Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Boy in the Iceberg"

"Some people believe that the Avatar was never reincarnated into the Air Nomads, and that the cycle is broken. But I still haven't lost hope."

'The Boy In The Iceberg' is the very first episode of Nickelodeon's animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It introduces the viewers to the world of Avatar, the concept of bending, and the main characters of the first season.
The series begins with opening narration; in this world, there are are four elements, and with them, four corresponding nations: The Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes, Fire Nation and Air Nomads. Our narrator tells us that she's often been told of stories of the 'old days', when the world was at peace, kept in balance by the Avatar - the one person in every generation who controls all four elements. However, one day he simply...vanished. The Fire Nation took advantage of his disappearance, wiping out the Air Nomads and opening war on the entire world.

Since then, one hundred years have passed, and the war continues to rage. Our narrator is revealed to be Katara, a young girl living in the Southern Water Tribe with her brother Sokka. Three years ago the able-bodied men of the tribe, including the chief (their father), left to help fight in the resistance. It doesn't seem likely that they'll win, however - the Fire Nation is gaining ground in the war effort. Nonetheless, Katara is still hopeful that somehow the war can be ended.

And so the show proper begins, revealing a beautiful seascape of ice and water. Sokka and Katara are out fishing in a canoe; Sokka uses a spear while Katara tries using waterbending, to Sokka's irritation. As they argue, they lose track of where their boat is headed, and it is smashed between two icebergs. The siblings continue to argue, until an ill-chosen remark about the problems of taking girls on fishing trips causes Katara to snap and rant about how she does all the real work while Sokka is out "playing soldier". Sokka, however, is more concerned with the effect her anger is having on the iceberg behind her, which shatters from the force of the waves she is raising.

And then, from under the water, comes an eerie blue glow, followed by a near perfect sphere of ice in which the silhouettes of two figures - one a large animal, one a small boy with glowing arrow tattoos - can just be made out. Katara grabs Sokka's club and hacks at the sphere of ice until it shatters, a beacon of bright light shooting high into the sky. The boy emerges from the ice, dazed, and falls into Katara's arms, where he murmurs that he must ask her a very important question: "Will you go penguin sledding with me?"

Introductions are made all around: the boy is Aang, a young airbender (a surprise to Katara and Sokka, who thought the airbenders were wiped out a century ago), and the large, six-legged animal in the iceberg with him is his flying bison, Appa. Sokka is suspicious of Aang's upbeat, playful manner, thinking him a Fire Nation spy who sent the beacon of bright light into the sky to signal the enemy; Katara dismisses the accusation as absurd.

But the beacon was seen by the Fire Nation, even if it wasn't sent to them deliberately; a single Fire Nation ship is sailing the waters near the South Pole. Its passengers include the Fire Lord's son, Prince Zuko, a young man with an almost completely shaved head and horrific burn scar on one side of his face. He is convinced the beam could only have been produced by the Avatar, for whom he has been searching for three years. Zuko's uncle, the retired General Iroh, is accompanying him on his search, and is hesitant to reach the same conclusion as he knows the Avatar has not been seen for a hundred years, but Zuko orders the ship to head for the source of the light.

Back on the iceberg, Aang offers to have Appa fly Katara and Sokka back to their village, but after a century in an iceberg, Appa is still too out of it to fly, and they swim back instead. The next day, as Sokka drills the local "soldiers" (all uninterested boys aged six and under), Katara introduces Aang to the villagers, who are excited to see an airbender after so many years. Katara's grandmother advises her not to put too much faith in the young boy, but Katara is optimistic that she can hone her waterbending skills from a fellow elemental bender. When she pitches the idea to Aang - once she is able to get his attention away from chasing down penguins to go penguin sledding - he observes that airbending and waterbending require different techniques, so she'd need to learn from another waterbender, and she's the last one at the South Pole. In that case, why not go to the North Pole?, Aang suggests. He'd be happy to accompany her - as long as she makes good on her promise to go penguin sledding with him.

Katara happily agrees and they have an exhilarating sled ride together, until they are deposited in front of a rusted out Fire Nation ship half-encased in ice, left over from one of the early battles of the war. The ever curious Aang insists on exploring the ship, and Katara uneasily goes along with it despite concerns about booby traps, but when Aang continues to express complete ignorance of the war between the Fire Nation and the other three elemental nations, Katara asks Aang how long he was in the iceberg. With no sense of time due to being frozen, he thinks it was a few days; Katara explains that it was more like a hundred years. But before they can process this revelation, Aang accidentally springs one of the booby traps Katara mentioned, sending flares into the air. Aang is able to use airbending to get himself and Katara out of the boat safely.

But the flares and airbending display are both seen by a telescope-aided Zuko from the deck of his ship, and his eyes narrow as his view shifts to the Water Tribe village on the horizon. He's found the Avatar and his hideout.

Tropes

  • Contrived Coincidence: Zuko happens to be looking for the Avatar at the South Pole the same day he wakes up from a century long sleep.
  • Description Cut:
    Sokka: In the Water Tribe, we fight to the last man standing! For without courage, how can we call ourselves men?
    (The camera shifts positions to reveal that Sokka was talking to six uninterested boys.)
    Village boy: (waving his hand) I gotta pee!
  • Flash Back: The dream sequence; the pictures we see in Katara's narration may also count.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Zuko's seems to quite clearly be an evil one.
  • Honour Before Reason: Zuko is chasing around the South Pole, looking for someone who hasn't been seen for over a century, just over his honour.
  • Human Popsicle: How Aang manages to stay unaged and trapped for a century.
  • Insistent Terminology
    Katara: It's not magic, it's Waterbending!
  • I Resemble That Remark!:
    Zuko: I don't need any calming tea!
  • Last of His Kind: Aang, but also Appa (the last sky-bison) and Katara, the last water-bender left in her tribe.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Aang slept a hundred years, missing the beginning of the war.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The penguins, which have whiskers and four flippers.
  • Mood Whiplash: Aang's proclamation after being found in the ice. Followed seconds later by Sokka jabbing him in the head with a stick.
  • Older Than He Looks: As Aang says, "Do I look like a one-hundred-and-twelve year old man to you?"
  • Pillar of Light: Zuko's keen enough to know it's worth a look.
  • Rage Breaking Point: One comment from Sokka causes Katara to flip at him.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: Aang, the Avatar, The Master of All Four Elements, the only one who can restore balance to the world; sealed inside an iceberg at the South Pole for a century.
  • Super Speed: Aang can use the wind to speed himself up when he wants to. Like, for example, when he sees a penguin.
  • Tempting Fate: Aang insisting on checking out the Fire Nation ship. The first of MANY for the Gaang.
  • Title Drop:
    Zuko: The sages tell us that the Avatar is the last Airbender.
  • Toilet Humor: After Aang walks out of the igloo bathroom.
    "Wow! Everything freezes in there!"
  • Tongue on the Flagpole: Done with Aang's glider staff.
  • Troll: When Zuko pressures him into teaching firebending, Iroh reluctantly agrees... right after he finishes the roast duck he just happened to have at hand.
  • Your Other Left
    Katara: (to Sokka) Watch out! Go left! Go left! (their canoe crashes) You call that left?
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