WTFOMGBBQ pretty much sums up one part of my mind after watching this episode. The rest is a jumble of bit and pieces of emotions and thoughts swirling around in my head, unable to calm down and get organized. The sheer brilliance of the writing is too much for mortal minds to comprehend.
This episode basically has all the various forces and characters of the show get together in one gigantic clash that will determine the fate of Ba Sing Se. While that is a summary, it in no way comes even close to encompass the many twists and surprises that lie in store for the viewers. It is indeed a crossroads of destiny for many characters, and even Ba Sing Se itself.
The real power of this episode comes from the second part. The first part is expository, needed to generate the conflicts between the characters. After the characters themselves were developed in the last episode, this one now focuses on their relationships and conflicts. And every character receives their chance to play their part in this last battle for Ba Sing Se. But there is one clear star, one person who dominates this episode, one character who truly comes to shine: Prince Zuko.
Zuko goes through the greatest change of his life, and displays a huge amount of character development in this one episode. Not only does his firebending become a lot better, but because of his drastic personality swings, he also becomes a much more powerful character. This is truly his crossroads of destiny, and his moment of glory.
The whole episode seems like a very complex chess game of Azula against everybody else, and with each move, Azula's position just keeps getting better and better. This exchange of pieces, to continue with the chess simile, builds up in tension until the booming climax, the big fight in the underground caverns of old Ba Sing Se. And this final battle is pure eye-candy. We get to see loads of awesome bending, Aang using every discipline he's learned, and continuous exchange of opponents. Nothing is better to watch than a great fight between evenly matched teams. But then the Dai Li step in.
This is where everything starts going downhill at a terrifyingly fast rate. Aang chooses to let of of Katara in order to enter the Avatar State, but is shot down by Azula's lightning. Katara and an unconscious (or dead?) Aang flee while Iroh gets captured. And at the end of the day, the Fire Nation finally has its big victory, and the defeated heroes flee the city. Even though Katara manages to somewhat heal Aang, it is but a faint spark of joy in an inferno of catastrophe. The final words of this episode, of this season, spoken by the Earth King, have such a dreadful finality in it that all hope seems lost.
This episode really poses more questions than it answers. Will Aang recover? How will the war turn out, now that Ba Sing Se has fallen? How will the gang execute their plan at the Day of Black Sun? What really happened to the Kyoshi warriors? What about Iroh? There are so many lose threads that just hang there, and the season is at its end. This is like a big stage setter for the final season, something that will open up Book Three with a bang, and bring the entire story to an epic closure. Among 'Avatar' episodes, the excellence of writing of 'The Crossroads of Destiny' is unsurpassed.
The last episode of Season 2, "The Crossroads of Destiny" contrasts with the last episode of Season 1 ("The Siege of the North, Part 2"), as it leaves us with no resolution, no happy ending, and an ominous set-up for the start of the next season.
A dark episode for the most part, both visually and emotionally, "Crossroads" is bathed in tones of green -- a color which is associated with the Earth Kingdom. The predominant dark green undertones almost foreshadow the doom and gloom that is to come at the end. Azula, whose station as the Fire Nation princess makes her awash with red tones, now wears green from head to toe. Her new attire matches (with some slight differences) that of the Dai Li, who have been put at her command by an unsuspecting Long Feng. She has taken Long Feng's position as Leader of the Dai Li, and later on she also takes possession of the Earth King's throne by organizing a "swift and decisive" coup. She is both "terrifying and inspirational" -- traits that are echoed in the sort of theme song that plays in the background whenever she arrives on scene. Her ruthlessness and cunning reaches a climax as she shows Long Feng that he is the one who has been double-crossed, literally making him sweat. Long Feng is told that he does not posses the "divine right to rule", at which point he realizes that he has been "beaten at [his] own game". His remark is quickly retorted by Azula with the most chilling line in the entire episode: "Don't flatter yourself; you were never even a player".
Her powers of deception are again apparent when she convinces Zuko, who is "at the crossroads of [his] destiny", to choose her over their uncle Iroh. She offers power and honor; Iroh begs of him to "choose good". Zuko at first heeds his uncle's advice to look inside and figure out what he really wants. The imagery that follows, when Zuko contemplates his decision, shows us a visual representation of his conflicted self: a confused young man, and a scarred and exiled prince. As he hangs his head it is apparent that he has decided his future.
In the great battle that eventually transpires, Zuko proves to be a formidable opponent, showing skills that he had never been known to posses. On the other hand, Azula shows weakness for the first time since her appearance. When she first enters the battle she is overwhelmed by the combination of Katara's waterbending and Aang's earthbending. The brief three-way fight comes to a stand-off that mirrors a similar occurrence in the episode "The Chase". In the latter, Zuko stands between two stronger opponents, Azula and Aang. In "Crossroads", Azula stands between Katara and Aang, and her face reflects something we've never seen in her before: fear. When Zuko enters the fight, the scales tip in favor of the Fire Nation siblings. The battle culminates as Aang falls to the ground, victim of a vicious and well-calculated lightning attack by Azula. Aang's possible death becomes a harrowing experience, both for the characters and for the audience. We are left with uncertainty about Aang's life (although it is later restored by Katara's healing oasis water), uncertainty about the Avatar state, uncertainty about Iroh's fate. The only certain thing that comes from the end of the episode is the fall of the Earth Kingdom -- an event foreshadowed by the dark green shades that enveloped most of the episode, and sadly declared by the Earth King as the last words of Season 2.
There was a bit of humor in the episode as well -- for example, Sokka and Aang's reaction when it is revealed that Toph is friends with Iroh, and Ty Lee's contorted entrapment when she's trying to teach Bosco to walk on his hands. However, these and other pieces of humor are overshadowed by the heavy emotional distress felt in the rest of the episode.
An episode that keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats throughout, "Crossroads" is an amazing send-off into the next chapter of the Avatar's journey. I wish I had some criticism to point out, but alas, this episode was perfect in my eyes.