Dee Discusses: Avatar Book Two: Earth

Posted: January 5, 2015 by Dee in Avatar, Dee, General Media, Television
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So Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t love at first sight for me, as I mentioned in my Book One review. Book Two was when I really started to love it, and when I think the show started to hit its stride. Season one they had to worry about introducing the characters, the Avatar world, and the main plot. Now all of that was in place, so they felt more free to delve deeper into Team Avatar and the broader bending world. This season introduced a major plot point about the Avatar: if he/she dies in the Avatar state, the entire line of Avatars ends there. This is a piece of information enemies of the Avatar would try to use later on, in this series and also in Legend of Korra. Aang has trouble getting into the state, and he tries to avoid it afterward, but losing Appa halfway through the season sets it off. It’s really interesting to watch the peaceful and silly Aang prove himself extremely dangerous; we hear how powerful he is, but the Avatar State is when you really see it. This major arc of the season was Aang trying to learn how to unlock the state and use it safely, and how he’d need to give up on his intense emotional connection to Katara in order to be one with his spiritual side. Obviously he decides not to go this way, much like Luke Skywalker (intentional reference, I think). Earth also introduced some of the best characters in the series: the psychotic Azula, her best friends Mai and Ty Lee, and my favorite character Toph Beifong. She’s on my list of favorite animated women. #3!

Season two starts out right after the finale of one. Team Avatar leave the North Pole, and Aang needs to find an earthbending teacher to help him master the element. He has a vision of a mysterious girl in an equally mysterious swamp (this comes back in later seasons too), and she turns out to be Toph. She is a young blind girl who is sheltered by her rich and overprotective parents, but she is the most skilled earth bender in the world. Seriously. She created metal bending, that’s how amazing she is. Her handicap caused her to be more in tune with the earth under her feet, and she creates an echolocation type of bending where she can sense through the earth where her opponents are. Toph is rough around the edges, sharp tongued, and clashes with Katara a lot in the beginning. Her brisk and irreverent personality does not go well with Katara’s maternal and emotional style. They eventually become friends. Aang struggles with earth bending, because it is the opposite of air bending and requires him to be much more brutal. His story arc is directly parallel to Zuko’s, who is learning how to lightning bend by his uncle. Zuko was turned into an outcast by his sister Azula for failing to bring back the Avatar, and this season he struggles to control his temper and really find out who he wants to be. Is he the Fire Lord’s heir? Is his father’s path the one he wants to walk down? He chooses Azula and the Fire Nation at the end of this season, rejecting his Uncle Iroh’s attempt to align him with the Avatar (and the side of good) instead. This is something he would come to regret greatly.

Avatar-The-Last-Airbender-Episode-26

Because most of this revolves around the Earth Kingdom, the season ends in its major city, Ba Sing Se. The Fire Nation was slowly taking over and subjugating the earth benders. The King had been a child when he ascended and his regent Long Feng was the real power, so he was kept in the dark about the major war raging on. It took Aang and the others breaking into the palace for him to see the truth. However, Azula swept in and took over, managing to capture both her brother and Katara briefly. She nearly killed Aang when he came to save Katara, while he was in the Avatar state, and they only barely managed to escape. The Earth Kingdom’s woes were far from over, and it would come up again in the Legend of Korra series. A weak monarchy never makes for a strong nation. I mentioned before that Aang’s decision to drop his training to save Katara was very close to the Empire Strikes Back, and considering Bryke are huge Star Wars fans, it seems very intentional. Aang nearly dying parallels Luke getting beaten by Vader, and both end with the bad guy Azula/Vader winning. It’s a bleak finale, but it upped the stakes considerably. This show was not afraid of making rough decisions and having their main characters suffer while they grow.

Since the Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars, it’s not a surprise this was my favorite season. As a stand-alone season I’m not sure it works; it’s very deliberately an in-between place, and that’s why it works. Everyone’s relationships grow and change, there’s conflict, there’s romance (blech), and the team fails. A good show is one that can build on the excellent foundation it already created.  We learned more about the Avatar as a concept, and I warmed to Aang when he struggled. It made him feel human and relatable. It wasn’t easy for him, and it’s increasingly becoming clear to him that the fun silly kid days are over. A lot of people were heartbroken that Zuko decided to reject his redemption arc, but it made sense for him at this point in his progression. He was offered the chance to go back to his old life, and in doing so that might make him understand it’s no longer where he belongs. It’s still difficult to see him reject his uncle Iroh, especially after their amazing adventures together. Toph is a complete delight. Go watch her create metal bending and tell me she isn’t the best. Sokka continued to be both the comedy relief and the voice of reason/sarcasm occasionally, and he had a new romantic interest in the form of Suki. Mai and Ty Lee were only moderately used, but they were an interesting duo of badass ladies who served with Azula. Azula of course is one of the best villains in animated anything. She’s absolutely fascinating to watch, so ruthless and violent. I found her much more intimidating than her father who was the end-game bad guy.

I’ll admit the weakest part of the show for me was always the Katara/Aang pairing. Maybe it’s because Aang is so young that it weirds me out. He’s twelve years old. She’s only fourteen, but it still feels strange, romanticizing or even sexualizing these characters. That being said, this season had everything I wanted: character growth, conflict, great animation, great dialogue, a mix of comedy with drama, and a chilling finale. I couldn’t wait to get started on the last season.

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