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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Painted Lady"

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Katara takes on a disguise to help the villagers.

"I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me!"

When the Gaang comes upon a fishing village that has been having hard times due to the pollution from a local factory, Katara cannot resist helping the villagers in the guise of the local river spirit, the Painted Lady.


  • An Aesop: "You can't wait around for someone to help you. You have to help yourself."
  • Armies Are Evil: It's specifically the Fire Nation military who run the polluting factory, and run roughshod over the villagers, not a private corporation.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: When the villagers learn Katara is not the real painted lady, they almost turn on her. But then one boy innocently remarks "(And) she's the nice lady who gave me a fish."
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Katara. The page quote is the defining statement of her personality.
  • Clock King: Sokka turns out to be one to the annoyance of the other characters.
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  • Conveniently Empty Building: Apparently the factory is unguarded and runs without human supervision, at least at night. Aang and Katara destroy the place in no time while keeping the body count at zero.
  • Covered in Mud: Early on, Aang takes a bath in muddy water and then spatters Katara and Toph with it.
  • Declarative Finger: Katara (disguised as the Painted Lady) raises her index finger to Aang signaling him that she is too busy to talk.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Sokka accuses his sister of this when she entertains the idea of destroying the factory. He reminds her that this would backfire on the villagers.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The Gaang are relaxing barefoot by the river at the start of the episode.
  • Don't Explain the Joke:
    Sokka: (when he finds no fish to catch in the polluted river) Normally my fishing skills are off the hook! (nobody reacts) Get it? Like a fishing hook?
    Toph: Too bad your skills aren't on the hook. (everyone laughs)
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  • Extra Eyes: One of the fish has a third eye.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: Katara as the Painted Lady wears her hat low so that her eyes cannot be seen.
  • Fantastic Racism: Ultimately averted. Even though Katara dislikes Fire Nation people (due to her own tragic past), she still feels sorry for the village and wants to save it. Likewise, the villagers seem ready to turn on Katara the moment they realize she is a waterbender—but in the end they don't, because she saved them.
  • Filler: One of only two episodes of the show that you can skip with no problem (the other being "The Great Divide").
  • God Guise: Katara disguises herself as the Painted Lady, the village's guardian spirit.
  • Green Aesop: The general plot (saving the villagers from the Army's polluting factory) would not look out of place in a Captain Planet episode, and neither would the horribly mutagenic effects of the pollutants.
  • I Was Just Joking: Though Katara knew Sokka was joking, and was just making an excuse.
    Sokka: ...I also said to use spirit magic and made funny noises! (facepalm)
  • Lightswitch Surprise: Sokka awaits Katara and Aang when they return from destroying the factory. And he is not amused.
  • Lost My Appetite: Sokka buys a mutated two-headed fish from the village market, arguing that it's a better bargain for their lunch than just a normal fish with one head. Katara, Toph and Aang promptly decide to run for it.
  • Magical Barefooter: While masquerading as the spirit of the Painted Lady, Katara goes barefoot.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Whenever the gang are walking on the wooden streets of the town, Toph (who can't "see with her feet" here) is always seen holding hands or arm-in-arm with Aang or Sokka.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Destroying the factory just gets the soldiers stationed there mad at the villagers, who now come across as accomplices to terrorism.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Aang when following the Painted Lady at night. Katara thinks she has lost him, but then Aang appears from the other side.
  • Plot Hole: In this episode Sokka is concerned that losing a few days travel time will mean they might not make it to the capital in time. In the episodes between this one and then they're under little or no time pressure, and they still make it to the rendezvous four days early.
  • Real After All: The Painted Lady. Whether she would have done the same thing Katara did, had the pollution not kept her from acting, is unknown, but she is at least quite grateful.
  • Reality Ensues: Zig-zagged. It's first played straight, since destroying the factory doesn't solve the problem, but rather serves precisely to make its military security detachment crack down hard on the very village Katara wanted to save. Ultimately subverted, however: Team Avatar beats them, too, and rather than this realistically bringing in even more and more heavily armed troops, the story ends on a happy note. It is implied that the Painted Lady will keep looking after the people, which may or may not justify it.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Saving the village.
  • Scarecrow Solution: After the Gaang accidentally makes things worse, they decide to use this solution to correct their mistake and scare a corrupt Fire Nation army out of the small village they were persecuting: Toph, Sokka and Appa create fog, sound effects and an overall ominous and creepy atmosphere, while Katara dresses up as the Painted Lady herself, with help from Aang regarding her powers.
  • Shout-Out: When Katara, disguised as the Painted Lady, begins approaching Fire Nation soldiers, a child says "She's com-ing!" in the exact same tone as the line "They're he-re!"
  • Sleeping Dummy: Katara stuffs her sleeping bag with grass to sneak away from the group.
  • Spit Take: Aang has this reaction when Sokka announces they might have to take potty breaks and food breaks at the same time.
  • Split Personality: Dock/Xu/Bushi.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Subverted, for once. The villagers are plenty mad that the local girl is a waterbender and has been masquerading as their patron goddess, until Sokka calls them out on it and points out that now the village is safe and can grow prosperous again. Though Katara did apologize to them, she just couldn't stand by and do nothing.


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