The Painted Lady
I was joking! I also said to use spirit magic and made funny noises.
In our seven episode arc of character stories, this is our first Katara story. Yes, first;
of the Gaang, she is the only one who gets two stories. And she even manages to Katara-theft her way into another character's story.
I think the writers were a little too in love with this character for her own good.
Anyway, we open with the Gaang riding Appa who's swimming through an incredibly muddy river. It turns out that it's polluted. Oh dear God, please don't become an environmental episode.
So the Gaang needs food, but first we introduce Sokka's schedule. This is a timetable that Sokka has assembled designed to get the group to the rendezvous point on time. Of course, this schedule being a vital component to saving the world, it is naturally played entirely for laughs. Anyway, Aang suggests stopping at a nearby village on the river for food.
The village is quite literally on the river; it's built into the middle of it. They take a ferry over, driven by a random eccentric character. The village apparently hasn't been doing well since the Fire Nation Army built a factory up-stream from them that has been polluting their river. This killed off the fishing, so they've been struggling to survive.
Obviously, leaving to find a place that can actually support them didn't occur to anyone. Obviously, it must be about the poor, downtrodden working people being beaten down by the unfeeling machine of Firelord Ozai. It has nothing to do with their idiotic refusal to find a place where they can actually survive without starving to death.
And before you say anything, yes, I know that they shouldn't have
to leave their village because Ozai's an ass. But wanting something will not make it so. Their choices, the things they can actually control
are: stay and die, or leave and live. This isn't a hard choice.
When they arrive, the villagers are clearly impoverished and malnourished. Katara naturally thinks they should do something. When Sokka says that the have actual stuff that needs doing, Katara tries to guilt-trip him. Sokka counters by saying that they'll be helping everyone by taking out the Firelord.
If this were a good
episode, this comment would have been overheard, thus quickly leading to the villagers attacking them. Sadly, this does not occur.
Eventually, they get Katara to calm down. After a bit of Komedy! with the food salesman, they purchase a few fish to eat. One of the children of the village comes up to Katara, wisely picking who's the most likely to give him something. She hands over one of their fish.
Cut to the Gaang's campsite, where Toph and Katara use their bending to purify some water. Sure, why not. Sokka starts grousing about the schedule. Naturally, this is again played for Komedy!. However, the writers do take possession of Sokka to let us know that they're aware that eclipses last only eight minutes. That was nice of them to tell us. Anyway, after Sokka says taht they'll be leaving early in the morning, we get a lingering shot of Katara, looking thoughtful. Oh dear; Katara has a plan.
Cut to the morning, and Katara says Appa's sick. Sokka freaks out due to the schedule, which everyone gives him a look for. Aang isn't sure Appa's sick, until Appa opens his mouth and reveals his purple tongue, causing Aang to freak out. There's actually a subtle clue here as to what's going on, as Momo jumps on the purple tongue and licks it. So the Gaang decide to head back to down to find some medicine.
Right, because impoverished villages often have medicine lying around.
When they get to the village, people seem happier. The store owner tells them that they were given food that night by the titular Painted Lady. Naturally, Katara asks who's taking credit for her actions. Oh sorry, spoiler alert. Wait... that's not a spoiler because everybody knew that, since it's completely obvious. Moving on.
So Katara asks who the Painted Lady is. The Painted Lady is apparently a river spirit who watches over the village sometimes. He even shows them a wooden statue of her. Anyway, when Sokka asks for medicine, he tells them that they don't have any. Apparently, it all goes to the factory workers.
So, the villagers have medicine, but they're forced to send it to the factory. Where does the medicine come from? Do they make it? If so, are they not paid for it? And if not, why not; the rest of the Fire Nation seems to be operating under capitalism. And wouldn't it be a bad idea to have the people who are making your medicine starve to death?
Anyway, without medicine, Katara points out that they will have to stay another night.
Cut to that night. We see mist rise up and a figure looking very much like the veiled Painted Lady gliding across the water to reach the village. She reaches a building where a bunch of sick people are lying. She touches them and there's a bright blue glow.
OK, so now Katara's healing bending can: heal acute injuries, diagnose medical and spiritual conditions, heal mental distress, and
heal people suffering from random illnesses (rather different from acute injury). Oh, and raise the dead
, assuming she has access to fancy "spirit water". People sometimes call Aang "Kung-Fu Action Jesus," but Katara's
the one who's most acting like him. Neither Jesus nor Katara had to have any actual training to do these things, after all; they're both just really talented. Or divine. Or something.
After our Lady and Savior has lain her hands upon the downtrodden, the Painted Lady leaves, but the kid from earlier spots her and thanks her. We then get the reveal that it's Katara.
I have to give props to the episode for not trying to pretend like we're idiots or something. This is just the end of the first act, so it's not like they dragged this out for dramatic effect.
Sadly, that's pretty much the only props this episode gets.
Anyway, cut to the next day. The Gaang are again in town, as Appa's still sick. However, the villagers are celebrating, erecting statues of the Painted Lady and so forth.
Katara starts praising herself by proxy, saying how a village can be helped by a single person. Sokka correctly points out that the Painted Lady will have to keep coming back, or else everything will go back to how it was. Naturally, this simple truth is met with petulance by Katara. Sokka says that they can't fend for themselves; then he says that the Painted Lady would have to destroy the factory for that to matter.
When I first saw this scene, I was 100% certain that Sokka knew what Katara had been up to, and this was his way of tacitly supporting her actions as well as telling her what she needed to do next. It would have been a great character bit for Sokka, showing how well he can read his sister. Sadly no; he's entirely clueless.
While Sokka and Aang engage in some Komedy! around spirit magic, Katara turns towards the factory, looking determined. That night, we get a bit of padding, watching Katara put on her Painted Lady outfit and makeup. Where she got this from is not explained. Aang spots her as she's leaving, which leads to more padding, as Aang tries to follow her and talk to her. This chase goes on for a solid minute. Then, we get another thirty seconds of padding before he figures out that it's Katara.
Apparently, Katara wasn't dressed as the Painted Lady on her first night; someone spotted her and thought that's who she was. So she decided to use a disguise. Also, she turned Appa's tongue purple with berries. Naturally, after lying to them and throwing the entire "save the world" plan into jeopardy, Aang is totally fine with it. He even decides to help with that destroying a factory thing Sokka suggested.
So we get scenes of the duo destroying the factory from the inside. Katara eventually floods it.
But when they return to camp, they find that Sokka and Toph are waiting for them: the jig is up. Now, you might think that it was Bending Daredevil's ability to detect lying that tipped them off, since Katara lied to them quite a lot over the past few days. Nope; it would seem that Toph was getting into the berries Katara used on Appa, and Sokka noticed her tongue. He then declares that they're leaving.
Cut to a Fire Nation soldier standing atop the ruin of the factory, looking out at the village. Ominous music plays.
As the Gaang is getting packed, we hear the sound of... steam-powered motorboats. Sure, why not. When Katara confesses that she destroyed the factory, Sokka freaks out. When she tries to pin the blame on him, he uses the page quote and points out that she just set the Fire Nation army on the village. She asks what she was supposed to do and he says that they should have just left.
Then, Katara says, "No! I will never, ever
turn my back on people who need me." I quoted that for the last word: "me." She didn't say "people who need help." See, it's got nothing to do with what the people need; it's all about Katara.
She's doing this because of her self-admitted belief that these people need her. Not help in general, but people who need her
specifically. Aang, Toph, Sokka, no, they don't need them. They need her
and what she
The arrogance, it burns!
Anyway, Katara says she's going to go stop them. Naturally, rather than let her go down there alone and face the consequence of her actions, Sokka pusses out and decides to help. Because, as he says, "I'll never turn my back on you." Which is probably why she acts the way she does, Sokka. Good job teaching her that all she needs to do to make you do what she wants is to just go do it and you'll follow along like her faithful pet.
... I'm not gonna say it. I'm saving it ;)
Anyway, we get a scene where the soldiers accost the villagers. They claim innocence, saying that it was the Painted Lady. Naturally, the soldiers aren't buying it, so they start the attack. But then a gust of wind puts out their fires.
The Gaang all do their best to make the Painted Lady's intro as ethereal as they can. When she does arrive, in a cloud of mist, she (with Aang under the walkway helping out with some airbending) effortlessly takes them out, and they scurry away in their steam-powered motorboats.
After the fight, as the village is praising her, the ferryman from before notices that some of makeup came off during the fight and recognizes her. They also figure out that she's just a waterbender. When they turn on her, Sokka gets up and rightfully tells them off.
Then Katara gives a speech about how she was wrong to impersonate someone. Though she doesn't say she was wrong to destroy the factory and piss off the Fire Nation army. Then she talks about how they can't rely on the Painted Lady, and they have to help themselves.
Toph, hiding in the crowd, suggests that they clean the river. And so they do. Because that's totally possible. And totally necessary, since the factory's no longer producing pollutants, and the pollution will have been washed downstream in a day or so. Therefore, after a final bit of Komedy!, we get a montage of the various people using nets to pull sludge out of the water, Katara and Toph purifying it with bending, and so forth.
Granted, this does nothing for all the nasty toxins that are embedded on the river's floor. You know, the ones in the sediment that will take months or years to slowly trickle out and poison the fish/people. But who cares about those, the episode's over! And the Gaang can leave, secure in the knowledge that they taught this village how to fend for themselves.
Wait a minute. The only reason the cleaning process worked was that the factory was destroyed; it wouldn't have done any good otherwise. And that was caused by Katara and Aang, two powerful benders. So the villagers should fend for themselves... after some generous benefactors come over and solve their problems for them.
Also, won't Firelord Ozai, or one of his underlings who deals with this, be kinda pissed? I guess the villagers will have to spontaneously develop firebending skills to stop that battalion of firebenders when they show up to kill them all for destroying Fire Nation Army property.
Oh that's right; the episode ends with Katara at night, looking out over the water, and the Painted Lady appears to her to thank her. I'll just assume that the pollution prevented her from manifesting earlier; otherwise, she was being a colossal dick for not helping. Anyway, the Painted Lady can protect the village now. Because the way we fend for ourselves is to get behind the most powerful person around and tell them to deal with the people who want to kill us.
My God, this was a silly episode. Much like The Waterbending Scroll
, Katara is allowed to get away with bloody murder. She lies to them, tricks them, could possibly have outed them to the populace (and rumors of waterbenders and earthbenders roaming the Fire Nation are exactly what the Gaang wants to avoid), and almost got a village massacred through her short-sightedness. Are there any consequences for this? Do any of the characters trust her less? Does anyone think differently of her? Does anything happen from this at all?
Of course not; it's a Katara episode.
What's worse is that we don't see anything of Azula's Angels + 1. A few scenes with them could have broken up some of the padding that this episode had. But there's something worse than that lurking here.
The worst thing about this episode is this. The fundamental conflict in this episode is based on doing the morally correct thing in the short term vs. the long term needs of the Gaang. Ignoring the fact that the Gaang just flew halfway around the world overnight, this episode sets up Sokka's schedule as a significant issue for the Gaang. Not following the schedule may mean missing the rendezvous date and thus losing their best chance to take out Ozai.
This would have made a great conflict. Can the Gaang afford to help random people if they're on a tight timetable? Imagine what would have happened if Katara's screwing around here had lead to them missing the date. Or even if it came close to it; if there was some tension about them reaching the rendezvous on time. Maybe they just barely arrive, possibly having to take larger risks (flying more and faster on Appa) and were discovered. Perhaps they have an entire episode where they have to hunt down the messenger that's going to spoil their plans.
But of course, we can't have anything like that. Sokka's schedule is barely mentioned again. Not only that, every following episode will have the Gaang basically screwing around as though they have all the time in the world. And not only that, but they reach the rendezvous point three days
ahead of schedule.
So, not only do the writers basically throw away a perfectly good source of conflict and tension, they retroactively render all of Sokka's comments about how they can't stop and help these people as BS. There was never
any conflict here; it was just a bit of Komedy! and Sokka needlessly being an ass.
Because Katara is always right
, and Katara always
gets her way.
Told you I was saving it ;)