Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: “The Firebending Masters,” or “How Zuko Got His Groove Back”
This piece was originally posted on Cinefeels and has been republished here with permission.
I started this episode thinking, oh man, Zuko’s going to be the worst Mr. Miyagi ever. Imagine my joy when he was even worse than I could have imagined. Meet Zuko, the firebending teacher who can’t even firebend.
He starts the lessons in the calm, rational manner we’ve come to expect from the king of angry teen emo, telling Aang that fire isn’t something to fear in and of itself, but if you don’t respect it IT WILL FUCK YOU UP. Cue a stunning display of firebending prowess… that is basically a firebending fart. Seriously. The sound designers had some fun with special effects in this ep.
After a brief spell of sitting with Appa singing “All By Myself” while the gaang has fun friend times together, Zuko summons up the nerve to go tell them that he is now firebending impotent. Aang hypothesizes that his new teacher’s most recent bout of failboating is a result of him having changed sides–he used to pull his power from hate and anger, and after his come to Jesus moment he doesn’t have those anymore, so now he needs to find a new source for his power.
Toph–who’s been on a hot streak of giving good advice these past few episodes, seriously, Katara, she’s gunning for your spot–tells about how she learned earthbending from the “original source,” who saw it not as as a fighting technique, but as an extension of their beings. For earthbending, that’s badger moles. For firebending, it would be dragons, except they’re extinct, Fire Lord Sozin having started the tradition of hunting dragons to absorb their sweet fire powers. The last dragon was killed by Iroh, when he went through the “dickish bastard” phase that, Zuko explains, it is required of all members of the Fire Nation royal family to have.
Back when the dragons were alive, they taught their mojo to a culture called the “Sun Warriors.” They’ve been extinct for millennia, but the ruins of their civilization are in easy road trip distance, so off Zuko and Aang go to hopefully learn about the source of firebending together. Zuko cannot be-fucking-lieve that he’s flying on a sky bison with Mr. Chipper.
Upon getting to the Sun Warrior ruins, they work past a booby trap and get into an inner sanctuary after Zuko figures out a way to hack a sunstone. Aang says that he doesn’t care what everyone else says about Zuko–he’s pretty smart. Aang figures out that statues in the sanctuary are meant to teach an ancient firebending form called the “dancing dragon.” Following the steps of the dance makes a golden egg come up from the floor, and Zuko just haaaaaas to touch it. The room quickly begins to fill with sticky slime, which traps Zuko and Aang against a grate in the ceiling.
…I think I read a fanfic like this once.
Luckily for Aang and Zuko, the Sun Warrior civilization isn’t as extinct as they’d thought, and this badass-looking dude shows up, cuts them loose, and leads them back to his buds, who give them grief for trying to steal their sunstone. Aang plays the “but I’m the Avatar” card, and Zuko lays it on thick, saying that he’s a Fire Nation prince who’s been firebending wrong his whole life, and teach us how to firebend oh great masters, please plllleeeeeeaaasssseeee.
The Sun Warriors–who are based off ancient Mesoamerican cultures and look cool as hell–say that they’ll have to pay a visit to the ancient masters Ran and Shaw, who will look into their souls and see if they’re worthy. But don’t expect a friendly reception, says the Sun Warrior Chief: Zuko’s ancestors killed all the dragons, and it was Aang taking an iceberg siesta that allowed them to do that, so Ran and Shaw could have a preeettttyyyy big chip on their shoulders.
At this point:
Me: Please let them be dragons.
Me: YEEEEEAH, DRAGONS.
Zuko and Aang go up to where the masters are, losing the ceremonial flame they were supposed to bring them as a party favor in the process. To avoid getting roasted, they do the dragon dance–much more dignified than the Macarena–and the two dragons, one red and one blue, blast them with a RAINBOW TORNADO OF FIRE.
There’s this really epic sequence with TRIPPY RAINBOW FIRE and great music, and bada bing, Aang and Zuko have been deemed worthy and gifted with visions about the meaning of firebending. Turns out Iroh was the last person to get that knowledge from the dragons. In order to protect them from further hunting, he only claimed to kill them both. Young Iroh is a badass. Prequelprequelprequel.
Where is Iroh, by the way? Last we saw of him he was busting out of prison. I’m a little worried that they wrote him off the show as a sign of respect for the original voice actor, whom I know died. I could admire that on a certain level, but… but Iroh would never give up on Zuko. That is his thing. Where are you, insanely beefy Gandalf to Zuko’s Faramir?
Now that Aang and Zuko have their special new firebending insight–that it’s all about life, not violence–they’re awesome at firebending and ready to bring some balance to the universe, aw yeah. Quick, efficient. Let’s kick Ozai’s ass.
Except let’s not, because the show’s almost over. One two-parter and another single episode until “The Ember Island Players” (I’m so excited about that, you guys), and then the four-part finale. Can I not retroactively work some more beach vacation episodes in there? I don’t want ATLA to end.
Rebecca (@RebeccaPahle) used to work for The Mary Sue before she cruelly abandoned them for Film Journal International, where she is currently the Assistant Editor. Still, she couldn’t stop doing Avatar recaps. Rebecca also writes for Pajiba and Phactual in addition to her personal website, Cinefeels.
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