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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Puppetmaster"

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Katara is introduced to bloodbending.

"My bending is more powerful than yours, Hama. Your technique is useless on me!"
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Still traveling through the Fire Nation in disguise, our heroes take shelter in a forest for the night; however, a kindly old woman discovers them, as she knows of the mysterious disappearances in the woods, and doesn't want anything to happen to the young group. Something seems decidedly odd about the lady (Hama), however, and the Gang begins to investigate - and Hama's dark secret is revealed. She's from the Southern Water Tribe.

She explains how she was a little girl when the war was relatively young, and she spent her early life in the Southern Water Tribe as a warrior. The Fire Nation had been fearful of the Avatar's rebirth into the Southern Water Tribe, however, so they sent raiding ships to capture the waterbenders, taking them away and leaving them in horrible Prisoner Of War camps, with virtually no water to bend or space to move. Hama broke out long ago, and has spent the rest of her life as a normal Fire Nation citizen, trying to forget her painful imprisonment.

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Gleeful at having met water benders from the same tribe, Hama and Katara immediately bond, and Hama accepts to teach Katara, as she knows how dangerous is can be for a Waterbender in strange lands. Hama knows techniques to pull water out of the surrounding environment, like from plants and water vapor in the air, and she gladly shows these to Katara.

Something is still out in the woods, making people disappear, and the rest of the Gang investigates what must surely be spiritual phenomenon, even though there seems to be nothing to upset the spirits in such a beautiful town. However, they come across a hidden cave in the woods, where Fire Nation citizens have been imprisoned - controlled by their own bodies at the full moon, like some puppetmaster was controlling them.

The Gaang then discovers Hama's even darker secret- she is the one who's been imprisoning the townspeople. Her use-the-water-in-the-environment tricks came from developing Bloodbending, a disturbing art that uses the full moon power boost to allow a waterbender to control the water in human blood. Hama used this ability in her breakout, and now uses it to get revenge on the nation that treated her so badly. She's become twisted by her obsession, and she wants Katara to follow in her footsteps. Katara naturally refuses, so Hama forces her hand by using bloodbending against her, Aang and Sokka. Katara can use her own waterbending to resist Hama, but Aang and Sokka aren't so lucky. Katara is forced to use Hama's technique against her, and although Hama is captured and the day is saved, Katara can't easily escape Hama's last words to her:

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Hama: My work is done. Congradulations, Katara. You're a bloodbender.

Tropes:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: As Hama tosses her around and forces her to learn bloodbending, Katara begs her to stop. Hama just gives an Evil Laugh, however.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Katara ends up alone with Hama who reveals herself as evil while Aang and Sokka figure out the truth in their own time. Their attempt to come and rescue Katara doesn't work out as planned though.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Katara, Sokka and Aang when Hama uses bloodbending to control the boys.
  • Bad Samaritan: Hama turns out to be a not so friendly caretaker.
  • Bait the Dog: Katara is thrilled to find a woman like her in the Fire Nation of all places: a Southern tribe waterbender who was a war prisoner and casualty. Hama in turn treats her and the kids kindly, housing them for free in her inn and cooking traditional water tribe dishes. Then the others find out that Hama have been kidnapping the villagers who had nothing to do with her imprisonment. Hama then reveals that she intends to teach Bloodbending to Katara, and won't take "no" for an answer.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Hama may be defeated, the villagers freed, but she's passed down Bloodbending to Katara, and that's what she really cares about.
  • Bathos: The way Hama concludes her scary Ghost Story with an innocent question about serving more tea.
    "When the moon turns full, people walk in and they don't come out. (Beat!) Who wants more tea?
  • Barefoot Captives: As shown in Hama's flashback, imprisoned waterbenders are dressed only in rags and bare feet.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Inverted; Hama initially is nice to the Gaang because she overheard that Katara and Sokka were Southern Water Tribe natives, and that Katara was a waterbender like her. She quickly reveals that she is not so nice when Katara refuses to learn from her.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Hama started out as a girl who fought to protect her people, but then became obsessed with vengeance after being imprisoned in awful conditions.
  • Berate and Switch: Hama when Katara suggests using her charm on a vendor.
    Hama: You would have me use my feminine charms to take advantage of that poor man? [[Beat!]] I think you and I are going to get along swimmingly.
  • Big "NO!": Katara when Sokka and Aang almost die at the hands of Hama.
  • Black and White Insanity: Hama claims that she must imprison the villagers to pay back the Fire Nation for imprisoning her in turn. The villagers for the most part don’t seem to realize what the soldiers do, but they are largely innocent of the more heinous crimes that Hama suffered.
  • Body Horror: Bloodbending is this in its rawest form, stripping the victim of their will to control their body and reduced to watching in horror as their own limbs are twisted and contorted against their will. And this theoretically just the start of what such a bending art can do.
  • Calling Your Attacks: A rare Justified Trope in that neither Sokka nor Aang actually want to hit Katara.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Katara tells a story about a friend of her mother's who disappeared from their village as a girl. Then we meet an old waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe... who's from a generation or two further back.
  • Continuity Nod: Quite a few!
    • Hama mentions that ocean kumquats taste a lot like sea prunes when they're stewed long enough. Aang immediately cringes, remembering how he hated sea prunes so much in "Bato of the Water Tribe".
    • In the flashback sequence, black snow is the harbinger of the Fire Nation's initial attack on a polar Water Tribe, and we see Hama and other benders trapping the Fire Nation ship.
    • Sokka flips out when Toph suggests that the Moon Spirit might be vengeful.
  • Creepy Doll: When the Gaang finds the Fire Nation puppets, they're a little freaked out. Aang even voices how creepy it looks.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Bloodbending.
  • Darker and Edgier: In comparison to other episodes, this one is the darkest of the bunch.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Katara, on realizing that Hama is the kidnapper and wants to teach her an unethical form of bending, immediately declares that she will never learn it. Cue Hama using bloodbending to immobilize her and force her to learn the movements. Hama lampshades that Katara shouldn't have declared herself so openly.
  • Die or Fly: Downplayed - Katara has to either learn bloodbending or watch as Hama uses it to make Sokka kill Aang.
  • The Doll Episode: Starting with those Creepy Dolls, and then Katara learns about how waterbending can be used to manipulate people like puppets.
  • Downer Ending: Hama gets her way when Katara unwillingly learns bloodbending.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Hama is quite civil to the children, initially. She also forgives them for prying around her house, albeit since it allows her, Katara and Sokka to bond over their water tribe roots. While her kindly demeanor is a mask, it seems she wasn't lying about the latter part.
    • The Fire Nation wouldn't murder their prisoners, for what little that counts. Hama describes that instead the waterbenders were chained up while given enough water to live.
  • Evil Counterpart: Hama is this to Katara.
  • Evil Laugh: Hama does this repeatedly after the reveal.
  • Evil Mentor: Hama becomes Katara's.
  • Evil Old Folks: Hama.
  • Fallen Hero: Hama. She used to be a defender for the Southern Water Tribe, but being imprisoned and isolated for a decade did its number on her morals.
  • Foreshadowing: While snooping around Hama's house, the Gaang find a bunch of Fire Nation puppets in a closet. Foreshadowing both the captured Fire Nation citizens found later and Hama's ability to Bloodbend people.
  • Ghost Story: The episode opens with Sokka and Katara telling these. Katara's story was based off a real event that happened to her mother when she was a child.
  • Gilligan Cut: Sokka concludes that he cannot fall asleep thanks to Hama's nightmare fuel. Cut to him fast asleep drooling on his pillow.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Katara points her finger at Hama when telling her she won't let her terrorizing the town. Cue Hama using her bloodbending to twist Katara's arm.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Hama falls prey to this, doing to innocent Fire Nation citizens what her Fire Nation jailers did to her.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Old Man Ding claims he is not that old. Cue him struggling to pick up a wooden board.
  • Instant Expert: Katara learns Bloodbending overnight, albeit unwillingly.
  • The Jailer: Hama.
  • Kubrick Stare: Hama pulls one off after she is revealed as the person behind the mysterious disappearances.
  • Lunacy: Just like with Waterbending, Hama mentions that Bloodbending is strongest during full moon.
  • Marionette Master: Hama.
  • Marionette Motion: Anyone under the influence of bloodbending.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Subverted with Hama.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Hama takes out her pain of being imprisoned for decades out on civilian villagers.
  • My Kung-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: See quote at the top.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Katara figured out on her own that Hama was the one causing the disappearances and overpowers Hama's bloodbending with her own skills and power. But Aang and Sokka don't know this and think they have to save her from Hama - and unlike Katara, they can't resist the bloodbending. Cue Hama using them as puppets and Katara needing to use bloodbending to save them.
  • Oh, Crap!: During Hama's duel with Katara, the two are evenly matched until Hama throws three trees worth of water at Katara, who blocks it perfectly with an earthbending stance. She is so shocked that she doesn't even see Katara's followup, which is to hit her upper body and legs to knock her over.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Plays when the Gaang breaks into the attic and opens the treasure chest.
  • Ominous Owl: As if to hammer home the whole Halloween episode theme, there's a shot of a cat-owl in a tree.
  • People Puppets / The Power of Blood: Bloodbending is the art of controlling people's actions through the blood in their veins.
  • Properly Paranoid: Sokka of Hama. His instinct was that she was hiding something, though at first the Gaang is led to believe that she was hiding her Water Tribe roots.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Sorta with Hama. She was captured by the Fire Nation, trying to defend her home. Her companions were captured and so was she eventually. She spent the next few months locked in a prison cell and was bound during water breaks. One night, she had a startling revelation: all people and animals are mostly composed of water. She began perfecting her new technique on rats and then moved onto the guards. She managed to escape from her cell, but she stayed in the Fire Nation and rounded up citizens, Bloodbending them to the mountain and locking them up. While her reason behind this is understandable, she forced Katara to learn this ability in order to save Aang. While being dragged away and while Katara was crying, Hama laughed evilly at her success.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Hama invents bloodbending, and somehow is able to pass it on so that by the time Korra's generation comes about, it is used as a terrifyingly effective weapon against benders.
  • Tears of Fear: A terrified Katara starts crying when Hama takes control of her body with bloodbending.
  • Visual Pun: After Team Avatar is told to talk to Old Man Ding, the first shot is of him placing a nail - Ding means nail.
  • Victory Is Boring: implied. Hama has escaped from the fire nation cells but she spends her life taking out her pain on villagers who had nothing to do with her imprisonment. She looks much happier when she’s caught and returned to jail because she has passed on her legacy.
  • Villain Has a Point: To rally Katara to her side, Hama points out that the Fire Nation unjustly imprisoned her and killed Katara’s mother. Both legitimate points, though Katara retorts that blood bending isn’t the right way to go about it.
  • We Can Rule Together: Hama makes a version of this speech when she explains to Katara how she escaped prison. She points out that together they could avenge the Southern Water Tribe's waterbenders, who were exterminated slowly and painfully. When Katara refuses, Hama blood-bends her and keeps her from fighting back.
  • Wham Line: When Hama catches the gang with her comb. Cue a Vertigo Effect on Sokka and Katara.
    Hama: It's my greatest treasure. It's the last thing I owned from growing up in the Southern water tribe.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Katara was going to master the Bloodbending either willingly or under duress to save her friends.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Katara feels this way when Hama congratulates her on becoming a bloodbender.
    Hama: Congratulations, Katara. You're a bloodbender.

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