We start “The Western Air Temple” with everyone walking around all sad and grumpy, because they don’t know that Zuko is chasing after them in the name of GREAT FRIENDSHIP, and everything I’ve ever wanted for this show is happening, and everything will be perfect forever and ever amen.
They get to the Western Air Temple, which is this funky upside-down construction attached to the bottom of a cliff. OK, that is baller. Good job, Avatar. Zuko, following them, slides down to the Air Temple on a rope all stealthy-like. Excerpt from my notes: “awww, he can be good at things.”
In a flashback, we learn that the Western Air Temple was one of the first places Zuko and Iroh looked for the Avatar after Zuko’s banishment. I don’t remember if we were told before the last episode that Zuko was only 13 when the duel with his father happened–we knew he was young, but maybe not that young–but if that little factoid was mentioned earlier, I had forgotten it. So seeing Zuko be all like ARRRRGH GRAAARRRRRGH WE HAVE TO FIND THE AVATAR AT ALL COSTS when you know he’s a 13-year-old who was beaten by his dad and exiled from him home like a week ago… that’s painful. Knowing what I know now, imagining the emotional pain that he must be hiding under all that bravado…
…HAPPIER TIMES, GOD DAMMIT. Also, I do not miss that hairdo.
While the Duke, Haru, and Teo go off exploring, Katara tries to get Aang interested in a strategy meeting, but he’s in a weird mood–just gliding around and acting all happy-go-lucky and wanting to have a fun time like the kid he actually is. Given Aang’s massive guilt complex every time he screws something up, I’d say there’s some serious psychological torment going on underneath the surface, Zuko-style.
Plan-Man Sokka says that, now that the eclipse plan went bust, they’ll just have to do what they were going to do before they knew the eclipse was a thing. Namely, Aang’s going to have to master all four elements and challenge Ozai before Sozin’s comet, aka Viagra for firebenders, rolls around.
OH MY GAHHHHHHHHDDDDDDDD, ZUKO’S GOING TO TEACH HIM FIREBENDING, OH MY GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHDDDDDDDDDD.
Meanwhile, Zuko’s camped a ways off trying to psych himself up to approach the gaang and offer his help by imitating Iroh and Azula and talking to himself. This asshole has been a gigantic dork the whole time. This scene is more than I ever could have wished for. My headcanon for modern-day high school AU Zuko is the son of the town’s richest guy who tries to come across all badass and aloof, yet he keeps a hidden Star Trek shrine in his closet and can’t watch the scene at the end of The Wrath of Khan where Spock dies (dial it the fuck back Rebecca, TOO SOON, OH MY GOD LEONARD NIMOY) because he will break. The fuck. Down.
Back in the Western Air Temple, Aang just does not want to get down to business and defeat the huns, and enabling his temporary laziness is the fact that they know all of zero people who could teach him firebending. Or do they?
Zuko drops by and tries to play it all casual (“Hello, Zuko here!” I LOVE YOU, YOU DORK!), but Katara’s immediately like RAAAAAAAAAAGE. She’s completely unwilling to trust him, because he got all woobie with her before, and that ended with him siding with Azula and trying to kill Aang, so. She’s right to be cautious. Sokka’s similarly skeptical, in large part because Zuko’s sales pitch absolutely sucks, in a “hey did I mention I’m the one who sicced the assassin who shoots lasers out of his forehead after you?” sort of way. Zuko, you fucked up. YOU FUCKED UP. Aang says there’s no way we can trust you after everything you’ve done and you’ll never be able to join our group. Basically:
Zuko looks like he’s about to cry, and the gaang tries to force him to leave by attacking him, kind of like how Suki had to get Appa to fly away in “Appa’s Lost Days” by waving fire in front of him. Because that’s all I needed: a callback to the damn animal abuse episode. Speaking of Appa, he’s the only one who likes Zuko, as Zuko and Iroh set him free from Lake Laogai.
Toph, not having been present for a lot of Zuko’s bullshit, is on the fence. She’s practical about it–he wasn’t lying about having set Appa free, first off, and Aang does need a firebending teacher. Plus, considering the fucked-up family he came from, he could have turned out a lot worse. And hey, Toph knows from screwed up childhoods. Katara shoots back that what does Toph want them to do, give him an award for being
…I had no clue that was originally from ATLA.
Tl;ldr–Toph knows from her magical earthbending lie detector skills that Zuko’s sincere about wanting to help them (YEAH TOPH!), so maybe everybody else should stop letting their personal history cloud their judgement and give the boy a chance. Unable to convince the others, she goes off to Zuko’s camp to talk with him herself, but he freaks out about there being an intruder and accidentally burns her feet. My sweet child CANNOT DO ANYTHING ELSE BUT FUCK UP. Him teaching Aang firebending is going to be wonderful.
Toph’s feet being burned means she can’t see at all, so it takes her until morning to crawl back to camp at the Western Air Temple. Still, she’s sympathetic towards Zuko, explaining that “OK, this looks bad, BUT IT’S NOT AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS.” She surprised him, and he’s gotta be paranoid about being chased by Fire Nation soldiers. Determined that they can’t let Zuko just hang around fucking shit up, Sokka hatches a plan to lure him back to the Western Air Temple and take him prisoner.
It’s a plan that’s put on hold when Sparky Sparky Boom Man shows up, Zuku hot on his heels. Within full view and earshot of the gaang, the Zucumber tries to call off the hit, but Sparky’s having none of it, and he laserblasts Zuko off the side of a cliff. So it’s Sparky vs the gaang, with Sokka getting the KO when he boomerangs Sparky in the forehead, disorienting him enough that he blows himself up.
RIP Sparky Sparky Boom Man. I’ll be sorry to see him go, but EXPLODING HIMSELF WITH HIS FOREHEAD LASER is literally the best death he could have possibly had, so I’m also OK with it.
Zuko manages to climb back up to the Temple, where he tells Aang that he knows he didn’t explain himself very well (“BECAUSE I AM A DIPSHIT WHO IS BAD AT PUBLIC SPEAKING,” which, to be fair, Sokka too sometimes), but he thinks it’s his destiny to teach Aang firebending. He’s been through a lot of shit in the last few years, but now he knows each person has to earn their own honor, and he’s going to do that by helping to restore balance and end the war.
Aang, after checking with his buds, agrees that Zuko can be his teacher. Friendship ain’t happening quite yet, but Zuko’s face says very clearly, “I’LL GET ‘EM.” Sokka tries to be welcoming, but Katara not so much, telling Zuko that if he steps so much as a toe out of line, she will fuck him up. I was thinking “woah, damn, this is intense, Katara” until about halfway through, at which point I realized SHE IS GIVING HIM THE FATHER WITH A SHOTGUN SPEECH, and then everything just got funny.