Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Swamp   Rewatch 
May 28, 2015 7:22 AM - Season 2, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Aang, Katara, and Sokka find themselves in the middle of a large and mysterious swamp. What do their visions mean? What is hunting Appa and Momo? And what happens when Zuko can't take the humiliating life of being a beggar any more?

This episode has the first appearances of:

* Toph (in vision form)
* The mysterious swamp
* The large banyan tree
* Swamp benders
* Benders using their element in non-traditional ways
posted by Katemonkey (18 comments total)
So much of this episode doesn't seem that important until you watch Legend of Korra Book 4. Then it alllllllll comes together so well.

However, I love swampbenders. People make fun of me because I keep saying I'd be a waterbender, but I hate the cold. But that just means I'm a swampbender, gettin' together all that vegetation and makin' myself a monster.

Also, Swamp Skiin' Throwdown.

Swampbendin' forevah!
posted by Katemonkey at 7:26 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

SWAMPBENDERS! They are my absolute favorite!

And, holy crap, Katemonkey! Where did you find that video?! Are they special features on the DVD or something?
posted by jillithd at 7:50 AM on May 28, 2015

Super Deformed Shorts
The Avatar creators made animated Super Deformed Shorts as self-parodies of the series, not to be considered canon. They can be found on the season two box set in PAL regions.
It was interesting to see mere clips of Iroh and Zuko as beggars. I have to question the Broadsword man's fighting prowess if he's happy to smash his swords on the ground, just to make "a fat man dance" for a gold piece. I'm considering him a spoiled rich boy.

And Katemonkey, thanks for the info on connections to future episodes. I haven't watched anything of Korra's show, and this makes me look forward to it even more. Apparently I watched some of the second season of Avatar, as this episode was familiar, but I didn't remember most of it.

Poor Sokka: unable to soften his fall into the swamp, and then he gets an elbow leech. "Why do things keep attaching to me?!"
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on May 28, 2015

I'm really impressed by the sound work this episode:

- the little Blue Spirit sting as the man selling theater masks pulls his cart past Zuko and Iroh at the very beginning of the episode
- the soundscape of the swamp -- not just the eerie soundtrack, but the animal noises that were so real I had to pause to make sure they weren't coming from outside my window
- the hilarious if somewhat questionable "Asian banjo" music for the swampbenders.
posted by bettafish at 9:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have to agree with Katemonkey -- I was a bit "hmm okay, neat, but let's move on already" about this episode the first time I saw it, but Korra foreknowledge adds so much more. I adore the way the mythology of this world just builds and builds.

Also, this is the second type of specialized bending we've seen -- first healing, now swampbending, both offshoots of waterbending.
posted by bettafish at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2015

I'm from Louisiana, and the swampbenders with their catgators get me every time. "We cain't eat Slim! He's fambly!"

Could have done without the human-scream bird I think.
posted by angeline at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2015

I had no memory of this episode except for dream-Toph, so I spent a lot of the episode saying "wait is this the one where [SPOILER] happens? Or [DIFFERENT SPOILER]?"

I like the slow introduction of other types of bending into the world. Four nations are easy to keep track of at first, but the complexity of water benders living off-the-grid in Earth Kingdom (?) territory is a great thing to introduce at this point. It makes the world more real, and makes the us-vs-them mentality of the four nations more obviously flawed.

That's two episodes in a row where Sokka has something attached to him. I'd be peeved too.

Vines attacking that end up belonging to a waterbender also shows up in The Search.

Appa and Momo are so great in this episode. I love that Appa can scare everything quiet in the forest so Momo doesn't worry.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:06 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

The human-scream bird was best animal for me, mostly because of the what the hell is happening factor. I liked the possumchickens too (though there was one hanging in the banyan that looked a lot bigger than the ones that were hanging out with the swampbenders). Momo and Appa were a great team (until the swampbenders caught Momo and Appa didn't notice in his attempt to get away, anyway).

The jaw harp music started to get to me partway through the episode, although I was distracted by how the swampbenders were moving their boats. I couldn't figure out if they were bending water or air before they revealed themselves.

Enh. I didn't enjoy this that much. Maybe because this is my first time watching? (I haven't seen Korra either.) Then again, I didn't have a great day so maybe it's just that catching up with me.

You better throw in an extra yip!
posted by minsies at 10:14 AM on May 28, 2015

The human-scream bird was best animal for me, mostly because of the what the hell is happening factor.

Of all the things that came back to me when watching this episode, it wasn't water-bending with (self-healing!) vines or the visions of people past and those to come, but that screaming bird. I think I took screenshots of it, because I liked how it looked so much, and I enjoyed reminders of what the hell is going on? If you want little screenshots of that, here are a few from that section of the episode, and I'll try to cap some later.

I'm really impressed by the sound work this episode:

- the little Blue Spirit sting as the man selling theater masks pulls his cart past Zuko and Iroh at the very beginning of the episode

Apparently I was distracted at the beginning, because I missed that. Screencaps for proof of the mask cart, including the Blue Spirit mask.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:46 AM on May 28, 2015

Oh, and much love for the animators (and the fun of randomly finding animation smears): big, scared eyes for all, and two mouths for Sokka.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:01 AM on May 28, 2015

Long thoughts here! Shorter thoughts below.

This episode definitely gained a lot more gravity courtesy of Legend of Korra but there's also a lot of nifty stuff that I've definitely come to appreciate on rewatch that I didn't initially think about before. (For example, the Blue Spirit mask...DANG).

First, the Swamp == Dagobah, complete with Huu in the place of Yoda. We have visions and we have lectures on how everything is connected. Also, obviously, are the touches upon Buddhism (and Huu kind of resembles your classical Buddha statue more than Yoda), with enlightenment coming under a tree.

Second, the visions. We get foreshadowing of Toph, EXCELLENT. Then more sadly, we get informed that poor Sokka is still carrying guilt out of what happened to Yue. The vision of his former girlfriend is essentially a manifestation of his own deep emotions and his belief that he failed to keep her safe. A bit of sadness for Katara with her mother vision, the parent she lost and who's role she had to fill in that parental void.

Third, Zuko and the Blue Spirit. In "The Blue Spirit," Zuko becomes the Blue Spirit because he can't act the way he wants because he's a Fire Nation prince. In this episode, where he complains that as Fire Nation royalty, people should simply give him and Iroh what they need, he adopts the Blue Spirit persona to act in a way a Fire Nation prince would. It's reversal of the first episode which featured him with the mask. (FYI, The Search graphic novel lets us know that Zuko has a special attachment to the Blue Spirit opera/theater mask). Also, MORE IROH SINGING. I wish Mako had recorded an album of Iroh songs before he passed away, as I would wear that thing out.

Fourth, Katara emerges as an incredible water bending master in this episode. Previously, she had demonstrated some techniques, but knee deep in water and she's literally in her element and she pretty much gets credit for taking down Huu's vine monster. I love how she's powered up from the girl who could kind of catch a fish with water bending to someone who is already one of the most powerful water benders alive.

Fifth, Sokka's sword/club. He's hacking away with all sorts of things with it, slicing vines like cheese...and he let a baby play with it the previous episode. BAD KATARA for making him let the kid have it as a toy, it's obviously a sharp enough weapon to harm!

Sixth, the swamp people. I'm generally mixed, as their presentation is heavily stereotyped on cajuns/southerners, but really, the in-show characters treat them with respect and don't mock them. Their existence as water benders outside of the poles make them fascinating and creates an insanely curious origin story that never gets told.

The animation was pretty great, as was the directing. Overall, I definitely enjoyed it.
posted by Atreides at 1:14 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

>I wish Mako had recorded an album of Iroh songs before he passed away, as I would wear that thing out.

*Dirty* Iroh songs. Can you imagine the perfection?
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Let's not forget that Aang and the banyan tree is one of the subtle hints setting up the climax of the entire series.
posted by kewb at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2015

Atreides, I think I disagree (or agree with higher granularity?) with your assessment of the Blue Spirit on tumblr. Blue is popularly conceived of as Zuko's heroic alter ego, but (horrible pun I'm so sorry) I'd call him the expression of his id, and that's consistent between the two episodes. Zuko hhas been under a huge amount of pressure the past three years (arguably the past six, if not his entire life), so it's really no wonder that he's repressed himself to the point where he needs a whole other persona to express his true desires.

I forgot to mention re: Sokka -- didn't he refer to his and Katara's mother as someone she misses, not the both of them? I thought that was an interesting little detail. It gets followed up on in season 3, which is the bit I really remember.
posted by bettafish at 3:47 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was kinda seeing the Aang/Zuko parallels before, but in this episode I realized: Zuko is separated from his home by space (he's been kicked out of the Fire Kingdom, basically) and Aang is separated from his home by time. (he somehow slept for 100 years in a block of ice).
posted by dsquared at 3:47 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and speaking of Zuko and heroics, autocorrect wanted me to change his name to "Ditko." Blue Spirit = Mr. B?

And then speaking of Zuko's name, I meant to point out when the wanted poster first showed up that his name has been (re)spelled using characters that mean "ancestor robber," presumably to drive that whole treason thing home.
posted by bettafish at 3:57 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have never known where that dang Blue Spirit mask came from! For some reason I imagined Zuko carrying it in his pack or something all this time. Talk about a mystery solved.
posted by angeline at 4:06 PM on May 28, 2015

bettafish, I don't think we're really in disagreement. Rather, I think you're just saying it better! I think what I'm trying to say is that his repressed desires are shifting based in the changing of his consciouse persona. Just two episodes ago, he didn't need to wear a mask to steal/take the ostrich horse. Now that impulse is no longer on the surface as it was previously.
posted by Atreides at 4:39 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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