In this episode...
The Aang Gang is in need of money, so Sokka volunteers to work for a fisherman on his next fishing trip, even though a storm seems imminent. Aang is recognized by the fisherman as the Avatar “who turned his back on the world.” Aang runs away in guilt, but Katara tracks him down in a cave. Aang tells Katara that the monks at the Southern Air Temple wanted to send him away to the Eastern Air Temple to separate him from Monk Gyatso. This led to Aang running away from home and (eventually) sealing himself in the iceberg. Meanwhile on Zuko’s ship, Zuko’s crew question his leadership. Iroh tells them the story of how the prince was scarred in a duel, and then banished from the Fire Nation, by his own father.
What a great episode! This one’s just full of great backstory and characterization, all the while foreshadowing things to come.
Here we get one of the many Star Wars parallels: a young man is forced to battle his own father...and leaves the duel defeated and scarred. (Admittedly, Vader scarred Luke a bit more, even if it was easily remedied by a mechanical replacement.) This sets up the foundation of Zuko’s arc and really makes him start to stand out that he really is going to be much more than your typical cartoon antagonist. Of course, there more of that to come very soon...
Oh, and during the duel, in the crowd—LOOK WHO’S THERE STANDING NEXT TO IROH! A character we don’t meet until much later in the series, but who makes an early visual-only appearance. That’s pretty clever—something people are only likely to notice on a rewatch; I certainly didn’t recognize the character from when he/she appears later in the series. Further proof that the writers really did know exactly where the show was going right from the start.
As usual, there’s a lot going on in this episode. In addition to all that Zuko goodness, at last we get to see how Aang actually came to be trapped inside that iceberg. That it was all his own doing! How awesome is that, that the writers laid that burden on Aang’s shoulders on top of everything else?
But can anyone explain to me how exactly that happened? Making that iceberg seems more like a waterbending trick than anything else. Even if airbending can turn air icy, that doesn’t seem relevant here since he’s entirely surrounded by water. Since the tattoos flare up when he does it, does that mean he’s drawing on the powers of the Avatars of the past, and thus borrowing some waterbending from one of the others? When Appa plunges into the water at the end of the episode, Aang does what looks like the same thing again, but this time he doesn’t end up in an iceberg. It seems like maybe the first time, he was so freaked out he didn’t really know what he was doing, and so maybe he kind of triggered some Avatar State self-defense mechanism, whereas in this episode he has accepted his role as Avatar and has greater control over his powers (and emotions).
I thought it was interesting how Katara says that it was fate that Aang got trapped in the iceberg for 100 years. To me, that spawned a slew of possibilities of how else things might have turned out—i.e., with Aang’s (The Avatar’s) help, might the airbenders have been able to fend off the Fire Nation attacks? But the funny thing is that by hiding in the iceberg, Aang has probably only made his job more difficult. If he had stayed to do his duty 100 years earlier, he would have had the support of all the Air Nomads, plus the armies of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes would be in a pre-decimated state. Now, with 100 years of Fire Nation tyranny, his job is even more difficult. This reinforces one of the strong themes of the series: You can’t escape your problems by running away.
FLASHBACKS! This episode felt like an episode of LOST, only the flashbacks on this show actually gave us some answers.
Up until this episode, my two biggest questions about the show were: How did Aang end up in that storm? And, how did Zuko get his scar? In one episode, we were given both answers.
Some thoughts on Aang. Earlier in the rewatches, there were several complaints about Aang acting too much like a child. After watching this episode and seeing how his childhood was completely taken away from him, I understand Aang’s actions in the earlier episodes better. Yes, Aang was running away from his responsibility, but when he woke up, he thought he had escaped to a world where he could actually live out his childhood. The moment at the Air Temple where Aang’s friend don’t allow him to play their game was heartbreaking. So I’m willing to give the Aang of the first few episodes some slack. Let the kid play some games.
John already mentioned how the insertion of a certain awesome character from later in the series shows that the writers knew what they were doing, but there was another moment that I stuck out to me on the rewatch as well. During the storm, on Zuko’s ship, there is a huge lightning bolt that hits the ship. Watch what Iroh does with his body... You will go “WHOA” just like Matt and I did.
This is an example of why this show is so well-done. The writers knew what they were doing to the point that someone rewatching the show can have an entirely new interpretation of a moment. QUALITY WRITING.
Remember my Agni Kai count that I was keeping? I say that this episode take us up to 2.5. We have the Agni Kai with his father in the flashback and the attempted battle on the ship at the start of the episode. Interesting to see how Young Zuko was a peace-loving kid and the Zuko who we encounter in the series is ready to fight at a moments notice. His character arc over the course of the series is really amazing to rewatch.
One final thought. The whole episode I was waiting for Appa to shake out his wet fur. I’m glad that we got that in the final shot. Oh, Appa. How we love you.
In “The Storm,” Avatar’s quintessential flashback episode, we receive the backstory of both our principal protagonist and principal antagonist. Burning questions (no pun intended) are answered, as Jordan pointed out, and we get two hints for where the story is headed. One of these hints is a woman in the crowd, the other is a lightning bolt on a ship.
Since my collaborators have already gone through the checklist of all the stuff that makes this episode awesome, I thought I’d take a different approach.
The episode opens in a dream sequence that sets up Aang’s confusion and guilt. Aang rides happily on Appa, holding the bison’s reins, while Sokka cruises alongside him riding Aang’s glider, and Katara pilots a giant flying Momo. A storm comes. Aang’s friends vanish. His beloved master appears, throws some guilt in Aang’s face, and then disintegrates. Kind of scary, and slightly reminiscent of Donny’s funeral from The Big Lebowski. Yuck. But the good news is the the next scene gives us the funniest line in the whole episode, and one of the better Sokka-isms.
Sokka: Guys, wait, this was in my dream. We shouldn’t go to the market.
Katara: What happened in your dream?
Sokka: Food eats people! Also, Momo could talk. (To Momo.) You said some very unkind things.
Once again, the plot revolves around finding food. Often what forces the Aang Gang to pause their journey and hop off Appa is a need for food, or shelter, or money, or medicine. And of course, the need for basic amenities gets the gang into trouble on every occasion. There is a consideration of basic needs here that I think is lacking from a lot of other shows. Consider 24, where no one ever needs to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.
The main focus of “The Storm” is the flashbacks, but the frame stories (both Aang’s and Zuko’s) have a lot of parallels. In both, the main character has a birthright and is in a position of authority. Aang did not choose to be the Avatar, and Zuko did not choose to be the Fire Prince. The Avatar has a lot of responsibility to the people of the world as a warrior, defender, and peacemaker. Zuko, although banished, is still captain of his ship and meager crew. Both have their authority questioned in this episode. The fisherman wants to know why Aang abandoned the world, and Lieutenant Jee wants to know why Zuko is so petulant all the time. The answers to both questions, told through flashbacks, may surprise you. Aang punished the world because he did the wrong thing. He ran away. Zuko was punished because he did the right thing. He tried to protect innocent people.
It is no coincidence that Mark Hamill was chosen to voice the Fire Lord. His iconic performance as The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, along with other villainous voices in dubs of classic Miyazaki films including Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky make him an ideal candidate for Avatar’s Big Bad. The many Star Wars parallels are just icing on the cake.
In the end, Iroh restores the crew’s faith in Zuko, and Katara absolves Aang of his bad decision. She says some mumbo jumbo about destiny and fate, but I like to think the lesson is in the much more tangible rescue at sea. Aang ran away, but now he is back, and he is doing good with the time he has.
It seems almost inevitable. This whole episode is set up. Aang and Zuko are on a collision course.
Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes may 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: The Blue Spirit!
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.