In the beginning of part 1, Sokka and Zuko set off to the highest-security prison in the Fire Nation in the hope of finding Hakoda, Sokka's father, who was captured during the invasion on the day of the eclipse. This is Zuko's second trip with one of the individual members of the Gaang, and like his trip with Aang, it highlights both what he has in common with Sokka as well as the ways they differ and possibly complement each other.
Zuko and Sokka's field trip is based on the common theme of “restoring honor”, especially with regard to their fathers. Sokka feels that the failure of the invasion—and his father's capture—is his fault, and he needs to fix it. Zuko understands this well, having spent so much energy trying to restore his honor, especially in the eyes of his father. Now Zuko has at last understood that the kind of “honor” his father can bestow is not worth having—but Zuko still feels a drive, now re-directed, to restore his honor in a different way—by helping the Avatar, making restitution for the Fire Nation's sins (including his own personal contributions), and eventually restoring his relationship with his uncle. All these things are unspoken in The Boiling Rock. Instead, Zuko simply hints to Sokka that he understands the need to restore honor without detailing what that means for him. But to my mind, his past quest for honor is less of a factor than his present one in empathizing with Sokka and wanting to help him out.
Early in the story, Sokka and Zuko bond over lost girlfriends (resulting in some of my favorite dialogue in the show), and differ over how to approach problems. Sokka admits that he overplans things, resulting in the frustration of plans gone awry, while Zuko admits that he often fails to plan ahead adequately. Ultimately, as they meet the challenges of infiltrating the volcanic prison and escaping with friends in tow, they have to use both approaches—planning ahead and thinking on your feet as unexpected factors arise. Mostly the latter. Lucky for them, those unexpected factors include two fantastic women who are watching their backs.
The finale of this two-episode arc is full of Girl Power, which I love. I've heard fans complain (though often lovingly) about how “unrealistic” some of these scenes are, especially Suki's spider-like scaling of the prison wall to capture the warden and Mai's stunningly non-lethal capture of the gondola's control mechanism. My inner feminist can't help but wonder: Would those complaints have occurred to us if it was Zuko scaling the wall? If it was Sokka taking out prison guards with his boomerang? Maybe, maybe not. But my impression is that gender double standards may play a role in the criticism.
As a Mai fan, The Boiling Rock part 2, is of course, one of my favorite episodes, but it also troubles me because it leaves so many unanswered questions: What becomes of Mai and Ty Lee in the immediate aftermath of their betrayal of Azula? Why does Azula spare their lives (apart from this being a kids' show, of course)? Does Mai's uncle offer any protection or mercy? How does Zuko feel about leaving Mai behind to face an uncertain fate? Do Mai and Ty Lee begin to question Fire Nation policies at this point, or are they only turning against Azula for personal reasons? These are gaps I've often thought about filling in with fanfiction. Maybe I will when I finish my reviews—just six episodes left!
This episode didn't have a commentary track, so I'm not making a separate post for it. I also don't have any friends or family members I expect to read this that need to stay spoiler-free, so don't worry about posting spoilers in the comments section. (I've also dropped the kiss count; I decided it was kind of silly.)