Avatar: The Last Airbender – Avatar Day

“Avatar Day” is one of the few episodes that offer
character development for the characters in the B storyline, not the primary
storyline.  In this case, we continue to
watch Zuko wrestle with his future in a few brief moments, while the majority
of “Avatar Day” is delegated to a story of Aang encountering the ramifications of
one of his past lives.  In the same
manner that “Return to Omashu” truly set the stage for our heroes’ quest in
Season Two, “Avatar Day” subtly informs us that the events that occur in one’s past
lives, at least for the Avatar, can continue to have major complications into
the present.  

The story opens with an attack on Team Avatar as
they camp in a nameless glade.  It’s the
very first appearance of the Rough Rhinos, who will have the opportunity to
reappear later on in the story of Aang the Avatar, a special unit of the Fire
Nation’s military.  It’s a nearly
successful surprise attack, forcing the group to flee leaving nearly everything
behind.   Without provisions, they head
to a nearby Earth Kingdom village which they discover is in the midst of
celebrating a holiday called Avatar Day.
Towering effigies of Avatar Kyoshi, Roku and even Aang, are paraded to
the center of the town’s square, where to Aang’s horror, they are immediately
set on fire to the cheers of onlookers.  

The antipathy toward Aang and the other avatars is a
surprising twist, given that Aang has been treated with warmth, if not devout
praise, everywhere he has been, when acknowledged as the Avatar (Fire Nation
excluded!).  It’s our first glimpse of
the prospect that the person and the idea of the Avatar is not always welcome,
even in lands that would appear to direly need the Avatar’s help.  Aang reveals himself and soon we learn the
reason why the village condemns the Avatar.

Many years ago, in the time of Avatar Kyoshi (whom
we first met in “The Kyoshi Warriors”), allegedly murdered the great leader of
the city in cold blood, and in a single death, sent the vcity spiraling into
the dustbins of history.  Aghast that
anyone could believe that a previous incarnation of himself would murder, Aang
agrees to stand trial to prove that Kyoshi did not kill anyone.  He is quickly arrested and the task of
finding proof falls to Sokka and Katara.

Elsewhere, we are greeted with an opulently dressed
Earth Kingdom citizen riding in an enclosed carriage and gazing lovingly at a
large amount of gold coin.  Unbeknownst
to him, Zuko as the Blue Spirit hunts him.
In a scene that would fit in with almost every portrayal of Robin Hood,
the Blue Spirit deftly attacks and liberates the small fortune from the
victim.  The one difference in this
situation is that the theft is meant to enrich himself and Uncle Iroh for the
purpose of bringing comfort to their current vagabond existence.  We soon learn that Zuko, who keeps his alter
ego the Blue Spirit secret from Iroh, has been taking a number of things (such as produce, aghast!) and at
least buying things from the ill gotten money such as a fancy tea pot.  

The theft is an extension of the same place that
Zuko found himself in previously in “Return to Omashu,” in which he finds the
freedom to assume the role of Fire Nation royalty, i.e., take what he needs
from whomever, behind the Blue Spirit mask.
Since we previously discussed this aspect of Zuko’s transition from
villain to anti-hero in “Return to Omashu,” we will only note its presence and
continuation.  Iroh, however, is not a
fool and recognizes what his nephew is doing and tries to explain to Zuko that,
“There is a simple honor in poverty.”
Iroh knows the importance of honor in Zuko’s life, it drove him for
years to hunt for the avatar, and his sagely advice is an attempt to provide
Zuko with a new grounding for honor in his new circumstances.  

Zuko’s response is a parroting of the Fire Nation
prince from Season One, his honor can only be restored by capturing the
Avatar.  Yet, the difference is that he
is no longer that Fire Nation prince, a fact that Zuko points out.  The capture of the Avatar is not necessarily
the solution to Zuko’s quest to regain his honor and identity that it once
was.  Zuko, however, cannot look beyond
it and simply states, “Then there is no hope,” and leaves.  What that ‘hope’ is, is left unsaid and
unidentified.  Was it Zuko’s hope to
still return home and be the Fire Nation prince?  It’s the most likely guess and if so, its
survival within Zuko’s heart will be a critical factor farther down the road.

Back in the Earth Kingdom village, Katara and Sokka
realize they must return to Kyoshi island to gather more evidence to prove that
Avatar Kyoshi did not kill the village’s historic leader.  Once there, they learn that the founding of
Kyoshi island happened on the same day as the alleged murder, but at a
different time.  Likewise, that a
footprint reported to have belonged to the earth bender set in stone was much
too small to be the tall avatar’s own.
In the theme of planting future storylines, we also learn to Sokka’s
disappointment that Suki and the rest of the Kyoshi warriors had left to join
the war against the Fire Nation.  Taking
the original clothes of Avatar Kyoshi with them, the siblings rush back to the
Earth Kingdom village to prove that Aang’s predecessor was not a killer.

In front of an amphitheater full of the town’s
citizens, the trial begins.  In a bid to
summon the spirit of Kyoshi, Aang is dressed in her clothes, dramatically too
small within them.  After Aang fails
completely to present the evidence, Kyoshi’s spirit does appear and relates the
story of what happened so long ago.  The
ruler of the city had actually been a conquering dictator who threatened to
take over the entirety of the Earth Kingdom.
When he assaulted Kyoshi’s village, situated on a peninsula, the avatar
drew upon her spiritual strength and separated the peninsula from the mainland
to create Kyoshi Island.  

In the course of this incredible bending, the leader
fell to his death off a cliff.  To a
degree, Kyoshi did kill the tyrant.  Her
spirit promptly then vanished, leaving a slightly bewildered Aang who learns to
his disappointment that his past life was a murderer, of sorts.  Found guilty by the current town leader, Aang
is sentenced to death by a hot oil bath.
Before the sentence can be carried out, the Rough Rhinos attack.  The village leader quickly changes Aang’s
punishment from death to community service, and Aang, along with his teammates,
defeat the Rhinos.  In the wake of the
victory, the town alters the intent behind Avatar Day to celebrate its
salvation, not its leader’s death.

The conclusion of the Zuko and Iroh storyline is
less joyous.  Zuko, after dismissing the
chance of hope, had walked away to think over his life.  Upon returning, he informs Iroh that there is
nothing more to be gained by traveling alone.
He must find his own path.  Under
Iroh’s sadden gaze, he rides away on the ostrich horse.  It’s hard to ascribe what exactly Zuko is
undergoing, but given his internal reluctance to give up the identity of Fire
Nation prince, made visible by both his reliance on acting out as the Blue
Spirit and attempting to recreate the more comfortable lifestyle of Fire Nation
royalty, perhaps Uncle Iroh reminded him too much of what he had lost.  For Zuko’s sake, he has recognized that he
must separate himself completely from his past if he’s to understand his
future. This moment sets us up for the excellent episode, “Zuko Alone,” just a few episodes away in our future. 

Aang, unknowingly, has also had a glimpse into his
own future.  As the season progresses, he
will learn the role his past life, Avatar Roku, played in allowing the 100 Year
War to happen.  It’s one thing to have
the death of one person laid at his feet for the actions of a past incarnation,
but it’s another when it’s a century’s worth of death.  

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