Welcome to the fifty-fourth installment of the Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Episode 3.14 features Sokka’s life-changing field trip with Zuko, reveals the fate of a missing character, and sets up a lot of awesome scenes for next time.
Please note that while the summary will remain spoiler free (aside for everything up to and including the current episode, of course), the subsequent commentary (and comments) will not be. If you haven’t already seen the series, go do it now. This post will be waiting for you when you come back.
Note: I would like this rewatch to remain spoiler free for The Legend of Korra. Please choose your comments wisely. If you wish to discuss Korra, you can do so on these posts.
Zuko pours tea for the rest of our heroes and the hangers-on. He offers to tell them Iroh’s favorite tea-related joke, but unfortunately he can’t remember anything beside the punchline. When no one laughs, Zuko explains that Iroh tells the joke better than he does, and Katara points out the joke might be funny if he remembered the entire thing. Everyone has a good laugh over that, and Zuko even smiles.
Zuko serves Sokka last, and it’s clear that Sokka is the only one not enjoying their down time. Sokka asks if he can talk to Zuko for a moment, so Zuko sets down the tea tray and follows Sokka away from the rest of the group. Once they’re far enough away, Sokka asks where their invasion force would be taken when they were captured by the Fire Nation.
Zuko says he won’t tell Sokka the answer as it would just make him feel worse, but Sokka confesses that his father was among the captives. It doesn’t take much insisting on Sokka’s part before Zuko admits that Hakoda and the others were probably taken to the Boiling Rock. The Boiling Rock is the highest-security prison in the Fire Nation, on an island in the middle of a boiling lake. This particularly prison also happens to be inescapable.
Sokka asks where the prison is, which prompts an alarmed Zuko to ask why Sokka needs to know and what he’s planning. After Sokka’s feeble attempt to brush off Zuko’s suspicion, the ex-prince tells Sokka that the Boiling Rock is in the middle of a volcano between the Western Air Temple and the Fire Nation.
It looks like Zuko still remembers the skills he learned in Ba Sing Se.
Sokka thanks Zuko before faking a yawn and heading back to the rest of his friends. He claims knowing that makes him feel better, but Zuko continues to be suspicious.
That night, Sokka tiptoes his way to Appa with a bag of supplies all packed up. He climbs aboard the flying bison only to find Zuko already there and annoyed. Sokka confesses that he’s running off to rescue his dad because the invasion plan was his idea, and he is the one that decided to stay when things were going wrong. Since it was his mistake, Sokka believes it is his job to fix it and regain his honor.
Zuko understands what that quest is like and offers to go with Sokka. When Sokka refuses, Zuko points out that there won’t be anywhere they can just park Appa safely while they do the jail break. Instead, Zuko says they’ll take his war balloon.
The next morning, Katara finds a note from the boys saying that they’re desperate for meat and going off to do some fishing. Zuko also leaves instructions for Aang to continue his firebending training while he’s gone.
I think Zuko’s more annoyed that Sokka did exactly as he expected than trying something more interesting.
The war balloon ride is awkward with neither Sokka nor Zuko knowing what to say to the other. Sokka eventually brings up the fact that his friend invented the war balloon, and Zuko says that if there is one thing Ozai is good at, it’s war. Sokka comments on how it seems to run in the family, but Zuko is quick to insist that not everyone in his family is like that. When Sokka acknowledges that Zuko has changed, Zuko admits that he was going to say that it was Iroh who was different. Iroh was like a father to him, and Zuko let him down.
Sokka tells Zuko that Iroh would be proud of him for leaving his home to help the Avatar—it was hard thing to do. Zuko denies that it was difficult, much to Sokka’s surprise. After a moment, Zuko admits that he did leave one person behind that he cared about: his girlfriend, Mai. He didn’t feel like he could drag her into this because everyone in the Fire Nation thinks he’s a traitor. Sokka then opens up about his first girlfriend turning into the moon, and the boys bond a little over their woeful romantic lives.
It’s kind of sad that all they have to bond over is their girlfriend trouble.
That night Zuko spots the Boiling Rock and is pleased to see that they’ll have plenty of steam to keep the war balloon hidden. Unfortunately, all that steam means hot air, which means the war balloon cannot stay aloft. The boys are forced into a crash landing at the prison—during which Sokka scalds his hand on the very hot water—and swiftly realize they no longer have an escape route.
Sokka admits that he thought the war balloon might be a one-way ticket but felt he had to come in case his dad was here. Zuko freaks out a little by the craziness of their situation and remembers how Iroh always said he didn’t think things through. Sokka points out that he didn’t ask Zuko to come in the first place, and he always thinks things through anyway. However, since his plans haven’t always worked, he has decided to play things by ear. Sokka kicks the no longer functional war balloon into the lake to hide the evidence of their arrival. Zuko hopes that Sokka knows what he’s doing as they can’t turn back now.
This could have gone more gracefully, I think.
By the next morning Sokka and Zuko have procured disguises. A bunch of soldiers run past them and one of the leaders orders the boys to help with a scuffle in the yard. Sokka and Zuko follow the rest of the guards to the prison yard. All the prisoners and soldiers are gathered around a prisoner, Chit Sang, and a firebending guard.
When the guard threatens the prisoner with a fire whip, Zuko steps forward as if to interfere, but Sokka grabs his arm and whispers to him that they can’t blow their cover. The boys watch as the guard harasses Chit Sang for not bowing down to him as he walked past. Chit Sang points out that bowing is not a prison rule and refuses to do so. The guard throws a fireball at Chit Sang, who firebends to defend himself. Since firebending is against the rules, the guard tells Chit Sang he gets to be put in the cooler and orders Sokka to help haul him in. Sokka whispers to Zuko to meet back at the yard in an hour.
Sokka throws Chit Sang into the cooler while Zuko gets some food in the lounge. Two of the guards tell Zuko that despite regulation, he can relax and take off his helmet in the lounge. He protests that if he doesn’t wear the helmet, someone could strike him on the head, which makes the veterans laugh.
Zuko cozies up the veterans, who are amused by his new-guy adherence to regulation, and asks about the prison. He confirms that the Boiling Rock holds the Fire Nation’s most dangerous prisoners and then asks if it holds war prisoners as well.
Even the guards think Zuko is adorkable.
The warden returns to the prison via a gondola. Inside the cooler, Chit Sang shivers, and Sokka looks sympathetic toward his plight. The warden appears in the hallway, and Sokka and the cruel guard come to attention. The cooler door opens and the warden stands in front of Chit Sang. Though Chit Sang denies using firebending to try to escape, the warden reminds the prisoner that no one has ever escaped from the Boiling Rock. The warden even goes so far as to say he would rather jump into the boiling waters than let that record fall.
Zuko finds Sokka in the prison yard and reveals that the other guards told him that there are no Water Tribe prisoners here. Sokka is distraught at failing yet again, so Zuko tries to offer some Iroh-style advice:
Sometimes clouds have two sides—a dark and light, and a silver lining in between. It’s like a silver sandwich! So, when life seems hard, take a bite out of the silver sandwich.
Sokka cheers up and says that they haven’t failed after all. Zuko is briefly proud of himself for the speech, though Sokka is quick to tell him that it made no sense. Instead, he points to a girl in the prison yard: Suki.
A bell rings and the guards order the prisoners back into their cells. Sokka watches Suki walk toward the cellblock before rushing off with hearts in his eyes.
Zuko’s expression makes me wonder if he can see the hearts in Sokka’s eyes.
Suki lies in her bed and stares at her ceiling. When the door opens and Sokka—still dressed as a guard—comes in, she sits up and asks if she’s done anything wrong. Sokka asks if she doesn’t recognize him, and when she insists that the guards all look the same to her, Sokka leans in and puckers up.
So Suki grabs his face and throws him into the door. Sokka’s helmet comes off, and she is overjoyed to see him. They hug briefly while Suki cries, and then they get to their feet. Sokka asks after the rest of the Kyoshi Warriors, but Suki doesn’t know where they are. She was sent to the Boiling Rock because she was their leader. Sokka tells her that he is going to bust her out, and Suki tells him that she knew he would come. The two of them embrace and kiss.
I am so glad that Suki is alive!
Unfortunately, their happy reunion is interrupted by Zuko’s warning knock. A female guard approaches Suki’s cell and tells Zuko to step aside as she needs to enter. After a feeble attempt to get her to go away, Zuko is forced to tussle with the guard to keep her from entering. During the confusion, Sokka slips outside of the cell, but the guard spots him. She calls for Sokka’s help in arresting Zuko—she thinks he is an imposter.
Another gondola heads down to the Boiling Rock.
The guard demands again that Sokka help her. Left with no choice, Sokka “subdues” Zuko and arrests him. He whispers to Zuko that he will figure something out and then hauls him away with the other guard.
Zuko is in a large cell when the warden comes in. The warden knows who Zuko really is and reveals that he is both Mai’s uncle and that Zuko broke her heart. Zuko is surprised to hear that Mai is the warden’s niece and confesses that he never meant to hurt her. The warden calls Zuko his “special prisoner.” He cautions Zuko to behave, as the prisoners would tear him apart if they found out he was the traitor prince who let the Fire Nation down.
Zuko asks what the warden stands to gain by not turning him into Ozai and collecting a reward. The warden says he intends to collect in due time and then exists the cell.
You know, I’m actually quite happy that this detestable man is human enough to be upset about his niece’s broken heart.
Sokka finds Suki and Zuko mopping the same area of floor and is pleased that the two have met. Suki points out that they’ve met before and, when Zuko is surprised by that, reveals that Zuko burned down her village. After Zuko’s awkward apology and attempt at politeness, Sokka tells the pair that he has an escape plan.
Sokka checked out the coolers again and found out that they’re completely insulted and designed to keep the cold in—which means they keep the heat out. He theorizes that the coolers would make perfect boats for getting through the boiling water. Zuko is doubtful, but Sokka insists that it will work.
Sokka walked around the island and found a blind spot between two guard towers that would make the perfect launching point for the cooler. He tested the currents with a tiny mock boat and discovered that if they stay silent they can get to the other side—and freedom—without anyone noticing.
Suki asks how they’re going to get their hands on a cooler, which is when Chit Sang appears, having heard it all. The kids try to deny plotting an escape, but Chit Sang insists that he wants in. He threatens to tell the warden about their plan if he can’t get in on it, and our heroes cave in.
I love what Sokka does in the background during this conversation.
Sokka hands Zuko a wrench and explains that they need someone to unbolt the cooler from the inside. Chit Sang says he can get them inside.
Zuko “accidentally” runs into Chit Sang while mopping, and their staged fight escalates quickly. While the prisoners gather around to watch, Sokka calls for help from the other guards. Zuko then firebends at Chit Sang, and one of the guards orders Zuko thrown into the cooler for breaking the rules. Suki and Sokka watch Zuko get hauled away before going back to their routines.
Sometime later, Sokka opens the door to the cooler Zuko is in. He says that he can take Zuko back to his cell if he’s learned his lesson. Zuko claims that he has completely learned the lesson and shows off all the bolts he undid while he was locked up. Sokka whispers that he got Suki and Chit Sang out of their cells a few minutes ago and that they’re waiting at the shore.
However, Zuko hears a pair of guards approach and yanks Sokka inside the cooler with him to hide. The guards talk amongst themselves about a new shipment of prisoners arriving tomorrow—including some war prisoners. Sokka is shocked to hear the news, and Zuko realizes that Hakoda could be arriving.
Zuko asks if they should continue with the plan or wait another night. Sokka is uncertain whether it’s okay to risk everyone’s freedom on the off-chance that Hakoda might show up in the morning. Zuko tells Sokka that this is his call to make.
Nicely done, Zuko.
Sokka and Zuko arrive with the cooler. Chit Sang has brought his girlfriend and his best friend, and an annoyed Sokka agrees to let them come as well.
While Sokka retrieves his possessions, Zuko questions if he is really okay with going. After all, Sokka did want to redeem his honor by rescuing his dad. Suki is surprised to hear that Sokka’s dad is tied up in this, but Sokka points out that if he had just cut his losses at the invasion, they wouldn’t be in this mess. He thinks sometimes it’s better to call it quits before he fails.
Zuko insists that it’s not and reminds Sokka that he will fail a lot before things work out. Sokka isn’t comforted by that, but Zuko tells him that he can’t quit every time because he’s afraid he might fail.
Chit Sang impatiently asks if they’re going to leave now, and Sokka finally decides that he’s staying. He insists that Suki leaves as she’s been in prison long enough, but Suki says she won’t leave without him. Zuko claims he will stay as well. Chit Sang decides he is not staying, and he leaves in the cooler with his friend and girlfriend.
Sokka watches the cooler float away and realizes they’ve lost their escape route again. He hopes they haven’t made a huge mistake.
I will always love characters who demonstrate loyalty. Yay Suki and Zuko!
That morning a gondola heads for the prison.
Chit Sang and company swelter on the lake despite the insulating effects of the cooler. The slow current hasn’t gotten them very far, so he breaks off some of the paneling on the cooler to use as a paddle. Unfortunately, Chit Sang ends up accidentally splashing himself and screams in pain.
A guard spots the makeshift boat and sounds the alarm. The warden orders the guards to secure the perimeter and lock down the prisoners, which they do in short order. Our heroes realize the escape attempt failed.
The warden orders that the escaping prisoners be thrown into the cooler, and a guard uses a harpoon gun to tow Chit Sang and company back to prison.
Sokka spots the arriving gondola. If his dad isn’t aboard, then they risked everything for nothing. Suki reassures him that they had to risk it and holds his hand while Sokka watches anxiously as prisoner after prisoner files out of the gondola. When it appears as if Hakoda is not among them, Sokka is crushed.
Suki tries to comfort him—and then they hear a guard ordering someone else off the gondola. Hakoda steps out onto the deck, and Sokka is relieved to see his father.
Huzzah, Sokka made the right choice!
It’s always difficult to talk about the “part one” episodes, mostly because they’re almost exclusively setup for awesome things, and if I talk about the awesome things now instead of in the “part two” episodes, then I’ll have nothing to write about next time. But for you, fair rewatchers, I will
mostly limit the scope of this commentary to the events in this episode.
My favorite overall plot thread in this episode is Sokka and Zuko’s budding friendship. Sokka spent the entirety of “The Firebending Masters” picking on/teasing Zuko, so it’s nice to see that Sokka does have some measure of respect for his enemy-turned-ally. I liked that Sokka was smart enough to realize that Zuko might now where Hakoda and the rest of the invasion force were being kept. Major points to Sokka for pulling Zuko aside to talk about it, too—there’s no point in getting everyone’s hopes up on the off-chance Zuko doesn’t know.
I’m going to have to take away all of those points and then some more for Sokka’s attempt to break into the Boiling Rock all on his own. The points can then go to Zuko for lying in wait on Appa for Sokka to show up. Look, Sokka, I can understand you not wanting to have your entire group join you in a prison infiltration—the fewer people the better—and I wholeheartedly support your decision about not bringing The Duke, Haru, or Teo
who are such deadweight story-wise that their last lines in the entire show were in “The Western Air Temple”. I am very upset about your decision not to even tell Katara about your plan. Hakoda is her dad, too, last time I checked.
(Also? A waterbender would have been amazingly useful at the Boiling Rock. Katara could have gotten the cooler-boat across the lake in no time so Chit Sang and company wouldn’t have gotten caught. And next episode, when you guys are making your escape with the warden, Katara could have flooded that deck area with water from the lake so no one could approach the cables or she could have frozen over the entrances to the deck to buy you additional time. Or she just plain could have shot the boiling lake water at Ty Lee and Azula before they even got close to the gondola. Because Ty Lee and Azula couldn’t deviate left or right from their paths once they were on the cables, Katara would’ve had to hit them with a nice blast of scalding water at some point. Just saying.)
I’m going to let the lack of sibling communication go now, mostly because then I’d have to whine about the same thing but in reverse when we get to “The Southern Raiders.” Besides, I like the conceit that Zuko can only change lives when it’s one-on-one.
Way back in season one somewhere I brought up the idea that the person that was most obsessed with honor after Zuko was Sokka, and that got brought up explicitly in this episode. Sokka feels that since the invasion plan was his idea and that he made the decision to keep fighting instead of retreating, the predicament of the captured invasion force is all his fault. That mistake cost Sokka—and his allies—a great deal, and the only way he can regain his honor is to fix the mess somehow. (Though I’d like to point out that Sokka is really only mostly concerned with finding his dad, not freeing everyone, but that’s a very small quibble.)
That reasoning was pretty much an iron-clad guarantee that Zuko wouldn’t try to talk Sokka out of his mad scheme to break into the highest-security prison in the Fire Nation. Zuko knows what it’s like to feel the need to regain your honor, and he is intimately familiar with the extremes he went to in order to try to achieve that. Plus, Zuko already has experience breaking into secure facilities and rescuing a prisoner, so that pretty much makes him the perfect partner in terms of skill.
In terms of social ability, Zuko still has a ways to go. Where Aang and Zuko at least would always have firebending to talk about, Sokka and Zuko have so little to say to one another that they briefly discuss clouds. Thankfully this doesn’t last long, and the boys eventually move on to more substantial topics like the war, Iroh, and their tragic love lives.
However, the topic that continues throughout part one and part two is the debate Zuko and Sokka have between planning too much vs. planning too little. Zuko has a serious problem with impulse control sometimes, ranging all the way back to “The Avatar Returns” when he jumped off the command deck in his desperation to grab Aang. In fact, when planning is required, Zuko seems to only go as far as figuring out the first two or three steps before deciding that he’ll just do what needs to get done when he gets there. He almost never has any backup plans, even when he puts himself in extreme danger (e.g. sneaking into the Northern Water Tribe city, infiltrating Zhao’s base, getting to Appa under Lake Laogai, etc.).
I’d be hesitant to label Sokka’s tendency toward planning as a bad thing—certainly not the level of Zuko’s impulse control issues—mostly because he has often come up with very effective plans with little time to do it in. My guess is that Sokka fears that his planning, which turned out disastrously on the Day of Black Sun, will fail him again in the future if he can’t become comfortable with improvising when the situation changes. That’s a great skill to learn, though I wish someone would teach Sokka that it’s totally okay to already have Plans B, C, and D before executing Plan A.
Come to think of it, I don’t believe anything in the Boiling Rock episodes actually teach Sokka about the value of improvising. Whenever things change drastically, Sokka is always given enough time to come up with a new plan, someone else improvises, or he is forced to react in ways that make things more difficult for him in order to keep his cover (like when he had to arrest Zuko). Eh. Maybe Sokka just needed to see some improvising examples from Zuko and Suki so he could draw on them for later. I guess he did improvise the “please let me beat up this prisoner for ten seconds” bit.
…and actually? Zuko never plans anything in these episodes, either. Sokka (with later help from Hakoda) is the one who comes up with every plan. The closest Zuko comes to a plan all of his own is when he attacks the guard that showed up to protect Mai in order to make his escape. I guess breaking the gondola’s stopping mechanism is a sort of plan, but can you really call it a plan when there’s only one step involved?
I’m kind of disappointed that this planning vs. not planning debate doesn’t actually amount to anything in this episode: Sokka remains the idea guy and Zuko continues to throw himself off (metaphorical) cliffs. Woes.
In any case, Sokka and Zuko make for a pretty amazing team simply because their strengths help balance each other out. They also make an amazing team because—despite their lack of conversation topics—they trust each other. Back in “The Western Air Temple,” Sokka accepted Zuko’s presence in their group because Aang thought Zuko was crucial to helping them defeat the Fire Lord. Over the course of the Boiling Rock episodes, Zuko proves himself worthy of Sokka’s trust, mostly by carrying out Sokka’s plans.
Even though Zuko has to earn the rest of our heroes trust, he actually trusts them completely. After offering himself as a prisoner in “The Western Air Temple,” Zuko pretty much lets Sokka call all the shots at the Boiling Rock. Zuko told Sokka it was up to him about whether or not they’d delay their escape in the off-chance that Hakoda would be among the prisoners brought in the next morning. Then, when Sokka decided to stay behind, Zuko volunteered to stay with him as well. Sokka and Zuko might not be best buddies, but they are the best kind of teammates.
Before I move onto bigger, not-our-boys topics, I’d just like to point out that Zuko is far more inspirational when he’s not deliberately trying to channel Iroh. When he tries to channel Iroh, it’s a hilarious mess that doesn’t quite make sense. Contrast his “silver sandwich” ramblings to him telling Sokka that he can’t quit every time because he’s afraid of failure. I hope that Zuko eventually realizes that he doesn’t have to speak cryptically in order to be wise.
Now that the boys are out of the way, it’s time very briefly to talk about Suki. YAY SUKI! I was so happy to see her alive and awesome despite a few months in Fire Nation custody. Her reunion with Sokka was touching—the touching and the crying and the kissing!—and I adored how quickly she fit into place with Sokka and Zuko. (Though I must say that her conversation with Zuko re: burning down her village was my favorite bit of comedy in this episode. Yay for Suki being able to set aside her Zuko!baggage so quickly. The impending escape attempt and Sokka vouching for the ex-prince probably helped. Zuko is not the only one with complete faith in Sokka.) While being a war prisoner can’t have been very good on the psyche, Suki hadn’t given into despair. She had kept up her fighting skills, which couldn’t have been easy between her confined cell and the likelihood the guards would discourage any outdoors practice.
Which, unfortunately, brings me to the Boiling Rock itself. Was anyone else skeeved the heck out by this facility? I’m no connoisseur of prisons, mind you, much less fantasy world prisons, but did anyone else think that the Boiling Rock was filled with all sorts of unfortunate implications?
I have previously sung the Fire Nation’s praises about having the greatest level of gender equality out of the three remaining nations, and that equality extends inside the Boiling Rock. There are male and female guards, which makes sense given the abundance of female soldiers/police officers/whatever we’ve seen ever since our heroes entered the Fire Nation. The Boiling Rock even seems to have a strict fraternization policy—no dating fellow guards—which is great.
But having male and female prisoners in the same facility? A facility designed to house the Fire Nation’s most dangerous criminals/prisoners of war? A facility where men and women seem to be housed in the same cellblocks, and there are always far more men than women in any particular group shot? A facility where it’s totally okay for a guard to threaten a prisoner with a fire whip for not bowing to him? A facility where veteran guards think it’s cute when a newbie guard wants to wail on a random prisoner and let him do so while they wait outside?
If Sokka’s movement in and out of cells is any indication, guards can enter and exit a prisoner’s cell at will. Suki was ready to kick Sokka’s butt as soon as he got close to her, and in part two he will comment on how the other guards will think he’s “up to something” if they find him in her cell. That line was probably meant to imply that the guards would be suspicious and possibly discover their escape plan, but that was definitely not what I thought of when he said that.
I know that the Boiling Rock had to be a unisex prison if Sokka and Zuko were to save both Suki and Hakoda, but speculating on what might logically be going on if this weren’t a show for kids makes me ill.
- Zuko serving tea for our heroes and hangers-on was adorable. I have no idea where he got the tea set, but I’m pleased at his attempts to get everyone to like him. Katara even seems slightly less likely to drown him in his sleep!
- Did anyone else feel like Zuko needed a hug when he claimed that he is never happy? It was either that or point out that we’ve seen him be happy before on camera and to stop being so dramatic.
- I know that Sokka is our meat and sarcasm guy, but when was the last time he was so desperate for it that he left in the middle of the night? Why isn’t anyone at least a little suspicious about this?
- Even though I barely mentioned it in the main commentary, I really liked Zuko and Sokka’s conversation in the war balloon, especially when Zuko got to talk about his guilt when it comes to all things Iroh. It was sweet that Sokka tried to cheer up Zuko, and it was a little heartbreaking when Zuko revealed that he left Mai—the only person he cared about—behind.
- I’m always happy when Yue gets mentioned, mostly because I hate it when female characters
ascend to a higher plane of existencedie and everyone moves on as if they never existed. It’s good that Sokka has moved on and loves Suki now, but still—it’s nice to remember Yue.
- Zuko is very lucky that regulations are in place for wearing a helmet at all times, because otherwise his cover would have been blown…sooner than it was. XD
- The warden is a very scary man that I probably should’ve talked about in the main commentary, but I didn’t want to. Mostly what we need to remember is that 1) he’s Mai’s uncle and 2) he says himself he would rather jump into the lake than let the no-escape record end.
- Chit Sang was so stupid. And he clearly doesn’t care that much about his girlfriend and best friend if he leaves them behind during the second escape attempt.
Now that all that set up is out of the way, you should all be ready for the bonus post this Wednesday, when we’ll deal with all the awesomeness in Book Three: Fire || Chapter Fifteen: The Boiling Rock, Part 2.