Avatar:TLA Re-watch S1:Ep9 – “The Waterbending Scroll”

“Stealing is wrong… unless it’s from pirates!”

Not exactly your typical children’s show morality.

Then again, they do have only a matter of months to save the world, AND the thing they stole would be legitimately helpful, AND the people they stole it from had themselves stolen it in the first place. That definitely puts it in “stealing bread to feed your starving family” territory, but it’s nonetheless a bit more complex than we usually get from cartoons.

As we begin, the Aang gang is still reeling from Avatar Roku’s message at the Fire Temple. Time is short, and they are still weeks away from the North Pole, (where they hope to find a water-bending master).  In the meantime, Katara volunteers to help teach Aang. She may not be a master yet, but maybe she can at least get him started.

Turns out, Aang is a natural, and within minutes, he has surpassed the techniques she has spent years learning. It’s not completely surprising, he IS the Avatar after all, and she was never officially trained in the first place. That said, it’s also very understandable that she would feel a little jealous. Being a water-bender has always been a big part of her self-identity, and she has had to work very hard to get where she’s gotten with it.  Seeing Aang pick it up so easily would have to be frustrating, even threatening. She has been thinking of her water-bending as her contribution to the group; if Aang learns how to do it too, what do they need her for? It’s irrational, but completely understandable, especially given her age.

Aang’s not exactly a water-bending master himself yet though, as evidenced by his accidentally washing their supplies away down the river. This show treats that sort of thing seriously. The kids have finite money and supplies, and when they lose stuff, that means something. They got by for a while on the money supplied by King Bumi and the supplies given to them by the village they saved from Hei Bai. Now all that is gone, and the show doesn’t forget that.

They head into town and Aang squanders one of their three copper pieces on an apparently-useless whistle. No extra points for guessing that it won’t actually be useless, however. When they investigate a ship selling “curios”, they discover a water-bending scroll, obtained through “High-risk trading”, AKA Piracy. The pirates are asking far more than the kids could ever hope to afford, (even given Aang’s top-notch haggling skills), and so Katara decides to steal it. This leads to a chase through the city, as the pirates try to recover their lost scroll. The kids escape unscathed, though the Cabbage Merchant’s wares are not so lucky.

The other kids are surprisingly non-judgemental about Katara’s theft. Aang doesn’t say anything about it directly, and Sokka’s objections are purely on the level of being angry that she put them at risk by angering the pirates. This concern is justified, as not only did they have to escape the pirates, but when Zuko and Iroh show up, the pirates are complaining about the little bald monk who stole a water-bending scroll.

When Katara and Aang resume training, this time with the scroll, she snaps, shouting at Aang in anger and jealousy. He is hurt, and she immediately regrets her outburst, promising not to be so competitive. But then, when the others are asleep, she takes the scroll again and leaves camp to practice. It’s not completely clear, but it’s quite possible that Zuko and the pirates would not have found their secluded camp unless they had spotted her out on the riverbank.

Zuko captures her, and sends the pirates after Aang and Sokka, who are also captured, but Sokka cleverly points out to the pirates that the Avatar is worth way more than their lost water-bending scroll, and then the kids are able to escape in the resulting kerfuffle. There’s some great teamwork between Aang and Katara as she recognizes the power they can wield when they water-bend together, instead of making it a competition. And in the end, Aang’s “useless” whistle saves the day, when it summons Appa for a last-second rescue.

Additional Notes:

* Pretty mountain scenery with the rivers and waterfalls

* While interrogating Katara, Zuko reveals that he has her mother’s necklace

* Air-bending not so good against nets

* Three cheers for Momo taking out the lizard-parrot thing

* Those of us re-watching the show will likely recognize the significance of Iroh’s lotus tile, and so we understand that his real errand in town was not exactly what he told Zuko it was, especially given, as he points out later, he really had the tile on him the whole time!

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