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Book Two: Earth

02 Oct

Overview: Now that we’re familiar with the world of the Avatar and how it works, we can get down to some emotional development. In this season we see Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko deal with their inner turmoil the best they can. It’s most prominent in Zuko who is going through the biggest change and trying to discover who he is and what it is he wants from life, now that it seems his destiny has been torn from him. We also see more of the war and how it affects the people of the Earth Kingdom which has been struggling with the Fire Nation more than anyone. We also meet some new friends as well as reuniting with old ones. So basically it’s a good time all around.

Earth Kingdom: This is the country we see the most of by far. Until the third season, all of their time has been spent wandering the Earth Kingdom either trying to get to the North Pole in the last season or Ba Sing Se in this season. Ba Sing Se is the capital of the Earth Kingdom and the home of the Earth King. Its name means “Impenetrable City” which is appropriate considering its incredibly impressive walls, an outer wall and several inner walls. It was attacked once by General Iroh who failed to make it past the outer wall.

The Earth Kingdom itself is made up of a very diverse people, some friendly, others not so friendly. While the Water Tribes are a very tight-knit community and the Fire Nation acts as one unit, the Earth Kingdom villages and towns act almost like Greek states, part of one nation, but separate from the other states. There are rivalries between villages, cities ruled by their own kings, and a variety of hierarchies. I think that may be why the Fire Nation was able to set up colonies there so easily.

Characters:

Aang: Aang has done a lot of growing up since the North Pole. He’s lost a lot of his childishness, but still retains enough to keep our love. He’s a lot more serious about his training now that he’s seen just how destructive the Fire Nation can be. We see him take responsibility even for things he’s done in a past life. We also see his feelings for Katara come more to the surface. Unlike last season, when it was a childish crush that he didn’t know what to do with, Aang takes his feelings for Katara more seriously. Instead of trying to impress her he’s taken to protecting her at all cost and on a few occasions trying to confess his love. He’s realized by now, though, that the world has to come first. However, in Tales of Ba Sing Se we see his that his innocence is still well intact as he tries to guide a zoo full of wild animals out of the city.

Aang struggles with his feelings through this whole season. Not only his feelings for Katara, but his emotions in general. He’s afraid to face the Fire Lord, passionate about saving the world, in love with Katara and deeply attached to Appa, his flying bison/sky bison. He still feels some guilt over the destruction of his people and anger towards the Fire Nation. In the end, he needs to let all these feelings go in order to master the Avatar State, yet another source of fear for him.

Katara: Katara takes on more of a motherly role in this season as Aang takes on the hardest element for him to master; Earth. As things start to get harder for Aang, she becomes a source of encouragement and a safe haven for him. She still has that temper of hers and her stubbornness has improved by only a little, but she too has matured beyond her childish ideas of adventure. Now that she has what she set out for, her focus has turned from herself and her Waterbending to helping Aang in any way she can. She’s become a sort of life raft for the group, keeping them afloat when they want to give up and drown. As always she keeps her optimistic attitude and tries to look to the bright side of any situation they might be in.

Sokka: Sokka, while still comic relief, has become a more competent warrior since the North Pole. He’s something of a task master in this season, keeping the group on track and on the move. He always has his eyes on the nearest goal, whether it be finding an Earthbending teacher for Aang or forming a plan to defeat the Fire Lord.  In this season he’s actually acknowledged as the guy with all the ideas. He’s become a sort of leader, whether they like it or not. Even Sokka has some emotional issues to work through this season. Since Yue became the moon spirit, Sokka feels like he failed to protect her and blames himself for her ‘death.’ When Suki, one of the Kyoshi Warriors they met last season, shows up he has to deal with these feelings so that he can move on and let himself be happy. In Tale’s of Ba Sing Se we see him try his hand at poetry, which goes better than you might think. I find it funny, though, that they throw him out for using too many syllables in a haiku.

Toph: Toph is the twelve-year-old daughter of the Bei Fong Family. Her parents kept her a secret from the world because she was born blind and they felt she was too fragile to handle the outside world. Little did they know that they’re precious, fragile, blind daughter was actually the greatest earth bender in the world. Under the name the Blind Bandit, Toph competed in an Earthbending competition several times, always coming out on top, which is where she first meets Aang, looking for an Earthbending teacher. Toph, despite being raised in high society, has a very rough personality. She’s very loud, self concerned and proud. She doesn’t take guff from anyone, even Aang. She trains him with an iron fist, pushing him until he gets it right.

Toph has a very special talent. Since she is blind she uses Earthbending to see. She feels the vibrations in the ground and uses them to picture her surroundings. Because of this, she hates flying, but she always knows when people are lying and when danger is near. Toph has her own issues to deal with; mostly learning to rely on the others sometimes. Since her parents treated her like a china doll she hates being taken care of. She would much rather do her everything on her own, if only to prove that she can. She and Katara clash heads at first but have to learn to get along. They’re never ‘close as sisters’ but they’re civil and even have a girl’s day out in Tales of Ba Sing Se.

Zuko: After his defeat at the North Pole, the Fire Lord decides that Zuko is useless and should be captured and brought back to the Fire Nation. This makes Zuko and his uncle fugitives from both the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. Naturally, this is a hard change for him since he’s used to living as a prince. At first he turns back to the blue spirit in order to steal what they need. Eventually Iroh convinces him this is wrong but in the process, convinces him that he is better off on his own. Zuko struggles with his identity most in this season and in his very own episode, Zuko Alone, we see him remembering his mother and his life growing up as a Fire Nation Prince. We watch him struggle with this idea of being good and becoming his own person and in the end he wins out. Until his sister shows up, of course, and ruins everything. But other than one little incident he don’t get any trouble from Zuko. He even gets a girl for his part in Tales of Ba Sing Se.

Iroh: In this season, all of Iroh’s energy is spent trying to help Zuko become his own person and deal with the fact that he will never return home. He is forced at times to use some harsh words and actions against his nephew but the love is always there. Even when Zuko runs off on his own, Iroh is never far behind, just in case he might need his help. As usual, Iroh is the wise old man giving advice where it is needed. In his portion of Tales of Ba Sing Se we see him helping people all over the city before going on a picnic to honor his son Lu Ten who died in the war. The section Iroh’s Story was dedicated to the memory of Mako who voiced Iroh until his death during season two.

Momo and Appa: I feel they deserve a section too. Momo is Aang’s pet flying lemur and Appa is his flying bison or sky bison as they call him this season. They were both in last season but played rather small roles and mostly comic relief and transportation. In this season we get to see a little bit more of their personalities and characters. Appa is afraid of fire and hates being underground.  Momo and Appa are totally BFFs, but Appa’s heart will always belong to Aang. When they were both children one hundred some years ago, Aang chose Appa out of all the baby sky bison and they’ve been together ever since. We see just how much Appa means to Aang when Toph blames him for them being followed and just how angry he gets when the sandbenders kidnap him and sell him to some traders. We also see how loyal Appa is to Aang as he tries desperately to get back to him, flying all over in search of his best friend. Momo has less of a character but more of a personality. He has a knack for getting in and out of trouble. Still even he gets a part in Tales of Ba Sing Se in which we see just how much he misses his large furry friend.

Villains: This season we get three.

Long Feng: Long Feng is the head of the Dai Li, the elite guard of the Earth King and keepers of Ba Sing Se’s cultural heritage. He’s in the habit of brain washing people either into doing things he wants or forgetting what they shouldn’t know. He’s somehow managed to keep the entire hundred years of war a secret from the Earth King and rule using him as a puppet. He’s different from Zhao in that his power lies in his minions and his cunning. He’s got the whole city under his thumb and that’s all he needs. He’s not out for grand power or fame; he just wants to rule Ba Sing Se. He’s not even loyal to the Earth Kingdom, only to himself. He’s selfish and he has the means to get anything he wants, until Aang shows up.

Azula: Azula is Zuko’s younger sister. She’s a Firebending prodigy who is as twisted as her father. She’s cunning, deceitful and has a very cool personality. It takes a lot to disturb her, but very little to anger her. She has the ability to use lighting, which Iroh explains at some point, but for the most part it’s just really cool. She’s more like Zhao in the way that you pretty much can’t stand her but she’s such a good villain. She’s completely loyal to her father and will do anything to please him. She likes to use fear to control those around her and her confidence is unmatched. Azula has two friends who travel with her. Ty Lee has a very bright personality. She ran away to join the circus which is where Azula finds her. She is very quick and is an expert on pressure points. She also has a crush on Sokka. Mei is the daughter of a Fire Nation government official who was put in charge of Omashu after it fell. Mei is the gloom and doom portion of the group. Everything is boring to her unless it’s a fight. Everything, that is, except Zuko. She’s pretty much in love with him. She talks in nothing but a monotone most of the time and rarely smiles. She fights with throwing knives. She also has two mentors/teachers, twin old women. We never learn much about them, they’re just kind of there.

Fire Lord Ozai: We still have yet to see the Fire Lord’s face. He’s still shrouded in fire, shadows and mystery, but we do get to see some of his actions. In Zuko Alone we see what exactly he did to become Fire Lord despite being second born and just how ruthless he could be. I really wonder how he ended up married to Zuko’s mother. She was awesome. Anyway, the Fire Lord is a still a douche and still scary. Other than that, we still don’t know anything.

Story: This season we get to take a tour of the Earth Kingdom and meet its people. Our story progresses from the North Pole headed for Omashu and an Earthbending teacher for Aang. Who better to teach him than King Bumi, the crazy genius king of Omashu? After a small delay to reveal some stuff about the Avatar State and learn a little bit about Earthbending they reach Omashu to find it overrun by Fire Nation soldiers. Here they meet Azula and her gang and learn that Bumi is a little too busy doing nothing to teach Aang. So the search for an Earthbending master begins. Enter Toph, the coolest blind twelve-year-old girl you’ll ever meet. After they convince her to teach Aang Earthbending she runs away from home and joins the gang. Sokka’s insistence on forming a plan to attack the Fire Nation leads them to the Desert and the Great Library of the Owl spirit Wan Shi Tong and information about a solar eclipse that will leave the Firebenders powerless for eight whole minutes. What better day for an invasion? Unfortunately they anger Wan Shi Tong, Appa get’s kidnapped and they have to cross the Serpent’s Pass to get to Ba Sing Se. But after that, telling the Earth King about the eclipse and planning an invasion should be easy, right? Wrong. Enter Long Feng, head of the Dai Li. He doesn’t want such troubling news to reach the Earth King and ruin his utopia. So more character development occurs as they try to find Appa and reach the Earth King. Guess who has Appa! The villain of course.

Jet: Avatar: The Last Airbender is a kids show right? What never ever happens in kids shows ever? Death. People never die in kids shows, not during the show anyway. Sure there are dead parents from time to time, maybe a dead sibling or uncle or grandparent that died before the show takes place, but good guys never die. Well they do here. Remember Jet? That ‘freedom fighter’ who thought he was doing right by drowning an entire earth village in season one? Well he came to Ba Sing Se with two of his friends to start a new life. Who do you think he meets? Not Aang; Zuko. And guess what he finds out. They’re Firebenders! Well, he assumes it because he sees Iroh buy some cold tea and that somehow becomes steaming. Pretty good assumption, I guess, but still an assumption. So naturally, being Jet, he tries to prove that they’re Firebenders and when that doesn’t work he wildly accuses them, fights Zuko and get’s himself arrested by the Dai Li who, as we all know, like to brainwash people. In the episode Lake Laogai we finally see their underground head quarters where they brainwash people. Long Feng can’t let them walk out of there of course, so he uses the brainwashed Jet to attack Aang. Aang manages to get through to Jet, just in time for Long Feng to attack him and run off. Here’s the thing, though. Jet doesn’t make it. We don’t see him get hit, and we don’t see him pass on. But he does die. This is one reason I love Avatar so much. They know that kids can handle these things, as long as they’re done well. Jet’s death is beautifully implied, not at all gruesome in any way, and perfectly played.

Avatar State: In this season we learn a lot about the Avatar State, what it is, and what it can do. While in the Avatar State, Aang is one with all of his past lives, channeling all of their power through him. The Avatar State was meant as a defense mechanism. While in it, Aang is at his most powerful, but also his most vulnerable. If killed in the Avatar State, the chain of reincarnations would end and the Avatar would not be reborn ever again. Naturally after learning this, the Avatar State is even more frightening for Aang. However, he meets a guru who can help him master the Avatar State. Naturally he takes the chance and unlocks all of his chakras but one. When it comes to the Thought Chakra Aang is asked to give up his worldly attachments. That means giving up Katara. While he tries he sees a vision of Katara in danger and cannot give her up, thus locking the Chakra and the Avatar State.

Showdown:  This season’s showdown is fairly straight forward. Azula and friends infiltrated the Earth King’s place disguised as Kyoshi Warriors. While the Earth King’s generals were planning the invasion on the Day of Black Sun, the day of the eclipse, Azula was busy recruiting herself some Dai Li agents… all of them, in fact. Katara stumbled upon Zuko and Iroh at the opening of their brand new tea shop and rushed back to tell Suki who is actually Azula who invites them to the palace and tries to kill them. Iroh escapes by Zuko goes back to face his sister who doesn’t want to face him and throws him in a secret cavern with Katara. This is the setting for the final showdown. Aang and Iroh, who has come looking for their help, go to rescue Zuko and Katara. Upon seeing the Avatar, Zuko is faced with a choice; attack, and give up everything he’s achieved to gain back his ‘honor’, or escape with them and be forever changed. Azula gets to him, of course, and in the end, he chooses to save his honor and attack the Avatar. When it becomes clear that there is no other way out, Aang is forced into meditation where he gives up his attachment to Katara and enters the Avatar State. Unfortunately just as he does, Azula pulls her lightning and zaps him. Kind of anti-climactic, right? Well that’s not the end. Iroh shows up to hold off the Dai Li while Katara escapes with Aang onto Appa with the others. At the North Pole, she was given special water from the spirit oasis where the moon and water spirits live. She uses this water to bring Aang back. With Aang nearly dead, Zuko restored to prince status and Ba Sing Se under Fire Nation Control, Book Two: Earth ends with a fallen Earth Kingdom.

This isn’t an ending. This is a tease. Usually I promise myself I won’t start the next season until I’ve finished the review of the last one. Couldn’t do it. I’ve seen the series before and I still couldn’t wait to start the next season. Plus, I get to do the overall rant once I’m done.

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Posted by on October 2, 2010 in The Last Airbender

 

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