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Welcome to Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Newbie Recap


What is up, my friends, readers, and colleagues? Remember that time I watched Battlestar Galactica for the first time and recapped it? Yeah. That was fun, if infuriating near the end. Starting this week I’m doing the same thing with Avatar: The Last Airbender, which Susana’s been trying to get me to watch for… I think it’s coming on two years now. Fine, Susana. We’re starting with the pilot, as one does, but first, here’s what I think I’m getting into with this show:

Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart!. AND EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE FIRE NATION ATTACKED. There’s a cool blind girl who’s the first metalbender. Aang’s fighting style is nope. Zuko’s obsessed with honor and eventually becomes a good guy? CABBAGES. There’s a stealth badass uncle and wunderbar grumpy (middle-aged?) ladies maybe? One of TV history’s best bottle episodes. Spinoff Legend of Korra is a disappointment for love triangle reasons?

And there was going to be a movie at some point, but for some reason it fell through. Nooooope. Never happened.

Let’s get to the pilot, aka

The Boy in the Iceberg

The opening narration tells us things used to be hunky dory in the land of ‘benders, but EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE FIRE NATION ATTACKED. She said the thing! The only one who could bring balance to the Force was the Avatar, but he noped out like a jackass for some reason. Katara, Lady Voiceover, tells us that while everyone else thinks the situation is completely FUBAR, she has confidence the Avatar was reborn and will return some day.

♫ I believe that children are our future. ♫

We then meet Katara and her brother Sokka, who were left behind to take care of their South Pole Water Tribe when everyone who’s not a kid or an old person went to do War Stuff. Katara’s a waterbender. Sokka’s not. Sokka is, however, a little punk. I think I like him. Ditto Katara, who calls out her brother for a sexist comment literally within the first four minutes of the show. I’m digging this already.

The power of Katara’s sibling bickering raaaaage causes an iceberg to go all kersplooey, and from that kersplooey iceberg comes… a rock salt lamp! Ooooooh. Inside which Aang is both literally and metaphorically chilling.

Katara immediately rushes to help him, while Sokka is all creepy kid in an iceberg maybe we should not. Katara busts Aang out anyway, and there’s a giant column of light and some seals.

Spotting the light is one Zuko, who immediately wants to go capture the Avatar even though his uncle just wants to play his tile game and finish his beverage, dammit. Zuko, I think you do need some calming jasmine tea. He’s only had one scene, and already I can smell the daddy issues on this kid.

Aang, freed from his iceberg after what we later learn is effectively a century-long coma that caused him to miss all the FIRE NATION ATTACKING, turns to Katara and immediately asks her









Aang has: A pet flying bison named Appa. Aang does not have: A single clue about what’s going on. But he doesn’t care, because he really, really wants to go penguin sledding with his new crush Katara. Why did no one tell me Aang is a huge dork?!

Aang offers Katara and Sokka a ride back to their village, and on the way Katara quizzes him about whether he knew the Avatar. Aang says no, even though there’s clearly something he’s hiding. In a flashback/dream sequence we see Aang and Appa flying through a storm when they capsize and Aang’s body arrows go all freaky-deaky-glowy before he uses some airbender mojo to encase himself in a protective iceberg. Back at the village Aang meets Katara and Sokka’s, like, thirteen neighbors, the most important of whom (to me, anyway), is Grandma. She’s wonderfully deadpan about the stray her grandkids dragged in. “Oh, an airbender. The only one anyone’s seen in a hundred years. It’s a little weird I guess.”

The only one less than pleased about Aang’s arrival is Sokka, who clearly has some masculine “Grarrrrgh I’m the man of the village grarrrrrgh I have to protect the women and children from outsiders grarrrrrrrrgh” power trip going on. But I’m confident that he’ll come around. Also, him insulting Aang’s staff/pop-up-air-glider because “WTF, you can’t even stab anything with it” made me giggle.

Back on the firebender ship Zuko—who has to find and capture the airbender because of HONOR

—insists that his Uncle teach him advanced firebending forms even though he doesn’t have the basics down yet. Respect your elders, Zuko. Everyone on this show’s a little punk. Uncle Iroh agrees but says he has to finish his lunch first. I like this man’s priorities. (Also, does anyone else think it’s weird that the Fire Nation’s Big Thing is ships? As opposed to, say, the Water Nation? Ships are mighty burnable objects to have around during fire lessons, all I’m sayin’. I’m having flashbacks to the Battle of the Blackwater.)

Back at the village Sokka’s trying to pull a Shang on toddlers while Aang finally, finally gets to go penguin sledding with Katara, who in exchange for teaching him to how to catch a penguin will receive bending lessons. I think Aang got the better end of that deal. He points out that it’s not an optimal mentor situation, them being different types of benders and all. Also, hel-lo, he has a flying bison, so he can totally give her a lift to the other Water Tribe to search out a proper Water Yoda.

The pair of them come across the wreckage of a Fire Nation ship, which Katara doesn’t want to explore because it might be booby trapped. Aang convinces her “let go of fear,” and then guess what? The ship is booby trapped. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I think everyone should listen to Katara all the time. They manage to escape, but not before a beacon goes up and alerts Zuko to the airbender’s location.

(How does Zukko even know for sure that’s who it is, anyway? He sees a pair of beacons in the sky and immediately is like “Welp that’s definitely the airbender, gonna go catch him.” When Uncle Iroh was playing his tile game earlier he was futzing with air tiles, which might just be a fun little Easter egg… or there might be a more specific prophecy than just “The Last Airbender will show up and he’ll also be the Avatar.” Or maybe all that’s irrelevant, and I’m just supposed to go with Zuko knowing where to look. Whatever. I’m really enjoying the show so far.)

Because I want to avoid being spoiled if at all possible, comments on this post are locked. [Edit: Well, in theory anyway. WordPress is being weird.] 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. For anyone who wants to watch along with me, starting week I’ll be recapping two episodes every Tuesday.

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57 responses to “Welcome to Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Newbie Recap”

  1. Dracze says:

    I can already tell this is going to be my favourite The Mary Sue thing at least until all the recapping is done. Thank you!
    And yes, it’s “Katara,” though I have no doubt there will be a lot of other people also pointing that out.

  2. Emily Harris says:

    Fast fix! Thanks. :3

  3. Tony Velez says:

    It’s spelled Katara with an “a.” Other than that, this was GLORIOUS. Yes, the all caps were necessary.

  4. Skemono says:

    For a brief moment, I thought the animated GIF was yelling “HODOOORR!”

    Also, does anyone else think it’s weird that the Fire Nation’s Big Thing is ships? As opposed to, say, the Water Nation? Ships are mighty burnable objects to have around during fire lessons, all I’m sayin’.

    The Fire Nation’s Big Thing is more technology and industry than big ships per se. They had an Industrial Revolution sort of thing happen, and now they’re all “GIANT BOATS MADE OUT OF METAL, Y’ALL” (I’m pretty sure that happened verbatim).

  5. Katie Frederick says:

    Well one thing the Fire Nation has for them is that their ships are metal steamships, not wooden sailboats. Plus, in contrast to Blackwater, they’re the ones flinging the fire this time, they know how to handle it.

  6. Ashe says:

    Call out sexism. SAVE THE WORLD. So glad you’re watching this show. It does a body good.

    And yes, don’t watch the not-movie. It never even happened, anyways. How can you watch something that doesn’t exist? That’s what I’d like to know.

  7. Janelle S says:

    If you have not yet read the Mark Watches recaps ( for this show, they are phenomenal and full of feels. I highly recommend them to anyone who has seen the show while you wait for Rebecca’s recaps :)

  8. Meredith says:

    I’ve never posted a comment before, but I sort of have to now. My older kid, 5 1/2, just got into this show a month ago. He’s finished the first two seasons in record time. No joke, he’s never been a couch potato until Airbender. I like it because when he’s done marathoning 3-4 eps in a row he likes to get up and do some airbending/firebending. We can tell what kind of mood he’s in based on which bending he’s doing. Today when I left him at kindergarten he walked off with his class to these parting words: “Mommy, don’t forget: We’re Fire Nation.” Ahhh, Airbender. My favorite of my kids’ shows since “Super Hero Squad.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    Please don’t let him watch the movie.

    And glad to see a new generation get to enjoy it. It may actually be a pretty timeless cartoon.

    In other news: honooorrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  10. Meredith says:

    Ironically, my MIL was the one who told us about Airbender, because of the movie. Related: she has truly awful taste in movies. But through that I found the TV show and knew my kid would love it. I just didn’t realize how much his father and I would like it, too.

  11. Aeryl says:

    Can we get a spoiler thread?

  12. Mark Brown says:

    This is going to be so much fun!!!

  13. Aeryl says:

    Seriously, this is the best kid’s show ever.

  14. Humble request to keep comments on this time? We’ll be good, I promised. (Glares at spoiler-trolls)

  15. Miss Cephalopod says:

    Considering that I’m an animation student and this has been on my watch list for literally years, I think this is as good an opportunity to watch the show as any.

  16. Gahh, I know it’s official source and all, but as a Finlander with near-phonetic spelling, some of their spelling choices really bug me (Kitara/Katara, Saaka/Sokka, Airo/Iroh, Touf (Tofe? I give up)).

    I realize English spelling doesn’t generally make sense, but why be so obtuse with made-up names?

  17. You will not be disappointed! I am not an animation student, but I do feel like they do really well with the different martial arts styles / choreography, particularly once they start getting past the pilot.

  18. Skemono says:

    Fair warning: the animation in the first few episodes is a bit goofier and more cartoonish than it ends up being in the rest of the series.

  19. Harrison Grey says:

    For the record, I’m no longer using the force when opening automatic doors. I’m earth bending.

  20. JLM says:

    Yesss! I’m so excited to see this on The Mary Sue. I’ve watched the whole series through 3 times, most recently with my 5 year old daughter and it is
    Seriously, there is absolutely nothing I would change about it. It laughs in the face of sexism and ableism again and again.

  21. kinoumenthe says:

    Unfortunately, I was in the process of drinking some kind of lemony hot beverage when I reached …a rock salt lamp!
    Disaster only averted by past experience of a few ruined keyboards.
    I’ll be looking forward to this recaps.

  22. Elizabeth Wells says:

    That’s similar to how our industrial revolution happened actually :)

  23. oldmothercrow says:

    Yay! I’m going to love reading these recaps, to vivariously relive the joy of experiencing A:TLA for the first time.
    This was like the one series ever that my whole family could agree that needed to watched together the second it came on without ever missing an episode. Ah, family time.

  24. Fi says:

    It’s Toph (and ph is often pronounced f in different languages), and while English spelling can be fucked up, I think the spelling of the names is actually pretty standard for how you’d pronounce English names. Of course the names aren’t English, but the show was written in that language. Sometimes the vowels are pronounced in a way that makes them close to other vowels, but knowing the spelling you can hear that Katara is pronounced more with a really short first a than with an ee (spelled i)). And I IS pronounced ai in English…

    Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to spell them in a way that makes them look even less English.

    (My first language isn’t English either. I’ve had my share of reading kids books with characters with English names (but the rest of the book translated, the whole thing becomes MORE ridic. when the book is in English, and you realize you’ve been reading an unsusual name in NOT-English) before I knew any rules of English pronounciation and those were some funny guesses of how that would sound…)

  25. Ashe says:

    Seconding Skemono and Hannele Kormano. It has some amazingly choreographed fight scenes as well as interesting creature designs and sets. This is a show with a lot of love put into it.

    Plus, it made my boyfriend cry! (in the good way)

  26. Aeryl says:

    It’s my mission in life to get someone invested in this show at least once every five years.

  27. Daniel Silverman says:

    best. show. ever.

  28. Curuniel says:

    Yeah, they like to build things out of metal and, well, everything but wood, and they’ve translated their fire affiliation into a furnace/coal-burning technological culture – for their war engines at least.
    If they had made a movie, which we know they didn’t, they might have been tempted to go for a Saruman-esque ‘Fire Nation = technology = bad,;everyone else = pastoral = good” simplification, but that’s really not how it is in the show.

  29. Curuniel says:

    I don’t know what other background you have, but after I watched this show someone told me the artists listed FLCL as one of their inspirations, and re-watching it I could *totally* see it (but it never occurred to me before). But yes, watch it! Great show, excellent character development (not so common in ‘cartoons’, this is definitely an animated saga), and really cool creative action sequences.

  30. Izzy says:

    So happy your doing these/ finally watching AtLA. I think I will re-watch along. Out of curiosity, to which episode are you referring regarding the bottle episode? I feel like I should know but I can’t think of it.

  31. Anonymous says:

    wow! what perfect timing… something to replace agents of shield!

  32. Lady Viridis says:

    The animation is a little rough in the beginning, but gets progressively smoother, and by the time you get to the finale it’s basically full-length animated film quality (or better).

  33. J Ritchey says:

    First one that comes to mind is “The Beach”

  34. Kryptoknight says:

    Note to self: Do try to read future recaps during lunch break. Eating + Excessive laughter = Heimlich needed. XD

  35. Joanna says:

    Zuko is easily my fave character next to his sister. Two incredibly fucked up and complicated characters portrayed so perfectly.

  36. Shelly says:

    So glad you are doing this. I realised I loved Katara ten minutes into the show.

  37. Linda Lupos says:

    Tip: There is an The Art of Avatar: The Last Airbender book, with design notes and sketches and everything. I highly recommend it if you’re an animation student because it’s just a treasure trove! (For Avatar fans, too, by the way!)

  38. Stephanie I says:

    I’m so excited for these recaps! One of my favorite shows, hands down. So amazing and well-made. Literally perfect except for one thing (but that would be spoilers).

  39. Amanda LaPergola says:


  40. Amanda LaPergola says:

    Avatar recaps??!! This is going to be the BEST SUMMER EVER!

  41. Aeryl says:

    Ember Island Players maybe, where they have other performers play the roles of the main characters?

    Or maybe even the one about a main character who is “Alone”?

    Or maybe Tales of Ba Sing Se?

  42. Aeryl says:

    I miss Mark. He hasn’t read or watched anything else I’ve done, so I miss all the “Unpreparedness”

  43. Aeryl says:

    And if they had made a movie, they certainly wouldn’t have made the FireBENDERS unable to spark their own fire.

  44. Miss Cephalopod says:

    A friend of mine has it and I was allowed to look at it. I’ve also seen a few “behind the scenes” clip on the animation production – really interested!

  45. Miss Cephalopod says:

    I don’t mind limited animation, the designs are sweet and the story seems cool, and I have every understanding for the money and time constraints of productions like this :)

  46. Aeryl says:

    You will love this show! From the way it calls out sexism, demonstrates empowerment for the disabled, and deals with the incredible burden placed on this child, it’s a truly wonderful show.

  47. Aeryl says:

    The fight choreography is AMAZING! When the music starts with the taikos, hold on!

  48. Miss Cephalopod says:

    Okay, just finished the first episode. Sweet! The animation is indeed very limited (AKA lots of holds etc), but it’s clear that a great team is on it. Also, those effects <3 I'm on a bit of an effects animation trip right now, so this gave me all the tingles.
    I also love every-frickin'-body on this show so far, except maybe Zuko, but I haven't seen enough of him yet to judge. Aang is so sweet! Katara is awesomeness and Sokka is fun.
    Not much more to say right now, I have no idea whatsoever where this is heading, but I'm loving the diversity and the fun characters.

  49. Miss Cephalopod says:

    We actually did some animation croquis (you step-frame through and make quick, rough sketches of each frame to understand the flow of the movement) in first semester of a piece of fight animation from Avatar, that was pretty cool. Can’t wait to see more!

  50. Janelle S says:

    Awww. No Friday Night Lights or Veronica Mars? If not, I will enthusiastically vouch for them being some of the best television available. (With the requisite missteps, like the entire third season of VM which no one should watch, really.)

  51. Aeryl says:

    I was with him through all of Buffy, Angel and Dollhouse. But yeah, neither of those is really my bag, I don’t do Who. I haven’t checked in to see if he’s doing anything real time since Fringe went off though, I probably need to check by the site.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I had no idea what Avatar was about, but noted a lot of cosplayers were doing the characters at some of the Cons I was going to. So, I watched the series on Netflix. Then I purchased the series. Now I’m going through it for the third time. I am impressed by the writing and the voice actors. And, as has been mentioned, the ever-improving animation art.

    A worthy series indeed. I’m looking forward to reading Rebecca’s Recaps.

  53. Anonymous says:

    this show was for kids?!?!?!

  54. Anonymous says:

    No, but they put it on a kid’s network, so people got the wrong ideas.

  55. kinoumenthe says:

    Drat. Since Rebecca closed the comments on her latest recap, I’ll state here that she sent me in an Avatar rewatch, now accomplished.
    The best thing ? It was as good the second time around.

  56. Sierra says:

    I didn’t really know where to leave that comment so here we go. I
    procrastinate way too much. I’ve been procrastinating for years before I
    eventually got to watch Battlestar Galactica. And I’ve been
    procrastinating for a year before I finally decided to thank you for
    your newbie recap. Without you I would probably have waited another five
    years before starting this show. And because of you I’m now about to
    start Avatar: The Last Airbender. So the main idea was: thank you for
    your recaps, they make me less lazy! ^^
    (Hope my English is clear enough, my tenses tend to get mixed!)

  57. Becky R says:

    Don’t know how I missed these recaps the last couple months but thank you thank you. I TECHNICALLY have watched all three books as well as Korra, but I basically was just half paying attention as the fiance watched his DVDs. By the time I figured out that I really like the show, there was a lot of info I had missed. Now I can get all caught up.