This is a great episode that does a good showing of how culture is not a justification for unjust laws. In this case Female Waterbenders can only be trained as healers in the Northern Water Tribe, it takes two women to change this and it is quite a struggle to get there.
The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Michael Dante DiMartino.
“The Waterbending Master” begins with Team Avatar captured by the Northern Water Tribe. From here they are brought in and Master Pakku trains Aang but refuses to train Katara because she is a woman. Also Sokka finds himself attracted to Princess Yue, who he learns is betrothed. Around this time Zhao plans his siege of the North and Zuko’s ship is destroyed by the Pirates. From here Iroh’s story unfolds with Zhao as conflict unfolds on the North Pole.
The Pros: Admiral Zhao – The guy is a bastard and glorious one at that. He knows that it will take a lot to break the North so he brings a huge fleet and gets Iroh to his side knowing Iroh is a victorious general. He also has a plan for how to stop the Moon, knowing that the Waterbenders powers are tied to the Ocean and to the Moon.
Admiral Iroh – Iroh is shown to once again be super sly as he tricks Zhao into thinking he is joining him willingly, when it was really to help Zuko to get to the North to capture the Avatar. His loyalty to Zuko never wavers and he keeps his cool around Zhao, never revealing his true loyalties.
Zuko – This episode shows that even a broken Zuko is one to be feared. His face is beaten and battered and he still fights on, forever driven to catch the Avatar, even if it means hiding on the boat of the man who nearly had him killed.
Chief Amook – The Chief feels like an actual character, we see his care for his people in their day to day lives we see his care for his daughter and his kindness as well to Team Avatar. He reminds me a lot of Katara’s dad in many ways.
Master Pakku – This guy is a pro because he is willing to change. His story is tragic as he loved a woman who did not have a choice in wanting to marry him, so she left. That woman was Gran Gran, it is Katara returning and fighting him to be an equal in their people and his finding her necklace that change him and help him to realize the reasons Gran Gran left…she had no choice so she made her own path…with her granddaughter, he has a chance to right the wrongs so that more women don’t end up leaving the tribe. It’s a really cool arc and though he is a harsh teacher, he is humanized when he finally accepts Katara.
Princess Yue and Sokka – These two are the young lovers, I think the reason they like one another, besides basic attraction is they listen to each other, they are also culturally more similar than Sokka and Suki which I think is part of what draws him to Yue. Yue also has a calm to Sokka’s energy making them Yin and Yang compliments. There story starts out as tragedy as she is already engaged to another.
Aang – Aang refuses to be trained by Pakku at first until Katara says he should and needs to and that his training is bigger than her. He later trains her in secret which leads to Council being called and Aang being trained once more as Katara is forced to learn healing. Aang never stops advocating for Katara and you really see how deep their friendship is.
Katara – Katara is the fighter than this and finishes the battle that started when her Grandmother Kanna left the tribe because she was betrothed to Master Pakku and did not love him. Katara explains why Kanna left when she has just finished battling Pakku and finally lost after a long fight. It is the fight from the past for choice and equality and in the present that finally melts Pakku’s cold and when he accepts Katara as a student.
The Message – The message is one of fairness and equality and shows that Avatar thankfully does not embrace Cultural Relativism. No culture is perfect and we should strive for justice and equality everywhere. It is this fight that Kanna begins and Katara continues that finally create the opportunity for equality among benders in the Northern Water Tribe. The fight is ongoing and begins with a subtle no or leaving or openly fighting as Katara does to Pakku.
I really liked this episode, a lot. The message really shines through and if Avatar had gone all Culturally Relativistic I’d probably hate the show. The show stands for something and wrongs are never justified whether it’s the genocide of the Air Nation, subjugation of the different members of the Earth Kingdom or the sexism of the Northern Water Tribe. All these things Team Avatar fights and calls us to as well.
Final Score: 10 / 10.