Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: “The Puppetmaster”

“Aw man, this looks like another filler epis–WHAT THE FU–.”

[Warning: This recap contains a big spoiler for Snowpiercer, if you haven’t seen it yet.]

“The waterbenders could technically bend someone’s blood” is the sort of thing I thought the fandom would come up with, but the show would never actually do, because this is Nickelodeon. To wit:

Avatar, I am sorry for underestimating just how fucked up you are willing to get. Clearly I forgot how you brainwashed and then killed Jet. Fuck, you might have Aang go all Chris Evans in Snowpiercer. I don’t know. This show gets dark as shit.

i know that babies taste best

So, yes. Bloodbending! But first: setup. The gaang sits around a fire telling ghost stories. Katara’s is pretty creepy–about a friend of her mom who froze to death, and then her ghost kept hanging around saying “I’m cold” like that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?–but Sokka’s not so much. Toph says she feels/hears people screaming under the mountain, which is creepy, but it really needs some narrative structure, Toph. Two and a half stars. Then, bam! CREEPY LADY:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.50.25 AM

The Creepy Lady is Hama, and she invites these strange children roaming around the countryside to stay in her inn free of charge. Once there, she tells the gaang that people have been disappearing when the moon is full. Given the whole thing about the full moon increasing waterbenders’ powers being in the “previously on” segment, I’m guessing they’re related.

Aang immediately suspects that the disappearances are a result of local environmental shenanigans pissing off some spirit, and that is NOT ON. You don’t mess with the environment on Aang’s watch!

aang i'll kick my own ass

Sokka is suspicious of Hama, which Katara doesn’t like, because she and Hama are BFFs who bonded over using flirtation to manipulate men. In poking around Hama’s inn, Sokka finds a cupboard full of puppets.

Same, Sokka.

Same, Sokka.

(I love that Hama is a metaphorical puppetmaster–as we’ll find out later in the episode, she uses bloodbending to control people–but the showrunners also throw in an aside with her LITERALLY OWNING PUPPETS, because she wasn’t quite creepy enough already. It’s like Hama’s thinking “You know what this evil thing I do needs? Memorabilia.” She is very possibly my favorite ATLA villain based on this fact alone.)

Hama comes along, finds them snooping, and goes into backstory mode: She grew up in the Southern Water Tribe, like Katara and Sokka, and was the last waterbender to be taken captive by the Fire Nation when they first started their raids 60 or so years before. They were all taken from their homes and locked up, and she was the only one who was able to escape… somehow. She doesn’t want to talk about it.


Pictured: Hama breaking out of the Fire Nation prison.

Pictured: Hama breaking out of the Fire Nation prison.

OK, I know that the full moon thing is related to waterbending, and there are no werewolves in the ATLAverse (probably–don’t tell me if there aren’t, I want to keep the dream alive), but still.



Hama proceeds to play Katara–whom she knew from the start to be a waterbender–like a fiddle, offering to take her out in the woods and teach her about their shared heritage. Meanwhile, Aang, Toph, and Sokka head off to meet the one person who survived a full moon attack. He tells them he was possessed and made to walk towards a cave in the mountain, but then the sun came up and he was able to regain control over his body. Toph realizes that he screaming she thought she heard under the mountain earlier in the episode actually was people screaming under the mountain–OK, freaky–so they head off to rescue the missing villagers.

Meanwhile, Hama is quickly entering full-on horror movie villain mode, explaining to Katara that there’s water in all living things, and there’s even a super-cool form of bending one can do during the full moon, when one’s powers are at their highest.

Katara: “Uh…. but doesn’t an evil monster roam about during the full moon, or… ?”


evil kid smile

So. Yeah. MOTHER. FUCKING. BLOODBENDING. After decades of being imprisoned, Hama eventually figured out how to control the guard and escape. The flashback sequence is thoroughly disturbing. Katara is rightfully a little 0_0, but it’s only when Hama starts talking about how it’s their responsibility as the last two Southern Water Tribe waterbenders to to defeat the Fire Nation when and how they can–ie using it to kidnap and imprison random Fire Nation villagers–that Katara firmly enters the “Oh, fuck no” zone.

Hama bloodbends Katara, but all that does is piss her off. She cries tears of PURE, UNADULTERATED RAGE and uses the water to fight back. “You’re not the only one who draws power from the moon,” she says. “My bending is more powerful than yours, Hama. Your technique is useless on me!”


Then Sokka and Aang–who found the prisoners, figured out what was up with Hama, and went to find Katara–show up and promptly get puppetmastered by Hama into trying to kill Katara. She had the situation on lockdown before you showed up to be all rescue-y, dudes. Geez. Katara takes care of them by freezing them to trees

like a boss

…but then Hama makes them fight each other, leaving Katara with no other choice but to bloodbend Hama to make her stop.


Toph, who had been using her metalbending powers to release the prisoners from their shackles, shows up, and Hama gets taken away in chains. She has one more Evil Villain moment to go before the episode ends: congratulating Katara on her newfound status as a bloodbender, MWAHAHAHAHAHA.

diabolical laughter

OK, but… I completely understand Katara being upset, but she only did it once, because she had to. She’s not going to have to keep doing it. Being a bloodbender isn’t going to have any lasting effects… right?


I demand that the next episode be something fun, like 25 minutes of Zuko at the DMV.


4 thoughts on “Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: “The Puppetmaster”

  1. Dan says:

    I love these recaps. I selfishly wish you could do them faster because I want to say so much but won’t out of respect for the spoiler rule. I’ll just say I think you can see why this episode frequently appears on Top 10 lists within the fandom.

    About Katara’s breakdown: Katara is arguably the most moral and gentle of the group. She was the one most willing to help the Fire Nation villagers in The Painted Lady. For someone like that to be corrupted and now have the temptation of that power every month is something that shakes her to her core. She liked Hama and even saw a bit of herself in this old woman. She knows Hama has valid reasons for wanting to punish the Fire Nation. Ozai is just a generic evil character as was Zhou and Long Feng. Hama is really the first baddie in the franchise to have understandable reasons for what they do. If Katara doesn’t keep herself in check and didn’t have her brother or friends around her, she could very well go down a similar dark path.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Philippe says:

    I enjoy your reviews so much. I wonder how much better your reaction would have been, had it not been for the twitter interaction you had, hinting the bloodbending. Don’t worry about next episode. Without giving you any spoilers, I can tell you that the next episode and this are so different you’ll get mood whiplash. Ten and eleven are a two parter, so you should probably watch/review them together, as are fourteen and fifteen. The series finale is an epic four parter. A similar situation will happen a bit further near the end of the season. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you: in at least one of your reviews, you used a Legend of Korra gif. Have you watched that series? If not, could you make reviews about it as well? I’m certain they’d be just as enjoyable. If it interests you, there are a couple graphic novel trilogies about Avatar: the Last Airbender that take place after the end of the series. The first three are out, and a fourth one will be published this year. You could review those as well if you want.


  3. locuas642 says:

    The fact is, she still used Blodbending, a technique whose very nature is a violation of people’s own freedom. to use such a dark technique even once, even with the most justified motives, means there is always that fear in your mind that you will ever use it again. or worse, that each time it becomes easier.
    And to say “she will just not use it again” does not work, because it is impossible to tell that there will never happen something that will force her to do it just like she did here. To bloodbent even ONCE means Katara will forever have to live fighting with the temptation of using it again.


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