“Appa’s Lost Days,” answers the question raised at
the end of “The Tales of Ba Singe Se,” could you create a full length episode
from the “Tale of Momo.” The answer is a
redeeming affirmative. “Appa’s Lost
Days,” however, does a lot more than simply tell a story from our favorite air
bison’s perspective. Instead, woven
through Appa’s adventures from the moment he’s bison napped in “The Desert,”
are three points that foreshadow future events.
First, we have the fight between Team Azula and the Kyoshi Warriors,
specifically between Suki and Azula, which will have incredible ramifications
later in the rapidly concluding remainder of the season. Second, we are introduced to Guru Pathik,
whom will return in short time. Third,
we are shown conclusively that the Dai Li have Appa and are purposefully
keeping him and Aang apart to manipulate the Avatar into behaving along company
lines, so to speak.
Not to be forgotten, however, is the
characterization of Appa which evolves over four weeks from the start of the
aforementioned bisonnapping and concludes with his capture by Long Feng. Before we get to the end, let’s go to the
beginning, which begins with the events of his capture as Toph struggles to
hold the library of Wan Shi Tong above the desert’s sands and fight off the
sand benders in “The Desert.” As we
know, she’s unable to do both and Appa is taken away.
In the midst of his theft, we are shown that an outburst
by Appa is responsible for leaving the sand bender glider buried in the sand
for Aang and company to discover later. Also,
slightly heart breaking, is a scene of the sand benders dumping the possessions
of Team Avatar into the desert in search for valuables, including Katara’s
water bending scrolls and Sokka’s sword.
Appa is next sold to beetle carcass wearing traders, who in turn, sell
him to a circus where he’s put under the cruel oversight of a Fire Nation
equivalent of a lion tamer, who intends to use fear and hunger to force the air
bison to his whims. As a note, it’s the
same Fire Nation circus that Ty Lee was employed at.
Appa’s imprisonment at the circus is not an extended
one, but it’s one where the fire whip used by the animal trainer successfully
imprints on his mind as something to be feared for causing pain and
anxiety. Ultimately, Appa escapes, at
the urging of an Aang-like boy in the audience and flies away. His flight takes him back to the location of
his bisonnapping, only to discover the library gone and Aang, too. Frustrated, Appa sets off and coincidentally,
makes it to the buzzard wasp nest, only to be chased off and harassed by its
Hungry and desperate, Appa spies a farm and lumbers
into the barn to help himself to the hay and to a comfortable night’s
sleep. A sleep that is then interrupted
by the farmers, the wife of which, waves a flaming torch which recalls the whip
from the circus. Panicked, Appa flees
and flies desperately away toward a forest where he spots a manmade cave that
would make an ideal palce to sleep. The
problem then arises, it’s already inhabited by a wild boar more interested in
fighting it out than talking peacefully.
The boar has quills (porcupig?) and leaves a number of them in Appa’s
hide as the two have an epic duel in the midst of the woods. Appa wins and takes cover inside the cave,
wounded, weary, and scared.
In this condition the Kyoshi Warriors find him while
harvesting berries nearby. Suki quickly
recognizes Appa and with a kind and gentle touch, manages to win Appa’s
trust. Intent on reuniting Appa with
Aang, the group have Appa fed, groomed, and ready to go when Azula, Mai and Ty
Lee, suddenly appear on the same lizards from “The Chase.” As if to play on this cue, Azula holds up
Appa hair, the same substance that gave her the means to track before, as the cause
for her arrival. A fight breaks out,
unfortunately mostly one sided against the Kyoshi Warriors, but before defeat
becomes certain, Suki manages to scare Appa away with a burning stick to get
him away from Azula.
Once again frightened, Appa flees to the one place
he remembers as safe and loving, the Eastern Air Temple. We’re provided a flashback of little baby
Appa, enjoying his childhood with his mother and siblings. It’s followed by the moment when Appa and
Aang first came together. With these
happy memories reflected against the abandoned hallways and buildings of the
temple, Appa stumbles across Guru Pathik sitting in meditation. Pathik attempts to speak to Appa, but
receives only a glare and growl. After
his uneven treatment by strangers, Appa is not prepared to trust someone else
Thankfully, Pathik is more than willing to be
patient, and we have a short montage of him lying down and waiting for Appa to
accept him. It’s a matter of a couple
days before Appa finally feels comfortable enough to fall asleep and then
Pathik provides him with food to eat.
Pathik treats Appa as a person and promises to help him find Aang,
explaining to the air bison that the connections we make with those close to
us, allow us to find them anywhere in the world. It’s extremely similar to Aang using the
roots of the banyan tree in “The Swamp,” to locate Appa, and so in a twist, now
Appa is being helped to find Aang in the same manner. Pathik reaches out and touches the air bison
and discerns that Aang is in Ba Sing Se.
With permission from Appa, Pathik ties a message to Aang on one of Appa’s
horns and sends him on his way to his best friend.
In every sense, it feels as if Appa’s separation
from Aang is about to come to an end, with him soaring over the walls of Ba
Sing Se, but unfortunately, into the sights of Dai Li agents. Appa hears an air bison whistle and quickly
follows it to the source, an alleyway where Long Feng stands, having blown his
own whistle. Before the air bison can
react, the head of the Dai Li earth bends the ground like a giant trap door,
dropping Appa into an unseen holding space out of sight, leaving only a single
paw print in the dirt to mark his passing.
The same paw print that Momo finds at the end of the last episode.
“Appa’s Lost Days,” is a clever use of revealing how
Appa made his way to Ba Sing Se and in a manner other than the speculation that
he would simply end up there as the ends of a trading network. More importantly, it helps offer him the same
depth of characterization that we’ve come to expect for all our major
characters in the show. Then at the same
time, takes the opportunity to lay down bread crumbs to future events,
advancing future plot twists and storylines.
It’s another example of the writers and creators of the show doing
something they didn’t have to do, and when they do it, making the best of
it. It can be a hard episode to watch
for those times when Appa is confronted with the cruelty of men, but at least
these are framed properly in context of being as awful as we assign them to
be. In the end, we’re left with another
wonderful glimpse into the life of one of the largest characters in The Last Airbender.