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Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
Korval

[table of contents]
The Southern Raiders
She's not going to make it. [beat] Of course she did.
Zuko, about Azula surviving a fall.

The episode begins with... inaction! Everyone's sleeping peacefully in the early morning. Aang gets up and walks into the open area of the temple. Then a bomb flies up into view, and Aang quickly airbends it away. It apparently brought friends, as others fly up. Several Fire Nation airship rise up into view.

See Sokka? This is what happens when you follow Zuko's path and try to regain your honor: you lead the badguys back to your hideout. Indeed, it may be a theme of the show that every time somebody tries to regain their honor, things get worse.

Anyway, Aang closes the metal shutters (where did those come from?) around the sleeping area as everyone gets ready for a fight. Zuko saves Katara from some falling debris, for which she is less than grateful, as she's still nursing that grudge.

Toph and Haru earthbend a tunnel for them to leave through. Zuko then says that he'll hold them off. Because this is a family thing. So Zuko goes charging towards the airships. Presumably to die.

Does she seem crazier than usual?

Zuko is outside, heading towards the airships as another rises up. This one's carrying Azula, but she's not accompanied by her signature *sting*. She proclaims that she's going to celebrate becoming an only child while smiling maniacally.

Zuko charges towards the airship, dodging fire and everything, until he leaps off of the temple, flinging fire at her. But he fails to grab the airship and falls into the clouds below.

I hope Aang learned enough firebending...

Cut to back inside. Aang's trying to force Appa into the tunnel, but he doesn't want to go. Wow, more continuity that actually matters. So instead, they have to fly out through the airships. Since Appa apparently can't carry all of them, it's just the Gaang-1+Suki. Katara objects to the Fire Nation splitting up their family again, but Hakoda tells her that it won't be forever.

The Gaang-1+Suki then emerges, using a stone wall as a shield to absorb the initial fire. Pretty clever, Aang. They buzz Azula on their way out, but then we see an airship rising behind her. And... a Zuko appears! I'll just pretend that Zuko manufactured some way to survive a 100+ foot fall onto a metal airship.

So Zuko leaps off his airship and lands on hers, blending at her the whole time. They square off, and Azula's firebending is different now. Usually, she uses these precise, two-fingered bending attacks that fire thin streams of fire. Now, she's using full-on punches to throw fireballs.

After Zuko and Azula throw flaming punches into each other's fist, they both go flying off the side of the airship. Zuko naturally gets picked up by the Gaang+Suki, while Azula seeming falls towards her death. Zuko speaks the page quote, as she uses her firebending to push herself to a cliff face and stops her descent with her hairpin.

Cut to... elsewhere; it's not entirely clear where. It's nighttime, and the Gaang+Suki are sitting around the campfire celebrating their victory. And specifically Zuko, who says that he doesn't deserve the praise. Katara decides to dump on him by saying that he doesn't, then walks off. Zuko follows.

When they're alone, Zuko asks why she doesn't trust him the way the others seem to. Katara angrily reminds him that she trusted him first, in Ba Sing Se, but then he betrayed her. Well, "betrayed" is a pretty harsh term, unless he actually promised her something. Zuko asks what he can do to make up for it, and she flippantly suggests reconquering Ba Sing Se in the name of the Earth King. Right, because what the Earth Kingdom needs is that fop back in charge. Then she suggests that he raise her mother from the dead.

Guess which one of these doesn't happen in the series.

Cut to later that night. We see Suki looking around and sneaking somewhere, but she bumps into Zuko, who was heading to Sokka's tent. When he asks if she needed to talk to Sokka as well, she suspiciously says no and scurries off.

Welcome to the love-nasium...

So Zuko walks into Sokka's tent, which is filled with roses and candlelight. Sokka's lying on his stomach with a rose in his mouth; he turns to Zuko, clearly expecting someone else. But Zuko's countenance causes him to swallow his rose and deny that he was expecting someone else.

... Moving on, Zuko asks about his sister hating him, but Sokka says that she doesn't really hate him. As he starts babbling on, Zuko stops him and asks what happened to their mother, since he thinks that Katara has linked that to him somehow. Sokka then goes into flashback.

We see LilSokka with LilKatara. Then we get the Harbinger of Impending Fire Nation Attack: black snow falling. Katara goes off to see their mother, while Sokka decides to join the fight. This is even where we get to see Sokka find his boomerang. We also see firebending soldiers try to melee with Water Tribesmen. For some reason. Oh right, because if they fought intelligently, then they would have face-stomped the Water Tribe, and we can't have that.

Sokka narrates that he was happy when the soldiers left, but it was only later that he found out that his mother had died. Zuko asks if here were any identifying markings as to who it was that attacked, and Sokka tells them that the flag had sea ravens. Zuko realizes that they were from the titular Southern Raiders. Really, Zuko? You needed Sokka to tell you that the guys who attacked the Southern Water Tribe were the Southern Raiders?

Well, Sokka shoos Zuko out. After a second, he pokes his head out of the tent and calls for Suki, but Zuko didn't get very far in the whole 1 second Sokka gave him. So Sokka plays it off and goes back into his tent.

... Well played, writers. Well played indeed.

Cut to morning. Katara comes out of her tent to find... a Zuko!, waiting for her. He tells her that he knows who killed their mother, and that he's going to help her find him. We get a look of shock on Katara's face, followed by grim determination.

Cut to Katara asking Aang if she can borrow Appa. Aang wonders if she's the next to take Zuko on a trip, and she says that they're going to "find the man who took my Mother from me." They're being oddly circumspect about the whole killing thing now, even though Katara never talked about it in such language before. Anyway, Zuko says that he knows how to find the person responsible.

Aang asks what she thinks that will accomplish. Murder, Aang. It's going to accomplish murder; that's the idea. Katara shakes her head, saying that she knew he wouldn't understand. Aang says that he does understand about her pain and anger. He then talks about his feelings when the sandbenders took Appa, which is far from comparable to someone's mother being murdered. Though to be fair, he also talks about his feelings when he found out about the Air Nomads. Which is also far from comparable, but at least it's in the other direction this time.

Zuko tells Aang that this is what she needs to get closure and justice, but Aang says it's just about revenge. Which Katara is just fine with, saying it's what she needs and he deserves. Aang tries to play the Jet card, but Katara points out that she's after the guilty, not the innocent.

We'll see how long that lasts.

Sokka jumps in, saying that he cared about their mother too, but maybe she should listen to Aang. Then Katara says, "Then you didn't love her the way I did."

FUCK YOU KATARA!

Not because she said it. Katara's clearly in pissed-off mode, and people tend to say thoughtless things when they're angry. No, it's because she gets away with it. There are things one can say to close friends or family that you can't get away with for more distant acquaintances. However, even among them, there are things that one can say which cannot be easily forgiven. That uttering them will damage that relationship substantially, if not kill it outright.

This line is one of them. You don't get to just say that and sweep it under the table. You could write a whole B-plot of an episode around Katara saying this to Sokka and their feelings afterwards. How he takes it initially, how she apologizes later, whether he forgives her quickly or takes some time, how they restore the damage to their relationship, etc. Just one minute at the end would have been at least something for such an unacceptable line as this.

But no, we get no acknowledgement of what was said, no recognition of the harshness of her words. Katara just says it and moves on like it wasn't a big deal. The most we get is Sokka's immediate reaction, and then we're back to the revenge discussion.

Aang tries to paint over what she said by espousing the wisdom of his people. Zuko mocks this, saying that this is the real world. Katara says that, since she knows that she can find him, she feels like she has no choice. After all, the choice isn't hers. Her power exists, and she has to use it to fight these kinds of people wherever they are. No, she doesn't say that, but she may as well. Aang says that she can choose forgiveness, but Zuko says that that's just doing nothing. Aang disagrees, saying that forgiveness is hard. And Katara says it's impossible to forgive him, so she walks away.

Cut to that night. We get a shoot of the nearly-full moon (it's a plot point), and we see Zuko and Katara, dressed in black, trying to steal Appa. Because Aang and Sokka aren't stupid, they expected this and emerge from behind a rock. Where's Toph in this important exchange? Please; this is a discussion between actual characters; the Blind, Snarky Earthbender is off with Suki.

Aang is upset that she was going to just take Appa, but he says that he forgives her, trying to hint at what she should do. Katara tells him not to try to stop them, and Aang says he wasn't going to. Of course not, because Katara always gets her way. Aang just asks her not to choose revenge; to let her anger out and release it, to forgive him. Zuko again mocks this, but Katara thanks him. And the pair ride off.

Cut to them finding a Fire Navy communications tower. Zuko exposites that it is used to coordinate all Navy movements in the area. Katara suggests busting in and taking the intel, but Zuko displays a shocking degree of competence, saying that nobody can know that they stole it lest they warn the Southern Raiders. Of course, messenger hawks fly faster than Sky Bisons. That makes sense.

So the pair land nearby and steal their way in. They are able to get the guard to leave with some ink-bending, and Zuko finds the info. Apparently, they're near some island that was mentioned once before.

Cut to them on Appa in the daytime. Zuko suggests that she gets some rest for the coming fight, but Katara says she'll be plenty strong enough, since she's "not the helpless little girl" she was last time.

Well, that's as obvious a flashback segue as it gets. So cut back to LilKatara, running home during the attack. He finds a Fire Nation soldier in their house... somehow. How he got there, past the Water Tribe defenders, as well as before the attack really started, is unknown. Anyway, Katara's mother tells the soldier that she will give him the information he wants if he lets her daughter leave. Katara's mother gets Katara to go find their father, and reassuringly says, "I'll handle this."

LilKatara found her father and told him about what was happening. We finally get Katara's mother's name (Kya), as he runs off to do something. But, as Katara narrates, it was too late.

And now we retroactively understand a bit more about why Katara was so obsessed with being a waterbender. It was all so that she could not be "the helpless little girl" anymore. She probably feels a measure of responsibility for what happened to her mother; if she'd been a proper waterbender, she could have stopped it all before it happened. Granted, it's rather late for this revelation, retroactively explaining her actions in The Waterbending Scroll and so forth.

Cut to later the next night. Apparently, Katara took him up on the offer of sleep, as he's driving Appa and she's in the back. They see a lone Fire Nation ship flying the sea raven flag. And Katara is all for kicking ass.

She hits the ship with a big wave, sending everyone on deck overboard except for one guy. Which she quickly fixes. The pair make their way through the ship, taking out a couple of guys, Katara carrying water on her arms. They reach the control room doors, which Katara batters down.

The captain firebends at them and demands to know who they are. As he starts to fight Zuko, his hand starts behaving wildly, pulling him around. Yes, it's the full moon, and yes, Katara's bloodbending. When Zuko sees this, he gets a look of, "Sure, why not," on his face. Katara forces him to his knees.

Zuko taunts him, telling him to think back to his raid on the SWT, but the captain says he doesn't know what Zuko's talking about. Katara bloodbends him off the floor so that she can look into his face and she sees that... it's not the guy. Zuko is surprised by this, since he's the leader of the Southern Raiders. Um, Zuko, pro tip: just because the guy was in charge does not mean that he personally executed some unruly villager.

Zuko asks the captain who it is that they're looking for. The captain suggests Yon Rha, his predecessor who retired. After raiding a ship full of "innocents" and bloodbending a guy to his knees in preparation for murdering him for a crime that he did not commit, Katara walks away, just as determined as she was before. Not even a "sorry for wrecking your shit."

Cut to an old guy digging in a garden. An even older woman emerges from a nearby house to let us know that the guy is Yon Rha, and she's his mother. She nastily tells him to go to the market to get some food, and he does so. At the market, Yon Rha thinks he sees someone, and we get a POV shot of someone watching him and ducking behind cover. As he's starting to walk home, he again feels someone watching him, and again we get a POV shot ducking away.

It was Zuko and Katara. She confirms that it was him. I guess you learned something about randomly attacking people and confirming who it is later.

As he's walking back, it starts to rain. How fortunate for Katara. Yon Rha turns and firebends towards where he feels someone was looking. But nobody jumps out, so he picks up his groceries. Then... a Zuko appears! (last time, I swear) and knocks him to the ground. Yon Rha of course immediately pusses out, saying that they can have his money.

Katara emerges and removes her face mask, asking if he remembers who she is. But after she approaches him and threatens him, he remembers her as that Water Tribe girl. We flashback to his point of view.

After LilKatara left, Yon Rha asked Kya who the waterbender among them is. Apparently, he has a source (who?) that told him that there was still a waterbender there. Kya asks if he promises to leave if she tells him who it is. And he agrees, so she says that it's her and to take her prisoner. But, "I'm afraid I'm not taking prisoners today."

Um, why not? The Fire Nation erected an elaborate prison and kept it staffed for the sole purpose of imprisoning waterbenders. Why did they suddenly decide to kill them? Was this some policy change when Ozai came to power? And speaking of that prison, did this policy change mean that those prisoners were executed? Maybe that's what set Hama off.

Back in the present, apparently Yon Rha told Katara this. I have no idea why. A random brown-skinned woman who's obviously pissed off, who you know is the daughter of the woman you killed? She's obviously here for blood; best not go into explicit detail about murdering her mother.

Also, this goes back to something I mentioned all the way back in my review of Imprisoned. Yon Rha just told Katara that the only reason her mother is dead is because Katara was a waterbender. That if she hadn't been a waterbender, the attack wouldn't have even happened. That she is the ultimate cause of her mother's death.

This news should have done one of two things. It should have either crushed her utterly, made her realize that the waterbending that she was so proud of, that was "a part of who [I am]," that she used as a source of empowerment, was the very reason her mother was killed. Or it should have enraged her into murdering Yon Rha on the spot.

Yet this is never really acknowledged. The weight and impact of this news is mostly ignored.

Anyway, Katara dramatically reveals that she was the waterbender that Kya was protecting. Then, she waterbends a sphere of rainwater, turns it into ice shards and throws them at Yon Rha.

But they stop inches from him.

Yon Rha then starts trying to cut a deal, saying that she can kill his mother in return. Wow, what an asshole. Katara apparently agrees, saying that she wondered what kind of person could kill her mother. But now she sees that he's "pathetic and sad and empty." Then she says that, even with all of her hatred, she can't kill him. So she walks away.

Cut to a pier, where Katara is sitting, staring at the sunset. Aang and Zuko show up. Zuko apparently told Aang about her actions, and he says that he's proud of her. For her part, she's not sure if she couldn't kill him because she was too weak to do it, or strong enough not to.

And that right there is perhaps the biggest failing of the episode. This is a big character moment for Katara, and she doesn't even know why she didn't kill the man.

This in part comes from how the resolution is handled. One of the more typical ways that a revenge fantasy ends is with the person about to take revenge, when they suddenly realize that they'll be doing the same thing that was done to them. Perpetuating the cycle of revenge. The standard way to do this for this kind of revenge would be to have a child or grandchild come in to see them about to commit the deed.

This is a common resolution because it explains itself. We as the audience understand why the person stopped. It may be hackney and obvious, but you can't deny that it works.

This resolution doesn't work for the simple fact that neither the audience nor Katara herself know why she didn't kill him. Is it because he was sad and pathetic, or did that have nothing to do with it? Is it because she's too good of a person at heart to allow her anger to cause her to murder someone, or was it something else? We don't know. Which leaves the resolution rather lacking.

A much better way to do this would be to take away one of those possibilities: not have Yon Rha be a pussy. Imagine if she had come to him, told him that she was the daughter of the woman he killed. He looks at her, nods his head solemnly, and kneels. He then tells her to do it, to take her deserved revenge. Because he understands that she is owed redress, and that the blood he took must be repaid in kind.

That would have eliminated one of the reasons for her to not kill him. Because of this, you could sell a line like, "I don't know if it's because I'm too weak to do it or if it's because I'm strong enough not to," because the audience can see that it was her innate goodness that stopped her from doing it. Not because he was a sniveling coward, not because he wasn't worth killing. But because she was too good of a person to allow herself to take revenge.

It's fine for Katara to be confused. But the audience should not be confused along with her.

Anyway, Aang says that forgiveness is her first step towards healing. But Katara says that she didn't forgive him. Yet she's ready to forgive Zuko, and she hugs him.

After she walks away, Zuko tells Aang that he was right about what Katara needed. And this is where the whole Zutara-ness of this plot falls flat on its face.

This episode is often used by Zutarans as Exhibit B in their defense of "Why Zuko And Katara Are Meant To Be." And on the surface of it, it sounds like a compelling argument. After all, Zuko and Katara spend a lot of time together. They do awesome things together, and he's helping her deal with her problems. He's clearly concerned with her wellbeing at several points, etc.

Except that, in the end, it was Aang who truly knew what she needed. It was Aang who trusted that she could go on this mission and not kill him. It was Aang who knew her better than she knew herself. Zuko only gave her what she wanted; Aang gave her what she needed.

Anyway, Aang responds to Zuko's comment about violence not being the answer by saying that it never is the answer. Except of course for all those times when Aang dealt with problems through violence of course. Zuko turns to Aang and asks him a simple question: "What are you going to do when you face my Father?" Aang doesn't reply, but he's clearly struck by this question.

This is a pretty good episode overall. We get some strong characterization from Katara, some tense moments, and even cut the Troika and other superfluous characters loose. We see the dark side of Katara's anger and unwillingness to let things go. The episode has some weaknesses, particularly towards the end, but overall, it's pretty good.

31st Aug '11 12:00:50 AM flag for mods
comments
FUCK YOU KATARA!

Totally agree here. To give a comparison, take the bit in Bakuman (If you haven't read Bakuman, it's a series about a Manga making duo) when their editor Miura says that if Mashiro can't agree with his view, then Takagi should drop him as a partner. Takagi does NOT shake off that line. He damn near ends his cooperation with Miura then and there, and it takes Miura some grovelling and a big apology before he can even get back to speaking terms with them.

On the revenge subject I would like another comparison on how to do this kind of plot. I point to the Doctor Who episode "Dalek". SF Debris already addressed this moment in a great way, but it bear briefly repeating: "You would make a good Dalek" was a brilliant line, and coupled with the Doctor's attitude through the entire episode, it was a wonderful moment and a great way to show how revenge was affecting him.
Emperordaein 31st Aug 11
LOL, I KNEW your reaction to Katara's unforgivable line was coming given your hatred of the character, Korval. I agree it was a line that the episode could've done without but I guess we're supposed to accept that Sokka realized she said it out of psychotic anger and got over it during the time she and Zuko were away. It may not be satisfying, but it's how it is.

Also, you didn't adress that the show didn't adress Zuko's hypocrisy in mocking Aang's "forgiveness" approach and saying it doesn't work. If he's saying forgiving your enemy is wrong, then by his own logic the gaang (including and ESPECIALLY Katara) shouldn't have ever forgiven him for all the bad things he's done to hurt them in the past. He's basically taking this "no forgiveness" approach as a way for Katara to finally forgive him!
ManwiththePlan 31st Aug 11
This episode screams A-SUE-LA to me. Given that she can find their hideout AND escape without a hitch.
Codafett 5th Dec 13
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