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    Five Thoughts on Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s “The Waterbending Master”

    By | September 7th, 2017
    Posted in Television | % Comments

    Welcome back for another weekly review of Avatar! This week, we finally reach the North Pole and meet Master Pakku. How does the episode hold up? Here are my thoughts. We be in spoiler territory.

    1. Katara vs The Patriarchy.
    In all honesty, I feel that the first season as a whole leans heavily on Katara’s negative characteristics. She can act too much on emotion (including jealousy and spitefulness), she can be overly optimistic, and even when she attempts great things, she can lack agency because she’s young and inexperienced. This episode attempts to remedy that. Or at least, to put those characteristics to good use.

    In the Northern Water Tribe, their culture dictates that male waterbenders learn to fight using waterbending while the females learn how to heal using waterbending. Naturally, Katara wasn’t going to take this. So, she fights the patriarchal society. And how can one girl in her early teens take down the customs of an entire society? Well…

    2. The Betrothal.
    It turns out the Northern Water Tribe’s waterbending master, Pakku, was in an arranged marriage to Katara’s grandmother, and the necklace Katara has worn throughout the show was actually an engagement present from Pakku to Gran Gran all those years ago. And for this, he changes his mind on teaching her. First off, good use of extended cast and nice imparting meaning to something that we’ve been looking at throughout the entire show. But more to the matter at hand:

    Looking at this over a decade later, there are some problems with this solution. Is it a win for feminism if the main reason Master Pakku took on Katara as a student was because he used to be engaged to her grandmother? Now, obviously Katara wasn’t going to undo an entire culture in a single episode. She proved her worth, even if the final decision was made because of outside circumstances. In the end, she was determined and fought for her right to do what she wanted. So does it matter if the reason Katara ended up winning was completely unrelated to her skill?

    I’m really interested to hear what you guys think. Let me know in the comments.

    3. The Other Betrothal.
    Ah, Sokka. Already dealing with arranged-marriage drama.

    While I’m not usually a fan of shipping teases or overwrought drama, the revelation of Yue’s engagement was done tastefully. For one, it makes sense culturally, given that another big plot twist in the episode also deals with an arranged marriage. More than that, though, it adds a layer to Sokka’s story of becoming a warrior, because he has to work with Yue’s fiancé and balance his feelings for her with his duty as a warrior.

    Interestingly, I also see Sokka as a “committed lover” sort of character. He’s not really bro about girls (even when he’s showboating), and he’s not really skittish either (even when he’s in slapstick mode). He follows his heart and goes for it. When he sees someone he likes, he imagines the rest of his life with her. I feel like we learn so much more about Sokka through his two episodes of interaction with and Yue and Suki (back in episode four) than we ever do about Aang or Katara when the focus is on their relationships.

    4. Assassination Attempt.

    The explosion itself is a lesson on how to build suspense and pace out what could be a quick event. But then there’s the episode’s worth of buildup and aftermath, which are all equally as tense. Zhao realizing Zuko is the Blue Spirit? Zhao hiring the pirates from episode nine? The pirates accidentally making just enough noise to alert Zuko? Zuko seeing the parrot just before the explosion? Iroh playing Zhao by joining his crew and acting like he thought the pirates caused the explosion? Zuko stowing away on the ship?? That, my friends, is suspense. It’s also a wonderful payoff to a season’s worth of built-up antagonism between Zuko and Zhao.

    5. A Storm Is Brewing…
    More than anything else, this episode serves the function of setting up the finale. And I think it did a great job of that! The final shot feels earned, teasing an invasion we’ve spent the whole season waiting for. With all the pieces in place, it’s up to the finale to knock them all down. Let’s go.

    Continued below

    What did you think of the episode? Thoughts on whether Katara’s journey here was a feminism win? Let’s chat in the comments!

    //TAGS | 2017 Summer TV Binge | Avatar: The Last Airbender

    Nicholas Palmieri

    Nick is a South Floridian writer of films, comics, and analyses of films and comics. Flight attendants tend to be misled by his youthful visage. You can try to decipher his out-of-context thoughts over on Twitter at @NPalmieriWrites.


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