Because fans should be critical, too

Retrospective: Chapter Nine: “The Waterbending Scroll”

Avatar continues its winning streak with “The Waterbending Scroll,” the most blatantly comic episode in the series since “The King of Omashu.” But whereas that episode was marred by its own pointlessness, “The Waterbending Scroll” never loses sight of the overall story or its characters, even as they swashbuckle with a crew of silly pirates. This is easily the funniest and most entertaining episode of the series thus far. It’s also one of the most accessible episodes; you don’t need to be an expert in Avatar lore to enjoy this one, and that’s because the relationships of all the main characters are so perfectly clear and utilized. You don’t have to know how Waterbending works to find amusement in Katara’s escalating jealousy of Aang’s innate talent for it, especially since she’s supposed to be the one teaching him. (She finally blows up at him mid-way through the episode, and even with Aang’s reaction—or because it—it’s one of the biggest laughs in the series.)

The way that Zuko and Iroh factor into the plot is borderline sitcom. Iroh loses an important game piece and forces Zuko to make a pit stop at a marketplace by the water. The punchline: the piece was in Iroh’s sleeve the entire time. Had the rest of the episode not been up to snuff, Iroh’s and Zuko’s individual reactions to this news—Iroh with a sense of humor, Zuko with furious anger—would have easily made it all worth it.

As fun and as funny as “The Waterbending Scroll” is, it feels a little too lightweight for its own good. So while certain things do carry over into later episodes (including the titular scroll, Aang’s bison whistle, Katara’s necklace, etc.), the episode as a whole feels very inconsequential. This may be because the episode contributes little to our gradual understanding of the Avatar universe, and also because “The Waterbending Scroll,” more than most episodes, calls back to DiMartino and Konietzko and company’s background in sitcoms and more typical kids’ show fare. If the “Winter Solstice” felt like a step towards something new and exciting, “The Waterbending Scroll” feels more like a regression into sitcom territory, albeit high quality sitcom. The result is a genuinely funny episode, but nothing more.

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3 responses

  1. edbva

    Aang: “I used to kinda look up to pirates but those guys are terrible.”

    Me: “Really, Aang? Really? You looked up to pirates? How, why? Aren’t you a young Air Nomad monk based in an antiquated Asian universe, and not a 21st century Western kid?”

    Haha yeah…entertaining episode though.

    July 17, 2015 at 9:03 pm

  2. Ian

    I think you grossly under sold this episode (I don’t mean that to sound rude). This episode is fantastic at bringing up character flaws and strengths (Katara and Aang with waterbending), introducing items and characters that play major roles later but introducing them so subtly and unimportant that you feel surprised and impressed when you see them again (the bison whistle, the white lotus, and the pirates)

    Also this episode is great at dealing with what happened in the previous episodes. Aang is worried about not knowing waterbending and the episode promptly begins his training.

    I also love that this episode (and avatar in general) remembers to show us the progression of characters in terms of their fighting skills. Aang isn’t the only being trained, but so is Katara, and the two would continue to train in waterbending through the rest of the series.

    I don’t know, i just find this episode to be way more important than a funny little episode.

    Also, whats your thoughts on the cabbage man Marshall? As this is the last time we see him in Book 1. Its weird, they guy only appears 4 times in the entire series but with how the fandom treats him you’d swear he was in 10!

    July 20, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    • edbva

      I agree with you on the episode’s positives (and I think Marshall generally said as much). However I also see the point about the somewhat inconsequential feel of it all. IMHO a lot of this probably has to do with how the pirates are presented.

      The revelation that such sketchy people exist, who are purely survivalists (unlike everyone and everywhere else we’ve seen so far which is either pro-FN or anti-FN) should add a touch of grittiness and complexity to the Avatarverse. But do we actually appreciate this fact? Some of the early scenes of the marketplace suggests a certain degree of sketchiness, but that isn’t translated to our heroes (particularly Aang), and so it’s also kinda lost on the viewer. The sense of danger I should feel when they’re attacked/captured by the pirates – like I did in the previous episode at the Fire Temple – is softened by comedic presentation. Just compare the pirates here to their encore in the Waterbending Master. Clearly, that was NOT a joke.

      That said, obviously this is a kid’s show and the writing can’t be somber all the time. And since it was actually clever and very funny writing, it was non the less enjoyable.

      July 22, 2015 at 11:49 am

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