I always forget how awesome this episode is, probably because the A-plot about Aang and Katara getting jealous over each other isn’t nearly as great as the B-plot about Sokka learning about the Kyoshi warriors. This episode is also a lot more awesome after having watched the whole show. When Avatar was still airing, my greatest fan sadness was that Suki seemed doomed to be a one-episode character. Then she got to be the awesomest recurring character, but we’ll get to that eventually.
Anyway, there’s only one thing we can talk about here: feminism! Avatar is often praised as a feminist show because it has a million female characters who kick butt and passes the Bechdel test and all that wonderful stuff. (And yes, there’s a conversation to be had about how just having a bunch of ladies who kick butt does not automatically make a show feminist. Believe me, we’ll get there.) But something people don’t talk about enough is how often Avatar actually discusses feminism. I mean, the very first conversation in the series is Katara calling her brother sexist.
And then we have this episode, where Sokka gets his ass handed to him, and it’s glorious. It’s not just because this is a girl power episode where Sokka learns a Very Important Lesson. As usual, there’s more going on here.
I mean, yes, we get the wonderful, repeated conversations where all the female characters emphasize that girls are just as good at fighting as boys but also don’t have to sacrifice femininity to be warriors. And, like, dang! Those are so important for a kid’s show! I think everybody should watch Avatar anyway, but this is just another reason.
This episode works because it’s also a character episode. Sokka’s not just learning about feminism; he’s learning humility. His bullheadedness and pride caused him to ignore the actual Avatar, so yeah, he needs a smack down. But Suki also needs to learn to hold her temper sometimes, which helps lift this story out of Very Special Episode territory.
The finer details of the plot also keep the episode from being too preachy. The girls have something important to share, but Sokka was too full of himself to notice. The Kyoshi warriors fight in a distinctly different manner than the other characters, as Suki demonstrates. More like Aang’s style, so it would have been interesting to see how he felt about learning their techniques. (Which begs the question why a brash character like Kyoshi would invent it, but maybe she just got pissed off in her old age or something. She did live to be over 200.)
As if that weren’t enough, this episode is our first introduction to Earth Kingdom characters. And it’s a bunch of awesome fighting women! Yes, they end up getting their ass kicked, but the Fire Nation has a technological edge here, so we can forgive it. Also, they show up and kick ass again later.
Yet another reason that this episode works is because it’s not just about the basic idea that girls are human beings too. Both plots revolve around apologies as a necessary part of healthy relationships. Aang acknowledges his derpy actions, and Sokka apologizes twice for disrespecting Suki. And it’s not shown as something humiliating or awkward. It’s something people do to show respect, and then they back up their apology by getting their act together. Good job, show!
I feel like I should talk about the A-plot too, since it’s one of the first pieces of Avatar that feels forced (and one of the reasons I can understand why people feel eh about Kataang). It’s not that this jealousy plot doesn’t make sense eventually. Katara and Aang get jealous of each other several times over the series, and they value each other’s opinion of their appearance and fighting skills. And it’s not because Aang and Katara don’t have a bond or that it doesn’t make sense for them to like each other yet. They get along well—penguin sledding, anyone?—and by dint of the quest structure they are already important to each other.
The problem stands with Aang and his development of a hero. He’s still a giant derp, and therefore it doesn’t make sense for him to fuss about Katara’s attention, because he doesn’t fuss about anything yet. I mean, yes, airbender genocide freakout, but so far Aang is still taking the whole “save the world” thing as seriously as a day trip to Disney. I mean, he could have escaped the ropes at any point, but he just… didn’t? Because the LOLZ, I guess?
There are a few reasons—we haven’t seen much of the world yet, for one thing, and the ticking clock element of Sozin’s comet hasn’t yet been introduced. Even after the events of episode three, Aang doesn’t realize how bad things really are. Later, as he finds out how much the world has changed and that he really does only have Team Avatar for family, it makes sense for him to treat Katara like this. Right now it’s just eh.
Also, it doesn’t make sense for Katara to be jealous, either. All the girls are younger than she is. More importantly, she has something more better to be upset about. Aang is still derping around, yeah, but Katara is completely on the “save the world” bandwagon. She knows the gravity of the situation, and Aang’s complete lack of respect for that is a way more compelling and sensible reason for them to fight. Yes, Katara appreciates Aang’s sense of fun, but she also expects him to get his act together. Which is a lot more than the show does at this point.
- Right now Zuko is a character who’s wandered in from a serious show. All the other characters have a sense of irony, but Zuko is playing it straight, and it’s great. (And, as you’re going to get tired of me saying, this is doing more than one thing. Zuko’s failure to understand humor means he underestimates Aang until he loosens up.)
- Can’t not mention Foaming Mouth Guy, who some random animator inserted in the greatest act of improv ever. I love you, Foamy.
- “Are you going to finish that” and “hmm this is tasty” are legit my favorite jokes. Zuko and Sokka are such divas, and the show never misses a chance to exploit that.
- I do love the Beatlemania sequence.
- Sokka sucks at fighting… I mean, the series makes a big deal about how Zuko isn’t a very good firebender, but Sokka’s not all that great, either. I think this may be to foreshadow that his abilities lay in other areas, like his tactical skill, but poor Sokka. You just can’t catch a break right now.
- Another reason the A-plot of this episode feels weird is because it’s one of the few times where the Gaang acts like kids their age. Sokka and Suki are doing relatively adult things, but Aang is hanging around a bunch of little kids. Because he’s twelve. It feels weird coming after an episode where he discovers that his people have been violently massacred.
- If you’re paying attention, everyone is practicing ALL THE TIME. Zuko is meditating in the first scene. Suki is practicing in every scene we see. Katara is working on her waterbending. That’s why it never feels forced when they bust out the badass powers. They work for it!
- LOL. Aang says, “Where we’re going, you won’t need pants!” And Sokka ends up pantsless.
- I feel like I should talk about the part where Aang laughs at Sokka in the Kyoshi warrior get-up. It’s a cheap joke, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Especially because Sokka enjoys “feminine” things like shopping and fashion later in the series, and there everyone makes fun of him for taking himself too seriously, not because he likes girly activities.