Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Avatar Returns
February 23, 2015 6:43 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Drawn by the Fire Nation flare set off from the old ship, Prince Zuko zeroes in on the Southern Water tribe's village in his search for the Avatar. Faced with a village wide condemnation for exploring the forbidden ship, Katara reluctantly chooses her people over joining Aang for a trip to the north to find a water bending teacher, while Aang departs expressing his desire to find out what happened to the other air benders. As Zuko bears down on the village, Sokka puts on his warpaint and prepares to defend it against all odds.

The Avatar Returns brings us our first fateful encounter between Zuko and Aang, as well the Fire Nation Prince and the Water Tribe siblings, Sokka and Katara. It's also the first time we have a demonstration of the Avatar state in combat, as well the first time we see Appa fly. Also of note, this was the first episode directed by Dave Filoni, who left Last Airbender at the end of season 1 to join a new show being developed by Lucas Film, The Clone Wars and now works on Star Wars: Rebels.
posted by Atreides (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just wondering: how often will Avatar episode posts go up? The last one was two days ago, is the goal to power through the initial 61 Avatar episodes, and then the subsequent 52 episodes from The Legend of Korra? Or at least the first two seasons of Korra, as the last two are on FanFare.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2015

The initial post was set for Saturday to coincide with the anniversary, but henceforth, to avoid the rewatch lasting more than a year, we will be going two episodes a week, with posts going up on Monday and Thursday. For the rare two parters, they will likely go up the same day.

I think the expectation is that once we complete the ATLA rewatch (in August?) we will turn our scopes on the first two seasons of Korra, so we can round out the Korra seasons on Fanfare. Then, obviously, if people caught in the flow want to continue watching the Korra seasons 3 and 4, they can pick up the conversation in those open posts.
posted by Atreides at 9:25 AM on February 23, 2015

I was wondering the same thing, filthy light thief!

Katara seemed surprised that Aang's the Avatar, but I thought she already was aware of it in the first episode? She (and the rest of the village) knew he was an airbender after he shows off his staff, and I assumed she'd already put the pieces together since he's the only airbender anyone's seen in 100 years. Aang doesn't say anything when she's speculating, but still. (Zuko jumps to the Avatar conclusion immediately after he sees the beam of light, but the villagers - and Sokka and Katara - would've seen that as well, right?)

Best animal: either the otter penguin looking disgusted when Aang finally got off it after arriving in the village or sleeping Appa. Or flying Appa.

Even though it was obvious, I really liked the boomerang. Ha. Stupid Zuko.

Also on the stupid Zuko front, Aang smashing him in the mattress, and riding his airbender ball out of his reach. He's obviously got a lot of growing up to do, but on the enthusiasm front, he is 100% there and it is great to watch. (Besides, fighting the Fire Nation with fun pretty much works.)
posted by minsies at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2015

(Besides, fighting the Fire Nation with fun pretty much works.)

Oh, yeah. I think that is the best part. Fire Nation takes itself far too seriously and what better way to diffuse someone's intenseness than with light-heartedness?
posted by jillithd at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

This episode is burned into my mind, if only for one five second moment: when Sokka dramatically charges up the boarding ramp at Zuko and is dispatched, almost absentmindedly by Zuko with two kicks. It's completely anti-climatic, and establishes Sokka's inexperience as a warrior, but also Zuko's own abilities. Contrary to the last episode's reference to him not knowing the "advanced" techniques of fire bending, from this point on, Zuko generally proves himself a rather adept fighter (boomerang aside). (Also, is that the last time we have to see that Gosh awful helmet?!)

It's also interesting because the slapstick manner of Zuko being knocked upside down with his helmet landing on his backside isn't really repeated in the future against him. He suffers humiliation for sure, but not so over the top as this. It makes me wonder if this was intentional change of course, to make his character a bit more serious rather than a lampooning villain? (Lampooning villain is reserved for other bad guys in the show).

Katara's own inexperience shines through in his first face off against Fire Nation soldiers, but notably, her quick response to use her own inexperience still as a weapon. That definitely is a hint of the water bender she will become. As for her Avatar lack of awareness, I suppose that was done generally to the benefit of the story, to drive home his importance.

I loved the fight between Zuko and Aang, in one part, because the mattress slamming is incredible to watch, but also it's the first demonstration of the Air Nomad form of fighting, evading and striking strategically with a total exuberant style that's entirely Aang's.

This episode also began the process that makes Avatar and later, Korra, so fun, the characterization of the minor characters and no names. This was seen when Aang was being lead to his cell and his short commentary with one of the guards. From that point on, we get to watch random side characters be allowed to have their own personalities (with the ultimate being the Cabbage Guy). There was also the humor that the show recognized three guys were frozen in ice and that had consequences. It was totally unnecessary, but it's inclusion was a nice touch.

For those Korra watchers who just now saw this episode, Zuko's ship destroyed Sokka's watch tower, which is later resurrected on a far grander scale in Korra in Book 2.

Best quote of the episode?

"I'm just a guy, with a boomerang. I didn't ask for all this flying and magic!" (Incidentally, it's not often bending is referred to as magic, either in the show).
posted by Atreides at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"You're just a child!"

"Well, you're just a teenager."
posted by jason_steakums at 5:29 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

You don't expect the second episode of something to give you major feelings about the characters, but seeing Sokka get all dressed up, trying to be such a good warrior, just like his dad expects him to be, trying to protect his village, because it's all he knows... Putting on the facepaint and getting his boomerang ready...

And then he just gets his ass kicked right away. God, that's heartbreaking. He wants to prove that he can fight. He wants to prove that he's a man, that he can protect the people he loves, that it's okay that he didn't go to war, because he's here to protect them, and then goddamn Zuko just whacks him into the snow.

He gets his own back, and that is fantastic and Boomerang is always fantastic, but man, feelings. Right away.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:52 AM on February 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

jason_steakums, that was the exchange that made me realize I was going to love the show.
posted by chaiminda at 5:51 AM on February 24, 2015

She (and the rest of the village) knew he was an airbender after he shows off his staff, and I assumed she'd already put the pieces together since he's the only airbender anyone's seen in 100 years.

No, I think it's fair. They're expecting the Avatar, if he's still around, to be 100+ years old. And prior to finding Aang, they thought the airbenders were completely extinct, so it stands to reason that if there's one who survived in hiding, there might be others too. So I think it's reasonable they didn't immediately know he was the Avatar.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

"You're just a child!"

"Well, you're just a teenager."

Aang is really well written (and voice-acted), and this exchange is a prime example of that. He really comes across as a little kid who is forced to grow up, but is still a little kid. That's not to say the rest of the characters are poorly written, but I feel that a lot of "little kid" characters are written as a goofy, dumbed-down version of an adult, which gets you into the Uncanny Valley of characters - you recognize some validity in the portrayal, but realize there is a gap between what could be real and what is before you.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The second episode in and already so much of what makes ATLA great is showing. As above, Aang's fighting style and all the character beats. It's also amazing in hindsight to note things like how while Zuko's the villain at this point, there are very small things that point out that he's actually got a good heart underneath. I'm thinking of the end where he's shouting to get the ship dug out from the avalanche, then turns to see the guards working to melt their comrades out of the ice and he just stops and says, "...as soon as your done with that."
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:07 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also Aang, let the poor hogmonkeys be. That's soooooo not vegan.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:08 PM on March 4, 2015

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