- This article is about the episode. For the episode with a similar name see "The Deserter". For the desert to which this episode is referring, see Si Wong Desert.
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The gang is stranded in the desert, helpless without Appa. While halting in the Misty Palms Oasis, Iroh and Zuko are recognized from a wanted poster by Xin Fu and Master Yu, hired by Toph's father. They plan to capture them for the reward, but a secret society helps to protect Iroh and Zuko from them and from the Fire Nation. After going through the many perils of the desert, Aang tracks down the sandbenders who stole Appa and learns that Appa was traded to a merchant in Ba Sing Se. Upon hearing that Appa was muzzled, an infuriated Aang enters the Avatar State, almost wiping out the sandbenders, but is calmed down by Katara.
The scene opens with the gang stuck in the middle of the desert right after Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Momo narrowly escaped the library before it vanished under the sand. All but Toph are looking in different directions for signs of Appa and a way out. A distraught Aang verbally goes after Toph, scolding her for letting the sandbenders escape – accusing her of intentionally letting Appa be captured. Katara attempts to calm Aang down and points out that Toph saved their lives. However, Sokka does not help the situation by stating that they are still in need of rescuing, as they are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Aang lashes out at everyone, calling them selfish. Despite Katara's efforts to calm Aang, he heads out alone on his glider to search for a sign of Appa. Katara takes charge and decides that the rest of them need to start walking if they hope to get out of the desert and reach Ba Sing Se to inform the Earth King of the upcoming solar eclipse.
While riding on the ostrich-horse, Iroh utters several fake-moans, pretending to be in pain in order to get Zuko to stop for a break. As soon as the duo halts to make camp, five adversaries on rhinos surround them – the same ones that attacked Chin Village before. Iroh identifies the group as Colonel Mongke and his Rough Rhinos. Iroh greets them in a friendly manner, but takes note of where they all are, as the colonel has stated they are there to capture some fugitives. As the group attacks, Iroh and Zuko effectively maneuver an escape. While riding away, Zuko asks Iroh if he has any old friends that do not want to attack them, giving Iroh an idea.
Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Momo are tiredly staggering through the desert. Sokka halts to use Momo's wings for shade, causing Toph to crash into him. He irritable begins to say, "Can't you watch where you're ...?" but stops mid sentence as he realizes that Toph cannot see. Katara encourages them to stick together and shares some of her bending water to help keep them hydrated. This is met with some criticism as Sokka realizes it has been used on the swamp people. He spots a cactus and slices part of it open to reveal that it contains some type of liquid. He and Momo happily quench themselves. Katara warns against eating strange plants whose effects they do not know, but the damage has been done. Sokka's eyes suddenly dilate and both he and Momo begin to hallucinate. Toph asks if she can try some, but Katara decides it is best if nobody drinks anymore cactus juice, and they continue looking for Aang.
Aang glides over the endless sand dunes of Si Wong Desert, looking for Appa – blowing his bison whistle and yelling. He lands and, overcome by rage and grief, slams his staff on the ground, creating a huge sand mushroom cloud. The others, seemingly a long distance away, not only see the cloud, but also feel the current of air created as a result of the impact. Unknowingly, they decide to keep walking – away from Aang. Sokka and Momo continue to hallucinate, believing the cloud is a giant mushroom and start to worship it under the impression that it might be friendly.
Back at the Misty Palms Oasis, Xin Fu and Master Yu learn that Aang and Toph have been there recently, but headed into the desert and may never come back. At that point, Xin Fu notices Fire Nation wanted posters as well as Iroh and Zuko arriving at the oasis and entering the local tavern.
It is nearing sunset when Aang rejoins the group – without Appa. He is very discouraged and seems willing to give up, but Katara pulls the group together again and urges them to continue on, even as buzzard wasps fly overhead.
As Katara declares, "I think we should stop for the night", the others gladly fall to the ground exhausted. Toph asks for water and Katara begins to ration out the last of what she has when Momo jumps into the water, causing it to sink into the ground. Katara uses her waterbending to recover most of it. She asks Sokka if she can take a look at some of the things he got from the library. Sokka, still under the effects of the cactus, framed Momo of ratting him out by telling Katara about the information he had – forgetting she was with him in the library. Still in his defeatist mode, Aang says the maps will not help them find Appa, but Katara points out they will help them head to Ba Sing Se by following the stars. Katara says they should start up again in a few hours to take advantage of the cool nights.
Iroh and Zuko are inside the same establishment where Aang's crew met the professor in the previous episode. Iroh spots someone at the Pai Sho table and believes this may be the friend for whom they are looking. As they head over, Xin Fu wants to go after them, but Master Yu restrains him. He points out that they may be in over their heads given where they are, they should show patience and wait for the right moment to collect their bounty. Iroh approaches the Pai Sho table and asks if he may have this game. After placing the lotus tile in the center of the board, Fung and Iroh begin what appears to be a ritualistic game understood by the two of them, eventually creating a lotus formation with the tiles. Xin Fu loses his patience and goes for Iroh and Zuko, but Fung creates a diversion, causing the rest of the people in the establishment to fight with two would-be captors while Iroh and Zuko escape.
Meanwhile, Katara is rousing everyone awake to take advantage of the night. A downcast Aang brightens for a second when he mistakes a cloud for Appa. Realizing his error, his mood deteriorates even further. When Katara asks him to waterbend the cloud into her water skin, Aang angrily snatches the pouch out of her hands and glides off. After Katara comments on how little water there was from the cloud, Aang blows up at her, asking her what she is doing to help, to which she quietly states, "Trying to keep everyone together." As they head out, Toph bangs her foot against what she claims is a boat. Aang uncovers the object with his airbending to reveal a glider similar to what the sandbenders use. There's a compass aboard and the group decides to use the glider to try to get out of the desert.
Iroh and Zuko are led into a flower shop by their friend who tells Iroh what an honor it is to have such a high-ranking member of the Order of the White Lotus. Zuko, still unconvinced as to how playing Pai Sho will help them, makes a derisive statement about flower arranging. Iroh apologizes to Fung about Zuko's lack of appreciation for the cryptic arts. After a cryptic exchange through a speakeasy-type opening, Iroh and Fung are let into a back room, but Zuko is shut out and made to wait in the flower shop as it is "members only".
Aang uses his airbending to propel the sand-sailer over the sand. Katara mentions that she does not think the needle on the compass is pointing north, when suddenly she sees a huge rock formation ahead, understanding that the compass is pointing toward that, the magnetic center of the desert. Toph is ecstatic to learn that they are headed toward a rock. Aang, on the contrary, appears to be maliciously hoping to find some sandbenders there.
When they reach the top of the huge rock, the sun is already starting to break through. Happy, Toph falls back to make a rock angel in the solid ground. The crew explores one of the many weird caves they discovered at the top. While walking down a tunnel, Sokka breaths deeply and says he thinks his head is starting to clear up from the cactus juice. He and Momo proceed to eat a yellow, sap-like, gooey substance from the walls, which apparently tastes like rotten penguin meat and makes them feel woozy, much to Katara's dismay. Suddenly, Toph realizes they are not walking down a natural cave. She feels that there is something buzzing and that it is coming toward them.
Huge buzzard wasps swarm out the cave, which appears to be their nest. Toph's aim is hampered by the fact the creatures are flying, and Katara is completely out of water to bend. In the confusion, Momo is snatched by one of the buzzing creatures, so Aang gives chase. While the others work their way down the rock, Aang successfully frees Momo. Not satisfied by this and eager for revenge, he uses his airbending to knock the fleeing creature down, showing his sinister and vengeful side, shocking Momo. Back at the rock, Katara is helping Toph fight off the buzzard wasps, when suddenly, huge sandblasts shoo them back to the top. The sand clears to reveal several sandbenders. Aang returns and lands in between the two parties.
Iroh finally emerges from the back room, startling Zuko awake, as he was sleeping standing up. He tells Zuko they will be heading to Ba Sing Se to hide in plain sight as fugitives. Xin Fu and Master Yu are still looking for them.
The sandbenders ask the group why they have one of their vessels, accusing them of theft, so Katara explains they found it and that their bison was stolen. Toph recognizes one of the voices as belonging to the one who took Appa. An infuriated Aang steps forward and demands to know his bison's whereabouts. When his accusation is challenged, he destroys one of the gliders and makes his demand again.
Xin Fu and Master Yu head into the flower shop looking for Zuko and Iroh, but they are nowhere to be found, even after Xin Fu knocks down the door to the back room. A cart with two potted plants is being taken out of the oasis and suddenly we see Iroh and Zuko are hiding in the pots.
Aang again demands to know where Appa is and destroys another sand-sailer to emphasize that his patience is running low. The leader turns to his son and asks what he did to bring forth this kind of violence. The son denies any wrongdoing and continues to insist that Team Avatar are the thieves, but Toph states that she heard the son say to put a muzzle on Appa. Hearing this, Aang, enraged, crosses over into the Avatar State and destroys the remaining sand-sailers. Rightly fearful for his life, the son confesses he took the bison without knowing it was the Avatar's. Aang, with the menacing Avatar voice on top of his own, commands to know Appa's location, but the son can only tell him that he traded Appa to some merchants and that he is probably in Ba Sing Se by now. Avatar Aang, still outraged after hearing these unsatisfying answers, begins to form an air sphere around him, similar to when he was in the Southern Air Temple and had found Gyatso's skeleton. Sokka, alarmed by this development, pushes Toph forward by the shoulders, while he shouts to the sandbenders to run. As Avatar Aang begins to rise into the air, Katara is the only one who stays put. They are both engulfed by the sand that Aang's tornado kicks up. She approaches him, grabs his wrist, pulls him down, and embraces him – eventually calming him down and bringing him out of the Avatar State. It is revealed that tears are streaming down Aang's face.
- Written by:
- Directed by:
- Also starring:
- Mako - Uncle
- Peter Jessop - Fung (first appearance)
- Sab Shimono - Master Yu
- Marc Graue - Xin Fu
- Malachi Throne - Colonel Mongke (last appearance)
- Paul McKinney - Ghashiun (first appearance)
- Bill Bolender - Sha-Mo (only appearance)
- Colonel Mongke appears for a few moments in flashback in "Lake Laogai" but has no lines.
- Additional voices:
- Dee Bradley Baker
- Bill Bolender
- Marc Graue
- Peter Jessop
- Paul McKinney
- Zach Throne
- Main article: Transcript:The Desert
- The sandbender's ship that Aang dug out of the sand is shown in a flashback in "Appa's Lost Days". It became covered with sand after Appa sneezed it into a dune.
- The maps used by Team Avatar to navigate their way through the desert are the same ones Sokka took from Wan Shi Tong's Library in "The Library".
- There are Fire Nation wanted posters of Jeong Jeong and Chey alongside those of Iroh and Zuko.
- For a translation of Iroh and Zuko's wanted poster, see "The Avatar State" translation section in Writing in the World of Avatar.
- For a translation of the four other posters (Chey, Jeong Jeong, the Blue Spirit and Aang) refer to "The Deserter" section in Writing in the World of Avatar.
- When Aang flies off to find Appa, the group is shown standing in a crater left by the sunken library, but in the scene before they were all standing on relatively even ground.
- When Sokka denies stealing anything from the library and blames Momo for ratting him out, his boomerang is missing in a few frames.
- When Katara takes the chart of the stars that Sokka got from the library, the stars in the background suddenly fade from being very bold to dim.
- When Iroh spots Fung in the Misty Palms Oasis, the gambits on the Pai Sho board are white, whereas they are dark brown in the next shot.
- When Zuko stood next to the flowerpot stand with a flower while Iroh went into the meeting place, in the next shot Zuko is in front of the flowerstand, but the flower is gone.
- When Aang goes into the Avatar State, the tattoos on his hands do not glow during the first frames of him being in the Avatar State.
- After Aang enters the Avatar State and begins rising into the air, Katara grabs his arm with her right hand. However, in the next scene, she is using her left.
- This episode aired along with "The Library" as part of the one-hour special, Avatar: The Fury of Aang.
- Sokka's voice actor, Jack DeSena, once stated that this was his favorite episode due to Sokka being "stoned" on cactus juice.[source?]
- Although Toph claims to have heard the son say, "Put a muzzle on [Appa]", this is not actually heard during the time Appa is being taken in "The Library". Instead, it is heard in "Appa's Lost Days".
- This is the first time the Order of the White Lotus was mentioned.
- This is the middle episode of the series, as there are thirty episodes before and thirty after it.
- This is the second time that Aang speaks while in the Avatar State. The first time was in "The Siege of the North, Part 2".
- Some cable TV providers, such as Comcast, list this episode as "The Deserter" instead of "The Desert".
- This is the second episode in which Aang tries to find Appa, the first having been "The Swamp".
- Although there is a popular myth that cacti store water which can be extracted to the benefit of the thirsty desert traveler, in reality many cacti are poisonous or contain hallucinogens such as mescaline —as Sokka and Momo discovered. Mescaline has properties which induce a psychedelic experience very similar to LSD. Sokka's exclamation at seeing the large mushroom cloud caused by Aang could also be interpreted as an allusion to psychedelic mushrooms, which makes sense given Sokka's state of mind at that time.