This episode is pretty shaky. So shaky it almost borders on bad. Almost. The main problem with this episode is its pacing. Other than that, it's a fine episode that adds great minor characters, has some action, and more relationship building between the protagonists (and I don't mean Kataang or Zutara or anything like that, just plain old social connection).
The episode starts out with Katara wanting to teach Aang what she knows of waterbending so that he can get a head start before they reach the north pole. Except that Aang turns out to be, not quite understandably, extremely talented at picking up waterbending. As a result, Katara is, quite understandably, not too happy about this.
After finding an excuse to go to town, the gang is wooed into a shop by a pirate. The portrayal of said pirate reminded me very much of anime, and is pulled off quite well. Even though they don't quite fit the far eastern setting, they are not western pirates, and plus, the guy's voice is quite funny.
On board the ship Katara finds a waterbending scroll, and desperate to prove her worth that she should be a better waterbender than Aang, she steals it, resulting in a quick chase scene involving our favorite cabbage merchant. Even though Sokka and Aang are surprised of her theft, her actions are made quite clear to the viewer, even though she steals the scroll off screen.
Of course, Zuko and Uncle Iroh get added to the mix, and soon enough, you have them create a deal of mutual benefit with the pirates. Of course, this goes horribly wrong, and the rest of the episode sort of becomes a fuzzy mix of strangely ridiculous action, Katara and Aang waterbending, and destroyed boats.
As I've said, the pacing is the big weak point of this episode. The ending has rushed fighting scenes juxtaposed with calm waterbending, and there is no real climax. It just sort of ... ends. It's a good episode that suffers from a weak second half. It does add to the story, and has some funny moments, but I doubt I would truly watch it several times like I do some other episodes.
Episodes like this upset me. This episode is exactly what most people expect of a show like Avatar, and nothing more. As usual, the animation of Avatar is a rung above the typical children's animation fare, but unlike many other episodes there are few moments where it is truly gorgeous. Only the animation and Mako's scene stealing performances as Uncle Iroh save this episode from a C. Avatar is show that's capable of so much, and this episode does not deliver.
The episode begins where the last episode left off. After his encounter with the Avatar Roku, Aang is once again traveling atop the back of his flying bison towards the north pole. He reveals to his friends the critical plot point for the following three seasons he learned the previous episode. Aang's mastery of the four elements is now working on a fast-approaching deadline, and he is still weeks away from the north pole and a waterbending master capable of training him.
The episode takes a logical direction from here. Katara offers to at least help catch Aang up on what she knows about waterbending on their way to the north pole, and Aang lands Appa on the shore of a lake beneath a waterfall to take her up on that offer. These opening minutes could have served as the beginning of another great episode of Avatar. Unfortunately, they do not.
Everything that happens next is tangential. With the exception of the introduction of a few characters who will be back for a small cameo in several episodes, you could skip the rest of this episode without affecting your viewing experience for the rest of the season. Katara has a jealous streak when Aang learns waterbending forms in a matter of seconds that took her months. A series of unforeseeable coincidences arising from Katara's jealously lead Zuko, Iroh, and a bevy of pirates straight to her, Sokka, and Aang. Once again, Aang is captured with marvelous ease. You would think it would be a bit tougher to capture an airbending master. In the previous episode Aang shattered a boulder larger than he was with his staff, and now he can't even tear through a net. This is just one more in the long list of contrivances in this episode.
The episode concludes with madcap fight scene between Aang, his Fire Nation adversaries, and a group of stereotypically portrayed pirates who lack the show's typical Far Eastern flair. The fight scene is more amusing than anything else, unlike many of the more interesting and well choreographed fight scenes in the previous episodes of the show. Ultimately, Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Momo, escape on Appa's back. This is all completely irrelevant. The water bending scroll that is this episodes McGuffin, which I have not even mentioned in this review is entirely unimportant. It, like everything following the first three minutes of this episode, is entirely irrelevant to the rest of the series.
The only exception is the pirates, who play a small role later on in the series. Of course, any one could have played that role. The pirates are without a doubt the least original characters in this entire show. They are not funny or even interesting. Watching them fight pales in comparison to any of the other fight scenes throughout the series. They serve no purpose, and that could be said about the last twenty minutes of this episode as well.