Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Waterbending Master   Rewatch 
April 16, 2015 5:08 AM - Season 1, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Aang, Katara, and Sokka finally get to the Northern Water Tribe, where waterbenders abound. Will Pakku, the Waterbending Master, teach Aang how to fight? Will Sokka catch the eye of the beautiful Princess Yue? Will Katara learn the truth about her mother's necklace? Meanwhile, Admiral Zhao schemes while Iroh gets the band together (literally).

In "I heard that voice before", aside from Jason Isaacs portraying Zhao, we also have Jon Polito as Chief Arnook.
posted by Katemonkey (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

(although you should probably learn healing too)

I love seeing the disparity between the two water tribes, especially when you then think about how things are in Korra. Do you think Sokka and Katara's little village was the last Southern Water Tribe village, or do you think there were tinier ones across the tundra? Was there a mass migration from the Northern to the Southern after the end of the war?

What else is different about them? I've seen a lot of people point out that if Katara didn't know what her necklace was for, then betrothal necklaces were probably not a Southern Water Tribe tradition (which comes in with a lot of Korra and Asami discussion), but surely Gran-Gran would mention it?

Ugh, God, what if Gran-Gran didn't tell her because she wanted people to think that Katara was engaged and then would leave her alone? What if it was like the apocryphal story of waitresses wearing fake wedding rings to avoid leering patrons?

Man, I know that the whole Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation war repatriation thing is a much bigger issue, and obviously the comics and other stuff are going to focus on that, but I would love something that focused on how the Southern Water Tribe managed to thrive.

(I love this episode to pieces, but it just makes me think about all these Water Tribe things.)
posted by Katemonkey at 5:17 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The resolution to Pakku's sexism arc here always bothered me... like, it doesn't seem he becomes enlightened about it at all, it's just oh, I guess I'll make an exception because you're my old girlfriend's granddaughter.
posted by kmz at 6:49 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ugh, God, what if Gran-Gran didn't tell her because she wanted people to think that Katara was engaged and then would leave her alone? What if it was like the apocryphal story of waitresses wearing fake wedding rings to avoid leering patrons?

I don't think that's the case, because then Katara would know what it meant, because other women in the Southern Water Tribe would also have betrothal necklaces. If she's the only one, it's not a living tradition with her people, and would appear to be more a relic from Gran-Gran than anything else.

As for Pakku, I read his bitterness as being reinforced by his betrothed leaving him over his tribe's customs. Now he meets her grand-daughter, and realizes Gran-Gran left not (only?) because she didn't love him, but because she couldn't live with the local traditions.

Why were there only little girls in the healing class? Is healing generally understood faster than water bending that could be used for fighting? Do healers graduate from that class when they turn 5 or 6, so Katara is only in the beginner's class?

Man, I know that the whole Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation war repatriation thing is a much bigger issue, and obviously the comics and other stuff are going to focus on that, but I would love something that focused on how the Southern Water Tribe managed to thrive.

I wouldn't call the Southern Water Tribe a thriving tribe. They looked more like subsistence hunters, living in basic structures, not the amazing Ice Metropolis of the Northern Water Tribe, probably made worse because all the adult water benders left the tribe to fight the Fire Nation. It looked like the Fire Nation had pretty much beaten down the Southern Water Tribe to the point that they didn't feel that tribe was still any threat, much like the little Earth Kingdom villages. At least, that's my take from these few episodes.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:22 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm with kmz in that Pakku's turn didn't feel all that genuine. But then, I get a bit grumpy with episodes like this where the girl has to prove herself to the boy who doesn't think girls are good enough. I much prefer the blanket belief that girls don't have to prove themselves.
posted by jillithd at 8:00 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There really were no adult water benders in the Southern Water Tribe - they didn't go to fight in the war, there simply weren't any other than Katara. They had all been picked off by the Fire Nation in previous years.

The Northern Water Tribe - what a marvel of a city! I don't know that I'll ever get tired of watching the sequence where they are escorted in. Lovely animation work for an impressively built city. And I love how they just have pots of water everywhere for the benders. I suppose all of the bending cities have things like that, but I just like the way that the enormous pots and waterspouts are built into the design of things.

Poor Sokka can't catch a respect break at all though, eh?
posted by angeline at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

>Do healers graduate from that class when they turn 5 or 6, so Katara is only in the beginner's class?
That's what I thought, and to me it really emphasized that Katara is way behind in this culture. It's like a 12 year old walking into a school for the first time, saying "So you guys will teach me how to write?" Which is not to say she's not powerful; I think her fight with Pakku would have been less successful if she wasn't so unconventional in her self-taught bending style.

>but surely Gran-Gran would mention it?
That whole necklace side plot felt poorly thought out, and Pakku's aboutface feels too fast and out of character, but your thoughts on the matter are so good that I'll just sit here smiling.
This episode got me thinking about the difference between 13 and 15. Aang and Katara are kind of shyly wondering who they'll marry, Sokka's kissed two girls and is turning is macking game up so high he can't see THAT GIANT CANAL DUDE YOU'LL CATCH YOUR DEATH
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:26 AM on April 16, 2015

Katara being shunted to the beginners class of healing makes sense - she needs the biology lessons they're clearly given, and she really is a beginner. But I think it drives home to her as well just how indoctrinated in the tribe culture the sexism is, the bending segregation begins so young! It would have certainly been part of what made her set her jaw and refuse to apologize to Pakku, the thought of all those little girls being told all their lives that they have a single place in this tribe and they aren't allowed out of it.
posted by angeline at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Pakku's change of heart seemed totally realistic to me, though not in a way that flatters him. He's that guy who suddenly figures out sexism is wrong the moment he has a daughter (/pseudo-granddaughter) and not before.

I didn't notice this until I saw someone pointing it out on the Mark Watches thread, but the love song Iroh sings at Music Night plays during Sokka and Yue's scenes. And on that note (rimshot), Music Night! I completely forgot we got to see it, so that was a nice surprise. If only we'd gotten Zuko on tsungi horn, but that would've interrupted his brooding time.
posted by bettafish at 11:49 AM on April 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I know, I love that Music Night got a call-back! I also liked that there were two men dancing on music night, to Iroh's lyrics about "four seasons, four loves, four seasons for love." It wasn't necessarily romantic dancing, but a moment of two men dancing together.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:26 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of birds coming home to roost here: the pirates, the blasting jelly, and even the Blue Spirit to some extent. I wasn't all that pleased to see the pirates again, but at least they didn't have much to say.

I wasn't fond of Pakku's change of heart for the reasons already mentioned, though I agree that it is (sadly) realistic.

Iroh singing and the 2 men dancing were some of the highlights for me. There were also a few animals that we haven't seen before - I'll hand best animal over to that koala seal thing at the beginning.

Like angeline, I loved the arrival in the city - it's really beautiful.

At the moment, I am not at all interested in Admiral Zhao. I know his plot will intersect with everyone else's soon, but I get very bored of his machinations (and how it takes away from time that could be better spent watching Iroh sing).
posted by minsies at 1:57 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Was there a mass migration from the Northern to the Southern after the end of the war?

I'm almost certain there was something said somewhere in the two serious about a recombination of the south by the Northern Water Tribe, which lead to political complications 80 years on.

Now my question- where does that huge city get its food from?
posted by happyroach at 6:25 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

happyroach, did you see that giant crab? I'm guessing there are some big-ass sea creatures living in that ocean.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:35 AM on April 17, 2015

Pakku slurped down some tentacled thing with his soup, too. Maybe they just bend their food out of the ocean?
posted by minsies at 3:02 AM on April 17, 2015

I agree that Pakku's about-face is kind of abrupt, but the compressed timescale of the show means a lot of things are abrupt... the bending skill advances you see with Katara and even Aang are a little unbelievable if you stop to consider them, for instance. And not just in the sense of what the viewer might find believable... even relative to other characters in the show, even relative to other Avatars that we see, who take a much longer time to reach that 'fully-realized' state.

The tight writing and plotting on this show are one of the things that give rise to people like us typing scores of words about it ten years later, but I've always felt a little bit like the creative staff hamstrung themselves in some ways with the "by next summer" stipulation for resolving the main conflict. It results in some skipping forward (not in time, but in progress) that creates some awkward stuff, not just with "powerleveling" of abilities but also certain romantic relationships between the characters, which I'm fine with as an idea but which would have worked better (IMO) if there were some time for them to age up. One of the things I appreciated about Korra, by contrast, was that it wasn't bound by the same sort of tight plot frame, so there was room to let the characters and the stories breathe a little bit, even if that also lent itself to some lack of focus in the earlier seasons.

I do enjoy this episode, though, largely because, even though it's officially titled like a standalone, it feels like "part 0" of Siege of the North, which I remember seeing for the first time and having it completely cement my love for this show, leaving me following it intently all the way to the end. When I rewatch, I usually watch all three of them together, but I'm trying to stick to the rewatch schedule and keep my self-control for Monday!
posted by Kosh at 6:27 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I've had similar thoughts about the timing issues. Aang had to be up against a hard deadline in order for "become a fully realized Avatar like you have a thousand times before" to be a meaningful challenge, but having the entire story happen in under a year feels more in service to the elemental symbolism than to the plot, pacing or worldbuilding. Like, I am 200% on board with Katara being a waterbending prodigy and her skills and natural intuition this episode make perfect sense to me, but I seem to remember this weird stretch in the middle of the show where her abilities are paradoxically taken for granted because she's already mastered water (in a matter of months!) but the writers don't have anywhere to go from there -- then in season three both the writing and the animation catch up with what she should be able to do and she becomes the most terrifying bender in the show, but the pacing is very strange, is what I'm saying.
posted by bettafish at 2:07 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sickness has me behind...BOO. Long thoughts here for the interested, and shorter thoughts below.

I completely concur about the entrance to the city. The Water Tribe of the North is completely opposite to the tribe in the south and as katemonkey pointed out, this episode drives you crazy thinking about all things water tribe (I HAVE A WATER TRIBE STICKER ON MY CAR, A'IGHT?). We do get flashbacks of the Southern Water Tribe before the Fire Nation attacked in Book 3, but even then, it's no where near as impressive as the Northern Water. The way they're presented, the Soujthern Water Tribe is Jamestown or Plymouth Rock in the first half of the 17th century and the Northern Water Tribe is London. I like to believe there are a few more scattered groups, at least, to avoid too much "relatedness" in the South.

First, Katara, you REALLY need to secure that necklace. Geez. Second, you did great against a water bending master! That's either the best or second best fight between water benders in the entire show.

I agree that the time squeeze hurt the turn around for Pakku, but the episode itself is actually really well balanced when you consider it also squeezed in Zuko/Zhao/Assassination, Katara/Pakku and Sokka/Yue.

Yue, to me, is a big disappointment as a character, based on the show's history of developing great characters. She comes across as almost entirely Sokka's romantic pursuit and doesn't get to express herself a lot. As an example, just think back to Suki in "Kyoshi Warriors" and how awesome she was. She wasn't even introduced as a romantic partner until the very end. While Yue has a role to play in the next episode, she essentially existed to blush, smile at Sokka, and then get upset over her engagement.

I loved Four Seasons, Four Loves, and was singing it to myself at work, and probably just confirming everyone's set in stone beliefs about me. (HE'S CRAZY).

Someone asked about food...that problem is made bigger by the fact that you see they have some kind of elk/reindeer mounts they ride around on. What are those guys eating?! Seaweed? Perhaps there's tundra in the spring accessible?
posted by Atreides at 1:03 PM on April 21, 2015

« Older Mystery Science Theater 3000: ...   |  Firefly: Shindig... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments