In this episode...
When the Aang Gang finds an abandoned Water Tribe ship, Sokka and Katara are reunited with Bato, a Water Tribe soldier and comrade of their father. He takes the Gang back to the abbey where he is staying. Aang feels left out of the reunion and leaves Sokka and Katara to reminisce with Bato, leaving Aang to receive word of where Sokka and Katara’s father is. He chooses to withhold this information. When he later tells Sokka and Katara about the message, they abandon him, feeling betrayed. Meanwhile, Zuko hires a bounty hunter to track the scent of Katara’s necklace, leading them to the Aang Gang. Following a fight with Zuko and the bounty hunter at the abbey, Sokka and Katara decide to stay with Aang on his journey to the North Pole.
Some good humorous moments in this episode, from Bato’s deadpan delivery to Sokka: “You have your father’s wit” to the bounty hunter’s quip, “Oh, it’s Angry Boy and Uncle Lazy.”
Did no one in the Fire Nation know of this bounty hunter, June, (whose skills must be legendary given how talented she seems to be), or a creature such as she has? Why didn’t anyone think to hire her before now?
Great to see Sokka go through the maturation ritual, and to see one of the important skills that normal, non-combat life waterbenders would need to know how to do to save their ships in treacherous waters. It’s the little things like this sprinkled throughout the series that make the worldbuilding feel so rich.
When you first hear Sokka say “What smells so good?” I don’t know about you, but I assumed he was smelling food. But when it turns out it’s perfume, that works as a nice plant of information. When we later see the bounty hunter’s creature (a Shirshu), it never occurred to me that the perfume would save them later on because it would confuse the Shirshu’s senses. (Good thinking Sokka!) But there’s another nice twist that because the GAang splits up, Aang has to rush off to save Katara and Sokka since the necklace will lead Zuko right to THEM.
Nice to see Appa get in on the action, in the midst of a knock-down drag out fight between Aang and Zuko. Probably their biggest confrontation to date, and one that ends in a really satisfying finale—both when Aang plummets into the well and gives Zuko a face full of water spout, and then when the Shirshu goes berserk after getting blinded by all the perfume.
Overall, quite a good episode, even if it’s just another in a series of “evade capture by Zuko” episodes and the plot isn’t advanced much at all.
My issue with this episode is one of my biggest issues with most television shows I watch; the inability of characters to talk to each other. LOST is horrible with this and I think most of Veronica Mars’ personal problems would have been solved if she actually talked to people. In this episode, all of the conflict with the GAang comes from people not talking to each other. Aang chooses to leave the Sokka and Katara in the tent with Bato to mope and then chooses to withhold information from Sokka and Katara about their father.
First off, if Aang hadn’t been so quick to assume that Sokka & Katara were leaving him, his betrayal never would’ve happened. Yes, Aang is 12 and at that age people tend to make incorrect assumptions, but it just feels like lazy writing. The Aang I had grown to love at this point would’ve supported Sokka and Katara at least visiting their father. Considering the amount of time Aang has wasted riding various animals of the world, you would think that he would suggest trying to visit Sokka & Katara’s father on the way to the north pole.
I know that this episode shows Aang’s weakness and how much he relies on Sokka & Katara, but it just bothered me. I did like how much guilt he felt over the course of the episode. Specifically the moment before Sokka “rock dodges”. Aang is told his position is all about trust and he spazzes out. His face when he is given the Mark of the Trusted is heartbreaking. He knows his decision to keep the map to himself was wrong and that by admitting it he will lose his friends. I think this is one of his lowest moments thus far.
I do think the moment of the wolf separated from the pack was really nice writing. We had just seen Aang feel miserable because he felt no one wanted to be with him. That’s followed by Bato’s story about being separated from the water tribe. It ended with Sokka and Katara realizing that they should be with Aang. All that from a simple sound cue. Wonderful.
So nice to see Katara’s necklace come back into play. The necklace was practically a guest star in this episode. My favorite moment with the necklace was when the bounty hunter, Zuko and Iroh end up in front of Aunt Wu’s door. “The girl must have spent a lot of time here!” Poor Katara, she needed help just to know what to eat in the morning.
Two quick final thoughts: Iroh shines in this episode. His crush on the bounty hunter is hilarious.
When that Shirshu started attacking Appa, I got very Mama Bear. Appa in pain made me super angry. I cannot handle adorable animals in pain.
Like many fans, I’m quite taken with the bounty hunter. Writers in the group should pay close attention to her introductory scene. Talk about tightly packed exposition. In just a minute of screen time, you get a sense of her job, methods, and personality. You learn of her mount’s sight-by-smell and paralysis-inducing tongue. This last point is hammered home by the blatantly expository line, “He’s paralyzed.” But still, who notices something like this the first time around? To top it off, her abrupt arrival on Zuko’s ship provides the Fire Prince with an excuse to seek her out, and gives us one of the episode’s plotlines.
The bar where the bounty hunter is doing her best Marion Ravenwood impression seems to be the place where retired Street Fighter combatants go to get their drink on. Does the dude she is arm wrestling look like Ryu, or what? And behind him! There’s Dhalsim! Or maybe it’s Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat. Is that the dude from Naruto? Anyway, Uncle Iroh has a major crush on the lady, even if she seems to find Katara more attractive when they meet.
The conflict in Aang’s storyline seems to derive completely from a Wuthering Heights type “If only he had heard the next thing she said” plot, which like Jordan I find rather overdone. I’m much more a fan of Bato, who gives Katara and especially Sokka a good dose of home when they need it. Sokka shows a lot of maturity in this episode, from using awesome tracking skills to figure out what happened in the battle between the Fire Benders and the Water Tribe, to his excellent leadership during ice dodging, to his clever plan (perfume bending) that finally thwarts the Shirshu.
It’s amazing how Katara’s necklace travels in and out of episodes in this first season, finally returning to the rightful owner here. I very much like the continuity, and how the jewelry plays a major part in the story. It’s symbolic of love in the series, and it is no accident that Aang gets his first kiss after retrieving it.
The high point of the episode for me is the disco bending battle between Aang and Zuko. This is the best fight in the series to date. Great martial arts, clever use of the elements. It is excellent. The additional stimuli of Shirshu versus Appa is icing on the cake.
Bonus quiz! (No internet searching allowed.) What indie rom com features Richard McGonagle, the voice of Bato, as the narrator? [Hint: he has also starred in a bajillion video games, including Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2 as Victor Sully.]
Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes may abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.
Up next: The Deserter!
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and a columnist for Tor.com. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.
Jordan Hamessley is a children’s book editor at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Chaotic publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She is also an assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. She can be found on twitter as @thejordache.
John Joseph Adams (www.johnjosephadams.com) is an anthologist, a writer, and a geek. He is the editor of the anthologies By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), Seeds of Change, and Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. He is also currently the fiction editor of Lightspeed Magazine, which launches in June 2010, and the co-host of Tor.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.