ATLA Episode Reviews – 304 – 306
Hello Everyone, Airspeed Prime here again to bring you 3 more ATLA episode reviews. Not many of these posts left to do, after this one there will only be about 3 more, so they will be done before Christmas.
Today I will be reviewing: 304 Sokka’s Master, 305 The Beach and 306 The Avatar And The Firelord.
304 Sokka’s Master
Written By: Tim Hedrick
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: October 12th 2007
Sokka’s Master, an important journey for Sokka as a character, a much needed episode. Sokka over the show up to this point has not really had an episode where he was the absolute focus of the episode, 115 was close, but really that was more about Aang’s decision. So he at last gets an episode to himself, and it is excellent. It plays on something that has been very present in the series, but never really discussed. That being Sokka being a non bender in a group of benders and how he feels about no having the skills they have. We see Sokka eager to prove himself just as useful the the group as the others.
Really there is only one main point to this episode, Sokka. So I will focus most of the review on him with a little bit on Iroh.
The start of this episode does an excellent job of showing us a situation where Sokka is not that useful. That being the meteorite ¬†strike and the resulting fire. The others use their bending and natural skills to help put it out, even Appa and Momo with their ability to fly come in useful, leaving Sokka with no way to help out, and he notices. There have been moments like this in past episodes, but in this moment Sokka has time to see that he is not helping and think of his place in the group. He brings this up to the group later on and all of them know how important he is to the group, noting his intelligence and humour. Katara sums it up,
¬†”I’m sorry you’re feeling so down, but I¬†hope you know none of us see you that way.” – Katara
showing her compassion and that they all know that he is an integral part of the group. Despite this he is eager to have a skill of his own and be more useful in fights. It is a perfect introduction to the issue of this episode.
From here we quickly transition to one of Sokka’s favourite activities, that of course being….SHOPPING!!! Specifically a weapons shop. We see that Sokka is looking for a new weapon to use in tandem with his boomerang, he tries out a stunning variety of weapons. None of them suit him, until he spots a sword hanging on the wall and instantly realises that that is the weapon for him. He learns that it’s maker, Piandao lives close by and an idea pops into his head. I liked this scene in that he really had no idea of what weapon he wanted until he spotted the sword, it felt so realistic.
His plan is to learn the way of the sword from Master Piandao. Given all of the bending training we have seen, I was delighted to see we were going to see some non bending training and in something as awesome as swords. The concept of Sokka being a sword wielding fighter pleased me. So he somehow manages to be brought before Piandao, his butler, Fat, expects an instant rejection. Piandao is about to say no, until Sokka says that he is not worthy. Piandao used to seeing overconfident warriors ask to be trained sees potential in Sokka. It made so much sense for Sokka to say what he said given the events at the start of the episode. It worked so well for me.
From here Sokka begins his training, and it was not what I nor Sokka expected at all. Very little focus on actual sword fighting, but instead activities like painting, gardening and calligraphy. I like Sokka learned that there is more to the art of the Sword than just the sword and fighting, it was interesting to hear the explanations of why these seemingly unrelated skills help a warrior. It is a combination of skill with a sword and a quick mind that make a warrior, Sokka has the second quality in spades and needs training on the first. Seeing Sokka put his own stamp on each task was great to see, showcasing his quickness of mind and how resourceful and unique he is. In the end the training scenes focus so much on the mental side of his training with only a few scenes actually showing sword sparring.
Sokka then has to make his own sword. Once again he puts his own style into it, by choosing a very unique material to make it from, that being the meteorite that fell and started this series of events. It is very symbolic that the meteorite that he was not help at stopping is now what he is making his sword from, the object that will help him use the skills he has learned because of it. Seeing Sokka’s intensity as he makes his sword was also a great moment, he is serious about further helping out the group. The sword itself looks amazing, a black space sword, perfect for Sokka.
We move into some of the final scenes of the episode with Sokka “graduating” by being presented his new sword by Master Piandao. Piandao tells Sokka that while his skill with a sword is not the best that his creativity and intelligence more than makes up for it and that he is more worthy than any other person he has trained. Sokka chooses this, of all moments, to reveal that he is from the Water Tribe. A fight soon erupts and Sokka’s new skills are¬†immediately¬†put to the test. It is a stunning fight scene, and the audience know from very early on in the fight that Piandao is using it as an final test, given how blatantly he is shouting out compliments on Sokka’s cleverness. The fight is so interesting because of the contrast in styles, Piandao is ¬†the more skilled swordsman, while Sokka is more clever in the middle of a fight. Sokka keeps on the move and uses scenery and height to his advantage which keeps Piandao’s skilled strikes at bay. The choreography is so good. Piandao eventually gets the better of Sokka, but just sheathes his sword. He then reveals that he knew where Sokka was from all along and that the way of the sword does not belong to any one nation. He mysteriously leaves Sokka with a White Lotus Tile, a moment that is not referenced again, so we wonder is it Piandao subtly telling Sokka that he is in the Order Of The White Lotus or is it a subtle invitation for Sokka to one day join the order. It was a great way to end the episode, as the characters had no idea what it meant while the audience knows about the OWL.
One tiny moment at the end to note is that when Sokka gives Toph a chunk of the meteorite she metalbends it into multiple shapes, one of which was the Nick splat logo.
A non Sokka aspect of this episode to talk about would be how the group interacts with Sokka away. This scene shows what he adds to the group, he in so many ways is the life of the group. Without him there is very little humour within the group and they get quite bored without him. It shows a subtle thing that he adds to the group.
Iroh is the last thing to cover in this review. He has no lines yet is just as epic as he is when he is giving his trademark advice. Quite simply he works out in a few scenes and at the end reveals that he is crazy buff at the end. Given what happens in later episodes, we assume he knows the eclipse is coming and is preparing to escape. He shows us how good of an actor he is when he acts like a mad man in front of the guard to make him never believe that he could ever be bulking up behind his back.
Overall Sokka needed an episode to himself and this is near perfect. It dealt with the issue of him being a non bender in a group of benders and gave him some much needed development. Great episode.
Favourite Moment/ The sword fight between Piandao and Sokka.
Favourite Line/ “The way of the sword doesn’t belong to any one nation. Knowledge of the¬†arts belongs to us all.¬†¬†Sokka, you must continue your training¬†on your own. If you stay on this path, I know that one day you will become an¬†even greater master than I am.” – Piandao
305 The Beach
Written By: Katie Matilla
Directed By: Joachim Dos Santos
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: October 19th 2007
The Beach, an odd episode on the outset to have in the middle of the most important Book of the show. In my opinion it works. It develops Zuko a lot, gives us some important moments for characters like Mai and Ty Lee who have really had very few moments of development and shows us a little chink in the armour of Azula. We also see ¬†the introduction of Combustion Man. It remains an unusually placed episode in that you do instantly go “A vacation weeks before the invasion, what ?” but in the end it is nothing too serious.
I am actually going to start this review with the most important scene, the campfire scene at the end of the episode. It is so full of emotion and all of the characters analysing each others character. It is a very well written scene in terms of the build up to it and how it plays out. I will now go through each characters involvement in this scene. I will begin with Ty Lee, with her we learn that her issues arise from the fact that she has 6 identical sisters and in her youth she struggled to define herself as a unique person and not part of a set. Which explains why she joined the circus and why she enjoys the male attention she gets for the most part. We never get a massive amount of detail on Ty Lee as a character, but this is so good. A side note before I go on to Mai, is that I love how the rest of the group gradually focus on one member of the group, Zuko says something about Ty Lee which gets her emotional and the others pick on that until they reveal the root of their issue, it works so well.
Moving on to Mai. With Mai we find out where her lack of emotion and expression stems from, while she had a relatively easy childhood, coming from a wealthy family and being an only child for pretty much all her life, her behaviour and emotions were contained by her parents in case she badly affected her fathers political career. I loved this explanation and made me really feel for her and understand why she is as she is. We see throughout this episode that one of the only things to bring out her missing emotion is Zuko, we later find out she loves him, which is a strong emotion and he helps bring out the rest of her feelings.
Things then inevitably come around to Zuko, they all notice how angry he has been. With Zuko this scene is different in that we already know what he is going to say, the key is that Zuko says it aloud to himself and others. Zuko talks about how he should be happy now, but he is not and instead is angrier than ever before. An important note also is that he lets slip that “he even thinks I’m a hero”, the key word being thinks, he in this moment is telling Zuko that Aang is still alive. Then in a really dramatic scene the others demand to know who he is angry at, he tries to brush it off until he just lets his emotion out and admits to everyone that he is angry at himself for not knowing right from wrong anymore. Just looking at Zuko after he says this you can see the relief, the weight that has just fallen off his shoulders having that off his chest.
Finally they all turn to Azula, who throughout the whole scene had been laughing at the others for their flaws. They all call her perfect and she begins a speech about how nothing affects her, but lets slip something, and it is big. She was affected by her mother liking Zuko more than her, her mother though she was a monster. It was the first chink in Azula’s armour, her first sign of showing a weakness. Great scene.
Overall this episode is about Ember Island and the pseudo-magical properties the place has, it smooths out people’s characters. You are left wondering if there is something about the place or if it is just that these things tend to happen there.
The rest of this side of the episode is set up for the campfire scene so I am not going to focus too much on the rest. I think Mai and Zuko’s relationship is so well done here, they break up over Zuko’s anger and then once she sees why he is that way she understands. There are some great lines between the two, when Mai reveals her issues there is a lovely back and forth.
Zuko:¬†I like it when you express¬†yourself.
Mai:¬†Don’t touch me. I’m still mad at you.
Zuko:¬†My life hasn’t been that easy,¬†either, Mai.
Mai:¬†Whatever- that doesn’t excuse the¬†way you’ve been acting.
Zuko brings out Mai’s emotions in this scene, she shouts at him and is mad at him here, because of how he makes her feel. He likes it when she is emotional. I really do like the MAIKO relationship, so many fans hate it, mainly because to many Zuko fans no one is good enough for him. To me they are perfect for each other, it is definitely not your usual romatic relationship, but it works for these two. They later make up and Mai in a scene perfectly showing the emotion Zuko brings out in her she says to Zuko.
“I know one thing I care about…¬†¬†I¬†care about you.” – Mai
One final point on this side of the episode is about Azula. In an unusual moment she decides to tell no one that she is a princess as she is interested in knowing how she will be treated if no one knows her title. For Azula who in 220 talked about how you are born with that type of power to want to experience life without the title is a big deal. In many ways this episode showcases a sad side of her character, a side that makes you hate Ozai even more. She has no clue how to interact normally with people, for such a powerful character like Azula to have to take lessons from Ty Lee on how to talk to boys, that is big for her. We see that there is a part of her that wants to just be normal, when she admits she is jealous of how social Ty Lee is and eagerness to talk to Chan. It is not just that she is awkward, she honestly has no idea how to talk to people without inspiring fear or manipulating them. She shows a hint of becoming more normal and developing as with Ty Lee’s advice she and Chan hit it off until Azula turns on the blue fire and says this line.
“Together, you and I will¬†be the strongest couple in the¬†entire world.¬†We will¬†dominate the Earth!”- Azula
The other side of this episode is short, but needed. Combustion Man as he is named in a few episodes reveals himself to Team Avatar for the first time. They are relaxing and Aang inadvertently reveals himself to some fire nation look outs who send a hawk to Fire Lord Ozai. The way this was shot made it seem so dramatic, “Ozai is going to find out this early that Aang is alive!!!” was my original reaction. Combustion Man in the end saves both Aang and Zuko when his Raven Eagle steals the note from the hawk. The fight is short, but interesting, it is a great showcase of the amazing power of his ability rather than a great out and out fight. Something to keep the group on edge. I loved the bending moves that Aang did against him, using Airbending to send himself flying away from a point blank blast was stunning.
Overall this seemingly odd episode manages to be one of the best character focused episode of the whole series. While the b plot is nothing to shout about, it is solid, but the amazing campfire scene steals the episode.
Favourite Moment/ The Campfire Scene
Favourite Line/ “I’m angry at myself” – Zuko
306 The Avatar And The Firelord
Written By: Elizabeth Welch Ehasz
Directed By: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: October 26th 2007
The Avatar And The Firelord, the episode we had all been waiting for, what started the war. This is very much an episode that needed to happen before the big final battle. Aang and the audience needed to know what started the war and why Aang has such a monumental task. This episode is so well written with how Aang and Zuko discover the same information from different sources at the same time and how it foreshadows Zuko’s ultimate decision. I think it was also important that we also found out about Roku’s life and compare the usual process of training the Avatar to Aang’s.
I will begin with Aang and Zuko. The obvious comparison that is made is between Roku and Sozin’s friendship compared to that of Aang and Zuko, How one Avatar and Royal Family member’s friendship started the war and the next generation of this friendship is destined to end it. The theme of the story is that everyone is capable of both great good and great evil. This applies so heavily to Sozin and Zuko, Sozin was a good guy who lost his way and committed some atrocious acts, while Zuko at the moment has lost his way and is capable of either going great good or great evil depending on his choices. As we saw in 113, Aang feels he and Zuko can be friends, it is amazing to think that that line is so relevant with this episode. Aang learns what Roku did or did not do to started the war and that his relationship to the firelord (to be) is crucial to ending it. While Zuko learns that much of his confusion is caused by his heritage, he descends from a line of evil fire lords and Avatar Roku, great evil and great good. In Zuko there is the power to restore balance.
” Make senseof our past Aang, and you will bring peace and restore balance in the world.” – Roku
“¬†Because¬†understanding the struggle between your two great-grandfathers, can help you¬†better understand the battle within yourself. Evil and good are always at war¬†inside you, Zuko. It is your nature, your legacy. But¬†there is a bright side. What happened generations ago can be resolved now…by¬†you. Because of your legacy, you alone can cleanse the sins of our family and¬†the fire nation. Born in you, along with all this strife, is the power to¬†restore¬†balance¬†to the world.” – Iroh
Both characters learning what they do is so crucial as the series goes forward.
I will talk about the events of Roku’s life now. The big thing here is that we see the usual process of training an Avatar, it is a very long process that really brings up some large questions as to how effective it is. The world can be without a fully trained Avatar for 26 years. That said it is a lovely montage as we see him learn the 4 elements, Roku being friends with Gyatso was such a nice moment. While this is going on Sozin gains the throne and begins to occupy parts of the Earth Kingdom. His justification for it is that he wants to spread the Fire Nations prosperity, that in itself seems ok, but the way he did it, through military conquest was wrong. Roku’s first task as the Avatar is dealing with this. He demands that Sozin stop and withdraw his forces, Sozin does not listen and advances his plans. It makes you think, what happened within Sozin that made him do this, was Roku the good influence during their youth keeping these bad thoughts back and it just took over while Roku was away training. I love the way the final scenes are done, despite the two’s ruined friendship Sozin comes to help Roku when the volcano on his island erupts, the two are beating the volcano until it gets worse. At this point Sozin just sees an opportunity to get rid of the only thing standing in his way and leaves Roku to die on the island. I love the emotion of this scene, having in the same episode seen them celebrate their birthdays together to see one leave the other to die to further his plans for world domination is just tragic.
The more tragic thing is that Sozin then wasted his life searching for the next Avatar, who we know was trapped in ice. It is also important to note that in an odd way Roku was ¬†standing in the way of progress, he was correct to stop Sozin taking over the world, but his eagerness to keep the 4 nations 4 (explored more in The Promise) when you think about it is against it extreme. You wonder how Roku would have reacted if Sozin had instead of a war has attempted to create a less divided world and bring a better peace.
This episode also further explores what 302 showed us. That the Fire Nation are not all bad, that is done once again through Roku and Sozin, good and bad and both from The Fire Nation. I just love how this episode adds so much to so many things we have learned throughout the show, how everything is connected and so on.
I thought I would have a lot more to say about this episode, but really the episode covers the same points in many ways. I guess my last point is that Iroh finally decides to speak to Zuko again. Iroh speaks to tell Zuko about his relationship to Avatar Roku, which brings up how many members of the royal family know about this connection. Did Iroh randomly discover this or does Ozai know too. It brings up some interesting questions. He then tells Zuko the amazing line I mentioned above before giving him the royal artifact that is meant to be worn by the crown prince. The writing is so good as is the acting. It is a very powerful scene, especially because Iroh chose this moment to break his silence and then because of the incredible impact that one line from Iroh will have on Zuko.
Overall this is an excellent episode, we get pretty much Roku’s complete biography which is great to see. Add to this the importance of the impact of what Aang and Zuko learn.
Favourite Moment/ The Iroh and Zuko scene.
Favourite Line/ “Because¬†understanding the struggle between your two great-grandfathers, can help you¬†better understand the battle within yourself. Evil and good are always at war¬†inside you, Zuko. It is your nature, your legacy. But¬†there is a bright side. What happened generations ago can be resolved now…by¬†you. Because of your legacy, you alone can cleanse the sins of our family and¬†the fire nation. Born in you, along with all this strife, is the power to¬†restore¬†balance¬†to the world.” – Iroh
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