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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. When a Fire guard accidentally utters that Azula's summons is a ruse in order to imprison Zuko and Iroh. 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: 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.
  • Bad Boss: Azula hints that she is one with her death threats to the captain of her flagship.
  • 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.
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  • 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 haven'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: Iroh quickly changes his mind about staying behind and joins Zuko onto Azula's ship.
  • 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 pretty much all of Azula's guard by himself, in less than a minute.
  • Death Glare: The captain of Azula's flagship receives one when he speaks carelessly.
  • 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 becomes her signum.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Azula's unnerving conversation with her ship's captain about the tides.
    • Then her practicing 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.
  • Failure Montage: We get several scenes of General Fong trying to get Aang reach his Avatar State with no success.
  • 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.
  • 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.
      • Just to clarify why the above is important. When it comes to riding ships, the tides are not just a factor to consider. The Tides are your God and Patron Saint. Disregard of the tides is practically suicide and foolhardy. The fact that Azula just casually decides to throw someone overboard for not choosing to ignore the tides highlights Azula's leadership abilities the likes of a Mad King.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 over it.
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: It's a near Freeze-Frame Bonus, but Azula is noticeably shocked when Iroh redirects her lightning.
    • Before that, the guard 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 them at the beginning of the episode are seen panicking.
  • Parallel Conflict Sequence: Aang's conflict with General Fong plays out at the same time as Zuko and Iroh’s fight with Azula.
  • Properly Paranoid: Iroh also finds it unbelievable that Ozai would want them back. He's right, and he knows well enough that his brother would never regret anything.
  • Quicksand Sucks: General Fong buries Katara in quick sand in an attempt to force Aang into the Avatar State. It works out.
  • 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.
  • Tough Love: 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: We see the new main enemy in this episode along with the crippling weakness involving the Avatar State.
  • 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.
  • 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 want Aang to do it again after he completely destroys his base.

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