Mon
Mar 29 2010 2:28pm

Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-Watch: “The King of Omashu” (episode 105)

In this episode...

The Aang Gang arrives at the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, ruled by a wily old king. Aang reminisces about his old friend Bumi, a “mad genius” who 100 years ago showed Aang that the most fun one can have in Omashu is to ride the city’s steep twisting maze of mail chutes and slides. Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Momo give the chutes a try, but end up crushing the wares of a traveling cabbage merchant. Brought before the crazy king of the city, the gang is given a feast. The king suspects that Aang is the Avatar, and is given three deadly challenges to test his skills. As a final test, the king asks Aang to guess his name. It is only then that Aang realizes the “mad genius” of a king is Aang’s old friend Bumi. King Bumi reinforces the instructions of Aang’s quest—master the four elements and defeat Fire Lord Ozai.

 


 

Matt

This episode was trying to just be funny and quirky and goofy, and did not have many goals beyond that. It’s all about action and comedy. The show does both of those things really well, so no complaints. I also like their take on the mad king. He’s so goofy and bizarre and he says these wild random things. The whole exchange with the guard about which room “the recently renovated room that used to be bad” feels very Monty Python to me.

“The King of Omashu” also serves as an introductory demonstration of what earthbenders can do. The economy is run by earthbending. The city’s gates aren’t even gates, they’re just big walls that are moved open by earthbending. And then there is a climactic bending battle, where we get our first glimpse of earthbending in combat. And it is awesome. There are so many things in this battle that rock (pun absolutely intended). I love how the remnants of Bumi’s attacks decorate the battle arena like a rock garden. The creative ways in which benders utilize their skills never cease to entertain me, whether it be dropping rocks on someone’s head, shooting pillars of stone out of the ground, or falling through a solid floor as if it were water.

You would have to be a very little kid not to recognize the king as a grown up version of Bumi quicker than a sky bison can sneeze. Same quirky attitude, same weird laugh, same googly eyes, and then there’s that odd look he gives Aang when the Avatar walks in the door.

As a writer I’m always observing how jokes work and how they integrate into the plot. This episode uses various kinds of humor, whether it’s talking a point into the ground, or puns, or homonyms (Lettuce Leaf?) or utter randomness (I want my lunchbox key! Not the scepter of some god, but a lunchbox key). And of course, the repetition (which only gets funnier with time) of “My cabbages!” My first time through, I didn’t realize how bloodthirsty Mr. Cabbages was. He wanted the kids to die for squashing his cabbages. He is actually the Fire Lord in disguise and he is following them for the whole series trying to thwart them at every turn.

Why Aang’s dear friend, even if he is 112, doesn’t go with the Avatar to protect him on the early stages of his journey, and teach him his rather impressive earthbending skills, is beyond me.

And that’s about it. This episode is pretty close to a throwaway, but as usual, there is so much fun packed into this throwaway that you don’t even care.


Jordan

Gonna start this off by saying that I love earthbending. However, it really must suck to be a teenager in an earthbending household. NO LOCKS! Your parents can just bend the walls to check in on you and your significant other. Must be tough.

As Matt points out, this episode does very little overall to move the plot forward, but like with the trip to Kyoshi, I completely bought it. This detour was just another stop on Aang’s quest to cross off his bucket list of exciting things to do in the world. I remember the first time I saw Aang’s Map O’ Cool Things, I figured we wouldn’t see any of that, but really the first few episodes of the series are all about that map. Looking ahead into the series, I find it interesting the amount of time the gang spends on having fun while on their journey. Despite having to save the world, they still find time to have fun (much to Sokka’s chagrin).

The final scene with Bumi and the kids brings Aang back to what his real goal is. Defeat the Fire Lord and learn all four types of bending. We, as the audience, already knew this information, but this is the first time it is clearly laid out for Aang and the gang and I think that is important.

Of course, I love the Cabbage Man. This show does such a great job of reincorporating characters back into the story later on.

One last thought. I love that Momo eats anything he can get his hands on to the point that he is too fat to fit through a small hole.


John

I understand the need to disguise Aang, but would him wearing a wig and mustache really be convincing at all? Especially as an OLD man? He’s so small! This is one of those things that cartoons always pull and get away with that kind of bugs me because it seems lazy. It’s also just too easy for Aang to pull it off, not just visually, but when he’s questioned too. It would have been cool if he used the knowledge he has because he’s the Avatar and can talk to the previous Avatars (some of whom were actually old men). A pretty minor point, but still.

The gate to Omashu is one of those great worldbuilding things they’ve got in Avatar. I mean, what’s more secure than a solid wall of rock? When you’ve got earthbenders, you don’t need GATES, you can just open up the solid rock. Of course, I’m not sure that it’s a great idea having the guard who will bend the gate open standing right down there where enemies could reach him. What would stop firebenders from threatening him to get him to open up the gate anyway?

But seeing the defensibility of the Earth Kingdom cities makes you realize why the airbenders might have been much more vulnerable to the Fire Nation’s attacks, even though their air temples would be hard to reach. Then again, when we learn later on how it is they must have attacked the air temples, it does make you wonder why they couldn’t have done the same thing to circumvent the earth cities’ walls.

The package delivery slide sequence was a bit silly (and incredibly dangerous!). I’m not clear at all why a block with weapons on it was sliding down the chute after Aang and co. When I first saw it, I thought the city was under attack, or it was controlled by firebenders and they somehow knew Aang was the Avatar and they were trying to kill him. Was it supposed to just be a package delivering weapons from one part of the city to another? It’s good to see, at least, that they do get arrested for that reckless behavior (even though they end up getting a feast and not actually punished at all).

I’m a little confused about how everyone doesn’t know Aang is an airbender all the time. He’s got those tattoos that are almost always clearly visible. Has it been so long since anyone has seen one that they don’t remember that airbenders had those? (That seems unlikely.) Obviously Bumi would know since he’s 100+ years old, but it seems like that would be common knowledge, and since everyone knows the Avatar had been an airbender, wouldn’t that make it even more likely people would be able to recognize him when he comes. Then again, given that people must have assumed that Aang was dead, shouldn’t they be looking for the NEXT Avatar among the Water Tribe? If that were the case, then being marked as an airbender would actually be a good disguise. Perhaps that signal we saw in episode 103 would have alerted the world if the Avatar had died, so the fact that he’s just been missing for 100 years would be even more puzzling and worrisome.

Also, how could Aang not know Bumi was Bumi all grown up? Are WE not supposed to know until the end? As Matt pointed out, it’s extremely obvious (probably even for kids). I’m also with Matt on wondering why Bumi doesn’t help Aang more. Sure, he’s at least 112, but he’s got the body of a Greek god; I’m sure he’d be able to handle himself if he went along with Aang. At the very least he could have offered to teach him earthbending if Aang agreed to stay in Omashu!

So, not a big fan of this one, and I think I liked it less on second viewing. It’s still mostly entertaining, but I’m very glad there aren’t many episodes like this one.


Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will continue to be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes will abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.

Up next: Imprisoned!


« Episode 104 | Index | Episode 106 »


Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and a columnist for Tor.com. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.

Jordan Hamessley is a children’s book editor at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Chaotic publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She is also an assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. She can be found on twitter as @thejordache.

John Joseph Adams (www.johnjosephadams.com) is an anthologist, a writer, and a geek. He is the editor of the anthologies By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), Seeds of Change, and Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. He is also currently the fiction editor of Lightspeed Magazine, which launches in June 2010, and the co-host of Tor.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

14 comments
Elizabeth Randall
1. Elizabeth Randall
I never thought about Bumi offering then to teach Aang; I guess I bought into the whole "but of course Aang has to get to the North Pole" line.

I can understand Bumi not *going with* Aang - he has to be King after all - but perhaps Bumi knows, even then, that he's not meant to be Aang's Earthbending teacher and that's why he doesn't make the offer?

From the writers' point of view, my guess would be that they want to keep the focus on the children and not add adults into things, taking over and protecting. And they already have Iroh around to be pleasantly loopy and yet still so cool.

The whole episode is a bit twee, but I think the tone is appropriate for where we are in the story. It's easing us into the larger narrative. And who can say no to Cabbage Man?
Elizabeth Randall
2. BFinnA
Well they do make a point a little later about how the Avatar is supposed the elements in a particular order, so there is at least some plot-sourced argument for going straight to the other water tribe and not learning Earth-bending yet.

This was the first real city we see in a Avatar, but I was a bit disappointed. It felt a little too bizarre to be a real place. Even just the shape of the city. Later cities are amazing though, especially Ba Sing Se, home to my favorite bunch of episodes.
Elizabeth Randall
3. Confusador
re: Bumi not offering to teach Aang (minor spoiler):
It's worth noting that when it comes time for him to learn earthbending they do come back and ask Bumi.

I actually have some theories about why the cycle is in the order that it is (besides narrative causality), maybe I'll have time to type them out before we get to the point where Aang tries to subvert the cycle.
Chris Meadows
4. Robotech_Master
This episode broadens the world a little more, in interesting ways. Of course, the big surprise at the end is easy to guess if you're older than the show's ostensible target audience, but most of the fun comes from getting there.

One of the particularly interesting things is the glimpse into how a city built around earthbending works. The way the city is constructed to make use of a mail system powered by bending shows the level of thought that Avatar's creators have put into bending and its implications. The ability to manipulate the elements does not exist in a vacuum, and it stands to reason that people who have worked out how to do that will also develop systems to take advantage of it.

We also get our first glimpse of the Earth Kingdom's citizens, and of earthbending itself. They seem to be a gruff, hard people, and in fact Aang is rather startled by how unfriendly the guards are now, given how friendly they were in his hundred-year-old memories. A century of war tends to harden a people, I guess. The earthbending battle was pretty remarkable, too.

And this is also the first time that Fire Lord Ozai's given name is used, and the first episode not to feature Iroh and Zuko at all.

Moving on from there, we meet a couple of interesting people. First of all, the Cabbage Merchant. Poor fellow, life can't be easy when you're a running gag. Every time we see him, something happens to his cabbages. I have to wonder, though, how he went from having his cart full of them dumped over a cliff outside the city to having another cart full of them set up inside by the time Aang and friends went from the top of the city to the bottom. Maybe that's his esoteric power? Cabbagebending, the ability to summon carts full of cabbage out of nowhere?

The other person is, of course, Bumi, the King of Omashu. Even in Aang's flashback, the kid is squinty-eyed with a propensity to snort when he laughs. I wonder just how much inbreeding went on in the Omashu royal family prior to Bumi's birth? It's not beyond the realm of possibility that they might have engaged in a little selective incest to try to enhance their offspring's bending powers. Of course, Bumi can't really be too unhealthy given that he's apparently around 112 years old and still totally ripped from the neck down—and unlike Aang, he took the long way around.

Bumi is, of course, what TVTropes refers to as a "cloudcuckoolander" and a "bunny ears lawyer" (in fact, given Bumi's choice of headpieces, that could be taken literally)—acting half-senile and all crazy. But in fact it's largely an act. (It would have to be, or surely his citizens would have stopped putting up with him a long, long time ago.) He is, in fact, crazy like a fox, and puts Aang through a series of trials designed to teach him lateral thinking. (But still, I have to wonder why the man keeps a drumstick up his sleeve. In case he gets hungry later, I guess.)

I could see how Aang figured out how to pass the first test, with the stalagmite through the waterfall (though I can't help but imagine how all the cave preservationists watching would have winced at Aang's mistreatment of that cave) but how he passed the second wasn't entirely clear. It seems to just come out of nowhere that he stops trying to catch the little bunny critter and realizes, "Hey, wait, that huge thing chasing me is Flopsy." Presumably he was supposed to have noticed that it was following him because he was calling its name, but it isn't really shown very well.

In the third test, Aang thinks he's being clever and exploiting a loophole by choosing to fight the feeble-looking old king instead of one of the soldiers with weapons. But I have to wonder, though: if Bumi hadn't been a strong earthbender in disguise, would Aang really have beaten up on a frail old man? But on the other hand, given that the first two tests had been exercises in lateral thinking, perhaps Aang thought that he was supposed to pick an unlikely opponent in this test.

As with other episodes, this one has a lot of great comedic moments. Even Bumi's awful punning is pretty funny, but my favorite moments were when the mail cart bounced amid the soldiers at drill (complete with momentary freeze-frame), and "the newly-refurbished chamber that was once bad". The music gets into the act, too, with that great off-kilter-carousel musical sting that plays whenever Bumi acts particularly crazy. This show has some excellent writing.

One minor sour note is the way Aang disguises himself to get into town—something he never did before. Katara and Sokka were concerned that people might know he was the Avatar—but he hadn't been recognized on Kyoshi until he actually airbent, and the only other people he'd met were Zuko and Iroh. So why would anyone suspect him now? Mainly it was just to set up the "Bonzu Pippenpapilopsikopilis the Third" gag, which was admittedly pretty funny.

(It was a bit odd that Bumi's tests promoted lateral thinking, when Aang gets essentially the opposite advice from another earthbender later on—but then, Bumi's advice is meant in a more general sense after all.)

All in all, it was a great episode. It was good for Aang to know that not all of his old friends were gone, and great to see what earthbending can really do.

My grade: A-
Jordan Hamessley
5. Jordache
@Robotech_Master Haha. Cabbage bending. That's great.
Elizabeth Randall
6. Nathan Hart
I was going to mention how Aang has to learn the elements in the order of the cycle, but I see BFinnA beat me to that.

As for not recognizing Bumi, I assumed that Aang had just resigned to the fact that everyone he knew was dead, or tried not finding possible old friends as he traveled because that would quickly lead to giving up hope completely. Should he have recognized him as easily as we did? Probably, but I can suspend disbelief long enough to accept that he didn't.

Further more on Bumi teaching Earthbending to Aang, along with the learn the elements in order bit, later on Bumi helps direct Aang to Toph, so I think he knows that he can't be the one to train Aang.

I love Omashu - from the later episodes where we learn how it was founded (Cave of Two Lovers), to the ridiculous delivery system. It actually makes great sense if you think about it - Omashu is built on a mountain, thus in order to get goods up and down the mountain, to the different people throughout the city (I don't think Omashu use a caste system like other earthbending cities we see later on), it makes sense to only do half the travel work and make the chutes and gravity do the rest.

As to why the Fire Nation didn't ambush the Earth Kingom instead of the Air Temples is simple - they were out to kill the Avatar. That was sole purpose of taking out the Air Nomads first, they had the Avatar. I also don't think it is beyond reason that they then started conducting raids on (at least) the Southern Water tribe in hopes to imprison the Avatar from there. The firelord knew that the Avatar isn't supposed to start proper training until the age of 16, so he's basically buying himself 16 years of war without Avatar interference with each one he kills.

Finally, I don't see this episode as a throwaway at all. I think it really helps to animate how long Aang was gone. It is easy to say he has been gone for 100 years and all of his people have died, but that doesn't really give us a clear picture of age, but with Bumi we get that. We see him as a youth with Aang, then again as an ancient king. It also adds to the extensive world building, we've really only seen the Southern Water Tribe, an abandoned Southern Air Temple, and the Island of Kyoshi (techincally Earth Kingdom) but haven't seen any real cities yet or the diversity of the world in which we are traveling.

Just my opinion, keep up the good work guys. And by the way, the best throwaway joke from Bumi is clearly, "So you're from Kangaroo Island? I hear that place is really hopping."
Chris Meadows
7. Robotech_Master
Nathan @6: The best part of that joke was Sokka's delayed reaction. :)
Elizabeth Randall
8. jmvreality
The other thing I really enjoy is the feeling of permanence that we find in the earth cities.

The air temples, while old, are all in the process of being destroyed. The water tribe cities are made out of ice——constantly in (fairly slow) flux. But the earth kingdom cities are extremely stable——even under fire nation rule they don't change much.

And, the earth nation has two kings? Or more?
Elizabeth Randall
9. Nathan Hart
jmvreality@8 I always took it like the Earth Kingdom was separated into City-State or territory type concept with each one having a separate leader, or maybe more akin to the European-Union type setup where there is an understood bond, but still all parts are recognized as individuals.

Robotech_Master@7 Agreed.
Chris Meadows
10. Robotech_Master
jmvreality @8: Bumi is king of Omashu, while the Earth King rules the kingdom as a whole.

Kind of like how you can have a mayor of a big city like St. Louis, but suburbs of that city can have their own mayors as well.

And yes, stuff related to earth has permanence. That includes the people, as well as the cities. Bumi is in perfect health at 112. Avatar Kyoshi, the previous Earth-based Avatar, lived for over two hundred years. (Remember the village elder of Kyoshi Island said that she was born there four hundred years ago? That's 112 years for Aang, and 70 to 80 years for Roku's lifetime—and then the rest of the four hundred for Kyoshi's.) The earth abides.

Something else I like about the show is that the elements have their own personality traits. Airbenders are flighty, waterbenders are adaptable, earthbenders are brash, stubborn, and generally straightforward (with the possible exception of Bumi), and firebenders are hotheaded. You see those traits play out again and again over the course of the series, in a number of different people.
Cathy Mullican
11. nolly
This is the first time Aang's encountered a living old acquaintance, rather than finding everyone killed by the Fire Nation. That really has to drive home, on a gut level, just how much time has passed. You know, intellectually, how much time has passed since you babysat that little kid, but seeing their wedding photos is what make you feel old.
Andrew Watson
12. andwat
This is my favorite episode from the first season. It stars the city of Omashu, and provides a fine first long look at earthbending.

Then there are the comic details, such as cabbage man, Pippenpapilopsikopilis, Bumi himself, and "which room?"
Elizabeth Randall
13. amlynn
I wrote a long, thoughtful post only to lose it to an accidental keyboard combination. As I don't have the heart to spend another half hour on the same post, here's an abbreviated version.

John said, "I understand the need to disguise Aang, but would him wearing a wig and mustache really be convincing at all? Especially as an OLD man? He’s so small!"

Adults aren't the same size, even in the world of Avatar. The guard probably didn't expect children to sneak into the city. Aang had traveled the world during his airbending training, had spent a good amount of time around old men, and enjoys fooling people. So, I totally bought that he could portray an old man for a few minutes.

John said, "I’m not sure that it’s a great idea having the guard who will bend the gate open standing right down there where enemies could reach him. What would stop firebenders from threatening him to get him to open up the gate anyway?"

Why would a man let ruthless invaders into the city that probably contains all of his family and friends? Why would a man who cares so little about the security of his home be the gate guard? Anyway, I'm sure there were other earthbenders around the gate.

John said, "Then again, when we learn later on how it is they must have attacked the air temples, it does make you wonder why they couldn’t have done the same thing to circumvent the earth cities’ walls."

An attack would be visible miles away from an earth city and then would need to deal with hurtling boulders and shifting ground.

Others have commented on Aang's perception of the king and Bumi's reasons for staying in his city, so I'll leave those one alone.

I am starting to think you guys are messing with us, your readers.
Elizabeth Randall
14. amlynn
Oh, also. Weapons deliveries would likely go through the chute system like everything else. Children aren't supposed to be on the chutes, earthbenders have control of the packages movements near intersections, and delivery is quick; so what's the point of covering the blades? Anyway, the sudden appearance of a weapons package is funny.

Okay, I'll catch up on the following episode reviews later.

Thank you for presenting Avatar on this site. I'm an advocate of the show as well as an admirer of Tor. It's a good combination.

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