Appa has suffered a great deal since his capture.
Last time on Avatar: There were some slices of life centering on Ba Sing Se.
Capture and Circus
There’s a caption stating “four weeks ago…” as Toph struggles to hold up the spire as the sand-benders use ropes to capture Appa. Ghashiun tells the others, “Put a muzzle on it!” as they add more ropes. Appa tries to fly away but the sky bison is too well-restrained. Three sail sailers are used to drag away Appa, Toph quietly apologizing as they do so. This time we get to hear the comment Toph overheard that she mentioned back in “The Desert”.
Once they’re a good distance away, they pause to ransack the saddle. Appa deliberately sneezes, causing a sand sailer to crash into a dune. When one guy expresses worry, Ghashiun reminds them that they stole that one so his father won’t get upset due to not knowing about it. They find nothing valuable on the saddle, Sokka’s club seen, although one guy likes the umbrella he found.
The sand-benders sell Appa to some “beetle-headed merchants” (their hats do resemble that creature). A cart-like device led by a giant beetle is used to restrain Appa. When Appa hears Aang’s bison whistle, he rocks back-and-forth in an effort to escape. When he tries to fly off, shirshu spit darts are used to knock Appa out while Aang searches the vast desert.
The mushroom plume, off in the distance, is seen by Appa as he loses consciousness. The merchants are uneasy and want to get rid of Appa as soon as possible.
When Appa wakes up, he’s in a wooden cage. The Fire Nation circus trainer wants to “break” him and plans to not feed him unless he ‘earns’ it. A fire-whip is used on a lion-vulture. While that creature flies through loops, Appa air-bends to eat cabbages. The circus trainer mentions the loops will be ablaze when Appa does it. He’s alerted that Appa managed to eat when the sky bison belches, so he uses the fire-whip near him.
That night, there’s a crowd coming in to attend the circus. A boy sees Appa try to air-bend a hay bale into his mouth. His father (?) tells him harshly to stay put while he gets sizzle chips, but once he’s gone the boy enters the tent to bring over the hay so Appa can eat it. Appa licks him in thanks. The boy runs to where he had been when the circus trainer and ringmaster approach. The latter wants him in the show tonight; the circus trainer uses flames to intimidate Appa. The nervous boy gets dragged off by his returning father.
There’s a dramatic introduction, ruined by Appa’s colorful gear and make-up. The boy is worried while the audience finds it amusing. Also, his father has refused to share his snack with him. The animal trainer uses a fire whip. Appa’s flight through the fire loops at first goes well but then Appa’s costume catches on fire and he drops down.
Everybody’s amused when the trainer gets knocked out. The boy’s laughter reminds Appa of Aang. The boy then encourages Appa to escape. The animal trainer tries to cow Appa again, but this time he’s sent flying out of the tent. To the boy’s happiness, Appa escapes, losing the costume in the process.
Flying back to the desert, Appa locates the spot where the spire was. His feet are still chained, but Appa’s more upset by not finding Aang. Flying around, Appa fails to obtain an egg and gets hurt trying to eat a cactus (though that might have been for the best, given Sokka’s and Momo’s experience). Reaching the rock in the desert’s center, Appa gets chased out the buzzard-wasps. He swats them away, causing them to fly back home. He starts to lick the goop on his fur.
Dirty and tired, he flies into a barn beyond the desert. Presumably, he doesn’t realize that Aang had established their presence in barns beforehand in the past. He eats some hay before going to sleep.
He dreams of the Air Temple he lived at as a baby bison with his siblings. A group of young Air-bender boys, including Aang, have arrived to choose their “sky bison” companion for life. Two nuns are supervising. Appa and Aang find each other and bond, wanting to be together forever. On the Serpent’s Pass, Aang is having the same dream. Baby sky bison, as seen above, are utterly adorable. Even the art book refers to “Appa as a cute toddler” when showing black-and-white sketches of this ‘chibi’ mode as well as how Aang had been scaled down as well.
The scared farmer has a pitchfork. But it’s the wife’s torch that makes Appa panic so they panic. Appa flies away, the resulting gust blowing out the flame.
On the ferry, Iroh spots Appa fly overhead. Zuko wakes up to ask what his uncle had seen. Iroh lies that it was nothing and has Zuko go back to sleep. It’s tragic that Aang and Appa were that close to reuniting.
Landing in a forest, Appa finds an abandoned temple. He starts to eat some grass but a “boar-q-pine” attacks him. They roll down a hill and fight. Although Appa gets multiple quills stuck in him, ultimately the other creature ends up running away. Unable to get the quills out, Appa retreats back into the temple to sleep.
The next morning, some Kyoshi Warriors are picking berries when one finds a white fur tuft. Recognizing it, Suki follows the trail to the scared Appa. Leaving behind some fruit, she goes to get the others. On a lower ledge, she gives them advice as they want to reunite Aang and Appa. The sky bison is growly, so Suki does her best to reassure him while the others stay back. Mentioning Aang, she touches his nose and he lies down.
The show cuts to Appa being clean and happy, his feet freed. But then he hears something, moments later a blue bolt cuts down a tree. On their lizard-steeds the Dangerous Ladies arrive. Azula is sardonic, having used Appa’s fur to find him again. Appa is angry while the Kyoshi warriors get out their fans and shields. Ty Lee is amused by Azula’s ensuing pun.
Just before the battle, Azula states, “Any friend of the Avatar is an enemy of mine.”
All the ladies are fierce warriors, although Ty Lee acts a bit shallow. Appa is now scared of fire to Azula’s approval. Suki tells him to fly away before battling Azula. Appa tries to fly back to help the Kyoshi Warriors, but Suki waves a flaming branch as she tells him to find Aang. As he escapes, Suki goes back to fighting Azula.
The Eastern Air Temple
Appa flies through the forest, over a canyon, and some open water. At that point, there’s the Southern Water Tribe ships. I believe that was Hakoda who spots Appa momentarily.
Arriving at a long-abandoned temple complex, Appa still recognizes it as his childhood home, complete with flashbacks to that time. Wandering the temple, he spots a bald person meditating. Evidently thinking it’s Aang, he knocks him over and licks him until he realizes it’s not Aang… at which point he backs off and growls. Upset, he continues to growl until he gradually falls asleep that night.
Only then does Guru Pathik stand up and touch him, somehow learning the outline of what the sky bison has undergone. He states, “You’re still full of love. Ah. But fear has moved in where trust should be. I’ve been expecting you and the young Avatar for quite a long time. I had a vision many years ago of helping him. That’s why I came to the Eastern Air Temple.”
Appa is sleeping uneasily.
“Oh, your emotions are so turbulent. Like swirling storm clouds. Let the clouds in your mind be gentle, peaceful ones.” Somehow the guru is able to improve Appa’s sleep.
When he wakes up, there is food before him. He ends up following the trail of food to where the guru and some birds are. When the guru points out that he has bedhead, Appa shakes his head back to normal. That evening, Appa cautiously nears the guru and lies next to him. Guru Pathik gets permission to attach a message for Aang to his horn.
“You and the Avatar’s energies are mixed. You have an unbreakable bond. By reading your energy, I can sense where Aang is.”
The guru gets licked again before he notes, “Funny, what invisible strings connect us all.”
By touching Appa’s forehead, the guru ‘sees’ a white path. I’m reminded of “The Swamp” and how Aang did do something similar to find Appa and Momo.
Appa flies to Ba Sing Se, but some Dai Li agents spy him flying overhead. Then he hears a whistle and flies towards it, the cat creatures from last episode spotting him. However, Aang is sleeping with his bison whistle on one side and a sleeping Momo on the other.
Landing, Appa leaves behind a footprint in the mud before he steps back. It turns out that Long Feng was the one blowing a whistle. Long Feng traps Appa by flipping over the chunk of stone they’re on, the human having moved forehead. They’re now underground, the footprint the only sign that Appa was ever there.
I can see why, as mentioned by the art book, that this episode got “Humane Society Genesis Award for its depiction of animal cruelty in the Fire Nation circus”. The scenes with Appa at the circus were truly awful, mostly because of how realistic they were. I’m also wondering what will become of that boy. On the one hand, he got to go to the circus. On the other, he was basically treated like Harry at the zoo with his relatives (complete with egging on a creature’s escape…).
This episode got two pages in said book- art of the animal trainer, the lion-vulture, the two nuns and air-bending boys, and two background designs for the Eastern Air Temple. The caption for them explains “our idea was that the Northern and Southern Air Temples were run by the monks, and the Western and Eastern Air Temples by the nuns”. As well as chibi Appa and scaled-down Aang, the second page has art of the boar-q-pine, Appa’s ‘special’ modes (battered & circus dress), and two backgrounds (one of the “Earth Kingdom farm” and the other of the “circus interior”).
We learned how Aang and Appa met, and it was adorable. There is a tragedy in how Appa presumably lost his siblings in the Air-bending genocide- if they even met again after being paired off with air-bending acolytes.
There were several reminders of past plot points here. The Dangerous Ladies make a reappearance, as do the Kyoshi Warriors as a whole. Despite being outnumbered, the trio is a formidable force and the battle’s outcome is left uncertain. The Southern Water Tribe men are sailing… to where and why, I don’t know. It’s briefly highlighted that Iroh doesn’t want his nephew hunting down the Avatar.
It’s impressive how well-done this episode is, given how the titular character can’t talk. Dee Bradley Baker does an outstanding job voicing Appa without words (he always does a great job with his animal characters, but they’re rarely so central to an episode’s plot). Brian George voices Guru Pathik.
Long Feng clearly wants to use Appa to manipulate Aang, not realizing just how bad of an idea is it to do that with the Avatar, even a young one. As far as I can tell, Long Feng only obtained Appa after the end of “City of Walls and Secrets” in order to retain control over Aang. The man doesn’t realize how far in over his head he is.
Next time on Avatar: Time to find the titular lair of the Dai Li.