ATLA Episode Reviews – 314-317
Airspeed Prime here with my second last batch of ATLA episode reviews. Next week I will review the 4 part series finale and put out a Book 3 overview post and possibly a whole series overview post.
This week I will be reviewing: 314 The Boiling Rock Part 1, 315 The Boiling Rock Part 2, 316 The Southern Raiders and 317 The Ember Island Players.
314 The Boiling Rock Part 1
Written By: May Chan
Directed By: Joachim Dos Santos
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: July 16th 2008
The Boiling Rock Part 1, another “Zuko Field Trip Episode”, this time with Sokka. This is an excellent episode, in fact this two parter is one of the most well done multi part episodes of the series. I say that for multiple reasons, speaking just about Part 1: The Zuko and Sokka interaction like Zuko and Aang’s in last episode is a new and interesting character dynamic with two similarly aged guys, with strikingly different personalities. More than that we see Zuko willing to do anything to prove himself to the group, in this case helping Sokka with a suicide mission. When they reach the prison we see Avatar do undercover “will they be found out” drama so well which makes this two parter very unique compared to the rest of the series.
I will begin with the start of the episode and how the Zuko/Sokka team comes to go on said mission. Sokka out of nowhere asks Zuko where prisoners of war would be taken for a reason he won’t tell Zuko, Zuko is unwilling to tell Sokka as it will just make him feel worse as he knows Sokka is feeling guilty about the people that were captured at the invasion. When Sokka mentions his dad Zuko does tell him, what I love about this scene and what happens next is that Zuko is now a part of the group and wants to help his friends. Zuko knows exactly what Sokka was going to do and so when Zuko is waiting by Appa for Sokka it is not a surprise. With this we see where the next few episodes are going, Zuko is trying to prove himself to each member of the group, Aang in the previous episode and Sokka here. I think it is needed and definitely works to quickly show us Zuko’s relationship with the other members of Team Avatar.
It is their interaction once they are travelling that are some of the best parts of the episode. The two have no idea what to talk to each other about and have horribly awkward, but funny, conversations until the topic of girlfriends comes up. This is brilliant because it is not only great interaction, but it also foreshadows Suki’s return this episode. It is very well done that when the two begin to talk about their girlfriends they become less awkward and instantly are “bros”.
Sokka: My first girlfriend turned into the Moon.
Zuko:Â That’s rough buddy.
With this episode we also see a bit of a shift in Sokka’s planning. Usually he has a plan well in advance, but here he decides to wing it because of the teams recent failures. I like this and how it played into the way Zuko was, he never planned things through and it never really worked out and now roles are reversed with Zuko scolding Sokka for his lack of planning. Showing how far both characters have come.
I will move onto the undercover in prison scenes. Zuko and Sokka become guards and attempt to lay low while finding information on the location of Hakoda, they also run into Chit Sang who is a rowdy prisoner who causes trouble and gets sent to the cooler. Sokka is the one to bring him there, which sets up Sokka’s eventual escape plan in the episode. Once again this episode has set up things early on, great writing. Sokka and Zuko’s disguises are believable because they both act as rookie guards, asking obvious questions and not wanting to remove their helmets, I liked how it played out. May shows do these “in disguise” moments way over the top and it is not believable, here it works.
I will return to Sokka and Zuko in a moment, but I want to talk about The Warden now. The warden is a fascinating character because of what drives him, all he wants to do is keep up his prisons record of no escapes and he is willing to sacrifice himself for that. He is doing his job no matter that cost, that is an interesting character point. He is a no nonsense man, and is quick to put any prisoner in their place, but he is not exceptionally cruel like say the warden from 106.
“No oneÂ has ever, ever escaped from here. I’d sooner jump in the boiling lake myself than let that record fall.” – The Warden
A character defining line. Though he has his best moments in the next episode, the set up here is well done.
Back to Zuko and Sokka, Zuko finds out that there are no war prisoners in the prison. It seems like they have gone to these incredible lengths for nothing, but Sokka then spots Suki in the yard, Azula sent her to The Boiling Rock. This is a great moment, Suki returns again. It is a huge testament to her character that I am always delighted to see her in an episode. The reunion scene in prison is yet another well done emotional moment in Avatar. Sokka first keeps up the disguise until Suki nearly injures him, then the emotions come out once Suki realises Sokka has come to save her. This emotional moment then turns into a huge dramatic moment as Zuko warns them that guards are coming, but there is not enough time for Sokka to get out of the cell unseen. Zuko has his big moment and breaks cover allowing Sokka to arrest him and remain in disguise. I love this moment as it shows how far Zuko is willing to go to help his friend.
Zuko gets a surprising, but nice moment once the warden reveals that Mai is his niece. Through him we see Zuko say how much he cares about Mai and how he never wanted to hurt her. Then Zuko and Suki meet for the first time since 104, with a oddly funny and serious reference to that episode. Suki remembers exactly what Zuko did to her village and Zuko now on her side so sincerely says “Oh. Sorry about that. Nice to see you again.”, I was like “Oh Zuko, your so nice now :)”. Sokka now with some hope abandons his lack of planning and comes up with an ingenious plan to use the cooler as a boat across the boiling lake, though Chit Sang overhears and they are forced to include him in the break out attempt.
The firs part of the plan is hilarious. The fake fight between Zuko and Chit Sang is glorious in how bad the acting is. The excessively loud way they say their odd lines is perfectly done by the voice actors. The plan is going great until a gondola full of new prisoners arrives just as they are ready to set sail across the lake. Sokka has to make a big decision, leave and possibly miss the chance to save his father or stay and possibly miss the only chance to escape. With the backing of Suki and Zuko he stays and waits as the prisoners disembark. It is a hugely dramatic moment as Hakoda is the last one to exit while Chit Sang and friends are caught trying to escape in the cooler.
Overall this episode is a very well done opening part of this story. Setting up The Warden and the plan changing twice with Suki and then Hakoda being present. While Part 2 is the more exciting part and the better episode, this one is so important to the arc as a whole and a great Zuko and Sokka character interaction episode.
Favourite Moment/Sokka’s reaction when he first spots Suki, his eyes turn into hearts.
Favourite Line/ “Lets Roll Baby!!!” -Chit Sang
315 The Boiling Rock Part 2
Written By: Joshua Hamilton
Directed By: Ethan Spaulding
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: July 16th 2008
Part 2, Ozai’s Angels return and make for a dramatic conclusion to The Boiling Rock story. This one is the more action packed episode of the two, but another reason that myself and many other fans prefer this part is that there are more characters in play. Mai arrives to add some Maiko drama, Azula is always Â a positive addition to an episode and of course having Hakoda join the group and seeing the father son interaction is always great.
I will begin with the first of three reunion scenes in this episode. That being the third Sokka/Hakoda reunion (First time being in 219, second in 310) this one has that extra emotion from both because of the way they had to depart at the invasion. Again Sokka would want to realise that he needs to take his helmet off so the other person realises who he is, lol. Which is lampshaded perfectly by Hakoda.
Hakoda: You know Sokka, you should be more careful with that guard outfit on. I almost punched you in the gut.
Sokka: Yeah,Â I ran into that problem earlier.
I purposefully avoided focusing on Chit Sang in the first review as I wanted to cover him here. I think he is one of the best minor characters in all of Avatar, because of how much he adds to the episodes he is in. He is such a part of these two episodes with how he is the guy who knows the prison and knows how to get things done. You always wonder what exactly he did to get thrown in prison when he seems like a nice enough guy, able to follow a plan and never tries to double cross the others. Which is a part of his character that I like, that honour among prisoners is out in full in this episode. He is being tortured as badly as Nick will allow (turning a chair he is sitting on upside down) and despite that does not give up Sokka to the warden and instead managed to get a different guard out of the picture. I really liked that, he had a chance to get on the good side of the warden by ratting Sokka out, but didn’t as he knew Sokka could get him out, which he does. Another interesting thing about him is that he goes with Zuko and Sokka back to Team Avatar and stays with them until they are all forced to split up. Which again comes back to is he actually a good guy wrongfully imprisoned, or has Sokka just had a good influence on him. He has an utterly epic moment when he starts a prison riot by simply picking up a man and screaming riot. Glorious.
I will talk about Maiko in this episode now. Zuko is brought before Mai and the two are allowed to have some alone time. Mai is furious at Zuko for leaving her with just a letter and believes him to be a traitor, while Zuko argues that he is doing this to save his country. It is a fascinating back and forth as we know exactly why Zuko is thinking the way he is, but does Mai really believe what she is saying, that Zuko is a traitor. Zuko takes his chance and manages to escape, though he is forced to lock Mai in the cell, we get a shocking moment as a furious and upset Mai stares at Zuko through the door opening. Both are saddened by what has happened.
The plan to escape is more straight to the point, use the warden as a prisoner, hijack the gondola and threaten the warden so the cable does not get cut. Suki shows how epic she is when she single handedly in seconds scales a huge building and captures the warden with ease. This is the point where the action truly kicks off, Azula and Ty Lee arrive and try and stop the gondola. We see Ty Lee and Suki have an amazing hand to hand combat fight, while Zuko and Sokka fight Azula. I love this action set piece, it is so dangerous as they are all above a lake of boiling water. Sokka and Zuko have fantastic team work in the fight and get the upper hand on Azula. As this happens the warden takes off his gag and orders his men to cut the gondola cable, which is amazing because like he said last episode he is willing to die to keep his prison’s record intact. Azula and Ty Lee jump to a nearby gondola.The others are about to fall into the water when Mai arrives and beats the guards saving Zuko and friends. Thanks to Mai they escape home.
Probably my favourite part of this episode is when a furious Azula and a confused Ty Lee confront Azula. Mai has gone against Azula and she cannot comprehend why. Mai answers in epic fashion.
” I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you.” – Mai
This line is brilliant, Mai has only really gone along with Azula through fear, but she has found a more powerful emotion to follow, love. She cares so much for Zuko that she is willing to face Azula’s wrath, that is huge. We then see Azula’s usually calm demeanour crack as she gets furious at Mai and is about to kill/hurt her, until in another just as shocking moment Ty Lee chi blocks Azula, as she like Mai breaks through Azula’s control by fear. It is a huge moment for both girls as we see that while they both had friendships with Azula it was really their friendship with each other that was the main one. Azula has experienced for the first time people who have gotten past their fear of her. This is the first step in Azula’s eventual slip into insanity, controlling people through fear has been all she has known and now it is failing her.
The last reunion scene is the return of Zuko, Sokka, Hakoda, Suki and Chit Sang to the western Air Temple. Zuko was willing to do anything to help Sokka and risked his life for the cause multiple times. He has further proven himself to the group, everyone except Katara as we will see next episode.
Overall this is one of the best episodes of the series. It has one of the most dramatic set piece action scenes in the show as well as some great character moments. It also brings Mai, Ty Lee and Azula back into play and gives them all good moments of advancement in the series. All of this in the second half of a two parter, that is the sign of a superb episode, where it works as the conclusion to it’s story, but on it’s own has it’s pluses.
Favourite Moment/ Mai and Ty Lee turning on Azula
Favourite Line/ ” I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated.Â I love Zuko more than I fear you.” – Mai
316 The Southern Raiders
Written By: Elizabeth Welch Ehasz
Directed By: Joachim Dos Santos
Animated By: Moi Animation
First Aired: July 17th 2008
The Southern Raiders, emotion. That one word perfectly sums up this episode, it is a character focus on Katara and it is by far the most emotional episode of the series. It has some really dark emotions from Katara as she has a chance for revenge against her mothers killer, but also some other deep emotions as well as great character development. The flashbacks where we at last find out what happened to Kya are stunning and again are emotional. This more than any other episode in all of Avatar take the audience to a different emotional level and I love it.
I will start from where I just left off, why this episode works so well. It is simply because so man moments have built up and foreshadowed the events of this episode, Katara wanting revenge against the man that killed her mother. Jet lost himself in his quest for revenge as did Hama, 2 characters who Katara was close to at points in the series. This episode works on such an intense emotional level because we see Katara who has been the character to never lose hope, never let her friends go down similar paths or stop caring, we see her completely lose herself in her quest to not just find, but kill Yon Rha. That dramatic change of Â such a hopeful character to such a vengeful character here is amazing to see.
Continuing the Katara talk, we see that part of the reason she is so angry at Zuko is because she has in a way placed the blame for the death of her mother on Zuko. Zuko realises this and after getting some info from Sokka decides to help Katara get closure on this by confronting Yon Rha. At this point we see Aang really come into the episode and he has clearly grown a lot as shown by the way he handles an unset Katara. He can see how upset she is and knows from past experiences how it feels and that Â what they have planned will not solve the issue as easily as they think. Before Aang gives some words of wisdom Sokka arrives to back up Aang leading Katara to say an utterly shocking thing to Sokka.
“Then you didn’t love her the way I did.” – Katara
This line defines how upset she is, Sokka and we, the viewers are left speechless by this line. Aang gives Katara some great advice which she does take on board despite her reaction to it.
“The monks used to say that revenge is like a two-headed ratviper. While you watch your enemy go down, you’re being poisoned yourself.” – Aang
It is a very true and wise statement from Aang that Katara needs to hear. Katara feels she has no choice but to hunt the man down, but Aang again tells her she does have another choice, to forgive him. Katara in her anger says it is impossible. Aang does let her go leaving her with a final piece of advice.
“I wasn’t planning to. This is a journey you need to take. You need to face this man.But when you do, please don’t choose revenge.Â Let your anger out and then let it go. Forgive him.” – Aang
Let it out and then let it go in the end is exactly what Katara does, though she does not forgive him.
I guess the next thing to talk about is the Katara and Zuko interaction. I will start by saying, how anyone watching this episode can get Zutara out of it is just baffling beyond belief. If anything this episode shows the strength of the Katara and Aang relationship which I will explain later. Once they are on the mission she begins to open up to Zuko more as he is trying to help him, again it is the intensity and drive to help his friends that earns him their trust. The big moment here is that Katara tells her part of the story of how her mother died. At the end of the episode, although she does not forgive Yon Rha, she does use Aang’s advice about forgiveness and forgives Zuko. It was a great way to end the anger between the two.
I want to talk about the story of the death of Kya now. Firstly the way it is told and the way the various flahbacks come about is masterfully done, first Sokka telling what he saw that day, then Katara and then Yon Rha. The way each builds onto the other and how each links in with the plot in how Zuko hears the story. The story itself is tragic, but also shows the incredibly sacrifice Kya made, giving herself up to save Katara. The delivery of the voice actors as they narrate the flashbacks is amazing with all the emotion there is. On a side note it was great to see more of the history of the southern water tribe. The story is tragic and especially Katara’s memories of the day, yo understand why it is such an important event in Katara’s life, in many ways it made her who she is today.
Before I cover the big confrontation I will talk about the opening of this episode. This episode has the most action packed and fast paced opening of any episode. Azula, clearly still affected by the betrayal of Mai and Ty Lee attacks the Western Air Temple in a craze, prepared to kill Zuko. We see some crazy jumping skills of Zuko as well as that he is now able to fight Azula 1 on 1 evenly, no longer is she the clear superior bender. There is also a very symbolic moment when both Azula and Zuko fall from the Airship, in the past it was Zuko with no friends and Azula who had them, while now it is Azula on her own and Zuko with the support of his friends. It really shows the development of both characters well. While this fight happens the group is forced to split up with Teo, The Duke, Haru, Hakoda and Chit Sang leaving while Team Avatar now plus Zuko and Suki depart on Appa. We see Katara and Sokka’s family ripped apart again, but not for long as Hakoda says. I like the different style of opening to this episode, have most of the action at the start and have the big character stuff be the rest of the episode.
Back to Katara again. I mentioned that Hama and 308 foreshadow this episode, we see Katara who was so upset at having to use bloodbending to save her friends lives now use it out of anger and revenge (exactly what Hama wanted) on the leader of the Southern Raiders. This is exactly the change in character of Katara that makes this episode so intense, it also refers back to Aang’s advice. In that scene she was not heeding it, but when she realised it was not the right man you could see the realisation of what she had just done and what she could have done. Aang’s advice was to help Katara not become lost in her quest for revenge, had she killed him she would have become someone else, someone she never wanted to be.
They quickly locate Yon Rha after this and ambush him. We see that Yon Rha after retiring is now living a soul destroying life where his mother is controlling him, a complete contrast to the powerful man we see in the flashbacks, he is pathetic. Katara confronts him and in one of my favourite scenes of the series reveals herself to be the waterbender her mother claimed to be. It is the power of her waterbending and the intent in her voice that make it so good. She prepares herself to kill him and comes within moments of killing him before stopping. She refuses to kill him, she does not want to become a killer. She questions whether she did it because she was weak or strong, IMO it was her strength, Aang’s advice playing some role.
Which brings me back around to this episode being a stronger Kataang episode than any Zutara stuff. In this episode we see precisely why Zutara does not work, Zuko was aiding and helping her to find and kill Yon Rha, he never offered her any advice about not killing him, just helped her. While Aang who really cares about her knows that she would never be able to take it back if she went through with it, and offered her advice on what to do, which she used in part. The only Zutara in this episode is that Katara goes from not hating Zuko to being his friend.
The final thing I want to cover is the ending of the episode. Aang’s advice about not killing Yon Rha was correct for Katara, but Zuko having heard everything Aang has said about the situation confronts Aang and asks what he will do when he faces Ozai. He is against killing people, so what was he planning to do. Aang is taken aback by this, he has clearly just thought he would somehow capture Ozai, it has never crossed his mind that he could have to kill Ozai. It is a fascinating cliffhanger that perfectly sets up the finale.
Overall this is one of the top episodes of this series. While it is a drastic change in Katara’s character for this episode it makes sense and is well explored and developed. It is one of the darkest and most dramatic episodes of the series and a personal favourite of mine.
Favourite Moment/ Katara confronting Yon Rha, the sheer emotion of this scene is amazing. The voice acting, music, animation and everything make it a standout scene in this episode.
Favourite Line/Â ”I wasn’t planning to. This is a journey you need to take. You need to face this man.But when you do, please don’t choose revenge.Â Let your anger out and then let it go. Forgive him.” – Aang
317 The Ember Island Players
Written By: Tim Hedrick, Joshua Hamilton and John O’Bryan
Directed By: Giancarlo Volpe
Animated By: JM Animation
First Aired: July 18th 2008
The Ember Island Players, a recap episode done in the best way I have ever seen. Quite simply this is a recap episode, but unlike many shows Avatar goes down the route of not making it a clip show, but instead is a completely unique 22 minutes of animation. Using a play of the groups events as the method of recapping the series. I love this as we see the characters watching the play and see their reactions to Â the events they were a part of, which leads to great moments of reflection. In my opinion it is perfectly placed in the series right before the finale, that breath of fresh air just before the plunge into the drama of the finale. It allows us to see the Gaang in a more relaxed mode before the craziness of the end of the series. This is a polarising episode among fans, I am in the group that loves it.
The main reason I love it so much is the humour. The play is so over the top and crazy compared to the actual events, but always recognisable as a moment from the show. From the way the actual character’s thoughts on their actor counterparts to the in play jokes it is a fans dream episode. The amount of references throughout the play to fandom jokes and theories is amazing. You can tell that they had a lot of fun making this episode and it shows.
This could just end up as me typing out every joke in the episode, but I will restrain myself and focus on the plot. Outside of the recap part of the episode there is actually a plot and character development, but why this episode works so well is that said plot Â happens because of the feelings that them watching the play brings.
Moments like Zuko shocked to see how badly he treated his uncle throughout the journey and how this makes him feel. He goes into a sulk and it is here that we get a Toph/Zuko moment, not quite field trip level, but good. Zuko is ashamed about the way he has treated Iroh so Toph tells Zuko of the talk that she and Iroh had (The Chase reference) and how all Iroh ever wanted for Zuko was for him to find his own path and now that Zuko is with the team he has made his Uncle happy. This line is perfect from Toph, and instantly gets Zuko out of his mood.
Â ”It was also very sweet.Â All your Uncle wanted was for you to find your own path and see the light. Now you’re here with us.Â He’d be proud.” – Toph
When Aang sees that in the play they are specifically making himself and Katara out to just be friends he gets upset and wants to talk to Katara about their relationship. We get some much needed Kataang development in this scene.
Aang:Â We kissed at the invasion and I thought we were going to be together but we’re not.
Katara:Â Aang,Â I don’t know.
Aang: Why don’t you know?
Katara:Â Because we’re in the middle of a war andÂ we have other things to worry about. This isn’t the right time.
Aang:Â Well, when is the right time?
Katara:Â Aang, I’m sorry but right now,Â I’m just a little confused.
This back and forth is one I find very interesting in that the two clearly like each other, Aang is very open with his feelings and wants Katara to be too. She is not saying exactly how she really feels, she is coming up with excuses to avoid the situation, you get the sense that she is a bit confused and that she does think it is not the time, but also that she does have strong feelings for Aang, but does not know how to handle the situation. I love the realism of the scene, Aang references the kiss from 310 and then kisses her again here, but her reaction is different both times. There she was a bit embarrassed and shocked,but blushed. Here is almost the opposite. Almost as if she just wants Aang to focus on the upcoming battle and not her. Though I will say that this scene almost feels out of place in the whole series, it is never addressed again and this is the last time their relationship comes up before the kiss in the finale. Like either this scene should not have happened or that there should have been 1 more scene between this one and the kiss in the finale, but Katara’s look at Aang in the coronation is enough for me, in that moment she realises she loves him.
Sokka just wants his actor to say better jokes and so with the help of Suki sneaks down to visit the actor and give him better jokes. It is a funny scene because that is all Sokka cares about, the jokes.
The play itself is very well done, because of the attention to detail the animators put into it to make it play like, the bending being props, the overworked stage manager doing everything on his own, the odd actor choices and so on.
Overall I love this episode, the concept of doing a recap in this way is such a clever idea and the way it is executed in terms of the play itself and the characters reaction to the play is perfect. It is a perfect episode to have before the finale, the calm before the storm.
Favourite Moment/ Toph and Zuko’s chat during the intermission about Iroh.
Favourite Line/“I can see you doing that.Â I see everythingÂ that you see except that I don’tÂ seeÂ like you do. I releaseÂ a sonic wave from my mouth.
*Screams loudly for a long time*
There.Â I got a pretty good look at you.” Â - Actor Toph
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