The Gaang gets forceful in both meeting the titular character, and in their determination to reveal the truth to him.
Last time on Avatar: A coalition was formed to investigate Lake Laogai, to bittersweet results.
The Gaang is on an island as it nears sunset, still on Lake Laogai. Aang, Momo, and Appa are basically cuddling. Sokka heads over to where his sister and Toph are, telling them, “Look, we escaped from the Dai Li. We got Appa back. I’m telling you we should go to the Earth King now and tell him our plan. We’re on a roll.”
“One good hour after weeks of trouble isn’t much of a roll,” Katara refutes.
“We can build on it,” Sokka insists. “If we want to invade the Fire Nation when the eclipse happens, we need the Earth King’s support.”
“What makes you think we’ll get it?” asks Toph. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things don’t usually go that smoothly for our little gang.”
“I know, but I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Sokka states. “This time will be different.”
“Sokka, Long Feng is in control of the city. His conspiracy with the Dai Li is too powerful,” Katara points out. “I think we should just keep flying and leave this horrible place behind us.”
“I’m with sweetness,” chimes in Toph. “I’ve seen enough of Ba Sing Se and I can’t even see!”
Aang comes over, saying, “But now that we have Appa back, there’s nothing stopping us from telling the Earth King the truth- about the conspiracy and the war.”
“See? Aang’s with me,” goes the older boy. “It’s the whole reason we came here in the first place. We have to try.”
“Well, I guess if the Earth King knew the truth, things could change,” muses Katara.
Only half-jokingly Toph goes, “I don’t trust the new positive Sokka. Long Feng brainwashed you, didn’t he?!”
Spotting three ships out on the lake, Sokka tells them, “That’s probably the Dai Li searching for us. So?”
“Let’s fly,” decides Katara.
Palace Invasion and Zuko’s Breakdown
Appa roars as he soars through the air. Toph is not happy about flying sans saddle, while the other three are too focused on the nearing palace compound to answer.
“Surface-to-air” rocks are flung at the sky bison by the royal guards. Appa dodges some of them while Aang bends others into pieces. I’m not sure if he’s using air or earth bending. Upon landing, Aang takes out a whole group of guards. Appa growls at the leader to send him and his steed running off. The Gaang fights guards to force their way towards the palace. Katara is apologetic, aware that the guards are likely oblivious to the conspiracy.
Aang and Toph form a stone ‘bubble’ to protect the group, including Appa, from some rocks. Katara uses the moat to power her attacks. A lot more guards are emerging from the palace, so Toph turns the stairway into a ramp. As they fall down, Appa and the humans rise up on a stone platform. The commentary points out that Appa’s tail bobbing is air-bending assistance for the ramp. It’s also admitted that the crew sometimes has trouble knowing what to do with Appa and Momo in a scene. Sokka apologizes as well, giving a slight explanation as well. Once they’re in the palace, Sokka tries to get Toph to look for the Earth King to no avail. Opening several doors, Sokka fails to find him.
Iroh and Zuko have returned to their apartment, but the latter goes woozy and collapses. His uncle reacts with alarm and worry.
The group finds a massive door. Sokka can’t open it but Aang can air-bend it open. On the other side is the impressive throne room. The Earth King, voiced by Phil Lamarr, is present… but so is Long Feng. Upon the humans’ arrival, the Dai Li leader claims that the group has come to overthrow the king. The king doubts they’re well-meaning, given their… aggressive entrance to his palace. Toph concedes, “He has a good point.”
When the Earth King wants them to “drop [their] weapons and stand down” to prove their good intentions, they do so. However, some Dai Li agents then handcuff them with rocks. Long Feng wants them all gone forever, but slips up by referring to the group as “the Avatar and his friends”. Initially the king believes it’s Sokka, who counters that the Avatar is Aang. The preteen frees himself briefly to wave, highlighting just how difficult it is to contain the Avatar.
Bosco, the king’s pet bear, comes over to lick Aang happily. It turns out the king trusts his bear’s judgment. Aang explains things about the war, upset with Long Feng. The man is a skilled liar. But Sokka gets inspired and gets Aang to air-bend up the man’s robe to show Appa’s bitemark. The sky bison comes in to help prove that the teeth marks came from him. The Earth King concedes to look into matters (the Gaang’s reactions to his statements make it funny). Unhappily Long Feng leaves with his agents.
Zuko is on his cot, having a fever. Iroh is tending to him. The teenager coughs as his uncle tucks him back in.
Turning Up the Heat
The Earth King, some of his guards, Sokka, Katara, and Toph are taking a train to the shock of the other occupants. The monarch admits this is the first time he’s ever been outside the palace. Nearby, Aang and Momo are riding Appa. It’s bittersweet to see their determination not to be separated again (sweet in their bond, bitter in why they’re so clingy).
Somehow the Dai Li have managed to cover their tracks at Lake Laogai… but the Gaang manages to convince the Earth King to go to the outer wall. As they leave on Appa, the Earth King admits that he doesn’t want the war to be true. Aang agrees that he wishes it wasn’t. The zoomed-out moment as the end is gorgeous.
Zuko is dreaming as an unscarred self as Fire Lord on a dais. The two Eastern-style dragons are circling him: the blue one has Azula’s voice and wants him to sleep, while the red one is Iroh and wants him to stay awake. Given how Mark Hamill voices Ozai, I’m deeply amused by the inversion of the Star Wars color-coding, although the hues do match the fire-benders’ flames. Then the dream gets weird, with Ursa briefly appearing. I’m unsure if there is any symbolism or if it’s just a weird dream. The commentary brings up that it was interesting to see what Zuko would have looked like if he hadn’t had such a “horrible father”.
The Gaang shows the Earth King the giant drill from the top of the wall. I’m baffled at why it hasn’t been moved in the weeks since its arrival. In “The Drill” the earth-benders couldn’t move it due to its forward momentum, but the device is inert now. Maybe they’re too afraid to approach beyond setting up earth walls around it via bending?
Anyway, Long Feng and two Dai Li agents show up. The former does his best to lie and convince the king that it’s a construction project made by the Fire Nation. Unconvinced, the Earth King orders the Dai Li to arrest Long Feng and they do so via metal cuffs after looking briefly at each other.
Sokka gloats, “Looks like Long Feng is long gone! Ha! Ah, yeah, I been waiting to use that one.”
Nothing But Clear Skies Ahead?
That night in the palace, the Earth King thanks the group for revealing the truth to him. Momo is hanging out with Bosco and the Earth King on the dais while the humans stand before him on the main floor. Aang explains about how Sozin’s Comet is returning that summer, while Sokka discusses the solar eclipse- “The Day of Black Sun”- and its effects. When the Earth King is nervous about getting involved, Sokka points out that Ba Sing Se is already vulnerable and risks must be taken. Suddenly I have déjà vu about Gandalf, Aragorn, and Theoden: “Open war is already upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”
The Earth King agrees to their plan just as a man arrives. He is General How, voiced by Jim Meskimen, the leader of the Council of Five. They’re the military leaders of the city and hopefully uninfluenced by Long Feng and the Dai Li. Anyway, the group goes to Long Feng’s study to read the secret files on them- which includes their mail.
Katara reads a letter from Toph’s mom to the younger girl; it states that she’s in the city and wants to see her. Aang receives the scroll that was attached to Appa’s horn. Sokka and Katara don’t have any mail, but General How reveals there’s a report on Water Tribe ships defending Chameleon Bay. To their glee, their father’s name Hakoda is mentioned.
Iroh is giving Zuko tea as he explains that Zuko’s sickness is not natural but rather a spiritual metamorphosis before reassuring the teenager.
The quartet (plus Mom) is excited. Toph wants to go reconnect with her mother, highlighting that she was more affected by their rejection of her true self than she’s been letting on. Aang explains how the guru wants to help him master the Avatar State. Katara decides they need to split up, dampening Aang’s mood. She gently insists on Aang learning from the guru. Sokka nobly offers to stay and help the king plan for the invasion, but Katara wants him to be the one see their father while she helps out the king.
“You are the nicest… sister… ever!” squees Sokka before kissing her on the cheek.
“Easy there, big brother,” goes Katara, amused, before agreeing, “Though you’re right, I am.”
They go their separate ways in the morning. Aang wants to tell Katara something before Sokka butts in, excited. The Earth King thanks the duo and hopes they return soon. There’s a mention of three girls arriving, saying they’re Kyoshi Warriors. Sokka falls from halfway up Appa at that. Understandably, the youths believe they’re Suki and friends. Katara gives Aang and a kiss on the cheek, making him blush. Then there’s a group hug (including Momo) before Aang and Sokka leave on Appa.
Zuko wakes up while Iroh is sleeping. He goes over to the bathroom where he’s freaked out by seeing he’s unscarred, having Air Master tattoos, and bald. Waking up again, he reaches up to touch the base of his scar to check that it’s there.
As they fly away on Appa, Sokka’s convinced that everything will go smoothly from here on out. Sokka’s thrilled at the idea that Suki will be there when he returns, while Aang’s clearly thinking of Katara ‘waiting’ for him.
In his metal cell, Long Feng receives a meal as well as reassurance that the Dai Li are loyal to him.
Toph arrives at a house, knocking and entering. It’s empty and suddenly she’s trapped in a metal container to the pleasure of Xin Fu and Master Yu, who appear out of the shadows. I’m not sure how Toph missed their presence… well, she was likely expecting a few people to be present (her mother and at least one servant). Besides, her nerves might have left her off-kilter.
The Earth King welcomes three teenage girls in Kyoshi garb and cosmetics… except they’re clearly Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee.
The episode does further the plot, but also sets up for the final two episodes of the season. Contrary to Sokka’s new outlook, there’s trouble brewing on the horizon. Zuko is so confused about what to do it literally sickened him, the Dangerous Ladies have snuck into Ba Sing Se, Toph has been captured (as presumably so have the real Kyoshi Warriors), and Long Feng still controls the Dai Li. At least the Earth King now knows the truth about the war?
Knowing how the rest of the show plays out, I have to wonder if Zuko’s “metamorphosis” has only begun and that the fever breaking was only the beginning of that process. His sister currently is far more clear about what her goals are and how to achieve them.
There are two pages in the art book devoted to this episode. One has two images: a black-and-white image of the Earth King’s palace complex and a colored background that’s slightly zoomed in. The other has images of the following: the throne room, its dais (with two reddish bits next to it), four of the generals, the King, Bosco the bear, and some images of the two dragons. The caption for that last one confirms that “[the crew] chose to assign Azula’s voice to the blue dragon, to match her blue-colored Firebending”.
Like the previous episode, this one has a commentary. It acknowledges that this arc begins with “a bang” (the Lake Laogai events) and then ends with one as well (to be seen), while many story arcs in general just end with one. The charge into the palace is fittingly dramatic as well as the commentary pointing out that it shows how the Gaang has honed their skills (individually and their teamwork) since they started out. This show is highly dynamic.
The commentary brings up how complicated it can be to piece together an episode, given how actors record separately. At the end, they discuss how the episodes’ endings tend to be more bleak than a typical kids’ show.
Next time on Avatar: Aang learns about chakras from the titular character while his friends have adventures.