Now that the show has lived through one season, it's time to start the second one. This opening does not have to introduce the show, but it does have to introduce, and that is new characters, new conflicts, and the start to the next big story arc that will be the guide through this season.
The episode starts out with Aang having nightmares and watching himself, as the title suggests, in the Avatar State. Whereas this was first viewed as a powerful ability to use again the Fire Nation, Aang's dreams quickly show the terrible side of this power, the uncontrolled fury and destruction. The rest of the episode is then used to explore and explain this phenomenon.
Master Pakku, at their farewell, clearly summarizes the show's next step: to find Aang's earthbending teacher, King Bumi.
The arrival at General Fong's base shows that the gang, after Book One, has already achieved a celebrity status. However, we are soon confronted with Fong's outrageous reasoning of using the Avatar State as a weapon, when we were already shown the dangers of it.
After failed attempts to trigger the Avatar State, Katara also confesses that she is afraid of Aang's ability, which adds not only to how questionable the Avatar State really is, but also to their relationship, that has now grown over the past season (to what degree, that is for fans to debate).
Alongside this story arc, the episode also reveals what happens to our favorite antagonist, Zuko. In the start, he's once again mulling over his desire to return home and shows that he hasn't really changed much over the last season. We then get a family reunion that is a perfect characterization of Azula, very likely our next big villain.
Her introduction is as perfect as it is clear. Whereas Zhao, the Book one villain, was a militant who seeks power, Azula is a ruthless manipulator who already has power, and seeks perfection. To many, she is a step up from Zhao, a more powerful, and colorful, villain. While I personally think that both of them are balanced on a narrative basis, Azula is much more personal and fierce in her execution of being the villain. And where Zhao's danger lay in his command over the Fire Nation army, Azula's danger lies in her covert and manipulative ways, as well as personal ability.
When Fong finally triggers the Avatar State, Roku steps in and finally explains what actually happens during it. With some very awesome clips and music, Aang, along with the viewer, learns of both the power and danger of the Avatar State. It is nice to finally have this trait explained in more detail. It not only adds a lot of depth to Aang being the Avatar, but also eliminates the "god-mode" taste that this power might have had.
In the end, we get a very defining moment for uncle and nephew. They cut off their top knots, probably forever renouncing the Fire Nation and becoming outlaws. After a season of Zuko trying to capture the Avatar to return home, this option is no longer available, leaving his future enigmatic.
All in all, this was a good way to start the new season. We learn much about Aang, the gang is now in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko's and Iroh's roles changed drastically, and we have and excellent new villain. And since Aang only entered the Avatar State a grand total of five times in Book One, with this being the first episode, we can hope to except much more in regards of the Avatar State for this season.
As the first episode of the second season, The Avatar State is an undeniable sign of things to come. To say the least, it's a dramatic change from the first season where the gang would often just spend their time playfully going from one location to the other all under the pretense that they were seriously traveling to the North Pole. Occasionally they would bump into some tragic character or another like Haru or Jet whose lives have been deeply affected by the war, but it'd only be an episode later that the series would revert back to its cheery self.
But now in the second season we finally have a shift in perspective from our heroes, not only in the sense that it follows the story of the opposing side (Zuko, Iroh, etc.), but that it begins to focus less on our happy trio and more on the world in turmoil around them. The war is constantly raging on and in the single moment that it takes Sokka to crack some lame joke about his boomerang, people are undoubtedly dying. There is no light way to put it and this episode doesn't try in the least.
Not only does this episode bring a much wider look on the Avatar world, but also it gives us a good bit of logic that is usually lost in TV shows. If Aang can destroy an entire Fire Nation fleet while in the Avatar State why not just "glow it up" and head on out to defeat the Fire Nation once and for all? They wouldn't have to waste any more time trying to learn all four elements when Aang could just remember them. But, of course getting into the Avatar State is the hard part and as we soon learn from a brief meeting with Avatar Roku, the Avatar State isn't without its deadly disadvantages.
Meanwhile we finally have that mysterious Fire Nation girl from Season One appear and actually do something. She certainly looked sinister in the first season and we know that she's being sent out by the Firelord to capture Zuko and Iroh, but is she enough of a villain to satisfy the needs of Season Two? The answer is yes, yes and yes. Azula, the sister of Zuko, daughter of Ozai and Princess of the Fire Nation is a villain that can be truly called such. Zuko in the first season was a determined and formidable fighter, Zhao had the support of a large army and was a fairly capable bender himself, but Azula far outstrips both of them when it comes to true villainy.
Not only is she unique in the manner which she can bend lightning (a form of fire apparently) and fire blue flames, but also she is cunning, conniving and manipulative in ways that neither Zuko or Zhao could ever hope to be. Her first encounter with our established cast is with Zuko and Iroh and it does not erupt into a chase or a battle, but with a sly greeting and a mouth full of lies. And later we get a chance to see her true destructive capabilities.
Overall, this was an incredibly satisfying episode to watch and the perfect setup for the season. In less than thirty minutes, it's taken the first steps to setting the tone for the series and the message is clear, the time to play has long passed and now things are going to get serious. The action will become more intense, and more lives will be at stake. Of course Aang and his friend will still have time to play and enjoy themselves, but those times will come shortly and far in between. The series is just going to get darker and I'll love every moment of it.