“Avatar Day,” perhaps more than any other episode in the series, is about playing with our expectations. Right from the start, the impossible happens: Sokka loses his beloved boomerang. As the would-be warrior points out, this is like Aang being separated from his arrow, or Katara being separated from her hair-loopies.
From past episodes, and the show’s attention to the continuity of objects, we know that the boomerang could very well be gone for good. Will Sokka ever retrieve his favorite weapon?
“Avatar Day” is the Sherlock Holmes episode. Can’t you tell? Sokka wears a silly hat with pipe, magnifying glass, and a crime-solving sidekick. Although perhaps the episode more resembles Inspector Gadget, with the sidekick Penny/Katara doing all the real detective work.
After the Aang Gang loses much of their gear to a group of Fire Nation marauders, the kids resupply in the small Earth Kingdom settlement of Chin Village, on the shore near Kyoshi Island. Here there is a town-wide celebration in progress known as Avatar Day. The thought of a holiday in his honor brings a smile to Aang’s face. Giant effigies of the three most recent Avatars (Aang, Roku, Kyoshi) are rolled into the center of town. We think it’s a big celebration to honor the Avatar.
But then our expectations are twisted, as the torch runner hurls the flames into the statue and they catch on fire. It’s more like We Don’t Like The Avatar Day. The town hates the Avatar because Avatar Kyoshi supposedly killed their leader Chin the Great 300 years ago. Aang volunteers to stand trial for this crime. Sokka and Katara decide to investigate the death of Chin the Great in the hopes of proving Aang’s (or is that Kyoshi’s?) innocence.
After some preliminary investigation, Sokka and Katara head to Kyoshi Island. We expect a reunion with Suki (perhaps awkward now due to Sokka shacking up with the moon). But the reunion is not to be. Suki has gone away. Sokka finally returns to the island, and his girl isn’t even there!
Sokka and Katara discover evidence that may prove the Avatar’s innocence, but Aang has to argue the case himself. We expect Aang to talk his way out of his legal predicament, but he totally botches it. Another twist on our expectations.
And then there’s a play on an old trope. Think about Joan of Arc and Mulan and Eowyn and other famous female warriors who dress up as men to fight. The Kyoshi Warriors twist this expectation by celebrating their femininity with classical accoutrements—fans, dresses, make-up. Aang channels Avatar Kyoshi to prove her innocence, but our expectations are flipped once again when Kyoshi admits her guilt! Apparently, Chin wasn’t so great, and his death was the result of a little continental remodeling.
To further the twist, in this episode, Aang has to dress up like a woman to get out of a jam. But unlike the old male-to-female cross dressing trope, where the man in drag talks or seduces his way out of trouble, Aang wears eye shadow and lipstick while using fans to fight, kicking some Fire Nation butt in the process!
In the end, the people of Chin Village fall in love with Aang (of course) and Sokka retrieves his trusty boomerang (hooray)!
Meanwhile, in another plot line, there’s a little bit of Robin Hood going on. The Blue Spirit steals from the rich and gives to the Zuko. Displeased with his nephew’s actions, Iroh implores Zuko to find inner peace. Instead, Zuko decides to go off on his own, setting the stage for episode 2.07 and the climax of Book Two as well.
Assorted Cool Stuff:
When Sokka and Katara return to Kyoshi Island, check out the flora. Look how green and pink the island is. No snow and frozen rivers here. More examples of the incredible attention given to the changing seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
In the same sequence, there is a shot of the Avatar Kyoshi statue on the eponymous island from the same low angle as the effigy of Kyoshi earlier in the episode, reminding the audience of the variety of ways people in this world feel about the Avatar. Fans may remember this statue from the Season One episode “The Warriors of Kyoshi.”
I love how diverse the geography of the Earth Kingdom is. It’s not just The Desert Continent the way that some speculative fiction like Star Wars or that other Avatar have The Jungle Planet. Yay for multiple ecosystems.
What the heck is with that guy who foams at the mouth whenever he thinks the Avatar is around? It looks like he’s having a very disturbing seizure. The camera holds on him for way too long, and I’ve never found epilepsy to be comical. This weird character (who appeared previously in “The Warriors of Kyoshi”) may be the most sour note in the entire series. [Disclaimer: I know that this is in a list of assorted cool stuff but as you can tell from my heavy language it is not something I consider cool.]
The absurd Mayor Tong of Chin Village is voiced by super awesome actor James Hong, best known for his roles in Big Trouble in Little China and Blade Runner. His other voiceover work includes roles in Kung Fu Panda and Mulan.
Avatar Kyoshi is voiced by super awesome voice actress Jennifer Hale, whose gameography reads like a what’s what of epic science fiction video games, including Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Academy, Metroid Prime, Mass Effect, and Metal Gear Solid.
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 Blind Bandit”!
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.