Tenzin must train the new Airbenders, but he is constantly frustrated at their lack of enthusiasm, Bumi especially.
In the beginning, The Legend of Korra established the only Airbenders left is Tenzin and his family. I assumed that would be all there was to it and that any future Airbenders would likely be the byproducts of future generation. How Book 3 handled the matter was a surge of brilliance, though. With the spirit gates left open, Airbending has returned. While it makes sense that the most spiritual of the bending styles received a benefit from Harmonic Convergence, I also like to think this is the world’s way of balancing out the new changes by reintroducing what was once lost.
“Original Airbenders” demonstrates the struggles of change when the Airbenders have to readjust to their new setting. Tenzin is left bedazzled that anyone wouldn’t be invested in his culture and Bumi isn’t helping any either. A part of me is getting sick of The Legend of Korra repeating the same lesson: Tenzin can’t provide an effective method to teach Airbending, people get agitated, and eventually so does he. The episode isn’t really doing anything new and the outcome is largely the same. It only feels refreshing because now Tenzin truly has more on his plate than merely training the Avatar.
Book 2 hinted that Aang pressured his youngest into embracing and spreading the Air Nomad ways. I don’t necessarily blame Aang for that, since his culture means a great deal to him. With another Airbender in his life, that sort of push is to be expected. This history explains why Tenzin is so serious about his lifestyle, and frustrated with those dismissive of it. Now that he has the chance to genuinely fulfill his father’s dreams, the stakes are much higher. Everything he’s learned and experienced has culminated to this point.
I love Bumi’s reluctance. Receiving Airbending powers likely boosted his ego, but he can’t get the hang of it. He complains he’s too old for this nonsense, and he has a point. You don’t spend half a century as a Non-Bender without realizing what you want or need in life. He probably did wish to be a Bender just so he wouldn’t feel inferior to the legacy his parents left behind, but Bumi also knows this is a thing he can’t just expect to live with so easily. “Original Airbenders” is telling us that we can learn and change, but some people aren’t going to do that as easily or quickly as others. Tenzin needs to be more like the wind and teach with flexibility. For that matter, Bumi may not always uphold the Airbending way, but he has his own way of doing things. I love that he uses his military tactics to get the other Airbenders to save Jinora and Kai. It works for him, so why fix what’s not broken?
There was a short scene in episode 2, “Leaf in the Wind” where a panicky Tenzin urges his kids to ease up once they hit their teenage years. Jinora stoically lowers her book and responds, “I will make no such promises.” Back then, it was a funny little side joke. Now, it’s hilarious in hindsight. Jinora is growing up and the mischievous Kai is prodding the girl to sneak out and live a little. Kai eventually asks why Jinora has yet to get her Airbending tattoos despite her skills. A child often sees their parent as an unquestionable force of authority at best and a frustrating insurmountable obstacle at worst. Only when they get older do they start to really see parents as people, too, instead of either of these things. So Jinora starts to question her father’s training methods now that she’s old enough to pick up on their shortcomings, and soon berates him for refusing to acknowledge her maturity. The Legend of Korra is good at showing both sides of the argument here: Jinora’s actions cause her to be kidnapped by Sky Bison rustlers and she’s humbled from the experience, while Tenzin realizes his eldest is growing up and promises to consider allowing her tattoos in the near future.
I think they’re doing a good job with Kai and his visible crush on Jinora. I was afraid that their puppy love would be shallow purely based on their age and Kai’s habit of lying and running off, but “Original Airbenders” shows how devoted he really is. He’s getting the hang of Airbending and is pretty content in his new life. He bonds with the baby Sky Bison easily and is upset when the poachers round them up to be sold. It’s also important that he, he refuses to run off when Jinora is in danger, instead risking his life for her and showing that he’s growing past his old selifhsness.
For the record, I also cringed when I saw the lead poacher wearing a baby Sky Bison hide. After 61 episodes in Avatar: The Last Airbender where we got to know and love Aang’s pet Sky Bison App, seeing that kind of display is nothing short of revolting.
“Original Airbenders” is a nice breather episode after several heavy-handed ones. Although Tenzin’s situation wanders into familiar territory, I like what they did with the rest of the cast – seriously, Meelo has a future in the armed forces. It’s a very cute and fluffy sort of episode, which is needed because I’m betting future episodes won’t be so kind.