See complete synopsis in this page.
The episode begins as most episodes do- with recaps that relate to the episode's plot. We see clips from "Appa's Lost Days", "City of Walls and Secrets" and "Lake Laogai". The recaps, in particular, got me interested- why show Suki and Azula's battle? I knew then that there would be a reference to either Azula and her team or to Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors in this episode.
The episode is set directly after the events in "Lake Laogai", which is great, as the plots between the episodes are directly intertwined. With other episodes that have a time difference of days, weeks or even months, the plots are usually very different, albeit connected, and that results in dramatically different emotions from the characters. A prime example would be from the second book's finale to the third book's premiere. Let's continue before I start to ramble on about Katara.
We first see Team Avatar resting on top of an island near Ba Sing Se. The scene opens with a heartfelt exchange between Appa and Aang. The nomad and the bison's relationship is admittedly the purest and the easiest to connect with. It was very nice to get a glimpse of the old Aang back, after seeing him so emotionally unstable (angry at flying wasps, crying over babies, smiling with zookeepers, blowing a gasket at tour guides etc.) for the past few episodes. It's nice to see some differences in perspective, especially seeing as how two seemingly opposite characters agree on the same plan. Toph and Katara often fight over who's right and who's wrong, but they both agree on leaving Ba Sing Se rather than staying to try and convince the Earth King on supporting their invasion plan. The boys against girls aspect of their argument is somewhat amusing, though I wish I can say the same about Toph's blind joke. The creators' play on Toph's condition are in most instances hilarity at its best, but this one was overkill for me. The Long Feng bit made up for that one, however, so it's all good.
Right off the vat, we get some action. "The Earth King", in my opinion, is the only episode that truly showcases Earthbending. We see it used to create projectiles, defensive structures, to eliminate entire divisions- it's insane. The scene where the gang moves forward while being attacked by blocks shows how different Earthbenders are. Aang attacks the rocks violently while Toph calmly uses her awesomeness to block them. But the highlight of this scene, I can say with no doubt in my mind, is Katara. Katara, Katara, Katara. We first see her using a long water whip to take down the Royal Earthbender Guards. She then continues to exhibit her bamfness (look it up) by using a foot-conjured water whip to complete pwn the guards. She made it with her foot. HER FOOT. She then finishes her trick like a true hipster, and uses a shoulder tuck to finish in an amazing pose, before she defeats the rest of the guards by sweeping them off the ledge by using two water whips as if she was removing dust from a shelf. I must have watched this episode, and this scene in particular, for over 5 times, and I'm still squealing. And if that wasn't enough to tickle a fan's fancy, we see Toph using her Earthbending to flatten a huge flight of stairs, then use a ledge to propel her and Team Avatar up. All the while, they continue to beat up the guards, assuring them that they are on the side of good.
After reaching the top, Katara, Aang and Toph battle the guards while Sokka searches for the Earth King's throne room. The scene shifts to Zuko and Iroh, with Zuko feeling lightheaded after freeing Appa. This is yet another time where we see Zuko's turmoil. Is he good or bad? Well, his body is unsure, so it decides to crash down. We see Iroh's paternal worry and the scene shifts back to Team Avatar, who by this time, has ransacked what remains of the palace. Sokka sees the throne room's door and proceeds to fail in an attempt to open it. Aang and Toph destroy the door, and we see Earth King Kuei, with extremely eerie background music accompanying his appearance. This scene is good in the sense that it shows propaganda, and how strong someone can be when convincing you that something is right. Kuei speaks, and not in the expected tough earthy voice that would be normally expected from a king. He sounds, and looks, helpless. But his adoration over Bosco is so endearing, that it's just impossible to dislike him. Who could blame him though? Bosco is my absolute favorite creature on the show. He. Is. Adorable.
I was particularly whether or not to consider the throne room scene as dramatic or comedic, as there are aspects of both. We see Aang and Sokka trying to prove that Long Feng knows about Appa (the inconsistency with his statement of thinking they were extinct should have been an indication of something fishy), and Aang's childishness becomes apparent yet again.
We then see Zuko and Iroh again, and the change in Iroh's voice becomes apparent (rest in peace, Mako). Zuko by this point has developed a fever, and Iroh urges him to sweat it out. But, before we can completely be immersed in Iroh's worry or Zuko's current state, the scene shifts yet again. Conveniently, the headquarters under Lake Laogai disappears, and the Earth King decides that the conspiracy is all a joke. He and the Royal Earthbender Guards proceed to depart, but the team decides to show him the drill and he is stopped by Aang (lousy guards- the Avatar is not even 5 feet away from the king and they just leave on their merry way). We see the team flying towards the agrarian zone, but before anything can happen, the scene shifts again. Zuko is still sick, and we see his dream about being an un-scarred Fire Lord. This scene, though extremely interesting, failed to capture me. The use of dragons to depict good and bad was a very smart idea, though the scene would have had a much grander effect if Zuko was influenced by more realistic figures. Azula and Aang for example, or even better, Ozai and Ursa. But, the use of dragons was effective in the sense that it brought all (or at least most) of the factors that influence Zuko's judgment- Azula, Ursa and Iroh all working together to urge Zuko.
Finally, the team reaches the outer wall, and is able to show the Earth King the Fire Nation Drill. He believes it, and Long Feng arrives just in time to be arrested. I must admit, his construction excuse got me for a good minute or so. His character is well-written, and so are the Dai Li's. We see them hesitate just before arresting him- showing a quick moment of doubt on whether to remain loyal to Long Feng, or to follow the orders of the king. The scene's intense atmosphere is broken when Sokka makes yet another idiotic, yet hilarious remark. But, the moment the team has been waiting for finally comes. They enlist the Earth King's help and find files intercepted by Long Feng. Toph's lack of interest with regards to her mother's letter somewhat shocked me, but Sokka and Katara's disappointment upon finding the lack of a letter and subsequent ecstasy after reading the intelligence report was more than enough to make me forget about that.
Iroh explains the nature behind Zuko's sickness, and all the while, we're able to see a vulnerable Zuko. It's a rare sight, and a nice thing to see. Of course, he betrays his uncle and becomes violent yet again two episodes later, but for now, he's vulnerable and helpless. Team Avatar decides to split up, and, though brief, we see tremendous insight on how much Sokka misses his father. The scene cuts shortly after and Aang decides to tell Katara that he's in love with her. Oh, but Sokka comes by just in time to ruin the atmosphere. But oh wait! Three warriors from Kyoshi have arrived! But that doesn't stop Sokka from leaving, or for everyone to wonder why there're only three.
Zuko wakes up, but WTF HE BECOMES THE AVATAR. Oh, it's just a dream. He touches his scar, which we start to conclude is a symbol of who he is, or at least who he thinks it is. Just as Sokka declares that everything will be fine from now on, we see that Long Feng still has the loyalty of the Dai Li. Toph goes to see her mother, but discovers that it was a trap from Xin Fu and Yu! And- oh snap- those aren't the Kyoshi Warriors. It's Azula, Mai and Ty Lee. It wasn't much of a surprise. From their approach, you could determine that it wasn't Suki just by looking at the hair. But a good scene, nonetheless.
Plot: 3 / 5
- The plot itself was great. Propaganda is always a great topic to portray, and its execution was superb, plus the battle scene was excellent, but the rest of the story lacked enough pizazz and depth for me. The flow was bad, with regards to minutely switches between the main story and the sub story. Humor was good, apart from the blind joke, as I've mentioned above. But overall, it was decent.
Character Development: 4 / 5
- Long Feng and the Dai Li were superb characters. The role of Long Feng as an advisor feeding propaganda to a puppet figurehead was so excellently executed that I, at one point, began to question the motives of Team Avatar. I was only slightly disappointed by Iroh, as I would have liked a bit more of concern on his part, seeing as how he considers Zuko as his son. Also, the inconsistency with Toph's desire to see her parents irked me, and how Sokka did not care about Suki enough to stay until her arrival. Other than that, amazing.
Special Effects: 5 / 5
- The bending and battle scenes in this episode were insanely good. I have nothing to say apart from synonyms of amazing and spectacular.
Overall: 4 / 5
- Despite flow issues and minor character inconsistencies, this remains as one of my favorite episodes. Amazing effects, amazing dvelopment, amazing plot. Good stuff.
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