In the second episode of the second season of Avatar, Team Avatar decide to follow a group of musical nomads through a shortcut to the kingdom of Omashu, where they are all tested at how far they’ll go to get out of trouble. Meanwhile, Uncle Iroh’s tea obsession forces him and Zuko to take refuge in disguise with Earth benders. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Avatar.
My reaction to this episode:
I think describing “The Cave of Two Lovers” as filler is a direct insult to the show’s good name. You sully Avatar’s honor. Not only has the show moved into what feels like a hyper-serialized narrative, but they can do episodes like this, where there are no “battles,” so-to-speak, and yet this entire story was so gripping and tense. As usual, it balances humor, terror, emotional resonance, and one HELL of a cliffhanger. WHICH WE WILL GET TO.
(Now I have in image in my head of the boxset of Avatar with a twisty mustache and a monocle and a top hat. What the HELL is going on in my brain.)
I’m going to straight up say one of the main reasons I adored this episode so much: So many narratives I see about the very specific archetype of wanderers/nomads/hippies that showed up here in “The Cave of Two Lovers” are generally criticized and made to look like ridiculous fools, and that sort of characterization makes me uncomfortable. And even beyond that, it’s just SO boring. We’ve seen it all a thousand times! What the writers do here (and do brilliantly, I might add) is to send this whimsical, almost loving light all over the Earth Kingdom nomads we meet. Yes, they can be foolish, and yes, they can make mistakes, and most certainly YES they can irritate Sokka to an early grave, but I never felt that they existed solely to be criticized or the butt of every joke. As someone who wants challenging stories, I really appreciated this a lot. The humor was largely situational or ironic, but never really in a way that actively harmed people in the episode.
(A slight bit of nerdery/stanning: Dee Bradley Baker is one of my favorite voice actors of all time, and I was so excited he started doing work on Adventure Time, yet apparently I’m such a bad fan I HAD NO IDEA HE WORKED ON A:TLA.)
But I have to say that, despite that this episode address some really serious themes about personal responsibility, guilt, and tolerance, it also full of so many moments that made me laugh. I lost count somewhere around the ten-minute mark in terms of things I saw that I needed a GIF of. It’s a testament to the writing that the humor is infused here and it never seems out of place, and the Earth Kingdom nomads are the perfect receptacle for this carefree turn of events. Because Team Avatar is comprised of such varied individuals, it’s also fascinating to see how the three of them react to the legend of the Cave of Two Lovers.
It’s not surprising that of all of them, Sokka was the least open about the possibility. Granted, while all five beings had to admit defeat after trying to navigate to Omashu on their own (in one of funniest sequences in the episode), even from the beginning, you could see the way they started to develop their own ideas about the tunnel and the very idea of it. Naturally, Sokka is the groups cynic, focusing on what is concrete and knowable. (Seriously, am i slowly realizing that i am sokka WHAT IS HAPPENING) Given the loss of Princess Yue at the end of the last season, it’s entirely sensible that at this point, he’s just done with the concept of love for a while. (I won’t lie. It would have been nice to have a slight acknowledgment of that, but such is life.)
Both Katara and Aang are much more partial to believing the story, with Katara behind it the most. Katara is the most comfortable with the concept of love, which does NOT mean that she is comfortable with what happens or what she does later. She simply believes it to be a real force, one she wants to pursue, but she’s a confused young woman at the same time. It’s awkward! I don’t think (unless I learn later that I’m wrong) that she’s ever had any personal experience with love aside from crushes, and by the episode’s end, that’s what we see from her. She’s still reluctant to go from idea to action.
Aang, on the other hand, reacts as any twelve-year-old boy might in the same situation: The concept is intriguing to him and makes him feel all funny inside, and he largely relies on being kind of immature about it. Because he’s twelve. When I was twelve, my romantic interests didn’t go further than wanting to play handball with someone I liked. It’s all a foreign concept to him in the most abstract way, and the very talk of physical acts of love cause him to blush.
The pattern hasn’t deviated much at this point in the show’s history, so this is another episode dealing with a parallel storyline about Zuko and Uncle Iroh. Though, to be fair, this story does not intersect at all with what’s happening over in Team Avatar, and even thematically, it’s a bit of a stretch to say they’re both parallels of one another. And that’s perfectly fine! It’s a fascinating dynamic anyway, and a chance for us to further explore how Zuko and Iroh interact with one another.
Now fugitives on the run from the Fire Nation, the two are forced to deal with a less-than-glamorous lifestyle scavenging the forests for food. While Zuko is off looking for sustenance, we watch as Iroh, oh-so-predictable and lovely Iroh, is mesmerized by the White Dragon bush, which makes a tea that is “so delicious it’s heartbreaking.” Now that’s my kind of tea. Or wait. Could it also be White Jade plant, which would kill him? (Seriously, someone had to have made a GIF of Iroh’s faces of dilemma.) When Zuko returns again with a tiny fish, he finds out that Iroh decided to drink the tea anyway, as he now bears a large rash all over his body. I love that despite failing at this decision, he still seriously considers taking a gamble with the bacui berries. Or…maybe they’re macahoni berries. WHO CARES. Iroh fears no thing that could potentially be delicious.
Seriously. My soul mate.
Faced with the oncoming fate of Iroh if he doesn’t get his rash tended to, the two weigh the consequences of getting help from the Earth Kingdom (certain death) versus turning themselves into Azula (imprisonment), rightly deciding that Azula is probably worse than most things. I mean that is a totally sensible and logical conclusion, Y/Y/Y/Y? But honestly, it’s what becomes of that decision that makes all the difference.
Zuko’s story has now become the most intriguing of the whole cast of main characters at this point, and this episode was the tipping point in terms of trying decide which of this marvelous character group I was most enamored with in terms of writing. When I first started Avatar, I wrongly got it in my head that Zuko would clearly be the main villain throughout the series, but by the time “The Storm” rolled around, I realized what a complete shock his development has been. Not only did we get so interesting developments to explain his past and his motivations, but in “The Cave of Two Lovers,” we see how his present is starting to haunt him as well.
Zuko and Iroh end up in an Earth Kingdom village, disguised as refugees on the run from the Fire Nation. Ok…wow, until I typed that out, I didn’t even realize that THAT IS NOT EVEN REALLY A FUCKING DISGUISE. Holy shit I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, YOU WONDERFUL SHOW. They take refuge with a young woman named Song, who is eager to help out other people on the run from the Fire Nation. And so sets up one hell of an uncomfortable and gorgeous bit of writing as Zuko is forced to keep his identity secret as he listens to how the Nation he is actively trying to win his respect back from has ruined these people’s lives.
I love it. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I’ve always gotten the sense that Uncle Iroh is, at least on an internal level, completely against a lot of what the Fire Nation stands for, and that was largely confirmed by his attack on Zhao during “The Siege of the North, Part II.” He’s a happy fugitive, and he welcomes the chance to pursue what he’s always wanted to do. (Yes, that includes eating fatal plants and berries. BLESS HIS HEART.) Because of this, I was even more satisfied that the writers chose to focus on Zuko’s reactions during these scenes.
I don’t think that he changed all that much by the end of “The Cave of Two Lovers,” and you can see the disappointment in Iroh’s body language when he sees that his nephew has not learned the valuable lesson the universe just handed him. His parallel to Song seemed so obvious and I know that he saw it, too, how they both bore the scars of a nation of benders who’d gone out of control, how they both had no father figures, and how disappointment and pain were brought to them in remarkably similar ways.
And yet, Zuko can’t accept it. Not yet. I don’t think he’s ready to face the fact that his quest to earn his father’s respect and regain the throne is ultimately going to prove futile. He can’t quite give up that hope, as misguided as it is, because it’s what’s driving him to feel complete. Well, for the time being, that is. That completeness might be all that he has.
But let’s move back to the actual titular cage at the heart of this episode. After agreeing that flying by Appa through Fire Nation country might not be the most “comfortable” option, they agree to allow Chong to guide them through the treacherous tunnel. Of course, the details of this journey are not as important to Chong, who leads a band of people who are much more interested in experiences versus destinations, which sets them up to clash with Sokka. Well…the way I’ve phrased that makes it sound like a mutual battle on the two halves. Oh no, that is not the case. This is all Sokka. He clashes with the nomads constantly, because their “appreciation” of the journey:
1) Put them in the tunnel/cave in the first place
2) Makes him hate being alive.
I mean….personally, I adore Chong’s songs a great deal, and not just because they’re humorous or ironic. But this is about Sokka, who very quickly tries to ignore the experience and the journey and focus solely on getting the hell out of that place.
Certainly this wasn’t going to be easy! A bizarre combination of torches, Appa’s foot, Appa’s claustrophobia, and WOLFBATS (no seriously what the fuck were those things) separates the two groups, so that Sokka and Momo are (predictably and wonderfully) stuck with the music-loving nomads, while Aang, Katara, and Appa are left to fend for themselves. Now I could spend thousands of words talking about why I adore the nomads and how entertaining it was to watch Sokka continually be irritated by all of the WONDERFUL things this group of people said, but I wanted to focus on the brain-melting story that was given to Aang and Katara.
We know that the two of them have ~feelings~ for each other, and I write that word like that because at this point, even I am confused as to what those feelings are. They’re both definitely best friends, with inklings of something more growing inside of them, and while “The Cave of Two Lovers” certainly helps, it doesn’t do a whole lot. Which is fine! We still have like FORTY EPISODES TO GO!
First, though, I just want to say that both the Romeo and Juliet-esque story of the Two Lovers/Omashu is paired with some GORGEOUS animation, and I’m so impressed by how well this show can try other techniques and pull them off so flawlessly. The art felt so natural, and it helped that the story felt timeless as well. Katara’s reading of the story on the tomb, however, gives her an idea: If love can save them, surely if she kisses Aang, that will help, right?
Oh, it is so youthfully awkward to watch as the two stand near each other in they dying fire light as the issue is plopped in between them and they contemplate the thought. And Aang, true to his nature as a young boy who has no idea what he’s doing, tells an embarrassed Katara that he can’t imagine them kissing either!
:: facepalm ::
But no, he meant that between kissing her and certain death, he would definitely kiss her.
:: FACEPALM ::
NO, BUT WAIT, THAT’S A COMPLIMENT!
:: EPIC FACEPALM ::
Oh, Aang. Poor, poor Aang. I can see why people ship these two so hard, because they are endlessly adorable together. It’s a pretty neat way of representing that first crush you have, and the complicated, always-changing path that it takes you on. As a whole, “The Cave of Two Lovers” is unbearably entertaining and hilarious, but there are so many smaller details that give this a rich, nuanced look at the characters that make up this show.
Y’all, this shit is so good.
- “How did you guys get out?” “Just like the legend says. We let love lead the way.” “Really? We let huge, ferocious beasts lead our way.” BEST LINE IN THE EPISODE.
- LILY LIT ALL OF THE TORCHES AT ONCE. omg math.
- oh. right. the ending.
AL;SKJDF A;DF AS;DFKJ F;ASKDJF A;SDLKFJ A;SLKDFJAWEOIRU A;SKDJFA
HOW IS BUMI’S KINGDOM TAKEN OVER BY THE FIRE NATION
A;SDLFA SA;DSKLFJA SD;F F;AKSDJFA SD;KFJAIEUR AD;LFKJASD F;ASDKLFJASD;FLKJ