Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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The Waterbending Scroll
You've pretty much mastered airbending, and that only took you a hundred and twelve years. I'm sure you can master three more elements by next summer.We open with... not padding? OMG! We start with Aang spazzing out over what Roku said. Katara says that she'll try to teach him what she knows of waterbending. So they find a small lake near a waterfall to begin practicing. Cut to Prince Zuko complaining that their course was changed. Iroh says that he did it, so that he could fine a Pai Sho tile, a game he's currently playing. The White Lotus tile, in particular. I mention that because it's a plot point. Zuko is upset, per his idiom. Cut to waterbending training. Katara starts teaching him a move that she says took months for her to get. Naturally, since Aang has only 8 months, he gets it instantly. He even does it better than she does. Katara gets a very unpleasant look on her face, but Aang cheers her up by saying that she had to learn it by herself while he has a good teacher. Her ego suitably stroked, she continues to teach him stuff. When she teaches him how to twist water into a rope and move it around, he starts doing tricks with it. Again, this gets under Katara's skin, but she doesn't show it much. She then tries to teach him something she's currently working on, which Aang immediately perfects much to Katara's annoyance, who in a fit of pique declares training to be over for the day. Unfortunately, in his zeal, Aang washes all of their supplies down the river. I'm sure that'll be the last time Aang overdoes some new bending move and causes some unintended consequences. So the Gaang has to go shopping. While down to their last 3 copper pieces, Aang decided to buy a whistle shaped like a bison. When he blows it, no sound comes out. Katara then de-balls him by announcing that he's no longer fit to carry their money. The sad part is that he just purchased the ability to summon Deus Ex Machina at will, making it the best purchase they've made. The Gaang gets to a ship selling wares, but crewed by some... disreputable characters. While they're there, Katara finds a scroll with a Water Tribe insignia on it. She opens it to find that it has several waterbending moves on it. Wow, what are the odds? It takes Sokka, the genius, to figure out that they're pirates dealing in stolen merchandise. Aang engages in some Komedy! in an attempt to buy the scroll. When that fails, Katara says that they should leave quickly, since they're getting suspicious looks. Sokka's confused by this, but she simply says that she'll feel better once they get away. After they leave the pirate ship, the pirates then attack them. After some action, the Gaang escapes. Apparently, Aang's glider can safely carry all three of them. After they get away, Katara reveals that she stole the waterbending scroll. Wow. I... just wow. Sokka channels my outrage when he points out that she risked their lives for that scroll. She retorts by saying that it's important for Aang to learn waterbending. Now, if this were a just series, Katara would get some form of comeuppance for this. But no, not today. Because this is our second installment of, "Katara is always right, and Katara always gets her way." Cut to Zuko and Iroh. They haven't been able to find a White Lotus tile. While browsing through the pirate's store, they overhear a conversation between the pirate captain and his second talking about a Water Tribe girl and a bald monk. Naturally, Zuko is intrigued. Good job, Katara. That was great how you helped Zuko find Aang. Cut back to the Gaang. Since she stole the scroll for Aang, it's naturally Katara who has the first crack at trying some of its movements. Of course, she fails at the waterwhip, comically hitting herself in the forehead (hey, comedy that's funny!). Sokka, again channeling my reaction perfectly, points out that Katara only wants to teach herself. She counters, angrily saying that Aang will get his turn when she is able to do the waterwhip. She fails again, hitting Momo this time. Aang takes this opportunity to not only perfectly perform the move on his first try, but to teach her how to do it. Since Aang is being helpful, Katara tells him to ram it. Then, she kinda realizes she's been a jerk when she sees that she almost drove Aang to tears. Of course, no lesson is learned because she says she doesn't know what came over her. Please. She knows exactly what this is about. So she hands over the scroll and says she doesn't want to have anything to do with it. Meanwhile, Zuko's getting into his smaller ship to go looking for the Avatar along with the pirates. The Pirate captain shows his intelligence when he suggests searching the woods. It takes Zuko, Zuko of all people, to tell him that they'll be on the water because they're practicing waterbending. Wow, if Zuko keeps that level of competence up, he might be a credible threat sometime in season 3. That night, Katara hears the whispering of the waterbending scroll. You can practically hear the Emperor saying, "You want this. Don't you?" Katara yields to the Dark Side and now gets up to do some practicing with it. She's constantly and repeatedly failing at everything she does. And she's angry, so she's cursing to herself. Out loud. Where Zuko can hear her. Naturally, she gets captured in short order. It sure is nice to see some consequences for people's douchebaggery. Too bad it will be short-lived, but I'll take what I can get at this point. After taunting Katara a bit, the pirates ask Zuko to hand the scroll over to them. Zuko decides to hold the scroll hostage, so that he can use the pirates to find and capture Aang. Um, Zuko, that's not one of your more well-thought out plans. In the morning, Sokka and Aang wake up to a pirate attack. They're both captured in short order. Once the pirates bring Sokka and Aang to Zuko, we get the following exchange:
Katara: Aang, this is all my fault.
Aang: No, Katara, it isn't.
Iroh: Yeah, it kind of is.Thank you, Iroh, Dragon of the West. I needed that. I don't care that he shouldn't have known to say that, but it's about time somebody did. When Zuko and the pirate captain start negotiating, Sokka points out that the Avatar is worth more than the scroll. See, the pirates didn't know who Aang was. Well, not until Sokka told them just now. Naturally, the pirates know they can just sail to the Fire Nation and get rich. And Zuko isn't going to stand for that. So they fight. Which means that Zuko just got outsmarted by Sokka. Sokka. See, this is the part of the series where the writers started to realize that Sokka needed to not be a blithering idiot, so they started making him smart. And he will be (mostly consistently) for the rest of the series. But since most of what we've seen of Sokka up until now has been, well, blithering idiocy, it hurts Zuko just as much as it helps Sokka. The pirates, while not being benders themselves, are quite skilled at fighting benders. They use smoke bombs to help close the range and attack with melee weapons. The waterbending scroll gets passed around for awhile until it lands in some smoke. Katara gets freed by Momo, and the Gaang tries to get the pirate's ship into the water. Through the magic of Kid's Show Logic, Katara and Aang must work together to pull in the water enough to push the ship into the river. Their escape catches Iroh's attention, and he gets Zuko and the pirate captain to stop fighting long enough to notice. The pirates follow the Gaang and board their ship. Aang uses his newfound waterbending to summon a great wave to take out a group of pirates. Then, Katara instantly learns that waterwhip move she failed at before and takes out a guy. BTW, Katara instantly learning some waterbending move when she's threatened? Get used to that. After taking out a few more guys, they see the Inevitable Waterfall. Aang blows his whistle again, which Sokka admonishes him for. Aang and Katara have suddenly become skilled enough at waterbending to actually hold their ship at the edge of the waterfall without going over. Yeah, sure why not. This works right up until another ship hits theirs from behind. This pushes them over the edge. But Deus Ex Machina arrives in the form of Appa again. The episode ends with Katara apologizing for being jealous of Aang. And if it had ended there, all could have been forgiven. But it doesn't. Because Sokka picked up the scroll. He doesn't give it to her until she states the lesson she learned. "Stealing is wrong." But after getting it back, she adds, "Unless it's from pirates!" Aang laughs, and they fly off, secure in the knowledge that Katara learned NOTHING! I can understand if you think I'm being too hard on Katara. But consider the way Sokka learns his lessons. Back in The Warriors of Kyoshi, for example. There was no laughing off there. He had to prostrate himself before them, humiliate himself by dressing as they do (while being ridiculed by Aang for it), and so forth. Sure, he picked up a hot Ninja Geisha girlfriend in the process, but he only got her when he properly humbled himself. And this was a well-earned humbling. And what does Katara get? Is there humiliation? No. Is there even an apology for stealing and endangering their lives? No; she only apologizes for being jealous. See, I can get past the jealousy; that's a personality trait, and an understandable one. It's human, and I'm fine with that. But the theft? For the crime of thoughtlessly stealing from pirates and almost getting everyone captured by Zuko, she... gets exactly what she wanted. And this is the worst part of it. Remember how Katara wanted the scroll for herself more than for Aang? We will see over the course of the next few episodes that Aang's waterbending remains essentially static. While Katara's waterbending becomes increasingly more complex and powerful. So yes, in the end, Katara stole that scroll for herself. She endangered their lives for her own purposes. And when Sokka tried to call her out on this, she made a big joke of it. Remember: Katara always gets her way.
Launcher of a Thousand ShipsThere is one other thing that needs to be discussed in the context of this episode: shipping. For the benefit of those who remain blissfully unaware of this slice of fanboism, "shipping" refers to the tendency of fandoms to want characters to get into relationships. And Avatar is perhaps third, next to Harry Potter and Twilight, in the sheer rabidness of the shipping wars between fans of the series. A study of Avatar that didn't include at least some discussion of shipping would be like a Nixon biography that left out Watergate. Shippers, for reasons that baffle me, often define their ships with contractions of the character names. So, the Katara and Aang relationship is commonly called "Kataang." This episode... oh, this episode. I intensionally skipped a part of the episode. After Katara is captured, she's tied to a tree. Zuko tries to get her to tell him where Aang is. And he's... kinda weird about it. He doesn't just threaten her and such; he tries to explain that he needs to capture the Avatar to regain his honor.
And then he shows her the necklace he found back in Imprisoned. But he reveals it by getting behind her and wrapping it around her neck. From behind. It is... needlessly intimate. While other episodes will provide more needless intimacy towards this, what we see here is the genesis of the Zutara ship. That alone is sufficient reason to damn this episode. Zutarans are rabid. It's almost too great of an insult, but they're obsession with Zutara rises almost to the level of Harry/Hermine shippers form Harry Potter fandom. And if you've never seen the lengths to which they will go for their ship, count yourself lucky. Let's not forget the fact that, throughout their encounter, Katara has nothing but bile and loathing for Zuko. Perfectly natural. So how is it that this lead so many to think that these two are in love? I haven't the foggiest idea.
A study of Avatar that didn't include at least some discussion of shipping would be like a Nixon biography that left out Watergate. I beg to differ. Understanding Watergate is required to understand Nixon's carreer. Shipping aint needed to understand the plot of Avatar (As you've yourself shown, Shippers have such a loose grasp of the plot to begin with, I raise you that discussing shipping actually hinders the experience). This is fluff. Creepy ass fluff from a creepy vocal minority of the fanbase.
Shipping is a by product of practically any popular series, no matter the tone. In the world of shipping, Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted. Even a series like One Piece, where the Mangaka goes out of his way to remove any tones of romance has a shipping community.
I agree with your rant about Katara's hypocrisy.
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