Chapter Sixteen:
The Deserter

Written by: Tim Hedrick
Head Writer: Aaron Ehasz
Directed by: Lauren MacMullan

Voices provided by:
Aang: Zach Tyler Eisen   Katara: Mae Whitman   Sokka: Jack DeSena
Appa/Momo: Dee Bradley Baker   Admiral Zhao: Jason Isaacs
Jeong Jeong: Keone Young   Chey: John Kassir   Magician: Scott Menville

Episode Recap

Sunlight is shining through the leaves of the trees when Momo appears. You see a shadowed figure a distance back following.

Katara, Aang, and Sokka come upon a post covered with ads and wanted posters. On their side there is a fire festival poster that details jugglers, magicians, and spectacular shows. But on the other side are wanted posters, including one for Aang. Katara suggests that they move onward but Aang convinces her that this may be the only chance for him to study the firebenders and their skills. Katara acquiesces and assures Sokka that they’ll leave when trouble hits.

The three arrive in sight of the town. Aang sends Momo and Appa into hiding and the three ready their disguises. Sokka and Katara are wearing black hooded cloaks while Aang pulls his shirt over his head so he looks like a hunchback. Katara giggles and they move onwards into the city. The shadowed figure follows.

There, they realize that all of the people are wearing masks and coincidentally, they come across a stall selling those very masks. Aang wears an unhappy mask, Katara wears one resembling a porcelain doll’s face, and Sokka wears a happy one painted blue and white with yellow petals on the edges. Katara switches Aang and Sokka’s masks and they move onwards to explore the festival. Sokka rushes up to a stand where they are selling flaming hot fire flakes and immediately gulps it all down, but regrets it soon afterwards when the spiciness attacks his taste buds. The three move on to watch a puppet show that children are watching and see a figure of the Fire Lord breathing fire at an Earthbender. The children cheer in delight when this occurs (poor children).

Aang then heads off to a large crowd. They move their way up to the front to see a skilled firebender move about several fireballs at once and then joining them together that releases birds that flutter out over the audience. After this trick, the magician asks for a volunteer. Aang willingly raises his hand, but Katara and Sokka suggest that they shouldn’t attract any attention. Unfortunately, the magician spots out Katara and when Katara tries to back out, he tells the audience to give her some encouragement. She is picked up onto the stage and tied into a chair by a red sash. He introduces this trick as, “Taming the Dragon.” A fire replica of a dragon appears and the magician uses a fire lasso to control the motion of the dragon. The lasso breaks and heads towards Katara. The fire dragon comes so close to Katara that she shuts her eyes in fear. Aang then leaps onto the stage and creates a tornado to disperse the oncoming flames and a shower of confetti follows. The crowd boos at Aang who now has his mask off, and someone recognizes him as the Avatar. Guards are sent after him and the hooded figure from before calls for the three to follow him, and they run through crowds, stalls, and turn at many alleys. Their rescuer throws a smoke bomb to distract the guards and turns down another alley; Aang blows the bison whistle he bought to summon Appa. They reach a dead end, but Appa arrives just on time. They pass over a crate of fireworks and their rescuer throws a smoke bomb into the crate. One firework sparks after another into the sky.

On Appa, their rescuer introduces himself as Chey. Sokka realizes that he is a fire nation soldier, but Chey explains himself later as they sit around the fire in a forest. Here, he tells the three travelers about Jeong Jeong; a living legend who was highly ranked in the army but deserted it when he couldn’t stand the madness of it all. Some say he was crazy, but Chey believes Jeong Jeong is enlightened and a “firebending genius.” After this tale, Aang is anxious to meet Jeong Jeong. He tells Katara and Sokka, “This may be my only chance to learn from a real firebending master.” Sokka announces his disagreement, but has no choice in the matter when men from the forest leap out and surround them.

The travelers and Chey are marched off into the woods to the mens’ campout. It turns out that Chey knows the men who captured them. Chey is sent to talk with Jeong Jeong.

At the festival, Admiral Zhao has arrived and is interrogating the guards. They end up telling him that the Avatar and his companions headed into the forest up the river. Zhao orders his men to ready the riverboats.

Chey walks out of the master’s tent, and Aang gets up immediately, wondering what Jeong Jeong said. Chey tells Aang that Jeong Jeong does not wish to see him and at this, Aang gets to his feet and opens the entrance to the tent. Aang takes a tentative step towards the master who tells him to get out. Jeong Jeong is seated inside a circle of lit candles, his back facing the entrance. Aang sits just outside the circle, asking for Jeong Jeong to train him. He says it is his destiny, but Jeong Jeong interrupts him, saying, “What would a boy know of destiny?” Aang then points out that he has to learn all the bending disciplines. Jeong Jeong answers, “To master the bending disciplines, you must first master discipline itself.” When Aang persists even more, Jeong Jeong tells him that he first must master water and earth bending. “Water is cool and soothing; earth is steady and stable; but fire, fire is alive; it breathes; it grows.” When Aang still wishes to learn (I don’t think he’s understanding the master) Jeong Jeong loses temper and finally gives an outcry, “You are not ready! You are too weak!” The flames flare and then flicker out. Avatar Roku stands where Aang was just sitting and tells Jeong Jeong, “I have mastered the elements a thousand times in a thousand lifetimes.” He then orders Jeong Jeong to teach the Avatar and sets fire to the tree nearby him. Jeong Jeong bows and promises, “I will teach you.” He hears Aang’s voice once more and sighs in resignation.

The next day, Sokka is fishing while Katara is waterbending. Jeong Jeong teaches Aang the proper stance and tells him to concentrate. Aang asks him what he should be concentrating on. Jeong Jeong tells him that talking is not concentrating and uses Katara and Sokka as examples to support his point. He tells Aang to concentrate on the sun’s heat since it is the greatest source of fire.

Aang is now following Jeong Jeong up a bare rock face and asks him if he’s up on it in order not to harm anyone with his fire blasts. Jeong Jeong says there is to be no fire yet and tells Aang to be in the proper stance and to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

After hours of breathing, Aang enters Jeong Jeong’s tent. Jeong Jeong asks why Aang has returned and Aang tells him that he wants to learn how “to shoot fire out of his fingertips.” Aang’s impatience reminds Jeong Jeong of a pupil he had once who had no self-restraint and was obsessed with the power of fire. The scene changes to Admiral Zhao on a boat and shooting fire against the spearmen in the forest. Jeong Jeong tells Aang, “Learn restraint or risk destroying yourself and everything you love.”

Later on, Jeong Jeong exits his tent and sees Aang sitting on a rock in the water with the leaves falling down into the pond. Aang apologizes for his behavior and Jeong Jeong tells him that he is ready to learn how to create fire. Aang does a dance of happiness, but reverts back to his disciplined self. Leaves fall from the trees above, and Jeong Jeong catches one of these, sets the leaf burning, and tells Aang to keep the flame from reaching the ends of the leaf. Aang groans since he finds this yet another pointless exercise.

Word reaches Jeong Jeong’s ears that fire nation soldiers are on their shores searching for the Avatar. He hurries off and leaves Aang to concentrate. Aang complains to Katara about Jeong Jeong’s teaching style, but Katara reassuringly says, “I’m sure there’s a good reason for it all.” He sighs once more, widens his stance, and begins to exhale through the mouth and inhale through the nose. The leaf catches on fire and Aang manages to create a flame. Katara tells him to be careful, but Aang shoots a jet of flame into the air, juggles the flame, and attempts to perform the trick the magician did at the fire festival. The flame circles outwards and Katara lifts her arms to protect herself. The flame burns her hands and Katara begins to cry. Aang leaps over to her from the rock and apologizes over and over. At this moment, Sokka comes over and before Aang can offer a helping hand, Sokka leaps at Aang and pins him on the ground. “You burned my sister!” Sokka shouts in anger. Katara runs off somewhere to tend to her burns. As Jeong Jeong comes back Sokka says, “This is all your fault!” Jeong Jeong tells them to leave immediately and looks down at Aang in disappointment.

Katara is sobbing from the pain and places her red-marked hands into the water, which stings for an instant but then cools. Miraculously, her hands begin to glow and there are no more marks left when Katara raises her hands out of the water. Jeong Jeong comes over, telling her that she has healing abilities. He discusses that it is a great gift to be able to heal and that fire was exactly the opposite; a curse. He explains the difference between fire and water and that in Firebending there is a thin line between humanity and savagery. He ends with, “Eventually, we’re torn apart.”

Fire leaps onto the shore and Jeong Jeong protects Katara and tells her to flee with her friends. He creates a wall of fire that forces the riverboats to stop. Admiral Zhao jumps into the water and makes an entranceway for himself through the wall of fire, telling his men not to worry since his old teacher gave up fighting a long time ago.

Meanwhile, Katara is running back to the campout. Sokka is readying Appa and asks how she is. She answers that she is fine and asks Sokka where Aang is. She finds him in Jeong Jeong’s tent in the center of the lit candles. Aang makes a promise to himself, saying that he’ll never use firebending again. Katara breaks Aang out of his depressed state by telling him that she was healed and that Jeong Jeong was in trouble.

Back near the river, Admiral Zhao and Jeong Jeong are conversing. “You were once so great; I can’t believe my master has become no more than a savage.” Zhao says disgustedly. “It is you who have embraced savagery Zhao.” Jeong Jeong retorts.

At this moment, Aang rushes into the opening. Authoritatively, Admiral Zhao orders his men to take the deserter. They surround him and Aang and Jeong Jeong look at each other once more before Jeong Jeong disappears within swirling flames. Admiral Zhao sends his men into the forest after him.

Now, Admiral Zhao and Aang face off with each other. “Let’s see what my old master has taught you,” he says with a confident smile, and this is when Aang realizes Zhao was once Jeong Jeong’s pupil. The two battle each other, Zhao firing the first blow; Aang avoiding the huge fireballs Zhao is sending at him. Aang notices that Admiral Zhao’s blows are being aimed without direction. He begins to taunt Admiral Zhao, leaping from one riverboat to the next as Zhao shoots jet after jet, only aiming at the Avatar. The final blow is struck and Aang states clearly, “You’ve lost this battle.” Admiral Zhao clearly does not understand until Aang points out the destruction Zhao has caused. When he turns around, Zhao sees his riverboats all in flames. “Jeong Jeong said you had no self-restraint,” and with that, Aang dives into the water. A vein ominously throbs at Zhao’s temple as he gives a cry of outrage, sending the flames even higher.

Aang is now on Appa’s back and Katara sees a burn on Aang’s arm and offers to help him. She encases water around her hand, places it on the burn, inhales through the nose, and exhales through the mouth. When she removes her hand, Aang’s arm is as good as new, dripping from the water.

The chapter ends with Sokka complaining about all the first aid help over the years as they set off towards the North Pole through the pink setting sky.

-- Recap by Daxiaoqiao