Avatar: The Last Airbender “The Painted Lady” (part 2 of 2)
That night, Katara suits up again and heads to the factory. But this time, Aang wakes up and decides to ask the Painted Lady to help Appa. Needless to say, this puts Katara in a tricky spot, which leads to a nice, time-consuming chase scene. At least it has kind of a neat bit where Aang makes ice stepping stones to cross a lake.
Finally, he catches up to Katara, but the gag is extended even further as she tries to keep her face hidden and get away from him. God, we all know where this is going, so stop wasting our time! This goes on for a bit, until Aang is clearly just as sick of this as we are, and he does some airbending to blow her hat off.
Katara confesses to the whole thing, including how she fed Appa a bunch of berries to make his tongue purple. Apparently, Appa was acting sick all on his own. But Aang’s completely into this, so he joins her in taking out the factory. Damn, that whole scene really could have been tightened up.
They sneak into the factory and mess some shit up, and Aang has a big, dopey grin on his face the whole time. There’s a nice message for the kids: wanton property damage is fun!
When they get back to camp, Sokka and Toph are already awake, and have figured out the whole thing. Well, better late than never on learning how not to waste our time. Though the writers still can’t resist throwing another bad joke in, as Toph sticks out her purple tongue to demonstrate how they learned about that part.
Meanwhile, a tough-looking Fire Nation soldier stands over the ruins of the factory, and narrows his eyes at the village. This right here shows the episode’s major problem, besides being disposable filler. There are moments like this when it tries to counter the simplistic environmental messages you see on other kids’ shows, showing that solving pollution isn’t really that easy. But then, the episode will go right back to saying that Katara is right, end of story. It’s even more irritating than if it was just the usual Captain Planet-type nonsense.
Our heroes notice the soldiers heading for the village, and upon Katara telling him why, Sokka responds, “Did you even think this through? The army’s gonna blame the villagers. They’re headed there right now to get revenge!” Thanks for doing my job for me, Sokka, even if the episode doesn’t agree with you.
Katara replies, “No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me!” That line has become really popular in fanvids, even though the only way it works is if it’s completely removed from its context. She declares she’s going to the village to help, and Sokka says he’s coming too. Katara’s response? “You really do have a heart!” Yeah, not leaving you wallowing in the mess you made is pretty big of him, isn’t it? Aang gets emotional too, and Toph earns my eternal gratitude by punching him. See, stuff like this is why she’s my favorite character.
Back from commercial, the soldiers arrive at the village, and the leader of the soldiers confronts the villagers. And what do you know? Doc/Shu gets to do more of his schtick. Joy.
The soldiers wreck some of the village, just so we remember they’re the bad guys, and then Katara makes her big entrance as the Painted Lady, with Sokka, Toph, and Appa all pitching in by providing various weird sounds. Yeah, how could she ever have done this without you guys?
Aang makes a rather more concrete contribution by hiding under the docks and doing bits of airbending. In the process, he also clearly gets a nice look up Katara’s dress. I’m really not sure if that was deliberate, but it’s hilarious either way.
Katara wrecks some of the soldiers’ boats, and then everyone runs onto the remaining boats. The leader tries to fight some more, but quickly gets knocked into the river, and Katara tells him to never come back. The guy gets onto one of the boats and all the soldiers take off, undoubtedly to bring back plenty of reinforcements and make a grease spot of the village. Though, we’re probably not supposed to think about that. Yay, the environment was saved!
Sokka and Toph arrive in the village, just in time for Doc/Shu to recognize Katara. Everyone gets pretty angry, until Sokka steps in and says, “You should be down on your knees thanking her!” And there goes any of his good arguments against this whole thing, all in the name of keeping the message as simplistic as possible.
Katara herself says they can’t wait for someone else to help them anymore, which is a decent enough statement, until Toph gives them the idea to help themselves by cleaning up the river. Yeah, this one tiny village is going to clean up a huge river they can practically walk on.
Then comes the episode’s one decent joke, where Sokka quickly makes sure the village won’t tell anyone else about Katara being a waterbender, and then we get the big payoff to the multiple personality gag: Doc changes into a third brother named Bushi right in front of everyone, and still continues to deny he’s the same person. Yeah, not worth it in the slightest. And we’re given the reactions of Aang, Katara, and Sokka in full cartoony glory, which as always looks completely out of place on this show.
Oh, and by the way, according to the producers, the implication is supposed to be that Doc’s condition was caused by mercury poisoning from the polluted river. Two big problems with that: I never give credit for things that aren’t actually stated in a movie or show, and also, it makes playing the split personalities entirely for laughs in extremely poor taste.
There’s a brief montage of everyone cleaning up the river, and they actually make it completely crystal blue again in just one day. You know, you’re really doing more harm than good by giving kids the impression that this is even possible.
At night, Katara heads to the river’s edge where, and I hesitate to even describe this because it sounds like a joke, she meets the real Painted Lady. The Painted Lady simply says, “Thank you,” and floats away. So, she really does exist, and was just sitting on her ass the whole time and not even helping clean up? That really is the perfect note of incompetence to end this thing on.
Like the previous two episodes I recapped, “The Painted Lady” had the good fortune to be followed by a truly exceptional episode: “Sokka’s Master”, which featured important character development for Sokka, a great guest performance by Robert Patrick, and my favorite single shot of the whole series. I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just say it features Iroh standing still, because he doesn’t even need to be doing anything to make the image completely awesome.
Season three was luckily all up from here, with plenty more great character and plot developments, all the way to the big two-hour series finale. One particular plot thread was left unresolved, much to the fans’ annoyance (though the upcoming sequel series The Legend of Korra may finally address it), but it otherwise did a fantastic job at wrapping up everything that needed to be addressed, and giving every character an appropriate fate.
But then along came M. Night Shyamalan to ruin things for everyone, so you can all look forward to me unleashing my full rage on his cinematic abortion that dares to call itself The Last Airbender. Now that should be fun.