Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Waterbending Master"

"You want to learn to fight so bad, study closely."

After months of traveling, the gang finally arrives at the North Pole, to discover a grand city with formidable defenses and hundreds of water benders. Sokka finds himself interested in a beautiful white-haired girl, revealed to be the princess of the tribe, Yue. She reciprocates his affections, although her signals seem mixed at best, confusing Sokka.

Meanwhile, Katara and Aang both seek out the water bending master Pakku to teach them, only to discover that it is forbidden for women to fight. Katara finds herself in a struggle between her own personal morals and a fear of jeopardizing Aang's training, before deciding that with everything she has gone through, she will be taught.

Elsewhere, Zhao deduces that Aang is at the North Pole looking for a teacher. However, the Northern Water Tribe's defenses, both natural and military, require a massive force to fight against. Zhao recruits Prince Zuko's crew, and while talking to the Prince, notices the broad swords Zuko keeps. Later that night, Zhao meets with a familiar band of pirates and offers them a job...

While Uncle Iroh takes a walk, the pirates board Zuko's near-empty ship and plant barrels full of explosives. Iroh comes back from his walk to see a smoldering wreck of where he had last seen his nephew...

Up at the North Pole, Katara's feud with the tribe's culture leads to her challenging Pakku to a duel. Despite putting up a spirited fight, (Even Pakku admits she's good) she loses. Pakku finds her necklace and discovers it's the same one he carved for his betrothed, Kanna...Katara's Gran-Gran! While Pakku loved Kanna, Kanna didn't return the affections- it was an arranged marriage, and Kanna wouldn't let the Northern Tribe's customs control her. And it turns out the reason for Princess Yue's mixed messages is that while she also likes Sokka, she's also engaged! In the end, Katara is allowed to train under Pakku with Aang.

Meanwhile, Iroh accepts Zhao's offer to join in the invasion, but his dialogue with a soldier reveals that Zuko survived the explosion, and his Uncle is helping him stowaway. All Zuko has to do is wait patiently and the Avatar will be his...


  • Arranged Marriage: Why Yue is so distressed about feeling affection for Sokka. It is also the backstory between Pakku and Katara's grandmother Kanna, though she escaped it by fleeing to the Southern Water Tribe.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At the end, Katara enters Pakku's training area and he angrily demands to know what she thinks she's doing, making it seem like he hasn't changed his attitude towards women one bit. Turns out, he's actually just calling her out for showing up late.
  • Big Eater: Iroh briefly tears up when mentioning Zhao's taken the ship's cook as well.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The necklace Katara's been wearing this whole time is actually her grandmother's (would-be) betrothal necklace from Pakku.
  • City of Canals: The Northern Water Tribe's city.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: While Master Pakku is definitely a huge jerk to his students and something of a sexist bastard, he becomes a much better person after his fight with Katara and goes as far as happily agreeing to teach her, whereas earlier he flatly refused. He is still a bit of a jerkass to his other students, even though he becomes much nicer and grandfatherly to Katara.
  • Determinator: Katara won't stop fighting as long as she can move. So, Pakku uses ice spears to imprison her and end the battle.
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: At the very end of the episode, there is a pan-up from Zhao's ship to the fleet he has gathered for the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe.
  • Foreshadow: Yagoda does this when she realizes that Katara is Kana's granddaughter by looking at her face and her necklace.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: Young, eager, skillful Katara, though she impresses Master Pakku with her fighting abilities, had no real chance against a true Master of the craft.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Gender flipped. Sokka tells Yue that he's surprised that a princess noticed a southern peasant.
  • Karma Houdini: The Pirates get paid to kill Zuko, carry out the job, & even though they fail to achieve their mission since Zuko survives, neither he nor Iroh track them down for revenge.
  • Leitmotif: The song Iroh sings on the ship's music night ("Four Seasons") becomes the love theme for Sokka and Yue.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Pakku finally realizes what his demeaning view of women cost him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Zuko while Zhao gazes upon his broadswords; the same broadswords he wielded as the Blue Spirit.
    • Pakku also has this reaction when one of Katara's ice discs get a little too close to his face.
  • Old Master: Master Pakku. As seen later on, he was still holding back against Katara when she faced him.
  • Ramen Slurp: Master Pakku slurps up some noodles (and some sort of tentacle) with waterbending while training Aang.
  • Reality Ensues: Katara may be pissed, and skilled enough to prevent it from being a Curb-Stomp Battle, but she is still no match against Master Pakku.
  • Shown Their Work: The night sky has stars that match the constellations in a star map in "The Desert."
  • Slipknot Ponytail: Happens to Katara during her fight with Master Pakku.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Northern Water Tribe's whole attitude. Katara's having none of it. And nor did her grandmother.
    Katara: Aren't you gonna fight!?
    Pakku: Go back to the healing huts with the other women where you belong.
    • Possibly gender-inverted as well. While it's not explicitly stated, it's implied, by the fact that not a single male waterbender healer was seen until The Legend of Korra, that the ban went both ways, and men were not allowed to learn healing in the Northern Water Tribe either.
  • Tasty Gold: Trope Namer, with the pirates Zhao hires to blow up Zuko's ship.
  • Tongue-Tied: When Sokka first talks to Yue, he asks if they could "do an activity together".
  • Took a Level in Badass: Katara's obviously been Level Grinding over the course of the season, but in this episode we find out just how good she's gotten. Master Pakku still mops the floor with her.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The A story is the Gaang's experience with the Northern tribe, the B story is Zhao's attempts to murder Zuko and recruit Iroh. No direct interaction, but the Fire Nation's army is headed to the Northern city...
  • Whip It Good: Katara uses a water whip to strike Pakku and finally get him to fight her.
  • You Go, Girl!: Katara's plot follows this standard trajectory.