Welcome to the thirty-sixth installment of my Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Today’s post will be covering “Appa’s Lost Days.” Episode 2.16 fills in the gaps, introduces the last two major plot threads we need for the finale, and makes me ponder just how sentient our favorite flying bison is.
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.
A title card informs us that it’s been four weeks since the events in “The Library.” Appa struggles to break free of the sandbenders, but they finally overwhelm him. They drag him off into the desert, and Toph apologizes for not being able to save him.
Ghashiun calls a momentary halt and orders his people to ransack Appa’s saddle. Appa sneezes, which blasts one of the sand sailers into a dune. Ghashiun is annoyed to discover that there’s nothing of worth in Appa’s saddle.
They drag Appa to some beetle-headed merchants. Ghashiun claims that Appa’s temper is pretty good, which is quickly disproven when Appa roars at everyone. One of the merchants comments that someone will pay a fortune for Appa in Ba Sing Se, so they purchase the flying bison from the sandbenders. Then they drag Appa onto a sled.
Before the sled can go anywhere, there is a brief shot of Aang. He blows the flying bison whistle. Appa hears the sound and looks around, but he cannot see Aang. Appa struggles to break free of the sled—and nearly does. Unfortunately, the merchants hit him with some shirshu spit darts.
Aang lands on the sand dunes, shouting for Appa. He slams his staff into the ground and creates a giant mushroom cloud. Appa spots the cloud as he passes out.
Appa has always secretly wished he could be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
When Appa wakes up, he is at a circus. The animal trainer tells Appa he will cure him of his bad behavior by breaking him.
The animal trainer feeds the other animals cabbages. Appa, whose legs have been chained together, is hungry. The animal trainer does not feed Appa at first because he wants to show Appa how he will earn food. The man releases a lion vulture from its cage and forces it to perform with a bunch of hoops.
Appa is too busy airbending cabbages into his mouth to pay attention to the animal trainer. The man tells Appa that he will perform like the lion vulture but with flaming hoops. Appa burps at the man, and the animal trainer lights the ground in front of Appa’s cage on fire in retaliation. Appa understandably freaks out a little while the trainer comments that Appa’s previous owner had no idea how to handle him properly.
And this is the point where you want the animal trainer to die.
One evening a little boy spots Appa trying to airbend some hay into his mouth. The boy smiles at Appa, but the man’s father tells him to stay away from “that monster” before departing to buy some snacks. As soon as his father is gone, the boy runs into the tent and drags the hay bale over to Appa so he can eat.
Appa licks the boy’s face in gratitude before eating the bale. The boy hears the animal trainer coming, so he runs off. The animal trainer tells the circus master that he doesn’t think Appa is ready to perform. The circus master insists that Appa will perform tonight, and as soon as he is gone, the animal trainer threatens Appa with fire about his good behavior.
After the animal trainer leaves, Appa looks over and sees the boy peering through the flap in the tent. The boy’s father comes back and drags him off, but not before he can wave goodbye to Appa.
Awww, isn’t that so sweet—HOLY CRAP DID APPA JUST BREAK HIS NECK?
The previous circus act finishes, and the circus master announces that a “wind buffalo” will be performing next. The curtain is drawn back to reveal Appa in a ridiculous amount of clothing/decorations. He is reluctant to perform at first, but the animal trainer’s fire whip gets him started.
The boy is upset at Appa’s treatment and shouts at him to get away from the animal trainer. During the course of the act, Appa goes through one of the flaming hoops, but it is too narrow and singes him. Appa airbends the flaming ring off of its rope so it smashes into the animal trainer. The flying bison looks into the crowd and spots the boy laughing—and is reminded of Aang.
The boy tells Appa to escape. Despite a fire blast from the animal trainer, Appa punts his tormenter through one of the air holes at the top of the tent and then slips out of it himself. All of the costume gets pulled off, but the chains remain as Appa makes his flight for freedom.
Yeah, I’d be upset if I had to wear that, too.
Appa returns to the library to find Aang, but there is only a crater there. He flies, hungry, through the desert and tries to eat an egg (which another creature steals) and a cactus (which is a bad idea). After some time he finds the buzzard wasp nest and gets a few mouthfuls of honey before the buzzard wasps chase him away. Appa manages to knock them out of the sky and then lands on the ground so he can lick the traces of honey off his fur.
Appa, thirsty, hungry, and tired, comes across a farm one night. He heads straight for the barn, drinks water from a trough, and eats an entire haystack before he collapses. That night Appa dreams of the day he and Aang chose each other as companions. Aang says that this means the two of them will always be together, and we cut to see that Aang is sharing the same dream on The Serpent’s Pass.
Appa is pulled from his dream by a screaming farmer with a pitchfork who thinks that Appa is a monster. The farmer’s wife appears, but the sight of her torch makes Appa panic. He busts his way out of the barn, leaving a pair of stunned humans behind.
This is too adorable for snark.
On the ferry, Iroh spots Appa flying overhead. His startled gasp wakes Zuko. Despite a moment of panic, Iroh tells Zuko that it was nothing and to go back to sleep.
Appa crash lands in the forest and barely is able to eat a bite of grass before a boar-q-pine comes out of nowhere and headbutts him down the hill. The two animals face off in a short but intense battle that raises dust clouds and knocks down trees. Finally, the boar-q-pine runs off. Despite his victory, Appa is covered in quills which are extremely painful to remove. The flying bison collapses in a cave/some ruins and stays there for several days.
The Kyoshi Warriors, led by Suki, are gathering berries. One of the warriors spots clumps of white fur and the traces of the boar-q-pine battle. Suki follows the trail to Appa, who is looking and acting rather feral. Instead of approaching, Suki leaves Appa some fruit and tells him that she will be back with help soon.
Suki tells her group that Appa has been hurt and is wary of people. One of the warriors points out that Suki had seen the Avatar just a couple days ago and that it’s surprising she would have found his flying bison, too. Suki agrees and tells her people that getting Appa back to Aang is one of the most important missions.
The girls approach Appa—who dislikes this greatly—so Suki tells them to give Appa some space. Her gentle words aren’t enough to calm him down until she mentions that they will help him find Aang. Appa finally lets her pet his nose. He sinks down onto the ground.
Three cheers for Suki, who was brave enough to approach this creature.
The Kyoshi Warriors get the shackles off of Appa, remove the boar-q-pine quills, and clean up his fur. Before the happy moment can last too long, Appa hears something that sets him on edge. A blast of fire comes out of nowhere and knocks down a tree.
Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee arrive on mongoose lizards. The princess comments that Appa’s distinctive fur makes him easy to find (and throws in a jab at how despite this Zuko still hasn’t managed to capture him).
The Kyoshi Warriors move in to defend Appa from Azula. Suki demands to know what Azula wants, but the princess is dismissive of them. Suki tells Azula that if she is looking for the Avatar, she is out of luck. Azula doesn’t care that Aang isn’t nearby because any friend of the Avatar’s is an enemy of hers.
She throws a blast of fire at Appa, which the Kyoshi Warriors block with their shields. Mai and Ty Lee leap into the fight, and it doesn’t take long for both of them to start taking out Kyoshi Warriors.
Suki manages to deflect a blast of fire from Azula, but it sets a tree ablaze. Appa begins to panic at it, and Azula realizes that Appa is afraid of fire. Suki urges Appa to fly away and charges Azula to keep her from going after the flying bison. Appa sees Suki struggling in the fight and nearly goes back to help her, but one of the Kyoshi Warriors distracts Azula.
Suki sees Appa returning, so she grabs a burning tree branch and waves it at him. She tells Appa to go find Aang. She and the other warriors will be okay. Appa leaves reluctantly, and Suki squares off with Azula yet again.
Appa flies over land and sea. At one point he flies over Hakoda’s fleet, and the man is surprised to see a flying bison. Appa eventually lands at the Eastern Air Temple. He wanders the ruins, remembering how the temple used to be, and tackles a man thinking it is Aang. He licks the man several times until he realizes it is not Aang.
The man, Guru Pathik, takes the sudden ambush rather well. He tries to get up, but Appa growls at him. They continue this cycle for close to a day before Appa finally passes out and Guru Pathik can get up.
The Guru goes to Appa and places a hand on his chest. He instantly empathizes with Appa, who has gone through so much. The Guru moves his hand down Appa’s body and is somehow able to sense his pain and fear. He tells the sleeping Appa that he has been waiting for him and the Avatar for a while now.
Many years ago, the Guru had a vision of helping the Avatar, which is why he came to the Eastern Air Temple. He senses that Appa’s emotions are like storm clouds, so he places his hand on Appa’s forehead and tells him to let his emotions be peaceful clouds instead. Appa’s slumber goes from restless to gentle.
No one expects being licked by a tongue as large as they are.
Appa wakes the next morning, instantly on alert. However, there is a pile of fruit right in front of him. It doesn’t take long for Appa to follow the trail of fruit through the temple to Guru Pathik. At some point, Appa is able to trust the Guru enough that he lies down beside him.
Guru Pathik stands up and tells Appa that he has a message for Aang. He ties the scroll around one of Appa’s horns after receiving the flying bison’s permission. Guru Pathik tells Appa that his and the Avatar’s energies are mixed. They have an unbreakable bond, which means that if the Guru reads Appa’s energy, he will be able to tell where Aang is. Appa is delighted by this news, licks the Guru, and lets the man read his energy.
Appa flies over the city of Ba Sing Se, searching for Aang. Dai Li agents spot him flying around, but they focus on tracking him instead of capturing him. Appa suddenly hears a whistle and, thinking that it is Aang, follows it. He lands in a deserted area and ends up leaving a footprint on a bare patch of ground.
Long Feng emerges from the shadows with a whistle in hand. Before Appa can take flight, Long Feng earthbends the cobblestones like a trap door. Appa disappears underground, leaving just his footprint behind.
Of course it’s you. Jerk.
I am not going to have a ton to say about this episode as it’s rather straightforward. Mostly this episode exists to 1) show us what has happened to Appa and 2) reveal some plot threads that will be more important (and more interesting to talk about) later. This episode also gives us a rough idea on timelines.
It’s been a month between the last bit of “The Library” and the end of this episode, though that still doesn’t give us a very good idea about how much time has passed between episodes. “The Desert” obviously can’t be more than a day or two or else our heroes would have died. I’m guessing there is a gap of a week or so between “The Desert” and “The Serpent’s Pass.” We know that our heroes spent at least one night on the Serpent’s Pass, but there can’t be more than a couple hours between the end of “The Serpent’s Pass” and the start of “The Drill” (unless said drill was a very, very long ways away from Ba Sing Se).
“City of Walls and Secrets” seems to imply that our heroes went immediately from the wall (or perhaps the next morning) into the city to begin their frustrating tour with Joo Dee. That entire episode seems to take place over the course of a couple days: long enough for both our heroes and Jet to get tired of waiting for the things they want/need. “Tales of Ba Sing Se” gives us absolutely no indication about the timeframe other than Momo’s tale must be after the end of “Appa’s Lost Days.”
I’m guessing that the biggest gaps in time have to be between “The Desert” and “The Serpent’s Pass” (as our heroes had to walk who knows how long to Full Moon Bay) and between “City of Walls and Secrets” and “Lake Laogai” (which leaves time for all of the “Tales of Ba Sing Se” shenanigans). Does this match up with your mental timeline, or am I missing something?
The first part of this episode is particularly helpful in showing us how Appa’s timeline in the desert meshes up with what our heroes are doing. There are several neat synchronization moments like that, and I think that was a good choice. It made me a lot more upset whenever there was a near miss with Appa and Aang. I couldn’t help but want them to meet up even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
Most of the events Appa went through were rather boring to me. Sorry, Appa-lovers. While the flying bison can be cute and/or helpful, he (and Momo) just doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t really care about him getting sold, being mistreated at the circus, or engaging in fisticuffs with boar-q-pines. Honestly, I would have been totally fine with a much shorter montage (instead of Momo’s tale in “Tales of Ba Sing Se”) explaining how Appa got into Long Feng’s hands. We found out in “The Desert” that Appa was supposed to be sold in Ba Sing Se, so it would have taken up much less screen time if we’d simply seen Long Feng buy Appa from the merchants because he knew that Appa must be the Avatar’s flying bison.
However, I do forgive this episode for mostly boring me because of the two plot threads it introduces that would have been much more difficult to incorporate otherwise: the Kyoshi Warriors and Guru Pathik.
The first time around, I was thrilled to see Suki again, mostly because I was sure we weren’t going to see her for ages despite her possibly-officially-bumped-up-to-love-interest-status-what-with-Yue-being-the-moon-now. So I was pleased to have her pop up in “Appa’s Lost Days” because I thought that would be the perfect way to get Suki to join our heroes. She could fly Appa to Ba Sing Se to finish up that plotline, reunite with Sokka, and help our heroes in the whole Day of Black Sun thing for next season. And that scenario was looking more and more plausible—until Azula showed up.
I was so very upset when Azula arrived because I knew that Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai were going to make it out of the encounter just fine. That said, the fight between the Fire Nation ladies and the Kyoshi Warriors was pretty amazing. I loved that Suki and her friends defended Appa.
Even more than that, I loved that Suki knew Appa needed to escape. Suki clearly figured out that she and her friends were going to lose against the Fire Nation ladies, and that little moment speaks both to Suki’s smarts and loyalty. She wouldn’t let Appa stay behind to get captured, and so she forced him away the fastest way she could (i.e. with fire). At that point she and Appa were both on good enough terms that Suki might have been able to climb on him and fly away, but instead Suki chose to stay behind with the rest of her friends and fight Azula. I have always been a sucker for characters who are loyal—Suki does not disappoint.
Of course, my pleasure at Suki’s scenes did nothing at the time to mitigate my asfjkl;-ness when we cut away just as Suki charged Azula. Frankly, I was just relieved to learn that Suki didn’t get killed in the fight, though it took ages for us to have any confirmation one way or the other about her fate. Thanks, show, for not making Suki another Yue! One sacrificial love interest per show is my limit, really.
The second necessary plot element we got from Appa’s wanderings was Guru Pathik. I’ll save most of my commentary about the illustrious Guru for the first part of the season finale. Here all I want to do is point out a couple of things that don’t come up again when Aang interacts with the Guru.
Guru Pathik clearly has some kind of psychic powers—or whatever it is you call the special abilities you gain after achieving enlightenment. Not only has Guru Pathik received visions of helping the Avatar (who disappeared for an entire century), but he is also able to sense Appa’s pain and fear. He can also calm Appa’s restless sleep and read the flying bison’s energy.
This energy reading thing is most intriguing, but so far as I remember it’s never brought up again. (Can anyone contradict this for me?) The episode keeps it a bit vague as to what sort of information the Guru gets from the energy reading, but it seems to me as if it’s more than a vague snapshot of one’s mental state but less than a life history.
Guru Pathik is able to sense the “unbreakable bond” Appa and Aang have with each other and use it to psychically track Aang anywhere in the world. (He is also able to identify the other half of the unbreakable bond, which seems like something far more difficult than simply sensing that such a bond exists.) Enlightenment has some nifty upgrades, doesn’t it? I can’t help but wonder how animals—or people—establish energy-mixing, unbreakable bonds. Can you have more than one unbreakable bond? Can the bonds be with places or objects, or does such a bond require some amount of intelligence from both parties?
Which brings me to my big question for this episode: is Appa sentient? And if he is, how sentient is he?
I’m not questioning Appa’s ability to experience pain, suffering, loneliness, happiness, or fear—he is clearly capable of all of those. What I’m really questioning is Appa’s intelligence. This is difficult to explain, so I shall compare Momo to Appa to see if that will help at all.
Many times in this episode, Appa demonstrates the ability to comprehend what humans say to him. He can follow instructions from Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, the animal trainer, Guru Pathik, and probably half a dozen other people I’ve forgotten about. A brief clip in “The Library” suggests that Toph actually held a conversation of sorts with Appa, and she’s not the only one to do so.
Contrast that with Momo, who appears to be mostly unable to understand human speech—with the exception of Aang’s. The two times we’ve had point of views from Momo—in “The Blue Spirit” and “Tales of Ba Sing Se”—human speech is rendered as meaningless noise. This is particularly frustrating in “The Blue Spirit” because Momo can comprehend that Katara wants something, but he cannot figure out what it is.
In this episode, Appa seems to be capable of concocting strategy (trying to get away from the beetle-headed merchants), obtaining food despite being restrained (at the circus), and following directions to a place he’s never been to before (when the Guru tells him where Aang is). All of this suggests that Appa is heads and shoulders ahead of other ATLA animals in the intelligence department.
(Of course, that just makes the Fire Nation’s genocide all the more horrifying. Not only did they wipe all but one member of an ethnic/cultural group, they also nearly wiped out the second most intelligent species in their world. And possibly third, depending on how intelligent the dragons are—but that’s another episode.)
For me, the most heartbreaking part of this episode was when Appa reached the Eastern Air Temple and remembered the temple in its glory. We’ve seen and heard a lot about Aang’s grief in the series so far—and will continue to hear about it—but this is the very first time we see that Appa is also capable of the same kind of grief. Appa many not be able to verbalize it, but it is there, and it is powerful. I was just as disappointed as Appa was when the person he tackled and licked turned out to be Guru Pathik and not Aang.
- Nice call back to the shirshu in this episode! I’m guessing that the darts must have concentrated venom, though—otherwise it should have taken a dozen or so of them to knock out Appa. It took a lot more hits from a real shirshu to take Appa down back in “Bato of the Water Tribe.”
- Ty Lee and Mai’s dialogue while they fight the Kyoshi Warriors is hilarious. Mai: You’re so colorful you make me sick! Ty Lee: You’re not prettier than us! Dunno why, but it amuses me that both Mai and Ty Lee would be annoyed by the Kyoshi Warriors’ appearance.
- Appa possibly has worse luck than either Sokka or Zuko. At least most of the time the ATLA universe only cares about forcing the two boys into undignified/humiliating circumstances, but Appa’s luck was far more sinister.
- Guru Pathik has a ridiculous amount of patience. He just stayed still on the ground until Appa passed out—and that took hours.
- I’m really going to miss you, Suki. Have fun in one of the Fire Nation’s most notorious prisons.
Just hang on for another couple days, Appa! You’ll be reunited with Aang next Monday when we’ll cover Book Two: Earth || Chapter Seventeen: Lake Laogai. It’s time to bring Jet’s story to its terrible conclusion.