Avatar: The Last Airbender is the Nickelodeon TV show that has taken the world by storm more than once thanks to its arrival on Netflix back in May 2020, when it began reaching a whole new audience more than a decade after its original run from 2005-2008. While the Avatar universe is named for a hero who can master all four elements and packed full of benders skilled in water, air, earth, and fire, there are also some notable main characters with no bending abilities at all, and none more notable than Sokka, voiced by Jack DeSena. The actor spoke with CinemaBlend and shared his feelings about Sokka never having bending abilities.
It was clear from the very first episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender that, as far as anybody knew, Katara was the only one in the family born with bending abilities, and there was never a reveal that Sokka had suppressed bending abilities all along, and no energybending to grant him some bending abilities. And there were no radioactive saber-tooth moose lion cubs to give him powers with a bite, a la Spiderman. Nevertheless, he was an essential part of Team Avatar, and Jack DeSena opened up ahead of his upcoming appearance on the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast about how he feels with Sokka as a non-bender:
Yeah, I mean, I love that they built that perspective into the world. It helps you feel how exceptional these other characters are and how meaningful it is to have these like magical beings in the world when you have a constant presence of, you know, the quote unquote more 'regular ordinary run-of-the-mill dude' who's trying to get by on his wits alone. So I think Sokka's presence adds a relatability that makes Aang and Katara and Zuko and Toph feel even more special when you understand the import of these characters. And it was a lovely source of comedy and genuine depth. I love how much they explored Sokka's feelings of inadequacy and feeling left out. And where does he belong? And what does he bring to the table? I think they made fantastic use of his status as the non-bender in the group.
Sokka's status as a non-bender did open him up to deliver a lot of the physical comedy of the series, but he also definitely wasn't just comic relief, especially as the seasons passed and the stakes of Team Avatar's journey began to get exponentially higher. As somebody who could never just rely on the elements for offense or defense, he was the thinker and strategist of the group, and as essential to their eventual victory as any of the others in his own way. When I commented that Sokka being the non-bender in a group of bending heroes kind of made him the Batman of the group, Jack DeSena responded:
[laughs] He would love to think so!
Okay, so maybe Sokka isn't exactly interchangeable with the brooding Dark Knight of DC Comics history, but Team Avatar isn't exactly the Justice League, and Avatar: The Last Airbender was unlike anything that had come to television before. Even now, more than 15 years after the series originally premiered on Nickelodeon, the only series that can hold equal ground with The Last Airbender is its own sequel show, The Legend of Korra.
And as much as all the benders might have viewers debating what kind of element they'd want to master, Sokka is a valuable example of a person becoming a hero without some of the natural advantages that others had. Jack DeSena weighed in on whether he thinks it's important for viewers to have Sokka as an example in that core group of heroes:
Yeah, I do! I think he's an important balancing figure. I mean, it's something I've certainly, you know, when having the chance to connect with fans of the show, it's something that I think a lot of people have connected with. And something I love talking about is that idea of like, I think it's very, very relatable to being in a group of friends or to, you know, get to high school, or get to college, or get to a new job and look around and go like, 'Wow, everyone else here is more special than me. And I'm just like some guy, and how did I end up here? And what do I bring to the table?' And I think Sokka is a lovely example of digging down into what makes you special, even when you don't feel like it. And you know, for him, it's wits, and leadership and being a supportive team member. And I think those things are beautiful qualities. And finding that way to feel special when you don't, is I think a lovely thing for viewers of any age to connect to.
Sokka certainly had some remarkable tools at his disposal at times during the series, like his "space sword," but even that was something he had to work very hard to get rather than anything he was born with. And even though he wasn't a perfect example from start to finish, nobody on Avatar: The Last Airbender was. And would the show have been as much fun if none of them had the space to grow?
Jack DeSena was an important piece of the Avatar: The Last AIrbender puzzle from the very first episode, and fans can hear more from him about playing Sokka and the show as a whole with his appearance in the next episode of the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast, hosted by The Last Airbender's Dante Basco and Legend of Korra's Janet Varney.
Be sure to check out Avatar: Braving the Elements for Jack DeSena's episode, as well as all the others so far as Dante Basco and Janet Varney guide viewers through a Last Airbender rewatch and host special guests from the franchise. For a rewatch of your own, you can find the full series of Avatar: The Last Airbender (as well as Legend of Korra) streaming on both Netflix and Paramount+. If you're in the market for some additional viewing options now and in the coming weeks, check out our 2021 summer TV premiere schedule for what to watch and when to tune in.