ATLA Episode Reviews 207-209
Airspeed Prime here once again to present you with the next 3 ATLA episode reviews. Next week will be 4 episodes same with the week after and then finally the last 3 episodes the week after that.
The episodes that I will be reviewing today are: 207 Zuko Alone, 208 The Chase and 209 Bitter Work.
207 Zuko Alone
Written by: Elizabeth Welch Ehasz
Directed by: Lauren MacMullan
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: May 12th 2006
Zuko Alone, after Zuko not appearing in the last episode he gets an episode all to himself and finally in Book 2 is the absolute focus of an episode. The wait is so worth it as this is such a tremendous look at his character and also into his past, you really do get a sense of what is going through his head as we see many aspects of his character come to the forefront in this episode. This is going to be an awkward one to structure as it is just one long story with some flashbacks, so excuse me if points are a bit all over the place.
I think my first point about this episodes has to be about this episode only having Zuko as a main character. We at last get to see Zuko on his own away from Iroh and his advice and see how Zuko handles being on his own. It is the direct follow up to Zuko leaving Iroh in Avatar Day, so we have Zuko in the mindset of needing to give himself hope in what he sees as a hopeless situation. He has no chance of going after Aang and he is now an enemy of the Fire Nation, to Zuko in this episode he has nothing and no direction. In my opinion this is what makes this such an amazing episode, what does Zuko do in this situation? We know from just a few episodes ago that he has resorted to stealing goods for himself and Iroh and we know that he has things in common with the Earth Kingdom citizens affected by the war. So in a way Zuko’s story so far in this book has been about the different steps forward and backwards in his development that he makes, you think at times he is going to change for the better only for him to do the opposite. In this episode we get to see where much of his experience in the Earth Kindgom so far has got him.
I think that is enough of a set-up for why this episode is important for Zuko, now onto what actually happens in the episode. Basically Zuko visits a town that is being bullied by the Earth Kingdom soldiers meant to guard it, he makes a connection with a a family and through this remembers the events that led up to the disappearance of his mother, Ursa. We get to see the side of Zuko that nearly came out with Song in 202 , the compassionate side, the side we know is who Zuko really is (as seen in 112 The Storm and the flashback to how Zuko got his scar, by caring for soldiers). He is at his lowest moment at the start of this episode, he has a tiny amount of money and cannot even afford a meal, a situation that we know from previous episodes would normally lead to Zuko stealing or another rash action. In this case something different happens, Lee throws eggs at the soldiers and then hides, the soldiers blame Zuko, but Zuko does not tell on Lee. Instead he stares down the soldiers and makes them back off and in return for his help, Lee invites Zuko back to his home, a good deed rewarded. We see Zuko be very nice to Lee, who is drawing out the good side of Zuko.
Another great moment would be when he arrives at Lee’s house and meets his parents, Sela and Gansu, they offer him a meal, but he refuses until Sela says he can work for it if he wants, shockingly Zuko agrees. The same Zuko that 3 episodes ago still wanted to be like a royal and have everything done for him has volunteered to do some hard manual labour. He is not that skilled at fixing the roof, but the effort and drive he puts into it shows that firebender in Zuko. Then his connection with Lee, it develops a bit more when Lee borrows Zuko’s swords to practise and Zuko helps him with the correct technique rather than scolding him for taking them, Lee looks up to Zuko in place of his brother, Sensu, who is in the war.
It is the connection to the family from Zuko that makes this episode. He sees something in Lee and even gives him his knife with the “Never give up without a fight” inscription. More than that, he had a chance to leave after the soldiers reveal what happened to Sensu and then when Lee is taken, but when Sela comes to him for help, he agrees to help and goes after the soldiers. It is the good side of Zuko coming out, Zuko’s need to help the “little guy” given how things went for him as always being inferior to Azula. I will get to the end scene of the present story after I talk about the crucial flashbacks.
Throughout the episode as Zuko interacts with this family being affected by the war, he remembers the events that badly affected his own family. The points where these flashback happen are so well placed.
For me what these flashbacks to Zuko’s life 5 years ago show that is so important is how fractured and split the royal family is. The family was together before this as we know from 305 The Beach and also The Promise Part 2, so we see these moments which are only a few years later and you wonder what happened. We assume that Ozai chose Azula as his favourite once Zuko and Azula first started to bend, with Azula being a prodigy and Zuko struggling a lot. This again we assume led to Ozai focusing his attention on Azula and ignoring Zuko as he was a “failure”, this in turn would lead to Ursa focusing more on Zuko and their connection growing. Overall just splitting the family in two, that is clear to see in these memories. We see that Azula even at this young age manipulates her mother to get Zuko to play with her, Azula seems to have little respect for Ursa and in turn Ursa has to be harsh with Azula over her cruel behaviour (caused by Ozai’s influence).
It is this flashback that shows us many moments that are referenced in later episodes. We see here why Azula’s only issue is related to her mother and their lack of connection, why Azula and Zuko don’t get on, MAIKO’s orgins, why Iroh abandoned the Ba Sing Se Siege why Ursa is missing and how Ozai got the throne over his older brother, Iroh. ¬†So many crucial moments are seen in this episode. Like how Iroh is the starting point for Zuko learning how to use swords, the knife he sends Zuko clearly gives Zuko an interest in learning another fighting style given his struggle with Firebending.
I have to give a separate paragraph to Ursa’s disappearance and what leads up to it. Iroh’s son, Lu Ten, is killed in the battle for Ba Sing Se which leads to Iroh abandoning a 600 day siege which then leads to Ozai then requesting that he be given the birthright to the throne. This shows some of Ozai’s jealousy of his brother, which may also explain why he gives Azula the birthright over Zuko, both are the second born of their family. Azulon then punishes Ozai for his lack of compassion by telling Ozai to kill his first born, Zuko. This scene is so intense, showing the cruelty of another firelord. There are too many great scenes to talk about, Azula’s delight in telling Zuko that he is going to be killed and then the last time Zuko sees his mother,
“Zuko, please, my love, listen to me. Everything I’ve done,¬†I’ve done to protect you. Remember this, Zuko. No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are.” – Ursa
This is a very powerful scene, Ursa has done or been blamed for something to protect her son and says her final goodbye. Zuko is only half awake and it doesn’t hit him until later what actually happened, it is so tragic. So when Ozai is crowned Fire Lord and Zuko is there petrified for his future without the only parent who really cared for him, you just feel so much for Zuko, while Azula is loving every second. We have seen the events that turned Zuko’s life upside down, and when you keep in mind that he did stay true to himself and only a few years later spoke out against the plan that ultimately led to him being scarred you see how strong Zuko is.
How this scene and what Ursa says plays into the final scene in the present day is also a brilliant moment. Zuko confronts Gow and the other soldiers and a fight erupts, Zuko easily dispatches the other men, leaving just Gow vs Zuko. Gow is too powerful for Zuko with his earthbending, but when he hits Zuko, triggering that final flashback, Zuko takes his mothers advice to heart. He realised that despite being an enemy of the Fire Nation he is still the Prince and proceeds to Firebend and beat Gow, ¬†the problem is that everyone knows he was banished and scarred and just think of him as even more of an enemy than Gow. You feel for Zuko, but at the same time realise that he made an error announcing his true identity like that, in a way the town show him that that is not who he is any more with how they treat him. Even Lee hates Zuko now, showing the legacy that the Fire Nation has given all of it’s citizens because of the actions of Sozin, Azulon and Ozai. In the end Zuko leaves still unsure, and it is difficult to know what is going through his mind and shows us as viewers how confused he is, he does not know what is true path is, beyond now that he cannot just be the Prince in the open, though he now realises the effect the war has on others.
Overall a fantastic character focus episode, my only negative would be that it is very hard to tell what Zuko learned from this episode or why he makes the decision to reveal to the town he is the prince. Are the writers just adding to Zuko’s confusion or did he learn something here, it is just not clear enough what Zuko gains from this episode, I would love to see some comments about this below. Otherwise it is great, the flashbacks tell us so much about all the royal family, while still providing mystery (Ursa’s fate lingers on, The Search comics will most likely resolve this).
Favourite Moment/ Everything about Zuko helping the family and earning meals, I though this was the main development for him in the episode, he has to earn things and not just expect them.
Favourite Line /¬†“Zuko, please, my love, listen to me. Everything I’ve done,¬†I’ve done to protect you. Remember this, Zuko. No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are.” – Ursa
208 The Chase
Written by: Joshua Hamilton
Directed by: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: DR Movie
First Aired: May 26th 2006
The Chase, I think taking a 1 episode break from the main characters helps this episode. Toph was introduced in 206, we do not see her in 207 and so it allows this episode to focus on Toph integrating into the group, which is helped by Zuko having his own episode last time out. Meaning that that this episode does not need to have much Zuko development, until he appears at the end of this episode. This is a fun episode, with character development, plot and great action.
I will begin with the main part of this episode, that being Toph finding her place within Team Avatar. She has a strong personality and is quite blunt as well as being new to the concept of having friends, add to this a group that has been together for a long time and you end up with a natural conflict as she attempts to integrate into the group. The conflict in this episode is mainly between Katara and Toph, Katara really gets on Toph’s case about helping the group with all the tasks that must be done, while Toph only wants to do enough to help herself. It is a combination of Toph finally having freedom and so, not wanting any responsibilities and Katara’s bossy/motherly side coming out. With Toph’s parent issues this does not end well as Toph feels she has traded 2 parents for a new one. It is also interesting to note that Toph instantly gets on with Aang and Sokka, she is a bit tomboyish and relates more to the guys than Katara. The groups first interactions are done really well and so when the conflict of the episode comes up and affects this dynamic it just makes everything even more intense. The group is already tired and Katara and Toph’s argument is about to go off, so when Azula, Mai and Ty Lee appear and don’t allow them to get any sleep, we all know something is going to go down.
Speaking of that conflict, Toph’s seismic sense helps the group from being captured by the girls, she is their early warning system. It shows the advantage Azula has over Team Avatar, she has a machine and they can sleep inside while someone else drives, while Appa is our heroes mode of transport and also needs sleep. The episode is cleverly done, playing on tiredness and how is makes people easier to annoy.
The disagreement soon becomes a full on argument as Katara pushes Toph to help the group more and Toph still just wants to carry her own weight. It shows how a simple issue can evolve into this full out war of words between Katara and Toph. Aang and Sokka are also tired and so struggle to calm it down. The episode just gets more and more dramatic as the argument gets more and more heated, they all get more and more tired and Azula gets closer and closer. It all comes to ahead when Toph (rightfully) blames Appa’s shedding fur as the reason for them always being found by Azula, this causes Aang to snap at Toph. This is the final straw for her and she leaves the group,it is a good character moment immediately after she leaves when they all realise that they are tired and have a new person in the group. Showing that they realise how irritable they all were.
The episode splits up at this point. Toph wanders off alone and bumps into Iroh who has been following Zuko since he left. The two then have a very nice chat over tea, where we see why Toph was so eager to keep to herself. She just did not want anyone to think she was helpless by having her friends help her with her stuff and so did it all herself, Iroh tells her that she sounds like Zuko, “¬†There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.”, simple yet effective advice. He tells Toph that Zuko is trying to figure out his path and who he is, this is actually some very important continuity as she is the only one of the group to hear this and later she finds out who Zuko is, and so come Book 3 when Zuko wants to join the group she is the one to have no problem with it as she has heard this from Iroh. Iroh has given Toph advice and she has decided to go back to her friends and she leaves telling Iroh to tell Zuko that he needs him too. It is a great and unexpected scene between the two as you would never expect Toph and Iroh to have a chat like that, but it worked to help both of them figure out some issues.
While this is happening Aang, Sokka and Katara realise that Toph was right about Appa and wash his shedding fur off so Aang can use it to lead the tank astray while Katara and Sokka take Appa to safety. A clever plan and some clever deductions from Azula who realises what is happening and sends Mai and Ty Lee after Appa while she heads after Aang. We also see that Zuko is tracking Azula too. So Mai and Ty Lee on Mongoose Dragons chase Appa and they make is across the river only to find out the dragons can run across water, the fight that happens next is really good as a tired Sokka and Katara lose to Mai and Ty Lee, but are saved by Appa. Showing us once again that non benders can take out benders, Katara is easily beaten by Mai, not to mention the hilarious fight between Ty Lee and Sokka as she tries to chi block his head, to no avail.
At this stage in the episode we have characters everywhere, all that is left to see is Azula confronting Aang. This does indeed happen, but Zuko appears to make it a 3 way battle. Zuko is as eager to defeat his sister as he is to capture Aang, possibly even more so at this stage given his recent thoughts about the past. The difference in styles is clear to see, Azula is the perfect form and technique firebender, Zuko is more aggressive and uncontrolled and Aang is in full on avoid and evade mode. Aang’s Airbending gets the better of Azula at points as she is not used to fighting it, but her Blue Fire power gives her the advantage as she knocks out Zuko and traps Aang. It is then that the fight just gets epic, Sokka and Katara arrive and corner Azula, Iroh then arrives and gets Zuko up and then Toph enters the battle to help her friends. The cornered Azula goes to run, but is blocked by Iroh and Zuko, she is confronted with odds of 6 to 1 and notes that enemies and traitors are working together against her. She goes to surrender until she sees Iroh distracted by Toph being a member of Team Avatar and blasts him with blue fire in the chest and escapes. It is a shocking moment as we see a beloved character like Iroh injured, enemy tags go out the window as Katara offers to heal Iroh, but Zuko demands they leave, clearly shaken by his uncle’s injury. He was delighted to see his uncle again and now is scared for his uncle’s life. Great dramatic scene. The episode ends with who else, but Toph and Katara sleeping peacefully next to each other, conflict over.
Overall a really well written and constructed episode with the way all the characters come together at the end for an amazing confrontation. It has great character moments for our new character, Toph and with the ending we are given a reason for Zuko not to pursue Aang, he needs to look after Iroh. There is just so much happening in this episode, it has a bit of everything that makes Avatar great.
Favourite Moment/ When Azula is confronted by 6 people and manages to escape, an epic scene.
Favourite Line/ “You sound like my nephew.¬†Always thinking you need to do things on your own without anyone’s support. There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.¬†Not that I love you; I just met you!” – Iroh
209 Bitter Work
Written by: Aaron Ehasz
Directed by: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: DR Movie
First Aired: June 2nd 2006
Bitter Work, we at last get down to Aang learning Earthbending, but some key questions must be raised – We know Aang only learns well from a certain type of teacher, what type of a teacher is Toph and will Aang adapt as easily to Earthbending as he did to Waterbending?. On the other side of the story, we wonder is Iroh going to be ok and how Zuko will deal with his injured uncle?. All in all this is a very good episode as both Aang and Zuko resume their training, to mixed results.
Right away this episode presents us with what Aang’s problem with Earthbending will be. He needs to be stubborn and immovable, like a rock. This is an issue for an Airbender like Aang, his whole philosophy is based around avoiding conflict and being light on his feet. Toph is asking Aang to completely change his approach to bending, and for an Airbender, more specifically, the last airbender and last to follow it’s philosophy, this is a huge challenge. Toph’s approach to teaching does not help the situation. She roars order after order at Aang and is very blunt and aggressive, this teaching style does not suit Aang at all. ¬†Aang wants to try a different approach, but Toph says.
“No, that’s the problem. You’ve got to stop thinking like an airbender.¬†There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickity trick that’s going to move that rock.¬†(She shoves Aang. He cries out and falls down offscreen.)¬†You’ve got to face it head on. ” – Toph
Katara even attempts to give Toph teaching advice, but she ignores it and continues to grind Aang down.
Eventually, Aang reaches his limit after narrowly avoiding a massive boulder Toph told him to stop and decides to quit for the day, completely disheartened. Toph then tries a different approach, just annoying Aang until he is forced to confront her. He manages to stay calm. They then go to search for the missing Sokka, who Aang finds trapped in a whole next to a Sabertooth Moose-lion cub, the angry mother soon appears and Aang is forced to defend Sokka. His airbender tactics are not helping and he is forced to face the animal head on and as it approaches he waits and then hits it, scaring it off. Toph then appears, revealing that she watched the whole thing unfold. Aang demands his staff back from Toph and she gives it to him. She then tells him to earthbend as he not only stood up to a giant animal, but even more impressively, stood up to her. Aang then earthbends for the first time, having learned to be more assertive. I summarised this part in detail, as I think it is all crucial to this scene, Toph uses a different method of teaching to help Aang and it works, Aang not only has started a new element, but in terms of his own personality has learned to be more assertive. A great episode on this side of the story, especially Aang’s development and Toph’s clever plan.
I will cover Sokka in this episode next. He has a very odd story where he gets trapped in a hole near a Sabertooth Moose-Lion cub. It deals with Sokka, I guess learning to respect Animals as more than a source of food. He actually befriends the cub and his niceness is rewarded when the cub brings him some fruit. It is a tiny part of the episode and in the end there is not much else to it other than showing Sokka what it feels like to be helpless, like a hunter’s prey is sometimes. Any big development is ruined when Sokka just reverts to wanting meat, once Aang arrives. I do feel they could have done a bit more with Sokka developing here, but it was cleverly used in the Aang and Toph side of the story, which made it a more important part of the episode.
Finally is the Zuko and Iroh part of the episode. Iroh is still alive, just left with an injured shoulder. Straight away we get a powerful scene as Iroh dreams about his late son, Lu Ten, showing how often he thinks of him, a short, but nice scene. Zuko immediately gets down to business and asks Iroh to teach him again so he can better defend against Azula, much to Zuko’s shock, Iroh agrees. Iroh plans to teach Zuko how to generate lightning, which excites Zuko,
“Lightning is a pure expression of firebending, without aggression. It is not fueled by rage or emotion the way other firebending is. Some call lightning the cold-blooded fire.¬†It is precise and deadly, like Azula. To perform the technique requires peace of mind.” – Iroh
A perfect description of the technique and why lightning is related to Firebending, though we immediately see an issue for Zuko – He does not have peace of mind at all!!! This is shown when after a demonstration from Iroh, Zuko’s first attempt results in a firebending explosion. Iroh realises the issue just as we, the audience have. Iroh tells Zuko that he will not be able to create lightning until he has dealt with his inner turmoil (something that as of the end of The Promise he has yet to deal with). The next moments are amazing, Iroh tells Zuko he needs to rid himself of his feelings of shame. Zuko says that his is as proud as ever, to which Iroh responds that Pride is not the opposite of shame, but rather humility(I did not know this when I first watched the episode 6 years ago), something Zuko has experienced recently. Iroh has another great moment, when he sees Zuko’s despair at not being able to learn this ability. He offers to teach him an ability that even Azula does not know, which perks Zuko up to no end. This ability is lightning redirection (which Iroh demonstrated in 112 The Storm). The interaction is SOOOOO GOOD.
The next scene is probably my favourite of the episode. Instead of going straight to a demonstration, Iroh teaches Zuko about the strengths of the 4 nations and to draw wisdom from many places. Zuko notes how similar to the Avatar this lesson sounds, Iroh even says that like the 4 elements in the Avatar make him/her powerful, knowledge of all 4 nations can make anyone stronger.
Iroh: Fire is the element of power. The people of the Fire Nation have desire and will, and the energy and drive to achieve what they want. Earth is the element of substance. The people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong. They are persistent and enduring. Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns and found peace and freedom. Also, they apparently had pretty good senses of humour!¬†Water is the element of change. The people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things. They have a deep sense of community and love that holds them together through anything.
Zuko: Why are you telling me these things?
Iroh: It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If we take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.¬†Understanding others, the other elements, and the other nations will help you become whole.
Zuko: All this four elements talk is sounding like Avatar stuff.
Iroh: It is the combination of the four elements in one person that makes the Avatar so powerful. But, it can make you more powerful too.¬†You see, the technique I am about to teach you is one I learned by studying the waterbenders.
This is a very powerful and insightful quote that tells us so much about the Avatar world and Iroh as a person. He has changed so much from the person we say in the 207 flashback, his journeys have made him whole. I love how intently Zuko listened to this and how eager he was to improve himself. A credit to this show for the stunning character interaction.
I find the next scene hilarious when after teaching Zuko the form, Iroh does not expect Zuko to ask to practise it. “What, are you crazy? Lightning is very dangerous.”, but it quickly goes serious again when Zuko runs off to find his own lightning to practise. Again showing the signs that Zuko is developing, but within him is a frustration and anger he needs to resolve. As we see when he climbs a mountain in a thunderstorm to find lightning,
“You’ve always thrown everything you could at me! Well, I can take it! And now I can give it back!¬†Come on! Strike me! You’ve never held back before!” – Zuko
It is another powerful scene where Zuko just lets his emotions and frustrations out, he feels as if ¬†his life has been nothing but a struggle and now when he asks to be hit, he is refused. So when he breaks down, you just see so clearly the struggle within him and for a guy who has kept it together for so long to just let it all out made for such an emotional scene to end the episode.
Overall, this is a fantastic episode with our two main characters bot learning and developing at the same time, though in very different ways. Aang finally has another element to use and Zuko has something Azula does not. Strong character development makes this a highlight of the book. With the Zuko and Iroh scenes being some of the best this whole series has to offer.
Favourite Moment/ Iroh and Zuko during the teaching scenes.
Favourite Line/ “Fire is the element of power. The people of the Fire Nation have desire and will, and the energy and drive to achieve what they want. Earth is the element of substance. The people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong. They are persistent and enduring. Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns and found peace and freedom. Also, they apparently had pretty good senses of humour!¬†Water is the element of change. The people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things. They have a deep sense of community and love that holds them together through anything.” – Iroh
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