Ahead of 2010’s blockbuster-to-be, The Last Airbender, we’re revisiting the Peabody-winning cartoon serial from which it got its name, Avatar.
9. The Waterbending Scroll
Last week’s revelation that there is a big comet coming that means business for the Fire Nation was exactly the kick into fifth gear that Avatar needed at that point. Now that there is a timeline in which Aang has to fulfill destiny, there’s real stakes.
But while Aang has a moment fretting to himself over the importance of his destiny, it’s quickly decided that there’s no point stressing out about it. Aang, Sokka and Katara decide to just get on with business. And so does Avatar, with one of its most enjoyable episodes so far
Sure, there were irritating flaws, most obvious being the total abandonment of the great Zuko-alone cliffhanger at the end of Avatar Roku (seriously, so lame. But The Waterbending Scroll offered new twists on already familiar characters and shenanigans and a pretty great chase down a river by… pirates!
The pirates came into the plot after Team Avatar headed into a nearby town to gain supplies. Aang, however, likes buying tat, as shown by his purchase of a seemingly useless bison-shaped whistle, so. of course. the suspicious-looking ship full of stolen heirlooms appeals to him.
One of those heirlooms turns out to be an ancient scroll containing ancient Waterbending techniques that would help Aang greatly in becoming the Avatar. It also would help Katara become a better Waterbender herself, seeing how she feels ostracised by Aang’s natural skills with water. So, in a very un-Katara moment, she steals it. And everyone knows you don’t steal from pirates.
Pirates have never been my favourite thing to watch in pop culture because, really, I think it gets old really quickly. Yeah, eyepatch, parrot, right, okay, “arr”. (It’s for this same reason as an uppity killjoy that I’ve never bothered to watch OnePiece. That show would just irritate the hell out of me.) And the pirates weren’t that different or interesting, really, aside from the fact that they all looked oddly effeminate, so this episode could have been a total washout for me. But it wasn’t. Through some really exciting action and the challenges brought to Katara and Aang’s friendship, the episode overrode my pirate-itis.
The focus of the episode was on Katara’s frustration with Aang’s Waterbending skills, especially when she was the teacher. Her failure to work as well as her friend Aang made her look somewhat unreasonable considering Aang’s Airbending past, but the jealousy was relatable. It made sense for her to steal the waterbending scroll from the ship, especially when you take into consideration she was stealing back something for her tribe. There’s an interesting idea about what actually is ‘yours’ and what isn’t, and the episode dealt with it in an interesting way, with Katara learning that she wasn’t entitled to Waterbending skills because of who she was. Sure, she mastered the water whip in the end, but it’s got to be at the back of her head from this point.
Zuko and Iroh were back in this episode, and it was the uncle’s faffing about that found them close to the Avatar. To summarise quickly: Iroh lost his favourite Pai Sho tile, so they headed to the nearest market. What made the link between the pirates and the Fire Nation villains? Well, bargains, of course! Iroh goes in looking for a bargain and Zuko overhears the pirates talking about Team Avatar’s thievery of the Waterbending scroll. This leads to the two groups teaming up to capture our heroes, leading to an interesting scene where Zuko tries to get information out of Katara (teasing her with her mother’s bracelet) while pulling the pirates’ bluff by threatening to destroy the scroll.
It’s interesting to see Zuko five moves ahead of everyone else in this sequence. Already we’re used to his angsty fits over regaining his honour or his buffoonish tiffs with his uncle, so it’s easy to forget that he is first and foremost a soldier.
But, of course, it’s back to the familial buffoonery. The pirates have a fight with the Fire Nation soldiers, steal his ship and send it flying off a waterfall. Team Avatar escape (turns out the pointless whistle was something only Appa could hear), and it turns out that the Pai Sho tile was lost up Iroh’s sleeve all along. Tough day.
And by the end of the episode, the Waterbending scroll is back with Team Avatar, flying off to the next adventure. It’s admirable how well they’re getting on with it. More romps like this, please!
“I used to look up to pirates, but those guys are terrible”
I’ve given the big fight between the pirates, Fire Nation and our heroes, but I want to point out that fantastic moment where Aang gets rid of the smoke, realises he’s surrounded by pirates, then brings it back. Brilliant.
“I owe you a bushel of apples.”
Where there are boat chases, there are massive waterfalls. It’s a cardinal rule.
My predilection for being a Lost fan has me wondering just who the “nobleman in the Earth Kingdom” is, even though it’s probably of little interest. But why would he want the scroll?
“My life was hard enough when you were just an Airbender.”
Momo, action lemur
Read our recap and review of episode 8 here.