode, Sokka loses his Boomerang at the start of the episode and thinks it defines his identity and so when he sees a chance to be a detective with Aang’s situation, he jumps on it so hard with Hat, monocle and A BUBBLE PIPE!!!, it is so well done with his interaction with Katara. She tries to assist Sokka in investigating, but ends up stealing a lot of Sokka’s limelight, which Sokka humourously points out,
“Special outfit, hat and pipe, do these things mean anything to you?”
Not to mention the great scene when Katara is about to blurt out the answer and Sokka smashes her out of the way to say it himself and Katara just smashes him over the head with the pipe for being so rude. Lovely interaction.
I have to mention the scene between Aang and the prisoners. They look and sound like hardened criminals when they first see Aang, even complimenting him on some stereotypical criminal traits, shaved head and tattoos. But when they start to talk to him, they are just normal guys, even with completely unexpected personalities like being very sensitive and giving Aang love advice
Prisoner 1: Hey! You’re smart, handsome, funny, not to mention you’re the Avatar.
Aang:¬†You guys are great.
Prisoner 3:¬†¬†Don’t be afraid to tell her how you feel.
You do wonder what they did to get thrown in prison, they clearly got lucky on the Wheel of Punishment
The Zuko and Iroh side of the story is very much a part 2 to what happens with them in the previous episode. Zuko has stolen a lot of stuff for them, money, food and fancy teapots. Iroh never gets angry at him for stealing it, but rather explains to Zuko that he does not care for living the rich life, and that “There is a simple honour in poverty”, but again Zuko needs his father to give him his honour back and tells Iroh he needs the Avatar for his honour. What happens next is so important for Zuko as a character and tells Iroh something important about Zuko, he explains to Zuko that capturing Aang now would not solve their problems given their standing with the Fire Nation and current situation, Zuko says that he has no hope to which Iroh epicly answers,
“No, Zuko! You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts.¬†In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
He tells Zuko to not give up hope and remain strong, but Zuko takes this very much literally and decides to go off on his own, this is a huge moment for Zuko’s character. He is in such a state of mind that he wants to leave his Uncle who has supported and helped him for so long. What is even more interesting is that Iroh realises that Zuko does need to go off on his own and give himself hope and find his inner strength, realise that he can survive without the need to capture Aang. The moment where Iroh breaks the silence by giving Zuko the Ostrich Horse was all that was needed to show Iroh’s support and acknowledgement of Zuko needing this. So well done in a small part of the episode.
I guess a final note would be that we do return to Kyoshi Island and get numerous 104 references, Foamy returns and foams for no reason, Koko wants to know where Aangy is, Oyaji has much respect for them as seen at the end of 104 and Sokka likes Suki and is overly eager to see her. Even adding to Suki’s character by the group having such an impact on her by their visit that she wants to help out with the war.
Overall a fantastic episode that is funny, epic and has some great continuity moments. One of the funniest episodes of the show, right up there with 105, and 317.
Favourite Moment/¬†Kyoshi telling the story of her conflict with Chin
Favourite Line/¬† “I created Kyoshi Island¬†so my people could be safe from invaders.” – Kyoshi
206 The Blind Bandit
Written by: Mike
Directed by: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: May 5th 2006
The Blind Bandit, what can I say about this episode, other than it is utterly amazing. This is the episode that introduces Toph, and it is just a fantastic character focus on her and really explains why she eventually joins the group, but there is a lot more to this episode than the conclusion of Toph joining the group, it introduces a “sport” and tells us about Toph’s life before meeting the group.
Aang finding an Earthbending teacher comes right back to the forefront this episode as he first attempts to learn from Master Yu, who you would expect to just be a random character who badly attempts to teach Aang earthbending and never appear again, but this is Avatar and Master Yu becomes a minor character for this book, but more on that later. This failure once again stresses that Aang needs a certain type of teacher to learn effectively. ¬†The group eventually head to Earth Rumble 6 to see some high quality Earthbending and here we see WWE Wrestling Avatar Style, with many pro wrestlers clearly homaged with Mick Foley even voicing the Boulder while homaging his former tag team partner The Rock. Great references behind the scenes here. Now with Korra in mind Earth Rumble takes on a different role, as the origin of Bending as a spectator sport and possibly where the idea of Pro Bending came from.
The actual fights are great and we see a lot of styles, but most of them the usual strong and rooted style we know as Earthbending, so when Toph as The Blind Bandit makes her appearance the atmosphere and style change is clear to see, when her fight with The Boulder is starting the two trade insults to get the crowd on their side, Toph can hold her own with ease against the muscles of The Boulder, but when the fight starts she shows exactly why she would make the perfect teacher for Aang, because she is blind she has to wait and listen, but through her feet and her connection to the earth itself. The way that this is visually shown to us is amazing, the vibrations can be seen and they make it clear exactly what is going through her head, she feels The Boulders starting stance when he steps down and reacts to this in a way an eartbender with sight would not be able to do so easily or quickly. Just amazing in every way, they instantly make you love this tough little blind girl, and the best part is that no one except her parents even treat her differently because of her blindness. Avatar does this so well, her bending is one of her senses and makes her the bender she is, wow.
This is all great so far for Toph, she is tough and unique, but what makes her such a great character is when Aang and friends go to visit her and end up eating a meal with her family, she is hiding the extent of her bending abilities from her parents and pretending to learn from Master Yu slowly. Add to that the fact that her parents treat her like she is completely helpless and frail, they do not understand her. Her true feelings come out when Aang and Toph take a walk in the garden, she explains to Aang how she “sees” with earthbending and how she joined Earth Rumble to get away from her parents always thinking she was helpless and keeping her locked away, no one even knows that the Bei Fong’s have a daughter which tells you all you need to know. Because of this Toph has never had a real friend and when Aang offers her the chance to come with them, she wants to grasp it instantly, but her parents have told her so much that she is helpless that she does not believe that is for her. It is amazing character development in the episode she is introduced in and makes any decision she makes later on in the episode huge.
She and Aang are captured and held for ransom, Toph’s parents just see this as an example of her being helpless and pay the ransom leaving Aang and his friends with no way to get him out. As Toph leaves with her parents she is presented with a huge decision, leave them fend for themselves and live the life her parents have planned out for her or help, show her parents she is not helpless and defend the only people who have treated her as an equal….a friend. She chooses friends and takes down everyone amazingly, blowing Master Yu’s mind, but just scaring her parents as they are unable to see Toph as anything but a small blind girl. It tells so much that when her parents refuse to see the real Toph and won’t let her go with Aang that she begins to cry at having to say goodbye to Aang, for a character who seconds before took down multiple powerful earthbenders to have a reaction like this shows how well this show can do characters.
In the end there is not a whole lot else to this episode, it introduces Toph and everything related to her extremely well. So the last thing to discuss would just be the end of the episode, Toph goes against her parents wishes and lies to Aang and friends (though they know it is a lie) to join them and teach Aang Earthbending, happy just to have friends who treat her as an equal and get a chance to travel the world and be free. Her parents on the other hand think she has been kidnapped and hire both Master Yu and Xin Fu to track her down and bring her back. It is an unusual ending in that you really dislike her parents for their crippling lack of understanding or care for how their daughter feels, the interesting thing is that as of now we do not actually have any resolution on Toph’s relationship with her parents apart from some thoughts from Toph in Book 3, I hope this at some stage does get resolved.
Sokka adds so much humour to this episode with the bag he buys and then the Earth Rumble 6 belt, WHICH MATCHES! I loved him being the stereotypical wrestling fan screaming his head off at the rumble and then a perfect intro of Toph in the group of her earthbending Aang into the air to win back the belt.
I should also mention here that Zuko and Iroh do not appear in this episode, I love this choice, Zuko made his big decision last episode and instead of an instant reveal of what is happening with him we get a break to ponder it a break before an episode that is just about Zuko and his thoughts. A good decision to have 2 episodes focusing just on one plot, this on Toph and next episode on Zuko. In this case having a break from the group makes us wonder how Toph will integrate in. Clever writing.
Overall a perfect character introduction episode, this time for a main character, it gives us every side of Toph’s personality and just makes you absolutely love her just as much as the other main characters, all in this one episode. In my opinion the best episode showing one of the things Avatar does so well, character introductions.
Favourite Moment/¬†Aang and Toph’s scene as they walk through the garden. Yes, one of those sincere and honest moments I love between characters.
Favourite Line/¬†”I see with earthbending. It’s kind of like seeing with my feet. I can feel the vibrations in the earth, and I can see where everything is. You, that tree, even those ants” – ¬†Toph
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