Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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The Earth King
You invade my palace, lay waste to all my guards, break down my fancy door, and you expect me to trust you?The episode opens with planning. Sokka says that they should try to see the Earth King. Katara suggests leaving, saying that the Dai Li are too powerful. Toph reminds us that she's blind; thanks for contributing. Aang points out that, since Long Feng doesn't have anything to hold over them, there's no reason not to tell the Earth King about the war and Long Feng's treachery. They spot some Earth Kingdom ships, likely the Dai Li looking for them. Katara finally agrees to go. Because nothing the Gaang does can happen without your approval, Katara. Oh, and Screw You, Aunt Wu: 5+Yue, for Sokka coming up with a plan to overthrow a corrupt government. The Gaang are flying to the palace. Katara thinks that Long Feng warned the army about them coming, but Sokka decides to tempt fate by saying that they'll just fly right in. Yeah, right. What follows is, as I alluded to earlier, the most ridiculous face-stomp battle in all of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Gaang, who I should remind you are four teenagers (one of whom is a non-bender armed with a machete and a boomerang) and a 100 ton flying bison, walk through the Earth Kingdom army like it's not even there.
—The Earth King
And I don't mean that they beat the army. Or that they get past the army. I mean that the Earth Kingdom army defending the palace never even comes close to stopping them. The Gaang makes them look like a bunch of poorly dressed fools. Nobody lays so much as a stone on them. At no point are the Gaang ever in anything even remotely approaching danger or peril. They effortlessly smack down everything that highly experienced earthbending soldiers throw at them. This completely undermines, well, the entire plot. If the Gaang can just walk through hundreds of highly trained soldiers like they're not even there, why not just repeat this at the Fire Nation palace? What, are firebenders somehow more dangerous? See, the fundamental problem with this scene is that the series plot is founded on taking out Ozai. Who is ultimately just a man. He may be a powerful firebender who can perform Avada Kedavra in the blink of an eye, but you don't have to be the Avatar to take him out. All you need to do is beat him until he stops moving. The main reason for the eclipse plan is to deal with the large firebending army that stands between them and Ozai. But if the Gaang are so skilled that they can part an army like Moses through the Red Sea, why should I believe that Firelord Ozai and his army pose even the slightest threat to them? Why wouldn't they just be able to go to the Fire Nation, find the palace, and start fighting people until Ozai himself shows up? Or are the writers saying that the Earth Kingdom's army simply sucks? Is nobody in this show allowed to be competent except the Gaang and Azula? But let's face facts. This is here for one reason and one reason only: this is an action show, and therefore every episode must have at least one fight scene. There is no other place where a fight scene would have been appropriate, so it has to happen now. Thus, the Gaang couldn't simply sneak in; they have to fight their way in. And a fight that shows that the battle was hard would have taken longer, and the episode has a lot to do. Anyway, back to the episode. The Gaang penetrate the Earth King's palace with ridiculous ease. As they look for the throne room, we cut to Iroh and Zuko. Zuko says he's not feeling well and passes out. Well, that might not be ridiculous and insulting to the audience's intelligence, so back to the Gaang. They break down the doors to the throne room, where they find the Earth King with Long Feng and a few Dai Li agents. Yeah, like they mean anything. When the Gaang tries to tell the King why they're here, he replies with the page quote. Yeah, you guys didn't exactly think this through, did you? Anyway, the Earth King tells them to drop their weapons if they're friendly, which they do. This technically means nothing since Toph and Aang can use the very floor. The Dai Li agents use their hand-earth to bind their hands. Which also means nothing since Toph and Aang can escape with ease. Long Feng tells his agents to remove the Gaang, but he inadvertently mentions that the Avatar is among them. This piques the Earth King's interest, and his bear seems to like Aang. That's apparently good enough for the Earth King who decides to hear them out. So Aang tells him about the war, Long Feng keeping it from him, stealing Appa, etc. After Long Feng says that they're anarchists that he's been tracking for weeks, the Earth King decides to side with Long Feng. Sokka decides that he can prove that Long Feng took Appa. Since he was bitten by Appa last episode, Sokka has Aang reveal Long Feng's legs to show that he has bite marks. Long Feng says that it's a birthmark, and the Earth King says there's no way to prove that it came from Appa. Sokka disagrees. Cut to Aang pointing at one of Appa's teeth. Which... proves nothing. Unless they did some CSI-level analysis, the most you can say is that Long Feng has marks that look like they may have come from Appa. But the Earth King, obviously made of the same stupid that everyone in Ba Sing Se is crafted from, takes this as conclusive proof. He isn't ready to buy their whole story, but he does decide to investigate. We cut for a bit to Iroh taking care of Zuko, who has a fever. Cut to the Earth King and his entourage on a train. The Earth King apparently has never left the palace before. Though considering how large it is, and the fact that the Dai Li have kept him isolated, this makes sense. He admires Aang flying outside the train on Appa. Cut to Lake Laogai. Toph reveals the entrance, but finds that it has been destroyed. Which is really something that Bending Daredevil should have noticed before trying to reveal it. The Earth King is not impressed, and after Sokka attempts to convince him that it really was there, he starts to walk away. Katara gets the idea to show him the remnants of the drill. When Aang tells him about it, he then says that no Earth King has ever been to the outer wall. OK, WTF? Was there ever really an Earth Kingdom if the guy ostensibly in charge of it never even left his own city? I don't just mean this guy; I mean ever since the founding of the Earth Kingdom, how is it that no Earth King has ever so much as seen the rest of his kingdom? Look, I know that's kind of a typical "Asian" thing, having the great, Godlike emperor that never really leaves the imperial city yet rules a vast empire. And Ba Sing Se is about as large as the whole of the Fire Nation, so it's not like his domain is small. But, in a world of bending, Avatars, and high adventure, it just doesn't really seem to fit. Long Feng didn't make the Earth King a puppet. Every Earth King was probably somebody's puppet; Long Feng is just the most recent. This nation was screwed long before the Fire Nation attacked. Now we know why Chin the Conquerer was able to take over the Earth Kingdom (save Ba Sing Se, of course). What I don't understand is why Kyoshi didn't just anoint him Earth King (since he actually does stuff) and take out the current one? Oh that's right; preserving "the balance". Because in the Avatar-verse, you're not allowed to overthrow your current ineffectual government and make something that actually works. Unless of course, you're the Avatar; then you get to create your own little fiefdom (Kyoshi Island) and overthrow a guy who's actually building a nation. Anyway, Aang convinces the Earth King to see the drill by allowing him to ride Appa. They banter for a bit. Well, that's making too much sense. Time for surrealism: Zuko's fever dream.
Zuko is seated in the Fire Nation palace. He is wearing the hairpin of Firelordship, so he's apparently Firelord. Oh, and he doesn't have a scar. A rather snake-like blue dragon descends beside Zuko, though he seems oblivious. A red dragon appears to his other side. The blue dragon starts speaking without moving its mouth; it also speaks in Azula's voice. I'm not sure which of those two things is creepier. She says that it's getting late and Zuko should get some rest. He says that he's not tired, but Dragozula says that he should relax, give in. The red dragon speaks with Iroh's voice, encouraging him to leave before it is too late. Zuko doesn't move, the dream world collapses, and Dragozula eats him while screaming that he'll sleep just like his mother. SYMBOLISM! Cut back to the Gaang+Earth King. They reach the wall, and the drill is still there. Though the earthbenders did put a big ring wall around it so it wouldn't be easy to get to. Long Feng shows up and tries to offer a weak explanation, but the Earth King isn't buying it anymore. So he orders Long Feng arrested by... the Dai Li. OK, the Earth King obviously isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. But even he has to realize that some of the Dai Li would remain loyal to Long Feng. And even if he didn't, some of the Gaang should have. Anyway, the Dai Li agents that came with Long Feng grab him with metal shackles that pop out of their sleeves. I wonder why they didn't use those against Aang and Toph earlier? After all, it's not like one of them could possibly manifest some impossible ability, in full and blatant violation of everything the series has stated up until now. One more episode. Just one more, and your bitch-arse is mine! At this point, you might think the episode is over. After all, the plot is resolved; time for a 1-minute dénouement and then the end credits. Right? Would you believe that we still have a full 2/5ths of this episode left to go? Everything else is setup for the semi-two-part season finale. Cut to the throne room. The Earth King laments that he's been deceived, but the Gaang tell them they have a plan for dealing with the Fire Nation. They tell him about Sozin's Comet, and they tell him about the eclipse. Sokka calls the day of the eclipse, "The Day of Black Sun." By "day," I'll assume he means "eight minutes." After a bit of convincing, the Earth King agrees to their proposal. Note that he doesn't even bother to consult with military advisers or anything; he just says, "That sounds good; let's go with that!" Speaking of military advisers, General How appears. Speaking of How, how does the Earth King know this guy? If the Earth King has been kept insulated from the war, he must have been kept isolated from, you know, warriors. His generals. Or was Long Feng able to get the generals to agree not to talk about the war whenever they met the Earth King? How exactly would he be able to do that, since they've got more soldiers than he has Dai Li agents? In any case, How says that he found something and we cut to Long Feng's study. Apparently, Long Feng was keeping information from the Gaang. A letter addressed to Toph says that her mother is in the city and wants to speak with her. There is also the message from the Guru back in Appa's Lost Days; Long Feng took it from Appa's horn. And there's an intelligence report of some Southern Water Tribe warriors nearby lead by Katara and Sokka's dad Hakoda. Now wait a minute. Long Feng had all the information he needed right here to bribe all of the Gaang members into doing whatever he wanted. So why not just do that? Oh right: crippling idiocy. Cut back to Iroh and Zuko. Iroh then says something truly bizarre. He says that Zuko's illness isn't natural, that his decision to free Appa was so antithetical to his nature that he is at war in his mind and body. Hence the fever. Even if I were to accept that this was even possible, how would Iroh know it's happening? Cut back to the Gaang. Aang exposites that the Guru's letter says that he can help Aang master the Avatar State. How dramatically convenient, 2 episodes from the finale. Toph exposites that her mother's letter seems to indicate that her mother understands how she feels. The Gaang ignores the fact that there's no way her mother could know that she's here. Sokka says that someone has to remain behind to help plan the invasion. Naturally, they pick Toph, since she's staying in the city and all. Oh wait, no they don't; Sokka volunteers. Why? Because Toph is... blind? She's just going to be visiting her mom; nobody said anything about her leaving. All she has to do is go to a few meetings. There's no reason she couldn't represent their interests while also meeting her parents. No, the only way this makes since is if Sokka read the script and knows that Toph won't be around to attend those meetings. Anyway, Katara decides to stay in Sokka's place, so that he can see their dad. OMG, really? You mean Katara is making a sacrifice, giving up something she wants? For her brother no less? Oddly enough... no. As we'll see in the season 3 opener, she has some hidden issues with her dad. So really, it's just a convenient excuse to not deal with her father. Sokka, taken in by this rouse, hugs and kisses his sister, praising her. Giving up something she didn't want to gain favor with someone else? Man, Katara is almost as manipulative as Azula sometimes. Anyway, cut to what I can only assume is the next day. Sokka and Aang are getting ready to fly off on Appa. Aang starts to tell Katara about his feelings for her. Because... I have no idea. This entire scene plays out like the Gaang is splitting up for good. They're going to be gone for a couple of days, maybe a week at the most. Toph and Katara are going to even be in the same place; they're no reason they couldn't get together and go to a spa or whatever. Before Aang can work up the nerve, Sokka interrupts them. Or Sokka saw Aang moving in and decided to interdict him. The Earth King shows up to see them off; conveniently, a guard shows up to inform the Earth King that three warriors from the Island of Kyoshi have arrived. Sokka thinks that it's Suki and vouches for their trustworthiness. Screw You, Aunt Wu(-1): 4+Yue. Sorry, Sokka; that one's on you. So the Gaang tearfully embraces since they'll be leaving each other for a week. Aang and Appa fly off. Cut to Zuko, waking up. He goes to the bathroom, splashes some water on his face, and looks into a mirror. There, he sees that his scar is gone, his head is bald, and he has a blue arrow tattoo just like Aang. Naturally, he freaks out. SYMBOLISM! Zuko wakes up from his nightmare and reconfirms his burn scar. Cut to Sokka and Aang. Sokka starts talking about his positive attitude, and how that got them where they are. Then he says, "Everything’s gonna work out perfectly, from now on and forever." My God, man, do you have any idea what you've done? What you've unleashed? This is Season 2 for Christ's sake. There's still a minute left in the episode; did you think it would be filled with smiles and jubilation? First, cut to a Dai Li cell holding Long Feng. A Dai Li agent brings him a tray of food, along with a message: the Dai Li remain loyal to him. Good job dealing with the Dai Li, Gaang. Then, cut to Toph meeting her parents. And by "parents," I mean getting trapped in a steel box by Xin Fu and Master Yu. And, since there's only one person who at this point can embody the concept of It Got Worse, *sting*: Azula and the Angels walk into Ba Sing Se, disguised as the Kyoshi Warriors. They even meet the Earth King himself and are welcomed as honored guests. This is a very bizarre episode. It shows the Gaang as an unstoppable engine of destruction; it's pacing is all wrong, wrapping up the main plot early just so that it can do setup work for the final two episodes. The last four episodes of this season seem rushed. The clumsiness of the previous episode, where the Dai Li aren't threatening at all, the overpoweredness of the Gaang (something that will not be seen again), and this will continue to a degree in the next two episodes. It's like they felt that they had to do everything really quickly. And they wouldn't have had to do that if they had just dumped one of the two filler episodes in favor of having something actually happen. One episode, sometime before Lake Laogai where Long Feng and the Gaang start coming at odds more and more with each other, would have helped show a slowly eroding relationship. It would also help avoid the whole "Long Feng is an enemy for no reason" problem by providing an actual reason. They could still move the necessary stuff from Appa's Lost Days into that episode. Lake Laogai itself could have ended with them confronting the Earth King, thus allowing this episode to be purely about setup for the finale. And then we could have given those episodes more time, which they too needed.
Now we know why Chin the Conquerer was able to take over the Earth Kingdom (save Ba Sing Se, of course). What I don't understand is why Kyoshi didn't just anoint him Earth King (since he actually does stuff) and take out the current one? Oh that's right; preserving "the balance". Because in the Avatar-verse, you're not allowed to overthrow your current ineffectual government and make something that actually works. Unless of course, you're the Avatar; then you get to create your own little fiefdom (Kyoshi Island) and overthrow a guy who's actually building a nation.Didja miss the part where Kioshi called Chin a cruel tyrant and we see him attack someone (who is in kneeling before him) with earth bending? "doing stuff" doesn't mean Chin was a better ruler. Better to have someone that does nothing than one who goes around gratuitously attacking and killing.
And I don't mean that they beat the army. Or that they get past the army. I mean that the Earth Kingdom army defending the palace never even comes close to stopping them. The Gaang makes them look like a bunch of poorly dressed fools. Nobody lays so much as a stone on them. At no point are the Gaang ever in anything even remotely approaching danger or peril. They effortlessly smack down everything that highly experienced earthbending soldiers throw at them. This reminds me so much of Thane's recruitment mission in Mass Effect 2 when Shepherd and Co. Murder an entire building's worth of Eclipse Mercs to find Thane. Then you find Nassana, and the conversation goes something like this: Shepherd: Hey Nassana! I know you know I murdered your sister on your orders, but I am here to tell you that I murdered my way through your entire security staff who was protecting your from the assassin to ask where the assassin that is trying to kill you is! Nassana: I hate you so much right now. Of course that I can accept, because it's Commander motherfucking Shepherd and that's how he/she rolls. We cut for a bit to Iroh taking care of Zuko, who has a fever. Fun fact: This is what inspired Hbi2k to create the Angst Coma trope in Escaflowne Abridged. It's when the brain shuts down as it rapidly approaches the Sasuke limit, before bounding into the Shinji zone. Cut to Sokka and Aang. Sokka starts talking about his positive attitude, and how that got them where they are. Then he says, "Everything’s gonna work out perfectly, from now on and forever." Richard Hammond: "Oh, I've missed the prang of dread whenever somebody says that....''
Sokka is the team planner and the invasion was pretty much his idea, Long Feng only needed Aapa since the Gaang wouldn't go against him, and it was public frikkin' knowledge that they were in Ba Sing Se, Aang wasn't exactly discreet when he stopped that drill or built the zoo. Now to the "good" I actually agree with you on the Earth-stomp. although it looked positively awesome it was a serious characterization flaw. One of the things I like about Avatar is how we can see power development; Katara going from the little girl in Season 1 to kicking ass in the Painted Lady is a good example. But having such a power jump this early really cheapness the deal. An argument can be made that with a war going on, nobody would spend the best benders guarding a puppet king in an area that was considered impervious to attack in the first place, but plotwise it makes it come off cheap. I'd also like to note that guys named "The Conqueror" usually aren't that good. So Kyoshi held up a powerless Monarch we have those now, this guy was most likely killing burning and raping his way through a continent and it was pretty much her job to protect them. She made Kyoshi island (her homeland) not as a feifdom as you put it, but as she said, to protect her people from that kind of crap again, and so far ut seems. To have worked. Kyoshi island stayed ''completely" out of the war all this time. All in all you are a cathartic fellow but your heart is in the right place and I'd love to see how you work editing.
"Apparently, Long Feng was keeping information from the Gaang. A letter addressed to Toph says that her mother is in the city and wants to speak with her. There is also the message from the Guru back in Appa's Lost Days; Long Feng took it from Appa's horn. And there's an intelligence report of some Southern Water Tribe warriors nearby lead by Katara and Sokka's dad Hakoda. Now wait a minute. Long Feng had all the information he needed right here to bribe all of the Gaang members into doing whatever he wanted." You could say that. Or you could say that Long Feng had all the information he needed right here to get at least three of the Gaang members(particularly the human WMD and the earthquake that walks like a girl) out of the city for a while. And it was just lying around where a naive bookworm whom Long Feng has known since childhood could find it. Say. It. With. Me. It's a trap!
I agree that the Gaang did make fools out of the Earth Army.
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