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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "Sokka's Master"

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Sokka duels Piandao after revealing that he's from the Water Tribe.

"You told me you didn't know if you were worthy, but I believe that you are more worthy than any man I have ever trained."
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After the members of the Gaang use bending to stop a forest fire caused by a falling meteorite, Sokka feels Overshadowed by Awesome and expresses his frustration at being the weakest member of the group. Deciding that he needs to be cheered up, the group goes on a shopping spree, and Sokka hears of a Master Swordsman that lives nearby, known as Master Piandao. Katara, Aang, and Toph urge Sokka to seek training from him, as much for his sake as for the Gaang's.

With Sokka preoccupied temporarily, the Gaang attempts to do Sokka's old jobs, including his sarcastic jokes. Hilarity Ensues. And Iroh, still locked in his cell, secretly exercises, eventually becoming a One-Man Army.


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Tropes:

  • Badass Normal: Reconstructed with Sokka; while his lack of bending has never held him back before, here, it starts to affect his sense of self-worth, seeing himself as the only one in the Gaang who's "regular", which motivates him to seek training under Piandao. Once Sokka is absent, however, the rest of the Gaang immediately recognise what he brought to the group in terms of practical intelligence (none of the others can read a map) and his unique sense of humour (Katara's attempts to fill in for her brother are... less than successful), and once Sokka's confidence is built back up, both he and his friends are reassured of his value to the team.
  • Battle Butler: Notice how Sokka usually goes against Piandao's butler during the actual training.
  • Blatant Lies: Toph denies missing Sokka when he returns, turning to hide her Luminescent Blush.
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  • Boring, but Practical: Sokka's skill at reading maps proves to be this given that he is the only one of the main characters know how to and without him, they have no idea where there are.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Katara. Aang as well. At least neither can do it on the spot.
  • Can't Catch Up: After only one day of lessons under him, Sokka had no chance of victory against Piandao. When the latter disarms Sokka, while blinded by sand, he makes it clear how much he was holding back.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The meteorite that crashes in the opening act turns out to be very useful for creating swords.
    • One that doesn't go off this episode but the audience already understands its importance, Piandao gifts Sokka with a White Lotus token which has been shown to be helpful to Iroh.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: Iroh hides a blanket in his robes to cover his abs of steel and look like he's still a fat old man.
  • Combat Compliment: Piandao does this during his final test of Sokka.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Piandao actually encourages fighting like this, and compliments Sokka during their duel for doing things like attacking from higher ground and flinging dirt into his eyes.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Piandao looks very like the show's real-life martial arts adviser, Sifu Kisu.
  • Continuity Nod: Piandao advises Sokka to adopt a fake name to hide his origins and suggests "Lee", since it's such a common name. Zuko had previously used that name while traveling the Earth Kingdom and it was later revealed that he had previously studied under Piandao as well.
  • Cool Old Guy: Piandao and Iroh.
  • Cool Sword: Sokka's sword is made of meteorite iron, making it very unique.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Sokka.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fittingly, Piandao is at least as snarky as Sokka, and far more deadpan about it.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: When Sokka is sulking over not being a bender like the rest of the group, his description of what everyone can do involve "flying around" a lot.
    Sokka: It's just, all you guys can do this awesome bending stuff like putting out forest fires, and flying around and making other stuff fly around. I can't fly around, okay? I can't do anything.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Piando immediately knew that Sokka was from the Water Tribe, since he used his real name rather than a fake one. He advises him to use a different name, such as 'Lee' ("there's a million Lees"), if he wants to stay undercover in the Fire Nation.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Piandao's approach is strange, and rarely involves actually picking up the sword, being more focused on opening his student's mind. Yet, as both Sokka and Zuko (a previous student of his) demonstrate, it turns out brilliant - if unconventional - swordsmen.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Sokka initially claims to be a citizen from the Fire Nation colonies to Piandao, who later reveals at the end of the episode that he wasn't fooled from the start, and tells him not to use his real name when pretending to be a Fire Nation citizen. The reason Piandao gives for why he doesn't give the Gaang to the authorities is his belief that sword arts are for the whole world, not just for the Fire Nation — though the ending hints it's because he's also a member of the White Lotus.
  • Flynning: The last fight between Piandao and Sokka. Justified as neither is really trying to hurt the other person: it's easy to tell that Piandao is holding back, and Sokka is only skilled enough to deflect Piandao's attacks much less attempt a harmful strike.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Piandao immediately takes note of Sokka's "unusual name".
    • The knockers on Piandao's doors are shaped like a lion turtle, and Piandao himself references the animal.
    • The parting gift Piandao gives to Sokka is a White Lotus Paisho tile.
  • Forging Scene: For Sokka's "Space Sword".
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: While trying to cheer him up, the others say Sokka is good at reading maps, but he considers this pity. Later while he's gone, Aang and Katara openly struggle trying to figure out where on a map they are.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Toph admits to the others that she misses Sokka. When he finally comes back, she snarks about the others missing him and claims to barely be aware he was even gone.
  • Honor Before Reason: Sokka confesses that he lied about his origins—while the rest of his team, including the Avatar, are in the room with him. As far as they know, Piandao is loyal to his country, and certainly has the ability to take down a group of kids, or at least reveal their presence in the Fire Nation to the Fire Lord. Sokka's confession compromised his teammates' identities, not just his own.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass: For the first time, the audience really sees just how much Sokka's being the only non-Bender in the group discourages him.
  • Instant Expert: After an extended montage of lessons between Piandao and Sokka, Piandao mentions that they have been training for only one day. In that time Sokka went from being instantly disarmed in his first sparring match with the butler to expertly disarming him in their third and final bout, followed by managing to not die when Piandao initiates a duel with real swords. And somewhere in there they found time to forge a new sword from scratch! It might be justified by Sokka already having experience with melee weapons like clubs and spears, just not swords.
  • Instant Flight: Just Add Spinning!: Sokka tries out different weapons and spins a lance above his head. It flies away after a short time.
  • Loophole Abuse: How Sokka completes some of the tasks. His signature is his actual face, while the lesson on "making your environment suit you" has Sokka make a resting rock to "suit him". Even Piandao is amused by the second one.
  • A Master Makes Their Own Tools: Master swordsman Piandao cites this trope as an explanation for why his protégé Sokka should forge his own sword out of materials he chooses. The result is a unique sword, which is as odd and practical as its owner.
  • Mythology Gag: While Toph plays with the meteor rock, one of the shapes she forms is the Nickelodeon splat.
  • No Sense of Humor: Downplayed; Katara might be able to appreciate a joke, but she totally lacks Sokka's gift for telling them. Her best efforts fail to get so much as a smirk from Aang or Toph.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Iroh to the guards. He pretends to be a doddering, absent-minded old man while secretly building his body back up.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: As said above, Iroh to the guards. They mistake him for a broken man, all while Iroh is rebuilding his body to its prime.
  • One-Steve Limit: Lampshade Hanging on the aversion of this trope, actually. Piandao suggests "Lee" as an alias for Sokka: "There's a million Lees." There have been at least three or four other characters called Lee in the series up to this point, and it was Zuko's alias during season 2.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Iroh is seen working out in prison. By the end of the episode, his big belly is totally gone, and he casually eats an apple while doing pull-ups one-handed.
  • Real-Place Background: The waterfall that Piandao gets Sokka to paint is Gullfoss in Iceland.
  • The Reveal: Master Piandao's final gift to Sokka is a white lotus tile for pai sho, which the audience, but not the characters, know means he's a member of the Brotherhood and ally of the Avatar.
  • Scary Impractical Armor: Spoofed with the suit of armor that Aang tries on while shopping; the humorous look is the current page image. He falls over while trying to move.
  • Scooby Stack: Katara and Aang watching Sokka forging his sword.
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • The Master knew Sokka was from the Water Tribe but he tested his honesty.
    • Upon arriving, Sokka was told that he would have to prove his worth in order to receive training. Rather than brag about his experiences or abilities, Sokka demonstrates sincere humility, which is exactly what Piandao wanted and what a number of others seeking training apparently failed to do.
    • We also learn later on that Zuko trained under Master Piandao, meaning he passed the test too, and Zuko's true kind-hearted nature is already hinted at in flashbacks (although it could also just mean that Piandao didn't want to piss off Ozai).
  • Seen It All: Piandao recognizes immediately that Aang is the Avatar, attributing it to having seen a lot in his time.
  • Shirtless Scene: Aside from going barefoot during the afternoon while Sokka is away, Aang has also taken off his shirt. Sokka also takes his shirt off while working the forge. As well as Iroh as he trains in his jail cell.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Initially averted with Master Piandao, who is actually extremely patient as Sokka bumbles through his training, but played Straight when Sokka reveals his identity and Piandao engages him in a dangerous sword fight.
  • Sore Loser: Piandao's butler does not take it well when Sokka finally manages to beat him in a training battle, glaring at him as Sokka bows to Piandao.
  • Spiteful Spit: In one scene the evil warden spits on Iroh's food.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation: Aang briefly discusses the idea of making a 'Wind Sword' this way.
  • Stargazing Scene: The episode starts with the main characters lying on a hill at night, watching a meteor shower.note  Unfortunately, their relaxation is interrupted when a meteor lands close by, starting a fire that threatens a nearby town.
  • Sword Limbo: Sokka dives under the sword of his master during their fight.
  • Take That!: One against Scary Impractical Armor, and by proxy toy makers who asked for this sort of stuff as Environment-Specific Action Figure fodder.
  • Tasty Gold: Faced with a selection of metals with which to forge a sword, Sokka picks up a hunk of the stuff and gnaws on it.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: Sokka makes himself a sword from a meteorite that fell at the beginning of the episode.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Essentially the whole episode, although Iroh was already badass before his secret exercise routine. Oh, and so did Sokka.
  • Tough Room: When Katara tries to take over as comic relief for Sokka.
    Aang: I guess the jokes don't run in the family.
    Katara: Oh, everyone's a critic.
  • Training Montage: The episode, for both Sokka and Iroh.
  • Tsundere: A minor example, but when Sokka comes back from his training, Toph claims that while Aang and Katara "missed [him] or something", she didn't care. She promptly turns the other way and starts blushing.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Sokka's Training Montage is juxtaposed with Iroh's own.
  • Vetinari Job Security: When Sokka's gone everybody's going into comic-relief withdrawal. More importantly nobody else knows how to read the maps or understands planning, so they end up sitting around bored and waste the entire day.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Piandao's training of Sokka includes calligraphy, landscape painting, and rock gardening in addition to actual swordplay. Unlike most instances of the trope, however, he explains the purpose of each element as he goes along.
  • What the Fu Are You Doing?: Sokka's first attempts to find a new weapon weren't very successful, to say the least. He even provides the current page picture.
  • Why Don't You Marry It?: When Toph says she misses Sokka, Katara tries to make a joke about it.
    Katara: Ooo. I got one. If you miss him so much, why don't you marry him?
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Piandao not only say than Sokka is worthy of him but also deserves better.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: Being the only non-bender in the team, Sokka is of little help to defend the village against the fire caused by a meteorite. Aang suggests Sokka watch Momo while he, Toph and Katara save the day.

 
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