Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Who knew Twinkletoes could dance?This time, the previously on segment focuses exclusively on Azula and Zuko. There isn't even a token shot of one of the Gaang members. This is rather surprising considering how little Azula and Zuko are in this episode. The last episode established the overarching story arc: they will invade the Fire Nation on the day of the eclipse. So the arc is all about getting to a rendezvous point by a particular date. Even so, the next 7 episodes are basically character studies for one of our Gaang members. Or, in one case, someone near the Gaang. This episode is an Aang story. Anyway, the episode begins with the real main character: Zuko. He's in bed, rolling around trying to sleep. The music is reminiscent of Iroh's music, to clue us in as to what he's thinking about. He eventually decides to get up. Cut to a large, stone tower. Zuko is wearing a hooded red robe and approaches the building. A guard spots him and calls on him to identify himself, but he just walks away. Cut to the Gaang. We get some Komedy! as they make their way to a more civilized part of the Fire Nation. Sokka is very concerned about getting caught, but Katara and Aang point out that they can blend in with the people just by getting some clothes. So, cut to them looking out over someone's laundry hanging on various ropes. Aang is initially concerned about stealing. Of course Katara is all for it without a seconds thought; there's a point for character consistency. We get a quick scene of them ditching personal items for Fire Nation equivalents. Katara has to remove her necklace and replaces it with a red choker. Toph replaces her iconic green headband with a red one. Sokka uses a Fire Nation-style pin to hold his "warrior's wolf tail" together. And Aang uses a headband to cover his arrow. Naturally, he picks one that has an arrow on it, pointed in exactly the same direction. We get some more Komedy! as Aang tries to blend in with the crowd by using slang that is 100 years out of date. The rest of the Gaang goes to get food, but Aang stays outside, as the place they pick doesn't have a vegetarian option. There, he is approached by some guards. Initially, it seemed that the jig was up, but it turns out that Aang stole a school uniform and the guards take him to school. Cut to the guards bringing him into a class headed by an older woman. Naturally, one who's name is never mentioned. From Aang's manners, she reasons that he's not from the Fire Nation. Again, this is false tension, as she just assumes he from one of the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. She instructs him how to bow, using a particular hand gesture, but Aang uses a typical Air Nomad hand gesture instead. One of the girls in the class corrects him. Then the Teacher wants him to remove his headband, but Aang says that he has a scar. She's apparently OK with that, so she allows him into class. Cut to after school. I neglected to mention that Aang stuffed Momo into his shirt earlier; it's just as stupid (and impossible) as it sounds. The girl who helped him earlier notices and says that he should watch out in case someone catches him with that. She introduces herself as On Ji. A tall boy interrupts them; he'll be the resident douchebag for our episode. Aang greets him and calls him popular; his ego is sufficiently stroked that he lets Aang off with a warning, saying that On Ji is his girl. She doesn't look particularly happy about it, but she doesn't contradict it either, and the pair walk away. Then Aang goes to play with some of the other kids. Cut to the cave where the Gaang is as Aang arrives. The others were worried about him, but he says he had fun at school and is going back again. Naturally, they're not exactly pleased. Cut to Zuko at night, back in his hooded outfit. His scar is sufficient identification to the guard, and he lets the guard know that he is not to tell anyone that he was there. Zuko walks into the cell, and Iroh turns his back to him. Cut back to the Gaang. We get a scene where Aang has to convince them to let him stay. He eventually gets Sokka on his side (who seems to be acting as leader, since this discussion is pretty much just Sokka and Aang) by saying that they'll be getting some information on a secret river that goes near the capital city the next day. Cut back to Zuko and Iroh. Zuko says that the two of them could have been heroes together, that they could have both been redeemed. Iroh says nothing. Zuko starts becoming enraged, saying that he did what he had to do and that Iroh was a fool. Eventually, he incinerates a stool (no, not that kind) and starts yelling at Iroh about how if he weren't imprisoned, he would be sleeping in a gutter. Then he storms out. Cut to the next day, in class. The teacher has the class recite the "Fire Nation oath." So they turn around and face a painting of Firelord Ozai. Yeah, now that he's been revealed, his face is everywhere. Aang, of course, doesn't know it. But rather than doing what most people do in this situation (ie: move your mouth and say nothing), Aang loudly screws up. So the teacher decides to give them a pop quiz. Thanks, Aang. Her first question, about the Fire Nation's "Great March of Civilization," is about the year that Sozin defeated the "Air Nation army." Naturally, Aang points out the two things wrong with that phrase: they were nomads and they didn't have an army. The class is stunned, and the teacher is incensed. Cut to music class. When Aang joins in with the rest of the group, he plays loudly, off-key, the wrong piece altogether, and is rapidly dancing and flailing about. Naturally, this brings things to a halt. The music teacher is very strict about the students not having a seizure while practicing, as he feels students must have strict order and discipline. So Aang is reduced to marching in place. While seated. Cut to after school. On Ji returns to tell him that she enjoyed his dance, but when he says he'll show her some dances, a fireball interrupts him. Now, far be it from me, but I would think that a school would have a strict "no firebending on campus" policy. The douchebag appears (he is only ever given a name right before his last line of dialog) and attacks Aang with punches. Of course, Aang dodges everything, careful not to use actual airbending. The douchebag gets knocked to the ground. Naturally, the school's headmaster appears. Since the douchebag is on the ground and Aang is standing, he assumes Aang was the instigator. So he asks Aang to bring his parents to his office to discuss punishment. Cut to the headmaster's office; naturally, he sits under a painting of Ozai. Then we see Katara with a very padded belly to suggest she's pregnant. And Sokka, wearing a large beard/mustache combo. He introduces himself as "Wang Fire." And that's not what he came up with on the spot; that's something he thought up on the way there. He introduces Katara as "Sa-Fire," who then refers to herself as "Sapphire Fire." Again, this is not improv; they came up with these names before now. BTW, this is the first time anyone outside of Toph have been given anything remotely like a family name. Anyway, after the headmaster lists off Aang's various infractions, he says that he'll send Aang to reform school (aka: the coal mines) if he acts up again. Cut to Mai and Zuko watching the sun set, having perhaps the most sickeningly sweet conversation in the series:
—Toph Bei Fong, having no idea what twinkletoes means
Mai: Orange is such an awful color.
Zuko: You're so beautiful when you hate the world.
Mai: I don't hate you.
Zuko: I don't hate you, too.
Man, that's some painful dialog; Azula is doing the world a favor when she interrupts their snogging. She wants to talk to Zuko, but he tells her to ram it, and they go back to kissing. So she tells Mai that Ty Lee needs her help with her braid. Like a dutiful minion, Mai leaves. But she shoots Azula a look when she walks past. Anyway, Azula tricks Zuko into telling her about his visit with Iroh. Then she says that she's actually looking out for him, warning him that if people find out, they will think that he's plotting with Iroh. Is Azula actually displaying brotherly affection here? Cut back to the Gaang. After having Sokka and Katara embarrass themselves, Aang still doesn't want to leave. His first argument is that he likes being normal. When that one doesn't fly, he talks about how the children are the future of the Fire Nation, and they need to be taught some freedom. Sokka doesn't know what Aang's going to do for "country of depraved little fire monsters." Hurray, Sokka's a prick again! Aang decides to throw them a dance party. Yes. Really. The Blind, Snarky Earthbender builds a bandstand out of the cave floor, while Sokka and Aang discuss what they're planning to do. The other kids show up, so Aang has to send Appa deeper into the cave. Of course, his fear of caves doesn't come into play here. Anyway, the kids aren't really taking to the whole dancing thing at first. It takes Aang to show off some old Fire Nation dances before they start getting the hang of it. Cut to Zuko bringing Iroh some food. Way to not look suspicious there, Zuko; bringing your uncle something that probably wasn't searched and all. He confesses to Iroh that the Avatar might be alive and pleads with Iroh for advice. Again, Iroh remains silent. And again, Zuko gets pissed and storms out. We get a shot of a single tear rolling down Iroh's cheek. Back to the party. Aang starts doing some dancing with On Ji. When Sokka says that they look good together, Katara is suspiciously dismissive about it. Then Aang appears before his woman and offers her his hand. She's unsure, but eventually relents. And so they dance. I have no idea when Katara learned how to dance; did they have a lot of dances in the Southern Water Tribe? And when did Aang get all smooth and confident? Of course, Katara and Aang's dance is so epic that everyone stops what they're doing to watch. Of course, this is interrupted by the arrival of the headmaster, lead by the douchebag from earlier. The headmaster and his guards look for Aang, who's wearing the titular headband. Naturally, all the students start putting headbands on (Aang's headband is actually the uniform's waistband). This gives the Gaang the chance to escape, though one of the students does see them doing some earthbending to seal the cave. The Gaang ends their part in the story with them congratulating Aang. And a bit of Komedy! with Sokka's Wang Fire beard being permanently glued on. One last thing: cut to Zuko in a factory area of the city. We hear some metal sounds and a metal hand comes into view. After making sure they weren't followed, Zuko gives the person his instructions: find the Avatar and kill him. We then get a look at the guy; he's bald and has a third eye tattooed on his forehead. Ominous! Well, that was... decidedly average. Nothing really good, nothing really bad. The main thrust of the episode is to show that the Fire Nation used to be a looser place, but has gotten much more strict and disciplined in the last hundred years. It does its job reasonably well, and it's nice to see the Gaang able to make a difference in peoples lives without beating up bad people. And I'm sure the Kataang shippers were happy with Aang and Katara's extended dance sequence that came out of nowhere.
Um... The "Kataango" isn't a dance. They're using nothing but Waterbending moves. They're sparring. And are they having fuuuuun.
The teacher's name is Ms. Kwan.
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