Welcome to week two of my Avatar: The Last Airbender newbie recaps, wherein I can feel an intense love of Sokka infecting my soul. Let’s boogie.
The Avatar Returns
After the pilot, Sokka and the rest of his village are none too pleased with Aang and Katara for leading the Fire Nation right to them. Aang offers to spare Katara a hefty dose of family drama by skipping down, because he’s the world’s youngest mensch. Also, this line happened:
Someone give these writers a medal.
Sokka started out this episode as a little jerkwad, losing his sh*t at Aang and being all “But you’d choose him over your own faaaaamily?!” at Katara, when you know that’s not how it is you manipulative jerkwad. But I can’t stay mad at him when the Fire Nation ship rolls on up to his village and he just looks so terrified.
This kid was probably given the “You’re the man of the house now! Take care of your family!” speech when his dad and granddad left, and he’s… what, 14? 15? The way he sees it he’s his village’s only line of defense against a huge warship, and he probably feels at least partially responsible for the utter destruction he’s sure that warship is going to rain down, because he and Katara are the ones who brought Aang back. Look at this kid. He is a teenager and he is legit prepared to die to protect the people he cares about.
Approximately half an hour into a show on Nickel-damn-lodeon, and I’m already getting feels like this. It’s unacceptable, Avatar: The Last Airbender!
The Fire Nation, being exceedingly impolite, just bashes through Sokka’s painstakingly constructed watchtower. Literally no one but the members of the Water Tribe have been dressed at all appropriately for South Pole temperatures. Zuko shows up looking for the Avatar, whom he mistakenly thinks would be an old man. Though Zuko wallops Sokka in their fight, I’m inclined to say Sokka won in my heart because MOTHER. FREAKIN’. BOOMERANG.
Or boomer… Aang?
When all is looking extremely dire for Sokka & co. Aang shows up on a penguin sled to save the day. Zuko is personally offended that the guy he trained to fight is only a kid, and Aang’s confused “…but you’re just a teenager” is pure perfection. Your
manadolescentboypain does not not work here, Zuko, so don’t even try. Aang agrees to go with Zuko if the Fire Nation promises to leave his new friends alone, which of course puts Katara in rescue mode. Surprisingly, Sokka acknowledges right away that Aang is their ally, not their enemy, and that they should go rescue him even if it means risking their lives.
….Wow. Sokka got over his Aang-vs-me issues real damn quick. Which I absolutely mean as a compliment. I’ve seen Sokka referred to as the Xander of ATLA, the lone “normal” guy in a crowd of people with supernatural powers, and the way the writers opted not to belabor this early bit of angst makes me think I might not have to sit through retread of Buffy‘s tendency to give Xander multiple episodes about how “Waaaah, he’s not as important as the other Scoobies, nobody needs him, waaaaah.” At the end of each episode he’s made to realize “But Xander, you’re the heart!,” only for his self-obsessed inferiority complex to rear its ugly head with another Very Special Episode the next season. It got old, and Xander needed to get the hell over himself.
Ahem. I needed to get that off my chest. Back to Avatar.
On the Fire Nation ship Zuko sneers that Aang’s staff will make a great gift for his father, not that Aang would know about fathers, having been raised by monks.
Low blow, asshole. Again: Daddy issues.
Aang uses his airbending powers to escape the guards and even uses one of their pointy helmets to cut the ropes around his wrists like a li’l badass. He comes across Uncle Iroh sleeping in his quarters and backs right out because he’s a polite li’l badass, and I just need to highlight this screencap:
Aang finds his staff in Zuko’s quarters but, to quote the great Admiral Ackbar, it’s a trap! Aang zooms around on an airbubble like a little pinball. Zuko’s flinging fireballs around. Man, the Fire Nation must have some real fireproofing know-how. It’s a pretty evenly matched fight, but it looks like Zuko might prevail until Katara and Sokka roll up on Aang’s flying bison. (Which Sokka accidentally figured out how to make fly. Ya cutie.)
All the same Aang gets pushed into the ocean, where he manages to save himself with a bout of impromptu waterbending, which he also uses to take out Zuko and some of the remaining guards.
Katara gets some of the other guards by turning them into soldiersicles. You could say she gives them some ice for their burn. Eyyyyyyyyy.
Our heroic trio escapes, and Zuko and Uncle Iroh—who’s just woken up from his nap—try to shoot them down with a gosh-darn fire spout, but all that happens is that Aang deflects it and the ship ends up encased in ice. A blusterful Zuko says he won’t underestimate the Avatar again!!! and Let’s go after him… as soon as my guards are defrosted. Bangarang, boy.
A dejected Aang tells Katara and Sokka that he kept his Chosen One status a secret from them because he never wanted to be the Avatar in the first place. Katara, slicing through the sads with some ice-cold practicality, reminds him that he’s the only one who has the power to stop the war, and that’s pretty cool, so buck up, buttercup. The legend says that the Avatar starts as an airbender, then masters waterbending, earthbending, and firebending (do I spot a series arc? Book One: Water. Book Two: Earth. Book Three: Fire.), so they should go to the North Pole for some waterbending lessons. Aang agrees… but lists a whole bunch of fun activities they have to do first. Like RIDING DONKEYS. I take it that will be the next episode.
The Southern Air Temple
It is not.
Avatar, I am disappoint.
Our protagonists have decided to take a road trip to Aang’s old stomping ground, the Southern Air Temple, which Katara objects to because… you realize there’s been a war on for 100 years and everyone there is probably dead now, right Aang? Optimistic little cupcake that he is, Aang argues that since the only way to get to the Southern Air Temple is by Bison Airlines, some of his people might still be alive.
Sokka doesn’t give a hoot either way, because all he wants to do is sleep and eat. I feel you, bro.
Meanwhile Zuko and Uncle Iroh have freed their ship from the iceberg and hopped over to Commander Zhao’s harbor for repairs. It is imperative, Zuko reminds his uncle, that the Commander not find out about the Avatar, because if he does he’ll go after Aang himself. So of course Zuko proceeds to be incredibly smooth about how the ship got damaged: “You would not believe how this happened. It was such a crazy random happenstance. Also I absolutely did not find any evidence that the Avatar exists, nosirree!” Zhao immediately realizes that something is up, because Zuko is as bad a liar as he is, apparently, a son.
Pictured: Zuko’s Petulant Teenager Fire Hands.
Things heat up even more for Zuko (harr harr harr) once his crew spills the beans about him having found—and been defeated by—the Avatar. Zhao says he interrogated the crew, but I think it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that Zuko just forgot to tell them “Hey, by the way, let’s keep the Avatar thing on the down-low, yeah?” He’s kind of hilariously inept so far. But that’s not enough to warrant Zhao’s absolutely shit treatment of him—saying he’s pathetic, he’s a disappointment, he has no sense of loyalty, and oh yeah, even if he finds the Avatar the King won’t undo his banishment because his daddy doesn’t love him. Harsh, asshat. I want four-flippered penguins to swarm the harbor and gnaw his face off. Instead we get Zuko challenging him to a duel, which is OK too, I guess.
Back at the air temple, Aang hasn’t found corpses (yet), but he hasn’t found any people, either. Sokka distracts his new friend by asking him how to play airball, which A) he doesn’t care about, and B) he knew would probably just lead to getting his ass kicked. But he does it anyway, ’cause he’s a champ and Aang’s his friend now. Also trying to protect Aang is Katara, who hides from him incontrovertible proof that his home was invaded by the Fire Nation.
Aang comes across a statue of his old mentor, Monk Gyatso, and from there we head to flashback land where we see Gyatso training a reluctant-to-be-the-Avatar Aang by having him airbend cakes at people’s faces. Gyatso tells Aang that inside the Air Temple Sanctuary he’ll meet someone who will teach him how to Avatar, but that’s not as important to me as an old monk caking people in the face. That sounds wrong.
Back in the present day Aang uses his airbending powers to get into the Air Temple Sanctuary, reasoning that if he survived in an iceberg for a century someone else might’ve survived in there. All he find are statues of the previous incarnations of the Avatar, aka his past lives. He recognizes the previous Avatar, the firebender Roku, even though he’d never seen him before a day in his life. Oh, and he also finds a lemur. He wants to adopt it and cuddle it and keep it as a pet. Sokka wants to eat it. In fact, his entire minset this episode is “obsessed with food.” There’s also this lovely interaction:
Aang chases the lemur into a lovely room filled with the corpses of Monk Gyatso and a slew of Fire Nation soldiers. The emotional distress caused by his somewhat gruesome discovery switches his Avatar powers to eleven. He goes all glowy. The statues in the sanctuary go all glowy. Buildings in the Earth, Fire, and Air Nations go all glowy. Everything’s glowy. And everyone knows the Avatar hath returned. Meanwhile Aang’s having a hard time controlling his powers. He almost tornados Katara and Sokka clean off the mountain until Katara goes into Inspirational Speech Mode and tells him that, last of the Air Nation he may be, he still has a family: Her and Sokka.
She also apologizes for not telling him about the Fire Nation soldiers earlier, and he accepts that apology with no hard feelings. Hallelujah! Any time someone chooses to withhold information from a friend/family member I assume endless angst will come from it, because I used to watch Supernatural and that particular overused storytelling device has infected by brain. It’s lazy, it’s artificial, and I hate it. So I’m very glad that Avatar wraps up the issue of Katara lying to Aang for his own good literally within ten minutes.
Back to Commander Assbasket… sorry, Commander Zhao. No. I like my name better. Commander Assbasket has a pretty easy time kicking Zuko’s angsty teenage ass all over the place at first, but then our boy uses some fancy footwork and pulls it out at the end with some FIRE KICKS. Having defeated Assbasket, it’s well within Zuko’s right to send a fire blast to his face, giving him a scar like the one Zuko has. He decides not to, but instead of being grateful Assbasket tells Zuko “Your father raised a coward!” (not enough to call him a coward, you have to bring the daddy issues into it too?!) and attacks him while his back is turned. But then Uncle Iroh.
Everyone’s just a dirty-diapered punk next to Uncle Iroh. He tells Commander Assbasket that even in exile Zuko is more honorable than him, and the disbelieving look that Zuko shoots his way just about breaks my heart. Nobody ever tells Zuko anything good about himself!
We finish up this episode with the party of Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Appa gaining a new member: The lemur, whom Aang names Momo. Momo even brings Sokka some food so he won’t be tempted to grill him up for an afternoon snack.
Come back next Tuesday for recaps of “The Warriors of Kyoshi” and “The King of Omashu.” I have an idea from the Free Comic Book Day offering I read that the Warriors of Kyoshi might be a band of lady fighters? Bring it!
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