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Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: Book Two—”Bitter Work,” “The Library”

Can you knot?

atla the library featured

Avatar eased up on the emotional turmoil since last week’s recap, thank you God.

“Bitter Work”
“Bitter Work” is a filler episode, but it’s a damn fine one, which tends to be Avatar‘s wont. Basically, you have Aang learning how to earthbend and Zuko trying to learn how to be a lightningbender, but in the end all he does is cry in the rain because Zuko.

We’re going to get to that training, but first:

gpoy everything

Aang had an easy time of learning waterbending, but it turns out earthbending isn’t his forte. Katara blames that at least in part on Toph’s abrasive teaching style, which I don’t think is fair, but hey, at least Katara’s nice about her criticism this time. It’s natural that she’d feel possessive of her #1 student. I’m looking forward to the day when Katara and Toph become BFFs and take out the Fire Nation together while Aang and Sokka look on in awe of their determination and bending prowess.

Also there’s a TRAINING MONTAGE:


No “Eye of the Tiger,” though. WTF, Avatar?!

Toph, befitting her introduction, is basically a wrestling coach, and I love it. Turns out Aang’s a shitteous earthbender—or, in Toph’s words, a “jelly-boned wimp”—because airbending and earthbending are polar opposites. Aang’s used to keeping fluid, both in terms of physical action and mentality, but earthbending’s all about staying put. (Naturally, it is Katara who points this out to an angsty, self-doubting Aang, because of course it is. Katara knows her shit.)

Toph tries to get Aang riled up by stealing his hang-glider/staff and beating his nuts with it (not what it sounds like), but in the end it takes Sokka being a damsel in distress for Aang to get his shit goether. See, while Aang, Toph, and Katara are engaged in various bending lessons, Sokka’s decided, fuck this, he’s going to get some food. And he gets himself stuck in a crevasse somehow. Don’t ask questions. He then bonds with an adorable little moose creature who turns out to be a “baby sabretooth moose lion cub.”

Pause for repeating that:







Said cub’s mom shows up and tries to eat Sokka, whose offers to the cosmic powers to give up meat and sarcasm in exchange for his freedom were ignored for some reason. I can’t imagine why. With a sabretooth moose lion (*happy sigh*) bearing down on his best friend, it’d be really nice if Aang could figure out how to earthbend. He doesn’t, but he is able to airbend the beastie away. Which is when he sees Toph, who was spectating the whole time. Naturally, Aang’s pretty ticked about that, which turns out to be just the push he needed to earthbend. Or, as Toph puts it: “You stood your ground against a crazy beast and against me.”

OK, OK. Now I’m done with this Gaang shit. Guys, I love you, but Zuko.

But before we get to the crown prince of Daddy Issues, there’s a flashback to younger Iroh playing with his dead son, because fuck you and your emotions, that’s why.


Zuko asks his uncle, who survived Azula’s lighting attack (damn straight, Avatar. I swear to God, if something happens to Iroh I’ll be so pissed), whether it might be a good time to resume his firebending training, what with his much-more-talented sister being out for his blood and all. “Now I’m aware that you might think I should avoid fighting her,” says Zuko, preparing his mental Powerpower presentation, only to be cut off by Iroh, who says nah, “She’s crazy and she needs to go down.”

That is a verbatim quote.


Iroh explains that lightingbending is a “pure” form of firebending, and as such it requires that whoever wants to do it completely empty themselves of any emotion and achieve pure peace of mind. Tl;dr—Zuko has to give up his angst. Naaaaaaaah, son. Not gonna happen.

Predictably, Zuko fails. (I feel like that sentence is somehow emblematic of his existence up to this point.) Every time he tries a fireball explodes in his face, “LIKE EVERYTHING ALWAYS DOES.” Ohhhh, Zuko, my angry puppy.

let me love you

He doesn’t get what he’s doing wrong, because his inner turmoil is so baked into the core of his being that he doesn’t realize it’s even there. Basically, it’s like this:

…except without that moment of realization at the end. Instead of creating lightning, Iroh teaches Zuko how to redirect lighting (like Iroh did in “The Avatar State“) using a move of his own invention that uses some fancy waterbending footwork. Zuko smells Avatar shit, but the lure of learning something his sister doesn’t know is too strong. After hours of practicing the form Zuko gets it in theory, but then Iroh refuses to let him test it, because as it turns out he is in fact sane.

I smell foreshadowing.

Zuko, pissed that his uncle won’t fire a lightning bolt at him (babe. BABE), goes off to climb a mountain in the middle of a storm and shed a single solitary tear of UNENDING ANGST when a bolt of lightning refuses to hit him because that’s not how nature works, Zuko. I kid, I kid. It’s a very moving scene of Zuko letting out some of his pent-up… issues about how his life has turned out.

But it’s also fucking hilarious. I’m sorry. Dramatic teenage boy ranting in the middle of a hurricane. Don’t tell me what I’m allowed to find funny.

Zuko’s going to get over his issues soon. I can feel it in my bones.

“The Library”


After a few episodes of the gaang farting around and picking up an earthbending teacher for Aang, Sokka finally realizes: “Wait… don’t we have to beat the Fire Lord by the time Sozin’s comet comes back? That’s a thing, right? Should we not be figuring out where Ozai’s palace is?” Good ol’ destination-oriented Sokka. Aana, Toph, and Katara would rather go on “mini-vacations,” one of which lands them in a once-great tourist trap called the Misty Palms Oasis. While there, they meet Professor Zei, a scholar of anthropology who’s this show’s biggest dork so far. I think I’m in love with this one-off character whom we’ll probably never see again.

Zei tells the crew about a mythical library created by the spirit of all knowledge and its “foxy knowledge seekers,” and yes, that is a quote. Sokka, excited that the library might have a map of the Fire Nation, picks it as the destination for his mini-vacation.


This particular library will be tough to check out (pause for snickering), since it’s located… somewhere… in a vast desert. Zei’s been looking for it his entire life with no luck. But there’s one thing Zei didn’t have: A SKY BISON.

They set off on their quest to find the library and are followed by a group of sandbenders on some unspecified quest. We’ll find out why they’re there later, and it’s sad. In the meantime, there’s yet another scene I recognize from having seen it circulating around Tumblr. (“That’s what it will sound like when one of you spots it!”)

Sokka spots the spire of the library, which has mostly sunk under the sand by this point, though Toph determines that its inside is sand-free. Everyone goes in except for Appa and Toph, who rightly points out that the library doesn’t really have anything for her unless it turns out audiobooks have been invented several centuries early. Zei, scholarly dork of my heart, waxes rhapsodic about the “beautiful buttresses,” which causes Aang and Sokka to have a giggle fit. I am all three of them.

The group is confronted by the knowledge spirit who built the library. He also happens to be a giant scary owl.


“All you fuckers,” explains the owl in slightly more polite words, “need to GTFO out of my library real fucking quick, because all anyone ever wants to do when they come here is find out a way to dick someone else over. Humans fucking suck.” This owl is DONE.

Of course, Sokka is there to discover how to dick over the Fire Nation, but he lies out of his ass and says he seeks knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Aang vouches for him (that’s no very bald cupcake of you), and the owl lets them all in as long as they submit some knowledge of their own. Zei has a first edition of some book. Katara and Aang have rare scrolls. Sokka has… a knot.


OK, babe.

Sokka finds a scroll that refers to “the darkest day in Fire Nation history,” and boy, doesn’t that sound promising. One of the foxy knowledge seekers (actually a fox) leads the gaang to the library’s planetarium, where they discover said “darkest day” is a solar eclipse. Since a lunar eclipse causes the waterbenders to lose their powers, it’s a fair bet that a solar eclipse causes firebenders to lose theirs. So whenever the solar eclipse is, it’s a perfect time to attack the Fire Nation. Also, “darkest day in Fire Nation history”? Was that a fucking pun on this ancient, important Fire Nation scroll?!


That’s when the angry owl shows up all WHAT THE FUCK DID I SAY TO YOU PUNKS.

owl 2

Sokka tries to convince the owl that their war against the Fire Nation is justified, but owls, as everyone knows, cannot be reasoned with. The owl decides to bury his library so no one else can fuck with it ever again, which is obviously bad for the people still inside. Aang and Sokka high-tail it back to the planetarium to find out when the next solar eclipse will be (a few months away), while Katara’s on “Get Momo and Zei out of here” duty. Only Zei, who does just want knowledge for knowledge’s sake, decides to stay in the rapidly sinking library. Dude… you don’t have food. Or water. Dude.

The trio gets out just in time, but the drama ain’t over yet. Turns out the Tusken Raiders sandbenders were following them so they could kidnap Appa. THEY WHAT. Toph couldn’t stop them, because she had to focus all her attention on keeping the library from sinking so her friends could get out.


Because I want to avoid being spoiled if at all possible, comments on this post are locked. Any spoilery discussion can be directed to Facebook; if there’s anything non-spoilery about the recaps you want to say to me, you can hit me up on Twitter. You can catch up on previous recaps here.

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