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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Avatar State"

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A projection of Aang looks on as his body briefly loses itself in the Avatar state.

"I want my father not to think I'm worthless."
Zuko
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Aang and his friends rest at Earth Kingdom Outpost after their journey from the North Pole. They are to be escorted to Omashu, where Aang intends to find King Bumi to teach him earthbending. But General Fong, inspired by Aang's battle-determining actions during the Siege of the North, suggests that Aang defeat the Fire Lord and end the war immediately by triggering the Avatar State. In the meantime, Zuko and Iroh are visited by Zuko's sister, Azula, who has come bearing a message from the Fire Lord, requesting their return home. After many failed attempts, the General finally succeeds in triggering the Avatar State by faking Katara's death. Aang nearly destroys the base in anger but is then told by Avatar Roku that if he is killed in his Avatar State the Avatar Spirit will cease to exist. The group decides to go to Omashu alone. Zuko and Iroh are just about to board Azula's ship when a Fire guard accidentally lets slip that Azula's summons are a ruse in order to imprison them. They escape however, but are subsequently forced to become outcasts, realizing that they are to become fugitives of the Fire Nation after Iroh's treacherous saving of the Moon Spirit at the North Pole, and Zuko's failure to capture the Avatar.

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Tropes:

  • Achilles' Heel: Roku tells Aang that, for all of its destructive capabilities, he's just as, if not more, vulnerable in the Avatar State as he is regularly. That is because getting killed while in the Avatar State would not only result in the death of the Avatar, but also the destruction of the Avatar Cycle. Permanently.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Parodied. What do you get when you combine Fire, Air, Water, and Earth? The Avatar State? Nope — mud.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Besides the fact that it is very difficult to fully control, Roku explains to Aang the drawbacks about using the Avatar State. While it channels the full power of every version of the Avatar that has come before him and allows an Avatar to perform feats of power they could never do on their own, it also leaves them extremely vulnerable. If they die in this state, the cycle of reincarnation would be broken and the Avatar would cease to exist.
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  • Bad Boss: Azula hints that she is one with her death threats to the captain of her flagship. The commentary track suggests that she was actually going to kill him, but the creators realized that they had no chance of actually getting that onscreen, and simply cut their final interaction at a Death Glare.
  • 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.
  • 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. Of course, even when she's trying to be nice, much of her usual unpleasantness shines through. Zuko's just so distracted by her manipulations he doesn't even notice.
  • Blatant Lies: Iroh tries to cheer Zuko up by saying Ozai wouldn't banish him if he didn't care, and then admits it came out wrong. Later on, Iroh remarks that Ozai has never been the forgiving or understanding type, making it clear that Iroh knows Ozai doesn't love Zuko.
  • Bullying a Dragon: In General Fong we have a rare case of someone doing this while specifically hoping for the dragon to lash out.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: This is Azula's reaction when she is called out on her villainy. Specifically, lying to Zuko and trying to get him arrested by the Fire Navy. She doesn't think it's such a big deal — nothing she hasn't done before.
  • 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.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Played With As Iroh quickly changes his mind about staying behind and joins Zuko onto Azula's ship. However it's not because he trusts Azula or her offer, he goes to protect Zuko, and made the right call on learning she was trying to capture them.
  • 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.
  • Cherry Blossoms: Zuko's scenes have cherry petals floating about.
  • 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.
  • Control Freak: It's established by Azula's Tide Speech that she wants nothing less than to have control of every aspect of her life, from her fire-bending training to docking the ships despite the tide, all the way down to her hair.
  • 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Iroh fights off all of Azula's guards by himself in less than a minute, then quickly defeats Azula herself as well.
  • Death Glare: The captain of Azula's flagship receives one when he accidentally refers to Zuko and Iroh as prisoners.
  • Defence Mechanism Superpower: Roku specifically identifies the Avatar State as primarily being one of these.
  • Dream Intro: The season opens with a dream sequence which quickly reveals itself as such by its surreal nature.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Azula is depicted with very long nails, and the direction even draws specific attention to this, suggesting a much more sedentary lifestyle than the hands-on villainy and martial arts mastery that later become her signature style.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Azula's unnerving conversation with her ship's captain about the tides, along with her practicing throwing lightning, establishes her perfectionist streak. Just one hair out of place is enough to piss her off.
  • 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. It's just that Aang has so far only entered the Avatar State when he or someone he cares about is in danger, and its natural reaction is to fight back.
  • Failure Montage: We get several scenes of General Fong trying to get Aang reach his Avatar State with no success. They try with caffeinated tea, surprising Aang, and pouring mud on him.
  • Fatal Flaw: Zuko's need to be accepted by his father blinds him to the fact that Azula's playing him like a fiddle.
  • Femme Fatalons: Azula's nails, demonstrated when she first meets Zuko and Iroh, get used during her fight with Zuko, scratching him on the head.
  • Final Death: Roku reveals to Aang that even though the Avatar State is when the Avatar is their most powerful, they are also their most vulnerable; if the Avatar is killed when in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle will be broken and the Avatar's spirit will be gone forever.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • After Aang's been calmed down, General Fong (who has learnt nothing) suggests trying to find a way to control the Avatar State. Of course, Roku's display back during The Winter Solstice shows it could be controlled, Aang just doesn't know how... yet.
    • Azula's treatment of the captain not only showcases her control freak nature, but foreshadows the nature of her eventual villainous breakdown in the finale where she starts banishing any servants and advisors who disagree or make a slight mistake. The "one hair out of place" moment is another, at the start of her breakdown after the Boiling Rock incident, Azula starts caring a lot less about how controlled she is in combat and her hair comes down more often to showcase her instability. note 
  • Gone Horribly Right: General Fong eventually gets Aang into the Avatar State - and gets a good chunk of his base destroyed as a result.
  • G-Rated Drug: The "chi-enhancing tea" that sends Aang into a babbling speed-freak frenzy.
  • Groin Attack: Sokka delivers a double dose of this to the Earth Kingdom soldiers restraining him from helping Aang during General Fong's attack
  • 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.
  • I Lied: Azula, who is nothing but smug when called on it.
    Zuko: You lied to me!
    Azula: Like I've never done that before.
  • Important Haircut: Iroh and Zuko cut off their topknots at the end of the episode to signify their status as traitors.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Fong might well be going too far, but the Fire Nation is coming close to winning the war, and Aang is the only person at this point who could stop them, if he knew how. The Gaang even agrees, reluctantly, to give it a shot.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: General Fong thinks that if Aang activates the Avatar state, he can save his men from becoming casualties. The whole episode is an exploration of why Aang can't simply activate the Avatar State to end the war. He finds out that he's not ready to control it, especially on learning that if anyone kills him while he goes into that state, the Avatar as an entity will die as well.
  • Kick the Dog: Zuko says several very unkind things to Iroh when he tries to point out the situation isn't what it seems, accusing Iroh of being lazy (well...), untrusting and jealous of his younger brother.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: To emphasize how dangerous she is, we witness Azula practicing her lightning technique. This is the first time the series shows anyone shooting lightning.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: Iroh uses both firebending and unarmed combat when Facing Azula and her troops.
  • Living Weapon: General Fong thinks this of Aang.
  • Loose Lips: Azula would have easily had Zuko and Iroh caught if not for one of her subordinates accidentally referring to the two as "prisoners".
  • Make Way for the New Villains: This episode and the next one shifts the role of major antagonist in the series from Zuko and Iroh to Azula and her cohorts, and Azula herself plays a significant part in taking it over.
  • Mocking Sing-Song: When Fong buries Katara to force Aang into the Avatar state, he tells him "I don't see glowing" in a vaguely musical tone.
  • Motor Mouth: 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?"
  • Necessary Drawback: 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 and why he can't just activate it even if he wants.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • It's a near Freeze-Frame Bonus, but Azula is noticeably shocked when Iroh redirects her lightning.
    • Before that, the captain who accidentally called Zuko and Iroh "prisoners", when he realises what he just said.
    • General Fong goes from ecstatic to happy to Oh, Crap! when he realizes the Avatar is active... and pissed off, at him.
    • At the end of the episode, when Azula declares Zuko and Iroh traitors, along with anyone who aids them, the two spa workers who'd tended to Iroh at the beginning of the episode are seen panicking.
  • One-Man Army: Iroh defeats Azula and all her troops singlehandedly. It's not that Zuko wasn't trying, Azula's just that much better than him (she's also verbally pushing his buttons to make him angry and sloppy).
  • Parallel Conflict Sequence: Aang's conflict with General Fong plays out at the same time as Zuko and Iroh’s fight with Azula and her troops.
  • Properly Paranoid: Iroh finds it unbelievable that Ozai would want them back. He's right, because he knows that his brother has never regretted doing anything.
  • Quicksand Sucks: General Fong buries Katara in quicksand in an attempt to force Aang into the Avatar State. It works out because it turns out he was bluffing and didn't actually hurt her.
  • Saying Too Much: Aang tells the General that they need to give up seeking the Avatar State. Nothing they've done has worked, and it seems to only activate when he's in danger. Guess what Fong immediately does after?
  • Shout-Out: Azula's "Do the tides command this ship?" monologue is reminiscent of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader declares to Admiral Piett that "Asteroids do not concern me."
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: General Fong eventually resorts to this to unlock the Avatar State, making sure Aang will need to do so in order to save Katara.
  • Tap on the Head: General Fong goes out after a hit on the head from Sokka.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Iroh trying to explain that Ozai does like Zuko... and failing completely.
  • Too Good to Be True: Iroh warns Zuko that Azula's offer to come home seems like this. Ozai isn't someone who changes his mind, so why would he now? Zuko refuses to listen until it's nearly too late.
  • Tough Love:
    • Katara has been reluctantly supportive of Aang at least experimenting with the Avatar State. When Aang wants to continue finding out if he can activate it, she puts her foot down because she says Aang looks like he's in utter pain when it happens. This convinces Aang to talk to Fong and call off the venture.
    • This may be what Iroh was trying to allude to when asking Zuko why his father would banish him if he didn't care.
  • Trespassing to Talk: Azula awaits Iroh and Zuko in their house, much to their surprise.
  • 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: Zuko and Iroh are now not just exiles but fugitives.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Presumably, Azula could ambush Zuko and Iroh after their day at the spa, capture them and deliver them to Ozai using the crew's firebenders. On the other hand, she's in Earth Kingdom territory and there could be enemies lurking to challenge her jurisdiction. She insists on manipulating them into coming to her ship willingly so that there is no Jurisdiction Friction.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: This is the first time the Avatar State is really explained, with both its power and its dangers, making the point that Aang must use it responsibly.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Fong, Zuko, and Iroh all qualify, to different degrees. Fong doesn't actually hit Katara, but certainly makes it seem like he's prepared to kill her. Zuko tries to hit Azula but can't manage it, and Iroh does hit her and knock her into the ocean after redirecting her attempt to blast Zuko with lightning.
  • You're Insane!: General Fong will use any means to get Aang into the Avatar State like attacking him with his forces and even using Katara as a hostage. By the end of the episode, Aang tells him that "he's out of his mind" when he wants Aang to do it again after he completely destroys his base.

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