Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Nightmares and Daydreams
No! I'm sick of this guy always mouthing off, and telling me what to do.We open with Sokka expositing that they've arrived at the rendezvous point for the invasion. Katara's nice enough to let us know that they are four days ahead of schedule. Because that makes all that tension back in The Painted Lady totally worthwhile. The fact that it's four days until the invasion somehow was never mentioned to Aang, because he's all surprised by it. As they go to sleep, Aang is very apprehensive. Cut to Aang dreaming about confronting Firelord Ozai. He's dressed as what I can only guess is a reference to some Anime I couldn't give a damn about. Aang dramatically declares that Ozai's "days of tyranny" have ended. So the gigantic representation of Ozai asks how he plans to do that, since he's not wearing pants. And now Aang is pant-less. Oh goody. Dream-Aang slinks off, humiliated while Ozai issues a very Joker-esque laugh. Aang wakes up and reverifies the presence of his pants. Because apparently they sleep in their clothes. Cut to Zuko, getting ready for his day. He's being attended by many servants, as is the place of the Prince of the Fire Nation. After a bit, we cut to Zuko outside the palace, confronting a group of what can only be called rabid fangirls. One of his servants approaches, asking why he didn't take the "palanquin," which is what they call those carrier things that Azula used to be ferried around in. Zuko says that Mai's place isn't very far, but the servant says that it isn't the Prince's place to walk anywhere. So they carry him maybe 40 steps to Mai's house. Cut back to Aang, beating his fists against a tree. He's in training now, apparently, saying that he needs to refine his skills to beat Ozai. Though this training doesn't look remotely like airbending. Or waterbending. Or earthbending. Katara is concerned about Aang overworking himself, but Aang starts fretting about his form and so forth, as well as the fact that he doesn't know firebending. Sokka wisely points out that the whole point of the invasion is that firebenders won't have their powers. Aang doesn't care, so he decides to spend the day training. Cut to nightfall. After a bit of Komedy! with Aang going to sleep, we get to a different dream. Aang is in another getup that looks sufficiently ridiculous enough to be some Anime reference. But he's also got chains on to keep his pants in place. Even though they disappeared last time. Whatever, dream logic. This time Ozai asks if he's ready for a math test. Now maybe it's me, but I never really saw the Air Nomads as big on mathematics and such. Yeah they're monks, but not that kind of monks. Anyway, Aang wakes up again and goes back to training. Katara tries to reason with him, saying that it's the middle of the night. She eventually gets him to go to sleep, for her sake. Cut to Zuko making time with Mai. They're huddled together on Mai's sofa. When Zuko asks what she wants, out of anything in the world, she asks for a fruit tart. So Zuko orders some of his servants to get one in the middle of the night. Mai starts talking about the benefits of being royalty. Because obviously, she's just using him in a power-play to usurp the throne. But then she mentions a war meeting coming up. Something Zuko didn't know about. He naturally assumes that he wasn't invited. Cut back to Aang. He's lying in a field, and he sees Ozai standing over him, sweetly telling him to wake up. Ozai then tells him that he missed the invasion, then flies off on a firebreathing flying boar. Aang wakes up (I'm getting tired of writing that). Aang panics and asks Sokka what day it is. After confirming that it's still a few days to the invasion, Aang starts badgering Sokka to practice climbing due to his dream of Sokka being killed from a lack of climbing prowess. He then stops Toph from drinking because apparently her going to the bathroom in his dream lead to their doom. Katara grabs Aang and tells him to get a hold of himself. After the commercials, Aang starts talking about how stressed he is over what's coming up. Sokka doesn't help, as he points out that Ozai's "the baddest man on the planet," even though that contradicts what Sokka said earlier about taking away his firebending. Katara decides to take Aang to a sauna for some yoga stretches, which totally fits with the Southern Water Tribe's Inuit culture. However, the sauna only reminds Aang of firebending. So cut to Aang talking with Sigmond Sokka, which leads to him yelling into a sheep. Well, we're done with that for a bit, as we cut to Zuko walking in on Azula getting her hair combed and washed. He starts grousing about the war meeting, saying that he's not welcome there. When she tells him that he is, he asks why he wasn't even told about it. Azula says that he wasn't invited because it was obvious that he should be there. Naturally, Zuko points out that she got an invitation. After a bit more bickering, she simply tells him to go to the meeting. Of course, he says that he won't. Cut to Toph and Aang. She hammers logs into his back in an attempt to drive out the stress. This has been another pointless BSE moment. Cut back to something we might actually give a damn about: Zuko with Mai. She tries to cheer him up, saying that the meeting doesn't matter. She also says that it's for the best, considering what happened at the last once. Yeah, bringing that up isn't helping. So she starts suggesting that they order some servants around, but he's too busy moping. Cut back to the Gaang. Aang goes to bed, and then David Lynch decides to take over production of the episode. Aang and Appa are avoiding a giant Momo. Then we enter the Firelord's Palace. There, Aang sees Toph, and she... has no eyes! Oh no, Toph is blind...er? And for some reason, the music seems to think this is terrible, and she sinks into the floor. The other two members of the Gaang are taken out, and Aang is frozen, as a laughing Ozai made of fire advances on him. Aang melts and falls into the water.
—Appa, about Momo. No, I'm not kidding...
The world turns upside down, and the bottom of the water is apparently ice. He looks up through it and... a Zuko appears! Behind him, we see Sozin's Comet. Aang is then standing on a hill overlooking a plain. He sees the comet hit the ground, burning everything. Aang wakes up. At this point, Aang decides to not sleep again until the invasion. The next morning, we see Aang dazed, roaming around. Katara sees this and starts talking to him before a picturesque sunrise. Aang confesses his love to her right there and kisses her. I have felt a great disturbance in the Force. As though a billion Zutarans cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Anyway, then he takes her in his arms and swings her to her back, saying that she's his "forever girl." Um, OK. When he goes for another kiss, reality ensues: that was a daydream. Cut back to Zuko at Mai's house. A guy comes in, saying that everyone's waiting for him. Zuko is surprised that he's wanted at the meeting, and the guy says that, "The Firelord said he would not start until you arrived, sir." Zuko smiles. Alternate Character Interpretation Time! If Ozai had just wanted Zuko to be there, he'd have sent Zuko an invitation just like Azula. But he didn't. So what's going on? The only reason he would want Zuko there but not send him an invitation is if he wanted to precipitate exactly this circumstance. Where he would have to send someone to fetch Zuko and have him brought to the meeting. What would that accomplish? It would make Zuko feel needed. It would show everyone that Zuko was important in the Fire Nation, so important that a war meeting would be put on hold until he arrived. Everyone there would see that the Firelord's son, the Crown Prince, was a vital part of the Fire Nation. That all was forgiven, that any past sins have been absolved. Perhaps Ozai felt guilty for banishing Zuko. Maybe this is how Ozai says, "I'm sorry." Maybe this is what Ozai feels would make up for burning Zuko. Maybe, just maybe, Ozai loved his son the best way he knew how. Anyway, cut back to Aang for the money scene. He's training against a small tree that he has placed a picture of Ozai's face on. He airbends at it for a bit, but everything misses. He starts yelling at it as though it were Ozai. Then, we hear an off-camera voice telling him that he's loosing it. Aang looks over and sees only Momo. He asks if Momo saw who said that. Naturally, Momo answers that he said it, and that Aang's losing his mind. Aang freaks at this, but then Momo goes back to regular monkey noises, so Aang relaxes, saying that he imagined Momo talking. And yes, he's saying this to Momo. But then he decides to use words Momo understands and starts trying to talk in monkey language. He even laughs at something Momo "says" in monkey language. The rest of the Gaang thinks this is... odd, to say the least. Katara says that she's getting a little worried. Um, Katara, he's talking to his pet monkey in monkey language; you should be well past "little worried" at this point. Sokka says that he's been awake too long. The BSE says that he's acting weird. Appa says that he needs to take care of himself.
Yes, you read that correctly. The camera pans from Katara's line, to Sokka, to Toph, to Appa. Like it was totally normal. He's even standing on his hind legs in the next shot like he's part of the Gaang. Aang says that staying awake is his best way to deal with the stress and the nightmares. Momo sticks up for him, telling Appa to leave him alone. Appa tells him to ram it, using the page quote. Momo then starts calling him out to scrap. Aang turns to Sokka and asks what they should do about this. When Sokka asks what he's talking about he gestures towards... Momo wearing some kind of robe, with a Katana and a Wakizashi, squaring off against an armored Appa wielding three swords. At this point, you can put "Yes, really" after every sentence; we are now in the mouth of madness, people. The two start fighting, with each having a cheering section from the nearby sheep. Appa splits one of his swords and turns into General Grievous, becoming a tornado of swords. As Aang tries to get things under control, a six-armed version of Guru Pathik appears on a floating cloud, singing about Chakras. Rocks start sliding across the ground, circling Aang for a bit before leaving the frame. The tree with Ozai's picture on it gets up and starts punching the air. Eventually, Aang runs away from the nonsense. Cut to Zuko, leaving the meeting after dark; Mai is waiting for him. Zuko says how everyone welcomed him, how he was literally at Ozai's right hand. He says that he was the perfect Prince. But it wasn't him. It's going to be nine episodes until we find out what that means. Cut to Aang returning to the group at night. The Gaang apparently made him a bed of sheep wool. After a pep-talk, they boost his confidence enough to get him to sleep. We get a repeat of him confronting the giant Ozai, again dressed as some Anime character. But when Ozai tries the pants thing, Aang reverses it on him. That was... odd. Much like a few earlier episodes, this is one of those episodes you're not supposed to take seriously. And it certainly doesn't take itself seriously. Not with the main plot. Aang's descent into madness is played solely for comedy, and his fear of Ozai and the coming fight is never really taken as anything significant. This episode is able to maintain that tone such that, once it hits the punchline, once you reach that crack-tastic scene where Momo starts talking, the episode immediately becomes both awesome and hilarious. This allows one to forgive the episode's general failings, like playing the coming invasion for laughs and so forth. The Zuko plot is odd though. It's completely serious; indeed, looking back at it, it is probably the most important Zuko moment in the series. Granted, revealing that now would have damaged the tone they were trying to make. But we'll talk about that more later.
Matters of ClimaxIf this episode didn't exist, there would be no way to know that the next one was the actual invasion. Yes, obviously this episode reminds the audience about that. But what I mean is that, prior to now, there hasn't been any increase of tension. No gradual urgency. No buildup to a climactic encounter. And even this episode plays the whole thing more or less for laughs, focusing on Aang's increasingly ridiculous nerves. Indeed, the central tension of this episode is focused squarely on Zuko, not Aang. That's not how you build up to a climactic moment in an action series. Of course, this could be because this isn't a climactic moment in this series. See, if you've been paying attention to all of the prior episodes, then one thing is absolutely certain to you: The invasion will fail. This isn't for meta-reasons. That is, the fact that it is only half-way through the season, and only Tolkein or JMS would ever put the climax of a work anywhere but the very end. No, the reason you know that the invasion will fail is quite simple: the show told us it would. Remember The Guru? Remember when the Earth King told the Not-Kyoshi Warriors about the invasion plan? When he told Azula the very day when it would happen? Oh sure, Ba Sing Se is theirs now, along with the top military officers in the Earth Kingdom. So it's unlikely that the Earth Kingdom itself would invade. But that doesn't mean that someone wouldn't try it. Especially since Azula knows the Gaang got away. Even if she believed that Aang was dead, Azula knows that the rest of the Gaang could be planning to make a move. If for no other reason than revenge for Aang's death. Which begs the question: why are they invading when they know the Fire Nation will be ready for them? Now, you might think that the Earth King is such a fop that it wouldn't occur to him to let them know that he sorta kinda told the badass princess who just took his realm that they were planning an invasion. I could buy that. But that's not the only piece of information though. The Fire Nation captured the major generals of the army, all of whom knew about the invasion. They likely took possession of their offices and so forth, especially since Azula knew that an invasion was being planned. Even if she didn't, she or some other Fire Nation personnel would be looking through those documents for intelligence. Any reasonable person would expect this and therefore consider the invasion plan compromised. And there's more. Katara ran to the Kyoshi Angels to tell them that Zuko was in Ba Sing Se. Do you remember what she was carrying? That's right: the plans to the entire invasion. If Katara didn't tell the rest of the Gaang that those plans were compromised, then every single thing that happens in the next two episodes is 100% her fault. Of course, from a Doyalist point of view, this is just bad storytelling. What we have in the next two episodes here is a moment that gets only Komedic buildup. A moment that goes nowhere. That the audience knows goes nowhere, because the story already told us how it will end. So we have this weak buildup to an action sequence that is ostensibly climactic, but the audience already knows will end in abject failure. This is called Dramatic Irony; when the audience knows something and the characters don't, thus changing how the tension of a scene plays. Dramatic irony has its place certainly, but not around an action scene, and not like this. Because of this dramatic irony, the only suspense that the next two episodes will generate is in exactly where Azula's trap will be sprung and exactly how much the Gaang will lose from their failure.
The entire invasion hinges on one key detail - everyone in the Gaang thinks that everyone else in the world thinks Aang is dead. Without Aang, the whole invasion is a farce - how do you break into a capitol city and eliminate its dictator in just eight minutes? Without a living WMD like the Avatar? Is it really their fault that they don't know that Azula is some kind of magic princess who can tell if someone she kills is brought back to life with Plot-magic water?
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