“The Day Of Black Sun, Part I: The Invasion”/“The Day Of Black Sun, Part II: The Eclipse” (season 3, episodes 10 and 11; originally aired 11/30/2007)
Feeling that one should be ready is not the same thing as being ready. There are many moments in life when the time is ripe for action, but one’s preparation is lacking. Heroic narratives tell people in this situation to take advantage of the opportunity and hope for the best, but the truth is that one’s best moments rarely come together without ample preparation time. An Iron Chef contender, for instance, may be working against the clock with a mystery ingredient, but the chefs who produce amazing food under those conditions have the kind of training and practice where they know how to manage a clock and how to enhance, complement, or neutralize any sort of weird ingredient thrown at them. They aren’t line cooks from the Olive Garden making the most of a strange opportunity, in other words.
In the week leading up to The Day Of Black Sun, Aang has been freaking out, as we saw in “Nightmares And Daydreams,” because he doesn’t feel ready to face Ozai. He’s right. Without mastering firebending, he is not ready. Sokka has been thinking about his invasion plans in such detail that he can’t even summarize it for the invasion force, and yet neither he nor Aang has thought their plan all the way through. Sokka has been clever enough to create a contingency plan in the submarines, but he has no second contingency plan. When the adults accept that they will have to surrender to the hell of Fire Nation prisons, it is because they used up their Plan B in the first minutes of the attack. The other big gap is that neither Sokka nor Aang have visualized their way to capture Ozai. With only eight minutes to beat the Fire Lord before his powers return, how was Aang planning to subdue him? Did neither expect that Ozai would be flanked by soldiers, generals, or, even more terrifyingly, Azula? Heroic narratives say that ragtag teams of the righteous can bring down great evil, but they don’t say how. As Sokka points out (albeit in another context), the invasion takes more than being fast and careful: they need to be lucky.
Luck is not with them, though. The dopey Earth King spilled the beans about the invasion to Azula months ago, when she was still in the guise of a Kyoshi Warrior. Azula and the Fire Nation royalty are nothing if not prepared. All of these war meetings in the Zuko plotlines have been about readying themselves for this day. It is revealing of the enormity of Ozai’s ego that his plan involves using his temporarily powerless teenage daughter to distract the Avatar while he hides with cadre of soldiers elsewhere. Even worse, he decides to murder his impetuous teenage son for daring to tell him what an asshole he is. Since someone from his family must rule the Fire Nation after he is gone, he has either long decided to put all of his eggs in Azula’s basket—or, more likely, considering how has has been treating Zuko since his return, Ozai is as impulsive and shitty of a planner as Zuko. As he reveals to Zuko, his ascendancy to the Fire Nation throne was not even his own idea, but his wife Ursa’s. His grand scheme, as we shall see in the finale, is astonishingly short-sighted. Perhaps what Ozai most hates about Zuko is what he hates about himself, which means, conversely, that Azula’s capacity for creating and executing complex plans is something she inherited from her mother. The evil megalomania gene crossed gender lines, though.
Zuko’s speech is the emotional heart of these episodes. He lays out carefully how Ozai wronged him with the banishment and Agni Kai, which shows just how far he has come since the beginning. He points out that Sozin’s idea that the Fire Nation’s war is for the good of the world is still being taught to the people, but that it’s a lie. This isn’t just a talking point to help out the young people watching, but another sign of how Zuko has outgrown his brainwashing. Ozai is too monstrous to understand any of this, of course, but it is only right that Zuko, who has the most compelling arc of any character on the show, should have a chance to say his piece to his father. It is also important that Zuko learns that his mother is alive, although first-time viewers shouldn’t expect too much to come of this information.
The final moments of the episode are about the consequences of trying to rush into a plan simply because the timing is right. Both Sokka and Toph must come to terms with just how prepared Azula is for them to realize that Aang isn’t ready to face Ozai. Then, as the adults of the group (and, strangely, Pipsqueak, who I think of as just an overgrown kid) prepare to surrender, even Hakoda, in his finest moment, realizes that they are not ready. Thus we come to the dramatic place where the show paused for eight months to figure out how to get our heroes past their darkest day yet. Hint: The shot of Zuko following them isn’t for show. Since we aren’t watching this in real time, we’ll skip the eight-month hiatus and pick up with the next two episodes next week.
- Although Aang’s Cosmic Energy Chakra may be locked, his Exposition Chakra is still wide open. Good on Toph for pointing that out: “You know what I just heard? Blah blah spiritual mumbo jumbo blah blah something about space.”
- “Pants are an illusion. And so is death.” For once, I completely agree, Huu.
- Even in prison, Iroh loves the ladies. In this case, the lady he has eyes for is voiced by none other than Serena Williams.
- Aang kissing Katara is handled about perfectly here, with him talking himself into it and then flying off afterwards without a word. I don’t buy that she has any romantic feelings for him, but I do buy that she would find his sudden move intriguing.
- One of my favorite Sokka visuals is how utterly badass he looks hanging off of one of Appa’s horns on their way to take out the battlements.
- This week in Avatar’s complex ethics for kids: Both Katara and Hakoda are right when she suggests that they retreat to ensure everyone’s safety and he says that they should stay and fight to see the mission through.
- Toph: “This way! The other is a dead end.” Sokka: “What would we do without you?” Toph: “Perish in burning hot magma.” Sokka: “Yeah, pretty much.”
- Toph: “Stick to the truth. I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying.” Azula: “Are you sure? I’m a pretty good liar. I am a 400-foot-tall purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings.” Toph: “Okay, you’re good. I admit it.”
- There is no way that firebender troops wouldn’t be aware of the loss of their powers during an eclipse, but seeing the guy wave his arms in the air with no results is completely worth that joke.
- Aang’s blast of air destroys the throne. That may be the most destructive bending we’ve ever seen from young Aang.
- Azula: “Um, right, I think your friend just said that, genius. And since you can’t see, I should tell you I’m rolling my eyes.”
- Oh, right: Iroh is free! Like a one-man army! Godspeed, old man.
- I didn’t mention all of the past characters who pop up in the invasion force, but I suspect that we were all glad to see Haru again, especially with that awesome bro-stache. He has been prepping for his own invasion force… with the ladies. Amiright? High five, dude!