I said before that Sokka is a better character than he usually appears to be, and this episode here goes a long way to prove it. He doesn’t just learn here. He ostensibly saves the day.
During a brief stop to rest, Momo gets caught in some Fire Nation traps, and after setting him and two other captured animals free, Sokka (calling himself the leader of the group) claims his instincts (which already have gotten him mocked) suggest that walking for a period might be safer since people keep seeing Appa flying through the air, allowing people to track them. That said, walking is hard and slow, and the group walks into a Fire Nation camp anyway.
Fortunately, they’re saved by a group of teens led by the charismatic Jet. And these guys remind me of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, right down to their treehouse headquarters. The bunch of them do make Sokka look a little bad, but Katara and Aang take right to them. Katara’s ardor might be a little hormonal, and Aang is still a kid, but is it really jealousy that puts Sokka off from Jet? That would be how many shows like this would go.
Granted, they also often go the same way the episode actually does go, but that’s neither here nor there. See, Jet tries his charms on Sokka, taking Sokka out on an ambush against a Fire Nation agent. And…it turns out to be an old man by himself. Jet attacks anyway, and the only thing that saves the old man is Sokka pointing out that he’s and old man. And then Jet lies to Katara and Aang about how dangerous the old man really was.
Naturally, those two are used to Sokka being stupid, so they disregard their traveling companion. But really, Sokka is observant, and he quickly notices that Jet’s next plan is to blow up a dam to flood a village, killing everyone there, to stop the Fire Nation agents there. Except it’s a mixed group of Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom people, and none of them are all that dangerous. Sokka gets caught, but he knows the real plan, especially as it involves Katara and Aang’s unwitting assistance.
And here’s where the episode works out well. Katara and Aang do catch on, and the pair work together to subdue Jet, but the dam still explodes. Sokka did not stop the dam’s destruction. The village floods, and we see a little girl’s doll floating away. Did the show go there?
No. Sokka did save the day. He knew he couldn’t stop the bombs, so he flew ahead on Appa and got the village evacuated instead, and the only reason that worked was the old man down there vouched for him. Heck, a little girl finds and rescues her doll as it floats by. No one got hurt. Jet’s plans were ruined because Sokka is not just an idiot. He’s full of himself quite a bit, but he’s observant and brave. If anything, he’s the pragmatist in the group that is needed to work with the idealistic Katara and the immature Aang. He’ll make a fool of himself quite a bit, but he’s more than that, and episodes like this show us why.