Everybody ends up at the titular location.
Last time on Avatar: It was shown what Appa has undergone since his capture.
In their home, Sokka is making posters of ‘Appa’ but his art skills are on par with mine (which is to say, his images only vaguely resemble the sky bison). Momo is licking Toph’s foot. Katara and Aang return, having gotten a printer to make ‘lost Appa posters’. Having worked hard on his, Sokka gets upset but Katara and Aang are amused by how poor his art is. This makes the teen be offended and defensive.
Toph states, “It looks just like him to me.”
“Thank you. I worked really…” Sokka trails off, remembering that the younger girl is blind. “Why do you feel the need to do that?”
Katara wants to stick with the “professional version” so Sokka angrily tears up his latest poster. Excited, Aang and Momo glide overhead to spread the posters throughout the city.
In the tea shop, Iroh is happily working and his tea makes the customers happy. A guy with two bodyguards/servants is there, wanting to give Iroh his own tea shop. Pao, Iroh’s boss, gets upset at the idea of losing ‘Mushi’ but his efforts to retain him are decidedly lackluster and fail. Unimpressed by all of this, Zuko leaves the shop. A poster flutters down and Zuko looks for Aang. Climbing to a roof, the teen just misses seeing the younger boy.
When Aang returns from dropping off the leaflets (why the change in terminology?), Toph is playing by herself while Sokka and Katara are playing what might be a card game (just with tiles). The original Joo Dee returns, claiming she went on vacation to Lake Laogai. She’s here to forbid them from putting up and handing out any more posters.
His head turning reddish, Aang yells at Joo Dee before slamming the door on her.
Sokka observes, “That might come back to bite us in the blubber.
His hue back to normal, Aang states, “I don’t care. From now on, we do whatever it takes to find Appa.”
“Yeah! Let’s break some rules!” declares Toph before earth-bending away a corner of the house. However, the humans leave through the front door. Momo uses the new ‘exit’. A pair of Dai Li agents are spying on them via a roof across the street.
Joo Dee is kneeling before Long Feng in his study, upset. When he says the phrase “The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai”, her pupils dilate completely as she monotones, “I am honored to accept his invitation.”
After dismissing her, Long Feng speaks to two Dai Li agents. Maybe they’re the ones spying from the roof? In any case, Long Feng still wants to try handling things “quietly”.
Iroh is packing when Zuko returns to their apartment. He likes the name “The Jasmine Dragon” for his tea shop. Handing over the poster, Zuko wants more from life than working in a tea shop and wants his “destiny”.
“What that means is up to you,” counters Iroh. As Zuko walks away from the window, Iroh tries out, “The Tea Weevil! No, that’s stupid.”
Jet, Truth, and Freedom
The Gaang is pasting posters on a wall. Offended by having to go with Sokka, Toph tries to put up a poster. Thinking it’s upside down (it might be, but it’s definitely backwards), she agrees to go with him. Nearby, Katara is found by Jet. She uses the water from a stream to attack him on sight, despite his insistence that he’s here to help.
He puts down his twin swords but when he reaches to get something out, she pins him the back-alley wall with icicles. The others return, Sokka asking what happened. Katara informs them, “Jet’s back.”
It turns out Jet had gotten out a missing Appa poster, claiming he wants to help find the sky bison. Katara is angry while Sokka and Aang are more open to the idea of trusting him. Due to her unique variation on earth-bending, Toph can hear breathing and heartbeats so she can detect lies. By putting a hand on the wall next to him, she affirms Jet’s telling the truth. Aang wants to give him a chance and Katara gives in despite being unhappy about it, not wanting to let Jet out of their sight. I suspect this is foreshadowing how she treats Zuko when he first joins them in season three (possibly not deliberately, but yay for character consistency).
They end up in a giant barn, Toph finding a fur tuft. An elderly sweeper is there and mentions “Whale Tail Island” as the destination. Getting out a map, Sokka finds the spot, but it’s near the South Pole and would take weeks to get there. When the sweeper notes how he wants a vacation, Katara gets him to leave.
Jet wants to come with them, angering her again. After the guys leave, Toph asks Katara, “Was this guy your boyfriend or something?”
“I can tell you’re lying.”
Katara leaves, blushing.
As they walk down a street, they plan how to leave and where to go next. Toph is pleased, declaring Ba Sing Se “worst city ever.”
Smellerbee and Longshot encounter, surprised and glad to see Jet again after he was captured by the Dai Li “a couple of weeks ago”. Toph tells her friends, “This doesn’t make any sense. They’re both telling the truth.”
Katara is baffled but Sokka deduces, “They both think they’re telling the truth”. He jumps to the (correct) theory that “Jet’s been brainwashed”. I suspect his genre savviness momentarily kicked in, given how unlikely that concept would usually be. The others surround an uneasy Jet.
That night, a Dai Li agent is walking along a street when he is bumped into by the Blue Spirit. Giving chase, the Dai Li agent attacks a dummy of it in an alley with his rock tile gloves. The real Blue Spirit comes up behind him, putting a sword to the man’s neck. The commentary offers two ideas where Zuko got this dummy- he stitched it up himself, or found it backstage at an opera house.
The youths are in a room in a lower ring, possibly where Smellerbee and Longshot have been staying. Momo is dangling by his tail from the laundry line outside. They manage to piece together the Dai Li’s plan and Aang rightfully suspects that Appa’s somewhere in the city. When they need to find where Jet was taken because Appa could be there, Sokka teases Katara about kissing Jet to trigger his memories. That idea displeases both her and Aang.
Sokka sticks a straw from the nearby mattress into Jet’s mouth instead. The other boy says, “I don’t think it’s working,” and spits it out. They then have Jet recall his past with what the Fire Nation did to him, complete with a flashback to the child-Jet while his village burns. The commentary confirms that it was the Rough Rhinos who destroyed the place.
Katara uses water-bending to help heal his mind. Now Jet sees Long Feng, an underground lair, and being brainwashed. He brings up that the space is underwater. When Sokka mentions Lake Laogai, Jet confirms that’s the place. The creators admit that ‘Laogai’ means prison.
The Titular Location
Going to the lake, Toph senses an underwater tunnel and bends the pathway to the entrance to the surface. Momo flies away when it’s opened but the humans head down into the tunnels.
The space is large and intimidating, as well as mostly dark. Jet is remembering more now. In one room, a Dai Li agent is brainwashing a group of women into being Joo Dee, creeping out the kids. As Jet opens up a cell, elsewhere (and possibly else-when) the Blue Spirit opens up Appa’s cell.
Zuko ‘asks’ the sky bison, “Expecting someone else?”
The group gets surrounded by Dai Li Agents and Long Feng. The battle breaks out, Long Feng staying back as the kids use a bunch of impressive teamwork against the adults. When Long Feng bolts, Jet and Aang chase after him. In another room, they think they’ve cornered him. Aang wants Appa back, but Long Feng uses the trigger phrase on Jet to have him automatically attack Aang after doing the automatic phrase. I suspect they deliberately conditioned Jet to do so, just in case things didn’t go ‘quietly’.
Appa is growly at the Blue Spirit when Iroh shows up, first he pretends not to know who’s under the mask. Once Zuko removes the mask, Iroh wants to know what Zuko’s plan is. Zuko first wants Appa out of the Dai Li’s lair.
Actually angry, Iroh demands, “And then what?! You never think these things through. This is exactly what happened you captured the Avatar at the North Pole. You had him and then you had nowhere to go!”
“I would have figured something out.”
“No, if his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death!”
“I know my own destiny, Uncle.”
“Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”
“Stop it, Uncle. I have to do this.”
“I’m begging you, Prince Zuko. It’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you and what do you want?”
Zuko yells, dropping the mask and blades. The commentary observes maybe Zuko would be more emotionally healthy if he had a pet and praises Mako’s performance as well as acknowledging losing him.
Aang is failing to get through to Jet while Long Feng is smug, but when Aang mentions that Jet is a “freedom fighter” the other teen has a series of flashbacks and goes back to normal. Jet throws a blade at Long Feng, who then earth-bends him to the ground via a spire of rock. As Aang goes to him, Long Feng leaves, still thinking he will triumph over the Avatar in the end.
Saddened, Aang kneels by the other boy, the others arriving to crowd around Jet. Katara tries and fails to heal his internal injuries. Smellerbee and Longshot tell the others to leave and find Appa, as they’ll take care of Jet. The commentary notes this is the first time the latter has spoken.
“Don’t worry, Katara. I’ll be fine,” Jet tells her.
As the Gaang leaves, Toph whispers to Sokka, “He’s lying.”
Smellerbee is crying as Longshot notches an arrow. The creators do their best to justify why Katara didn’t use the spirit water on him- Jet’s injuries were too severe as sensed by her initial effort and/or the spirit water only works if the person needing healing has a spiritual connection of some kind. There’s also a joke that it’s for “series regulars only”.
The Gaang finds no Appa in the cell, so they leave the headquarters to find the sky bison. There’s a group of Dai Li agents both before and behind them, the Gaang getting cornered by the lakeshore. Momo arrives, chattering at Aang before flying upward.
Appa flies down, led by Momo, to save the day. Landing, a growling Appa bites Long Feng and skips him across the water. The sky bison then spits out a shoe. Everybody goes to Appa. Aang tells him, “I missed you, buddy.”
The sky bison’s eyes close, content to be with his human again. Soon, the quartet is hugging on Appa’s head as he flies away. Just before, Katara was teary as she stared down at the lake.
Zuko climbs up out of the tunnel, followed by Iroh. The older man tells him, “You did the right thing, nephew.”
When Zuko gets out the Blue Spirit mask, Iroh states, “Leave it behind.”
He drops it into the water, where it sinks. This last scene was added to confirm that Zuko did free Appa, as showing it would have ruined the surprise.
This episode only gets one page in the art book: three background designs of various spots in the Lake Laogai lair, that emphasize its scale and creepiness. A later section shows the missing Appa poster and a translation of its calligraphy… which includes Aang’s address. I suspect that might be part of what Iroh meant by Zuko not thinking things through, if Iroh had read the poster Zuko had shown him.
Unfortunately, Iroh isn’t aware that he’s doing the same thing that his brother did- trying to tell Zuko what to do, rather than letting him make his own choices. Iroh is doing it out of love, not indifference/scorn, which might be why he’s oblivious to the parallel. Whereas Iroh is blissful to obtain his own tea shop, working in one such place isn’t what makes Zuko happy. It could be argued that nothing makes Zuko happy, but that’s not the point. At this junction in time, what still motivates Zuko is wanting to please his father and regain his place as heir to the throne.
Aang and Appa have been reunited, but at the price of Jet’s life. It’s left “unclear” whether or not he died due to this being a kid’s show. It’s not shown what happened to Smellerbee and Longshot. The creators state that while good-intentioned, Jet is “troubled” and goes about things the wrong way.
The creators admit that basing the original Joo Dee on Miken Wong is due to her being happy while giving bad news about the show.
Toph reveals that she can sense lies via vibrations. The creators state that it needs to be quiet and she has to concentrate to act as a polygraph. I suspect she didn’t bring it up before because it was never needed before and it is canon that Toph doesn’t always show-off her abilities. And if what the commentary said is true, it’s not fool-proof, which was seen here in part because both Jet and Smellerbee believed what they were saying.
Next time on Avatar: The Gaang forces a meeting with the Earth King.