ATLA Episode Reviews – 301-303
Yes, I am back after a week break with some more ATLA episode reviews. This review sees me begin Book 3 Fire, the final book of the show. Format will be the same as usual, 3 reviews a week for 3 weeks and then 3 weeks with 4 reviews.
Today I will be reviewing: 301 The Awakening, 302 The Headband and 303 The Painted Lady.
301 The Awakening
Written By: Aaron Ehasz
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: September 21st 2007
The Awakening, the opening episode of Book 3 and in so many ways was the most anticipated episode of the show when it first aired given what happened at the end of the previous book. Our heroes are completely defeated, where do they go from here. This is the episode to answer that. It is a very good episode that lives up to the hype in my opinion, it has fantastic characterisation for Aang and Katara especially while setting up how Book 3 is going to go. An important episode for the series to get right, I think it succeeded.
I will begin with the importance of this episode. There were really only a few choices for where the story could go in Book 3 after the defeat at the end of Book 2. When I was waiting for Book 3 the two paths that I theorised were: They travelled the world revisiting places from previous episodes and gathering up the friends they met before their invasion plan and what actually happened, travelling the Fire Nation in disguise until the invasion. I know a lot of fans out there really would have preferred the first path, and while I think it would have been great to see where the show goes is crucial to show. That being, the need to present most of the Fire Nation as normal and show our main characters that the enemy is just Ozai and his military not the Fire Nation as a whole, this works so well and allows us to see a new part of the world from a new perspective. In the end the other path happens just with Hakoda and his men while Team Avatar travel the Fire Nation.
On to more specifics on the episode itself. Aang would be the main part of the episode. I think it is important to explain where he is at this point in the book. He is alive again and has physically (220) and spiritually connected (Escape From The Spirit World) with the Avatar Spirit, at the start of this episode as it has been with the start of each book we begin with Aang waking up. Katara explains to us that he has “twisted up energy” around the area of his scar, this is all that is standing in the way of him mastering the Avatar state, hence why Aang gets a spiritual link when he tries to untwist it. Aang’s attitude to the defeat was another thing we were all waiting to see, and it does not disappoint. He is not to hurt about the defeat (sad, yes, but not overly so) until Sokka reveals that everyone thinks he is dead, Aang has already had to deal with people thinking he failed them due to being Â trapped in ice. Now he has to deal with this again, he feels he has failed the world again. He is very moody after this and it is understandable, what defines him at this point is his Zuko-esque line.
“I need to redeem myself. I need my honor back.”- Aang
He runs away again, but this time to confront Ozai and redeem himself, it is another thing that Zuko would have probably done in a similar situation. It is the intensity of his actions at this point that add emotion to these scenes, he easily speeds past a blockade, he is hit by a wave and thinks it is finally all over, he has failed completely. We then get my two favourite moments in this episode. First Roku appears before Aang and reveals how he has out Aang in a horrible position, Aang has to sort out the problems he never stopped, but that he believes that Aang can save the world. Second is that Yue (AKA The Moon Spirit) appears to him and also believes in Aang and tells him not to give up. Her appearance also gives Aang enhanced waterbending and allows him to make it to land. Very powerful scenes and it was so important that Aang was told that by Spirits and not just his friends, even powerful beings believe in him. His friends soon find him and he realises that everyone thinking he is dead is good for the group and gives them the element of surprise. Aang in this episode has such real reactions and emotions, ones that reference previous events which add to their power. His acceptance of their situation and that he can end the war is crucial also.
Next has to be Katara in this episode. For her, this episode is about her interactions with both Hakoda and Aang. While she has been excited to see her father again as has been referenced in past episodes, it finally happens here and her reaction is not as you would expect, but makes sense in the end. She is delighted to be around him again, but is upset that he left her and Sokka and most importantly, she needed him. The scene is done so well here she speaks about Aang, but everything she says applies to Hakoda and is aimed at him. It was an important scene to have, and especially contrast Katara’s interaction with Hakoda compared to Sokka’s, that it is not just a happy family reunion, there are issues and high emotion involved. In the end all Katara needed to hear was that Hakoda missed her and Sokka so much, she just needed to hear him say it. Â What Katara says to him before this is powerful.
“I understand why you left. I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt.” – Katara
Then her scenes with Aang show how much she cares about him, The Bridge comic story really adds to this. She understands Aang’s emotions here, she knows how much it affects him to think he failed. When he leaves and she finds out, it at the same time sets up the scene with Hakoda and once again shows how much Aang means to her.
My last point is about Zuko. He has returned to the Fire Nation and is dating Mai now, he should be happy, what he has waited 3 years for is coming true. The problem is that he is lost in thought about how it came to happen, what he did to his uncle, if he made the correct choice. He is cheered by the people of the Fire Nation when Lo and Li present himself and Azula to the nation. The people are accepting him, things seem to be going well for him, but we all know as does he that he is doubting his choice. Also in Zuko’s side of the story is Azula, still manipulating events. She sets it up so that Zuko will take the fall should the Avatar turn out to be alive, as far as Ozai knows it was Zuko who “killed” Aang. He knows that Katara has the spirit water and that more than likely Aang is still alive and that at some stage the truth will come out. It seems that nothing can go right for him.
“Please, Zuko. What ulterior motive could I have? What could I possibly gain by letting you get all the glory for defeating the Avatar? Unless somehow, the Avatar was actually alive. All that glory would suddenly turn to shame and foolishness. But you said yourself that was impossible. Sleep well, Zuzu.” – Azula
This line from Azula tells you everything that she is about, she is playing Zuko and has been since Ba Sing Se. It is at this stage that Zuko realises even more clearly that he may have made the wrong choice, he believed Azula who was actually lying to him as opposed to his uncle who has done nothing but help him.
One last note would be that we see Ozai’s face for the first time in this episode. He only accepts Zuko back because he went against the brother he hates and killed the Avatar. It is an interesting moment, because we see his face and it humanises him, the big villain at last has a face, but when you hear him talk so cruelly about Aang and Iroh you realise again that this is the man who burned Zuko.
Overall this is a great opening to the Book, it succeeded in following up one of the biggest cliffhanger endings ever. It has great character development while setting up nearly everything that will happen in the book.
Favourite Moment/ When Roku and then Yue appear before Aang and give him his confidence back.
Favourite Line/Â “I understand why you left. I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt.” – Katara
302 The Headband
Written By: John O’Bryan
Directed By: Joachim Dos Santos
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: September 28th 2007
The Headband, an odd episode to have after such a serious book opener, but it works on multiple levels. It manages to at the same time be a KATAANG episode and the episode that shows us who the true enemies are in the Fire Nation. It is Ozai’s government and military that are influencing the youth to believe the Fire Nation propaganda. In this episode we see the influence Aang can have on people. Add to that a bit of Avatar School and Zuko visiting Iroh and you are left with an excellent episode of Avatar.
I will begin with KATAANG. This is the Book 3 KATAANG episode, and thought it is not as focused on it as 114 or 202 it has some of the best moments between the two of the series. All of the relationship action happens during the “Secret Dance Party”, Katara stays on the sidelines as Aang is the life of the party demonstrating all of the dancing and impressing everyone, she even gets jealous when Aang shows On Ji what to do. Then in a moment of supreme confidence he comes up to Katara and offers his hand to her to dance, she is awkward and does not really want to, until Aang confidently and amazing just says “Take My Hand” and she does. What then happens will go down in history as “THE KATAANGO” the two use their bending training as a dance routine which enraptures everyone in the cave. The dance showcases Aang’s confidence and Katara’s trust in Aang, she is nervous dancing in front of everyone and he just tells her that it is just the two of them. What the dance does show is that the two do like each other, they do a move where they come within centimetres of kissing and end with Aang holding Katara as the two are exhausted from the effort. An important Kataang moment. She kisses him on the cheek at the end of the episode proud of what he did for the fire nation kids and also the dance.
Keeping the focus on the Fire Nation kids and the school. This episode showcases why them travelling through the Fire Nation is an important aspect of the series, through seeing the school and what the kids are like we see that the reason why most of the adults in the Fire Nation support Ozai’s regime is because the schools influence the kids with false historical information to make the Fire Nation out to be noble. This episode is so cleverly written in that way, the school scenes are mainly played as the humour of the episode, but there is that more serious layer explaining much about the fire nation. Contrasting the hyper expressive and free Aang with the stiff and controlled teachers. Through On Ji we see a student who is interested in Aang not because she likes him, but because she is drawn to how expressive he is and how unlike the other students he is, through Aang the students learn to express themselves more even going as far as to help Aang and friends escape, going against the teachers they would usually obey. I really do wonder how much of an impact Aang had on them, are the youth of the Fire Nation now changing for the better. On the other side of things the school gives us so much humour, mainly through Sokka’s reactions to what Aang does. The Fire Family scenes are comedy gold, with Wang Fire being a stand out, they all play it so well which make the headmaster believe it. Add to this moments like “I am a fan of secret rivers” and this is on of the funniest episodes of the series.
The final point about this episode is Zuko. He is struggling over his betrayal of Iroh. He visits Iroh in prison a few times, but Iroh refuses to speak to him. In the end we find out it is because Zuko needs to work things out himself, but it makes the scenes very powerful. When he first visits Iroh he attempts to justify his choice by criticising Iroh for choosing the other side. As Zuko leaves frustrated at the silent treatment, we see Iroh bow his head saddened that his nephew has lost his way again. On the less serious side of things we see that Mai and Zuko’s relationship is going well, it is different to most relationships, but the two are happy together.
is such an awful colour.
Zuko:Â You’re so beautiful when you hate the world.
Mai:Â I don’t hate you.
Zuko:Â I don’t hate you, too.
This exchange shows exactly how their relationship works. It is nice to see a different style of relationship, this is so different to Katara and Aang’s. When Azula then appears to break up the love fest or rather hate fest we see a very interesting moment from Mai, she gives Azula a look that could kill for interrupting them. It for the first time shows some high emotion from Mai and that she cares so much for Zuko that it eclipses an hold Azula has over her, I love that this scene can explain Mai’s eventual decision in 315.
Zuko returns to Iroh with food this time. This time he admits to Iroh that he is confused and needs advice,
“I brought you some komodo-chicken. I know you don’t careÂ for it, but I figure it beats prison food.Â Â IÂ admit it. I have everything I always wanted, but it’s not at all how I thoughtÂ it would be. The truth is, I need your advice.Â I think the AvatarÂ is still alive. I know he’s out there. I’m losing my mind.Â Please, Uncle, I’m soÂ confused! I need your help.Â Forget it! I’ll solve thisÂ myself! Waste away in here for all I care!” – Zuko
This is the first time Zuko has admitted out loud that being home is not like he expected and that he realises that it is not his true path, but he is angry and impatient and soon leaves. This time a tear rolls down Iroh’s face, he would love to help his nephew, but it is important that Zuko figure some things out on his own. Zuko then hires Combustion Man to take down Aang properly so he does not have to worry about Ozai finding out the truth. He is making some progress, but also regressing in some ways.
Overall I really do enjoy this episode, it is a personal favourite of mine, while it is not one of the top episodes of the series it is a very high quality episode that has multiple layers to things.
Favourite Moment/ The Kataango
“Wang Fire:Â Don’t you worry, Mr. Headmaster. I’ll straighten this boy outÂ somethin’ fierce.Â Young man, as soon asÂ we get home, you’re gonna get the punishment of aÂ lifetime!
School Headmaster:Â That’s what I like to hear.”
303 The Painted Lady
Written By: Joshua Hamilton
Directed By: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: October 5th 2007
The Painted Lady, Katara at her amazing best. This is one of the episodes that many members of the fandom seem to dislike, but in my opinion this is a fantastic Katara centric episode that shows us everything she is about. Katara cares, that it it in two words, that is who she is and what she does. There is more to the episode than just Katara, we get to meet another spirit and see the affect that the Fire Nation’s mass pollution has on rivers. It is not going to top any top episode lists, but as a big Katara fan it is one I always enjoy immensely every time I watch it.
I will keep Katara as a character until the end. So I will start with the what drives the plot of this episode, the fire nation factory (a smelting plant to make weapons and metal) which pollutes the Jang Hui river and thus affects the people of the town of Jang Hui. It shows how little the Fire Nation war machine cares about the towns it comes across and the world that they plan to take over. It makes you wonder that had they won the war what would be left of the world, every river polluted, the air quality ruined and so many little towns like Jang Hui erased from existence. A lot of people criticise this episode for blatantly addressing environmental issues in the Avatar world, but I love that it is addressed, and that we get reference back to 107 where it also came up. In the end it was important that they factory was taken down and the river cleaned, as it separates Team Avatar from the Fire Nation, they helped a town despite it getting in the way of their goal while the Fire Nation just ignored it and by doing so are ruining it.
Next I want to make a brief note on a small moment in the episode. Aang inadvertently tells Katara that she is pretty when he is unaware that she is behind the disguise. It is subtle KATAANG, but important that Katara knows that Aang is attracted to her.
I guess the only thing about the village itself to talk about is Dock/Xu/Bushi. A man who seems to have a bad case of multiple personality syndrome that is activated by the different hats he puts on. It is a bit over done in the episode, but adds some nice humour.
Really there is not much else to discuss in this episode except Katara and what she does. So often with this episode I have heard people say that Katara is stupid to put the groups mission at risk to help this town. In my opinion it is just Katara being Katara, that is what she does and who she is, she helps people and cares about others regardless of if she knows them or not. I think this episode actually on purpose compares Sokka and his plan to just ignore the village to the fact that the Fire Nation have also ignored the town, and that it is the right thing to do to help the village. Sokka himself realises this and realises that them doing things like helping the people are what separate them from the Fire Nation. Back on Katara, the second she see the people in Jang Hui, Katara wants to help them,on of Â her first lines in the village is this,
“Look at this place. It’s so sad. WeÂ have to do something to help.” – Katara
This after only seconds of being in the place. She uses the villages love of their spirit, The Paited Lady as a disguise to help the people and give them hope. She gives them food and heals their sick. I like the conflict between Sokka and Katara, Sokka is so focused on their overall mission and is very harsh on Katara when she wants to help, but in the end Sokka is a good guy and realises what needs to be done. While Katara does not learn to put the group first as the episode may have seemed to be setting up, but instead further understands that she needs to help people in any way she can, it is who she is and not a flaw as Sokka would make it out to be. In the end it is this that makes me love this episode, Katara does not change as a character her, because she does not need to, it is Sokka who learned to have some more compassion. My favourite line in this episode and possibly from the whole show defines Katara as a character completely and is delivered so well from Mae Whitman.
“No. I will never,Â everÂ turn my back on people who need me.Â I’m going down to the village, and I am gonna
do whatever I can.” – Katara
Sokka had been making her out to be completely wrong and in this moment she pushes back hard against her brother and makes him understand. He says “I will never turn my back on you” and realises he needs to help too. I absolutely love the Sokka and Katara interaction in this episode.
After the factory is destroyed the soldiers come to teh town for revenge with plans to ruin it. Team Avatar are forced to defend it. I really enjoy how it is done using the mystique surrounding the Painted Lady to scare many of them off and some clever bending to beat the others. Even Appa and Sokka play a role in the plan.
Finally is the last few scenes. The town turn on Katara when they find out she has been the Painted Lady all along, I was shocked at the villagers reaction and how ungrateful they were, so when Sokka spoke out I was delighted. Katara then points out that their problems are real and that the town needs to help themselves.
Sokka: “Maybe she is a waterbender, but sheÂ was just trying to help you. Because of her, that factory won’t be pollutingÂ your river, and the army is gone. You should be down on your knees thankingÂ her.”
Katara: “Sokka, it’sÂ okay.Â I shouldn’t have acted like someone I wasn’t, and I shouldn’tÂ have tricked you. But I felt like I had to do something. It doesn’t matter ifÂ the Painted Lady is real or not. Because your problems are real, and this riveris real. You can’t wait around for someone to help you. You have to helpÂ yourself.”
They agree and thanks to some amazing acting from Toph they decide to clean the river. Then just as you think the episode is about to end we get a fantastic scene of Katara down by the river at night. The real Painted Lady appears before her and simply says “Thank You”, a spirit realises how important what Katara did was. A great moment and honour for Katara to get respect and thanks from a spirit. It also may show something else about spirits, that they try not to interfere with human matters, hence why the Avatar exists in the first place.
Overall this is actually a really good episode, it is a personal favourite of mine, but good in it’s own right. Katara is at her amazing best here with an interesting sibling conflict with Sokka as well as a nice lesson on pollution and compassion.
Favourite Moment/ Katara is thanked by The Painted Lady
Favourite Line/Â ”No. I will never,Â everÂ turn my back on people who need me.Â I’m going down to the village, and I am gonna
do whatever I can.” – Katara
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