'The Boiling Rock' is another in-season two-parter with the only premise being a prison rescue. What we are given is a low action, high tension, espionage type story along with some great bonding between Zuko and Sokka, and finally a large dose of revelations and heavy duty changes. Because this is another two-parter, I have a strong urge to compare it to 'The Day of Black Sun', but these two are very different. Where 'DoBS' is about a big battle, this one is about stealth. Where 'DoBS' is about huge, world-altering events, this one seems rather inconsequential and localized. But it gives us a very different version of awesome.
Even though we've had such a scenario before in 'Imprisoned', it was not this dramatic, this tense. Zuko and Sokka are now on their own, and their mission is one of uncertainty. And really, it is this uncertainty that is used very well. We don't know what the two will find on the Boiling Rock, how they will free whoever it is they will find, how they will get back, and so forth. No plan, just a head-first plunge into danger.
However, even for a plunge, the pacing of this episode is relatively slow. There isn't much going on, no immediate tension, no real fight scenes. Just two guys sneaking around a top-security prison. I have to say that I really like it. It brings a whole new feel to the show, it's not slowing down or relaxing things, but instead displays a completely new scenario that hasn't really been done before. Danger is all around, but for now, the heroes haven't been noticed yet.
Of the many individual things I like about this episode, the scene on the war balloon is one of them. Sokka and Zuko are both different and similar enough to be best pals, and they are the right age to be two typical teenager buddies. And yet having been on opposite sides of the war puts them into an awkward position at first. But once this is overcome, their dialog seems pretty natural, and is a good next step in their characterization.
While there isn't too much to say about the artwork (since most of the episode is concentrated in similar looking scenery, and there's nothing extraordinary), the music is brilliant. This episode introduces a new theme, and while it might only be some bells mixed with rhythm, it evokes the perfect mood and fits completely. It's prevalence throughout the episode just gives it more chances to shine.
The plot itself isn't too spectacular, but still very cohesive and flowing. There's the odd twist in it, but nothing too surprising, or too major, just enough to keep things interesting and on edge. And even though the plot might be described as rather mellow, especially when compared to some other episodes, it's very nice. Along with that, Suki, whom we've all been waiting for since season two, is finally reintroduced.
There are two parts about the plot that are special enough to deserve mention. The first is Chit Sang and the escape plan. The escape plan itself is not extraordinary, but the twist of having Chit Sang instead of our heroes follow it through, and then failing, is likely going to bring interesting consequences in the next episode. The other part is Hakoda reappearing, again bringing so many more possibilities.
Overall, this episode doesn't really stand out. It doesn't do anything wrong, and has a nice feel to it, but that's really all there is. It introduces a fresh mood, definitely, but it can't really grip me, and in the end, it's just a nice episode. Not that that's bad.