Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Puppetmaster   Rewatch 
September 10, 2015 8:16 AM - Season 3, Episode 8 - Subscribe

In the Fire Nation, Katara is surprised to meet another waterbender, an old woman named Hama. Hama tells her how the Southern Water Tribe fought against the Fire Army, then shows her a new form of bending.

In "I've heard that voice before", Hama is voiced by the popular voice actress Tress MacNeille.

Also, I did not know this until now, but this was a Halloween special.
posted by Katemonkey (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I love it. I really do. It's fucking creepy and everything about it is horrific when you start to think about it and I'm so glad it exists, but jesus christ, I was going to get my five-year-old niece into Avatar, and I don't think I can show her this.

Part of me really wishes that they got a lot more into everything in this episode. I want an entire series focused on how the Southern Water Tribe waterbenders fought against the Fire Nation. I want detailed information on bloodbending. I want, like, Hannibal levels of gory visceral detail. But about bending.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:18 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hama: My work is done. Congratulations, Katara. You're a bloodbender. *bum bum BUMMMM!*

This totally felt like a Halloween episode, which was fun (but creepy, which is also fun!) - with an episode title like "The Puppetmaster*" and such ominous elements from the very beginning, you pretty much knew what was going to happen, but it was still done really well. And the animation was once again top-notch and a ton of fun.

Random Prisoner: You're going to be locked away forever.

Did the villagers learn nothing from Hama's story? Locking her up was what drove her to learn bloodbending in the first place! Lock her up again, and she may learn something more disastrous. King Bumi was able to bend earth with his face/chin, fire benders have breath of fire, and Sparky-Sparky-Boom Man/Combustion Man can blow up things by inhaling and focusing his mind on things (well, until his forehead was hit with a rock), so it's not a stretch to imagine that other benders could learn to do minimal movements and still bend.

*If you want to make The Puppetmaster less ominous for yourself, here's a dancy-dance with Elijah Wood on Yo Gabba Gabba! Raise your knee, raise your other knee, raise your foot, raise your other foot, walk in a circle, do the Puppet Master!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:28 AM on September 10, 2015

Also, I think if we got a detailed look at blood bending, we'd realize it would actually kill people, or do them grave bodily harm. Blood doesn't just sit idly in the body, so by changing its flow, you could potentially muck up a number of important processes. Though I guess you could say that the blood flow isn't being frozen, but pushed as one would change the course of a still-flowing river.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2015

I hate ghost storiesspirit world shenanigans.

I thought the urinebending thought I had in the last episode was the worst thing, but no: bloodbending is much, much worse. Hama is one of the most horrifying things in the Avatar universe. (And how are they going to stop rats getting into her new prison? She could make her own rat army to mount an escape assault. Or, yeah, per filthy light thief, something much worse.)

Anyway, there's a cat owl here, so that wins best animal.

Still no talk about the schedule. The Gaang must be well and truly adrift by now. I think it comes up again in the next episode, though, since we're at the downhill point now.
posted by minsies at 9:43 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blood bending makes me wonder lots of things.

Can airbenders create a vacuum? Could they suffocate someone? Could earthbenders bone bend, or bloodbend via iron and other minerals? I feel the need for fanfic where someone scientifically approaches bending and tests all the things that can be done with it. (Although I think if that happens I end up circling back to Fullmetal Alchemist AGAIN.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:59 AM on September 10, 2015

Still no talk about the schedule. The Gaang must be well and truly adrift by now. I think it comes up again in the next episode, though, since we're at the downhill point now.

I was thinking about this, but then forgot about it because blood bending. Anyway, Sokka seems like he could get distracted pretty easily by opportunities to go shopping (which I find to be a fairly subtle and delightful flip of gender stereotypes).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:01 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Could they suffocate someone?

This one actually has a confirmed answer, and the answer is yes. It's hinted at early in the show when Aang discovers Gyatso's body at the first air temple and he's surrounded by a mountain of Fire Nation soldier skeletons, raising the question of how they got that way and why they all seem to be pretty intact.

I've wondered too if, theoretically, a hypersensitive earthbender could bend the minerals right out of someone, or if a firebender could cause internal combustion in opponents. But the show never goes full FMA exploring that stuff. Legend of Korra gets darker because the target audience is older, but still doesn't ever really approach some of the things you see in FMA.
posted by Kosh at 10:55 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you don't take the bloodbending thing 100% literally, it's possible what's actually going on is that the bender is affecting all the liquids in the subject's body. Not strongly enough to stop the flow of blood, for example, but enough to influence those liquids in a direction of the bender's choosing. With enough control, you can move individual fingers. Of course, all of this requires a bender of exceptional (like once or twice in a generation, maybe?) strength, vast powers of concentration and compartmentalizing to keep all the different body parts separate in their mind, and a fair amount of handwaving no matter how you think it works.
posted by that's candlepin at 11:43 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I see no problem with simply locking Hama away. After all, it's not like the knowledge will be passed on, or bloodbending will ever come back to haunt the Avatar...
posted by happyroach at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2015

Neat detail I missed on first watch: Katara tells a story about her mother's long-lost friend Nini right before her grandmother's long-lost friend Hama shows up.

I love Katara's season 3 arc -- it's a subversive "What now?" follow-up to her well-executed but genre-typical "plucky heroine battles sexism to learn how to fight!" season 1 arc by way of exploring the fragmentation of survivor's cultural identity in the wake of imperialism/genocide (or more generally disapora, although Katara technically didn't diasp anywhere). Katara's in a different position than Aang in that her culture hasn't been entirely wiped out, but she's only ever experienced it as a shadow of its former self and has lived with that knowledge all her life.

In case it's not obvious, as the offspring of not one but two heritages that I'm separated from both geographically and culturally, this episode gave me the feels.

She went all the way to the North Pole not just to learn waterbending but to reclaim a connection to her heritage (and implicitly to her mother) -- only when she got there she was immediately told it wasn't her heritage and she had to literally fight for the right to be taught. Then she met the swampbenders and had to fight again.

So to have an actual Southern waterbender turn up, one who accepts Katara immediately and is eager to help her reclaim the Southern waterbending techniques she'd thought she'd lost forever -- that's huge. And that's what makes Hama's betrayal so shattering. The bloodbending is a nasty technique, but it's just a technique which Katara never has to use again if she doesn't want to. But Hama gave back Katara a missing piece of her identity just long enough to pervert it in the sickest way possible. Damn, that's dark.
posted by bettafish at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention this last night, but in terms of LoK connections, the (rightful) portrayal of the waterbender prison here makes the treatment of the Red Lotus by our good guys extra uncomfortable. I know it's not quite the same situation since the Red Lotus were actually guilty of attacking innocent people and putting the whole world at risk, but still.
posted by bettafish at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Long thoughts here, shorter below...much shorter?

I was soooooo excited to post this episode today, completely thrown off by a wacky week that I failed to remember it was going to be posted by katemonkey on Thursday. MAN.

I love this episode for a number reasons, but in part because it's so dark. It runs with horror tropes of a full moon, while bringing the presence of that moon back and tying it into water bending and...something horrible. I love how Hama goes from grandmotherly to frightening crone throughout the episode, as her hands turn to claws during her water bending lesson with Katara, and how young Hama is animated to go from happy and almost care free to this hardened and bitter person who finally surrenders to overwhelming odds to the Fire Nation after every water bender she has ever known has been captured (and also probably killed).

Like a proper horror film (tastes vary), I loved how a lot of the darkness of this episode really rests in one's own imagination and understanding of what happens. I loved the foreshadowing with the puppets in the upstairs cabinet and secret in a box behind a locked door in an attic.

Hama's final words, "Congratulations Katara, you're a blood bender," are so harrowing, especially when the episode ends with Katara crying underneath a full moon, which is when she's supposed to be strongest. This has to be one of the darkest and saddest conclusions to an Avatar episode. I think you generally have to go to Korra to get anything close to it.

posted by Atreides at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2015

And Hama's suffering really added weight to the story beyond the creepy horror tropes. I think she’s one of the few characters to speak plainly about the Fire Nation's campaign of genocide. (“They tried to wipe out our entire culture!”)
Neat detail I missed on first watch: Katara tells a story about her mother's long-lost friend Nini right before her grandmother's long-lost friend Hama shows up.
Is “Hama” even her real name? The gang had to ditch their foreign names in order to blend in as Fire Nation “colonials.” (In Sokka’s Master, Piandao immediately recognized “Sokka” as a Water Tribe name.) I assume Hama would have done the same. I had assumed that Hama is really Nini, though the episode doesn’t offer any proof of this.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:45 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's a good point and obviously, if Hama was truly a Water Tribe unique name, one would suspect Sokka and Katara would have immediately clued in....one would hope...) I also agree that Hama is not Nini, since the circumstances of departure from the tribe are completely different. There's also the age difference, but it's a nice touch to have a story of a long lost friend lead into another long lost friend.
posted by Atreides at 9:13 AM on September 15, 2015

Oh right, I missed the generational difference.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:32 AM on September 15, 2015

I loved the Master Waterbender vs Master Waterbender animation. Seeing two of the best at their best battling each other is so cool.
posted by jillithd at 8:07 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's such a great twist on the werewolf idea. Now we have a character who doesn't just turn into a monster when there's a full moon; instead she has the option (and probably temptation) to be a monster whenever the moon is full.
posted by straight at 4:01 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Although, to me, Katara learning to bend people's blood doesn't seem categorically more monstrous than Aang learning to launch huge chunks of rock at people. Hama's evil was really more that she kidnapped people and kept them chained up than how she captured them.
posted by straight at 4:04 PM on July 6, 2020

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