ATLA: S1 Ep4: The Warriors of Kyoshi

Last week I meant to discuss Episode 4, The Warriors of Kyoshi, at the same time as Ep3, but I found I had enough to write about Ep3 that I left Ep4 until this week. Which is a good thing, because I really adore this episode for three reasons and so have a lot to say about it.

A quick precis: Our heroes arrive on Kyoshi where Aang shows off for Katara to impress her and almost become a snack for a large sea creature (as yet unseen). They are captured by warriors who are, as it happens, girls–in part, one suspects, because an earlier Avatar came from Kyoshi and she was a woman. Sokka makes an ass of himself by predictably figuring he can beat them just because they are girls. Prince Zuko gets wind of where they are and attacks the village, and Aang has to deal with his guilt about how by sheltering him, the village suffered, just as anyone who aids him in times to come will be vulnerable to attack by the Fire Nation.

“Look what I brought to this place,” he says. I predict this thematic material will be delved into further as we move into the series. One might call it, the price of doing the right thing or the price of speaking up or the price of standing up. I need to note that Kyoshi had, before this, stayed out of the war and that, furthermore, no one seems to have any bending power at all, which means they have no special powers to deploy against the Fire Nation.

Rhi commented: “The uncle makes the angsty teen boy much more bearable.” There can never be enough Iroh love.

First: I adore the animation in this episode. The unagi (the giant eel) is gorgeous.

I would like to note the classic three part structure of the unagi’s plot. In its first appearance it does not appear but menaces from beneath the waves, while all you see is its fin. In its second appearance it rises out of the water quite gloriously, but threatens our hero. In its third appearance, our hero has figured out how to use it to drive away the ships of the Fire Nation.

I also love the look and clothing of the young women. Which brings me to my second point.

Second: Yes, of course, I am a sucker for Suki and the girls in this episode. Not the younger ones who giggle over Aang; that’s cute and no doubt germane to the larger plot arc of Aang, but as I have said before, at the moment I’m not hugely invested in Aang’s plot arc in a personal way. I don’t dislike him–far from it–but he’s not the character who interests me most although I’m perfectly happy to see that change in the future.

The message might be said to be a bit heavy handed in this episode–channeled through Sokka–but honestly, I do not think the message that girls can do things is one we need to worry about overemphasizing given that there remains so much sexism in the world and in the USA.

The warriors who ambush Aang, Katara, and Sokka are just, in Sokka’s words, “a bunch of girls.” To which Katara ably replies, “my brother’s just an idiot sometimes.”

Sokka is an idiot in this episode, as he has been sporadically in the first three. It seems to be his role, but glimpses of his other side appear at intervals by way of a slow introduction to the ongoing development I expect to see in him.

This episode is full of cheap, predictable humor mostly at Sokka’s expense, and I loved it all. Of course he comes to respect the girls (and Suki). Of course Suki says to him, “I am a warrior but I’m a girl too.” I might have wished they had used “and” instead of “but” since “but” suggests an opposition or reversal. Still, the important thing is that Sokka despite his stereotypical adolescent male tendencies IN FACT is a person who listens and is willing to change his mind and has a deep-seated sense of fairness and justice. Yes, these will matter later.


In order to be allowed to practice with the girls, Sokka agrees to dress as a girl. This is an unpredictably subversive message, and the writers give it a final flourish. “Girls, come quickly!” is a line directed at all of Suki’s group, which at that moment includes Sokka dressed as a girl. He protests, “I’m not a –” and then he realizes it doesn’t matter if he is mistaken for a girl.

It doesn’t matter. For this moment alone I love this episode. That it doesn’t matter to him goes so against the societal message that the worst thing that can happen to a boy is to be mistaken for or compared to a girl that I love the writers for this so very much I will watch the rest of the show no matter what. Just for that bit. Just for that bit.