When Katara’s new earth-bender friend is captured by the Fire Nation, she sets out to rescue him and all the other captured earth-benders.
Last time on Avatar: Aang’s childhood friend Bumi is still alive, and as creative as ever.
In the midst of some woods, Sokka could only find some nuts for him and the others to eat. Then come a pair of huge booms; Momo is clearly concerned that he caused them by tapping a nut against a rock. Aang and Katara run off to find the source; Sokka is frustrated about them heading towards the big scary noises opposed to away but follows them.
The trio briefly sees a young earth-bender, who hurriedly flees from them. They realize there must be a village nearby, which they soon find. Katara spots him and heads into the shop he went into. Not only Haru (Michael Dow), but his mom (Pat Musick), are in the shop which is apparently theirs. Aang and Sokka come in as well.
The mom is upset about Haru being caught earth-bending. When some Fire Nation soldiers approach, the teens’ idea of ‘acting natural’ is poorly done. Evidently the Fire Nation is used to the villagers under their control acting weird because it doesn’t send up a red flag for them. The lead soldier threatens an ‘accident’ as he fire-bends due to the tax doubling. Haru’s mom gives them most of their few coins before the soldiers leave.
Nearby coal mines are used to power Ozai’s ships and “earth-bending is forbidden”. Katara is worried and upset by the bending ban. When she asks what else could the Fire Nation do, Haru’s mom reveals that the Fire Nation could take away Haru like they did his father
The Gaang can help in the barn of their family farm for the night. Aang assigns himself the key duty of keeping Aang from eating all the hay.
Haru and Katara walk down to sit by a cliff’s edge to talk some more. After the initial defending attack, the Fire Nation rounded up all the defenders and took them away- including Haru’s father. Haru learned all the earth-bending he knows from his father and using his ability makes him feel close to him.
Katara reveals that her necklace was given to her by her mom, who was ‘lost’ in a Fire Nation raid.
Haru goes, “It’s not enough, is it?”
“No,” Katara admits. Yeah, that’s a heart-wrenching scene.
But as they head back they then hear a noise and follow it to a mine entrance, where an elderly man is trapped under some rubble. In order to save the man, Haru uses his earth-bending. The man is then carried off by the two (presumably back to the village).
The group is settling down for the night in the barn. The art book has a gorgeous black and white drawing of Haru’s family farm and the surrounding scenery. Sokka wants to leave as soon as possible due to all the Fire Nation soldiers in the area. But as they sleep, a group of Fire Nation soldiers go to the house. When Haru answers the door, the old man identifies him as the earth-bender so the soldiers grab hold of him.
To the Rig!
Katara is using her water-bending to fill a jug with water at dawn the following day. When she sees Haru’s mom crying, she drops the jar. After hearing off-screen the news, she rushes to the barn to panic at the boys before Sokka gets her to explain more calmly. Katara wants to get captured for earth-bending so she can rescue her friend as she blames herself for his capture.
Sokka info-dumps the plan while Aang has fun with a butterfly. Momo is watching on intently.
“Do you remember your cue?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just relax. You’re taking all the fun out of this.”
“By ‘this’ do you mean intentionally being captured by an army of ruthless fire-benders?” the older boy asks incredulously.
“Exactly. That’s fun stuff.”
When a trio of soldiers approach, Sokka and Katara get into a fake fight. Sokka’s feelings get actually hurt when Katara ‘mocks’ him about the size of his ears. Aang misses his cue at first but then Katara repeats herself.
At first one of the soldiers thinks that the lemur is earth-bending so Sokka has to correct him. Before handing her over to the soldiers, he warns his sister she has twelve hours to find Haru. Once the four leave, Sokka tells Momo he has big ears.
Wearing a brown shift over her outfit, Katara is taken in a wagon to a ship. Appa follows the ship out to a rig over deep water. The art book acknowledges the inspiration of “modern-day oil rigs”. The warden (played by George Takei) shows up to ‘greet’ the group of new prisoners, including Katara.
A guy coughs in the middle of his speech, so the warden fire-bends at him and then has him taken away for a week in solitary. The rig is made entirely of metal so there’s no rock or earth for them to bend, and the warden scorns earth-bending as a whole.
Katara and the others are taken deeper into the rig to a large central open-air area full of people. Only the art book reveals the prisoners are put to work “forging their giant metal ships”. Haru spots Katara, who admits she came to rescue him. Tyro, Haru’s father, is here as well and evidently more or less the prisoners’ leader. He’s voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Currently his plan is to survive and wait out the war to Katara’s bafflement.
“Katara, I admire your courage, and I envy your youth, but people’s lives are at stake here. The warden is a ruthless man, and he won’t stand for any rebellion. I’m sorry, but we’re powerless.”
So she gets up and does her big speech as the Warden is watching on from a wall top. That probably stymied any potential rebellion. When nobody reacts to Katara’s confusion and hurt, the pleased warden walks off.
Late that night, as the rig’s searchlights go back and forth, Aang finds Katara sleeping and wakes her up. Sokka is on Appa and wants them to get Haru and leave but Katara refuses to abandon the prisoners. Aang agrees so grudgingly Sokka does so as well. The trio retreats deeper into the rig, Appa flying off.
But two soldiers spot Appa and go to report to the warden. One calls it a bison, the other a buffalo. The warden gets upset and flat-out throws one of them overboard when he tries to say semantics aren’t the point. When the warden commands the other to wake up the captain, the soldier reveals that was the captain the warden threw overboard. But in essence, the warden orders a search of the rig.
Aang, Katara, Momo, and Sokka are hiding among some crates, trying to come up with a plan. Sokka suggests the best way to get them to help themselves is to give them something to bend. Seeing the smoke rising from the chimneys/pipes, Aang bets coal is the cause of that. Apparently coal can be bended by earth-benders.
As dawn nears, Sokka outlines how this plan is just the earlier plan on a much larger scale. Then the siblings get surrounded by soldiers, with the warden showing up with more. A huge column of coal erupts out of the vents and Aang flies up afterward.
Yet the earth-benders still won’t do anything. The warden is scornful of Katara’s hope but then Haru acts, with Tyro then coming to his son’s defense. A battle of coal versus fire ensues as more and more earth-benders join the fray. Sokka and Momo help out too.
Tyro and Haru work together to create a dense orb to break a huge hole through the wall. Now the earth-benders can start heading towards the ship. Aang creates a whirlwind which the siblings ‘feed’ coal into to hit the soldiers.
A group of soldiers and the warden are on a coal ‘platform’ Tyro guides out over the water. When the warden admits he can’t swim, Tyro informs him, “Don’t worry. I hear cowards float.”
The ships sail away, full of returning earth-benders. Haru and Tyro thank Katara for inspiring them. Tyro plans to take back his village and then the rest of the Fire Nation ruled villages. But Katara can’t join them as her mission is to go to the North Pole. Haru acknowledges that Aang is the Avatar.
Haru is grateful to be reunited with his dad yet sad that no such reunion is possible between Katara and her mom. Only now does Katara realize her necklace was lost during the battle. Back at the rig, Zuko has found it.
This was another spectacular episode. For a kids’ show, the moral of “sometimes good intentions aren’t enough” is unusual. Katara’s speeches about hope aren’t enough to inspire a group of downtrodden earth-benders cut off from their element. And yes, this aspect was horribly mangled in the movie. Furthermore, Haru was captured because he helped out that elderly man who then turned him in.
It’s established here that earth-benders can bend rock and coal, but not metal. Furthermore, multiple Earth Kingdom villages are currently under the Fire Nation’s control but now free, these earth-benders will start organizing rebellions to take them back. Bending battles continue to be totally awesome and I think this is the first scale battle seen in the series.
The consequences of war are seen here. Parents die or are captured, villages get overwhelmed by attackers and then controlled by them. Plus there’s a good look at the demoralizing done by prisoner camps. Zuko makes a return appearance at the episode’s end, still on the Avatar’s end.
Haru and Tyro were both great characters. The teen used earth-bending to stay close to his dad and is willing to help others as well as generally be brave. Tyro is brave and noble, but also more aware of the risks in fighting the Fire Nation. But eventually he comes to be reminded that sometimes the risk is worth it, particularly once his son was in danger from the warden. Speaking of whom, the warden made a great one-shot villain as well as a great cameo by the Star Trek actor.
Next time on Avatar: Aang has his first encounter with the spirit world.