Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Guru & The Crossroads of Destiny   Rewatch 
July 20, 2015 8:56 AM - Season 2, Episode 19 - Subscribe

In the Season Two conclusion of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang struggles with mastery over the Avatar State as Katara finds herself in danger when the plans of Fire Nation princess Azula to conquer the Earth Kingdom from within are initiated with the help of the treacherous Dai Li. Elsewhere, Zuko struggles with a decision to step forward or backward in his personal life, while Toph Beifong proves herself the greatest Earth Bender alive.

This concludes Season Two of Avatar, and in similar fashion to the end of Season One, we will take a brief hiatus of approximately 30 days to rest, recharge, and dive into the final season headlong with the end of summer and the start of fall!
posted by Atreides (30 comments total)
Additional FYI, Katemonkey and I decided to combine these two episodes, rather than split them due to the fact they originally aired together and are packaged together for streaming purposes. Any complaints can be taken up with management!
posted by Atreides at 9:00 AM on July 20, 2015

So very Empire Strikes Back. Everything is ruined! We can't be saved!

But Toph metalbends and that is amazing.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, Toph is boss of these episodes (and her crazy ground-pounding run is good, too).

Somehow, I didn't really pay attention to the very clear message that young people have the power to change the world, the elders have wisdom and experience to share, but otherwise don't trust anyone over 30.

I was also reminded this is still a kids/youth show (with adult sensibilities), when I saw the water flow out from Katara's water pouch while she was knocked out on the floor (images in top two rows).

Favorite lines from The Guru:
Hakoda: The mines are filled with skunk fish and seaweed. When a ship detonates the mine, the seaweed tangles up the propeller and the foul smell forces people to abandon the ship. I call it the "stink and sink."
Sokka: [Laughs.] Good one, Dad!
Bato: [Nearby, unamused.] You're definitely your father's son.

Favorite line from The Crossroads of Destiny:
Ty Lee: Nice speech, Azula. It was pretty and poetic, but also scary in a good way.

Seeing Sokka, Aang and Toph react to Iroh at their door was great (first three lines of images).

Plain bear, you have a terrible sense for danger.

Azula may lacking diversity as a character, but she is still pretty badass, straight-up flying with jet engines (second half of this image set).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2015

Aang, you go with Iroh to look for Katara and the angry jerk.

Not much animal action (other than Appa getting a lot of miles in), so best animal has to go to Bosco, especially during his reunion scene with the Earth King. (Bosco riding on Appa is pretty great, too.)

Are the Dai Li all men? All 5 generals definitely were. What do they do with all the women? They can't all be Joo Dees.

Ugh, Zuko. You are a dumb dumb dummy. At least Katara didn't waste her super special water on you (and not just because Aang needed it).
posted by minsies at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2015

I think my favorite line from these two episodes is "just take the bear," along with the lead-up to that. Bosco for best animal for sure.

One of the things I've been doing throughout this rewatch is re-evaluating Katara. The first couple times I watched the series I remember feeling like her jump in skill was a little unbelievable but acceptable due to the requirements of the accelerated pace of the narrative, and I think I felt that way even when we started this rewatch... but I've come around to thinking that while yeah, the accelerated pace does serve the narrative, Katara's essentially a prodigy in her element in the same way that Toph and Azula are for theirs. Someone made a comment in an earlier thread about how so much of the show is Aang running from Azula, and I think that's true, but I also think they set Katara up as the one with the power to take her out, as seen here. Without Zuko's heel turn, Azula would've been done. I don't think we ever see any other character get the upper hand like that with her.

On the topic of Azula, I appreciate that she was smart enough to not be awed by the Avatar State in the way that everyone else was and seize the strategic opportunity. In anime and anime-inspired things like this show you almost never see the villains seizing on the opportunity to take out the heroes when they're 'charging up' or transforming or whatever else they might be doing, but it makes perfect sense and it's well-executed.

For first-time watchers here, when this first aired, there was a little Flash game/comic thing called Escape from the Spirit World that they created to bridge book 2 and 3. I was shocked to discover it's still on the Nick website in the same place it was 8 years ago, and it still works, so if you want that extra little bit of info, check it out. I think you'll need some of the info in that wiki article to complete it.
posted by Kosh at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oof, double episodes always eat up my time for longer thoughts, so shorter thoughts sooner!

The Guru was definitely presented as someone who represented at least a version of Air Nomad philosophy, being a spiritual brother, so to speak, and good friends with Aang's own best friend in Gyatso. It made me wonder if each tribe had different ways to find that universal enlightenment to achieve a controllable Avatar State. This version was very Buddhist in it's nature.

Another ESB callback. Student interrupts training after having vision of friends in trouble and leaves despite warnings from mentor. The end result was not so good, either.

I have to admit. Peaceful, happy and content Zuko is extremely boring Zuko. In "The Guru," I just wanted to splash him with water or something to get a rise out of his anger. Then...his metamorphosis just isn't strong enough to prevent him from the lucrative offer of setting the clock back, regaining his honor, and as sad as it sounds, his father's love.

It definitely appeared that Katara might have been able to defeat Azula if Zuko hadn't intervened. That was a very surprising turn for both characters, more so for Katara, as it really reveals how strong she has become as a water bender.

Mai's laid back attitude to bad situations is one of her most endearing attributes.

Bonus points for the Katara and Aang Pieta cosplay after Aang gets zapped by Azula. Beyond the form, it also has that nice symbolism to the point that Aang is the savior of the world - a calling that he 100% affirms during "The Guru," when he's clearing his chakras. Throw in a water bending powered ascendancy and then subsequent resurrection and might as well slap Aang with the title 'Christ Figure.'

Poor Iroh.

Long Feng breaking down before Azula was incredible. Here's a guy ready to kill the Avatar, but he's too intimidated by Azula to fight her for control of the Dai Li.

We have early evidence that 'honor' still meant something to Zuko when he challenged Azula to an agni kai, so it wasn't as surprising that he decided to accept his sister's offer of redemption.
posted by Atreides at 11:36 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hmm. The http://www.nick.com/avatarescape/ URL redirects to www.nick.com for me (in both Chrome and IE). Manually typing it in gives me a whoops! not found page.

Kosh, did you get to it on the Nick site?
posted by minsies at 11:36 AM on July 20, 2015

Minsies, when I click on your link in Chrome, it takes me straight to the game. Here's a video of the cut scenes, so to speak, if you want to get the content without playing the game.

Shocking revelation #43: Avatar Kyoshi trained and established the Dai Li to protect the cultural history of Ba Sing Se after a peasant uprising threatened to destroy priceless artifacts and items.
posted by Atreides at 12:00 PM on July 20, 2015

Weird. Maybe it's region-blocked? (But why?) I'll take a look at the video - thanks!
posted by minsies at 12:25 PM on July 20, 2015

The game is Adobe Flash, perhaps you have your settings to kill Adobe on sight?
posted by Atreides at 12:30 PM on July 20, 2015

Wow, Kyoshi really sort of is the Avatar of Expediency May Be Shortsighted At Times, eh?
posted by angeline at 1:04 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes the Pieta reference gave me goosebumps the first time I saw it. So good.

I did not like the Guru, as I do not like them in general, even though he was useful exposition-wise and nice to poor Appa of course. But then I didn't care much for Yoda either. But certainly his methods would have been familiar to an Air Nomad monk, so he was a good choice for Aang.

A lot of the issues raised in the description of chakras, and of the Avatar's nature, come up again in Korra later. I'm not sure they really get answered there, but the ramifications of what it means to be the Avatar and yet maintain your personal self/make personal choices certainly get explored in depth.
posted by emjaybee at 10:24 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought the Guru was very well used in this episode, but in retrospect I get so annoyed knowing there's never going to be a payoff for Aang's inability to grasp the final chakra.

Also, "I am the greatest earthbender in the world -- don't you two dunderheads ever forget it!" Man, this show has some great punch-the-air moments.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:35 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The last chakra is directly conflicted against Iroh's own advice in "Crossroads," which is fascinating that they chose to do so immediately after "The Guru."

Aang: Well, I met with this guru who was supposed to help me master the Avatar State and control this great power, but to do it, I had to let go of someone I love. And I just couldn't.

Iroh: Perfection and power are overrated. I think you were very wise to choose happiness and love.

It's a very humanist bit of advice from Iroh, treating Aang as a person, not as the incarnation of a powerful figure whose sole purpose in existing is to bring balance and harmony to the world. The Guru, in contrast, interacted with Aang entirely to guide him along the path of being the Avatar.

It asks the question, who is most important? Aang the person or Aang the Avatar? It's a question that becomes a very important hinge in an episode of Season 3, and given the stakes of the 100 Year War and Sozin's Comet, seem's easy to answer - so long as you appreciate that Aang the individual is something worse sacrificing for the fate of the world.

That, in turn, spins everything around back to the Christ imagery in the Pieta, wherein Aang was struck down after he made the decision to accept the importance of being the Avatar over being himself via his love for Katara. Aang the God/Christ Figure was struck down, not Aang the Individual.
posted by Atreides at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Aside from the Pieta imagery, I'd also like to point out that Katara totally pulls a Superman pose when she's hauling Aang out of there.

The ending of this season fills me with the kind of outraged delight that can only come from writers doing the WORST POSSIBLE THING HOW DARE THEY which also happens to be the perfect narrative choice. Zuko wasn't ready to reject his upbringing -- he's only just started to wrap his mind around the idea that maybe, just maaaaaybe he doesn't have to define his entire self, system of ethics, and life goals around what his father (aka primary abuser) wants, only to have his sister (secondary abuser) dangle the possibility of being a Real Family in front of his face. Vague and vaguely manipulative exhortations to be a good person can't hold a candle to that. Although note that he has taken in some of Iroh's lessons.

(I have to say I thought Iroh's advice to Aang was far better than his advice to Zuko -- not that Zuko's poor decision is on Iroh, but he really dropped the ball there in letting his nephew Pod Person around without sitting him down and having an honest heart-to-heart conversation the moment Zuko was recovered from his fever.)

Azula's choice to lure back Zuko interested me because at first blush it seems contradictory to her interests as would-be heir to the throne, to say nothing of her trying to kill him in the season opener. But the last shot of her on the throne and him standing at its side says it all -- as she gains more power and discretion, she's willing to keep him to mold into one of her tools.

Kosh, I agree with everything you say about Katara and would add that she bears the brunt of the show's pacing awkwardness because unlike the other main bender, she has no training before the show begins. Now that we've finished season 2 I have to say that her growth as a bender is much more natural than I remember it, but I still think that two-episode transition from "finally, formal training!" to "Katara, you're officially a master now" is abrupt, and kind of unnecessary.

We don't need to be explicitly told Azula and Toph are master benders to know that they are, so does Katara really need validation from Old Sexist Dude? The training scene in Cave of Two Lovers is more effective in showing how her role has shifted from student to teacher. I mean, this is basically nitpicking, but since I've talked about this topic before I want to mention My Thoughts as They Stand before I put the topic to bed (for myself).

I have some thoughts about Katara's arc this season, and how on the one hand The Desert is basically an extended treatise on female-coded emotional labor as heroism, and how awesome that is, but at the same time Katara does so much one-sided emotional labor and it's kind of frustrating? But they are not clearly articulated thoughts.

For all its flaws, I think The Promise has the most (to me) satisfactory response to the "Aang as Avatar vs. Aang as person" debate, but we'll get there later, hopefully? Are we gonna fudge posts for the comics? Because that would be pretty great. And speaking of, I forget if I mentioned this before but all of Dark Horse's Avatar comics are available on Comixology, including the Lost Adventures if people need their between-seasons fix.
posted by bettafish at 6:19 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

yikes bettafish get your own blog
posted by bettafish at 6:19 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm fully planning on making a giant comment about the comics in the last ep, maybe after a day or so once the squee has died down? They happen after the show, chronologically, and I don't want to post any series destroying spoilers, and they are really great. This break's a good time for a reread and note taking.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:53 PM on July 21, 2015

I was wondering if we could fudge discussion posts for the post-series comics as Avatar season 4, or something. (Lost Adventures are very short stories set during and in between seasons -- just realized my comment above wasn't very clear about that.)
posted by bettafish at 7:02 PM on July 21, 2015

Hmm. Might be worth a meta talk post. Or maybe some kind of bonus material post where the title is about, say, those chibi one-offs or something. I'll give it some thought.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:09 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

yikes bettafish get your own blog

That's how I got started. -_-

For the purpose of the comics (I've never read the in between stuff), probably the best solution would be take tchemgrrl's idea on the chibi mini episodes and make it a "bonus" material post in-general. Otherwise, we can just make an agreement to start a discussion within one of the final episode posts, such as the last Season 3 post where once we're done discussing the episode, we just move on to the comics and set an internal timeline. So in this case, we wait a set time period and then just discuss the inbetweeners here and we can add tags to help make it easier to discover in the future?
posted by Atreides at 7:50 AM on July 22, 2015

I have some thoughts about Katara's arc this season, and how on the one hand The Desert is basically an extended treatise on female-coded emotional labor as heroism, and how awesome that is, but at the same time Katara does so much one-sided emotional labor and it's kind of frustrating? But they are not clearly articulated thoughts.

I'd love to read this if you have time to articulate those thoughts!

One of the bits of self-examination I've been doing in relation to the show was considering some of those same elements in relation to her character. I think both series are pretty remarkable in having well-drawn (figuratively and literally) women, but of all the characters on either series, Katara is the one who, by far, is the most personality traits that are generally considered 'classically feminine' (in contrast, of the main cast, neither Toph nor Azula really presents as nurturing), and that's generally her portrayal within the fandom, too: any coverage of this show that discusses her character at any length will usually describe her as 'maternal' or some other closely-related word. And I wondered if I was, on some level, not taking her as seriously in the past because of social programming to take those traits less seriously.
posted by Kosh at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

On reflection, Kosh, I wonder if I did the same, perhaps, helpfully reprogrammed by watching Legend of Korra which featured a powerful water bender from the Southern Water Tribe as the heroine of the show. I'm definitely appreciating her abilities much more this run than in the past.

I'd love to read this if you have time to articulate those thoughts!

Seriously. Tumblr up or something else and slap it over in the recap/review box!
posted by Atreides at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2015

I've been mulling over similar thoughts, Kosh, and come to similar conclusions. In fairness to my younger self (though it's not a bad thing to find/hope I've grown in awareness over the past seven years!), I think Katara also reads better in retrospect because she's no longer The Girl.

It's easy to forget doing this rewatch after the latter seasons of Legend of Korra, but in ATLA Toph didn't show up until the sixth episode of the second season. Katara spent almost half the show as the only main female character out of a regular cast of five! So even though it's not a bad thing for a female character to be a nurturer, it was definitely frustrating at the time for the only female character to be the nurturer and for that to be largely taken for granted.

Regarding the emotional labor stuff, it's not so much time as not being entirely sure I'm on the right track. But comparing the first two seasons of the show, s1 Katara has clear overarching goals: get to the North Pole to learn waterbending and contribute in some way to stopping the war. Joining Aang is as much about her getting a chance to fulfill those goals as it is about supporting him, although she does a lot of that too. She kicks off the main narrative and also a number of episode-specific plotlines that build up to a complete arc in its own right.

S2 Katara is a more powerful fighter but doesn't get a new goal to replace the one she's already fulfilled, and most of her character moments are focused pretty tightly on her relationships with Aang and Toph. Don't get me wrong, I think those friendships are well handled and The Desert is one of the all-time heroic moments of the entire Avatar-verse. I also like that at this point the only main character who can hold their own against the current main villain is a conventionally feminine, nurturing teenage girl -- but I'm missing that sense of forward motion in Katara's story. Lucky thing there's a season 3.
posted by bettafish at 5:57 PM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, do we want to go ahead and discuss the Lost Adventures here? I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the Book 2 stories at this point.
posted by bettafish at 6:00 PM on July 24, 2015

Oh, I am so annoyed. A:tLA is being removed from Netflix UK on September 4th (source) , so now I'm going to have to watch ahead and make notes so I can try to keep up with the posts here.

If I end up dropping out at some point during season 3, that's why.

posted by minsies at 9:52 AM on August 10, 2015

Grr, bad timing. Any access to Amazon Prime? It hasn't been available on US Netflix for a year or two but is on Amazon over here, maybe it's the case there too.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:37 AM on August 10, 2015

Ooh, yeah, looks like that's an option. I have a free month sitting around that I haven't used yet.

I'll see how I get along with watching it on my own, but I'll keep that in mind as backup. Thanks!
posted by minsies at 11:05 AM on August 10, 2015

Booo Netflix UK. You can also purchase the dvds, erm, tho' there's a box set coming out in October (but I'm not convinced yet it's anything more than a simple repackaging of all the seasons together).

Sorry to hear about this! I do rely upon Amazon Prime for easy rewatching, tho', I do own the dvd set.
posted by Atreides at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2015

Belatedly, longer thoughts on "Crossroads of Destiny."
posted by Atreides at 12:26 PM on August 25, 2015

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