ATLA Episode Reviews – 307-309
Airspeed Prime here again with 3 ATLA episode reviews. Next week will see the start of 4 episode reviews per week, so that means just 3 weeks after this until I finish this project.
This week I will be reviewing: 307 ¬†The Runaway, 308 The Puppetmaster and 309 Nightmares and Daydreams.
307 The Runaway
Written By: Joshua Hamilton
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: November 2nd 2007
The Runaway, the Toph and Katara conflict returns. This is an episode that when I first think about it I tend to go “It’s an ok episode”, but when I really get down to it it has some moments that I really love, the conflict between Toph and Katara works and it’s resolution is very emotional. On the other hand this episode once again tries to deal with the issue of Toph and her parents, and even goes as far as to advance that forward, but in the end nothing comes from it and it is pretty much forgotten and has yet to be brought up again.
I will begin with my biggest issue about this episode. Toph’s issue with her parents is brought up in the biggest way since Toph’s introduction episode “The Blind Bandit”, I like that it comes back again, the issue is that nothing happens after this about it. In the end Toph realises that some of her issues with Katara are due to Katara being a bit motherly to her and Toph having problems with the way her own parents treated her, I love that they are exploring it here. Then comes the idea to send a messenger hawk with a letter to her parents apologising for leaving them in the way she did. The huge issue and in the end is my biggest issue with the series as a whole is that nothing comes from this, Toph as of now has still not met up with her parents again (she is still mad at them in The Promise) and the message has not been referenced since. This lack of exploration just makes it seem like they have forgotten that it was sent in the first place. I hope that this is explored in the future, perhaps an upcoming comic.
The rest of the episode is very good, it is important to note that the whole episode focuses on Team Avatar and a bit on Zuko through Combustion Man (though Zuko himself is not in this episode). I liked that this episode ¬†is formatted differently by starting near the end in a shocking way. Katara turning in Toph to Fire Nation guards, it was a really dramatic way to start the episode and definitely had me going “Wha….how….why” I was excited to see how it happened. As the episode develops you see that the start scene works in a different way without knowing the rest of the episode and when you do know.
The main part of the episode is Katara and Toph and the conflict that comes back. It was last seen in “The Chase”, but I think this episode does the conflict so much better. That one was mainly due to tiredness, here it is all about Toph and Katara and their thoughts on each others behaviour. You really do get the sense that it has been building up for a while and this it just it out in the open. Toph starts to scam the people running the street games to earn the group money and Katara thinks she should stop as it may draw attention to the group. In this case Katara is just being careful and you begin to see the rebellious side of Toph and how unreasonable she can be, Toph is putting the group at risk to be more rebellious. We then see the bad side of Katara’s motherly traits when she starts to snoop through Toph’s stuff. No one is fully correct and no one is fully wrong, it makes for an interesting conflict. The big scene during this conflict has to be when Katara begins to realise why Toph is acting like this, because of her parents.
Toph:¬†Yeah, maybe. Maybe then, you’d see how
great we have it. I mean, look at us. We’re travelling around the world, making
easy money, having fun, with no parents to tell us what to do.
Katara:¬†Ah, I see. You’re acting like this because
of your parents.
Katara:¬†They were controlling over you, so
you ran away, and now you act like your parents don’t exist. You act like you
hate them, but you don’t. You just feel guilty.
Katara:¬†I don’t think so. I think you miss them.
But you just don’t want to deal with that, so instead, you act like this crazy
It is a great back and forth as both Toph and Katara know they have found the root of the issue. Toph has things to resolve with her parents.
The two then stop talking to each other and Sokka is left to attempt to make things good with Toph again. This is my favourite part of the episode. Katara is bathing in the water underneath the cliff that Sokka and Toph are talking on. Here we get some lovely character moments from all 3 characters. Through Sokka we get to learn the good side of Katara’s motherly aspects, Katara helped Sokka so much in the time after their mother died, but in the process Sokka lost much of what he remembered of his mother with Katara in her place. This hits a listening in Katara hard, but also shows Toph what Katara adds to the group. Toph then gives her honest opinion of Katara with her not around, this is such a great moment and the way the scene is set up makes it perfect with Katara hearing what Toph says next.
“The truth is, some times Katara does¬†act motherly, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s compassionate and kind, and¬†she actually cares about me. You know, the real me. That’s more than my own¬†mom.¬†Don’t¬†ever¬†tell her I said¬†any of this.” ¬†- Toph
Here we see that Toph now understands Katara, her compassion and how much she cares for her friends is her best quality. What Toph says about Katara and her own mother is one of the most emotional lines in the whole series. The reaction shots of Katara are fantastic. Great scene.
From here Toph and Katara both see the errors of their previous altercations and go to apologise. Katara shocks everyone when she wants to pull a big scam with Toph to show that she is fun. Which explains the unusual opening shots of the episode. The plan fails when Combustion Man arrives and gets them both captured to lure Aang out. In a wooden prison the two have their moment alone together to heal the wounds of their friendship.
Katara:¬†I know. I wanted to show you that¬†I’m not so motherly. I wanted to show you that I can have fun too.
Toph:¬†Katara, you are fun. If nothing¬†else, you’re at least fun to argue with.
Katara:¬†I know your relationship with your¬†parents is complicated, and I shouldn’t have said what I said.
Toph:¬†It’s ok. I was really mad when you¬†said that because; well, because maybe it’s true. I try not to think about it, but¬†when I left, I probably really hurt them.
The two are very honest with each other and for Toph to admit that about her parents is a big moment. Seeing the emotion on her face as she says it just adds so much to the scene. Katara then discovers sweatbending and breaks them out of jail.
The final Toph and Katara moment is when Toph asks Katara to write a letter for her to her parents and they send it away. It is the perfect way to end this episode, in terms of Toph and her parents and Toph’s relationship with Katara. Sadly nothing has come from this scene yet. Which diminishes this scene a bit.
The only other aspect of the episode I really want to talk about is Aang and Sokka’s growing brotherly relationship. It stands out so much in this episode, how well the two get along especially as the two girls are fighting and they bond over not wanting to get involved. Moments like Aang complimenting Sokka on the plan to send a message from Toph to Katara and then the two realising ¬†the errors in the plan. Last but not least is when both are left foaming from the mouth when Katara wants to pull a scam, a great Foamy reference.
Overall this is an excellent episode that has amazing character development for Katara and Toph. Lessened a bit by a seemingly forgotten plot point, but a tremendously fun episode nonetheless.
Favourite Moment/ Sokka and Toph talking on the cliff as Katara listens in from below.
Favourite Line/¬†”The truth is, some times Katara does¬†act motherly, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s compassionate and kind, and¬†she actually cares about me. You know, the real me. That’s more than my own¬†mom.¬†Don’t¬†ever¬†tell her I said¬†any of this.” ¬†- Toph
308 The Puppetmaster
Written By: Tim Hedrick
Directed By: Joachim Dos Santos
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: November 9th 2007
The Puppetmaster, the Halloween episode of the show that is more than just That Halloween Episode. On the outset this episode very much just seems like the episode to air around Halloween time, but for me this episode works as more than that because Bloodbending became more than just a thing that appears in this episode and once in 316, it became a huge plot¬†point in Korra. This is the episode that introduced the concept and where we found out where it originated from, which is another reason I love this episode. That reason is Hama and the history about the Southern Water Tribe we get from her. This episode adds so much to the Avatar universe as a whole which makes up for the fact that the episode itself only really is important to the series to set up Katara in 316.
I will begin with Hama. For me she makes this episode, you sense there is something odd about her from the beginning, but until later on in the episode when we find out about bloodbending you don’t fully realise that she is behind all the kidnappings. Through her we see our first water tribe villain character, though you understand why she is the way she is because of how she was treated by the Fire Nation. You see that she, like Jet and like Katara will be in 316, gets lost in her quest for revenge. She developed bloodbending while in prison by practising first on rats and then on the guards. The way it is told, with the music and the dark visuals make this a very dark flashback and very much present bloodbending as an evil ability. Hama is delighted to meet Katara and have another SWT waterbender to pass on her skills and quest for revenge to, Katara does not see through Hama’s kind old lady disguise as she is so excited to learn her own tribes bending style and new skills. Which adds into why I like Hama so much as a character, there are moments that make you hate her for what she does and moments that make you feel for her with what she has been through. In the end she loses her mind in the quest for revenge and there was no hope for her to be changed, that said there is something tragic about the villagers taking her away to put back in prison again. She is not the most powerful bender or the most intimidating person, she just has this creepy aura about her and this mysterious and unknown ability that makes you fear for the other characters. One of the best one shot characters in my opinion, especially with her connection to Kanna.
Katara is the other main aspect of this episode. She is so eager to learn more unique waterbending skills, especially after the sweatbending of the last episode. Her excitement at finding another SWT waterbender is a nice moment to see in Katara. As the teaching process goes on and Hama teaches Katara more and more extreme techniques we start to see Katara become more and more apprehensive about learning them, as shown when Katara is sad about killing all of the flowers to get some water. So when Hama starts to explain bloodbending to her, her reaction is completely predictable and understandable. Katara is completely against the idea of controlling people against their will and refuses to use the ability. This is where the fight kicks off. Katara is bloodbent, but in an amazing showcase of her own waterbending prowess breaks through the grip and beats Hama in a waterbending battle. Which is when Sokka and Aang arrive and give Hama some bodies to bloodbend. She first uses them to fight Katara, but quickly realises that the only way to get Katara to bloodbend is to get Aang and Sokka to kill each other. It is a very dramatic scene as Sokka’s sword comes so close to impaling Aang before Katara bloodbends Hama to stop her and make her submit. Which in itself is the darkest part of the episode, all Hama wanted was for Katara to use the ability, become in some way dark. Katara breaks down in tears because of this, which is a very emotional scene, she was forced to use an ability she never wanted to. This episode is very much a set up episode for where Katara goes in 316.
The other aspect of this episode is Aang, Sokka and Toph investigating the disappearances. The highlight of this part of the episode is Old Man Ding, who I just thought was amazing in the way his voice actor (Stu Levin) did a perfect old man telling a big story voice. Really good super minor character.
I will end this review with Bloodbending itself. A concept that originated from fan fiction, whether or not the idea to put it in the show came directly from that or that fan fiction just happened to have the concept first is unknown as far as I know. It was very interesting for me to see that Water, the most calm and flowing of the elements has this incredibly dark ability. An ability that is so powerful with being able to control others. It works and is balanced because a full moon is required. I was first shocked and then delighted to see it become a big plot point in Korra. Then knowing that the ability is introduced so well in this episode made it even better.
Overall this is another fantastic episode of ATLA, it is creepy and has a very different feel to any other episode of Avatar which makes it very unique. Hama only appearing in this episode manages to be a stand out character and Bloodbending is a great concept to add to the universe.
Favourite Moment/Katara is forced to bloodbending Hama to save Aang and Sokka, then her emotional reaction afterwards.
Favourite Line/¬†¬†”You’re not the only one who draws¬†power from the moon. My bending is¬†more¬†powerful¬†than yours, Hama.¬†Your technique is useless on me!” – Katara
309 Nightmares and Daydreams
Written By: John O’Bryan
Directed By: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: November 16th 2007
Nightmares and Daydreams, the weakest episode of Book 3 Fire. This is an episode that I feel did not need a full episode devoted to it’s plot and development. While what it covers was needed, it did not need a full episode to do so. This episode I think uses up too much of it’s 22 minutes trying to be overly funny, it is one of the funniest episodes of the series, but for all the jokes the worked there were some that didn’t. This episode does have some great character moments which I will talk about, but in a season that has been as good as Book 3 Fire up to this point, this one stands out as a drop down in quality. The Zuko side of the episode is excellent and balances out most issues I have with this episode.
I will begin with the concept of this episode. The invasion is just days away and it is just hitting Aang that when it arrives all the pressure will be on him to lead and then face Ozai. This works for me he thought it was going to be easy, but as the time is arriving and the preparations are being made he is for the first time realising the magnitude of what is to come. Aang then loses his head and his confidence and then tries to make up for it by training day and night which only makes it worse. I like this concept, happening in the episode before the invasion, but for them to dedicate a whole episode to it and all the weird dreams and nightmares Aang has. Then the amount of time spent by the group trying to help Aang, it just left me feeling like they needed to fill an episode space before the invasion. This episode makes me think Book 3 Fire is not 21 episodes because there is an extra episode in the finale, but rather there is this episode before the invasion. I am ok with this being explored in an episode, but devoting a full episode to this was a bit much, the Invasion could have been extended into part of this episode while still covering the main points of this one.
Moving away from the concepts and into more details. The nightmares and daydreams which make up a lot of this episode end up being some of the less funny moments of the episode, usually with humour in Avatar I am left thinking that it is all very natural, in this episode it feels a bit forced. The blatant parody of Anime tropes in his dreams about Ozai just don’t have me laughing that much, I feel like I have missed something because I have not seen whatever anime they are referencing. The one I did find funny was the Kataang daydream, where Aang dreamt himself the same height as Katara and kisses her. I liked that because it made sense for Aang to think that given how he feels about Katara. For the most part it was the moments outside of the dreams that I liked, Sokka’s Wang Fire beard coming back as a psychiatrist was hilarious, Toph’s overly aggressive massage bed. They were funny. I feel many of the dreams could have been taken out and the last few minutes of this episode be the opening few minutes of the next episode which would give more time for character moments next episode.
Then the one interesting nightmare ends up being very random because it is the only really serious one. We see some pretty dark and disturbing imagery, like the comet crashing into the planet, Aang melting in ice and much more.
Overall I find it difficult to really write a lot about this episode as it is fairly thin in terms of what happens. The final two moments on this side of the story I want to talk about are firstly when Katara uses the fact that Aang likes her to get him to calm down. She is tired and knows that Aang will be better if he gets some sleep, she says “Please…..for me” I liked this moment a lot. Then would have to be the final scene of the episode,
Katara:¬†Listen to me,¬†you’ve been training for this since the day¬†we’ve met. I’ve seen your progress. You’re smart, brave, and strong enough.
Aang:¬†You really think so
Sokka:¬†We all do. You can do this. You’re¬†ready.
Toph:¬†You’re the man,¬†Twinkle-toes.
Aang:¬†Thanks guys.¬†You know what I think I am ready.
I like that when it came down to it all Aang needed was for his friends to believe in him and be confident in him to make him confident. It was not about methods to calm him down, but simply believing in him. Which for me further emphasises that this episode could have been done over the course of half of an episode.
What makes this episode more than just average is the Zuko side of the episode, which is excellent. We have not seen him since the big reveals of 306. We start this episode with Zuko learning the good side of being the prince and the good things about being back, the servants that will do anything for him or bring him anything. His relationship with Mai is going from strength to strength, it was a good way to contrast his feelings from last episode. He is beginning to think that he may ignore Iroh’s advice and enjoy being the prince, until he finds out he has not been invited to the big war meeting, in fact he is the last person to find out about it. He rushes to find out if Azula was invited and she takes much joy out of trolling Zuko over the fact that she was invited while he was not, though she tells him to go as it is so obvious that he is meant to be there. We all realise why Zuko is so eager to be invited as it would be his father accepting him back, inviting him back into a war meeting after what happened the last time.
Another part of this side of the story is how it really shows how well Mai and Zuko work as a couple. She realises how much being invited means to him and does her best to take his mind off it. It is clear to see how much she cares for him. Especially when after Zuko is in fact invited and attends the meeting, she is the first one to ask him how it went and says “¬†Zuko, that’s wonderful.¬†You must be happy” when he says it all went how he wanted it to go. But nothing is ever that simple for Zuko, what happened in the meeting has confirmed to him what he needs to do, as he says.
¬†”During the meeting, I was the¬†perfect prince.¬†The son my father¬†wanted. But I wasn’t me.” – Zuko
This is an absolutely perfect line that completely makes this episode. For Zuko to say this not just to himself, but also to Mai is such a big moment in his character development. For the first time he realises that what his father wants is not what he can give, he wants Zuko to act in a way that is not him. Zuko’s journey has always been about him finding his path and for him to experience the path his father wants of him and realise it is not him is so important. He at this point realises what he needs to do. Huge moment.
Overall this is a good episode. The Zuko side of the episode is exceptional, the decent Team Avatar side does not bring the whole episode down, but it just felt so much like they needed to have an episode long plot and they didn’t. It is funny, but for the first time in Avatar some of the humour did not work. Thankfully the Zuko moments make this an unmissable episode in any rewatch.
Favourite Moment/ Zuko’s realisation at the end
Favourite Line/ ¬†”During the meeting, I was the¬†perfect prince.¬†The son my father¬†wanted. But I wasn’t me.” – Zuko
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