Apr 28 2011 11:39am

Avatar Rewatch: “The Drill” (episode 213)

Avatar the Last Airbender rewatch of episode 213 The Drill

It is no wonder that this and the previous episode aired on the same night as a two-parter called “Secrets of the Fire Nation;” “The Drill” picks up precisely where “The Serpent’s Pass” left off, with Aang and Momo on top of the outer wall of Ba Sing Se, gazing in horror at the Fire Nation’s secret weapon, a giant drill tank. This episode lacks the character development and big revelations of the past few episodes, but instead we are treated to a giant action sequence the likes of which we have not seen since the Season One finale.

To complicate the threat of the drill, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee return. Since their arrival at the beginning of this season, a whole new dynamic has been added to the show. Mai and Ty Lee’s specificity is a real boon to the series. Their personalities are distinct. Some may wonder about Ty Lee’s motivation. Mai is comfortable rebelling against her queen bee, but Ty Lee’s loyalty runs deep. Why? She must have deep love for the abusive princess. But where does this come from if Azula is totally evil?

Last night after enjoying “The Drill” I watched the atrociously hilarious movie Zapped, starring Scott Baio and William Ames, who went on to comedy duo fame in the hit sitcom Charles in Charge. Watching these two characters, who have absolutely no reason to be friends—they are polar opposites—I started to wonder what draws two people together. In many cases, I think it has to do with early childhood. People feel a close connection to the people they knew when they were young. If the heroes of Zapped were friends starting in kindergarten, it makes sense that they might still be friends in 12th grade, even if one became a popular playboy and the other a psionic botanist. One would think the situation with Ty Lee and Azula would be similar. From Ty Lee’s perspective, Azula is the same partner-in-crime she was when they were children, tormenting Zuzu and throwing stones at Turtle-ducks. Azula seems to have always been a terror, but in flashbacks, Ty Lee is never seen to incur the Fire Princess’s wrath.

The adults in this episode have misguided expectations. General Sung of the Earthbenders doesn’t think he needs the Avatar’s help. War Minister Qin (who made his first appearance in the Season One episode “The Northern Air Temple” thinks his drill is indestructible, much like Admiral Motti in the first Star Wars film. “Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture…” Qin’s confidence in the drill sounds similar. Both commanders end up with slurry all over their faces. As does Azula. As does Ty Lee. As does Aang. It is funny that the slurry acts as the great equalizer. They all end up with “Egg” on their faces.

Little set ups build to important things in this show. In “The Serpent’s Pass” Suki says the Fire Nation is working on something big. At the end of the episode and into the next you see it—the drill. Ty Lee returns, takes out all the earthbenders, and then when Katara is healing the earthbenders later they interview one of the victims and realize Ty Lee is back. Then later, Ty Lee’s fighting style is what Aang and Katara do to the drill to bring the weapon down. You use the drill against itself by hammering on weak points.

In the train station: Having left the ferry, Jett feels like he has bonded with Zuko, but then sees his and Iroh’s status as firebenders as a total betrayal. Although some terrible stuff has happened to Jett, he is kind of racist. It shouldn’t matter that Zuko and Iroh are firebenders. Obviously they are on the run, obviously they are not contributing to the war effort (unless they are spies or something, which they obviously are not). Instead of judging Zuko and Iroh on merit, Jett pits himself against them simply because they can bend fire. It is a sad situation, but also realistic. We know how Japanese-Americans were treated during and after World War II. I’m sure you can think of many other, depressing examples.

In my post for “The Serpent’s Pass” I observed that Iroh is back to his old goofy self. And here is why. The Dragon of the West has returned to Ba Sing Se where he lost the battle and his son perished. He is retired, done with all the drama his brother has wrought. He is done with adventuring. He wants to settle down, enjoy his tea, and have a happy life. He is done. And Zuko, you should be done, too.

There is a scene where Zuko is talking to Jett, and says, “I used to think I needed to be by myself, but now I think it’s good to count on other people.” Let’s hope he runs to Iroh when he feels this way, and not someone else.

The climactic battle between Aang and Azula is AWESOME. Azula’s strength and tenacity make her a fascinating character. Aang’s fighting prowess is on full display, using Air, Water, and Earth to fight Azula, at one point channeling Ben Grimm to ward off blue lightning attacks.

The tension of the drill’s assault, and this grand duel between our hero and villain make “The Drill” one of the best directed episodes in the series. It should also be noted that the power house creative executives behind the series spearheaded this episode: directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Whether they chose to tackle this episode together because of its importance to the series, or simply because it totally rocks, I suppose will never be revealed.

It is nice to see the gang win one for a change. The last three episodes have had awful downer endings. Finally, our heroes have some success. They stop the drill, save the city, and continue on their journey.

Some random thoughts:

- Longshot is a hilarious character. He silently gives Smellerbee advice. He is like Chewbacca or R2D2. They make totally indecipherable beeps or growls, and everyone understands them. Totally preposterous.

- According to the AvatarWiki, the drill made its first appearance in “The Northern Air Temple,” in the blueprints featured in the image below. Personally I don’t see it.

- If you have noticed I have been making a lot of references to Star Wars lately, get used to it. These last episodes of Season Two owe a lot to the original trilogy, particularly The Empire Strikes Back.

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: “City of Walls and Secrets”!

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, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is out right this second in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He studied Film Production at New York University. Follow him on Twitter.

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Chris Meadows
1. Robotech_Master
A bit of interesting, obscure trivia: Reportedly, J.J. Abrams did some uncredited script work on this episode.

In a lot of online fan discussion, this episode was derided as "boring"--to the point where (as it turns out later) the Avatar creators themselves took notice.
Zayne Forehand
2. ShiningArmor
I find zero things "boring" about this episode. It's in my top 3 of the entire series. There are so many great quotable lines:

Sokka: It's so dark, I can't see a thing!
Toph: Oh no...what a nightmare...
Sokka: ...sorry.

Katara: I'm getting real tired of you bossing me around.
*slurry bended to the face*

Iroh: I know you're not supposed to cry over spilled tea, but *sniffle* it's just so sad...

The fight between Azula and Aang was expertly choreographed and every time the Theme Song starts as Aang turns and begins running back down the wall, I get chills. This to me was some of Avatar at its best. Great character moments, amazing fights, and smart writing.

One thing I didn't necessarily like was Jet going crazy when he saw Iroh firebend. I never really thought about it from a racism perspective and I think that makes me accept it more.
Jennifer B
3. JennB
@ 1
The creators took notice... In what way? What did they do?
David Goldfarb
4. David_Goldfarb
It seemed to me that our heroes missed some obvious tactics: bend earth (either themselves, or with the help of the benders on the wall) to raise two giant pillars under the drill, one right at the front and one right behind. There's no way something that long and hollow could support its own weight; it would snap (or at least bend) in the middle.
5. Shard
Probably reference to the Island players episode.

I loved these episodes and show, nice write up too.
6. Madeline
I don't think it's accurate to call Jet's hatred of Firebenders racism. Bending is something that you choose to attend to; I suppose it's arguably possible that Iroh was just an old guy who happened to figure out one thing on his own, but it's not the first thing that leaps to mind. For as long as Iroh was alive, the Fire Nation has been actively engaged in a war of genocide. We never hear of a firebending opposition; just some people who are presently sitting things out.

So: anyone who can bend fire, at the very least, learned from and worked with people who are actively murdering.

It's not a race thing. It's a choice thing.

Also, why wouldn't it be blatantly clear that firebenders going to Ba Sing Se disguised as refugees were agents bent on sabotage? The Fire Nation is attacking right then! There's no reason a firebender would ever need to take refuge from his life of luxury in the Fire Nation!

But anyway, aside from the obvious politics, I think it makes sense to check Jet's personal situation right now. He was a guy doing good work with good people, gaining honor in his head by serving. Now he's a schmuck with just a couple of folks around, floating aimlessly in the dregs. He does something cool and helpful on the ferry, and then he gets shot down by this other guy who he was willing to extend cred to... This guy claims he's cooler than Jet? Kick in the nads, man. And this guy turns out to knowingly hang with a freaking baby-murdering Firebender? Aw hell naw.
Chris Meadows
7. Robotech_Master
And on top of all that, Firebenders killed his parents. He's entitled to be a little psycho about them from that.
Joseph Blaidd
8. SteelBlaidd
Tis is one of those episodes that one looks at a goes.
"How did they get away with that?"
9. CaitieCat
Yay! Rewatch is back!

Two excellent posts, Matt, so glad to have you back with us.

I'm with you, these are among the best episodes of the entire series, not just from an analytical p-o-v, but also from a sheer "Damn, this is so freakin' AWESOME!" place.

Your thoughts about the friendships Azula has are really interesting, too, especially when considered in the light of the episodes around the Boiling Rock prison in S3, as Ty Lee discovers her allegiance to Mai is stronger than her allegiance to Azula, after Mai finds that her love for "that jerk" Zuko is stronger than her love of Azula.

Looking forward to the next! Yay rewatch!
James Felling
10. Maltheos
@Madeline in re 6, we have indeed seen 'rogue' or oposition fire benders in the series. Jeong Jeong certianly fits the template for example.( ep 16 , season 1). Mind you the firebending opostion tends to be quiet and subtle, and not direct action folks, so it may well be that jet has never seen such.
11. Madeline
I considered Jeong Jeong, but I don't remember him actually doing anything, aside from teaching the Avatar a bit, which certainly wasn't part of whatever plan he had. Wasn't he wanted just for being AWOL, sitting the war out?
Jennifer B
12. JennB
Jet tried to drown an entire town full of Fire Nation settlers. None of them were benders. Remember the doll on the muddy river bank?

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