Thursday, February 22, 2024

REVIEW: 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' - Team Avatar Battles Cultural Differences Upon Meeting New Waterbenders in 'The North'

Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender - Episode 1.07 "The North"

As an attack on the Northern Water Tribe looms, Katara challenges a master waterbender, Sokka meets a princess, and Aang takes Kuruk's words to heart.

"The North" was written by Audrey Wong Kennedy and directed by Jet Wilkinson

Team Avatar has arrived at the Northern Water Tribe. The leaders were awaiting their arrival. They know about the impending threat from the Fire Nation. They are preparing for battle. They have also heard stories about the Avatar saving communities on his journey across the world. They expect a powerful force to help defend their culture. Instead, they are greeted by an airbender who hasn't begun training in any of the other three disciplines. Katara is completely self-taught. Her skills are impressive. She adapted to the situation just like any skilled waterbender does. Her strength is cast aside because it doesn't conform to the traditions of this community. Chief Arnook welcomes his brother and sister from the Southern Water Tribe. However, these leaders hold onto their traditions fiercely because they can't allow their home to be destroyed just like Katara and Sokka's was. The Southern Water Tribe was essentially lost to the Fire Nation. The Northern Water Tribe stands as a more impressive fortress. This is the strongest collection of waterbenders left in the world. They haven't seen much combat. Instead, they've held firm to their beliefs in the hopes that will best prepare them for the war.

Aang is told repeatedly that the job of the Avatar is meant to be a solitary journey. No one can help him carry the burden of this responsibility. That's in contrast to his successes from throughout the season. He has prevailed because he has relied on his friends for support. He has his limitations. He's grateful to see the world from a different perspective. He knows Zuko is much more than he initially seemed. Aang still worries about who will potentially get hurt because of his actions. He can't stop this battle. The vision he saw was destined to happen. He saw destruction inside the city. The wall will not stand. Fire Nation troops will invade. That doesn't mean they will prevail. Aang knows people will die. He doesn't want his friends to get hurt. He prioritizes protecting them instead of allowing them to make their own choices. The world is constantly telling them who they are suppose to be. Sokka's darkest moment was when his father said he wasn't a warrior. That opinion would certainly be different now. Sokka must trust in that because he found a different way to serve. It required him to experience the world. He's better as a result.

Katara was raised to reject her bending abilities. She had to hide who she was. She couldn't learn how to be a powerful warrior because that would invite the Fire Nation back to finish the job. She survived. She couldn't grow at home any more. She had all the tools for success. People had to believe in her. Her journey is impressive. She has learned so quickly. She's a force in battle. And now, she's told women are only meant to be healers. That's a powerful skill too. One Katara didn't even know she had. She's a natural in that as well. It's not where she believes she must serve. She wants to be trained to fight. That's her purpose. That's where she is meant to be. She is pushed out of the room because of her gender. Pakku doesn't believe women are strong enough. Katara has fought more Fire Nation soldiers than any of the young men in the Northern Water Tribe. Pakku believes they have the natural instincts to know what to do when the time comes. Katara has that experience firsthand. She challenges the master to a battle. She fails. It's still a victory. She earns the approval of the community even though Pakku refuses to change his ways. The old guard is set. The next generation admires all that Katara has accomplished. She did it all by herself. She's stronger for that. Her friends support her. That's what emboldens their family bond.

The world offers that full complexity. Most believe Avatar Kuruk abandoned his responsibilities as the Avatar to explore a new world in the spirit realm. Instead, he was using his power to protect this world from threats it couldn't see or understand. He was injured in the process. He lost what mattered most to him. As such, he has grown cynical about letting people in. He cautions Aang against it. Moreover, he can't possess his body like Kyoshi did previously. Aang is truly on his own. He knows how to be a defensive warrior. That's the art of airbending. That's his comfort. The tribal leaders are disappointed. Unexpected developments still occur. Princess Yue reveals herself as the fox that met Sokka in the spirit world. She communicated with him in her dreams. That's how they recognize each other right away. He was terrified during that adventure. She sees the magical wonder of that realm. Spirits saved her life. She is forever grateful. She too rebuffs the traditions of her community even as she provides spiritual guidance. A desire for normalcy isn't a bad thing. This world is full of extremes. It's hard to avoid those conflicts. It's up to the people to find the peace amongst the noise. When that happens, relationships blossom. Sokka and Katara have a greater understanding and respect of each other. Plus, they reassure Aang that he is ready for what he's about to face.

Admiral Zhao insists that it's his destiny to conquer what has yet to be touched by the Fire Nation's war. The waterbenders aren't weak. Fire is viewed as the superior element. It offers strength to the leaders who desire it the most. They play games to force people to show who they are. They subject them to their will. When they fight back, that's when they prove they are ready for more. They will do whatever it takes to grab it for themselves. Iroh and Zuko are skeptical about Zhao plotting out this attack by himself. The narrative suggests Azula is truly pulling the strings. She uses her father's name to advance her interests. Everyone is so eager to gain good will from the Fire Lord. Zhao shouldn't be underestimated during this attack though. He exposes Zuko as the traitor who freed the Avatar. He made the prince fear his arrest for treason was imminent. Instead, he ran in a boat rigged to explode. Zuko survived that latest brush with death. He can only trust the crew on his ship. His uncle continues providing insight into what Zhao is plotting. Enough mystery persists that everyone needs to remain guarded. It's a tense way to live. They all feel immense pressure to produce results. Zhao feels fated for victory. He's confident despite the failures of others. Meanwhile, Zuko is still putting a plan together. Those efforts are in motion just as the Northern Water Tribe learns of their arrival.