Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Northern Air Temple
April 13, 2015 6:50 AM - Season 1, Episode 17 - Subscribe

Excited upon tales of flying people still at the Northern Air Temple, Aang and the gang arrive to discover that he yet remains the last airbender. The new inhabitants glide on the creations of the Mechanist, an inventor with little problem removing the old to make room for the new. As Aang deals with the ramifications of the temple's new residents, the specter of Fire Nation attack looms.

Note: The Northern Air Temple was featured for much of the second half of Book 3 of the Legend of Korra. Additional note: The Mechanist is Rene Auberjonois, who earlier this season voiced the leader of the Gan Jin in "The Great Divide."
posted by Atreides (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

And literal steampunk!

And Teo! With his wheelchair and his glider and how much he wants to fly because he never got to walk!

And Sokka being all sciencey again! Coming up with the rotten eggs for the gas leak, and then using the gas leak as a weapon? Fantastic!

And how gorgeous is the Northern Air Temple even with all the cables and pipes in the wrong places?

And The Inventor. God, he breaks my heart. He just wants a place to make things and raise up his son as best as he can, and this place was totally empty, but then the Fire Nation wants so much from him, and he has to make that choice, he has to decide that, actually, this is a lesser evil if he means he can do what he needs.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Long thoughts here, shorter thoughts below!

Total steampunk! The Mechanist is the Steampunk Grandfather of the Avatar universe!

The Northern Air Temple remains one of my favorite locations in the Avatar world (especially after Legend of Korra).

This episode was definitely written as a parallel to "The Southern Air Temple," which was about the third episode from the beginning. This episode, if we count the season finale as one episode (it's a two parter), is the third to last episode of the season. Both episodes involve Aang visiting one of the former air nomad temples, but have different messages. The first involves him having to realize that he is the last airbender, the Southern Air Temple is as much a grave for his people as it was a home. In the latter, Aang essentially states that the people who live in the Northern Air Temple are spiritual successors to his people. Thus, the spirit of those who defy gravity lives on, when previously it was thought virtually extinct. This episode also served to show that Aang has matured in his ability to accept change. Much of season 1 has involved Aang dealing with the differences of the world he knew and the world he now lives in, and by the conclusion of "The Northern Air Temple," Aang can accept change in one of the places that mean the most to him that still stand.

Korra's waterbending continues to improve.

The Mechanist, one must wonder how much of the Fire Nation tech he was behind or at least, inspired. The gliders and the airship also represent some of the first instances where technology begins to catch up with bending abilities. Amon would be proud.

Sokka remains a genius. I think I'll go back and start notating every time he has an idea or strategy that works out. In season 2, he's given a major responsibility based on his ability as a strategist and before I always had a bit of a time accepting this event. Now, as I pay closer attention to the focus on Sokka, the more it's being laid out he's a bit of a prodigy. He may not be a powerful bender like Katara, but he's a powerful thinker.

Also, those fire nation soldiers totally got killed by the natural gas explosion. BOOM.
posted by Atreides at 9:58 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think those big crawler tanks that the Fire Nation has appearing in this episode helped drive home to me how much they really are at war in this world. It is a SERIOUS THING. The warships didn't drive it home as much as these relentless, flipping evil tanks that can climb mountains and seem near indestructible. The Fire Nation means business with those things!

I also liked how there was no talking down to Teo at all in this episode. So often in media you see a person with different abilities getting patronized and talked down to, the person being minimized behind their "difference". The Gaang didn't even mention it at all upon first meeting Teo. I thought this was pretty impressive.
posted by jillithd at 10:43 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Mechanist and Sokka are my OTP for science.

Another episode with not much animal activity (though the furry hermit crabs are cute). Although Appa taking on 2 of the tanks with his head was pretty fantastic, I'm giving best animal to Momo for his flight of insect delights.

Like jillithd, I liked how Teo was just a normal kid (well, a normal kid with great glider skills).

The last shot of the Mechanist was awful - he's the only one who seems to realise that the Fire Nation have acquired the war balloon. (He's probably also contemplating the fact that the weapons he created were being used against him and will continue to be as long as he stays holed up in the template with his folks.)
posted by minsies at 11:48 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh man. Sokka finding a real sciencey-logic person after dealing with the Fortuneteller must have been so refreshing for him.

"Bug! Bug! That was a bug." Poor Katara.
posted by angeline at 12:45 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sokka saves everyone's bacon several times in this one. I love how we see that being a big believer in the here-and-now doesn't mean you have to be an uncreative stick-in-the-mud. Unconventional thinking is the winner in Avatar, over and over. King Bumi knows it, Aang's cloud bending knows it, Sokka's stinky egg search knows it. There are a couple of themes I'm noticing on this rewatch, where I'm imagining a page of Awesome Themes in the writer's room that get worked in as often as possible. Sokka Makes Plans. Unconventional Thinking Wins Out Over Might. Not Even The Avatars Are Perfect, and the flip side of Not Even Bad Guys Are Pure Evil. Old People Rock.

I wonder how intentional that all was, considering the ways those themes circle back around.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:54 PM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Favorite bits of dialog:

Storyteller: So, travelers. The next time you think you hear a strange, large bird talking, take a closer look. It might not be a giant parrot, but a flying man. A member of a secret group of air walkers, who laugh at gravity, and laugh at those bound to the earth by it!
Aang: Aren't airbender stories the greatest?
Katara: Was it realistic? Is that how it was back then?
Aang: I laugh at gravity all the time. [Chuckling to himself.] Gravity.

Katara: Do you think we'll really find airbenders?
Sokka: You want me to be like you, or totally honest?
Katara: [Crossing her arms, obviously angry with him.] Are you saying I'm a liar?
Sokka: [He shrugs, unconcerned with her mood.] I'm saying you're an optimist. Same thing, basically.

I loved how Teo's disability wasn't explicitly mentioned nor heavily discussed. In going back over the dialog in the transcript, the Mechanist basically says "Teo was badly hurt, then I adapted gliders, and now everyone is equal in the air." No discussions about how hard it is to not be able to walk, or silly awkwardness around someone saying "walk with me" or "walk this way" and then looking sheepishly at Teo.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:13 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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