Welcome to this week’s Avatar: The Last Airbender newbie recap, in which there is Haru, a psycho panda, and an IT Crowd reference.
Aang, Katara, and Sokka are still trekking up to the North Pole, but since there are no five-star hotels in the ATLAverse, they have to make do with camping in the forest and relying on Sokka’s nut-foraging skills. Which are… er, subpar. They hear some suspicious noises stage right, and Sokka stays gruntled all the way through them discovering that the noises come from an earthbender, ’cause seriously, have you people even heard of stealth? We’re kind of on a dangerous mission here.
Happily for Sokka, Katara’s desire to make friends with the earthbender is thwarted when it appears he’s just as antisocial as Sokka is.
They follow him to his village, which has been taken over by evil, eeeeevil Fire Nation soldiers who’ve abducted all the earthbenders. After Our Heroes formally meet the earthbender, Haru, and his long-suffering mother, said Fire Nation soldiers make an unannounced visit. Sokka tells everyone to act natural:
Wait, sorry, wrong screencap. Act natural:
The soldiers leave, taking most of Mama Haru’s money with them, because the feudal system has gone nuts here. Haru goes into Li’l Teen Revolutionary mode, ranting about how the town’s filled with cowards who won’t stand up for themselves. But Haru won’t either, because the risk is too great: If he earthbends, he’ll be taken away just like his father was. He and Katara open up about their dear departed parents—his abducted dad, her dead mom—while Haru’s long hair blows gently in the sunset wind. He’s ATLA Fabio. He’s sensitive, caring, kind of a scoundrel. If he and Katara are being set up as love interests, which is what it looks like, I would be OK with that. They’re both obsessed with justice, but while Haru is more emotional about it, Katara’s the more rational, plan-oriented one. And I kind of love that reversal of typical gender roles.
Also, she’s totally the Han Solo to his Princess Leia. (I’d say the Luke Skywalker to her Princess Leia, but… ew, incest.)
A mine collapses, trapping an old man, and Katara convinces Haru to use his earthbending skills to save him. Only then the Fire Nation soldiers arrest Haru, because the old dude he saved is a fricking snitch.
Katara immediately snaps into rescue mode and figures out a way to get herself arrested for earthbending so she can go save Haru’s tuchus. The plan hits a snag when Aang gets distracted—c’mon, we’re just trying to mount an extremely risky rescue operation, don’t take it so seriously!—but eventually Katara manages to get herself carted away to the extremely earth-less ship where the earthbenders are being held. She has 12 hours to rescue Haru before Sokka and Aang come to pick her up, and Aang’s a bit worried, but Sokka’s supremely confident that his older sister knows what she’s doing.
Or maybe he’s just a little bitter about her making fun of his ears in that “fake” fight they had. Respect, Katara. I am an older sister myself. You have to keep the whelps in line. [Edit: It has been pointed out that Katara is in fact Sokka's younger sister. I was projecting.]
The warden of the prison ship is a badass mofo, and he’s also George Takei, which is just a different sort of badass mofo. Katara has her reunion with Haru and meets his dad Tyro, who’s lost all hope of eventually escaping and going back home. Katara treats the assembled earthbenders to a big speech about courage! Freedom! The Avatar has returned! Aaaaaand crickets. When her flying bison ride shows up Katara convinces Aang and Sokka to stay and help her help the earthbenders get their fighting spirit back.
There’s a comedic interlude courtesy of Those Two Guys, in this case Fire Nation guards who don’t know the difference between a flying buffalo and a flying bison, the plebes. The Warden pitches one of them off the side of the boat. He should feel honored to be thrown off a boat by George Takei. [Sounds of distant Zuko in the background: HONORRRRRR.]
Aang figures out that the prison ship is powered by coal, which is totally earthbendable, so if they get some to the deck of the ship the prisoners should be able to take the fight into their own hands. Except they’d still rather not, kthx. It takes the Warden going off on an epic rant about how pathetic and useless earthbenders are for Haru to nut up and start fighting, which in turn prompts Tyro and the rest of them.
WARDEN. MONOLOGUING. IT NEVER ENDS WELL. [Major spoilers for the most recent Game of Thrones episode at the link.]
There’s an epic firebenders vs earthbenders fight, and eventually the latter come out on top. Haru and Tyro both bend over backwards to thank Katara, as they should, because she totally saved not only their asses, but also the collective asses of a whole buncha tiny Earth Nation villages. Now that Tyro’s out of prison, he’s ready to wreck some Fire Nation punks and shove them out of his land. Haru wants Katara to come with them, because he’s in lurrrrrrve, but she tells him she has to get Aang to the North Pole. Oh, if only there were something Haru could do to repay Katara….
…waitaminute, Katara’s necklace is gone. The one her mother gave her! And who has it but Zuko, who’s just now gotten to the prison ship where it fell off.
DUN DUN DUNNNNNN.
So this means we’re going to see more Haru, right? Because he’s going to get the necklace back to her? Also, Zuko has to be like… ten minutes behind Aang & co. at this point. It’s not like we’re in a world with surveillance cameras and GPS-enabled phones, but Jesus Christ, Aang has not exactly been subtle about telling everyone he meets that he’s the Avatar and that he’s heading to the North Pole. Take a village captive and threaten to slaughter one innocent civilian a minute until Aang turns himself in. (Yeah, yeah, Nickeoldeon.) I would make such a better—or, well, more competent—Avatar villain than you, son.
“The Spirit World (Winter Solstice, Part 1)”
The spirit world, oooooooo!
Wait, you mean the spirit world in the anime sense, where everything is elemental forces and misunderstood nature spirits? Gotcha.
After a brief interlude for Aang flying through clouds like the adorable little bald puffball he is, our heroes come across a “scar” in the land, a forest that was destroyed by Fire Nation soldiers. Sokka goes into angry rant mode, because he hasn’t yelled about Fire Nation soldiers in daaaaaaaays, but Aang’s emotional response is one of sadness. His job, as the Avatar, isn’t just to be able to bend all four elements: It’s to protect nature. But there’s no one around to teach him how to properly do that. Roku was supposed to be on the job, but the whole him being dead thing kind of messed with that.
Meanwhile, after a two-episode absence (minus a cameo at the end of “Imprisoned,”), Zuko’s back, yaaaaaaay!
Uncle Iroh’s trying to get his nephew to unwind a little by taking a hot bath, but Zuko’s all “MY TROUBLES CANNOT BE SOAKED AWAY.” Angst baby with your angst. Iroh’s love of relaxation gets him abducted by Earth Nation soldiers, who refer to him as “the dragon of the West” and “the once-great general.” Excuse you. Once great? Did you see that dude’s sideburns? What more proof of greatness do you need?
Katara tries to cheer Aang up by showing him acorns, which are proof that the forest will grow back one day. And it does cheer him up, because Katara gets shit done. At this point one of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s approximately twenty thousand (Already! Seven episodes in!) kindly old dudes shows up and asks for the Avatar’s help. He leads Aang, Katara, and Sokka back to his village, where he and Mr. Cheekbones…
Pictured: Mr. Cheekbones
… inform the Avatar that there’s a spirit master called Hei Bai who’s been showing up at their village uninvited every night, wrecking buildings, and kidnapping people. When the winter solstice comes a few days from now the lines between the natural and spirit worlds will blur, which means Hei Bei will be able to fuck even more shit up. If Aang could deal with it, that’d be great.
I was sure that there was something up with this village. A tiny, out of the way enclave near a spooky burned out forest filled with people who are just a smidge too nice? C’mon. But apparently my creep-o-meter is out of whack, because Old Dude and Mr. Cheekbones are just genuinely nice and need Aang’s help. Unfortunately, “help” is something Aang’s not good to provide at this juncture, as Hei Bei’s not too receptive to him politely asking if he might stop tormenting the village, please.
Sokka sees that Aang is getting his ass handed to him and tries to help, even though everyone else is all “Nooooo, this is something the Avatar has to do himself!” Reminds me of that scene in Firefly (“Jayne. This is something the captain has to do for himself.” “No, no it’s not!”). Unfortunately, Sokka’s fighting spirit gets him kidnapped. Aang zooms through the forest after them and gets knocked out after landing a clearing with a statue of the Mor’du the bear from Brave.
Over in the land of this episode’s b-plot, Zuko figures out right away that earthbenders kidnapped Uncle Iroh. That’s… wow. I know I’ve made some jokes about Zuko being an incompetent, angsty little weenie—a lovable incompetent, angsty little weenie—but I am genuinely impressed here. Also impressive is Iroh, who plays up his “harmless, goofy uncle” rep to leave behind a sandal for Zuko to find. Find it he does, and he confirms it’s his uncle’s by smelling it. I love his nonchalant “Yep, that’s Uncle Iroh.” Zuko is killing it this episode. Put him in a high-risk situation and he actually does pretty well if he’s not freaking out about OMG THE AVATAR I HAVE TO FIND HIM SO MY DAD WILL LOVE ME. Let it go, Zuko. Let it gooooooo.
Back at the village of the creepy people who aren’t really creepy, Katara assures Old Dude that Aang won’t come back without Sokka. Which is when Aang comes back without Sokka. Only he’s in the spirit world now, so no one can see him. Annnnnd then a spirit dragon shows up. Boss. Turns out it was Avatar Roku’s animal guide, and it takes Aang to a Fire Nation temple where he’ll be able to talk to Roku about Avataring on the winter solstice. Unfortunately, there’s the small issue of Aang needing to find Sokka before then. The dragon magics Aang back into his body, and he gets back to the village just in time for Hei Bei to show up again.
Uncle Iroh escapes from the earthbenders—because crouching tiger, ancient badass—but only temporarily. They are about to crush his hands with rocks when Zuko shows up to save the day. He saw Appa flying around with Katara (because like she’s gonna stay home when she could be looking for Aang and Sokka, oh please) and assumed it was Aang, but instead of going after the Avatar he decided to rescue his uncle instead. And he does it in a badass, dramatic way.
He then literally kicks the chain restraining Iroh apart and wails on those pesky earthbenders with his uncle. I love you both. Never leave me.
Back at the village Hei Bei is here, and he’s ready to kill.
Aang does the knowledge transfer thing the spirit dragon taught him and finds out that Hei Bei is actually just a friendly panda forest spirit who Hulked out when the Fire Nation got destruction-happy in his territory. Aang calms it down by showing it the acorns Katara showed him, because even when she’s not even involved in the fight Katara’s still saving the day. Hei Bei’s like “yeah OK” and lets his captives, including Sokka, loose.
Cheekbones asks if there’s any way to repay Aang for how he saved their village, and Sokka jumps in with “We accept cash, credit card, and money order” because “What?! We need stuff!” Bless. We end with a setup for Spirit World, Part 2: Aang has to get to the Fire Nation temple to talk to Roku by the winter solstice, which is the next day. Shit’s gonna get real.
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