Avatar: The Last Airbender

Book One: Water

1.03 Chapter Three: “The Southern Air Temple

Written by: Michael Dante DiMartino and Eddy Fan

Tocsin: Spoilers! Lots and lots!

Thoughts on the Show in General:

The cultures and designs, aesthetics and writing in Avatar are all based on various Chinese cultural motifs rather than Japanese ones. Westerners, especially those in the United States have an over fascination with Japanese culture probably stemming from our occupation of Japan after World War II. That and since Japan exports its culture en masse via anime, the tendency is for our media to portray Eastern culture as synonymous with Japanese culture.

Thoughts on the Episode:

Firebending is based on Northern Shaolin kung fu, and this is the first episode where firebenders face each other. The style appears to use wide stances and a lot of power thrown into quick punches and kicks. Deflection of firebending attacks appears to be based at redirecting the energy of the attacks, rather than blocking them.

The Avatar State appears again here. It is clear that Aang is not in control when he’s in the Avatar State and that while powerful it has major drawbacks (the worst drawback isn’t mentioned in this episode, but it is a doozy).


Plot Synopsis:

As our heroes are leaving camp, Aang tells Katara that the Southern Air Temple is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Katara cautions him that he’s not been there in a hundred years and that he shouldn’t get his hopes up in case things are… different.

At a fire nation port, Zuko and Iroh are confronted by Commander Zhao, a firebender in charge of the port. He wants to know how their ship got damaged. After making up a story, that Zhao obviously doesn’t believe, they are invited for tea by Zhao who states that he wants to hear all the thrilling details. Zuko refuses, but Iroh overrides him saying Zuko needs to show the commander respect.

Flying over the land on Appa, Sokka gets mad at Aang for using up the jerky he packed in the fire (Aang thought it was kindling). As they get closer to the Air Temple,

Aang starts to spot familiar landmarks. Worried, Katara explains that the Fire Nation may have killed off Aang’s people and that he should be prepared in case the temple was destroyed. Aang says that he doubts it because the only way to get to an air temple is on a flying bison, and the Fire Nation doesn’t have any.

At the port, Zhao is giving a lecture to Zuko and Iroh about how the Earth Kingdom will fall by the year’s end and that the Fire Lord will finally be able to claim victory. Zuko comments that it will be harder to win the war than his father seems to think. Zhao brushes the comment aside and asks how Zuko’s search for the Avatar was going. Zuko says he hadn’t found him yet, and Zhao chastises Zuko for chasing a phantom but states that if Zuko did find something that he should tell the Fire Nation’s military, the Avatar being the only threat that could stop the Fire Lord. Zuko lies and tells him that they haven’t found anything.

But as they are trying to leave, Zhao’s guards block them and a captain informs Zhao that Zuko’s crew revealed under interrogation that Zuko had the Avatar aboard his ship and let him escape.

Arriving at the air temple and finding it predictably deserted, Aang points out various landmarks including an air ball court but becomes depressed stating that the temple used to be alive with monks and lemurs and bison. Sokka suggests that Aang show him how to play air ball as a means of cheering Aang up. Having no airbending skills Sokka is creamed. Getting knocked off a goal post, he lands in the snow and discovers a Fire Nation helmet partially buried in the ice. Sokka and Katara decide not to tell Aang about it, though Sokka thinks they should just tell.

Farther into the temple Aang shows them a statue of Monk Gyatso, his teacher. In a flash back we see Aang talking to Gyatso about how he thinks the monks might have made a mistake about choosing him as the Avatar. Gyatso says the only mistake the monks made was to tell Aang before he was sixteen and that any doubts Aang has will be cleared up when he is old enough to enter the Air Temple sanctuary. Gyatso then continues with his prescheduled lesson (which seems to be how to dump cakes onto meditating monks’ heads at high velocities).

Back in the present, Aang states that he’s going to have to go to the sanctuary.

The sanctuary itself is sealed by a lock only an airbender can open and is filled with statues of previous Avatar incarnations.

Back at Zhao’s port, Zhao is in the middle of insulting Zuko over Aang’s escape. Zhao says that capturing the Avatar is too important to leave to a teenager and instructs the guards to detain Zuko and Iroh.

And in the sanctuary, Sokka scoffs at Katara’s explanation of how the Avatar is reincarnated. The reincarnations follow a pattern; Earth, Water, Fire, Air. Aang is the last Avatar in a long cycle stretching back thousands of years. The last Avatar was Avatar Roku, a firebender. The trio is interrupted when what looks like a firebender’s shadow enters from the door way.

When we come back from commercial we discover that it is not a firebender but a flying lemur. Sokka wants to cook it and eat it, Aang wants it as a pet and they both charge after it. Sokka is quickly disabled by Aang’s air bending and has to give up the chase.

And in the Fire Nation, Zhao is getting ready to go after the Avatar. He tells Zuko that once he is out to see his guards will release him and his uncle (Zhao apparently has some doubts about whether detaining the Fire Lord’s son is all that wise of a move for a ambitious young commander). Zuko states intentions to get the Avatar before Zhao. Zhao laughs and begins on a long speech about how the Fire Lord hates Zuko and how Zuko is a failure as a prince. Zuko lets his temper get the better of him and challenges Zhao to a traditional fire bending duel.

At the air temple Aang is still chasing the lemur. While chasing the lemur he comes across the frozen skeleton of Gyatso surrounded by equally frozen firebenders. Sokka catches up and tries to comfort Aang but Aang goes into the Avatar State. In the air sanctuary, Katara sees all the eyes of the Avatar statues light up and realizes something is wrong. She rushes out of the temple to find Aang.

Across the world in the other three kingdoms at temples others see their respective Avatar statues light up including the temple in the Fire Nation.

In the Avatar State, Aang beings to create a bubble of rotating air that begins to expand. Sokka is blown out of the enclosure where Gyatso was. Katara arrives and braving the wind slowly works here way toward Aang.

Back with Zhao, Zuko and Zhao are preparing to duel. Zhao is a powerful opponent but he makes a critical error and is defeated. However because Zuko is unwilling to deliver the traditional final blow (which scars your opponent‘s face), Zhao calls Zuko a coward. Zuko and Iroh leave.

At the air temple, Katara is trying to talk down Aang who has created a whirling vortex of air about himself. She manages to convince him to stand down by stating that while his friends from long ago might be gone, he still has friends in the present. Aang collapses out of the Avatar State. He realizes that if firebenders found the Southern Air Temple they’ve probably found the others as well.

While departing the temple they encounter the lemur again. Aang decides to call it Momo. The show ends with the protagonists flying away with Aang looking back wistfully at the air temple.

Memorable Quotes:

Zhao (looking at Zuko’s damaged ship): That’s quite a bit of damage.
Zuko: Yes, you wouldn’t believe what happened. Uncle! Tell Commander Zhao what happened.
Iroh: Yes. I will do that. It was incredible. (whispers) What did we crash or something?
Zuko: Yes, right into an Earth Kingdom ship.
Zhao (skeptical): Really?


Commander Zhao:

Introduced for the first time, he is an ambitious and relatively young officer in the Fire Nation Navy. He’s overconfident and arrogant (as opposed to Zuko, who is under-confident and arrogant) but he isn’t stupid. Though Zuko is probably the main antagonist of the first season, Zhao can be thought of as the main villain.


The old mischievous monk who taught Aang. Aang says that he was the greatest airbender in the world. He was apparently killed by firebenders.

Cite sources or be punished justly!: http://www.tv.com/avatar-the-last-airbender/show/28841/summary.html, Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 Collection DVD, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417299/

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