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Book Three: Fire || Chapter Sixteen: The Southern Raiders

It’s Katara’s turn for a fieldtrip on the fifty-sixth installment of the Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Episode 3.16 finally explains how Kya died, allows Katara to pursue revenge, and leaves Aang with an uncomfortable question.

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.

Summary
Aang wakes up early in the morning just in time to deflect an incoming bomb with his airbending. The explosion wakes the rest of our heroes and the hangers-on. Aang rushes toward the edge of the building and spots Fire Nation airships rising up out of the fog. The ships fire more bombs at the Western Air Temple, so Aang rushes back to his friends and uses airbending to shut all the doors.

The bombardment weakens the ceiling right above Katara. Zuko tackles her out of the way of the falling rock and lands on top of her. Katara yells at him to get off of her, and a miffed Zuko mutters that he’ll take that as a thank you.

Haru and Toph earthbend an escape tunnel for everyone. While Aang struggles to get Appa to enter the tunnel, Zuko declares he will hold their attackers off. He suspects that this attack is a “family visit.” Aang tries to stop Zuko, but Sokka and Katara stop him from following. Instead, all three of them try to yank Appa into the tunnel.

Zuko leaps through an explosion and hurls a fireball at one of the ships. Azula appears on one of them, and Zuko demands to know what she’s doing here. The princess says she’s about to celebrate becoming an only child.


At this point, they’re just mocking the Zutara shippers, aren’t they?

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Azula hurls a blast of blue fire at Zuko, and the explosion throws him backwards. The bombardment is causing the building to crumble; Zuko uses a falling pillar as a ramp to throw himself at Azula’s airship. He shoots more fireballs, one of which nearly hits Azula, but his jump isn’t far enough to actually get him onto the airship. Zuko slides down the side and plummets into the crevasse.

Aang can’t get Appa to go into the tunnel, and Katara reminds him that they can’t just fly away with the attack going on. Sokka decides they need to split up and orders the hangers-on to take the tunnel to the airship and escape.

Katara objects to the plan—she won’t let the Fire Nation break up their family again—but Hakoda reassures her that this split isn’t forever. She hugs her father before climbing aboard Appa, and Hakoda hugs Sokka as well. Hakoda takes Chit Sang, Haru, Teo, and The Duke down the tunnel, and Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, and Toph prepare to leave on Appa. Toph finds a weak place in the earth she can clear away. Suki points out that there is an awful lot of fire coming from the direction, but Aang assures everyone that they’ll get through.


What happened to learning to plan things, Zuko? This was ill-conceived.

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Toph explodes the nearby wall and uses the debris to form a shield around Appa. They fly straight past the Fire Nation airships, despite taking fire from Azula. However, when they look back, they spot Zuko—who apparently landed on an airship below and didn’t die upon impact. Zuko leaps aboard Azula’s airship successfully this time, and the two siblings hurl fireballs at each other while Aang steers Appa through incoming fire.

Azula and Zuko’s fists meet, and the resulting explosion throws both of them off the airship. Appa swoops down so our heroes can save Zuko. The ex-prince turns back to watch Azula plummet through the fog, and he realizes—almost sadly—that she won’t survive. Then Azula uses her firebending as rockets to propel her toward the nearest cliff. She uses her hair ornament to secure a hold on the cliff face, and then Zuko seems annoyed that she survived.


This would make an awesome shampoo commercial.

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That night our heroes gather around the campfire, and Aang reminisces about how camping makes it feel like old times. Zuko offers to chase Aang around and try to capture him to make it more authentic, which makes everyone but Katara laugh. Sokka offers a toast to Zuko for saving them today. Everyone but Katara joins in the toast, and Zuko says he doesn’t deserve their praise. Katara agrees that he doesn’t and then walks away.

Zuko follows Katara and finds her watching the waves. When she spots him, she starts to walk away, but Zuko tells her that her behavior isn’t fair. Everyone else trusts him now—except for her. Katara reminds him that she was the first person to trust him in Ba Sing Se, and he betrayed her. Zuko flinches and then asks what he can do to make it up to her. Katara sarcastically suggests that he reconquer Ba Sing Se in the name of the Earth King or bring her mother back. She marches off, leaving Zuko behind.

Zuko bumps into Suki on the way to Sokka’s tent. He asks if she needs to speak to Sokka, but Suki denies it and goes back to her tent. Zuko enters the tent and is greeted by the sight of Sokka looking rather…well, as seductive as Sokka gets.


I think it’s the pointed toes that crack me up the most.

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Sokka sits up and asks Zuko what’s on his mind. Zuko confesses that he doesn’t know why Katara hates him, but he does care what she thinks of him. Sokka insists that his sister doesn’t hate anyone—except for some Fire Nation people. He then stumbles all over himself trying to qualify that statement, but Zuko gets him to stop. Instead, Zuko asks Sokka to tell him what happened to his mother. Sokka is surprised, and Zuko explains that Katara mentioned her mother when they were in prison in Ba Sing Se and again when she yelled at him just now. Zuko believes that Katara has connected the loss of her mother to her anger at him. Sokka says that it’s not a day he likes to remember, but he explains what happened.

The flashback opens with a very young Sokka and Katara having a snowball fight. Their game was interrupted by the arrival of black snow—and the Fire Nation. Katara rushed off to find her mother while Sokka ran after the men of the tribe. While the Water Tribe was outnumbered, they were able to drive off the soldiers very quickly. At first, he was relieved it was over, and then he found out that Kya had died during the attack.

Zuko asks if Sokka can remember any details about the attack, such as what the lead ship looked like. Sokka tells him that the lead ship had sea ravens on its flags, and Zuko reveals that that is the symbol for the Southern Raiders. He thanks Sokka and then gets shoved out of the tent. Sokka is grateful Zuko is gone and pokes his head out to call for Suki—only to find that Zuko hasn’t walked more than a few steps away.


And to think, just a few seconds ago, you two were having a snowball fight.

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The next morning, Katara steps out of her tent to find Zuko sitting in front of it. She tells him he looks terrible, and Zuko admits that he waited outside all night. When she asks what he wants, Zuko tells her that he knows who killed her mother and that he is willing to help her find him.

Katara heads for Aang and tells him that she needs to borrow Appa. When Aang jokingly asks if it’s her turn for a life-changing field trip with Zuko, Katara says it is. Aang asks why, and Katara says that Zuko is going to help her find the man who killed her mom. Zuko explains that he knows who did it and he knows how to find him.

Sokka puts down the flower necklace he was making and walks over to the group. Aang asks what she thinks it will accomplish, and Katara mutters that Aang wouldn’t understand. However, Aang says he does understand and brings up his people’s genocide and Appa’s kidnapping as the times when he felt unbelievable pain and rage.

Zuko insists that Katara needs this—she needs closure and justice. Aang counters that this is about revenge, and Katara says maybe revenge is what she needs and what the leader of the Southern Raiders deserves. When Aang tells her she sounds like Jet, Katara insists it is not the same. Jet attacked the innocent, and the man she’s going after is a monster.

Sokka pipes up that Kya was his mother, too, and says that Aang might be right. Katara snaps that Sokka didn’t love their mother the way she did, which hurts Sokka. Aang says that the monks called revenge a two-headed rat viper: while you watched your enemy go down, you were being poisoned yourself. Zuko says that it’s a cute saying, but this is the real world.

Katara admits that, now that she knows the man is out there and that he can be found, she feels she has no choice. Aang insists that she does have a choice: forgiveness. Zuko claims that forgiveness is the same as doing nothing, but Aang denies that. It’s easy to do nothing, but it is hard to forgive.

Katara tells him that forgiveness is impossible and walks away.


I always love dramatic wind when it’s paired with beautiful hair.

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That night, Aang and Sokka spot Katara and Zuko about to steal away on Appa. When Aang confronts her, Katara tells him flat-out that she was planning on taking Appa without his permission. Aang jokes about forgiving her, and Katara tells him not to try to stop them. Surprisingly, Aang says he wasn’t planning to. He knows that this is a journey Katara needs to take—she needs to face the man that killed her mother.

Aang pleads with her to not take revenge. He urges her to let her anger out and then let it go and forgive the man. Zuko calls Aang “Guru Goody-Goody,” but Katara thanks Aang for understanding before she and Zuko take off on Appa.

Sokka compliments Aang on being wise for his age. Aang thanks him, and then Sokka points out that normally he’s annoyed when Aang acts like this, but right now he’s impressed instead. Sokka then asks if he can borrow Momo for a week, which confuses Aang.


Zuko + sarcasm = eternal happiness.

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Zuko tells Katara that they need to find a Fire Navy communication tower. All of the navy’s movements are coordinated by messenger hawks, and everyone must be kept up to date on where everyone else is deployed. Katara suggests that they just break in and steal the information they need, but Zuko cautions her. If they aren’t stealthy, the navy will warn the Southern Raiders to go into hiding long before they have a chance to find them.

Katara creates a raft of ice for the two of them. She bends the ocean waves so they lift her and Zuko up to the communication tower. They sneak inside, and Katara causes a distraction with spilled ink so Zuko can find the movement log for the Southern Raiders. He discovers that the Southern Raiders are on patrol near Whale Tail Island.

Zuko wakes near dawn the next morning and suggests that Katara take a turn sleeping. They will be at Whale Tail Island in a few hours, and Katara will need her strength. Katara informs him that he doesn’t need to worry about her strength—she isn’t a helpless little girl any longer.


I think they’d make an amazing secret agent team.

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After the black snow fell, Katara ran to find her mother. She got inside the family igloo only to find a Fire Nation soldier standing over her mother. Kya told the soldier to let Katara go in exchange for the information he wanted. The soldier yelled at Katara to leave, but Katara was too scared to move. Kya told Katara to find Hakoda and that she would handle the strange man.

Katara stared at the soldier for a few seconds before she ran out of the tent to find her dad. Hakoda was in the midst of fighting, but he ran back to their house when Katara told him about that man and how Kya was in danger. By the time they got there, the man was gone, and Kya was dead.

Zuko tells Katara that Kya was a brave woman. Katara touches her mother’s necklace and says she knows.


I know telling you to run faster won’t change anything—but I wish it could.

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That evening Katara rests while Zuko flies Appa. He spots the Southern Raider’s sea raven flags and wakes Katara. Katara bends a bubble around Appa’s head so they can dive under water and approach the ship.

Katara uses a water whip to yank one of the unsuspecting soldiers off the deck. When his shipmates rush over to see what happened, Katara and Zuko pop up on the other side of the ship. She sends an enormous wave over the deck that knocks all but one soldier into the water. The remaining soldier gets to his feet and tries to firebend at her, and she sends him overboard with a giant blast of water.

Zuko and Katara rush inside the ship, and Zuko disarms the soldier they encounter and leads the way to the captain’s room. Zuko asks if Katara is ready to face the man; Katara pulls down her mask and blasts open the door with her waterbending.


This look promises murder.

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Zuko goes through the door first, which is perfect as the leader of the Southern Raiders throws fireballs at him and Katara. The two exchange blows for a few seconds before the leader demands to know who they are. Zuko is incredulous that the man doesn’t know Katara and promises that he will know soon.

The man dodges one of Zuko’s fireballs and goes to strike back—only for his body to suddenly stop moving. He writhes around, unable to control his body, and Katara forces him to the ground with her bloodbending. Zuko looks a little alarmed, but he focuses on the mission and orders the man to think back on his last raid of the Southern Water Tribe.

The man insists he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and Zuko gets in the man’s space. He orders him to stop lying and to look Katara in the eye and say he doesn’t remember what he did. Katara forces the man to his knees, but after a few seconds of staring she realizes that this isn’t the same man that killed her mother. She drops the man to the ground.

Zuko is confused as this man is the leader of the Southern Raiders, but Katara leaves without a word. After a moment, Zuko hauls the man upright and pins him to the wall. He demands to know who they’re looking for, and the leader says that Yon Rha retired four years ago.


While I’m glad the show didn’t forget that this power existed…it was still disturbing to see Katara do this.

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Yon Rha, now an old man, works in his garden. His mother—and even older woman with a foul temper—orders him to the market to get her some real food, and he complies. As he walks to town for food, storm clouds gather overhead. At the market, Yon Rha thinks he feels someone watching him, but he doesn’t see anyone. On the way back, Yon Rha feels eyes on him again.

Katara and Zuko watch from a secluded area, and she confirms that this is the right man.

The storm begins while Yon Rha is on his way home. He’s still suspicious, and he suddenly drops his basket and hurls a fireball at a nearby bush. No one comes out screaming, so Yon Rha picks up his dropped food and keeps walking, only to get caught up in a trip wire.

Yon Rha falls on his face and then has to scramble backward when a fireball slams into the ground in front of him. He looks up at Zuko, who helpfully points out that they weren’t behind the bush. Zuko orders him not to firebend again.

Yon Rha cowers and tells them to take his money or whatever else they want—he will cooperate. Katara steps forward and pulls down her mask. She asks if he remember who she is, and Yon Rha eventually identifies her as the little Water Tribe girl.


I almost feel bad for him—except not at all.

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Kya offered to exchange information if Yon Rha let Katara go. Yon Rha ordered Katara out, and Kya told her daughter to find Hakoda. After Katara ran out, Yon Rha demanded to know who the waterbender was. Kya insisted that there were no more waterbenders as the Fire Nation took them all a long time ago.

However, Yon Rha told her that his source claimed there was one more waterbender in the Southern Water Tribe. The Fire Nation would not leave until they found the waterbender. Kya asked Yon Rha to promise that, if she told him who the last waterbender was, he would leave the rest of the village alone.

After Yon Rha agreed, Kya confessed to being the last waterbender and offered to be taken as a prisoner. Instead, Yon Rha told her that he wasn’t taking prisoners today.


Goodbye, Kya.

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Katara confesses that Kya lied to protect the last waterbender. Yon Rha asks who the last waterbender was, and Katara shouts that it was her—and then she bends the rain.

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Katara ultimately can’t bring herself to kill Yon Rha. The man scrambles to kneel and confesses that he did a bad thing and that Katara deserves revenge. Yon Rha offers to let Katara kill his mother, but Katara ignores the offer. She tells Yon Rha that he is pathetic and sad and empty. Yon Rha begs again to be spared, and Katara confesses that as much as she hates him, she can’t kill him.

Katara walks away, and after a moment, Zuko joins her. They leave a crying Yon Rha behind them.


…I’m still holding out for the ATLA-world equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials, for the record.

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Katara sits at the end of a dock by herself. Zuko returns on Appa with the rest of our heroes, and Aang rushes to Katara. He tells her that Zuko told him about what Katara did—and didn’t—do on her quest for revenge. Aang says that he is proud of her.

Katara confesses that she wanted to kill Yon Rha but that she couldn’t do it. She wonders if she was too weak to do it or strong enough to not do it. Aang reassures her that she did the right thing and that forgiveness is her first step to healing. Katara gets up to face Aang and says that she didn’t forgive Yon Rha—she never will. However, Katara then tells Zuko that she is ready to forgive him and gives him a hug.

As she walks away, Zuko reveals that Aang was right about what Katara needed: violence wasn’t the answer for her. Aang claims that violence is never the answer, so Zuko turns around and asks what Aang will do when he faces Fire Lord Ozai.


Zuko no longer has to be worried that Katara will murder him while he sleeps!

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Commentary
That’s the end of our Zuko-sponsored field trips. Thanks for joining us, and we hope you’ll come back soon!

In all seriousness, I think this episode was the most emotional of the field trips. “The Firebending Masters” was all about persuading Aang and Zuko (and the audience) that firebending wasn’t all about melting people’s faces off, which was an important barrier for everyone to get past. “The Boiling Rock, Part 1” and “The Boiling Rock, Part 2” were so busy ending plotlines (the invasion and Hakoda, Zuko and Mai’s relationship, Mai’s independence from Azula, and Suki’s disappearance), continuing recent ones (rebuilding Sokka’s confidence, Zuko’s integration into the team), or starting new ones (Azula’s breakdown) that there was precious little room to go in depth on any particular emotion. But “The Southern Raiders” has a tight focus that lets Katara deal with the emotional pain swirling all around Kya’s death. The death of Katara and Sokka’s mother has been an oft touched-upon-but-never-gone-into-detail bit of backstory—and it’s about time we found out exactly what happened.

But before I vomit out thinky thoughts on that subject, I’m going to take a small detour to Azula and Zuko. First off, Zuko clearly didn’t learn anything about the virtues of planning from his adventure with Sokka at the Boiling Rock. Who on earth thinks the best way to buy your friends time against an incoming foe is to throw yourself off a cliff? Because that’s essentially what Zuko did in attempting to leap that humongous gap even with the help of a ramp. Zuko’s lucky he has recently been upgraded to a hero or else that would have been the last we ever saw of him. That would have been a very lame death.

While the fight between Zuko and Azula is a lot of fun once it actually happens, there are two non-fighting things that I want to focus on. The first is the start of Azula’s crazy behavior. While Azula has relished tracking down Zuko before, I don’t think she’s ever been so gleeful about it. When I think of Azula, I think of someone who is in control and composed—she doesn’t normally shout like she did when she was yelling at Zuko that she was going to celebrate becoming an only child. She seems to be taking a great deal of pleasure out of the attempt to kill Zuko. When you couple that with the visual of her with her unbound hair streaming in the wind after nearly plunging to her own death, it’s a very strong hint that Azula has changed—and not for the better.

The second non-fighting thing that struck me was Zuko’s reaction to Azula falling. At first Zuko looked genuinely concerned about Azula falling to her death, but then he sounded rather annoyed when she saved herself via firebending. I can understand that Zuko wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of watching his sister die in front of him even though she just tried to kill him. Zuko has definitely been jealous of his sister for much of his life (see “The Siege of the North, Part 2” for specifics), and he has been willing to attack her when provoked (see “The Avatar State”), but he didn’t get the same enjoyment out of their mutual hostility as Azula has in the past. Furthermore, Azula implausibly saving herself just reinforces Zuko’s belief that Azula was born lucky where he was just lucky to be born. I’ll probably have more to say about the siblings when we hit the finale, so I’ll leave that there for now. Just keep it in the back of your mind until then.

Let’s get back to that revenge. I love that the catalyst of all this is Zuko finally confronting Katara about her treatment of him. It must have been extremely frustrating for Zuko for everyone but Katara to trust him, but it was equally satisfying when Katara pointed out that she was the first person to trust him—and he betrayed that trust in Ba Sing Se. That little flinch Zuko does when she points that out is beautiful, because Zuko is well aware of the fact that that was one of the worst decisions in his life.

So it was very satisfying for me when Zuko asked Katara what he could do to make it up to her. Even though Zuko is about halfway through his atonement arc, he knows that he still needs to be trying to undo or balance out the negative impact he’s had on the world. Unfortunately for Zuko, he can’t single-handedly reconquer Ba Sing Se—or bring Kya back to life. The fact that Katara throws these two impossible feats at him as the only way to make up for his betrayal (implying that she will never trust him) is difficult for him to accept. Zuko cares about what Katara thinks of him, and by connecting her hatred of Zuko with Kya’s death makes things look bleak on the Zuko-obtaining-forgiveness front.

That’s why when Zuko figures out that the Southern Raiders were the ones that killed Kya, he jumps at the opportunity to help Katara get revenge. This revenge is only possible because of Zuko, and from a getting-Katara-to-stop-hating-me perspective, it makes sense for Zuko to be all over this opportunity. I think Zuko still would have offered Katara this opportunity even if they were on good terms, because Zuko has disappeared mommy issues of his own. Plus, as Zuko makes it abundantly clear to Aang, he has a healthy respect for appropriately applied revenge.

And man, is that revenge appropriate. It was one thing for Katara to know that her mother died in a Fire Nation raid, and it’s entirely another to know that Kya died because she lied to protect her daughter. Though why didn’t Yon Rha’s source mention the fact that the last waterbender was a child and not a full-grown woman? Who was the source? Why didn’t the source tell Yon Rha he didn’t kill the right person? Yon Rha was still the commander for the Southern Raiders for several years afterwards if I’m doing my math right, which means that there shouldn’t have been a communication problem there. Yon Rha should have found out he missed the last waterbender and gone back to do the job properly.

…those plot holes aside, can I just say that I was seriously impressed with Kya for claiming to be the last waterbender? True, her daughter was on the line, but I believe that she was the kind of person that would have protected any other child—or adult—the same way. The last waterbender in the tribe, particularly if he or she was fully trained, would have been a huge asset to the rest of the community. It would have been a very strategic decision to sacrifice someone else (though I don’t actually think that’s what happened, just so we’re clear).

However, Yon Rha’s line about how he wasn’t taking prisoners that day confused me a little. Clearly the last time the Southern Raiders attacked the Southern Water Tribe they took prisoners, or else Kya wouldn’t have surrendered the way she did. We don’t have any indication about how much time passed between this raid and the last raid other than both Sokka and Katara are old enough to remember the previous one (and what the black snowfall meant). So why did the Fire Nation policy change? Perhaps it’s the completionist in me, but it makes no sense to kill the final waterbender instead of capturing her when you’ve captured all the rest. What, were all the cells filled in the waterbender prisons? Was it just easier to have one dead mom instead of two missing moms in the story?

Whatever the reason, what matters is that I am totally behind Katara’s desire for a roaring rampage of revenge and for Zuko’s support of it. Zuko does a lot of the “heavy lifting” as it were in this episode—none of this would be possible without his help. He identified the people that killed Kya, he threatened the new commander of the Southern Raiders in order to find out where Yon Rha was, and he lent his firebending ability to Katara when she needed it. Most importantly, Zuko was the only person who supported Katara in going for revenge in the first place.

While Zuko served as a fairy godmother of sorts for this whole revenge scheme, there were two notable moments where Katara caught him off guard: when Katara bloodbended the commander and when she stopped the rain. At neither point does Zuko say anything, but his expressions (particularly when she was bloodbending) leave a lot to the imagination.

Zuko has seen Katara fight before, and he’s been on the receiving end of her attacks more than once. But I think this episode is the first time he truly appreciates the extent of her powers. Up until she forces the commander to kneel, Zuko didn’t even know bloodbending existed, much less that she could do it. For all he knows, Katara is capable of taking control of someone’s body at any moment. On top of that, she’s able to control hundreds—if not thousands—of raindrops all at once when she stops the rain, which speaks to a much greater power and finesse than he’s ever seen her demonstrate before. That’s not even counting the fact that Katara spends most of the episode dead set on killing the man that murdered her mother.

For the first time, I think, Zuko realizes that Katara 1) is entirely capable of killing him if she puts her mind to it and 2) has been restraining herself quite a bit when it comes to his presence in their group. This episode makes it possible for Zuko to finally understand just how deep his betrayal hurt Katara. That’s why it’s so poignant when Katara finally decides that she can forgive Zuko for his betrayal of her—and Aang—in Ba Sing Se.

This episode also sets up an emotional thread that’s very important for the finale: revenge vs. forgiveness, and what place, if any, violence has in the world.

Zuko, clearly, starts out on the revenge-is-so-much-better-than-forgiveness-and-violence-solves-pretty-much-everything team. He flat out tells Aang that forgiveness is the same as doing nothing and fully supports Katara in tracking down and murdering Yon Rha. Katara falls in the middle of the spectrum, initially embracing revenge, and though she ultimately does not resort to murder, she still refuses to forgive Yon Rha. Aang is staunchly on the forgiveness-is-best-and-violence-solves-nothing team even though he has repeatedly used violence in order to solve his problems in the past.

The four-way discussion between Zuko, Katara, Sokka, and Aang about these topics was one of the highlights of the episode for me. I was thrilled that Aang brought Jet up again, though I wished to headdesk myself when he only went as far as comparing what Katara was saying to what Jet had said. Katara is entirely right that her plan was different from Jet’s, as Jet was going to kill dozens of innocent civilians in order to kill a single garrison of soldiers. When you compare the two, there’s no contest—Katara wins the moral superiority argument there as she only attacked soldiers or the murderer himself.

The better way to bring up Jet would have been to point out that it was his obsession with getting revenge that broke him. Jet and his freedom fighters would have been an amazing asset to the Earth Kingdom’s forces if they had limited themselves to going after combatants. Instead, Jet lashed out at everyone. Using Jet as a warning as to what Katara was risking by letting the desire for revenge consume her would have been a much better argument to make.

We even saw the start of that darkness creeping in during that conversation, when Katara had the guts to claim that Sokka didn’t love their mother like she did. I love you, Katara, but that was way over the line. That’s not even bringing up the fact that Katara then went and used bloodbending during her hunt for Yon Rha—a skill that she originally found so repulsive that she broke down in tears when Hama congratulated her on mastering it. Aang should have been warning Katara about the quest for revenge changing her in a terrible ways.

Then again, Aang didn’t actually present any of his arguments very well, now that I think about it. It was a smart move for him to remind Katara that he has also experienced extreme grief re: the Air Nomad genocide though I would have left out Appa’s kidnapping as I don’t think that compares at all, but he completely fails to explain why Katara should choose to forgive Yon Rha. He never talks about why forgiveness is a more attractive option than revenge. When Zuko claims that forgiveness is the same as doing nothing, all Aang has to say is that forgiving is hard to do. The worst he has to say about revenge is the bizarre two-headed rat viper analogy, which is cute, but irrelevant if Katara kills Yon Rha before he can kill her. Aang doesn’t seem to realize that there are some kdrama hero(in)es people for whom the accomplishment of revenge is more important than life.

Zuko presents revenge as a way for Katara to 1) avenge Kya’s death, 2) bring Kya’s killers to justice, and 3) make herself feel better. On the other hand, Aang’s forgiveness 1) looks identical to doing nothing only it’s harder to do and 2) may metaphorically poison you. I believe in your message about revenge not being the answer, Aang, but you presented your case terribly.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as Katara chooses to walk the middle road between revenge and forgiveness. I can’t help but wonder if she would have chosen differently had Yon Rha not been a pathetic, sniveling mess who offered to let her kill his mother so they’d be even. If Yon Rha had stood proud at following orders and killing who he thought was the final waterbender in the Southern Water Tribe, would Katara have walked away without a fight?

We’ll never know.

Aang tries to tell Katara that forgiveness is the first step to healing, but as she rightfully pointed out, she will never forgive Yon Rha for killing Kya. I think it’s the arrogance on Aang’s part that annoys me, because he implies that Katara can’t start to heal until she forgives Yon Rha. Which clearly isn’t true, because Katara’s first step is when she finally forgives Zuko for his betrayal of her in Ba Sing Se.

This simplistic worldview from Aang—that violence is never the answer—also annoys Zuko. While Zuko does concede that Aang was right about Katara not needing revenge and that violence wasn’t the answer for her, he does pointedly ask Aang what he expects to do when he faces Fire Lord Ozai. And Aang had no answer.

It’s this claim by Aang about how violence is never the answer that really pisses me off, because it’s been shown to be patently untrue time after time after time in this series. Aang might be a vegetarian and he doesn’t like to start fights, but that hasn’t stopped him from resorting to violence in order to get things done. The majority of all conflicts in this series are solved through fighting. Didn’t he just invade the Fire Nation capital a few episodes ago with the express purpose of engaging in a one-on-one fight with the Fire Lord? How else did he really expect that to go down? If the writers really meant for Aang to be opposed to killing, then the show should have had him name that specific kind of violence instead of all violence in general.

I’m okay with Aang saying that violence shouldn’t be the first resort, or even the second or the third. I’m okay with him believing that life is sacred and that killing isn’t the best way to handle problems. I’m not okay with him being a hypocrite by claiming that violence is never the answer when he has depended on his combat abilities to solve his problems. Just off the top of my head, I can tell you that Aang resorts to violence to try to solve various problems in “The Avatar Returns,” “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” “Imprisoned,” “Winter Solstice, Part 2: Avatar Roku,” “The Waterbending Scroll,” “Jet,” “Bato of the Water Tribe,” “The Northern Air Temple,” “The Siege of the North, Part 2,” “The Avatar State,” “Return to Omashu,” “The Chase,” “The Library,” “The Desert,” “The Serpent’s Pass,” “The Drill,” “Lake Laogai,” “The Earth King,” “The Crossroads of Destiny,” “The Painted Lady,” “The Runaway,” “The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse,” and “The Western Air Temple.”

And that’s the key reason why the lion turtle pisses me off. While it’s complete lack of proper foreshadowing accidentally turns it into a deus ex machina, I could have (grudgingly) lived with that. What I am unwilling to forgive is that the lion turtle shows up for the express purpose of allowing Aang to keep his hypocrisy in this episode intact.

  • While I really like the opening as an action sequence—lots of fun!—I’m uncertain how the Fire Nation found our heroes. Presumably someone spotted the direction Sokka and Zuko flew off in when they stole Azula’s airship. It could also be that Azula’s crazy enough at this point that she decided to just bomb the Western Air Temple anyway during her search.
  • You know, those fancy gate things would have been really helpful against Combustion Man. Why did we our heroes not use these before? Granted, I don’t think our heroes were in the right place to use the gates the first time around, but it would have been nice to see the gates before they became the key strategy for defense.
  • The only way Zuko could have had worse timing is if he showed up at Sokka’s tent after Suki got there. I can only imagine the face he would have made then.
  • It was adorable to see little Sokka pick up the fallen boomerang and hurl it at the retreating soldiers.
  • Hello, Whale Tail Island! Last time we saw you, that’s where Appa was allegedly sold to. I think. I have no idea how Zuko and Katara got there so quickly, for the record.
  • I really love it when Katara gets to show off her waterbending abilities. I was floored when she stopped the rain.

Come back on Wednesday for our final breather before the finale! Perhaps Book Three: Fire || Chapter Seventeen: The Ember Island Players will leave me in a better mood than this episode did.

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6 comments

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  1. CaitieCat

    This episode always resonated the most in the entire series for me, because I lost my father when I was 15, when he was killed in front of my sister (then 12) and me.

    Briefly, or as briefly as I can make it:

    he and my mother had divorced after we came to Canada, and then he’d moved out west where we only saw him once or twice a year. That summer, 1981, he arranged with my mother that we (the siblings) would go and spend two weeks at the end of the summer, on a big road trip: from Edmonton, Alberta, through Vancouver, down the coast to San Francisco, then starting back up after crossing the mountains at Tahoe.

    We got the first half of the trip, and it was fantastic, one of the best of my life. Gave me my love of travel above all, I think. After SF for a couple of days, we got in the camper van to head to Tahoe. Arriving there in midafternoon, we went swimming in the lagoon behind the home of the people we were visiting with. My sister and I played on an air mattress, while my Dad went for a swim.

    it gets slightly more graphic from here, though mostly emotionally so, rather than descriptively. Just be aware, it’s pretty unpleasant.

    The last we saw of him, he grabbed a pole at the end of the next dock over, looked at us, made a huge grin, and then slipped under the water. We figured he’d just ducked under, and popped up the other side of the boat on the far side of the dock, he liked to play when we were with him.

    So we started paddling the air mattress over. I was in the back, with my legs up around my sister in front of me, paddling with both arms, while she had her legs well in the water, and was kicking.

    We started to feel pain, bad pain, in whatever was submerged. Couldn’t figure it out. My sister starting crying fairly soon, being 12 where that’s perfectly reasonable in the circs. Still no sign of Dad, despite this, which was starting to worry me. We got closer to the dock, reasoning something bad was in the water, maybe a chemical, we thought, something, so we got to the dock, I grabbed a rope tied to a ring there, and half threw my sister up onto the dock, before clambering up myself. We were now shouting for Dad, and no response still.

    People weren’t home much, middle of the afternoon on a Monday, but they started to come out of nearby townhouses also backing onto the lagoon. They called 911, and we started searching for serious for my Dad, while a nurse nearby treated my sister for what they had quickly realized was electrical current flowing into the water. She had slight burns on her legs, while my arms were numb from the shoulder down from the awful cramping caused by paddling in the water.

    And still no sign of him.

    Until I realized, as I stood at the end of the dock, that (the water was murky) there was a pale shadow at the bottom of the pole at the end of the dock with the boat. By then there were firefighters nearby, and they got the boat unplugged from its trickle-charger, and hauled my Dad up from the bottom, where he’d been by now for ten minutes at least. I don’t know, really, it’s all something of a blur at this point. They started CPR, and tried desperately, but there was no hope. When he’d grabbed that metal pole and “grinned”, he was actually in the rictus of total electrocution.

    It was the boat, see. The neighbour who owned the boat had gone away for a week, and left the boat’s battery on the trickle charger. The extension cord had fallen into the water, quickly rubbing off its insulation. Presto: death trap.

    They charged the neighbour with negligent homicide, a step below manslaughter: clearly unintentional, but nonetheless something he was responsible for.

    In the end, I wrote a letter to the court, saying that we didn’t hold any animus for him, that it was just a stupid mistake, and that making a second one by sending him to jail wouldn’t help anything. It would just ruin his and his family’s life as well as ours, and I didn’t see how that made anything better.

    So…I get how Katara feels, on some level. There wasn’t any malevolence in his death, just bad luck. But in the end, I couldn’t take even partial revenge for it; it wouldn’t make any difference.

    Separately, I also really like that both Katara and Sokka continue to behave like kids who grew up in a war zone: they’re not innately opposed to causing the deaths of Fire Nation soldiers. That’s pretty natural, I’d say.

    Great post, Audrey. :)

    1. Audrey

      First, I’m very sorry about your father. Thank you for having the courage to talk about his tragic accident–and, as weird as it sounds, I’m honored that you’d be willing to bring it up here. So thank you for being willing to talk about his death and how that influences your viewing of this episode. I’ve had extended family, friends, and acquaintances die, though none of them were due to someone else’s malice or even neglect. Illness (sudden or prolonged), for the most part, and accident–bad luck–on the rare occasion, so there was never anyone to blame. I’m impressed by your compassion toward that neighbor–I can’t imagine that it was an easy decision to come to or write that letter to the court, either.

      As for Katara and Sokka, yes, I’m also pleased by their consistency of character. Their tribe has been under attack for at least three generations, so they definitely don’t have a problem with Fire Nation soldiers becoming casualties.

  2. somariel

    I’m glad you pointed out Zuko’s shock when Katara used bloodbending. I’m pretty sure that he must have been thinking something along the lines of “Oh my fricking God, she could have done that to me.”

    As for Yon Rha not taking Kya prisoner, I’ve always thought that had to do with the fact that Hama bloodbended her way out of prison.

    1. Audrey

      I half hope that our heroes never tell Zuko the limitations on Katara’s power and that he spends the rest of his life a little twitchy at the possibility and eager to not get on her bad side.

      Oooh, that’s definitely a possibility. (And if it’s true, I’d imagine the Fire Nation slaughtered the rest of their captives, as there’s no point in keeping them when one has demonstrated she can break out easily. It’s easier to stop wasting resources on a doomed project.)

  3. CaitieCat

    One depressing thing about the Raiders’ knowledge of there being a waterbender: the person almost has to be a member of the tribe, as it seems clear that they get very, very few visitors. And they don’t seem to ever root out who that nasty traitor is/was. Perhaps the info on who the bender was got lost in ciphered transmission or something (cause how exactly does the spy communicate to the Raiders? Fire Nation messenger hawk?)?

    1. Audrey

      Ugh, yes. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late to figure out who the traitor was as it has been several years now. I can pretend that the traitor was accidentally killed in the raid, right? Up until Yon Rha’s confession, everyone probably thought it was a simple case of in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for communication, I have no idea. The region seems too cold to bring a messenger hawk in–plus it would stick out like crazy. I guess I’ll pretend that the traitor only had a very small amount of space/time to write the message and that all it said was “1 bender left in SWT” or something.

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