AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water

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Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #135 on: March 31, 2017, 06:00:53 AM »
Alright, I'm way late, but better late than never.



...Even though those are jokes on my part, I think it's notable how much this episode follows through on the momentum of the two-parter. The characters react directly to what they learned from Roku, Aang begins Waterbending, and Zuko returns for another go at Aang. It's not a Part 3, but the show is definitely making movements towards a real serial narrative.

It's a nice nod, but the subsequent episodes don't really acknowledge the narrative until it picks back up at the North Pole. We're just transitioning back into standalone plotlines. Also, the "real serial narrative" isn't exactly novel -- we already got that in the introduction. In summary, we have:

  • The Boy in The Iceberg / The Avatar Returns / The Southern Air Temple
  • The Spirit World / Avatar Roku
  • The Waterbending Master / The Siege of the North (both parts)

and lots of (I dread the word, but it's apt) "filler" adventures in between. I think this format gives Book One a sense of charm and simplicity, particularly compared to the last arts of the show.

This episode also introduces the concept of the "White Lotus," but only as a game piece in Pai Sho. So, was the secret multi-national organization a thing in the mind of the storytellers at this point, do you think, or was it just an element they later happened to recycle? I'm not sure, myself, but I definitely don't believe in the theories that Iroh here was purposefully waylaying Zuko for White Lotus reasons.

Good question. I hesitate to say the writers planned the White Lotus that far in advance, but Iroh's line strikes me: "Most people think the lotus tile insignificant, but it is essential for the unusual strategy that I employ." Maybe they hadn't conceived of a secret society at this point, but they were intentionally making that association between Iroh and his lotus tile.

Actually, this is a good point to talk about Iroh again. How do you guys see his role at this point? Is he a Good Guy who is ready to liberate Aang from Zuko in the event that ol' Bacon Face actually succeeds, a stealth mentor trying lead Zuko to the Avatar's side, or something else? I have ideas, but I'll hold them back until I see yours.

I never bought the idea that Iroh was secretly on the Avatar's side; he seemed to be written entirely too (as you say) buffoonish and he seemed too invested in Zuko's firebending. Nonetheless, he clearly has a respect for Aang's role that we see in the North Pole confrontation. I think Iroh was motivated by a concern for Zuko's well-being more than anything, and he didn't think Zuko would possibly succeed on his quest for the Avatar. Remember the intro, when Iroh cautioned him not to get his hopes up?

I really like Mako's performance in this episode. Iroh is funny without being entirely buffoonish, IMO

Mako's performance is always a treat. :)

So, onto the star of this episode: Katara! She gets two scenes where she gets to be jealous of Aang. The first limits her jealousy to being only in the audience's perception. The second scene is where it gets thrown in Aang's face. So, what do you guys think of Katara's reactions? Understandable, given her identity is wrapped up in being her tribe's lone Waterbender? Or was this off-putting to you? If so, was her earlier annoyance more understandable than her later tantrum? Are these specific actions condemned by the narrative? Did Aang forgive the tear-inducing outburst too easily?

I argue Katara's frustration is understandable given that her waterbending is such a huge part of her personal identity. Her whole life, her abilities have been the one thing that makes her special and "weird," the one thing she defended constantly as "an ancient art unique to our culture" -- and now Aang learns everything she knows within 30 seconds. Perhaps we'd frown on Katara's second temper tantrum, but I think that's just what makes her such a strong and compelling character.

Aang's reactions to all of these events are perfectly written. First, he shows off with his new waterbending moves without realizing it. Then, he's on the verge of tears when Katara, of all people, gets upset at him. Finally, he's all too willing to forgive and forget. Can't get any more Aang than that -- happy-go-lucky, if slightly naive.

I also argue that yes, the narrative did appropriately condemn Katara for her actions. This leads me to your next point...

And then we have her actions with the Waterbending scroll. First she stole it, putting the gAang in danger, then she gets possessive with it as a result of her hurt pride, and finally she steals again after trying to give it up once and thus gets the gAang captured by Zuko and the pirates. Again, what were your reactions to this stuff? Do you think the narrative condemned these actions, too? Did Aang forgive these actions too easily?

Many who analyze this episode's message focus on the "stealing is wrong" bit, which seems natural, given that Katara admits exactly that in the end. But that isn't supposed to be the key takeaway, which is why we see Katara make the "unless it's from pirates" joke at Sokka's expense. Selfishness aside, I'd say Katara's motivations for stealing the scroll were somewhat sound. The fate of the world rested on acquiring waterbending instruction for Aang -- she just thought she could keep a leg up on him by hogging the scroll for herself, which of course, backfired spectacularly. In all likelihood, she was also right about the pirates' stealing the scroll. Where else could they have gotten it for "a most reasonable price" of "free"?

Katara's real lesson is to work together to solve problems instead of putting her pride between herself and her friends. That's illustrated quite well in the final act of the episode. She and Aang cooperate beautifully when launching the boat, defeating the pirates, and stalling at the waterfall. Meanwhile, Zuko and the pirates fight each other and let the kids get away -- a very nice juxtaposition. This episode isn't about "thou shall not steal" -- which is muddled by circumstance anyway -- it's about the value of teamwork.

Aang, again, would rather forgive and forget. He's more inclined to poke fun at their situation rather than dwell on the past, in obvious contrast to Sokka.

The bison whistle is acquired in this episode. It kind of comes out of nowhere, a specific bison-shaped whistle that Appa can hear and that he knows to respond to. Was it meant to be an Air Nomad thing, or did it all just coincidentally work out?

No idea, but since the Air Nomads are long gone, I'd say it's just a coincidence.

What do you think about the pirates? I love how the way they're implemented as real Asian pirates, in terms of costumes, weapons, fighting style, and their ship. Plus, the captain is voiced by Jack Angel, and I saw this rerun so many times, thinking that his voice sounded so familiar, until I realized that he was Ultra Magnus (and also a bunch of other Transformers).

The pirates are terrific characters, and knowing they're also Asian-inspired makes them that much cooler. The captain's swordsmanship going toe-to-toe with Zuko's firebending was fantastic. So was the chaotic smokescreen brawl between the other pirates and the Fire Nation soldiers.

I picked my avvie, came up with my username, and formulated my entire online persona the second time I saw this shot.

My avatar (at press time) also comes from this episode. ;)

Hey, second cabbage merchant appearance.

I enjoyed the irony of Aang soaring acrobatically through the cabbage stand, only for him to destroy it a moment later with an airbending strike. I thought the gag could have done without the "this place is worse than Omashu" line, though.

So, about that whole "tying Katara to a tree and leering" thing that Zuko had going. Zutara aside, I saw a theory that Zuko was taking inspiration from Azula in his actions, here. I doubt that was intended, but I rather like it. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Anyone want to rant about Zutara?

Fun idea, but I'm skeptical the writers had that aspect of Azula fleshed out, if they had even conceived of her at all.

Now, as for Zutara, stay tuned...

I really like that Sokka had another smart moment when he tricked the pirates into turning on Zuko. And Aang didn't even understand what was happening!

I grinned at "I'm just sayin', it's bad business sense!"

This episode has a lot of great action in it, once the fighting starts. Pirates versus Fire Nation versus gAang across a beach across two stolen ships. It just keeps getting bigger, with lots of fun little moments, IMO. And Katara and Aang get a very natural moment, IMO, where they can work together on Waterbending and come to a reconciliation after their earlier conflict. It feels like Aang is specifically reaching out to Katara in this way, yet the opportunity feels like it came up organically. I like that specific combo.

Totally agree, it's all great (in addition to my above points).

Also, this episode might have some of my favorite animation it, from the Waterbending to Katara's tantrum to the fighting to just the expressions and movement of the characters.

Yes, the facial expressions are superbly detailed in this episode -- it's just a pity they can be missed in the blink of an eye, among other small but neat details.



Coming soon: responses to everyone else, my own take, and a Zutara rant.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #136 on: April 01, 2017, 01:12:38 AM »
I thought Katara blowing up at Aang was great. That scene highlights flaws for both characters (Katara's insecurity about her bending, and Aang's obliviousness and tendency to show off) and it's neither dragged out for too long nor completely forgotten about. I love how even after that, they show that Katara still hadn't really learned her lesson by having her sneak off to practice waterbending at night. Even by the end of the episode, she tries to justify her theft of the scroll. Katara really isn't always good and honest, despite being self-righteous most of the time. These moments of realistic selfishness make her relatable.

Agreed. It's a blast to watch Katara in this episode, and you'll find yourself cheering her on from the moment she tells Zuko to "go jump in the river" to her first use of the water whip against the pirates. I think "The Waterbending Scroll" acknowledged Katara's flaws and put her through an engaging dilemma in a way that "Imprisoned" did not, which made the latter slightly less interesting to me even though it also revolved around Katara.

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I really like Mako's performance in this episode. Iroh is funny without being entirely buffoonish, IMO
Very true! I am probably in the minority here, but this is one area where I see a distinction with LoK, where the comedy was more bombastic, and the comic relief characters tilted on the bufoonish side as a result. AtLA had buffoons too but they were mostly one-shot characters like the schizoid Doc-Shu guy in Book 3, or the people of Chin City. We weren't watching them every episode and I think that made the rarity of their appearances either more enjoyable or at least more tolerable.

I'm in the camp that hates the cartoony, buffoon characters like Doc-Shu -- so the fact that they're confined to single episodes makes them more tolerable, not enjoyable. If that's the direction that LoK took things, I'd be quite disappointed.

Also, as I understand it, the consensus is that less sophisticated comedy was indeed one of LoK's disappointments, so your view isn't so unusual after all. (Then again, "too much toilet humor" is a criticism frequently leveled at ATLA Book One, unjustly so.)

I think Aang and Katara's reactions are fairly natural. Concerning the narrative's handling of Katara's flaws, this is the pattern I described during the discussion on Imprisoned:
... Katara herself doesn't acknowledge her flaws, doesn't have to change perspective, gets her own way eventually, and is commended by the narrative in the end.
The one improvement here isthat Katara does own up to her mistakes, a couple of times in fact. But these admissions could be hollow since she immediately doubles downs on her errors afterwards. Everything else runs in place: she gets her way eventually, since Sokka somehow found the scroll amidst the chaos, and he doesn't even an apology from her despite being the most annoyed about the entire affair. Katara even gets the parting shot in the end, and in later episodes we see that she is the main beneficiary of the scroll, not Aang. The bottom line is that it's difficult to see this episode as proof of Katara actually learning a valuable moral lesson.

Again, I take some issue with your interpretation of both narratives. In "Imprisoned," Katara does acknowledge that her no-compromise, take-no-prisoners sense of heroism landed Haru in trouble: "The old man turned him in to the Fire Nation. It's all my fault, I forced him into earthbending!" Her prison break quest comes from that acknowledgment of her responsibility. I will concede that Katara doesn't have to really rethink her perspective, but her immense drive to right her wrong is admirable, and she believes that her "few inspirational words" of hope will lead to the liberation of everyone on the rig. And in the end, she's right. That's what the narrative commends her for.

(Come to think of it, whether or not it was smart for Katara and Haru to save the old man presents a very thorny ethics question for a kid's show. I think it's very easy to argue they were victims of unfortunate circumstance and Katara's stubbornness played a very minor role, if at all.)

Now, as you noted, Katara does own up to her mistakes in "The Waterbending Scroll." I think the fact that she "doubles down" on them is just a believable flaw in a character that sees an opportunity to have it both ways, as GoEnzoGo suggests. As for the apology to Aang but the apparent lack of an apology to Sokka, Sokka's is there, but it's implicit -- sibling dynamics dictate that apologies are rarely given directly. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but Sokka smiles contentedly after Katara admits that "stealing is wrong":

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I contend that Katara did learn a valuable lesson: to learn waterbending by cooperation and mutual benefit as opposed to competition and jealousy. That's the part of her mindset that changes, not the silly pun about "stealing from pirates." If the narrative didn't deconstruct Katara and her flaws, it at least developed her character and illustrated how she improves. Just look how happy she is bending with Aang:

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My argument also addresses Loopy's interpretation of this episode's narrative.

No, I think Katara being jealous and then getting over that into a kind of healthy pride in her Waterbending was meant to show her learning a lesson, and the storytellers just kind of botched it. Katara gets the dreaded and meaningless "Mary Sue" label for such results, but I really don't think it comes from any special regard on the storytellers' part. They just wanted to use Sokka as the butt monkey for the final scene as usual, wanted to do a little humor with subverting the notion of a Lesson Learned plot, and thought they gave Katara enough negative consequences already, without thinking about how the whole presentation comes together for this nugget of a story. The jealousy doesn't come back, so I think in the long term it functions as desired, but this episode alone kind of suffers for the blunders.

As in "Imprisoned," I think there's more sophistication to Katara in "The Waterbending Scroll" than we realize. We focus on Katara's jealousy and mischief, but we lose sight of how she makes up for it. The jealousy doesn't come back because it's neatly resolved. (Although Katara allegedly surpasses Aang in waterbending ability anyway, so maybe it's a moot point.)

It's possible, too, that they didn't want to be too hard on her because she's a female character. The storytellers had really good, truly feminist intentions with AtLA, but it is possible to overthink these things and veer too much in the other direction. The soft ending with Katara getting the parting shot over Sokka could have been an attempt to avoid the appearance of letting the boys 1-up the girl.

I disagree that that was the intent. In general, I find the show's feminist messages fairly balanced once past the initial jabs at Sokka.

The points about the writers' feminist intentions brings up a trend I've noticed with increasing concern in the current media, where strange narrative decisions are taken ostensibly to further progressive ideals. I meant to say this when we were on The Warriors of Kyoshi, but I think that AtLA generally handled its egalitarian themes best as a matter of course rather than a matter of necessity. Of course the latter is fine, but that requires a certain maturity and nuance in the storytelling which may not be available especially for what was intended as a kids' show. The message runs the risk of being contrived, or bringing up unfortunate implications, and we will see this in The Waterbending Master when we get there. AtLA's feminist successes IMO were engaging female characters like Katara, Azula, and Toph, and a world in which women as well as men could be the titular hero, not the time Sokka was whooped by geisha chicks and made to wear a dress in penance ... In short, to quote Plinkett, "You may not have noticed it - but your brain did."

Hmm, I'm having trouble understanding your concepts of "a matter of course" and "a matter of necessity," but it seems to me that they're both sides of the same coin. If you want to allude to feminism, you not only have to have strong women, you also have to portray the obstacles and the contradictory world they face. Avatar has its strong women in Suki and Katara, but it also needs misogyny-lite Sokka and Pakku to drive the point home.

About Toph, however, I will say...

Basically, Katara is prone to Zuko-esque decisions (right down to challenging bending masters to duels) in situations where her sense of idealism or waterbender identity appear to be on the line. That is what ought to be addressed, if anything. Much later in Book 3 Toph commits the same error in beating shady dealers at their own game for a greater good, but endangering the gAang as a result.

I would caution against equating Katara's and Toph's situations. Katara acted rash because she fought for what she thought was right, whereas Toph seemed more interested in showing off and making money under the guise of "getting back" at the scammers. I can see the comparison, but I don't think they're quite on the same level. This is among the reasons I find Toph a significantly less compelling character.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2017, 01:34:58 AM by Wordbender »

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #137 on: April 03, 2017, 05:00:08 PM »

Very true! I am probably in the minority here, but this is one area where I see a distinction with LoK, where the comedy was more bombastic, and the comic relief characters tilted on the bufoonish side as a result. AtLA had buffoons too but they were mostly one-shot characters like the schizoid Doc-Shu guy in Book 3, or the people of Chin City. We weren't watching them every episode and I think that made the rarity of their appearances either more enjoyable or at least more tolerable.

I'm in the camp that hates the cartoony, buffoon characters like Doc-Shu -- so the fact that they're confined to single episodes makes them more tolerable, not enjoyable. If that's the direction that LoK took things, I'd be quite disappointed.

Also, as I understand it, the consensus is that less sophisticated comedy was indeed one of LoK's disappointments, so your view isn't so unusual after all. (Then again, "too much toilet humor" is a criticism frequently leveled at ATLA Book One, unjustly so.)

I'm a bit of a harsh critic so don't take my word for it. That said, I put LoK on the same level as the SW prequels wrt its balance of comedy and drama. When we get to The Deserter I'll compare a tricky situation the gAang which was played for laughs to a similar situation with Korra and friends to demonstrate the differences.

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Again, I take some issue with your interpretation of both narratives. In "Imprisoned," Katara does acknowledge that her no-compromise, take-no-prisoners sense of heroism landed Haru in trouble: "The old man turned him in to the Fire Nation. It's all my fault, I forced him into earthbending!" Her prison break quest comes from that acknowledgment of her responsibility. I will concede that Katara doesn't have to really rethink her perspective, but her immense drive to right her wrong is admirable, and she believes that her "few inspirational words" of hope will lead to the liberation of everyone on the rig. And in the end, she's right. That's what the narrative commends her for.

Katara readily admitted her role in Haru's arrest (and I agree with your interpretation of the ethics of that situation), but this is not the same as recognizing a potential flaw in her thinking. That may be our interpretation of her actions, but there is no evidence that it was hers, especially judging by her subsequent actions which were more of the same. Yes, her sense of idealism is admirable, and the catalyst for the good things that followed, but those things are not in question. The point is that, as I said before, inspirational words in themselves were demonstrably insufficient. Katara arguably needs to add some 'coal' or practical thinking to her hopeful optimism, or at least gain appreciation for the former. Instead she is told 'it wasn't the coal, it was you.'

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The points about the writers' feminist intentions brings up a trend I've noticed with increasing concern in the current media, where strange narrative decisions are taken ostensibly to further progressive ideals. I meant to say this when we were on The Warriors of Kyoshi, but I think that AtLA generally handled its egalitarian themes best as a matter of course rather than a matter of necessity. Of course the latter is fine, but that requires a certain maturity and nuance in the storytelling which may not be available especially for what was intended as a kids' show. The message runs the risk of being contrived, or bringing up unfortunate implications, and we will see this in The Waterbending Master when we get there. AtLA's feminist successes IMO were engaging female characters like Katara, Azula, and Toph, and a world in which women as well as men could be the titular hero, not the time Sokka was whooped by geisha chicks and made to wear a dress in penance ... In short, to quote Plinkett, "You may not have noticed it - but your brain did."

Hmm, I'm having trouble understanding your concepts of "a matter of course" and "a matter of necessity," but it seems to me that they're both sides of the same coin. If you want to allude to feminism, you not only have to have strong women, you also have to portray the obstacles and the contradictory world they face. Avatar has its strong women in Suki and Katara, but it also needs misogyny-lite Sokka and Pakku to drive the point home.

When you're engrossed in a fictional universe, you think on its own terms. When you meet Avatar Kyoshi for the first time, having just met Avatar Roku in the previous episode, you realize even if just at the subconscious level that the Avatar does not have to be male, and women can be the titular hero of this universe just as much as men. This is what I mean by 'matter of course' feminism - it's built into the the way the world works. Now you can make feminist themes part of the actual story - Katara vs Pakku, Sokka vs Kyoshi Warriors - that's 'necessary' feminism. You can do both at the same time, and I'm not saying that AtLA should not have done the latter, but that it did the former better. Misogyny-lite Sokka is a bit glaring in its idiocy compared to the rest of his practical outlook, and strikes me as an anti-sexism message the writers deliberately inserted rather than something that arose naturally from the setting. Pakku also was consistently portrayed in an unfavorable light before his sexist views were revealed, and it remained that way until he changed his mind. That's fine for the original demographic, but older viewers will catch some of the flaws.

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Basically, Katara is prone to Zuko-esque decisions (right down to challenging bending masters to duels) in situations where her sense of idealism or waterbender identity appear to be on the line. That is what ought to be addressed, if anything. Much later in Book 3 Toph commits the same error in beating shady dealers at their own game for a greater good, but endangering the gAang as a result.

I would caution against equating Katara's and Toph's situations. Katara acted rash because she fought for what she thought was right, whereas Toph seemed more interested in showing off and making money under the guise of "getting back" at the scammers. I can see the comparison, but I don't think they're quite on the same level. This is among the reasons I find Toph a significantly less compelling character.

Yes Katara and Toph have different motivations for their actions, but as I went on to say, the key point is that Toph's motives are actually addressed, and Katara's aren't. Or are we saying that Katara's motives deserve a pass without further examination because of her relatively innocuous motives? The ends do not necessarily justify the means.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #138 on: April 09, 2017, 07:27:41 AM »
That may be our interpretation of her actions, but there is no evidence that it was hers, especially judging by her subsequent actions which were more of the same.

You kind of lost me at "more of the same." If by "more of the same" you mean "Katara never has to change her way of thinking," then we'll have to agree to disagree, because I claim she does (see below). If you mean "Katara stays eternally idealistic and never has to be more down-to-earth," then that's not something you can readily conclude from this episode -- her dilemma concerns jealousy and hurt pride, not foolish optimism.

Actually, her actions following "Imprisoned" strike me as quite pragmatic compared to her demeanor at the beginning of Book One. Rather than convince the pirates how important it is for Aang/the Avatar to learn waterbending (in the vein of the "we have to go after that ship Sokka" speech), Katara steals their scroll. Rather than give Pakku an overemotional speech about how unfair the North's customs are, she threatens to kick his ass.

The point is that, as I said before, inspirational words in themselves were demonstrably insufficient. Katara arguably needs to add some 'coal' or practical thinking to her hopeful optimism, or at least gain appreciation for the former. Instead she is told 'it wasn't the coal, it was you.'

But going back to "Imprisoned," Katara does. She tries her speech about hope twice and fails both times. After the first attempt, she says, "I tried talking the earthbenders into fighting back but, it didn't work! If there was just a way to help them help themselves," after which Sokka suggests releasing the coal. After the second attempt, the warden dissects her situation quite bluntly:

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Foolish girl. You thought a few inspirational words and some coal would change these people? Look at these blank, hopeless faces. Their spirits were broken a long time ago. Oh, but you still believe in them. How sweet. They're a waste of your energy little girl. You failed.

Yes, the good guys win in the end. But the narrative did explore the limits of Katara's thinking, and she was forced to change her game plan.

You also brought up Haru's "wasn't the coal" line; remember what Katara said right before it: "All it took was a little coal." She also blushes after Haru's compliment, and again when they reunite in Book Three. Clearly, she's flattered, possibly because she believes the praise is a little unwarranted. There's multiple perspectives on display here, not just the view that Katara is perfect because she gives everyone hope.

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Hmm, I'm having trouble understanding your concepts of "a matter of course" and "a matter of necessity," but it seems to me that they're both sides of the same coin. If you want to allude to feminism, you not only have to have strong women, you also have to portray the obstacles and the contradictory world they face. Avatar has its strong women in Suki and Katara, but it also needs misogyny-lite Sokka and Pakku to drive the point home.

When you're engrossed in a fictional universe, you think on its own terms. When you meet Avatar Kyoshi for the first time, having just met Avatar Roku in the previous episode, you realize even if just at the subconscious level that the Avatar does not have to be male, and women can be the titular hero of this universe just as much as men. This is what I mean by 'matter of course' feminism - it's built into the the way the world works. Now you can make feminist themes part of the actual story - Katara vs Pakku, Sokka vs Kyoshi Warriors - that's 'necessary' feminism. You can do both at the same time, and I'm not saying that AtLA should not have done the latter, but that it did the former better. Misogyny-lite Sokka is a bit glaring in its idiocy compared to the rest of his practical outlook, and strikes me as an anti-sexism message the writers deliberately inserted rather than something that arose naturally from the setting. Pakku also was consistently portrayed in an unfavorable light before his sexist views were revealed, and it remained that way until he changed his mind. That's fine for the original demographic, but older viewers will catch some of the flaws.

Sure, but Sokka and Pakku's misogynistic beliefs aren't confined to their characters. The Southern Water Tribe is on the verge of extinction and the women we see never do more than child rearing and housekeeping -- the men were sent off to the war. That's the worldview that was imprinted on Sokka, and Katara is strange not just because she is a waterbender but also because she, like Suki, defies Sokka's gender norms. Pakku, of course, cites tribe customs. Sokka and Pakku's misogyny is an expression of the status quo around them; they aren't just being mean to women because the plot said so or they were jerks (well, Pakku is, but that's not why he refused to teach Katara).

I agree that Sokka's misogyny comes across as out-of-place at first (and noted so in our discussion on "The Warriors of Kyoshi"), but it makes sense in hindsight. As for Pakku, he's not let off completely after his feminist squabble with Katara in "The Waterbending Master." His deadpan snark remains a consistent trait, even through the comics.

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I would caution against equating Katara's and Toph's situations. Katara acted rash because she fought for what she thought was right, whereas Toph seemed more interested in showing off and making money under the guise of "getting back" at the scammers. I can see the comparison, but I don't think they're quite on the same level. This is among the reasons I find Toph a significantly less compelling character.

Yes Katara and Toph have different motivations for their actions, but as I went on to say, the key point is that Toph's motives are actually addressed, and Katara's aren't. Or are we saying that Katara's motives deserve a pass without further examination because of her relatively innocuous motives? The ends do not necessarily justify the means.

Not at all. I suppose what I was trying to get at was that Toph's recklessness was not written nearly as well as Katara's.

The idea that Toph misses her parents was only brought up in two episodes. In "The Earth King," Toph says, "My mom's in the city. And from her letter it sounds like she finally understands me." She also hesitates to open the door behind which she thinks her mom is waiting. From this, we might glean that Toph felt misunderstood by her parents, but nonetheless missed them...

...Then it doesn't come up for another several episodes until "The Runaway." And suddenly, out of nowhere, Toph is dealing with her feelings toward her parents by making "easy money" with her earthbending. Even if you accept this subplot, it's very much a "problem of the week" confined to this episode. Toph's parents never come up again; we don't even see them reunited with Toph in the finale.

Meanwhile, we see Katara's stubbornness at work throughout the whole series. We see her overcome obstacles, solve her dilemmas, and change her ways of thinking. So whatever happens concerning that trait of Katara's is much more profound than anything involving Toph's parenting issues. Nobody ever psychoanalyzes Katara, but we know her well enough to accept her more rash actions as natural and in line with her personality.

Yes, Toph's motives are "addressed," but the whole thing feels superficial and bolted on. As you might say, a "matter of course," not a "matter of necessity."

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #139 on: April 12, 2017, 06:18:24 PM »
That may be our interpretation of her actions, but there is no evidence that it was hers, especially judging by her subsequent actions which were more of the same.

You kind of lost me at "more of the same." If by "more of the same" you mean "Katara never has to change her way of thinking," then we'll have to agree to disagree, because I claim she does (see below). If you mean "Katara stays eternally idealistic and never has to be more down-to-earth," then that's not something you can readily conclude from this episode -- her dilemma concerns jealousy and hurt pride, not foolish optimism.

By 'more of the same' I am referring to her passionate idealism without much consideration for practical application, which was evident throughout Imprisoned. She didn't so much change her way of thinking as much as her stubbornness forced Aang and Sokka to adapt in order to achieve her goals. Her hurt pride in The Waterbending Scroll arguably comes from the same root of idealism. She see herself as a Waterbender that has worked hard on her own to learn a few tricks, so Aang mastering and superseding those skills in a matter of minutes damaged her sense of identity. That's where the jealousy came from.

Actually, her actions following "Imprisoned" strike me as quite pragmatic compared to her demeanor at the beginning of Book One. Rather than convince the pirates how important it is for Aang/the Avatar to learn waterbending (in the vein of the "we have to go after that ship Sokka" speech), Katara steals their scroll. Rather than give Pakku an overemotional speech about how unfair the North's customs are, she threatens to kick his ass.

'Pragmatic' is the last word I'd use to describe those actions. Pragmatism involves a rational and realistic approach to life situations, as opposed to an ideological one. That's Sokka, not Katara. Stealing a highly prized item from pirates right under their nose and failing to agree on a price is not rational. A bending novice threatening to kick a bending master's ass is not rational. That's an emotional decision, not a rational one.

The point is that, as I said before, inspirational words in themselves were demonstrably insufficient. Katara arguably needs to add some 'coal' or practical thinking to her hopeful optimism, or at least gain appreciation for the former. Instead she is told 'it wasn't the coal, it was you.'

But going back to "Imprisoned," Katara does. She tries her speech about hope twice and fails both times. After the first attempt, she says, "I tried talking the earthbenders into fighting back but, it didn't work! If there was just a way to help them help themselves," after which Sokka suggests releasing the coal. After the second attempt, the warden dissects her situation quite bluntly:

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Foolish girl. You thought a few inspirational words and some coal would change these people? Look at these blank, hopeless faces. Their spirits were broken a long time ago. Oh, but you still believe in them. How sweet. They're a waste of your energy little girl. You failed.

Yes, the good guys win in the end. But the narrative did explore the limits of Katara's thinking, and she was forced to change her game plan.

You also brought up Haru's "wasn't the coal" line; remember what Katara said right before it: "All it took was a little coal." She also blushes after Haru's compliment, and again when they reunite in Book Three. Clearly, she's flattered, possibly because she believes the praise is a little unwarranted. There's multiple perspectives on display here, not just the view that Katara is perfect because she gives everyone hope.

But that is the message the narrative left with us at the end of the episode. Haru corrected Katara, and was immediately backed up by Tyro. Those lines of dialogue were scripted that way for a reason. It was meant to leave a certain impression on the viewer of the primacy of Katara's hope, despite the previous exploration of hopelessness and despair in a war-weary people which I also commend the episode for. Just so we're clear, I said the same when we discussed Imprisoned: this episode handled that aspect quite well.

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Sure, but Sokka and Pakku's misogynistic beliefs aren't confined to their characters. The Southern Water Tribe is on the verge of extinction and the women we see never do more than child rearing and housekeeping -- the men were sent off to the war. That's the worldview that was imprinted on Sokka, and Katara is strange not just because she is a waterbender but also because she, like Suki, defies Sokka's gender norms. Pakku, of course, cites tribe customs. Sokka and Pakku's misogyny is an expression of the status quo around them; they aren't just being mean to women because the plot said so or they were jerks (well, Pakku is, but that's not why he refused to teach Katara).

I agree that Sokka's misogyny comes across as out-of-place at first (and noted so in our discussion on "The Warriors of Kyoshi"), but it makes sense in hindsight. As for Pakku, he's not let off completely after his feminist squabble with Katara in "The Waterbending Master." His deadpan snark remains a consistent trait, even through the comics.

I can agree with most of this. My point is that the presentation of Pakku's and some of Sokka's sexist moments conditions the viewer to view them as jerks in those storylines, which is arguably not a nuanced way to discuss this subject. Pakku's snark never leaves him, but his first interactions with the gAang are initially dismissive and rude. We're not meant to like him, and when he declares scowly-faced "in our tribe, it is forbidden for women to learn waterbending" we find confirmation for why we really don't like him. When he changed his mind, he became more pleasant all-round. That's a narrative sleight of hand.  ;)

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I would caution against equating Katara's and Toph's situations. Katara acted rash because she fought for what she thought was right, whereas Toph seemed more interested in showing off and making money under the guise of "getting back" at the scammers. I can see the comparison, but I don't think they're quite on the same level. This is among the reasons I find Toph a significantly less compelling character.

Yes Katara and Toph have different motivations for their actions, but as I went on to say, the key point is that Toph's motives are actually addressed, and Katara's aren't. Or are we saying that Katara's motives deserve a pass without further examination because of her relatively innocuous motives? The ends do not necessarily justify the means.

Not at all. I suppose what I was trying to get at was that Toph's recklessness was not written nearly as well as Katara's.
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Yes, Toph's motives are "addressed," but the whole thing feels superficial and bolted on. As you might say, a "matter of course," not a "matter of necessity."

This is true, but it was addressed, all the same. (And while the matter of Toph's parents was brought up in a hamfisted way, we've seen enough beforehand to know that Toph's independent streak and and somewhat cavalier attitude is the product of her repressive childhood, so it isn't really that far-fetched.) What's more, Toph showed a change of direction by penning a letter to her parents at the end of the episode. What's more, Katara's previous attempt to give in to Toph by doing a scam together ended disastrously when they were both captured by Combustion Man. This would be akin to Aang and Sokka agreeing to stay behind on the rig with Katara only for them to be promptly arrested by the Warden. Or Katara not getting back the scroll back.

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Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #140 on: April 12, 2017, 06:38:07 PM »
I think it's worth asking how Katara should have acted in regards to stealing the Waterbending scroll. She's not wrong that it would be a useful thing for both her and Aang, and there was no way they were going to get together the money to purchase it legitimately. And the pirates did steal it in the first place.

Myself, I think a theft was indeed in order, but Katara should have left the ship with the boys without lifting the scroll, and then talk the matter over with them later. Then they could come up with a plan to steal it without getting caught.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #141 on: April 12, 2017, 11:44:05 PM »
By 'more of the same' I am referring to her passionate idealism without much consideration for practical application, which was evident throughout Imprisoned. She didn't so much change her way of thinking as much as her stubbornness forced Aang and Sokka to adapt in order to achieve her goals. Her hurt pride in The Waterbending Scroll arguably comes from the same root of idealism. She see herself as a Waterbender that has worked hard on her own to learn a few tricks, so Aang mastering and superseding those skills in a matter of minutes damaged her sense of identity. That's where the jealousy came from.

Actually, her actions following "Imprisoned" strike me as quite pragmatic compared to her demeanor at the beginning of Book One. Rather than convince the pirates how important it is for Aang/the Avatar to learn waterbending (in the vein of the "we have to go after that ship Sokka" speech), Katara steals their scroll. Rather than give Pakku an overemotional speech about how unfair the North's customs are, she threatens to kick his ass.

'Pragmatic' is the last word I'd use to describe those actions. Pragmatism involves a rational and realistic approach to life situations, as opposed to an ideological one. That's Sokka, not Katara. Stealing a highly prized item from pirates right under their nose and failing to agree on a price is not rational. A bending novice threatening to kick a bending master's ass is not rational. That's an emotional decision, not a rational one.

You're right; I had the wrong word. I suppose what I meant was "practical" or "goal-oriented."

Katara may not fundamentally change her idealistic outlook, but that's just fine. There's nonetheless a clear sense of progression from idle talk to action that backs up her words. She goes from giving naive speeches to Sokka (about helping Aang) and the earthbenders (about fighting back) to undertaking practical steps to accomplish her goals.

Katara is interesting because she becomes more confident in herself despite gaining a more realistic sense of what it takes to bring about change.

But that is the message the narrative left with us at the end of the episode. Haru corrected Katara, and was immediately backed up by Tyro. Those lines of dialogue were scripted that way for a reason. It was meant to leave a certain impression on the viewer of the primacy of Katara's hope, despite the previous exploration of hopelessness and despair in a war-weary people which I also commend the episode for. Just so we're clear, I said the same when we discussed Imprisoned: this episode handled that aspect quite well.

But that's not the sole message. If the supremacy of Katara's hope was all the writers wanted to convey, why not just drop Katara's failures and the warden's speech altogether? Her hope and idealism only succeeded in combination with a more practical point of view.

I can agree with most of this. My point is that the presentation of Pakku's and some of Sokka's sexist moments conditions the viewer to view them as jerks in those storylines, which is arguably not a nuanced way to discuss this subject. Pakku's snark never leaves him, but his first interactions with the gAang are initially dismissive and rude. We're not meant to like him, and when he declares scowly-faced "in our tribe, it is forbidden for women to learn waterbending" we find confirmation for why we really don't like him. When he changed his mind, he became more pleasant all-round. That's a narrative sleight of hand.  ;)

I would also agree it's not a nuanced discussion. It seems you're contending that the series did a better job portraying its pro-feminist characters (Suki, Kyoshi) than its anti-feminist characters (early Sokka, Pakku), not that its misogny was completely out of place and unjustified. I will note, however, that any feminist virtues Kyoshi could have had took a backseat to her characterization as a gruff, decisive earthbender. She's an Avatar with a proud but murky legacy that contradicts Aang's peaceful nature. We're not shown how feminist qualities could have made her a better Avatar or what misogynistic obstacles she had to overcome.

This is true, but it was addressed, all the same. (And while the matter of Toph's parents was brought up in a hamfisted way, we've seen enough beforehand to know that Toph's independent streak and and somewhat cavalier attitude is the product of her repressive childhood, so it isn't really that far-fetched.) What's more, Toph showed a change of direction by penning a letter to her parents at the end of the episode. What's more, Katara's previous attempt to give in to Toph by doing a scam together ended disastrously when they were both captured by Combustion Man. This would be akin to Aang and Sokka agreeing to stay behind on the rig with Katara only for them to be promptly arrested by the Warden. Or Katara not getting back the scroll back.

Even if it was addressed, in the shallowest sense -- we're not told why Toph likes to scam others so much as why she doesn't like being told what not to do -- I'll take Katara's meaningful progression over Toph's disconnected vignette any day.

That scam did end disastrously, but in the end, Katara and Toph did escape. Meanwhile, Katara's plan to incite a rebellion on the prison rig looked perilously close to failing before Haru intervened, and her jealousy got everyone captured by the pirates. Katara and Toph both have faults that lead to bad consequences. The difference is that Katara's stems from a key part of her identity, visible over and over again, while Toph's comes across as something added for padding. I feel invested in one but not the other.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2017, 11:46:35 PM by Wordbender »

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #142 on: April 13, 2017, 10:25:02 PM »
I think it's worth asking how Katara should have acted in regards to stealing the Waterbending scroll. She's not wrong that it would be a useful thing for both her and Aang, and there was no way they were going to get together the money to purchase it legitimately. And the pirates did steal it in the first place.

Myself, I think a theft was indeed in order, but Katara should have left the ship with the boys without lifting the scroll, and then talk the matter over with them later. Then they could come up with a plan to steal it without getting caught.
I'd take that, at least it addresses the impulsive aspect of Katara's behavior.

But that is the message the narrative left with us at the end of the episode. Haru corrected Katara, and was immediately backed up by Tyro. Those lines of dialogue were scripted that way for a reason. It was meant to leave a certain impression on the viewer of the primacy of Katara's hope, despite the previous exploration of hopelessness and despair in a war-weary people which I also commend the episode for. Just so we're clear, I said the same when we discussed Imprisoned: this episode handled that aspect quite well.

But that's not the sole message. If the supremacy of Katara's hope was all the writers wanted to convey, why not just drop Katara's failures and the warden's speech altogether? Her hope and idealism only succeeded in combination with a more practical point of view.

It's not about the supremacy of Katara's hope being ALL the writers wanted to convey, it's about the supremacy of Katara's hope being A message, and infact the final takeaway, the conclusive 'moral of the story'. Sokka also could've been standing there at the end and getting props for his contribution. That didn't happen for a reason.

I can agree with most of this. My point is that the presentation of Pakku's and some of Sokka's sexist moments conditions the viewer to view them as jerks in those storylines, which is arguably not a nuanced way to discuss this subject. Pakku's snark never leaves him, but his first interactions with the gAang are initially dismissive and rude. We're not meant to like him, and when he declares scowly-faced "in our tribe, it is forbidden for women to learn waterbending" we find confirmation for why we really don't like him. When he changed his mind, he became more pleasant all-round. That's a narrative sleight of hand.  ;)

I would also agree it's not a nuanced discussion. It seems you're contending that the series did a better job portraying its pro-feminist characters (Suki, Kyoshi) than its anti-feminist characters (early Sokka, Pakku), not that its misogny was completely out of place and unjustified. I will note, however, that any feminist virtues Kyoshi could have had took a backseat to her characterization as a gruff, decisive earthbender. She's an Avatar with a proud but murky legacy that contradicts Aang's peaceful nature. We're not shown how feminist qualities could have made her a better Avatar or what misogynistic obstacles she had to overcome.
Perhaps I can now make my views clear: I don't think Kyoshi needs to overcome misogynistic obstacles or be an overt feminist in order to enhance AtLA's feminist values. (There is actually a canon mini-comic released sometime ago about the origin of the Kyoshi Warriors where Avatar Kyoshi does just that. I did not read it, but the impression I got from others' take on it was absolutely cringe-worthy, and the sort of on-the-nose exploration of gender relations that I'm wary of.) I suppose this comes down to one's definition of feminism, which I prefer to set aside until we get toThe Waterbending Master. For now, I'll say that I'm an 'equal opportunities' kinda guy. It's enough that Avatar Kyoshi exists as a dignified personality worthy of respect in-universe, and her matter-of-fact introduction without anyone questioning her legitimacy is reflective of the real life values the writers want to convey. And it does get conveyed - as I said before, 'you might not have noticed it - but your brain did.'

This is true, but it was addressed, all the same. (And while the matter of Toph's parents was brought up in a hamfisted way, we've seen enough beforehand to know that Toph's independent streak and and somewhat cavalier attitude is the product of her repressive childhood, so it isn't really that far-fetched.) What's more, Toph showed a change of direction by penning a letter to her parents at the end of the episode. What's more, Katara's previous attempt to give in to Toph by doing a scam together ended disastrously when they were both captured by Combustion Man. This would be akin to Aang and Sokka agreeing to stay behind on the rig with Katara only for them to be promptly arrested by the Warden. Or Katara not getting back the scroll back.

Even if it was addressed, in the shallowest sense -- we're not told why Toph likes to scam others so much as why she doesn't like being told what not to do -- I'll take Katara's meaningful progression over Toph's disconnected vignette any day.

That scam did end disastrously, but in the end, Katara and Toph did escape. Meanwhile, Katara's plan to incite a rebellion on the prison rig looked perilously close to failing before Haru intervened, and her jealousy got everyone captured by the pirates. Katara and Toph both have faults that lead to bad consequences. The difference is that Katara's stems from a key part of her identity, visible over and over again, while Toph's comes across as something added for padding. I feel invested in one but not the other.

To be clear, this isn't about which character had the better overall development. For my part at least, this is about pointing out trends in certain Katara-centric episodes that rub some viewers the wrong way, trends which btw are not as prevalent in other character arcs. I said previously that Katara makes Zuko-esque decisions when her sense of identity or idealism is on the line. Now Zuko is THE poster-child for impulsively chasing his goals with reckless abandon. We all know how that comes from his identity issues, but he is frustrated in his pursuit and it slowly becomes increasingly doubtful that capturing Aang is truly what he needs. It may be unfair to compare Katara to such an epic series-wide character arc in the show, but I can point out a similar pattern in episodic arcs of other characters (like I just did for Toph) that do not exist with Book 1 Katara in particular. Again, that doesn't tarnish her character development overall, but it is there, and its even more glaring when Katara is often the channel for dishing out moral lessons to other characters.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #143 on: April 25, 2017, 01:55:03 AM »
I think it's worth asking how Katara should have acted in regards to stealing the Waterbending scroll. She's not wrong that it would be a useful thing for both her and Aang, and there was no way they were going to get together the money to purchase it legitimately. And the pirates did steal it in the first place.

Myself, I think a theft was indeed in order, but Katara should have left the ship with the boys without lifting the scroll, and then talk the matter over with them later. Then they could come up with a plan to steal it without getting caught.

That may sound like the rational thing for Katara to do, but hindsight is 20/20. She had no idea when the pirates were going to leave port and decided to steal the scroll in the heat of the moment. (I believe we've discussed her impulsiveness fairly extensively at this point.) From a broader perspective, it would not have made for a nearly as compelling storyline.

Perhaps I can now make my views clear: I don't think Kyoshi needs to overcome misogynistic obstacles or be an overt feminist in order to enhance AtLA's feminist values. (There is actually a canon mini-comic released sometime ago about the origin of the Kyoshi Warriors where Avatar Kyoshi does just that. I did not read it, but the impression I got from others' take on it was absolutely cringe-worthy, and the sort of on-the-nose exploration of gender relations that I'm wary of.) I suppose this comes down to one's definition of feminism, which I prefer to set aside until we get toThe Waterbending Master. For now, I'll say that I'm an 'equal opportunities' kinda guy. It's enough that Avatar Kyoshi exists as a dignified personality worthy of respect in-universe, and her matter-of-fact introduction without anyone questioning her legitimacy is reflective of the real life values the writers want to convey. And it does get conveyed - as I said before, 'you might not have noticed it - but your brain did.'

Just to make myself clear, I largely agree with your notion of feminism. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel there were missed opportunities for the show to drive home its points in its portrayal of Avatar Kyoshi and its other attempts at explicating feminism. I think we can both agree that the references to misogyny (early Sokka, Pakku) sometimes felt forced and unnecessary, but while you think the show could have done better without them, I believe those moments could have expanded upon the show's themes of feminism and gender equality with some additional development and care.

To be clear, this isn't about which character had the better overall development. For my part at least, this is about pointing out trends in certain Katara-centric episodes that rub some viewers the wrong way, trends which btw are not as prevalent in other character arcs. I said previously that Katara makes Zuko-esque decisions when her sense of identity or idealism is on the line. Now Zuko is THE poster-child for impulsively chasing his goals with reckless abandon. We all know how that comes from his identity issues, but he is frustrated in his pursuit and it slowly becomes increasingly doubtful that capturing Aang is truly what he needs. It may be unfair to compare Katara to such an epic series-wide character arc in the show, but I can point out a similar pattern in episodic arcs of other characters (like I just did for Toph) that do not exist with Book 1 Katara in particular. Again, that doesn't tarnish her character development overall, but it is there, and its even more glaring when Katara is often the channel for dishing out moral lessons to other characters.

In closing, I think the flaws you point out have some merit, but they’re not enough to derail Katara’s legitimacy for me when I consider her characterization from the very beginning of the show.

I think Katara can be hard to analyze because, much like Aang, there aren’t any moments one can readily identify as sea-changes in her way of thinking. In contrast to Zuko’s shouting "I’m angry at myself!" or Toph’s decision to send a letter to her parents (however insignificant a gesture), Katara and Aang change much more subtly and gradually. As I noted, Katara in particular learns to become more confident in herself throughout Book One. Their behaviors evolve in small ways from arc to arc that aren’t immediately obvious without retrospection.

Perhaps this is why Katara is often written off as a "Mary Sue" and Aang a "Goku clone," because on the outset, they could be interpreted as perfect characters for whom everything always works out. (Certain commentators predisposed against Bryan and Mike have even accused them of writing a narcissistic, idealized version of themselves into Aang.)
« Last Edit: April 26, 2017, 12:13:36 AM by Wordbender »

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #144 on: April 25, 2017, 04:35:08 PM »
Book One: The Waterbending Scroll

We now arrive at one of my personal favorite episodes, "The Waterbending Scroll."

The atmosphere of "The Waterbending Scroll" atmosphere is a marked departure from the somber tone of "Avatar Roku." This episode shifts the setting from a dark and claustrophobic Fire Nation temple to a peaceful river and bustling port town. Bright, colorful, and lighthearted, it gives us a breather after Roku's unsettling revelation that Fire Lord Ozai is expected to conquer the world in just a few months.

True to its name, water features prominently in "The Waterbending Scroll." In fact, I can't recall a single scene -- excluding the travel scenes on Appa -- that doesn't include water nearby. Water is of course a material for bending, but it is also a facility for trade (and pirateering), a means of pursuit, and a means of escape. In Book Two's "Bitter Work," Iroh tells us that "water is the element of change." In this episode, water is indeed an unreliable ally; sometimes a blessing, and sometimes a curse.

The humor in this episode gets off to a slow start. Some of the earlier jokes work well, such as Sokka's snide remark about Aang's progress mastering the four elements, but others come across as unsophisticated and juvenile, especially Sokka's complaining about cleaning Appa, the "what are curios?" bit between Aang and the pirate crew member, and the cabbage merchant redux. Again, this sort of humor is an order of magnitude better than what is typical for a children's cartoon, but it's still a noticeable weak area in an otherwise tightly written show. In contrast, the action-oriented second act features many enjoyable comedic moments. Highlights include Zuko's "I didn't steal [Katara's necklace], if that's what you're asking" and Iroh's "it's no proverb!"

The characters are the real stars of this episode. The writers treat us with intriguing interactions and entertaining scenes that feel so natural and are so well-writen. Nothing's forced or ham-fisted; they unleash the heroes and villains we know and love -- along with a new faction, the pirates -- and take a figurative step back to allow the chaos to unfold.

On the protagonists' side, we have Sokka, the deadpan pragmatist who tricks the villains into a battle royale, and Aang, sheltered and ever-naive, who "[looks] up to pirates" and nearly cries in a fight with Katara. Katara, of course, is this episode's chief focus. Her incessant drive to learn waterbending by stealing and then hogging the titular waterbending scroll, which kicks off the main plot thread, has stirred much controversy and discussion among fans. To me, Katara's actions are the natural result of the Katara we know and love. Katara, the idealist who will fight for what is right, even if she can be a little too hard-headed and hasty.

Katara also gets the bulk of character development in this episode. She changes from a state of irritation and competition with Aang -- which is what gets everyone into trouble -- to a positive one of cooperation and mutual benefit. And in the end, that's what saves the day. The moral of the story is no dissertation, but it suits a children's show, and it's wholeheartedly entertaining. You can't help but grin when Aang reassures Katara by saying "a team of rhinos… or two waterbenders." Perhaps it's true that Katara was too reckless and her motivations are left unexplained. If so, I never notice. She's just too much fun to watch.

On the antagonists' side, we have Zuko and Iroh. Zuko, for once, is a fairly competent adversary. He immediately recognizes Aang when the pirates speak of a "water tribe girl and the bald monk she was traveling with," efficiently leads the search for the kids, cunningly attempts to bribe Katara with her missing necklace, and then successfully blackmails the pirates using the scroll as collateral. Still, Zuko remains a villain who isn't menacing like Zhao. After all, he isn't much older than the Avatar his friends he's chasing. He doesn't have the resources of a full Fire Nation armada and he's beholden to the whims of Iroh, who serves as an excellent foil and comic relief. I enjoy the way Zuko and Iroh were written in this episode; they strike a fine balance between being proper threats and being lighthearted.

We are also introduced to the pirates. While they're not particularly deep characters, they are certainly entertaining. I was struck by Aang's first meeting with the pirate captain in which in which Momo and the parrot(?) sit on opposing shoulders, igniting an instant rivalry. The best moment involving the pirates is the captain's duel with Zuko. Seeing a swordsmen go toe-to-toe with a royal firebender makes us realize that benders aren't untouchable. Somehow, that makes the fight all the more thrilling.

Overall, this episode is just plain fun. The characters are all great and the action in the second half is excellent. It's everything Avatar should be. Being a "filler" episode doesn't hurt "The Waterbending Scroll" one bit. Still, besides the pirates, there's not much that makes this episode memorable. There's no underlying theme or distinctive setting I can point to when I think of "The Waterbending Scroll." It's a well-executed episode, but in a show chock full of those, that's not enough to set it apart from the rest.

8/10
« Last Edit: April 25, 2017, 06:10:27 PM by Wordbender »

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #145 on: April 25, 2017, 08:59:34 PM »
Just to make myself clear, I largely agree with your notion of feminism. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel there were missed opportunities for the show to drive home its points in its portrayal of Avatar Kyoshi and its other attempts at explicating feminism. I think we can both agree that the references to misogyny (early Sokka, Pakku) sometimes felt forced and unnecessary, but while you think the show could have done better without them, I believe those moments could have expanded upon the show's themes of feminism and gender equality with some additional development and care.

Actually I agree with your conclusions, with the addition that it helps if those themes play to the strengths of the writing team. To put it bluntly, you need to know what you're talking about, or you'll run into LoK's problems and bungle the story.

I am curious as to how you think Avatar Kyoshi could have been used better in this regard. As it is, AtlA has just about enough space for the little we know about her. I think the main missed oportunity was The Waterbending Master.

In closing, I think the flaws you point out have some merit, but they’re not enough to derail Katara’s legitimacy for me when I consider her characterization from the very beginning of the show.
Fine by me, I also feel the same way. In fact I never noticed those things when first watching  the show, and I was initially quite surprised to find Katara 'hate' among a small section of the fandom. Looking at their arguments I still disagreed with their conclusions but could see where they were coming from.

True to its name, water features prominently in "The Waterbending Scroll." In fact, I can't recall a single scene -- excluding the travel scenes on Appa -- that doesn't include water nearby. Water is of course a material for bending, but it is also a facility for trade (and pirateering), a means of pursuit, and a means of escape. In Book Two's "Bitter Work," Iroh tells us that "water is the element of change." In this episode, water is indeed an unreliable ally; sometimes a blessing, and sometimes a curse.

This is an interesting observation. Actually I think most episodes in this season put the main characters in close proximity to the ocean or a large body of water, which is congruent with the book title and overarching themes. As I mentioned before, AtLA's pro-environmentalism was seamlessly and subtly worked into the universe via the cinematography and fantastical aspects. This episode starts off ostensibly about Aang's immediate need to start his training with waterbending. But before any bending training starts, we joined the characters in taking in the beauty of the waterfall scenery. The characters spent time bonding with water before bending it to their will. That really is what bending is about.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2017, 09:01:56 PM by longman »

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #146 on: April 28, 2017, 04:54:41 AM »
I am curious as to how you think Avatar Kyoshi could have been used better in this regard. As it is, AtlA has just about enough space for the little we know about her. I think the main missed oportunity was The Waterbending Master.

I think my issue is not with Kyoshi specifically, but the lack of a more compelling female Avatar. Kyoshi is "strong" in the sense that she's a no-nonsense earthbender who kicks butt, but that doesn't make her a strong and interesting character. In both respects, she's like Toph, not Katara. And there is no past Avatar like Katara.

As another Avatar fan put it,

Quote from: ShineyDragons
I've always seen Katara as one of the strongest characters - and definitely the strongest female. I'd even say she's stronger than characters like Mai or Toph, because despite what other people may think, I don't see a harsh "I don't really care one way or the either"-attitude as strength. It hurts to care, and it's hard to show your feelings - you risk getting hurt or let down. Katara, despite having lost so much, never stops believing, hoping or caring.

As for Kyoshi herself? She's so apathetic that Aang nearly  regrets taking advice from her about Ozai. That's appropriate for her characterization, but it's also disappointing that she's the only female Avatar we get to see.

Furthermore, the women around Avatars tend to be underdeveloped and one-dimensional. When Roku tells Aang about meeting his wife, we hear a lot about his perspective but nothing about how she came around. "I was persistent. When love is real, it finds a way. And being the Avatar doesn't hurt your chances with the ladies, either," he says. Similarly, Kuruk's (waterbender guy's) wife is merely someone he makes out with and then loses to Koh the face-stealer.

The writers played it safe. That's not a fatal flaw for a children's cartoon, but modern audiences may be more critical of the lack of a female Avatar or female companion to an Avatar with better development. As it stands, the best we have is the relationship between Aang and Katara. And a long shadow has been cast over that by the weaknesses in the writing of the show's female characters I pointed out.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #147 on: April 28, 2017, 12:30:16 PM »
First of all,Kyoshi's 'no-nonsense kick-butt' persona is mostly a function of her reputation in the fandom. I don't think we got enough sense of her personality to make definite comparisons with AtLA's more established female characters. If all we saw of Katara was the fight scene at the end of The Painted Lady she wouldn't be far off from Kyoshi.

Secondly, the level of development given to the past Avatars, male and female, is a function of their collective role in the narrative as mirrors and goalposts for Aang. Roku obviously is the prime mirror, and his past with Ta-min is meant to reflect Aang's present with Katara. The other Avatars get enough incidental info to strengthen the Avatar mythos and the worldbuilding, and Kyoshi plays a prominent role here with her epic record. Considering that Roku himself only managed a handful of appearances, there isn't much room for further exploration.

AtLA did play it safe, and therein lies one of its strengths; it started with a relatively simple premise , gradually added depth and complexity to it, and left room for speculation. LoK OTOH took on the task of a female Avatar protagonist and a host of grand ideas, only to fall flat on its face with an end product more immature than the original show. Bryke would have been better off sticking to what they know, or finding other writers who could handle those ideas. It's great to have progressive intentions but that only works if you know what you're talking about; and better yet, how to talk about it.

Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #148 on: April 29, 2017, 04:35:19 PM »
First of all,Kyoshi's 'no-nonsense kick-butt' persona is mostly a function of her reputation in the fandom. I don't think we got enough sense of her personality to make definite comparisons with AtLA's more established female characters. If all we saw of Katara was the fight scene at the end of The Painted Lady she wouldn't be far off from Kyoshi.

It's true that Kyoshi is no main character, but I'd say we see enough of her and her legacy to draw some conclusions. Consider the heavy-handed way she dealt with Chin the Conqueror and what Aang thought after asking her for advice: "I knew I shouldn't have asked Kyoshi." Also, what organizations did she leave behind? The Kyoshi Warriors and the Dai Li -- both elite paramilitary self-defense forces. Now, the Kyoshi Warriors are pretty cool and I'm not saying they're anything like the monsters in the Dai Li, but in the end, both factions serve similar functions.

Anyway, that's beside the point -- I think I focused too hard on character development. So, to clarify myself: my real concern (albeit minor) is that the only female Avatar we get to see is a rash hardliner whose first instinct is to achieve justice with force. This might suggest that the way to be a good female Avatar is to be "strong" and always resort to force. Now, we know that's not true, but what impression might that leave on the show's target audience?

Secondly, the level of development given to the past Avatars, male and female, is a function of their collective role in the narrative as mirrors and goalposts for Aang. Roku obviously is the prime mirror, and his past with Ta-min is meant to reflect Aang's present with Katara. The other Avatars get enough incidental info to strengthen the Avatar mythos and the worldbuilding, and Kyoshi plays a prominent role here with her epic record. Considering that Roku himself only managed a handful of appearances, there isn't much room for further exploration.

Of course. But there's no reason we couldn't have had another female Avatar with a different perspective. They didn't have to get bogged down in particulars to communicate a more balanced conception of a female Avatar.

AtLA did play it safe, and therein lies one of its strengths; it started with a relatively simple premise , gradually added depth and complexity to it, and left room for speculation. LoK OTOH took on the task of a female Avatar protagonist and a host of grand ideas, only to fall flat on its face with an end product more immature than the original show. Bryke would have been better off sticking to what they know, or finding other writers who could handle those ideas. It's great to have progressive intentions but that only works if you know what you're talking about; and better yet, how to talk about it.

I agree that less is more when it comes to fiction, and from what I can tell about LOK, it seems it had far too much fan service and ideas that sounded great on paper but flopped when rendered. And I think we all know Bryan and Mike are in the habit of harebrained progressivism given the controversies that LOK spawned, like the Korra-Asami relationship that (I heard) came out of nowhere. But that doesn't mean they along with their fellow writers shouldn't have tried. They could have made the feminism in ATLA work better with some small tweaks.

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Re: AtLA Episodes Retrospective Thread - Book Water
« Reply #149 on: May 01, 2017, 06:00:53 PM »
I have to disagree that Kyoshi dealt with Chin in a heavy-handed way. She did nothing to oppose his conquest of the EK until he came to her little home-town, a peninsula with strategic importance. To me, that says his only intention there was to exert his authority over the Avatar. Even then, Kyoshi didn't fight him. She broke off the peninsula from the mainland and pushed it out to see, and while she endangered him and was pleased to see him dead, I really do think his own choice not to take a step back are what led to his death.

So yes, Kyoshi fought him to a fatal end with neutral jing, but neutral jing requires two to tango.

Aang's saying "I knew I should haven't have asked Kyoshi" came more from her seeing Chin's death as a happy ending, I feel, rather than Kyoshi herself being the DEATH AVENGER that the fandom has turned her into.

At this point, if we include the comics, we've seen just as much of Avatar Yangchen as he have of Kyoshi. The Rift has a flashback to one of Yangchen's adventures that is at least as long and involved as Kyoshi's encounter with Chin, and of course both of them gave Aang advice about Ozai.

(The fandom's view of Yangchen is another big disagreement I have with the majority. Lots of people seem to have accepted her advice as the truth, that Aang was prizing his own purity over the good of the world, rather than questioning what kind of holy person thinks that spiritual purity is for the benefit of the holder only. Most holy people consider their beliefs to be good for the entire world. Sadly, nothing about this has been addressed in the additional material with Yangchen.)



Also, good review!

True to its name, water features prominently in "The Waterbending Scroll." In fact, I can't recall a single scene -- excluding the travel scenes on Appa -- that doesn't include water nearby. Water is of course a material for bending, but it is also a facility for trade (and pirateering), a means of pursuit, and a means of escape. In Book Two's "Bitter Work," Iroh tells us that "water is the element of change." In this episode, water is indeed an unreliable ally; sometimes a blessing, and sometimes a curse.

Good catch!


The humor in this episode gets off to a slow start. Some of the earlier jokes work well, such as Sokka's snide remark about Aang's progress mastering the four elements, but others come across as unsophisticated and juvenile, especially Sokka's complaining about cleaning Appa, the "what are curios?" bit between Aang and the pirate crew member, and the cabbage merchant redux. Again, this sort of humor is an order of magnitude better than what is typical for a children's cartoon, but it's still a noticeable weak area in an otherwise tightly written show. In contrast, the action-oriented second act features many enjoyable comedic moments. Highlights include Zuko's "I didn't steal [Katara's necklace], if that's what you're asking" and Iroh's "it's no proverb!"

Of course, what discussion of the humor would be complete without mentioning the quick cut that prevents the viewer from seeing that one pirate mooning Zuko and Iroh. Although that's a fairly crass source of humor, I actually found it to be presented in a sophisticated way, with the dropping of the pants just being part of a mass of activity from the mocking pirates, then the cut, and then no major reaction from Zuko or Iroh. It's a far cry from the way Meelo's potty humor wound up being presented.


We are also introduced to the pirates. While they're not particularly deep characters, they are certainly entertaining. I was struck by Aang's first meeting with the pirate captain in which in which Momo and the parrot(?) sit on opposing shoulders, igniting an instant rivalry. The best moment involving the pirates is the captain's duel with Zuko. Seeing a swordsmen go toe-to-toe with a royal firebender makes us realize that benders aren't untouchable. Somehow, that makes the fight all the more thrilling.

Another good point. The pirate captain even fights with a jian, the same weapon Piandao uses. It's known as the "Gentleman of Weapons" because it's a stabbing weapon with two sides, requiring more training and more involved construction than something like a heavy dao blade that only has one sharpened side and so is more of a chopping weapon. Most of the swordsmen we see in Avatar are using dao blades, which reflects real life, and The Pirate Captain stands out as an interesting exception.


Overall, this episode is just plain fun. The characters are all great and the action in the second half is excellent. It's everything Avatar should be. Being a "filler" episode doesn't hurt "The Waterbending Scroll" one bit. Still, besides the pirates, there's not much that makes this episode memorable. There's no underlying theme or distinctive setting I can point to when I think of "The Waterbending Scroll." It's a well-executed episode, but in a show chock full of those, that's not enough to set it apart from the rest.

If anything, this episode shows just how much that "filler" can enhance the whole.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2017, 06:09:17 PM by Loopy »

 

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