Both Katara and Zuko deal with being underestimated and dismissed.
Last time on Avatar: The Gaang visited the Northern Air Temple.
The Northern Water Tribe at Last!
Appa is flying along but is unusually close to the water. Both Aang’s and Sokka’s tempers are fraying due to the two-day-long flight, which is wearing on the flying bison as well. Then are sudden ice attacks, leading to Appa getting frozen in place. Katara’s ecstatic to have found other water-benders as the tribe’s boats surround them.
At a council, Zhao has realized the Avatar is going to the Northern Water Tribe and why he’s doing so. The frigid landscape itself acts to defend the location. A full-fledged invasion force will be required to take out the city.
The boats escort the flying bison to the Northern Water Tribe. A tunnel is opened up in the ice wall to let them through. Katara is awed by the quantity of the water-benders present as well as by the icy, gorgeous city itself. As a boat leads Appa deeper into the city via canal, the citizens are excited to see the Avatar. Princess Yue goes by in a boat. Sokka is smitten while Katara is still admiring the cityscape.
That night, Jee is playing a guitar-like instrument, two guys on the drums, and Iroh is singing a love song around a fire on Zuko’s ship. Two other guys are dancing. Music night is ruined by Zhao and some soldiers showing up.
Up in the city, there’s a feast being held for two reasons. Some guys bring greenery for Appa, whose excitement scares them. Chief Arnook (Jon Polito) does a speech introducing the trio as well as commenting on how his daughter Yue (Johanna Braddy) is now sixteen and thus of marriageable age.
Master Pakku (Victor Brandt) and two of his students do an impressive water-bending performance. Yue sits next to Sokka and the two are adorably awkward together. Katara is amused by her brother, but he’s not wrong as they are the children of the Southern Water Tribe’s chief so under more prosperous circumstances the two of them would be considered royalty.
Chief Arnook introduces Aang to the cranky Pakku. To be fair, he’s right in that Aang shouldn’t necessarily receive special treatment in his teachings. Yet the Avatar clearly needs specialized training due to his/her sheer power. Aang wants “his friend” to join in on the training as well. As Pakku exits irritably, the chief just shrugs at the boy.
Iroh heads down to Zuko’s quarters, where the teen is avoiding music night. It’s revealed that Zhao is taking the entire crew for his invasion force, down to the cook. Iroh has to hold back his furious nephew. Zhao spots a pair of broadswords on the wall and flashbacks to the events of “The Blue Spirit”.
Zuko claims they’re decorative antiques while Iroh thinks the Blue Spirit is just a rumor. I’m not sure if he’s protecting his nephew or is actually unaware of Zuko’s involvement. Zhao isn’t convinced and wants ‘justice’ as well as Iroh joining him for the invasion.
Early the next morning, Katara is excited for the lesson. Aang seems less effusive… until he loudly greets Pakku, interrupting the man’s focus. Pakku reveals that women aren’t taught combative water-bending here to Katara’s anger. Instead, they learn healing from Yagoda. Aang no longer wants to learn from Pakku in solidarity with Katara, but she knows he can’t risk his training for her and must learn from the best water-bending master in the tribe even if he’s a “huge jerk”.
Sokka finds Yue on her boat; both times a guy is doing the water-bending to steer the boat. He talks to her as he keeps pace on the sidewalk. She agrees to meet him on a nearby bridge that night. Sokka briefly gets up in the water due to not looking where the sidewalks ends.
Zhao has hired the pirates from “The Waterbending Scroll” for a mission involving Prince Zuko.
Katara goes to learn healing from Yagoda (Lucille Bliss) along with a group of younger girls as Katara is admittedly a beginner healer (but has in the background gained plenty of water-bending experience). Afterwards, she thanks Yagoda for the informative lesson, thus clarifying that Katara doesn’t mind learning healing… she just also wants to learn more combat-oriented water-bending.
Meanwhile, Aang is struggling to learn the “push and pull” of water from Master Pakku.
At first Yagoda thinks Katara is wearing a betrothal necklace. She explains that one, she’s too young for that, and two, it’s a family heirloom. Yagoda realizes that she must be Kanna’s granddaughter as she recognizes the necklace and now sees the resemblance. Katara is confused by how she could know her Gran-Gran’s name. Apparently they were friends in their youth as Kanna grew up here, but shortly after her betrothal she left the tribe “without saying goodbye”.
Now I want a mini-series or novella about how Kanna, without a flying bison or bending, managed to travel from the north pole to the south one.
Zuko is sulking on his bed. Iroh offers for him to accompany him on his walk, but evidently the teen would rather continue sulking so he leaves. As Iroh leaves the boat, the pirate reptile bird swoops behind him. Some of the pirates board the ship; barrels of blasting jelly are hauled up from a nearby rowboat where two of the others are. Their captain isn’t present.
Hearing a squeak by Oh turning a thingy, Zuko goes on alert despite thinking it’s his uncle at first. The path to the barrels is lit as Zuko explores the ship. In a high-up room, Zuko spots the reptile bird and his eyes widen in recognition. As the ship explodes, Zuko creates a fire shield to protect himself but he seems to fly off the ship away.
Iroh first hears and then sees the explosion. Horrified, he runs back to the inferno of the ship.
Sokka goes to the bridge where Yue is waiting. He gives her a carved ‘fish’ that Yue at first thinks is a bear. Suddenly freaking out, she bolts to Sokka’s confusion and hurt.
In their domed space, Sokka is aggravated with Yue’s flip-flopping attitude towards him before asking the younger two about water-bending training.
“Master Poophead won’t teach her because she’s a girl,” Aang sums up. Katara flops over in her sleeping bag.
Sokka suggests that Aang could teach her what he’s learning from Pakku. Katara agrees that the plan would make everybody happy.
“I’m not happy,” Sokka points out.
“But you’re never happy,” his sister refutes.
Katara and Aang leave to train together… but Pakku finds them and feels “disrespected” so he won’t teach Aang anymore. Okay, is ‘feeling disrespected’ the inverse of somebody saying ‘no offense but/meant’ before saying something offensive? Person A does something more or less innocuous by most standards, but Person B reacts due to being ‘disrespected’.
The next day they go to the Northern Water Tribe council. Chief Arnook suggests they apologize to him in hopes he’ll continue teaching Aang. But Pakku calls Katara “little girl” so she challenges him to meet her outside if he’s “man enough”, the ice floor cracking behind her out of anger. Some jars shatter as well. Aang tries to say she didn’t mean it but Sokka knows his sister did. According to the creators’ commentary, it’s very possible that Sokka is remembering the similar incident in “The Boy in the Iceberg”.
Having tea with Iroh, Zhao claims he’s devastated about Zuko. He’s at first a bit concerned when Iroh says he knows who’s responsible but relaxes when the older man says it was the pirates they had a run-in with a while back. Well, Iroh’s not entirely wrong. In any case, Iroh accepts Zhao’s offer to serve as a general in the invasion force.
As they head down the stairs, Sokka is worried for his little sister. Yanking off her parka, Katara knows she’ll probably lose but doesn’t care. She also makes it clear that she’s doing this for herself, not Aang.
Pakku shows up and dismisses her… so Katara water whips him on the back of the head. The battle begins and it is so awesome and epic I can’t use words to describe it. The creators say that Pakku is highly trained while Katara is more of a powerful but untrained “street fighter”.
“You can’t knock me down,” she insists. Pakku concedes she’s “excellent” but stands firm on not teaching her so the fight continues. The fight continues and is still epic.
Katara ends up with her necklace cut off and her hair loose. Pakku starts to dismiss her again once she’s trapped in icicles but then he finds the necklace, which he made sixty years ago. Katara is confused by the idea of him nearly marrying her Gran-Gran. Apparently Pakku felt it was a Perfectly Arranged Marriage where he fell in love with his fiancée… but then she left. That probably magnified his ‘women can’t water-bend’ views.
There’s an injured Zuko hiding out as a soldier on a ship. Iroh is being Zuko’s back-up while he stows away in Zhao’s invasion force. Clearly Iroh figures it’s better for Zuko to capture the Avatar than Zhao.
Pakku is upset at the reopening of this old wound. Katara realizes that her grandmother didn’t want to be restricted by her tribe’s customs so badly that she left. Yue runs off sobbing. Aang encourages Sokka to follow her.
It’s night by the time Sokka finds her on the bridge again and is worried her hesitance is due to the class difference between them. But then Yue pulls him in for a kiss. Afterwards, Sokka goes, “Okay, now I’m really confused. Happy, but confused.”
Yue admits she likes but pulls down her parka to reveal her engagement necklace (stating it out loud as well) before leaving the bridge. I do appreciate Sokka didn’t take advantage of her flip-flopping to get more physical affection. He respects Yue enough to know she has boundaries, even if until now he didn’t know why she has them.
A happier Pakku is training with Aang and a few others, presumably the next day. Katara arrives late, but it’s made clear she’s now among his students.
However, Zhao is ready to take his sizable fleet to the Northern Water Tribe.
Master Pakku is in fact the water-bender seen in the opening credits, as confirmed by an art book caption. His arc is more or less condensed version of Wyldon in the Protector of the Small quartet. Except, Pakku’s major breakthrough was due to Katara being the granddaughter of the love of his life (nepotism, basically) as well as her pointing out that Kanna probably left because of how restrictive the tribe was towards women.
The art book caption for some of the fight’s storyboarding says the creators feel it is “one of [their] favorite action scenes from the series”. There’s a lot of images of various Northern Water Tribe citizens, as well as some of Pakku and Yue. It’s stated they wanted to highlight that the northern tribe is more “fancy and cosmopolitan” than the southern one. There’s also lots of art for the city, both colored and black-and-white. There’s a two-page spread where on one side there are two sketches and then the other shows the same images in color/finalized.
Basically, I think this is one of the most gorgeous locations yet.
While a lot less screen-time was given to him, Zuko is also underestimated like Katara in this episode. Obviously, Katara had it worse overall but at least she didn’t get nearly blown up. The pirates made a brief comeback, and it turns out Zuko’s mistreatment of them led to trouble here.
The episode commentary clarifies that the Southern Tribe was harder hit by the war than its counterpart, possibly due to the differing landscapes.
The two-part season finale is up next!
Next time on Avatar: Zhao begins his siege.