- This article is about the episode. For other similar uses, see Northern Air Temple (disambiguation).
"You know what? I'm really glad you guys all live here now. It's like the hermit crab; maybe you weren't born here, but you found this empty shell and made it your home. And now you protect each other."
Aang discovers Earth Kingdom civilians have moved into one of the air temples, something he initially dislikes because one of the civilians, a mechanist, has overseen the destruction of most of the original temple in order to make room for new technological devices he has invented. Aang learns that the civilians are outcasts and that the mechanist is constantly threatened by the Fire Nation to provide them with new war machines. With help from Aang and his friends, they fend off the Fire Nation and save the temple. Aang changes his mind about the initial disapproval he expressed earlier, saying that he is now glad the colonists have made the temple their home.
Team Avatar sits around a campfire with a larger group of people, listening to a man tell a story. He speaks about a reclusive band of "air walkers", who laugh at gravity and those bound to the earth by it. The man finishes his story and goes around the group taking tips; Katara and Aang talk briefly about airbenders, while Sokka searches unsuccessfully for money with which to tip the storyteller. They are all under the impression that the story is an ancient tale about airbenders; however, when Aang mentions that the storyteller's source, his great-grandfather, must have heard the tale a hundred years previously, the storyteller replies that his great-grandfather saw the "air walkers" only a week before. Aang, Katara, and Sokka are all shocked by the allegation that a living group of airbenders exists.
Nearing the Northern Air Temple the next day, they discover a cluster of people flying around the temple itself. Initially, they appear to be airbenders, but Aang, looking closer, realizes to his disappointment that they are not airbenders, stating that he could tell that by the way they moved without spirit. His suspicions are confirmed by the appearance of a boy sitting in a glider; eager to prove himself to the glider-bound kid, Aang takes off on his own glider. Appa becomes swarmed by a mob of airborne children and Sokka directs the bison to land in the temple courtyard. Aang and the child on the glider engage in a sort of talent contest: Aang airbends himself across the side of a wall on an air scooter as his glider flies alongside him and the other kid, in response, uses a canister of smoke on his glider to create an image of Aang's face, its expression irked, in the sky, to which the watching crowd enthusiastically applauds. Landing, the boy, whose name is Teo, is revealed to be paraplegic; when Sokka excitedly compliments him on his glider, Teo responds, "You think this is good, wait until you see the other stuff my dad designed."
Teo shows the gang into a room of the temple; its walls are decorated by ancient murals, but they are mostly hidden by a tangle of pipes and machinery. Teo explains that the whole operation of the repurposed monastery is his father's idea and that all the machinery runs on hot air, powering everything in the temple, from the elevators to his own glider. While the progress-oriented Sokka is enthralled by the machines, Aang is not at all excited. He describes the modifications to the temple as "unbelievable"; when Teo goes as far as to say he thinks the changes are "great", Aang rejects it, reiterating his previous assertion in a monotone. Looking at another mural-covered wall intersected by numerous pipes, he tells Katara that the images represented the history of the Air Nomads. Few aspects of the temple remain untouched; a seemingly derelict fountain in a courtyard, its water green with algae, has been converted into an exhaust vent. The gang and Teo do happen upon a seemingly untouched room, only to have the statue, which is the room's centerpiece, destroyed before their eyes by Teo's father, the mechanist, who is making room for a bathhouse with a crane.
Aang, infuriated by the mechanist's callous destruction of his history for the sake of a paltry construct, hurls the crane over the cliff with airbending; when the mechanist reacts quizzically to hearing Aang claim that he knew the temple's original monks, Teo tells him that Aang is the Avatar. When Aang asks the man what right he has to the temple, the mechanist tells Aang his story. When Teo was very young, a flood destroyed his village and killed his wife, leaving Teo an invalid. Homeless and heartbroken, he searched for a place to begin his life anew and stumbled onto the abandoned temple. It was within the temple that he found images of airbenders on gliders, which inspired him to create his own gliders, which enabled his son to be, in his own words, "on equal ground" with others. He tells Aang that he is improving on what already existed, in the manner of nature; Aang counters that "nature knows where to stop." The mechanist acquiesces, and rushes off with Sokka to tend to his many duties.
Teo tries to console Aang over his loss by showing him the animals which still live within the temple, the descendants of those which lived there in Aang's time, and proceeds to show him the untouched entrance to the air temple's sanctuary. Curious, he asks Aang to open it, stating, "I've always wondered what it's like in there." To Teo's disappointment, Aang refuses, expressing his desire to preserve the last unadulterated piece of the temple. However, after a short flight in the sky around the temple, in which Katara is able to participate through the use of a glider, Aang changes his mind, agreeing to open the gate with airbending.
Meanwhile, Sokka is given a tour of the inner workings of the temple by the mechanist, who takes the warrior into a dark cavern deep below the foundations of the temple itself, explaining that they cannot use lanterns to light the passage because it is filled with natural gas; he tells Sokka that he inadvertently discovered it while holding a lit torch and nearly killed himself in the process, quipping "[I] thought my eyebrows would never grow back!". On occasion, he adds, gas leaks from the rock, allowing it to filter upward to the temple; his inability to detect the gas leaks is a problem which he has not been able to solve. While helping the mechanist with his duties a short while later, Sokka drops, among other things, a rotten hard-boiled egg, and the task of searching for it by following its stench gives the mechanist an idea: placing a number of rotten eggs in the gas-filled cavern will give the gas a smell, making any leaks easily detectable. At that moment, a bell rings on his desk; in a panic, he hurries out of the room with Sokka in tow.
The source of the ringing bell happens to be Aang, who has opened the door to the sanctuary. Upon doing so, he discovers, to his horror, that it is not untouched as he thought is was; the room is filled with numerous weapons and tools, among which are self-propelled tanks and a prototype hot air balloon, both of which bear the insignia of the Fire Nation. The mechanist arrives quickly and Aang and Teo berate him; outraged that he is creating weapons for the Fire Nation, they demand an explanation, which the mechanist reluctantly supplies. The Fire Nation, upon discovering the settlement, sought to destroy it; in order to preserve the lives and fortunes of the people who lived within the temple, the mechanist made a deal with War Minister Qin to spare it. They agreed to a compromise, in which the Earth Kingdom villagers could live in the temple given that the mechanist supply an array of weapons to the Fire Nation on a monthly basis.
After his speech, the mechanist leaves and goes to his study, where he studies a small prototype for a hot air balloon before being interrupted by Aang and Teo. Aang tells the mechanist he cannot continue supplying weapons to the Fire Nation, but the mechanist sees no other alternative, knowing there will be dire repercussions if he does so. Another bell rings on his desk and the mechanist orders Aang and Teo to leave; when they refuse, he acquiesces, telling them instead to hide, which they do. The mechanist pulls a rope and War Minister Qin rises up through the floor on an elevator, demanding the weapons he expects to receive. On the verge of compliance, the mechanist is cut off by Aang, who reveals himself by airbending the door shut, cornering the minister, and announcing that the deal is off. When Qin threatens to destroy the temple, Aang slaps him in the face with airbending. Enraged, Qin announces that the Avatar will be to blame for the destruction of the temple. As he disappears via the elevator, Aang forcefully slams the trapdoor shut behind him.
A short time later on a bridge in the temple, Teo, Sokka, and Katara express their concerns about Aang's decision to invite the Fire Nation military to attack the temple, but Aang tells them that, while the Fire Nation will be forced to attack from the ground, the people of the temple are capable of fighting back from the sky; Aang believes that this will give them an advantage. The mechanist approaches them and offers his services to them. He and Sokka perfect the design of the war balloon. They also explain that they have four types of bombs to use: smoke, slime, fire, and stink, to which the mechanist enthusiastically notes, "Never underestimate the power of stink!".
The Fire Nation forces arrive; soldiers march along the narrow mountain path leading upward, accompanied by grappling tanks designed to climb the steep cliffs below the temple. The assembled forces in the temple take flight against the advancing hordes as Aang accompanies them. Aang flips the tanks over repeatedly with airbending, but the cockpits of the flipped tanks right themselves, and he finds himself unable to beat them. Teo states that the tanks have a water balancing system, which inspires Katara to use waterbending to fight them; she is able to disable a few tanks, but the number of tanks proves to be overwhelming. Appa suddenly arrives, knocking all the tanks away and retrieving Aang and Katara from the battlefield. As the villagers run out of explosives, the war balloon, absent during the opening part of the battle, appears in the sky with the mechanist and Sokka at its helm. Seeing the Fire Nation emblem emblazoned on the balloon, the Fire Nation does not attack it, and Sokka uses the tactic to drop several slime bombs on the unaware army below. However, the aerial bombing does not stop the advance of the army.
As the balloon flies near a large chasm a short distance away from the temple, Sokka and the mechanist smell the pungent odor of the rotten eggs used to detect natural gas leaks. Realizing the damage a gas explosion could do to the tanks below and seeing that the balloon is out of bombs, Sokka detaches and throws the balloon's hot air engine into the crack. The explosion of the engine ignites the gas and the resulting explosion decimates the invaders, while Sokka and the mechanist are rescued by Aang. Deprived of power, the derelict balloon descends into the forest below. After the victory, Aang tells Teo that he is no longer upset by the changes made to the air temple; instead he feels happy that they have made the temple their own, and asks them to continue protecting it.
In the forest, Qin and his soldiers find the war balloon, damaged but mostly intact. As his soldiers attempt to inflate the balloon, Qin mutters, "This defeat is the gateway to many victories."
- Written by:
- Directed by:
- Also starring:
- Additional voices:
- Rene Auberjonois
- Dee Bradley Baker
- Jack DeSena
- Clyde Kusatsu (misspelled Kastatsu)
- Mae Whitman
- Main article: Transcript:The Northern Air Temple
- Main article: Transcript:The Northern Air Temple (commentary)
- Main article: Avatar Extras for Book One: Water
- On the desk in the mechanist's office are plans for the Fire Nation drill that was later employed in "The Drill".
- The captured war balloon is the prototype for the war balloons that were used by the Fire Nation in "The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse" and "Sozin's Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno".
- This episode marks the first appearance of the steampunk elements that will later become a substantial part of the series' story, as well as that of The Legend of Korra.
- When the mechanist is telling Aang of his settlement of the temple, Aang's staff looks like a regular stick.
- While the mechanist is talking about how he came up with the revised gliders, the fur lining on the bottom of Katara's coat is missing.
- When the mechanist tells the others that he is merely "improving on what is already here", Aang is seen standing behind him, holding his staff upright. However, in the next shot, when Katara uses the back of his robe to dry her eyes, Aang's staff is nowhere to be seen.
- When Teo first shows Aang and Katara the door to the Northern Air Temple sanctuary, all three tubes on the door are horizontally aligned, but when the door is shown seconds later, the two outer tubes are vertically aligned.
- Just before Katara takes off on her first flight, Teo is seen behind her, though his glider is not suited up for departure. However, in the next shot, he is soaring alongside Katara. In the shots after that, he is not gliding anymore, though still on the departing platform.
- When Aang and Teo confront the mechanist in his office, Teo's open-fingered gloves disappear and reappear several times.
- When War Minister Qin demands from the mechanist his monthly supply of weapons, Aang closes the door. In a short flash looking through Aang's legs, Qin's hair is disheveled, but in the next scene, his hair is normal. It becomes loose again after Aang uses airbending against him.
- When the gliders are lined up to take off and defend the temple, Katara can be seen standing in line behind Teo, prepared to take off as well. However, in the next shot, she is not there anymore, and when Teo is taken off, she is the one pushing his chair. During the battle itself, she is seen gliding again, though when Aang says to Teo that they need more slime and subsequently glide over to Appa who is carrying the supplies, Katara is standing in the bison's saddle, handing out the ammunition.
- In "The Southern Air Temple", Aang states that the only way to reach an Air Temple is on a flying bison, yet in this episode, the Fire Nation troops are able to walk right up the mountain, and would have reached the temple this way had it not been for the resistance.
- When Aang airbends the approaching tanks away, they land upside down, however, the Fire Nation insignia remains upright.
- A very old Nickelodeon website referred to this episode as "The Northern Air Temple (FKA The Gliders)", indicative of the title given at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con, where the creators showed animatics for this episode under the title of "The Gliders". In a draft phase of the episode's production, "The Gliders" was its working title.
- Sokka and the mechanist's idea of adding the scent of rotten eggs to the gas to identify the source of the leak is similar to the real world process of adding ethanethiol to otherwise odorless LPG to make it detectable for humans.
- Some cable TV providers, such as Comcast, used to accidentally list this episode as "The Southern Air Temple".