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 Tor.com, 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.