Time to head “Into the Inferno”!
Last time on Avatar: Most of the Gaang found the Order of the White Lotus, while Aang met with a lion-turtle.
Now that I can, let’s discuss the commentary for part two! The creators are a bit bemused about how/where Zuko has been keeping Iroh’s sandal. Still, it’s a bit touching that Zuko kept a reminder of his uncle. It’s acknowledged that this episode is the payoff for the Order of the White Lotus subplot. I’m still a little upset that there aren’t any notable female members of the Order of the White Lotus; the other members are apparently asleep as they weren’t met before. I still wish there had been more female older characters, especially as Legend of Korra still struggled with that aspect of representation by all accounts.
The creators wanted to stress not killing the bad guy as the hero’s ultimate goal. It’s one thing to fight in self-defense or to protect others, but another to deliberately set out to kill a guy. Furthermore, this episode shows that each Avatar has their own personality, including Aang. So the Avatar isn’t a simple reincarnation of the same person throughout the generations.
It’s pointed out that there are multiple ways to do what needs to be done and that various Avatars would have different ideas on which way is the right one- but which way is the right one for the world. The creators also note that part of the flashback was to stress that Bumi didn’t know what the eclipse’s effect would be, but that he just knew via neutral jing that it was time to act. There’s also a tangent about whether or not Omashu experienced the eclipse at a different time and a joking suggestion that the Avatar-world is flat.
The creators want to do a surfing spin-off with Kuruk (or so they claim). There’s also acknowledgement of how they’ve been working in lion-turtle references to ensure that this twist of events didn’t come out of nowhere, as they had indeed been planning it out since early on.
Onward to part three!
In the art book, there’s a two-page spread of various background designs- largely in reds and browns, but all gorgeous. The next page shows Toph’s proto Iron Man suit, the lead airship, and a rough sketch of the airship. Facing it is the storyboard for the scene where Azula cuts her own hair.
Speaking of whom, Azula has her mental breakdown here. I agree with the theory that it’s not that Azula had a rapid breakdown, but that her mental pillars were rapidly removed: her control over ‘friends’ via fear, her control over and being better than Zuko, and being her father’s right-hand warrior. Not to mention her lingering issues over thinking her mother believed her to be a monster. Azula wants her mother to have loved her but doesn’t think it was possible. Unable to trust, she ends up banishing nearly everybody in the palace- servants, Dai Li agents, and one of the twins (Lo & Li).
Yeah, most of this episode is epic action sequences: the Order taking back Ba Sing Se (Pakku & Piandao team up; Jeong-Jeong is fiery, duh), the famed Airship Slice, Zuko versus Azula, and Aang versus Ozai. Sozin’s comet arrives, turning the sky reddish. The first page for the finale in the art book contains a small background design of the blue-lit throne room due to Azula’s abilities and mental instability.
The commentary acknowledges how that there needed to an extended bit for the end to wrap up the core cast’s arcs, but that’s more relevant for the next episode.
I think this episode accidentally affirmed that only master fire-benders can readily use their powers during the comet due to the advanced power surge- there isn’t much fire-bending actually done. There are only a handful of airships, with the implications that there aren’t any more.
It’s acknowledged that the bit with the soldiers and the birthday is the last moment of levity for a while. However, I find the bit with the twins relatively funny, although it’s also another step in Azula’s downfall.
Regarding the Airship Slice, I will acknowledge there was likely a high death toll… but those soldiers couldn’t have been oblivious to what the task would be, especially the resulting civilian casualties (and animal casualties, and the damage to the environment). I know that there was a degree of revised history regarding the Air Temples genocide, yet most of the soldiers have to know that the Earth Kingdom has been largely defensive. The attack during the eclipse was about the first time the war had been brought to the Fire Nation.
Mark Hamill does a great, terrifying job as Ozai. There’s a part of me that really wants an ATLA/Star Wars crossover somehow. A lot of meta humor could come out of how similar Zuko and Luke are in spirit, yet how alike Luke and Ozai sound.
The Agni Kai between Azula and Zuko is gorgeous, powerful, and tragic. The above screen-cap showcases just how much more powerful the siblings became due to the comet (also… no other flames, indicating either there aren’t many fire-benders left in the capital, or they’re unwilling to use their powers during the comet). The commentary affirms that the score really helped set the mood. Then Azula cheats by trying to strike Katara, who was a bystander. Zuko messed up redirecting lightning in order to protect his friend. The creators mockingly reference Zuturians in how Zuko sacrified himself for her and she still didn’t “go for him”. More seriously, there’s a parallel in Aang being unable to redirect lightning back at Ozai, instead sending it up into the sky.
Sokka switches between goofy teenager and level-headed veteran in attitude throughout the episode. There is definitely a tragedy in how a sixteen (seventeen?) year old guy has to take point in saving the Earth Kingdom from being burned to a crisp, assisted by his similarly-aged girlfriend and the maybe thirteen-year-old Toph (she might still be twelve). Aang is Toph’s age and Katara might have reached fifteen while Zuko is at most seventeen. I wonder where Hakoda and the others have ended up… hmm.
The point is, this show gets dark if you look at it realistically. It’s still awesome, but there’s a lot more bleakness in how messed up the hundred-year-war made this world.
Aang is struggling against Ozai by the finale, hiding in a sphere of stone as the Phoenix King blasts at it.
Next time on Avatar: Aang defeats Ozai and a new era begins!