Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: Book One, “The Storm,” “The Blue Spirit”
BACKSTORY AW YISS.
I was informed after last week’s recap that “The Great Divide” is generally regarded as the lowpoint of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Really?! The last thing I newbie recapped was Battlestar Galactica, and the worst episode there was the steaming pile of vomit-encrusted cow turd that was “Black Market.” “The Great Divide” is maybe day-old Cheetos next to that. But no matter. This week’s pair of episodes was amazing.
It’s the backstory episode!
This week we find out how Aang got himself trapped in a damn iceberg, what Zuko did to make his asshole of a father go all Denethor on him, and how Katara got to be so damned awesome. Well, no. We don’t get an explanation on that last one. We don’t need an explanation on that last one. It just is.
In the present day, Aang wakes up from a nightmare where he’s flying through a huge, scary storm, and Monk Gyatso guilt trips him for not being around when the world needed him. He’s been having nightmares for a while, and Katara’s concerned, but Sokka just wants to sleep. He does ask Katara and Aang whether they want to hear about his dream, and Sokka, no. No one wants to hear about the teenage boy’s dream. Trust me.
The next morning, they head to the market because they have no food. Only they don’t have any money, either, so Sokka has to take a temp job on a fisherman’s boat. The fisherman’s wife is convinced a storm’s a’comin’, as is Aang, but hey, people gotta eat. By the time the storm does roll in, Sokka’s already promised, and he can’t go back on his word. After all, the fisherman’s a lovely man who yells at Aang, a twelve year old boy, for not being around when the world went to shit. Dude, I get where you’re coming from, but look at this face:
Step off his jock!
Aang runs off and Katara (“No one’s drowning of angst on my watch!”) follows him. Sokka ships out to sea, having missed that entire conversation. Prince o’ my heart.
What’s going down in Casa Daddy Issues? Iroh’s convinced that there’s a storm coming, so maybe they should turn around? But Zuko doesn’t care, because even if his uncle is right, he’s still willing to risk the lives of every single person on the ship—if this were someone else, I’d call them a hypocrite, but I know Zuko’s a self-destructive little cookie who’s more than willing to die to regain his honor—to find the Avatar. Angry, awkward ball of social incompetence that he is, Zuko just so happens to be going on that particular rant just as one of his lieutenants walks by.
Lieutenant Muttonchops loses his shit at Zuko when the storm puts in an appearance, which, in turn, leads to a big ol’ fight that culminates in Muttonchops calling Zuko a spoiled brat. I get that he’s half your age, but dude, he’s your commander. Rein it in a little. The situation is rescued by Iroh and his always spot-on priorities, who steps in all “FUCK THIS LET’S GO EAT FOOD.” Afterwards, he goes to provide Muttonchops with the answer to the age-old question: Why is Zuko such an angsty little shit?
Aang tells Katara all about how his life got flipped turned upside down. And he’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, and tell her how he came to be trapped in an iceberg for 100 years while a war he was supposed to be fighting in raged outside. When Aang was 12, he was told that he was the Avatar, and it changed his whole life, because none of his friends wanted to play with him anymore and the airbender monks made him train all the time. The only person who wanted him to lead at least something of a normal life was Monk Gyatso. But the other monks decided to ship him away to a different air temple, away from Monk Gyatso. So Aang ran away, after which he got caught in a storm, and… well, you know the rest.
It’s quite a burden for a 12-year-old to have, especially when you consider he didn’t really do anything wrong. All that happened when I ran away from home is that I got lost trying to get out of my neighborhood. Aang does it and, whoops, a war starts and tons of people die because he’s not there to save them.
Speaking of little kids carrying around far too much guilt for far too little an offense: Zuko! Man, it’s weird to see Flashback!Zuko young, scarless, and smiling.
He wants to sit in on a war council meeting, which Iroh agrees to let him do if he keeps quiet. Only he finds himself unable to do that when a general suggests using an entire division of new recruits as cannon fodder. Zuko rightly points out that that’s an incredibly shit move, which Fire Lord Ozai (MARK HAMILL OMG) sees as an act of disrespect. So: FIRE DUEL. Damn, the Fire Nation is intense.
Even worse, instead of dueling the general whom he challenged, Zuko will have to duel the Fire Lord himself, aka HIS OWN FATHER. Zuko “begged for mercy,” but it’s less “Waaaaaah, Dad, please don’t hurt me” (which would be completely legit, Zuko being a child and all) and more “I didn’t mean to disrespect you! I only had the Fire Nation’s best interests at heart,” which is completely reasonable. Ozai, WORLD’S WORST FATHER, not only scars his son, he banishes him because of his “shameful weakness.” The only way he can regain his honor is if he finds the Avatar, which Ozai had to have thought was probably never gonna happen.
Several things mess me up about what was done to Zuko.
- ALL OF IT.
- But more specifically: he didn’t even do anything that bad! I mean, I knew Fire Lord Ozai was a jackass who instilled some major league daddy-issues in his son, but I thought at least Zuko did something.
- It looks like Ozai did’t have a single conversation with his son—whom he is, presumably, in a normal world, supposed to be raising—about “Hey, maybe don’t speak up against my generals during a war council.” He could’ve demanded an apology! Or grounded him! But no. “Yo, brother, tell my son he’ll have to fire duel with an experienced adult.”
- “Oh, and don’t tell him it’ll be me. That’ll be hilarious.”
- “And I’m gonna humiliate him in front of all these people! Ho boy, that’ll be rad.”
Zuko is scared shitless during the duel, and everyone we see in the stands aside from Iroh either seems to have no problems with it or is actively digging what they’re seeing:
What is wrong with everyone?!
Storytime brings Lieutenant Muttonchops around to Team Zuko. We get a brief shot of angry, bitter asshat Zuko remembering happier times. I learned a term from Susana today that accurately represents my feelings here: TEARBENDING.
Just then is when the storm gets really fucking nuts. The fisherman’s wife shows up in the cave where Aang and Katara are hanging out to tell them her husband’s ship hasn’t gotten back, so he and Sokka might need a rescue. I’m sorry, I’m hung up on the fact that this lady tracked Aang and Katara to a cave that required a hang-glider to get to. In the middle of a hurricane. Forget Badass Mode General Iroh, this might be the single most hardcore person in the entire show so far. Aang uses his his waterbending powers to save Sokka and the fisherman, only in the process the three of them, plus Appa and Katara, end up passed out underwater. There’s a symbolic moment of ~~~Aang choosing to be helpful instead of running away~~~, and he gets all Avatar glow-y and saves all his buds and that asshole fisherman.
Meanwhile, on the Fire Nation ship, Zuko and Lieutenant Muttonchops leap into rescue mode without a second thought to save one of the crewmen when the storm almost dashes him off the helm. Zuko and Aang end up what appears to be mere feet from one another, but Zuko calls off the pursuit because he really doesn’t want his men to die, thank you very much. If this episode’s taught me anything, it’s that Aang and Zuko are actually really similar, only Zuko got the bad luck of having an asshole father.
ALSO, THIS HAPPENED:
Team Avatar takes the fisherman back to his much-better-and-more-hardcore-than-him wife. Aang acknowledges that “Katara, I think you were right before”—THAT’S IT, THAT’S THE WHOLE SHOW—when she told him in the cave that he was probably meant to run away and get frozen by the storm. There’s no way of knowing how things would’ve turned out if he hadn’t gone, so there’s no point dwelling in the past.
Awwww, this was a good episode. I know Zuko throws in with Team Avatar at some point, or at least I think he does? I’ve seen gifsets of them all together. Please, Zuko and Aang. Be friends.
The Blue Spirit
We got so close to Aang/Zuko friendship! So close!
Zhao Assbasket is back, and he’s been promoted to Admiral. As part of his quest to find the Avatar (as a way to dick over Zuko—sure, there’s immense military value in finding Aang, but don’t tell me at least half of of Assbasket’s Avatar obsession isn’t him wanting to show up Zuko, a teenager. You are way less impressive than you think you are, bro), he’s enlisted the help of Colonel Shinu’s super-archers. I don’t know if we’ll see Shinu again, but I want to, because the first thing we see him do is be mean to Zhao, and I appreciate that.
Also, a dude in a mask is creeping on the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the flu has felled dear Sokka, and Katara is coming down with it, too. That immediately causes Aang to freak out about getting to an herbalist on a neighboring mountain, because “Holy crap we’re all going to die if Katara’s out of commission!” Katara and Sokka don’t have much of anything to do this episode instead of lying around and being delirious and silly (Sokka) and trying to get Momo to bring them water (Katara, in “get shit done” mode even when she has a monster flu). Katara’s attempts all fail, though, because Momo’s not so good with understanding English. He does, however, get Katara’s character pretty well:
So this ep is all about Aang and Sassy Zuko.
Zhao rolls up and tells him that all information about the whereabouts of the Avatar has to be relayed directly to him now. Sassy Zuko says no. But it’s not like Zhao really needs his help, since he’s put out wanted posters and immediately gets information about Aang’s whereabouts. Aang, just having been told some not-so-helpful-sounding information on how to cure Katara and Sokka—it involves sucking on frogs
—gets captured by Zhao’s arrow dudes. Man, Zuko, Zhao is so much better at this than you. Zuko’s been being Angry Firebending Practice on his ship while raging that Zhao’s going to STEAL HIS HONOR!!!! from him by getting to Aang first. Shit’s about to get intense.
Side note: Even when Aang is being chased through a swamp by scary dudes with arrows, he still pauses to find those frogs his friends need to get well.
Zhao, having finally captured the Avatar, proceeds to go all villain monologue on him, talking about how he won’t kill him, because that would only let him be reborn again. Mask Guy sneaks into the temple, handily defeats the guards, and helps Aang escape. It’s preeeetty obvious at this point that it’s Zuko. Mask Guy knows how to deal with firebenders. He has a flair for the dramatic (“Hello Avatar I am here to rescue you NO I AM HERE TO MAKE YOU THINK I’M GOING TO KILL YOU no I’m going to rescue you”) that definitely matches what we know of Zuko. And Zuko has a vested interest in Zhao not catching Aang, because he wants to capture him himself. And how freaking awesome is it that Zuko was spying on Zhao all the way at the beginning of this episode?! “I know this other guy is looking for the Avatar, and I know I have not even a tenth of the resources that he does, so maybe I should keep abreast of what he’s up to.”
So: Aang and Zuko. Fighting their way out of Zhao’s temple. They fight really well together. At one point they make a human helicopter and my inner 9-year-old flips the fuck out. This is some big-time drift compatibility. The fight ends in a stalemate: Zuko and Aang are surrounded, but Zuko has his knife at Aang’s throat, and, as we already know, Zhao doesn’t want Aang to die. So he orders them to be let loose… and then knocks Zuko out from a distance. Aang takes off Zuko’s mask and discovers that the guy who rescued him is the same person who’s been hunting him down all this time, but instead of just running away and leaving Zuko to Zhao’s army, he rescues both of them, like we all knew he would.
Aang takes Zuko to a forest, where he proceeds to pontificate about an old Fire Nation buddy of his while Zuko comes to. “If we knew each other back then,” Aang asks, “do you think we could have been friends, too?”
And Zuko may throw a fireball at Aang and run away back to his ship because HONOR!!!!, but his face says “Yes, I want to be your friend. I want to have slumber parties together and braid your lack of hair.”
Aang gets back to Katara and Sokka and cures them with the frozen frogs he managed to keep track of through this entire ordeal. If you think you can mend my broken heart by ending the episode on Sokka’s disgusted reaction to having a frog in his mouth then you are wrong, Avatar.
That is still gross, though.
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