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

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Pakku, the North's master waterbender, duels against Katara.

"You want to learn to fight so bad? Study closely."

After the journey to the Northern Air Temple, the group lurks around the waters surrounding the North Pole, seeking out the Northern Water Tribe. They are found by a group of waterbenders from the tribe, who show them the way. Upon arriving, the gang is welcomed warmly by the citizens of the Northern Water Tribe, and the chief of the tribe throws a huge party in celebration. Sokka meets Yue, an attractive princess whom he falls for. Aang and Katara seek to learn waterbending from a master named Pakku, but he refuses to teach Katara due to sexist customs. Katara proves herself worthy, both by demonstration of technique and by invoking the memory of Pakku's beloved ex-fiancée—Katara's own grandmother, who could not stand to live under the Northern Water Tribe's misogyny—and Pakku relents. Meanwhile, Admiral Zhao realizes that Zuko is the Blue Spirit and hires the pirates from "The Waterbending Scroll" to assassinate the prince; hearing that his nephew was killed, Iroh agrees to assist Zhao with an attack on the North Pole. But Zuko has survived, and, with Iroh's help, sneaks aboard Zhao's lead ship as his fleet departs.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • Arranged Marriage: The reason 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: While having tea with Admiral Zhao, Iroh appears to be ready to accuse Zhao of trying to assassinate Zuko. Then he says that it was the pirates, which is Metaphorically True since they were directly responsible for the assassination attempt, and Zuko and Iroh had previously tangled with them. However near the end of the episode, Iroh reveals that he was playing along so that Zuko could sneak aboard Zhao's ship with some backup.
  • Berate 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 that Zhao's taken the ship's cook as well.
  • Blatant Lies: Zhao stating that he's "devastated" to learn of Zuko's demise.
  • Blunt "No": When Katara learned that Master Pakku will not teach her in his class because she's a girl, she angrily tells him that she didn't travel from the South to the North just for him to tell her "no." He does just that.
  • Bullet Time: During Katara and Master Pakku's fight scene.
  • Can't Catch Up: 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, who's had many more years of experience and proper training.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The necklace that 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: What are the odds that the Gaang would just so happen to arrive at the Northern Water Tribe on the same day as Princess Yue's birthday?
  • Curb Stomp Cushion: Katara manages to hold her own and impresses Master Pakku with her waterbending and fighting abilities, but she still has no real chance of defeating a true Master of the craft. She even admits this herself, but is so infuriated that she doesn't care.
  • Deducing the Secret Identity: Admiral Zhao is able to figure out that Zuko is the Blue Spirit when he sees that Zuko has the same swords that the Blue Spirit used when he helped Aang escape from Zhao's custody.
  • Defrosting Ice King: 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.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Walking alongside her gondola, Sokka falls into a cross canal while talking to Yue. But according to him it was Worth It.
  • Elemental Weapon: Katara uses a water whip to strike Pakku and finally get him to fight her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite Ozai banishing, scarring, and generally mistreating Zuko, Iroh gravely tells Zhao that Ozai would be furious to learn that Zuko was assassinated. Zhao himself briefly looks nervous when Iroh brings this point up.
  • Evil Old Folks: Captain Li, who seemed quite eager to immediately attack the Northern Water Tribe. Several of Zhao's other captains appear to be somewhat elderly as well.
  • Fist of Rage: Katara clenches her fist before announcing that she is not apologizing to Master Pakku for her behavior.
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: At the very end of the episode, there is a pan-up from Zhao's ship to the fleet that he has gathered for the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe.
  • Forceful Kiss: Yue plants one on Sokka after they briefly talk on the bridge. Sokka quickly kisses back and has this to say:
    Sokka: Okay, now I'm confused. Happy, but confused.
  • Foreshadowing: Yagoda does this when she realizes that Katara is Kanna's granddaughter by looking at her face and her necklace.
  • 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.
  • Identical Grandson: Yagoda says that Katara is "the spitting image of Kanna."
  • Karma Houdini: The Pirates get paid to kill Zuko, carry out the job, and even though they fail to achieve their mission since Zuko survives, neither he nor Iroh tracks them down for revenge. Justified, as with just the two of them, no ship or allies, and running on a time limitation with Zhao's invasion imminent, they had no time to go after them for pointless payback when both are aware Zhao was the one really behind the attack, although Iroh does imply that he would be going after them once the Invasion was over as a pretence to ally Zhao's suspicions against him accepting his offer.
  • Leitmotif: The song that 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 has this reaction when one of Katara's ice discs gets 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.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: When Katara officially challenges Master Pakku, he has this to say before curb-stomping her:
    "You want to fight so bad? Study closely!"
  • Psychotic Smirk: Zhao does one when it appears that he fooled Iroh into thinking that the pirates were the only party responsible for the attempt on Zuko's life.
  • Ramen Slurp: Master Pakku slurps up some noodles (and some sort of tentacle) with waterbending while training Aang.
  • Shown Their Work: The night sky has stars that match the constellations in a star map in "The Desert."
  • Slipknot Ponytail: Katara's hair comes loose from her ponytail during her fight with Master Pakku.
  • Spotting the Thread: Zhao, having invaded Zuko's cabin to inform him that his crew is being commandeered, notices Zuko's broadswords hanging on the wall. Despite Zuko's protests that they are just decorative antiques, Zhao recognizes them as the ones that the Blue Spirit used to free the Avatar from his capture, leading him to attempt to assassinate Zuko.
  • Stay in the Kitchen:
    • The Northern Water Tribe's whole attitude. Katara's having none of it. And neither 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 that 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." When she brings it up again, he finds himself similarly flustered.
    Sokka: So, I'm still hoping we can see more of each other.
    Yue: "Do an activity," you mean?
    Sokka: Yes. At a place. For some time.
  • 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, though, given his title as a master.
  • Tranquil Fury: Zhao's voice becomes eerily calm when he asks about Zuko's "antique" broadswords.
  • 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...
  • Uptown Girl: Yue, who is Princess of the powerful Northern Water Tribe and Sokka, from the poorer Southern Tribe. He initially thinks that this is why she's rejecting him.
  • Villain Respect:
    • Downplayed. Pakku's more of a jerk with sexist values, but he does admit that Katara is rather skilled.
    • Zhao describes the Northern Water Tribe as a "great nation" and knows that taking their capital will be a challenge for the Fire Nation.
  • Water Is Womanly: Female waterbenders in the patriarchal Northern Water Tribe are only taught healing, a waterbending-only technique, and forbidden from learning how to fight, with men also forbidden from learning healing. The episode has Katara challenge the notion that female waterbenders should only heal.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The crew of Zuko's ship disappears after being drafted by Zhao for the assault on the Northern Water Tribe. Given how said attack transpires in the next two episodes, it's more than possible that they didn't survive.
  • You Go, Girl!: Katara's plot follows this standard trajectory.