"I want my father not to think I'm worthless."
Our heroes leave the Northern Water Tribe so that Aang can begin his search for an Earth Bending teacher. Aang begins to feel guilty and overwhelmed by the sheer power he holds, and the fact that he has killed people while under the control of the Avatar State. At the same time, they meet a general who urges Aang to learn to control that very state's power instead of focusing on the four elements, so that the war can be won quicker. Zuko and Iroh, meanwhile, are outcasts, without their ship; at least until Zuko's sister Azula comes welcoming them back to the Fire Nation with open arms.
Despite Katara's misgivings, Aang is convinced to find a way to purposely trigger the Avatar State after seeing the casualties from a battle. Hilarity Ensues
. Nothing, like scaring Aang, making him wear uniforms from the four nations, or even an energy boosting drink, seem to invoke the Avatar State.
Meanwhile, Zuko can't believe his luck- and neither can Iroh. Ozai isn't the sort of person to just say, "Okay, I made a mistake. Sorry." Something must be up. Zuko accuses Iroh of being a lazy old man who's just jealous of his younger, more successful brother. The two, in spite of Iroh's suspicions, board Azula's ship. Things look all right... until her captain refers to Zuko and Iroh as 'the prisoners'. Realization hits, and Zuko attacks his sister in rage.
Aang, meanwhile, after a talk with Katara and another nightmare, concludes that forcing the Avatar State is a bad idea. He tells the general that the State can only be brought out if Aang is either in danger or enraged. The general decides that the only solution then is attack Aang!
He has his troops converge on the Avatar. Katara and Sokka run in to help, and the general decides to endanger Katara. He uses his earthbending to submerge the waterbender deeper and deeper into the ground, threatening to kill her if Aang doesn't transform. When he completely buries Katara, Aang snaps- and the Avatar State is invoked.
Back at the coast, Zuko and Iroh fight against Azula and her forces. While Iroh is able to fend off the soldiers, Zuko has his hands full fighting his more-skilled sister.
Azula: You know Father blames Uncle for the loss at the North Pole. And he considers you a miserable failure for not finding the Avatar. Why would he want you back home, except to lock you up where you can no longer embarrass him?
Despite Zuko's best efforts, he is unable to overcome Azula. Before the princess can finish him off with lightning, Iroh redirects the bolt and knocks his niece into the water. He and Zuko take this chance to escape.
Back at the base, General Fong is elated and unburies Katara. However, The Avatar State still perceives a threat to Aang and levels half the fortress with a single earthbending attack to neutralize it, hurting many of the soldiers.
While the Avatar State has control, Avatar Roku contacts him, and tells the secret behind the Avatar State.
Roku: The Avatar state is a defense mechanism, designed to empower you with the skills and knowledge of all the past Avatars. [...] In the avatar state you are at your most powerful, but you are also at your most vulnerable. If you are killed in the Avatar state, the reincarnation cycle will be broken and the Avatar will cease to exist.
The Avatar State powers down, and Aang comes to in Katara's arms, sorry for what happened. But General Fong isn't. If anything, he's more excited than ever about the Avatar State's power. Sokka just knocks the general out, and the Gaang head out to Omashu- without
the military escort. But they probably won't need it.
At a Fire Nation colony, Azula publicly declares Zuko and Iroh fugitives, and anyone who harbors them will face the Fire Lord's wrath. Far away, Zuko and Iroh, now fully aware of their station, cut their topknots, symbolically cutting ties with their homeland.
- Achilles' Heel: Aang is just as, if not more, vulnerable in the Avatar State as he would regularly. That is because getting killed in the Avatar State results in dying for real for the Avatar in general.
- All Your Powers Combined: Parodied. What do you get when you combine Fire, Air, Water, and Earth? The Avatar State? Nope — mud.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: General Fong wanted to get Aang into the Avatar State. Unlike most examples, the result is just what he was hoping for.
- Berserk Button: Harm Katara - or even just pretend to harm her - and you're guaranteed to get Aang into the Avatar State.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Azula tries to convince Zuko to come home, being unnaturally pleasant towards him. Then Iroh tries to weigh in with his opinion, and she snaps at him.
- By Wall That Is Holey: Earth Kingdom soldiers attempt to squish Aang between two enormous stone coins, so he jumps into the square holes in their center.
- Catapult Nightmare: For all of Aang's Avatar State nightmares.
- Cessation of Existence: Avatar Roku reveals to Aang that if he dies in the Avatar State, the cycle of reincarnation would end.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Azula had a cameo in a flashback of Zuko's Agni Kai with Ozai a season prior.
- Chekhov's Skill: Iroh redirects the lightning that Azula was about to use on Zuko.
- Continuity Nod: Aang's nightmares reference every time Aang has gone into the Avatar State in the series so far, including "Koizilla" from the Season 1 finale.
- Covered in Mud: An oracle tries to make Aang enter the Avatar State by combining the four elements and throwing the muddy mixture onto Aang.
- Defense Mechanism Superpower: Roku specifically identifies the Avatar State as primarily being one of these.
- Establishing Character Moment: Azula's conversation with her ship's captain about the tides.
- Evil Me Scares Me: Aang says "I was scary" while he's reflecting on the Avatar State. It's not a strict example, since the Avatar State is a neutral force of nature.
- Fatal Flaw: Zuko's need to be accepted by his father blinds him to the fact that Azula's playing him like a fiddle.
- Freudian Slip: Azula would have easily had Zuko and Iroh caught if not for one of her subordinates accidentally refer to the two as "prisoners".
- Foreshadowing: In Azula's lightingbending practice, Li and Lo tell her that she did: "Almost perfect" because she had "Just one hair out of place". Azula has a mild freak out, saying that: "Almost perfect isn't good enough." Later, when she's had her Villainous Breakdown because she was 'almost perfect' (she wasn't able to anticipate Mai and Ty Lee's, and later her father's, betrayal), what's one of the casualties?
Azula: "Alright hair, it's time to meet your doom!"
- Gone Horribly Right: General Fong eventually gets Aang into the Avatar State - and gets a good chunk of his base destroyed as a result.
- Helium Speech: Aang while riding an air scooter after drinking some Chi-enhancing tea.
"Is it working? Is it working? I can't tell! Somebody tell me if I'm in the Avatar State 'cause I don't have a good view of myself! Am I talking too loud?"
- Heroic RROD: It's this episode that reveals that while the Avatar State is powerful, it's, at best, a last resort and if Aang dies while in the state, the Avatar line will cease to be.
- Important Haircut: Iroh and Zuko cut off their topknots at the end of the episode to signify their status as traitors.
- Oh, Crap: It's a near Freeze-Frame Bonus, but Azula is noticeably shocked when Iroh redirects her lightning.
- General Fong goes from ecstatic to happy to Oh, Crap when he realizes the Avatar is active... and pissed off, at him.
- Properly Paranoid: Iroh also finds it unbelievable that Ozai would want them back.
- Story-Breaker Power: After the previous season finale revealed how incredibly powerful the Avatar State is, this episode is quite smartly devoted to explaining why Aang doesn't just use it all the time now.
- That Came Out Wrong: Iroh trying to explain that Ozai does like Zuko... and failing completely.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: The A story is Aang's struggle (both inwardly and outwardly) with trying to reach the Avatar state, the B story is Azula's attempt to trick and capture her "traitor" uncle and "failure" brother. No Interaction.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: General Fong wants Aang to use the Avatar State to make a quick attack on the Fire Nation and end the war, and all the suffering it brings. Unfortunately, he doesn't take it well when Aang doesn't want to.
- Wham Episode: We see the new main enemy in this episode along with the crippling weakness involving the Avatar State.
- What the Hell, Hero?: General Fong will use any means to get Aang into the Avatar State.
- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility