The second-to-last episode before ATLA‘s season finale starts out with a heaping bowlful of “OMGWTFAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.” Azula, captaining a fleet of flying Fire Nation ships, attacks the Western Air Temple. Zuko saves an unappreciative Katara’s life and then volunteers to hold Azula off so the rest of the gaang can escape through a tunnel that Haru and Toph created. Appa doesn’t want to go, because he hates being underground but also (I am convinced) because of his deep, abiding friendship with the Zukes. In the end, Aang, Katara, and Sokka fly away on Appa, while the hangers-on (who’ll get something to do eventually, right?) escape underground and Zuko and his martyr complex stay behind to fight Azula.
OH, AZULA. The first time we saw her, she was a calm, cool, perfectionist, never a hair out of place, never letting emotions overwhelm her control. Now, as she gleefully yells “I’m about to celebrate becoming an only child!” while sending blue fire at Zuko, she is losing her shit. But in a fun, murderous way.
Azula and Zuko, the latter armed with his new firebending knowledge, are pretty evenly matched, and the fight ends in a stalemate when they both fall off the flying ships and plummet towards the ground below. The gaang catches Zuko, and Azula uses a fire blast to stop her fall.
That might be it for her in this episode, but
That night, everyone’s chuckling at Zuko’s lame jokes around the campfire (“Hey remember that time I tried to kill you all? LOLOL”), except Katara, who as Sokka’s sister at least knows how to fake being amused by corny one-liners. But not if they’re coming from Zuko. She is still unimpressed with his general existence and entirely unwilling to trust him.
After confronting her, Zuko figures that the reason she still hates him is tied to how her mom died, so he goes to ask Sokka about it. Context-less screencap:
Sokka: “I can’t wait for some Suki sexytim–”
Zuko: “HEY HOW’D YOUR MOM DIE?”
And then a flashback: Katara and Sokka were wee cuties when their village was attacked by the Fire Nation. Hakoda and his troops were able to fight the invaders off, but not before Katara and Sokka’s mother, Kya (WE FINALLY GET TO SEE THEIR MOM, GUYS!), was murdered.
The sigil of the group that attacked the Southern Water Tribe identifies them as the Southern Raiders. In the interest of closure and stopping Katara from harshing his buzz all the damn time–and because Zuko went on a field trip with Sokka last episode, so it’s only fair–Zuko offers to go with Katara to hunt them down. Aang goes all zen, urging Katara to forgive the man who killed her mother. But Katara’s like
…NAH NO THANKS, revenge is kind of my speed right now and I’m going to stick with that. She heads off with Zuko to the Fire Nation communication tower, where they quickly discover the location of the Southern Raiders. Katara brings a WAVE OF RIGHTEOUS FURY UPON THEM, getting to the leader and taking a dark turn when she bloodbends him.
Turns out they have the wrong guy–the man who killed Katara’s mother retired four years ago and is now livinng the life of the henpecked with his domineering mother. It starts raining–like God saying “Here you go, Katara, you’ve got this”–and Katara and Zuko attack. Now, via flashback, we discover that the Southern Raiders’ leader, Yan Ra, was looking for the last waterbender, and Kya died to protect their identity. That waterbender was, of course, Katara. Katara does some fancy waterbending moves, turning rain into icicles, and Yan Ra offers to let Katara kill his mom if she’s still so bent out of shape about something that happened years ago, geez. “Wait,” Katatra realizes, “this guy’s just a weaselly little shit who is worth approximately none of my time.” While she’s unable to forgive him, she can’t make herself kill him, either.
The gaang reunites, Aang and Sokka pleased that Katara hasn’t turned into a stone-cold murderer. Juuuuust in time for the finale, Katara tells Zuko that she forgives him for his past *ahem* indiscretions and gives him a hug.
To cap off the episode, Zuko asks Aang about his cupcake babymonk hippie non-violence stance. “Yeah, it’s great!,” says Aang. “Violence is never the answer!” “OKOKOK,” responds Zuko. “Just out of curiosity then, what are you planning to do when you go up against my father?”