Ahead of 2010’s blockbuster-to-be The Last Airbender, we’re revisiting the Peabody-winning cartoon serial from which it got its name.
2. The Avatar Returns
In last week’s premiere, we saw the Water Tribe camp in real danger as Aang mistakenly gave away the site to a patiently waiting Fire Nation warship. At the start of The Avatar Returns, the camp is pretty angry with Aang, who Sokka believes intentionally let off the flare that caught the Fire Nation’s attention. I guess being a reincarnated Airbender with flying bison in tow doesn’t grant you the benefit of the doubt.
Sokka banishes “the foreigner” from the village – interesting choice of words there – and Katara immediately jumps to Aang’s defence, claiming that he’s brought the Water Tribe something they haven’t had in a long time: fun! (Of course, this isn’t the half of it – Aang’s her ride to the North Pole for Waterbending training.)
When Sokka and the siblings’ grandmother order Aang’s banishment yet again, Katara threatens to leave with him.
It’s fitting that these kids are all giving adolescent reactions to something beyond their understanding. Where Katara is teen-stubborn over her wishes to become a Waterbender, Zuko is an angry teenager and Aang is still naive enough to joke about using fun to beat the Fire Nation. Even Sokka, putting on his big brother boots and yelling orders (“No potty breaks!”), is trying to act out a role played by his absent father, something we’re reminded of when he’s easily defeated by Zuko later in the episode.
And Zuko, yup, he shows up looking for the recently departed Aang, in the most tyrannical manner possible, barricading a Fire Nation ship through the walls of the camp in a style that’s not quite David and Goliath, more Tiny Ant and Goliath.
There’s some PG terrorising of the villagers as he orders to know where they’ve hidden Aang, when – surprise! – he reappears, reveals he’s the Avatar (how in the world did the camp not make this association before? More on that next week) and makes a deal: the camp’s safety for his capture. Cue rescue mission!
“It’s been so long since I’ve had hope,” Gran-Gran tells Katara, telling them how it was her and her brother’s destiny to find the Avatar. The downtrodden faces of the Water Tribe inhabitants aren’t because of a funny little kid being taken away by the enemy. It’s that it guarantees an unwanted end to the war.
Appa helps them out by being their big, fuzzy ride, leading to a great moment when Sokka accidentally makes him fly. “Yip yip!”
Meanwhile, Zuko taunts Aang aboard the warship about having monks as surrogate fathers (two episodes in and fathers roles are definitely going to be a running thing in the series at this rate) before having him led to a holding cell.
Obviously, this doesn’t last long with Aang escaping to get his staff back, bringing him to blows with Zuko. Zuko is well and truly beaten (bludgeoned by a mattress, ow) but he doesn’t take no for an answer and his persistence eventually pays off when he knocks Aang off the ship and into the waters.
Of course, this only turns Aang into the Avatar, allowing him to attack pretty much everyone on board using waterbending techniques. It’s pretty awesome.
To cut a long story short, Aang is rescued by his new Water Tribe friends and they escape, Zuko vowing to never underestimate the Avatar again. We’ll wait and see!
There’s a lot of ground covered in this episode and The Boy In The Iceberg. The tone of the show needs to be set (smart move, making episode one the adventure segment and episode two the action segment), the main characters need to be pretty fleshed out and, of course, the mythology needs to be explained quite a bit so we understand it.
So, with a lot of ground to cover, it’s liable that there’ll be a few bum notes in there – the editing between the storylines of Aang’s capture and the rescue effort could have been a bit clearer, for instance. Katara is just a little bit too whiny – but what’s truly amazing is how the whole thing goes off without a hitch.
It may not seem like it at the start of the pilot, but by the time you’re wondering just why Aang never wanted to be the Avatar, you’re in this for the long run.
Next stop: the North Pole.
Some random thoughts:
I really was straining for criticisms above, but Katara really did annoy me at points in this episode, especially when she tried to leave with Aang at the start.
Definitely loved the depictions of two different tribes preparing for battle. It’s that sort of detail that makes Avatar so interesting.
Sokka really didn’t train those kids well enough to fight, did he?
The ‘what have I done?’ look on Zuko’s face upon seeing Aang in Avatar form always cracks me up.
I could go into some kind of rant about the Water Tribe’s status as a male-free society during wartime and what it says about our (necessary/unnecessary) reliance on men, but I kind of want to have fun while writing these recaps. I’m going to stretch the father thing out, mind, so look forward to that.
Read our recap and review of the premiere episode here.