The Fire Nation teens go to Ember Island, while the Gaang has their first encounter with Combustion Man.
Last time on Avatar: Sokka was mentored by Piandao.
Treated Like Children
The quartet of teens are taking a boat (being pulled by an aquatic creature) to Ember Island as a “forced vacation” due to Fire Lord Ozai wanting to meet with his advisors alone. I have to wonder if others were sent elsewhere as well, or if the teens were specifically ‘exiled’ for the weekend. Maybe he knew that Azula would try to find out what’s going on even if the teens were told to stay out of a certain palace wing…? I know the Doylist reason for the trip, but I’m curious what Watsonian justification Ozai has. Zuko and Azula came to the island every summer as children with their parents.
Lo and Li, the elderly twins, are on the dock to greet the teens. They’re taken to a smaller house where there’s a painting of the twins as the attractive young women they once were. Zuko gags… yes, an immature reaction, but then again he is a teenager. Ty Lee is happy about being on the beach, while Mai is more annoyed. The twins are reassuring and note how Ember Island tends to ‘smooth’ out people and reveal their true selves just like the waves do with stones. They take off their wraps to reveal their swimming suits (Mai covers Zuko’s eyes).
The Gaang is swimming in a quarry. Toph is worried about Aang having stripped down to his undergarments, thus exposing his air-bender tattoos. Katara feels that it’ll be fine. Aang and Momo slide down a tunnel.
Two guards are bored… until they hear the splash and use a telescope to spot Aang, who clearly uses air-bending in his leaps back up the cliff. They’re shocked by the Avatar’s survival and use a messenger hawk to send a “black ribbon message” to the Fire Lord.
The teens have reached the beach, Mai and Zuko under a parasol. Azula stomps on a sandcastle, scaring off the two boys who were making it. A teen goes to Ty Lee’s aid eagerly. Zuko tries to give Mai a seashell, but she’s dismissive of it and the gesture. Zuko tosses it aside… and another guy gives it to Ty Lee, who likes it to the annoyance of the first guy.
Zuko has gotten them ice-cream cones… but Mai’s scoop falls onto her when he tries to give it to her. Azula spots a volleyball match and decides they should join in. Ty Lee hand-walks over to the despair of her three admirers. When Zuko takes off his shirt, doves fly by the background and there’s a group of cooing girls surrounded by hearts.
Azula tells the other three the game plan and volleyball (a variant played with the players’ feet which the commentary reveals they learned after the fact is essentially real)) is serious business for them. Two guys take notice of the quartet. The net ends up catching fire with the opposing team landing on their butts because the ball landed so hard it created a fairly large crater. Azula gloats, “Yes! We defeated you for all time! You will never rise from the ashes of your shame humiliation!”
More calmly she observes, “Ah! That was fun.”
The two guys, Chan and Ruon-Jian, invite Ty Lee to their party that night. When it becomes clear that they don’t recognize the royal siblings, Azula stops her brother from lashing out before more subtly pressuring the duo into giving them an invite. The hosts warn them to “act normal”.
Towards sunset, the group is having dinner on the balcony. Mai and Zuko are pressed up against each other (daw). Azula is interested in seeing how people will treat them if they don’t know they’re royalty.
The messenger hawk gets captured by a bigger hawk who gives the message to Combustion Man. After reading the scroll, he sets it ablaze via his ‘third eye’.
The quartet arrives at dusk, since Azula overheard that the party will last “dusk to dawn” and she tries to be ‘peppy’ with mixed results. Chan’s father is an admiral who’s away and doesn’t know about the party so he warns them against messing anything up. Azula attempts to compliment Chan’s outfit, only confusing him.
Ruon-Jian is fussing with his appearance before a mirror. Zuko is awkward and is angrily afraid that Mai likes the other boy. As the party gathers steam, Ty Lee gets surrounded by a group of admirers. When she’s not only literally backed into a corner but metaphorically by their pressure for her to pick who she likes best, Ty Lee chi-blocks them and goes over to Azula.
The other girl is annoyed by Ty Lee ‘teasing’ them, causing the brunette to cry. Azula calms her down and admits to her jealousy. Astonished, Ty Lee goes, “What? You were jealous of me? But you’re the most beautiful, smartest, perfect girl in the world.”
“Well, you’re right about all those things,” Azula concedes. “But, for some reason, when I meet boys, they act as if I’m going to do something horrible to them.”
“But you probably would do something horrible to them,” Ty Lee giggles. More earnestly she continues, “I’m sure they’re just intimidated by you.”
Ty Lee coaches Azula on flirting (Azula not impressed by the shallow tactics) and then they ‘practice’ it, with Ty Lee as the guy. Mai and Zuko are bored on a bench.
Azula goes over to Chan to ask for a house tour. When he goes off with her, the girl he had been talking to gets handed his drink and Azula puts her drink on her head that literally steams due to her anger at her flirtation being thwarted. The duo ends up on the house’s balcony. Azula does her best to follow Ty Lee’s advice and it does seem to work.
After they kiss, Azula goes back to her default mode of fiery imperialism. Chan nervously retreats.
Zuko fails to get food for Mai and then he gets possessive of her. Mai yells at him for being overemotional and Zuko yells at her for being unemotional so she dumps him. A vase has gotten broken so Chan kicks out Zuko. I suspect Zuko has being honest about him leaving anyway.
Going onto the beach, Zuko nears the Fire Lord’s summer home. There are occasional sepia-toned images from his childhood, highlighting how Zuko did have good times there. Breaking open the door, Zuko finds a family portrait of the quartet (Ozai, Ursa, himself, and Azula). He then finds a clay circle with his smaller handprint in it.
The Gaang is all sleeping in the quarry. Toph hears the Combustion Man’s approach so she wakes up the others, who see him on the upper ridge. He uses his unique power to attack a spot near them. An impressive battle breaks out.
Azula finds a moping Zuko on the porch. She takes him down to the beach as “this place is depressing”. Ty Lee and Mai are already there (Zuko and Mai are awkwardly cranky towards each other). As it’s cold now, Zuko points out there’s lots to burn in the house.
Aang goes to distract their foe while the others get on Appa, as their efforts aren’t enough to faze him. The air-bender ends up in a space full of rock spires. After a brief but badass battle, he uses Toph’s stone suit concept to gain enough time to get onto Appa’s back himself. Toph comments, “Well, that was random,” but Katara rightfully suspects the attacker knew who they were.
Zuko burns the family portrait as fuel. Ty Lee expresses concern for him, making him lash out at her. Azula is annoyed by having to hear her friend’s backstory again. It turns out that Ty Lee has six identical sisters (so… septuplets?) and she joined the circus to stand out. Mai notes that explains her “attention issues”, making Ty Lee snap at how Mai had her parents’ exclusive attention for fifteen years. Zuko is annoyed by how she bottles up her feelings as well.
Mai points out how she had to behave perfectly to retain her parents’ attention and affection, growing annoyed when Azula psycho-analyzes her. Ty Lee is worried about Mai and Zuko being unhappy, noting that bad feelings could make them “break out” (in pimples, it’s implied). Zuko points out who he got a “lesson” on his face from his father and admits that he’s angry and doesn’t know why, since he’s gotten everything he wanted.
The three girls end up pressuring him into revealing who’s angry at. Zuko’s emphatic denial of being angry at his father is heartbreaking… but he ends up admitting that he’s angry at himself, making the fire briefly burn brighter and higher. He’s miserable and Mai reassures him that she cares about him. They kiss, having made up.
An annoyed Azula claps. Her frustrated brother snaps at her about being “perfect”. Azula is hurt that her mother thought she was a monster even if it was true. It is canon that Ursa was annoyed/concerned by her daughter’s sociopathic tendencies but maybe just that Ursa tried to put the brakes on Azula’s more destructive traits (which Ozai fully encouraged in contrast) caused Azula to misread her mother’s view of her. Not helping is that Ursa hasn’t been part of her life in years.
Ty Lee is content that the group got all ‘smoothed’ out. Azula knows how to make this trip more memorable so they return to Chan’s house and wreck it, making the teenage boy cry. The episode ends on a slightly sepia-hued image of the happy quartet before a blaze (possibly the house). I suspect that when/if Chan’s father figures out who caused this destruction, he won’t retaliate due to the royal siblings. Of course, Chan will still get in trouble due to hosting a party without permission.
Like most episodes, “The Beach” has a two-page spread in the art book. One page is largely devoted to Combustion Man, with the bottom of a background image of “the subtle and moody interior hallway of the Fire Lord’s summer home”. The opposite page shows Azula, Ty Lee, Zuko, and the twins’ two outfits. There are also multiple sketches of Fire Nation kids, Chan, and Ruon-Jian. The bottom has a background image of the Fire Lord’s summer home’s exterior and the surrounding, craggy rocks.
I doubt if left to their own devices that the trio would have been quite so destructive, but Azula egged on their worse impulses. Plus, the quartet have been warriors/soldiers for an extended period. That’s led them to lack a sense of proportionate retribution in a social setting… or even much in the way of social graces. Ty Lee is a people-pleaser, Mai represses her feelings (unless Zuko’s involved), Zuko lashes out because his self-directed anger, and Azula is flat-out sociopathic.
The reasons behind their behavior are stated here to clarify their backstories, even if it’s not told how the quartet became childhood friends. Mai points out to Zuko that his past shouldn’t excuse his present actions. While she’s right, Zuko following this advice will cause another break-up between them later on in this season.
The Gaang were barely in this episode, but they did have their first encounter with Combustion Man. This episode also had several ‘anime’ moments, whereas most have maybe a single one. I suspect the change is because “The Beach” is a more light-hearted and character-focused episode opposed to centering on plot and action.
Next time on Avatar: Aang learns about Roku and Sozin’s connection, while Zuko learns of his link to both men.