Parallelism and juxtaposition are two strong points of the show. Character depth is another. All three come to shine in this magnificent episode. With a healthy dose of symbolism mixed in, 'The Storm' shows viewers a great deal about what makes two of the main characters, Aang and Zuko, really tick.
The premises is easily explained. A powerful storm wreaks havoc, and Aang's and Zuko's pasts are being revealed in a series of flashbacks. While Aang tells his story to Katara, Iroh tells Zuko's story to the ship's crew. With this sharing, the characters form bonds with each other and, just like the viewers, start to understand this episode's main characters much better.
The stories themselves are told in interchanging flashbacks, and the parallels between the two are quickly evident. Both characters were cheery and happy fellows before a life-changing event struck them; in Aang's case his revelation of being the Avatar, in Zuko's his outcry in his father's war chamber. Both lead to them leaving their homes and going on the journey to end up where they are today.
However, the most powerful moment of this episode is not about the past, but about the present. As Katara puts it, Aang is back now, and as the Avatar, he gives people hope. Iroh remarks that Zuko's capture of the Avatar is his ticket back home, and as such, the Avatar also gives Zuko hope. Though these are two completely different kinds of hope, the juxtaposition of these two scenes sends a powerful message to the audience.
Over the course of this episode, both Aang and Zuko mature, further enhancing this magnificent episode by not just showing character depth through the past, but also character development in the present.
In the end, and in the eye of the storm, the nemeses face each other, and although their encounter lasts only mere seconds, the look they give each other might be one of mutual understanding.
Next to the impressive character backgrounds, the big storm itself serves as a great symbol of the emotional turmoil that both Aang and Zuko have been through, and only by facing themselves, they can calm this turmoil and find their center, just like they find each other in windless center of the storm.
Another point is the introduction of a minor character, Zuko's lieutenant. He first appeared in 'The Waterbending Scroll' while sparring with Zuko, even though he was just a blurry background character. However, by giving him screen time, and a voice, Zuko's crew is longer a faceless crowd, but a group of people with their own personalities.
After the disasters that were 'Jet' and 'The Great Divide', and perhaps even 'The Waterbending Scroll', 'The Storm' brings new wind into the show and revives its excellence. And it gives hope both to the viewers and the show to return to the standard that made it so great.
An episode where we are shown how Aang's and Zuko's stories parallel each other, "The Storm" is an amazing flashback-driven chapter in the first season of "Avatar."
From the parallel stories we see that there is more to Aang and Zuko than meets the eye. Aang was a happy and optimistic little boy whose life changes drastically upon learning that he is the Avatar. The weight of this revelation is very visible as Aang starts to be treated differently and loses friends in the process. Narrated synchronously with Aang's story but chronologically occurring almost a century later, we learn that Zuko has not always been a villain but that he used to be a kind-hearted and cheery young man -- that is, of course, until the fateful day where he defied one of the Fire Lord's generals. The defiance leads to a duel with his father, Fire Lord Ozai, who burns and scars the young prince's face and forces his exile, ordering him to complete a seemingly impossible task that would allow him to return home.
Both kids have lost all that is dear to them because of an impulsive action. Both kids by now understand the ramifications of their actions and how they affect their destiny, and they are both working towards achieving their goals. Aang, as the Avatar, brings hope to a war-ravaged world. Through Aang, Zuko hopes to regain his father's acceptance and love. Their destinies are intertwined, and they have been ever since Zuko first spotted Aang at the South Pole. And although they both have accepted their fate, they still retain part of their old selves. Aang accepts that he is the Avatar, that he needs to learn to use and control his power, yet he is still a cheerful kid who likes to have fun. Zuko is now a raving villain, but he still has a kind heart and cares about his uncle and the safety of his crew.
The big storm that consumes most of the episode serves as a symbolic and physical manifestation of both kids' troubled pasts. Aang is told by Gyatso that "storm clouds are gathering" and not long afterwards he gets trapped in a storm that would seal his fate for the next one hundred years. In the present, Aang sees storm clouds form in front of him in his nightmare, and later he needs to save Sokka (and an old man with whom he was fishing) from the tempestuous waves caused by a typhoon. Although there is no literal storm in Zuko's past, he did experience his father's ravenous appetite for pain and suffering. In a way, this was the storm in Zuko's past. He was caught off-guard by a force stronger than him, and he came out metaphorically shipwrecked. In the present, Zuko prevents an actual shipwreck from happening by listening to his uncle and getting the ship out of the way of the storm.
Similar and different at the same time, Aang and Zuko's pasts drive the story, and the similarities suggest a greater link between them that will only be revealed later on. Particularly compelling is the look that they give each other as Appa flies away carrying Aang and company out of danger. It suggests to us that they both know that they are linked somehow, and that they understand each other's plight, even if just a little bit.
From its symbolism to its narrative, "The Storm" stands out as a turning point in the Avatar's story. It is at this point that we start to consider Zuko as more than just a villain, and where we learn of Aang's conflicted backstory for the first time. It may not be a jaw-dropping, edge-of-your-seat episode, but what it lacks in excitement it more than makes up for it in character development.