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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Firebending Masters"

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Aang and Zuko are deemed worthy enough to learn the true and harmonious way of firebending.

"I understand."
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Having been accepted by the Gaang, Zuko begins to teach Aang firebending, only to discover that his own firebending has gotten weaker. Realizing that the Fire Nation employ a corrupted version that emphasizes hate and rage, Zuko takes Aang to visit the ruins of the ancient Sun Warrior civilization, where firebending was originally invented, in the hopes of getting back to basics.


Tropes:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Zuko nearly smiles when the others laugh after he reveals the move he and Aang learned is, indeed, a dance.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Zuko and Aang stand back to back while learning the power of dragons at the end of the episode.
  • Call-Back:
    • The red and blue dragons resemble the ones Zuko dreamed of “The Earth King”, representing his good and evil sides.
    • The trial of taking the fire to the dragons, is reminiscent of Jeong Jeong's lesson to Aang, that the trick is to control, not generate fire.
  • Character Development:
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    • Zuko has shed his Hot-Blooded temperament for now. When Sokka deliberately tries to get him angry by poking him, Zuko tells him to verbally cut it out rather than attacking him, and explaining he wants to find another way to learn firebending.
    • After two seasons, Aang finally overcomes his fear of Firebending. Zuko learns not only of the truth of firebending, but he doesn't have to be angry to command it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Dragon Dance Aang and Zuko do in the temple to find the gemstone is the key to prove themselves worthy of learning the true ways of Firebending from the last dragons.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Trapped in goo with no way to escape, Zuko suggests this to be a good way to pass the time.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Aang and Zuko discover that access to a Sun Warrior building requires the Winter's Solstice. Aang groans at this remembering the last time, "Winter Solstice, Part 1: The Spirit World".
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    • Aang's expression when he firebends, as well as the slow-motion, is virtually identical to when he first firebent in "The Deserter". Only this time he is in full control.
    • He refers to Zuko as 'Sifu Hotman'.
    • Badgermoles were previously mentioned as the original earthbenders as well as being the ones who taught Toph.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Aang and Zuko are engulfed in a cyclone of flames. They're perfectly fine. (Granted, the flames were created by two dragons who obviously didn't intend to harm them.)
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Zuko states that his uncle was responsible for killing the last dragon, which shocks Aang because he thought that Iroh was good. Zuko replies that Iroh, like the rest of his family, had a complicated past. Ultimately subverted when it's revealed that the last dragons are still alive and Iroh lied about slaying the last dragons in order to protect them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: When Zuko comes to the revelation that true firebending is supposed to be modeled off energy flow, like a sun inside you and asks the chief if they knew this:
    "Well, our civilization is called the Sun Warriors... so, yeah."
  • Death Faked for You: Iroh did this for the last two dragons Ran and Shaw.
  • Didn't Want an Adventure: "You had to pick up the glowing egg, didn't you?"
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The Sun Warriors play the drumbeats from the closing credits music.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Zuko 'losing his stuff', complete with Aang making excuses for him.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Aang clearly knows the rules for surviving a Raiders of the Lost Parody.
    Aang: What exactly is that?
    Zuko: It's some kind of mystical gemstone.
    Aang: Well, don't touch it!
    Zuko: Why not?
    Aang: Remember what happened out there with those spikes? I'm just very suspicious of giant, glowing gems sitting on pedestals.
  • Durable Deathtrap: Aang nearly gets killed by one. Lampshaded by Zuko when he wonders how century old booby traps could still work. Subverted in that the trap probably wasn't that old...
  • The Flame of Life: The true meaning of firebending.
    Aang: All this time, I thought firebending was destruction. Since I hurt Katara, I've been too afraid and hesitant. But now I know what it really is... it's energy, and life.
  • Foreshadowing: Zuko points out how unusual it is that the traps are still functioning after so long, foreshadowing the fact that the "lost" civilization isn't so lost at all.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The supposedly-extinct Sun Warriors are still living in their apparently ruined city.
  • Ironic Echo: When Zuko complains about how slow Appa's flying is, Aang gives the chipper instruction that Team Avatar always starts their day with an upbeat attitude. Later, when Aang loses his nerve over a booby trap he narrowly evaded, Zuko finds a way around it and facetiously points out Aang's lack of that "upbeat attitude".
  • Irony: While she's pretty snide about it, the irony does not fly over Katara's head when she points out how Zuko's firebending has inconveniently grown weaker just when he's switched sides, rather than back when they were enemies.
  • Jerkass Ball:
    • Sokka has a bit of it, mocking Aang and Zuko for practicing "jerkbending", despite the fact that Aang needs to learn it.
    • Katara holds this when she rather nastily taunts Zuko for losing his firebending, insulting him by saying that perhaps he wasn't a good firebender to begin with, and mocking his new form of firebending. Granted, she has some understandable reasons to be mad at Zuko. note 
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Subverted; after claiming that discovering the continued existence of the Sun Warriors (and the last two dragons) means Zuko and Aang can never leave the tribe, the chieftain then reveals he was just kidding. Then Double Subverted when he rather freakily insists they don't tell anyone what they've seen and learned (since their lives and especially those of the dragons depended on secrecy).
  • Lampshade Hanging: After Zuko and Aang are captured by the Sun Warriors, who accuse of them of being thieves, Aang tells them that he is the Avatar in order to win their trust. The sarcastic and confident manner in which he delivers the line is an obvious nod to the numerous times in which Aang has used his status as the Avatar to get himself out of trouble in the past.
    Aang: I don't normally play this card, but I'm the Avatar
  • Last of His Kind: The two dragons protected by the Sun Warriors may be the last dragons alive in the entire world.
  • "No More Holding Back" Speech: Both Aang and Zuko knew from near the start of the episode that their blocks to learning firebending were internal, but it's not until the near the end that they actually give the speech and break through the blocks.
  • Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: Zuko. For most of his life, he practiced a form of firebending based on rage and hatred - in his case, self-hatred - and now that he's switched sides, his newfound calmness renders him without enough of either to light a candle. Sokka suggests annoying him into firebending again, but Zuko doesn't want to run on that anymore; he thus goes on a quest to learn the origins of firebending - which, as the Fire Nation was once at peace with the world, had to have been far less destructive.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Subverted. An ancient, abandoned city is in pretty good shape, but then it turns out the inhabitants still live there, just in hiding. No proofing, just actual upkeep.
  • Raiders of the Lost Parody: The Sun Warriors' city looks a lot like the temple in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with booby traps.
  • Reality Ensues: This episode subverts Durable Deathtrap by revealing that the Sun Warrior civilization still exists, and that they were maintaining and resetting the traps.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Sun Warrior leader frees Zuko and Aang from the trap and learns about why they were investigating the ruins. He then lets the masters judge them on their worthiness. When they pass, he's visibly happy and only warns them not to tell anyone.
  • Redemption Demotion: Ultimately inverted, as Zuko proves to be an even better firebender after this episode, but first played straight and discussed when his bending initially becomes much weaker; he used to use hate to fuel his firebending, and his Heel–Face Turn has brought him enough peace he can't firebend anymore.
    Zuko: I bet it's because I changed sides.
  • Secret Test of Character: The Sun Warriors are stern with Zuko and Aang after freeing them from the glue trap. They say that since they discovered them, they have to undergo a meeting with the masters and face their judgment. When the dragons deem Zuko and Aang worthy after they do a firebending dance, the Sun Warriors become visibly nicer and congratulate them. Their only request is that the two not tell anyone that the Sun Warriors are still active.
  • Scenery Porn: The Sun Warriors' city.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Invoked by the Sun Warrior chief, who pretty much says to Zuko that he's off to a bad start with the last two dragons, because Zuko's great-grandfather Fire Lord Sozin was the one who started the act of hunting dragons as a sport, causing the race to go nearly extinct. Eventually subverted when the dragons deem Zuko worthy of learning the true ways of firebending.
  • Spikes of Doom: A floor that lowers when a tripwire is triggered, revealing the spikes.
  • Stealth Insult: "You know, Zuko, I don't care what everyone else says about you; you're pretty smart." It takes Zuko a few moments to understand the implication.
  • Technicolor Fire: The dragons make a tornado of multicolor fire around Aang and Zuko, allowing them to realize what's Firebending's true nature.
  • Wall Run: Zuko runs on the wall to get past a spike trap.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Sun Warriors gave these to Aang and Zuko. Subverted when the masters do accept Aang and Zuko and teach them the right way of firebending.
    • Zuko is reminded that his ancestors are directly responsible for exterminating the dragons making it less likely that the Firebending masters will accept him.
    • When Aang brings up his status as the Avatar in hopes that'll get the Firebending masters' approval, the Sun Warriors remind him that his abandonment of the world is what led to the Dragons' extinction. Because of that, it's highly unlikely that the masters will accept Aang because he's the Avatar.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: When Aang confides he's afraid to lose control of his fire-bending, Zuko reassures that he has faith it will be okay.
    Zuko: You're a talented kid.

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