In Episdoe 2.03, “Return to Omashu,” the Aang Gang arrives at the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, hoping to enlist King Bumi as Aang’s earthbending master. Instead, they find the city occupied by the Fire Nation. What follows is a story of revolution and the benefits of doing nothing.
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Joel Simpson! Congratulations.
Now back to our regularly scheduled rewatch...
We open where we last left our heroes at the end of “The Cave of Two Lovers,” at the gates of the Fire Nation-occupied Omashu. Sokka immediately mentions Ba Sing Se, one of many reminders where this season is headed. All of Season Two seems to be leading us to an epic showdown at the last Earth Kingdom stronghold.
Aang declares his intentions to sneak into Omashu and rescue King Bumi. Sokka tries to give the Avatar a reality check, but he is immediately shot down. After everything Aang has been through, he still doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t change. In this case, the fact that Bumi may have been killed during the invasion.
The rest of Aang’s plot line in this episode is kind of silly. The Avatar lands in hot water with the Omashu resistance when he foils an assassination attempt on the acting governor’s family. The bearded leader of the Omashu resistance is quite the character. Hellbent on fighting the Fire Nation at any cost, he has organized a full-out rebellion, even without the aid of their King Bumi. Where was this resistance leader when Haru’s town was subjugated? Do you think he would have moped around on a prison ship? Heck no. The Earth Kingdom needs Facebook. Put these people in touch.
Aang’s advice to the Omashu resistance is one of non-violence. Flee the city, and fewer people will die. Suddenly, the rebels are refugees, and Aang is charged with finding a way to sneak the people of Omashu out of the city. His solution involves the cutest creature to ever come out of a sewer: the purple pentapus. The pentapus is a small five-tentacled octopus (although I only count four tentacles). The critters attach their suckers to people and leave chicken pox-looking red dots all over victims’ faces. The marks are harmless, but Fire Nation Soldiers don’t know that.
Once the refugees are sufficiently pentapussed, they make like a zombie army and shamble out of the city. The Fire soldiers, fearful of catching the dreaded Pentapox, let them go. But Momo brings along an extra refugee—the two-year-old son of the Fire Nation Governor, Tom Tom. Distraught over his son’s disappearance, the governor offers King Bumi in exchange for Tom Tom’s safe return. These scenes do a lot to humanize the rank and file of the Fire Nation, who often get cast as one-dimensional heavies.
Aang is more than happy to make the trade. The right thing to do is to return the innocent infant, and if he can get Bumi freed in the process, well, all the better. Quite foolishly, Aang says he has a good feeling. Quite foolishly because of “The Avatar Guarantee,” which states that if any character says he has a good feeling about something, then the very next shot will be of Azula doing something diabolical.
And sure enough, the Fire Princess is up to some new tricks. Her plan for tracking down Iroh and Zuko is reminiscent of Darth Vader’s strategy for capturing the Millennium Falcon. If the Imperial Fleet can’t do the job, then maybe a few agile bounty hunters can. The following sequence in which Azula recruits her team is an homage to classic films like The Dirty Dozen, where one personally invested warrior has to recruit a team for a big job. This trope is still common today—just look at Inception, or The Expendables.
In this case, Azula turns to her childhood friends Mai and Ty Lee, classmates of Azula’s from the Royal Fire Academy for Girls. As a graduate of a private preparatory school myself, the relationship between these three friends was immediately familiar to me. When you live, work, and compete with your best friends 24/7, you develop a profound sense of loyalty and an uncanny ability to stick it to each other. You know exactly what buttons to push (literally, in Ty Lee’s case), because there are no secrets between you. Azula knows how to manipulate Ty Lee into abandoning her beloved circus and joining her cause. Ty Lee knows that when Azula says she plans to hang around to watch Ty Lee’s performance, what she really means is she plans to hang around and ruin Ty Lee’s life. And of course, Ty Lee knows that Mai still harbors feelings for Zuko (and if there is any doubt how Mai feels, just look at that sweet smile to camera when Ty Lee mentions Zuko’s name).
Before you know it, the Anti-Aang Gang is duking it out with the Avatar and His Amazing Friends. All six characters (Mai, Ty Lee, Azula, Aang, Katara, and even Sokka) get moments to shine in this climactic fight, culminating with an impressive display of chinbending from Bumi. In the end, Tom Tom is safely returned, Bumi stays behind, and the status quo, at least for now, is restored.
The arrival of Mai and Ty Lee means that all the ingredients for the cocktail that is Season Two are in the mixer...except one. But that is still a few episodes away. In the meantime, Aang continues his quest to learn Earthbending, Zuko and Iroh are on the run, and Azula and her team are after all of them.
A few random thoughts about the episode:
- Mai has a very Yoshiaki Kawajiri feel to her—gothic anime, with tones of Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D. Just look at the way she runs across rooftops, spars with Katara, and throws more knives than anyone should be able to hold in one hand.
- I want to know what part of the pentapus you scratch to make them let go of your face.
- Is it just me, or does Ty Lee sport some serious Aeris cosplay throughout the series?
- I keep waiting for Mai’s dad to shout “Snake! Ocelot is going to reactivate Metal Gear!” (Paul Eiding, look him up)
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.
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Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for Tor.com, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.