Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender


The Cave of Two Lovers

Really? We let huge, ferocious beasts lead our way.

We begin with Aang and Katara, engaged in some waterbending practice. We get a semi-romantic scene, where a half-naked Katara has to stand behind a half-naked Aang and move his hands into the right position.

See, this episode is all about shipping. Huzzah!

The Gaang are interrupted by the arrival of some hippie stereotypes. They do the usual hippie stereotype crap, annoying Sokka. The hippies suggest going through a cave to get to Omashu, but Sokka says they'll just fly over. Their attempt to do so is immediately thwarted by a bunch of Fire Nation soldiers throwing walls of fireballs at them.

And yet they were able to dodge that fire when they ran the blockade back in Avatar Roku. This is just a few tanks throwing fireballs; back then, they ran through 50+ ships all firing at them. But this is a shipping episode, so there's no need to put any thought or consistency into it. Nope; just use whatever excuse you can find to shove them into a cave.

From there, we cut to Zuko and Iroh. Zuko, being a prince, isn't used to foraging for food. Meanwhile, Iroh has begun his Flanderization. In the past, he has shown an appreciation for tea. But from second season on, it rises to the level of an addiction or fetish or something. In this case, he sees a plant that he thinks is the White Dragon bush, that produces delicious tea. But he also says that it might be the White Jade plant that produces deadly poison. Any reasonable person would simply move on to something that they know won't be fatal. But Iroh decides to brew up a pot, and wouldn't you know it, it's deadly poison.


So now Iroh and Zuko have to head into town to get him treated before he dies. They realize that if they're discovered in Earth Kingdom territory, they'll be executed. But if they're discovered in Fire Nation territory, they'll be turned over to Azula. Zuko, being a good jobber, puts Azula over and they choose to risk death rather than face capture at her hands. On the plus side, this conversation was actually funny.

When the Gaang reaches the mouth of the cave (the titular cave of two lovers), the hippies (they all have the same personality, so they don't deserve to be called by name) mention that the caves are a labyrinth. And there's a curse on them; those who do not trust in love will be lost forever. Since this is a shipping episode, Aang takes one look at Katara and says that they'll make it.

Then the Fire Nation seals them in the cave. After a bit more Komedy!, Sokka tries to map their explorations. But after a while, he realizes that the caves are actually changing.

Now on to something that will actually matter beyond this episode. Iroh's getting treated by a girl named Song. Zuko makes up a pair of fake names for them, Li for himself and Mushi for Iroh. Good job planning ahead, Zuko; you walked all the way to the village, but didn't realize you'd need a fake name. Well, to be fair, not planning ahead is part of Zuko's character, so that's another point for consistency. Song invites them over for dinner.

We go back to the Gaang and the hippies, lost in a cave. They are attacked by a wolf-bat, which is exactly what it sounds like. In the ensuing chaos, Appa gets burned by one of their torches and starts to rampage around, triggering a cave in. Good job. Aang uses airbending to push people out of the way, but when Katara gets a case of that "the ceiling above me is obviously about to collapse, but I can't be bothered to move out of the way" disease, Aang has to personally body-tackle her out of the way. And thus, the group is separated, with Sokka and the hippies in one group, and Appa, Aang, and Katara as the other.

Because this is a shipping episode.

We cut to dinner at Song's place. Song talks about how her father was captured in a Fire Nation attack, and she asks if Zuko's father is fighting in the war. He says that he is. Which is certainly true... from an certain point of view. Namely, the point of view that Ozai hasn't even seen combat that we know of (we'll find out that Iroh was off being a General, while Ozai was at home being... at home), but has certainly been in charge of that war for quite some time.

Back to shipping. Aang and Katara, with Appa in tow, find their way to a large area that turns out to be a tomb. For the titular two lovers. There are carvings that detail their story.

There were two lovers from two warring villages, Oma (the woman) and Shu (the man). They were in love, but meeting between people from the two villages was dangerous. So they learned earthbending from badgermoles (sure, why not) and earthbended a labyrinth that they could use to meet in secret. This worked out well for a while, but then Shu didn't show up. He'd been killed. Oma then gets all earthbending badass on the villages, declaring an end to the war (with the implicit threat of being crushed to death if they don't like it). A new city is constructed with their names, namely Omashu.

Oma and Shu are idiots. They learn earthbending, a powerful and at that point unknown force that allows them to build caverns and move earth. And the only thing they can think of to do with it is to use it to go on dates? They don't think about ending the war themselves, or just leaving with their newfound powers to make their lives in another place. Or anything at all. They use it solely for dating; they don't even live in the caves; they only use them for meetings.

This idiocy is only trumped by what comes next. Katara and Aang see a relief on the wall of Oma and Shu kissing, with the words "love is brightest in the dark." written there. Katara takes all of this in. She then comes to the conclusion that this means that maybe they should try kissing.

This doesn't even resemble logic. The tagline says "love is brightest in the dark," and they still have a torch, so it isn't in the dark. So even if this were a clue as to how to escape, it wouldn't work because it isn't dark yet.

None of this makes sense. But it's a shipping episode. And as anyone who has ever dealt with shipping can attest to, shipping doesn't have to make sense.

The upside is that Katara is embarrassed about this deduction, but Aang's attempts to make her feel better only make her think he doesn't want to kiss her. So Katara storms off.

Thankfully, we cut back to Zuko. For shipping, of course. The First Law of Avatar shipping is this: Zuko is automatically shipped with anyone he comes in contact with. And I do mean anyone. Zuko's on the porch, and Song sits down beside him. She tries to reach for Zuko's scar, but he stops her. She then shows him the burn scar she has on her leg; she points out how they were both hurt by the Fire Nation.

Back to shipping. Aang and Katara's torch is about to burn out. They talk about what they will do when it burns out. The light fades, and they move in for the kiss. Then the light goes out. Magic glow-in-the-dark crystals appear on the ceiling, lighting a pathway through the caves. The camera pans down to see Katara and Aang already separated.

Yep: this whole episode was leading up to Ship Tease. It's good to know that this half-hour was a complete waste for everyone, regardless of what ship you support. Kataang shippers can believe that Aang and Katara snogged like Ron Weasley and Levander, while any shippers that want to pretend that Kataang doesn't exist can believe that they saw the crystals before anything could happen. Nobody has any definitive evidence of anything, so no ship is advanced or defeated. And non-shippers got a load of crap for an episode.

Katara suggests that the crystals are how the two lovers found their way through the caves. They just put out their lights and followed the crystals. Except that this doesn't make sense. Anyone who followed them would have had their torches burn out sometime before they died. Plus, since the badgermoles keep changing the path through the caves, the path wouldn't be fixed.

We cut back to Iroh and Zuko leaving. Song tells Zuko that there's still hope left, because the Avatar has returned. Yeah, not really helping Song, but a point for the effort. Zuko then steals their Chocobo; Iroh protests this for obvious reasons, but eventually relents. Song spies them doing it but simply sadly watches them go.

We cut back to Sokka and the hippies. A group of wolfbats fly at them, but they don't attack. Sokka realizes that they're running from something just before a group of giant badgermoles earthbend their way through the walls. They seal the group in with earthbending.

And this looks really stupid. The movements the badgermoles are using don't look anything like natural movements for a quadrupedal animal, particularly one as hunched over as they are. Oh, that's right, this is a shipping episode; it doesn't have to make sense.

Sokka accidentally strums a discarded guitar when he's trying to escape being eaten. When the badgermole hesitates, the hippies improvise a song. It turns out that music instantly tames badgermoles.

It's a shipping episode.

The groups are reunited at the end. The hippies run away, and Aang gives a smirk at one point that suggests that they may have kissed when the lights went out.

Even ignoring the reams of Fridge Logic from this episode, it is very silly. It exists for the sole purpose of providing some ship tease, and every element in it only moves towards that end. Almost nothing that happens in this episode is referenced ever again.

Also, the timescale is off. We see Zuko and Iroh leaving at night. Does that imply that the Gaang were inside the cave for a whole day?

Oma, Shu and Shipping

The whole Oma and Shu story was pretty atrocious. It's like someone looked at Romeo and Juliet and said, "Forget all this tragedy stuff; R&J was clearly about how people shouldn't get between two people in love." Which only shows that they missed the entire point of Romeo and Juliet.

FYI: R&J is about two teenagers who are obsessed with each other for no reason at all. Romeo does this all the time; before he met Juliet, he was fiercely "in love" with Rosalind. Who's she? She's that woman Romeo pinned over before he met Juliet. Romeo doesn't provide anything more than that; he neither knows nor cares about her personality. The only thing we do know is that she had the good sense to pay Romeo no mind.

In the Tale of Woe that is Romeo and Juliet, Rosalind has no place. Because she's likely a person who actually knows the difference between love and creepy-stalker obsession.

That's something that people seem to forget about R&J. Remember the last line; it is a tale of woe. Warning. As in, something not to do. This is precisely what love shouldn't be like.

People keep thinking that the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that the title characters fell in love but were thwarted by the hatred between their respective families. The story is actually saying that Romeo and Juliet are wrong for trying to consummate their relationship without first dealing with the external problems. And we see exactly that play out with Oma and Shu. Shu was killed because they were too busy with each other and didn't use their powers to try to resolve the conflict between their two villages.

Romeo and Juliet have an entirely unhealthy obsession with each other that gets both of them killed. This obsession is based on nothing more than the purely physical. They aren't soul mates. They aren't alike in any way. They don't share any personal interests. Indeed, we never even find out what R&J's personal interests are. Furthermore, they never stop to think about their actions or to make any effort to make sure that their actions won't have unfortunate consequences.

There's a lot of reactionary fiction out there that romanticises this kind of empty obsession, daring to call it "love." Twilight (aka: stalkers really are in love with you, and you should embrace them especially if they look really hot) is probably the biggest current example, but it certainly isn't the first. Or last. This needs to stop.

This kind of thinking is likely at the heart of a lot of the more rabid shipping. That's why authors sinking ships doesn't work as often as they would like to. For example, at the end of Avatar the writers killed Zutara with a shotgun to the face. J. K. Rowling dropped the equivalent of a tac nuke on Harry/Hermione in the epilogue of Book 7. And it stopped absolutely nobody from shipping either pairing.

Why? Because the writers became the stars that cross, the stars that prevent their pairing. And thus, like Romeo and Juliet, the shippers develop an unhealthy obsession with things that aren't allowed to be by circumstances. They romanticise things that they think should happen, usually for dubious reasons, and then cling to those things even more when the powers that be tell them that it's not going to happen. The harder circumstances keep their one true pairing apart, the more they cling to it.

Naturally, this ends with teenagers dead in an alley because of a misunderstanding.


This obsession is based on nothing more than the purely physical. They aren't soul mates. They aren't alike in any way. They don't share any personal interests. Indeed, we never even find out what R&J's personal interests are.

Dude, you ever even read Shakespear era theater? Romances were never written based on what the participants interests were. It was always on the purely physical level. Heck, look at Romantic Comedies (to contrast with Shakespeare's tragedies) like The Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais, again the attitude of the time was to accept Love At First Sight as a fact (and that there's nothing creepy about a man stalking the girl he saw one across all of Spain to eventually get her to marry him. Coz you know. True love and shit).

Point is, you are applying fairly modern standards of love and romance to a story written in a time where such notions were less than common at best. So saying "we never even find out what R&J's personal interests are" is a completely hollow criticism, like saying that your action movie does not include a complete cooking show-like recipe of the salad that one mook was seen making before being gunned down by the hero: it's not relevant to the plot. Similarly, in 16th century theater, the respective interests of the two lovers and how they match was rarely a factor in the story.

A sad side effects of those stories being written at a time where... well let's say people cared even less about strong female protagonist than they do now (and they don't care nearly enough now). So (paraphrasing the words of the times( why would WE care about Juliet's interests? And why would Romeo care? It's all woman's stuff.

And for a question, why all the talking about shippers and their creepy crap? Whats next, a discussion on the A:TLA cosplayers?
Ghilz 13th Jul 11 (edited by: Ghilz)
"Point is, you are applying fairly modern standards of love and romance to a story written in a time where such notions were less than common at best."

The author is dead. There's nothing wrong with looking at art from a contemporary perspective. Indeed, the most long-lasting art is universal. The reason Romeo and Juliet survives as a play is because contemporary audiences can still find meaning in it.

Also, the point I'm making is that contemporary people keep holding up R&J as an idealization of how love should be, rather than looking to more realistic forms of love. Look at how the writers here idealized Oma&Shu as Bending Romeo&Juliet, only without the double-suicide at the end. You know, R&J without the tragedy.

"And for a question, why all the talking about shippers and their creepy crap?"

1: It's a substantial part of the fandom.

2: It influences the writing of the show. The writers have explicitly written romance into the series. Katara and Aang. Suki/Yue and Sokka. And the many, many women that follow Zuko around. Shipping isn't just a part of the fandom; it is a part of the show.

3: I felt that people would find it interesting. I didn't even intend to write the last couple of paragraphs of the digression; I mostly wanted to talk about the deification of R&J and why it pisses me off so much. But somewhere in writing it, I realized that R&J really symbolizes and explains the hardcore shipper mentality.
Korval 14th Jul 11
Nice point although Oma & Shu ''do'" get screwed over at the end. In retrospect it does seem their story was a shakespearen tragedy along your lines. Teens given great gift for love, squander it on yiffing, one winds up dead, learns mistake and founds city. Pretty deep if you ask me.
JusticeMan 8th Aug 11