Aang and company have finally made it to the North Pole. The Northern Water Tribe live in a city made of ice, with canals instead of streets–brr! Can I just say that the waterbenders got a raw deal on where they ended up in the world? I mean they could’ve waterbended (waterbent?) just as well on some tropical Hawaii-like archipelago…
Anyway, they might be safe from the Fire Nation for all of one episode, but personal crises are in store for Sokka and Katara. Sokka falls hard for the moon-haired Princess Yue–and she likes him back, except for one teeny thing. She’s engaged to another guy in a politically advantageous match (they never say how it’s a good match, but the fiance is a complete doofus, so it can’t be for his brains). Yue is sweet and shy and dutiful and gorgeous, but there’s a very ethereal, out-of-reach quality about her that forebodes… well, you’ll see.
Aang finds himself a waterbending teacher, but snooty Master Pakku refuses to teach Katara as well. In the Northern Water Tribe, you see, women waterbenders are dismissed to the healing huts. In a really short-sighted move, Pakku declares he’ll no longer train Aang after he discovers Aang has been passing his knowledge along to Katara. (I mean, really, this is the Avatar! What if the Avatar were a woman, huh? You’d refuse to teach Kyoshi, eh? I’d like to see that happening).
Anyhow, Katara is totally non-apologetic about flouting the Northern Tribe’s customs, and challenges Pakku to a duel. He won’t deign to fight her, but she forces the issue. She puts up a good fight, but is defeated. However, Pakku agrees to teach her because
she’s determined, driven and talented she’s the granddaughter of his lost love, who ran away from an arranged marriage with him because she didn’t love him.
O-kay. I suspect the writers made that up then and there. Because there is nothing before this episode to indicate that Gran-Gran was ever in the North Pole. Remember the Fire Navy ship in the first episode? Remember Katara saying how it had been there since her grandmother was a little girl?
And really, if Gran-Gran had come from the North Pole, it would have been common knowledge in the tribe. Why would she have bothered to hide her origins? And when she knew Katara was off to learn waterbending at the North Pole, wouldn’t Gran-Gran have warned her that they have dumb customs up there? Why send Katara off with no clue about what to expect?
And, really, who runs away from an arranged marriage with the betrothal necklace carved by the jilted fiance and then hands it down to her daughter and granddaughter as an heirloom? “Oh, yes, this necklace has a lot of sentimental value. I ran away rather than marry the man who made it for me.”
Okay, rant over. Back on track now.
Meanwhile, Admiral Zhao has collected a massive armada and comes calling on the Norther Water Tribe. Aang’s been goofing off in his waterbending classes, but Katara’s finally impressed Sourface Pakku with her drive and talent. (I really enjoy seeing Katara grow in her powers this series, btw. The things she does at the end–well, they’re a far cry from the girl who could just make a wobbly water bubble and then soak her brother with it).
Fire Nation and Water Tribe engage in some skirmishes. Yue’s dad puts together a special mission led by his boneheaded future-son-in-law, that fails miserably. Luckily, Sokka gets kicked off the mission, and assigned to protect Yue instead. One wonders if Yue’s father deliberately wanted to clear the way for Sokka–but no, that’s just my nasty Machiavellian mind talking.
Aang realizes he can’t take out the Fire Navy all by himself (just you wait, my child, just you wait) and needs help from the Ocean and Moon Spirits—hopefully a powerful Spirit attack, but wisdom would be good, too. So off he goes into the Spirit World. While he’s in there, Zuko shows up to snatch his body and he and Katara fight it out. Katara freezes him to wall in the moonlit night, but in two seconds the sun’s back up and he jumps out, knocks her out, and runs off with Aang. Our Heroes go off in search for Aang, find him and Zuko out in the blizzard and bring him back. Aang comes out of the Spirit World–turns out the Ocean and Moon Spirits aren’t there after all! Oh noes!
But Admiral Zhao knows where they are–in the sacred pond where Aang crossed over in the first place, disguised as fish (er, the Spirits are disguised as fish. Aang is not. Yet.). He takes out the Moon Spirit, which causes the moon to vanish from the night sky and the waterbenders to lose their powers. That angers the Ocean Spirit (hey, it’s stuck being a fish all by itself now? I’d be mad too!), and Aang combines with it to become this giant glowing fish thing which goes on a rampage and sinks all of the Fire Navy ships. By slashing at them with its giant glowy fin-arms. Powerful, but not as cool as bending.
Angry Ocean Spirit also takes out Admiral Zhao personally, which is just as well. His preening and posturing didn’t make him a very scary villain, so his disappearance paves the way for a much more formidable opponent–for next season.
Of course, destroying the Fire Navy fleet doesn’t bring the moon back, but Yue has some of the Spirit in her from when the Moon Spirit saved her as a baby. So she dissolves into mist and becomes the new Moon Spirit (but not a fish) and balance is restored to the world, if not to Sokka’s heart.
Overall, I found the finale of book 1 satisfying, save for some minor plotting and timing issues. We’re into book 2 now, and the kids are enjoying Toph and (*sigh*) Azula.