Over images of people manipulating the elements, a female voice fills us in on what, exactly, we're looking at here. She says her grandmother told her stories of "the old days", when the Avatar kept peace between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads - a peace that ended when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar could control the four elements and stop them, but he seems to be long gone. A hundred years gone, in fact, and the Fire Nation has all but won the war. Two years ago, the girl's father took the men of her tribe and went to help the Earth Kingdom, leaving her and her brother in charge. "Some people believe that the Avatar was never reborn into the Air Nomads, and that the cycle is broken. But I haven't lost hope. I still believe that somehow, the Avatar will return to save the world."
Out on a glacier-ridden...lake? The girl and her brother are in a small canoe, with the brother aiming a spear at a fish just under the water's surface. Brother: "It's not getting away from me this time." I never understood spear-fishing. Except for the fact that it was the only fun part of The Amazon Trail. He tells his sister - Katara - to watch and learn. She's got a fish of her own, though, and takes off her glove to, with a nervous kind of face, pull it up out of the water in its own little water-ball. She seems shocked that it actually worked, and calls for her brother - Sokka - to look and see what she did. Sokka: "Be vewwy quiet, I'm hunting fishes." She hovers it over his head just as he draws his spear back, popping the water ball, and the fish flops back into the lake, getting the hell out of Dodge. Sokka is displeased. "Why is it every time you play with magic water, I get soaked?!" Katara: "It's not magic, it's Waterbending. And it's - " Sokka: "Ancient art, unique to our culture, blah blah blah. I'm just saying, if I were as weird as you, I'd be a little more discreet about it." Katara: "At least I'm not a boy."
Suddenly, they get snatched up in a riptide of some sort, getting pulled towards an ice field that there's no way to navigate a canoe through at that speed. Sokka tries anyway, with Katara yelling at him to "go left! Go left!" - but the canoe gets smashed between two floes anyway, with the kids getting tossed out onto one of them. Or jumping out, more likely. I suspect it's the kind of thing they've been taught to expect. Katara scrambles away from the edge of it, settling in the middle to snipe at her brother. "You call that left?" Sokka: "Hey, any landing you can walk away from. Leave it to a girl to screw things up." Sokka is looking to get kicked in the head. Katara looks ready to oblige. She snaps and starts yelling at him, about what a stupid sexist jerk he is - wait, did I just hear the word "sexist" on Nickelodeon? I think I did. Huh. She yells, and as she flails at him the iceberg behind her cracks. Ooh, rage-Waterbending. Interesting. Sokka: "Katara?" Katara: "I DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE AND WHAT THANKS DO I GET - " Sokka: "Katara." Katara: "I WASH ALL OF YOUR CLOTHES! YOUR SOCKS, MAN, I MEAN DEAR GOD." Sokka: "KATARA. CHILL PILL. NOW PLEASE." A final flail and the iceberg cracks into a million pieces, sending them rocketing backwards. Sokka: "Freak." Katara: "...that was me?"
They're almost immediately distracted by the light rising up from under the water. Great, you woke up the Flying Dutchman. Way to go, guys. The light turns out to be coming from the inside of an iceberg, with the figure of a boy inside it. A boy and a great big...thing over his head. The boy opens his eyes and they glow with white light, as do the arrows tattooed on his hands and forehead. Katara grabs Sokka's club and runs forward, saying he's alive and they have to help him. How exactly do you help a boy in an iceberg? A really big hairdryer? Sokka: "We don't know what that thing is!" It's an iceberg, Sokka, I figured you'd recognize those by now. Katara swings the club at the iceberg, actually making a dent in it as she wails on it. Come on, girl! Put some Waterbending into it! A few solid whacks (which Sokka does not help with at all, I should mention) and air comes hissing out, the iceberg cracking straight up the middle and releasing a powerful light. The animals all lift up their heads and howl as it shoots straight up, like a beacon.
A beacon seen by this guy. He's got a wicked-looking scar on most of the left side of his face, and his hairstyle makes me think of Centauri women. "Finally," he whispers, turning around. "Uncle! Do you realize what this means?!" His uncle, an older man sitting at a low table, playing cards, responds like he's heard this before: "I won't get to finish my game?" The kid says his search is over, to which his uncle just sighs resignedly. Kid: "It's a big shiny light! That's always interesting!" Uncle: "I knew we should have gotten you tested for ADHD. We've been down this road before, Prince Zuko. I don't want you to get too excited over nothing. Come, sit, drink tea." The kid - Prince Zuko - doesn't want any goddamned tea. "I need to capture the Avatar!" He orders the helmsman to "head a course for the light", even though we very clearly saw it dissipate behind Zuko a moment ago. Iroh lays his cards down in a way I want to say is supposed to be prophetic, like Tarot, but given that all that's on them are the four nation's symbols, I can't make heads or tails of it.
Back on the ice floes, Sokka shields Katara from the wind that's come blasting out of the cracked iceberg. "See what you did, Katara? See what you did?" The figure from before climbs out of the iceberg, eyes and tattoos still glowing brightly. Sokka aims his spear at him and tells him to stop. Glowy Boy: "Okay." He falls, the eerie light fading, and Katara dives forward to catch him. Sokka starts poking him in the head with the butt of his spear, until Katara waves him off. The boy wakes, looking up at Katara's face, and says weakly that he needs to ask her something. Katara: "What?" Boy: "Please...come closer." Katara leans in, asking what he wants, and the boy asks his question: "Will you go penguin sledding with me?" Katara: "Uh. Sure?" Satisfied, the boy sort of...floats upright, completely freaking Sokka out. He asks what's going on, a question Sokka would very much like answered himself as he pokes the boy with his spear. The real question is, why isn't his spear sharp enough to at least bother the kid, who just kind of shoos him off? (The answer is 'cause it's dull, you twit, it'll hurt more.) The boy knows the answers to none of these, and is promptly distracted by a growling coming from the other side of the ice wall. He leaps onto the head of a big furry....thing he calls Appa, tugging on its eyelids and face until it wakes up. There's something very Miyazaki about the way this is animated; I keep thinking of Mei going flying onto Totoro's belly. Katara and Sokka walk around to see who he's talking to and are promptly freaked out (again), though not without reason. Look at this thing! Sokka asks what that thing is, exactly, and the boy introduces him as "Appa, my flying bison." Sokka: "Riiiiight. And this is Katara, my flying sister." The bison sneezes suddenly, and because Sokka has already pissed off the universe with his sarcasm, the bison boogers end up all over him. 'Tis a hard life we cynics lead. The kid tells him not to worry, that it'll wash right out, which doesn't stop it from being completely disgusting. The kid (oh my god can we PLEASE get a name for him) asks if they live around there. Sokka tells Katara not to answer. "Did you see that crazy bolt of light? He was probably trying to signal the Fire Navy!" Katara tells him to get stuffed. "The paranoid one is my brother Sokka. You never told us your name." YES, EXACTLY, RUDE. He starts to give it, but a sneeze overtakes him. A sneeze that manages to launch him into the air and send him sliding back down the side of the iceberg. "I'm Aang!" Sokka: "You just sneezed. And flew ten feet in the air!" Aang: "Really? It felt higher than that." Katara finally makes the connection: "You're an Airbender!" Aang: "Mmmyep!"
Sokka decides he's had enough crazy for the day. "I'm going home to where stuff makes sense." No you're not. Aang offers them a ride home, which Katara eagerly accepts. Sokka says he's not getting on the fluffy snot monster. Katara: "It's this or freezing, jackass." Sokka has no real response to that, and climbs on the back of the fluffy snot monster as Aang prepares to take off. "Appa! Yip yip!" Appa leaps into the air...and promptly does a belly flop into the water. Sokka is unimpressed. Aang says he's just tired. "I swear to god, this never happens." He continues staring at Katara for a moment, who is clearly creeped out. "Why are you smiling at me like that?" Aang: "Oh. I was smiling?" Sokka: "I think I would have preferred to freeze to death."
Zuko is on the Good Ship Angrykid, staring out over the water. His uncle comes up behind him and says he's going to bed. "A man needs his rest. HINT, HINT." He says even if the Avatar's alive, Zuko's not gonna find him. Something like three generations of his family has searched for him, and nobody's found hide nor hair of him. Zuko: "Well clearly they just didn't want to find him bad enough."
But enough of those guys, let's get back to the flying - er, swimming bison. Katara asks if Aang, being an Airbender and all, had any idea what happened to the Avatar. Who was apparently an Airbender. When was this mentioned? Aang: "Well, that's mighty racist of you, isn't it?" He says he knew people who knew the Avatar, but never met him personally. Katara says she was just curious, and crawls back into the middle of the saddle to sleep while Aang turns away with a most concerned look on his face.
Suddenly, thunderstorm! Aang is asleep on Appa's back when a massive thunderstorm comes out of nowhere and rages around them. Appa dives (or is thrown) into the water, and as they sink Aang's eyes and arrows glow. Water wraps around him and Appa and freezes, into the hard shell Katara found him in. Speaking of which, Katara is yelling at Aang to wake up. He does, with the kind of gasp you get from people who have just had a hellacious nightmare, only...wait. This isn't Appa's head. This is a tent. "We're in the village now!" Katara helpfully points out. Wait, what? It was heavily implied that it was the middle of the night when Katara asked about the Avatar, and now it's morning, and...ow. Jumping to conclusions makes my brain hurt. Aang goes to put his shirt on and Katara notices that his arrows extend all the way up his arms and down to his feet. Which must have hurt like a bitch. The revelation makes her gasp with surprise for some reason, and she grabs him by the arm, and between the underage ogling and the lack of making sense I'm going to pretend this scene never happened.
Outside, Katara introduces Aang to the entire village. All twelve of them. And the dog. Aang bows respectfully, causing the mothers to pull their children away in fear. Aang: "Did Appa sneeze on me?" An older woman steps forward, pointing out that no one's seen an Airbender for over a hundred years, and thought they were extinct until her grandkids - namely, Sokka and Katara - found him. You can almost hear the condescending "Freak." tacked on to the end. Aang: "...extinct?" Katara: "Aang, this is my grandmother." Grandmother: "Call me Gran-Gran." Aang: "No, wait, seriously - extinct? I should be having a lot more trouble accepting this! ADHD only goes so far!" But the show marches on, completely ignoring the fact that this poor kid just discovered that everyone he knew and loved is dead, and Sokka snatches his staff away from him. "What is this, some kind of weapon? You can't stab anything with this!" Aang: "It's not a weapon. It's for Airbending!" A set of wings extends from the sides of the staff, prompting one of the kids to exclaim "Magic trick! Do it again!" SO CUTE. Aang very gently corrects her: "Not magic - Airbending. It lets me control the air currents around my glider and fly." Sokka: "You know, the last time I checked, humans can't fly." Aang: "Check again, bitch." And he takes off into the air, flying loops and whirls over the village, amazing the children and terrifying the adults before crashing into a snowbank. Or, as Sokka immediately cries, "My watchtower!" He says that with all the Bending going on, Aang and Katara can "just waste time aaaaall day long." I do not understand Sokka's hatred of Bending. Is it just 'cause he's the cynical character? Aang enthuses over this newly revealed fact about Katara as Gran-Gran pulls her away to do chores. Katara: "I told you! He's the real thing, Gran-Gran! I finally found a Bender to teach me!" Gran-Gran tells her not to put all her hopes in Aang. Katara: "But he's special! I can tell!" Yeeeeeah, probably not in the way you mean, Katara.
Over on Angry Kid's ship, there seems to be some training going on. Zuko flame-broils a couple of soldiers by shooting fire out of his fists, which is insanely cool (though the coolness is lessened somewhat by the kung-fu grunts he makes). But apparently he did it wrong, because his uncle sternly reminds him that "power in Firebending comes from the breath, not the muscles. Now do it again, but don't suck this time." But Zuko refuses to do it again, ordering his uncle to teach him the next set. "I'm more than Rufio - ready! Ready. I meant ready." Iroh tells him he has yet to master his basics, and Zuko takes his rage out on one of the soldiers. Zuko: "The sages tell us that the Avatar is the last Airbender." OH HEY. "I'll need more than basic Firebending to defeat him! You will teach me the advanced set!" Iroh: "I will throw you off this ship and see how well you swim in metal armor if you keep talking to me like that, you little shit." He agrees, begrudgingly, but settles in to eat his dinner before he does so. It's almost as through he's smarter than he's letting on, and knows Zuko won't actually do anything to him if he continues to answer his spoiled behavior with his own indulgent ways. Intriguing.
Elsewhere, Sokka is lecturing his troops about fear and courage and potty breaks. Specifically, the fact that they get none. Until all of them admit to having to go, and Sokka releases them with little more than a facepalm. Poor Sokka, looks like he's the oldest guy left in the village. Katara comes up to ask where Aang went, and we see him emerging from what I assume to be the bathroom (as that's where all the kids have headed), exclaiming that "everything freezes in there!" ...this is really only confirming my earlier suspicions about Aang's "specialness". Sokka immediately loses his soldiers to using Appa's tail as a slide, and rages at him that "we don't have time for fun and games! DON'T YOU KNOW THERE'S A WAR ON?" Aang: "Actually, no." Sokka: "Oh, well, then this is an excellent opportunity to discuss the setting of the show, the over-arcing plot, the - " Aang: "PENGUIN!" He shoves past Sokka and runs off, towards a penguin-catfish hybrid thing. Katara goes after him, and finds him trying to catch one and...take it sledding. OH! Penguin-sledding! Okay! ...seriously, how long was this kid frozen for? Katara says she'll help Aang catch a penguin if he teaches her Waterbending. Aang: "DEAL. Except for the part where I'm an Airbender. Isn't there someone in your tribe who can teach you?" There's not, as Katara is the only Waterbender in the entire South Pole. There might be someone in the North Pole, however - not that it's exactly "turn right at the second glacier", as Katara puts it. Aang offers to fly her to the North Pole (once Appa's engine gets warmed up, of course), but in the meantime, THERE ARE PENGUINS TO CATCH. Katara tosses him a small fish, and he's immediately set upon by more penguins than he knows what to do with. And he is absolutely delighted by this.
SUDDENLY, SLEDDING. Aang and Katara zip along the snow on the backs of penguins, ramping off of snow drifts and laughing the entire time. "I haven't done this since I was a kid!" Katara cries. Aang: "You still are a kid!" Which is interesting - Katara can't be more than a year or two older than Aang, and yet look at them. Katara is reserved, serious, and quietly hopeful for something better. Aang is what a sugar high would look like if it was on crack. The results of war on the young. They come sliding to a halt outside of a cave, and abandon their mounts to gape at a ship, trapped in the ice. Aang: "What is that?" Katara: "A Fire Navy ship, and a very bad memory for my people." Aang: "We should totally go inside it." Katara: "What are you smoking." Aang: "If you wanna be a Bender, you have to let go of fear." And, it would seem, common sense. She follows him in, and they wander around the creepy Fire Navy ship, Katara saying it was part of the Fire Nation's first attacks. Aang is confused as to all this talk of attacks and the Fire Nation and war. Katara asks how long he was in the iceberg. Aang: "I don't know - a few days, maybe?" Katara: "I think it was more like a hundred years." THERE. THAT is the face we should have seen earlier. I mean, not that I don't feel bad for the kid, but a proper reaction is all I'm asking for. He has a minor freakout, and Katara offers the comfort of a bright side, which Aang latches onto immediately. "I did get to meet you!" Katara smiles (as do I - stupid adorable kids) and suggests they get out of the creepy ship.
On their way out, Aang trips a wire, which drops a gate, which turns a gear, which sparks a...spark, which lights a flare, which is somehow still good after nearly a hundred years, which fires off into the air over the ship, bright enough for the whole world to see. Aang air-jumps the both of them out of the ship, giving Zuko a good look at them through his telescope. He orders the men to wake his uncle. "Tell him I found the Avatar...as well as his hiding place."
Next update will return us to our regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for sticking with me for the last 3+ years, guys.