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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Western Air Temple"

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Zuko finally joins the Gaang, providing Aang with a firebending teacher.


After the devastating failure of the invasion, the gang and their remaining allies need a place to shelter, so Aang takes them to the only safe haven he can think of; The Western Air Temple. They know they have to re-group and think up a new plan for defeating the Fire Nation, but Aang doesn't seem to want to talk strategies: after another failure, he finds himself trying to escape his responsibilities. The fact that he still needs to practice Earthbending and begin learning Firebending also hits him full in the face, especially considering that there's no one to teach him.

Good thing that Zuko's finally had his Heel–Face Turn and is willing to help him, right? Wrong—the Gaang are none too eager to trust him (especially not Katara), and the runaway prince must convince them otherwise.



  • Accidental Truth: Katara thinks Zuko, when he was the Blue Spirit, only freed Aang to capture him for himself. Well... that part technically is right.
  • Agony of the Feet: Toph accidentally gets her feet burned by Zuko.
  • Answer Cut: When Sokka muses that there has to be someone who can teach Aang firebending, it cuts to Zuko practicing his speech to the gang.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Sokka gets this more often than anyone in the series by virtue of being a Badass Normal and The Smart Guy, but he gets a really good one here by calculating the exact angle he needs to throw his boomerang and hit Combustion Man right in the third eye.
  • Backported Development: There are two flashbacks of pre-Season One Zuko and Iroh, but Iroh is voiced by Greg Baldwin, since Mako had died.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The fact that Zuko is an aversion of this helps his case when Appa shows his appreciation for freeing him in Lake Laogai and Toph explains to the rest of Team Avatar that he was being honest. However, Sokka is unimpressed.
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  • Betrayal Insurance; Katara bluntly tells Zuko that she will be watching him to make sure his switching sides his genuine. If he ever strays or even shows the slightest hint that he'll get Aang killed again, she will "end" his destiny.
  • Beyond Redemption: Katara believes that Zuko is this when he seemingly pretended to turn good only to betray her in Ba Sing Se, adding to his long List of Transgressions against the rest of Team Avatar. The main source of the episode's conflict is that Zuko needs to convince the Gaang that this time, his Heel–Face Turn is genuine.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Gaang were too busy tending to Toph's wounds after Zuko accidentally burned her to notice Combustion Man sneaking up on them, and preparing to fire. Good thing Zuko was here to make up for his mistake.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zuko's reformation comes to a head when not only does Team Avatar unanimously accept him, but Aang also asks him to be his firebending teacher. However, Team Avatar are far from embracing him as a new member, if Katara's bitter threat is any indication.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The Western Air Temple is hanging upside down from a cliff.
    • In the commentary, Mike and Bryan note that this could prove quite a problem to M. Night Shyamalan's live action adaptation. Of course, this was before the first film of that adaptation flopped so badly that the other two were scrapped.
  • Black and White Insanity: Toph calls out her friends for bordering on this by emphasizing on the negative aspects of Zuko, they refused to see the good in him and his attempts to redeem himself.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Team Avatar is split over whether or not to accept Zuko as a firebending teacher. Aang is in the middle and inclined to listen to Katara and Sokka. The arguments are as follows.
    • Katara and Sokka bring up that Zuko has a List of Transgressions that involved chasing them around the world; when he was offered a chance at redemption in Ba Sing Se, he turned it aside in favor of helping his sister conquer the city; and he hired an assassin that's been chasing them.
    • Toph, the only Gaang member to not suffer personally at Zuko's hands (not counting Combustion Man), brings up that personal feelings aside, Aang needs a firebending teacher and one has showed up on their doorstep offering his teachings. Her lie-detecting abilities also sense that Zuko is completely honest in his quest for redemption, and he did free Appa.
  • Buffy Speak: Sokka refers to his uvula as his "throat hole flap."
  • Call-Back
    • Part of the reason why Aang accepted Zuko as his Firebending teacher is because he realizes Zuko feels genuinely sorry for accidentally burning Toph. Aang himself did the same thing much earlier to Katara. Both Aang and Zuko know that fire is a wild element, and how it feels to accidentally burn someone you love.
    • Zuko's attempts to hunt the Gaang through Season 1 are brought up when he approaches them.
    • As is Aang using frogs to cure Katara and Sokka's fever in "The Blue Spirit". Apparently Sokka was convinced he caught something from the frog.
    • When Zuko is pleading his case of doing good things, he mentions that he freed Appa during “Lake Laogai”. It’s because of Zuko’s actions that have resulted in Appa licking Zuko a lot since he approached the Gaang.
    • Zuko also tries pointing out how Aang thought they could've been friends. After everything that's happened, though, Aang's not willing to trust him.
    • Katara's reaction to Zuko appearing is identical to her reaction to seeing Jet in Ba Sing Se. She doesn't like people who betray her trust.
    • Katara clearly remembers how her trusting Zuko led to him betraying her and Aang, which led to Azula nearly killing the Avatar. At the end of the episode she reminds Zuko about what happened the last time he got tempted to do bad, and she will kill him if he hurts Aang.
  • Chirping Crickets: Done with a badgerfrog.
  • Comically Missing the Point
    Sokka: "You sent Combustion Man after us?!"
    Zuko: "Well...that's not his name, but..."
  • Darkest Hour: This episode features the Gaang at their lowest point. Aang is putting on a chipper face about his failure, but Sokka and Katara are despondent. They lost Ba Sing Se, the last Earth Kingdom stronghold that could fight against the Fire Nation, and now the Day of the Black Sun failed with most of their ragtag army captured. Sozin's Comet is arriving soon, and Ozai is still on the throne. The only Firebending teacher that would teach Aang is in hiding. Cue Zuko coming to offer his services to be Aang's firebending teacher... and the Gaang immediately assumes he's come to betray them again and hurt Aang.
  • Death Glare: Katara puts one on at the end when delivering her If You Ever Do Anything To Hurt Him speech to Zuko.
  • Declarative Finger: While Zuko is doing an Uncle Iroh impression.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Zuko thinks that the best solution to join the Avatar's team is to admit to all of his misdeeds and beg to become Aang's firebending teacher. It goes wrong when he lets slip that he sent Combustion Man against them, rather than say tell them what was discussed in that meeting he was agonizing about a few weeks ago...or just say that Azula sent Combustion Man after them.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Sokka, a Badass Normal, kills Combustion Man by hitting him in his third eye; when Combustion Man tries to use his powers, they backfire, blowing him up.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Zuko lets it slip that he sent that assassin after them earlier in the season. He later acknowledges how stupid this was of him and that he should've just scapegoated Azula for it. Ultimately subverted however in that him defending the Gaang from Combustion Man proves to Aang that he's being serious about turning good.
  • Disorganised Outline Speech: Zuko's initial attempt to make his case to the Gaang.
  • The Ditherer: Aang, in the wake of the failed invasion. Every time Katara tries to get him to sit down with the others and talk about a plan of action, he brushes them off and starts goofing around. It's not until Zuko makes his presence known that he stops.
  • Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: Toph goes to talk to Zuko while he's resting, but doesn't announce her presence until a spooked Zuko starts firebending, even though before that he'd loudly asked who was there. It gets her feet burnt, though Toph doesn't hold a grudge for it, and tries downplaying Zuko's actions when telling the others (even blaming herself and saying Zuko burning her was an accident).
  • Even Beggars Won't Choose It: The group need someone to teach Aang firebending, but most of them refuse to even consider letting Zuko do it. Toph points out this is a rather short-sighted attitude at a crucial time.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Lampshaded when Sokka expresses outrage that Zuko sent Combustion Man after them. Zuko's only response is that "Combustion Man" isn't actually his name, but he's cut off before he can reveal what it is.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: It’s because Appa is so affectionate with Zuko that both Aang and Toph think Zuko is good.
  • Falsely Reformed Villain: Sokka thinks Zuko's pulling this one with his redemption. Katara does as well, saying that he tries to win you over with sympathy.
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed.
    Toph: Considering his messed-up family and how he was raised, he could've turned out a lot worse.
    Katara: You're right, Toph — let's go find him and give him a medal: the Not-As-Much-A-Jerk-As-You-Could-Have-Been Award!
  • Heel–Face Turn: Technically it happened in the last two episodes, but it's nice to see it sticking. The hard part is convincing his former enemies that he's good.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Zuko has shades of this.
    Zuko: Why am I so bad at being good!?!
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Combustion Man gets killed by his own bending.
  • I Can't Believe I'm Saying This: Aang quotes this word-for-word before thanking Zuko for saving the team from Combustion Man.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Zuko fails at mimicking his Uncle's proverbs. (Although what he comes up with actually makes some sense, given what he's gone through.)
    Zuko: Even when I'm impersonating him I have no idea what he's saying!
  • If You Ever Do Anything To Hurt Him: Non-romantically - Katara threatens Zuko if he does anything to hurt Aang at the end of the episode.
  • I Hate Past Me: There's a hint of this in the exhausted, frustrated look on Zuko's face after he remembers visiting the Western Air Temple with his uncle in search of the Avatar. Even more so when he remembers how he treated his uncle, realizing now that Iroh was the only positive parental figure in his life since his mother left and Zuko was so disrespectful to him.
  • Implied Death Threat: Katara gives one to Zuko at the end of the episode.
    Katara: Let me tell you something right now. You take one step backwards... one slip up... give me one reason to think you might hurt Aang - and you won't have to worry about your destiny anymore. Because I'll make sure your destiny ends right then and there. Permanently.
  • Ironic Echo. From the flashback.
    Zuko: The only way to regain my honor is to find the Avatar.
  • Kubrick Stare: Katara also uses one of these.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Zuko finds Iroh's advice confusing even when he's the one imitating Iroh and saying it all in the first place.
  • Leitmotif: Zuko briefly gets Iroh and Azula's when he imitates them.
  • Licked by the Dog: Appa remembers that Zuko freed him from Long Feng, and licks him to show he likes him. Sokka doesn't buy it, and thinks he just covered himself in honey.
  • List of Transgressions: When Zuko attempts to apologize to the Gaang, both Katara and Sokka bring up his past actions: chasing them around the world, invading their village, and stealing Katara's necklace and using it to track them down. Katara later on brings up what happened in Ba Sing Se, namely Zuko betraying her during the fight with Azula.
  • Living Lie Detector: Toph's ability to tell when people are lying comes in handy trying to defend Zuko, since none of the others believe him.
  • Literal Metaphor: Sokka makes one when he points out to Toph "See? You trusted Zuko and you got burnt, literally!"
  • Mouth Cam: A shot from inside Sokka's mouth when he talks about the time he had a wart in the flap in the back of his throat.
  • Never Say "Die": If Zuko goes for another spin on the Heel–Face Revolving Door, Katara will "make sure his destiny ends". Though that was more about her using Zuko's meaningful words against him, since he'd been going on about that. It's not like they've ever beat around the bush about the other stuff.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Zuko letting it slip that he sent Combustion Man after the Gaang made them all even more distrustful of him, and he later laments that he should have pinned it on Azula. However, this is subverted when Combustion Man attacks and Zuko tries to stop him, showing to Aang that he's serious about wanting to help. There's also the fact that if Zuko tried to lie and blame Azula, Toph would have seen through it.
  • Not So Different: The reason Aang starts trusting Zuko (much less asks him to be his fire-bending teacher) is when Zuko notes he himself needs to be more careful with his firebending, so he doesn't hurt innocent people like Toph. This hits very close to home with the first time Aang tried firebending, and hurt Katara in the process.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Zuko realizes he hurt Toph, his expression changes from half-asleep to wide-eyed horror as he gasps. The camera even zooms in on his face to emphasize his panic.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When Zuko tells Combustion Man he's called off the bounty, Aang reacts to this, as though suspecting Zuko really has turned over a new leaf. If there's one thing Aang has learned about Zuko, it's that he never does anything that wouldn't "bring him honor", which in this case is calling off an assassin.
  • Pet the Dog: Deconstructed — The fact that Zuko has "done some good things," like freeing Appa from the Dai Li gets mixed reception from Team Avatar, and ultimately isn't enough to convince all of them.
    • Sokka is completely unimpressed that Zuko doesn't abuse animals, seeing that as a bare minimum of good.
    Sokka: Oh, hurray! In a lifetime of evil, at least he didn't add Animal Cruelty to the list! note 
    • Katara doesn't believe it at first. She recalls that Zuko won her over with sympathy back in Ba Sing Se, only to turn on her and Aang, resulting in the latter's near death at the hands of Azula and the fall of the Earth Kingdom. This betrayal still fresh in her mind, she believes he's Beyond Redemption.
    • Aang was overjoyed to finally be re-united with Appa after losing him. But discovering that, like when he was captured by Zhao, it was Zuko who was responsible for that, Aang can only be emotionally conflicted. While he is grateful to the extent of willing to at least listen to Zuko, he reasonably, but incorrectly concludes that like the previous rescue, he only did it for selfish reasons.
    • Toph is the only one willing to give Zuko a chance at first, in part because she doesn't have any personal grievances against him.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Zuko gets this treatment until the end of the episode, at which point people begin to relent. Except Katara, who keeps it up for four more episodes.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Zuko reflects on the early days of his banishment and how he can only get his honor back by finding the Avatar. He realized that he needed to earn his honor instead and that it did involve finding the Avatar, just to be an ally instead of a captor.
  • Saved by the Platform Below: Zuko gets blown off a platform by Combustion Man and it looks like he fell to his death to the shock of the onlooking Gaang. The next shot reveals that Zuko was saved by holding on to a tree trunk right below the platform.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Duke is insistent on that.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Toph expresses some sympathy for Zuko, given how messed up his family is. This is attributed to not having been hunted by him.
  • Trick Dialogue: Zuko practices his "Hi, I've made a Heel–Face Turn" speech in front of a frog.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Toph wears the pragmatist hat for a change and calls out her friends for not even considering accepting Zuko as Aang's firebending teacher, despite him being the only viable choice aside from Jeong Jeong. She may not have had any history with Zuko, but she understands the bigger picture and knows that there are bigger stakes than their personal feelings.
  • What Would X Do?: Zuko asks himself what his uncle (and, for the sake of argument, his sister) would do. (Complete with impersonations of both. He does a dead-on Iroh, and while he can't mimic Azula's voice, he nails her word choice, tone, and mannerisms.)


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