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Sokka and Cactus Juice
From what I know, if the audience didn't particularly favor this episode, they at least got some laughs out of Sokka getting high on cactus juice. The scenes of his hallucinated state were comical and amusing, something to lift the overall dark mood of this episode. Lines such as "Drink cactus juice. It'll quench you! Nothing's quenchier! It's the quenchiest!" and "Friendly mushroom! Mushy, giant friend!" have become famous, if that's what they may be called, among the fanbase. Despite being a bit of a drug reference, I find these parts extremely funny.
However, I must admit that despite enjoying these scenes, they do disrupt the deep emotional feelings of this episode. I feel that the dramatic feel to the entire episode was somewhat lost and to a certain extent ruined by said scenes.
The Last SceneAs much as I love Sokka being tripped up on cactus juice, I have to say, nothing in this episode will top the very last scene where Aang confronts the Sandbenders and goes into the Avatar State. The emotions in this scene were intense, the entire scenario a truly incredible part of the episode. This last scene, I felt, summed up the enitre episode perfectly. It showed the deep feelings of anger and sadness Aang felt upon losing Appa as well as the genuine feelings of concern and comforting nature of Katara. The actions of the characters coupled by the incredible soundtrack made for a very extraordinary scene.
The characterization in this episode itself was wonderful.
We see a very different side to Aang's personality in this episode. The normally fun loving and friendly twelve year-old kid we are usually accustomed to is instead overshadowed by a darker, gloomier and angrier person. I highly doubt anyone truly admired his actions and mood throughout the episode, however, that just goes to show how extraordinarily the characters in Avatar are developed. Sure we see his faults, but then again, not every hero can be perfect, right?
One reason why Aang's mood in this episode doesn't turn me off is that it shows how close he was to Appa. The loss of Appa was traumatic for him, revealing how caring he was for his pet sky bison. I also couldn't help but feel pity for him at the end where all that coiled up anger and sadness broke loose.
I certainly applaud Katara and her actions throughout the episode. Even when all hope seemed lost and the team seemed on the verge of falling apart, Katara's headstrong, determined personality showed through. She shaped up to be the fearless leader of the group, pulling them together and helping them face the odds of the desert. I definitely admire her during the last scene of the episode where, while everyone else stood back in fear, she stayed put and comforted Aang out of the Avatar State. Her character in this episode is really something to behold.
As aforementioned, Sokka was hilarious in this episode. His sensible ways went down the drain upon drinking the cactus juice and ending up in a hallucinated, very funny state. Then again, maybe he wasn't sensible in the first place, seeing how he drank the cactus juice. Well save for that, Sokka was outright amusing!
To be honest, I don't really have much to say about Toph. She was present for a majority of the episode, but she didn't do much. I was impressed, however, at her claim that she never forgets a voice. Talk about talented!
Zuko expressed a rather impatient, short-tempered side in this episode. I don't have much to say about his character in this episode.
Iroh was his typical self: wise, patient and Pai Sho loving, I guess you could say. Again, I don't have much to say about his character, although I'll take the wise, patient, Pai Sho loving Iroh any day.
Things I Didn't Really Like
I didn't particularly like the scenes with Zuko and Iroh. It was nice to be introduced to the secret society, the Order of the White Lotus, but I can't really say I enjoyed watching their parts in the episode.
I also didn't like or understand when Aang struck down the Buzzard Wasp that captured Momo. He rescued the lemur, but was it really necessary to strike it down as it was flying away? Being a real animal lover, I didn't find that scene to my liking.
I was also disappointed to see that there's not too much action that happens during this episode. Save for the short battle with the Buzzard Wasps, not much else action packed happened. However, the comical scenes, emotional final scene and character development compensate for the lack of thrilling fight scenes.
Other Things to Note
I noticed that the sand cloud Aang conjured up with his staff after coming up empty in his search for Appa strikingly resembled the what people call the "mushroom cloud", the puff of smoke created after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Nice historical reference there.
Overall Reaction and Ratings
In all, while this episode wasn't at its best, it also wasn't at its worst. The Desert opens up the realities and hardships of life, the struggles people go through and how they handle them with humor mixed in as well. I do enjoy watching this episode whenever it comes on.
Humor: 7/10 Can't call this an outright funny episode, right? The mood was definitely downcast, save for the scenes with Sokka, but really that was intended. Even so, the Sokka scenes were very humorous!
Character Development: 10/10 Oh yes, definitely. The character development was amazing for this episode. Really have to credit that.
Drama and Emotion: 9/10 This episode did have plenty of emotion, ranging from anger to sadness to worry.
Overall: 7/10 I didn't add up the previous ratings and average them this time. To me, this isn't a low rating. This episode had its strengths and weaknesses, can't sugercoat anything. Even so, it was enjoyable and a good episode as far as I'm concerned!