It’s New To Me – AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER (“The Earth King” / “The Guru” / “The Crossroads of Destiny”)
In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
One of the aspects that keep me hooked on Avatar: The Last Airbender is how dedicated the show is toward continually expanding and exploring the vast and unique world in which it takes place. Season One briefly introduced us to the temples that housed the Airbenders who were killed off by the Fire Lord’s armies and focused mainly on the lands controlled by the Water Tribes, while Season Two introduced us to the Earthbending tribes who seem the most entrenched (no pun intended) in the war with the Fire Nation. The final three episodes of Season Two wrap up the characters’ arc within the Earth Kingdom and provide a number of gripping moments that will no doubt lead into a thrilling third and final season of the show.
The first part of this climactic trifecta, entitled “The Earth King,” picks up right where the previous episode left off with the team regrouping after escaping Lake Laogai with Appa. They debate on whether to return to Ba Sing Se to again attempt to convince the Earth King to help them raise an army to attack the Fire Nation on the day of the solar eclipse and to warn him about the conspiracy headed by his unscrupulous aide Long Feng. They ultimately decide to return to the city and fly off on Appa. We also catch up with Zuko and Iroh as they return from Lake Laogai. Iroh congratulates Zuko for freeing Appa but is alarmed when his nephew collapses, overtaken by a sudden and mysterious sickness.
When Aang and company arrive at the Earth King’s throne room, they are immediately confronted by Long Feng and his Dai Li agents. Aang informs the King of the war with the Fire Nation, which the King says he has no knowledge of, and tells him that Long Feng is keeping vital information from him. Long Feng denies these allegations, but Aang arouses the King’s suspicion of him by
lifting his pant legs with his airbending and exposing the bite mark that resulted from his encounter with Appa at Lake Laogai. The King agrees to accompany Team Avatar to Lake Laogai to investigate the matter, and when they arrive, they find that the entrance to the secret underground lair has been destroyed. The King decides to return to his palace but is quickly convinced to continue the investigation when Aang bribes him with a flight on Appa.
Upon arriving at the outer wall, the King sees the dismantled Fire Nation drill for the first time and is convinced of the truth of Aang’s statements. He places Long Feng under arrest and tells Team Avatar that he will do whatever he can to help them with their plan to invade the Fire Nation on the day of the eclipse, a day which Sokka has dubbed “The Day of Black Sun.” Meanwhile, Zuko’s fever grows worse while Iroh watches over him. After awakening from a fever dream that symbolizes his inner struggle, Iroh tells him that he is undergoing a metamorphosis that resulted from his altruistic act at Lake Laogai. The episode ends with Aang and Sokka leaving on Appa to meet with Hakoda and his troops to make plans for the invasion and Katara and Toph staying at Ba Sing Se to help the King with his plans. Having discovered the note that Guru Pathik left with Appa, Aang also makes plans to journey to the Eastern Air Temple after dropping Sokka off in order to learn how to control his Avatar State. Shortly after their departure, the King is visited by whom the viewer initially thinks are Suki and her Kyoshi warriors but soon discover are really Azula and her friends disguised as the warriors in order to infiltrate the city.
“The Earth King” is yet another excellent episode because it finally gives Team Avatar a strategic win in their quest to gain an upper hand on their foes after a number of setbacks. Of course this victory is short-lived due to the final reveal of the episode which will create several problems for them in the finale. For providing yet another engrossing and wholly entertaining half hour, “The Earth King” gets 5 out of 5 Dueling Dragons.
The two-part finale to Season Two begins with “The Guru,” in which Aang finally meets the man who claims to be the one to help him find a way to control his most powerful but also most unpredictable weapon, the Avatar State. After leaving Sokka with his father Hakoda and his troops, Aang journeys to the Eastern Earth Temple to begin his training with the old and eccentric Guru Pathik. One of his first lessons under the guru involves opening a series of chakras that will help him easily tap into the Avatar State whenever he wants. Aang finds it easy to open most of the chakras but is unwilling to open the one that involves letting go of all loved ones and personal attachments. He then abandons the Guru’s training and journeys back to Ba Sing Se after sensing that Katara is in terrible danger, stopping at Chameleon Bay to collect Sokka, who up until then was helping his father’s army in planning an ambush on a fleet of Fire Nation ships.
The danger that Aang senses has to do with the ambush of Ba Sing Se by Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, who have entered the city disguised as Kyoshi warriors. Their true identity is revealed to Katara when she discovers that Zuko and Iroh are in the city and then runs to the palace to inform the King. When she discovers the warriors’ true identities, she is temporarily disabled by Ty Lee. Azula then makes arrangements to have Zuko and Iroh come to the palace and makes a deal with Long Feng to release him in exchange for his and the Dai Li’s loyalty to her cause. Meanwhile, Zuko has fully recovered from the fever he was suffering from in the previous episode and has fully and cheerfully accepted his new role helping his uncle in their very own tea shop, unaware that he will soon be reunited with his evil sister.
A lot of important stuff happens in this penultimate episode of Season Two, including a final confrontation between Toph and the two men her father hired to bring her back home in which she discovers that, in addition to her remarkable Earthbending abilities, she is also able to bend metal. In yet another parallel with the Star Wars saga, Aang’s brief session with Guru Pathik seems heavily influenced by Luke’s Jedi training in The Empire Strikes Back, especially how both students are forced to abandon their lessons in order to rescue their friends. Azula’s attempt to conquer Ba Sing Se from the inside combined with Zuko’s newfound inner peace sets up a great deal of tension surrounding their inevitable reunion, and Toph’s discovery will no doubt prove useful in future episodes. For setting up a memorable season finale, “The Guru” gets 5 out of 5 “Stink and Sink” Strategies.
All of the setups established in “The Guru” come to a head in the exciting Season Two finale, “The Crossroads of Destiny,” which begins with Aang and Sokka picking up Toph on their way back to Ba Sing Se to help Katara. Aang, who is still insecure about his Avatar abilities, lies to his friends by saying that he has mastered the Avatar State. Meanwhile, Azula makes plans with the Dai Li to stage a coup that will overthrow the Earth King and put the capital of the Earth Kingdom under Fire Nation rule. When Zuko and Iroh arrive at the palace, they are ambushed by Azula and the Dai Li. Iroh holds the soldiers off for a while by breathing fire and manages to escape the palace, but Zuko decides to stay and fight. He is then overpowered by the Dai Li and taken away to an underground cave known as the Crystal Catacombs, where Katara is also held prisoner.
When Aang, Sokka, and Toph return to their apartment in Ba Sing Se, they find Iroh there, who pleads with them to help rescue Zuko. They reluctantly agree and quickly learn where Zuko and Katara are held after capturing a Dai Li agent. In the catacombs, Katara is understandably suspicious of Zuko at first, but the two teens quickly bond over the fact that they both have lost their mothers. Katara asks about the horrible scar on Zuko’s face and states that she may be able to heal him with the special water she got from the Spirit Oasis at the Northern Water Kingdom. Outside the catacombs, the gang splits up, with Toph and Sokka attempting to warn the Earth King of the coup and Aang and Iroh making an attempt to free Katara and Zuko. Sokka and Toph are forced to surrender to Azula and Ty Lee after Azula threatens the King, and when Iroh and Aang arrive at the catacombs, the prince is enraged to see his uncle cooperating with the Avatar. After sending Aang and Katara off to help their friends, Iroh pleads with Zuko to join him, but he is soon interrupted by Azula and the Dai Li. Azula tells her conflicted brother that if he joins her in taking the city, he will finally be redeemed in the eyes of the Fire Lord. Iroh begs him not to listen, and Azula walks away, stating that he needs to decide whose side to take.
Aang and Katara soon catch up with Azula, which results in an awesome battle that is soon joined by Zuko, who begins fighting on his sister’s side, to everyone’s amazement. Meanwhile, Toph manages to break herself, Sokka, and the Earth King out of their cell using her newly-aquired metalbending powers, and the trio manage to rescue the king’s pet bear Bosco from Ty Lee and Mai. Azula and Zuko continues to fight with Aang, and Katara, and when the Dai Li join the battle, Aang makes a crystal shelter with his earthbending and decides to enter into the Avatar State in order to even the odds. As Aang rises to smite his enemies, however, he is shot in the back by a lightning bolt from Azula and collapses. Katara runs to Aang’s side and attempts to heal him, and at that moment, Iroh arrives and tells Katara to flee with Aang. Iroh then surrenders to the Dai Li, giving his nephew a disappointed look. As Team Avatar flies away on Appa, Katara is able to revive Aang with her healing powers, and the Earth King laments the loss of his kingdom to the Fire Nation.
Much like how The Empire Strikes Back and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight had the darkest endings within their respective trilogies, Season Two of the three-season run of Avatar: The Last Airbender ends on a similarly dark and tragic note. Aang is seriously injured, Iroh is taken prisoner by the Fire Nation, and Zuko returns to the side of evil after struggling with his allegiance throughout the entire season. Again, I remain amazed at how well a children’s animated series on Nickelodeon tells such a compelling tale that isn’t afraid to be dark and emotionally complex. Even more so than the first season’s finale, the final episodes of Book Two of Avatar radically change the course of the show’s overall tale and sets up an intriguing status quo for the third and final season. Watching it via streaming years after it first aired, I’m glad I don’t have to wait a year for the culmination of this storyline like Avatar‘s original fans were forced to do. For giving us an epic climax to this wonderful story, “The Crossroads of Destiny” gets 5 out of 5 Crystal Suits of Armor.