In the first half of the series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, both sides assemble for the oncoming battle against the Fire Nation. In the process, though, Aang disappears and some old friends show up to give their support. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Avatar.
I was fascinated that the opening minutes of “Sozin’s Comet” contained so much happiness, especially since there wouldn’t be much of it in the rest of the story to come. It’s both a sign of how unprepared Aang feels and the desire of the gang to enjoy what they had while it still lasted. It was also nice just to see them all interacting with so much happiness on their faces. I think I also knew, deep down, that this was the last time I’d get to see all four of these characters acting downright silly, enjoying watermelon juice, having a beach part, and laughing at Sokka’s interpretive art. It was one of those moments where I had to stop and acknowledge that this show and this wonderful experience was coming to an end.
Okay, I must also admit I was wondering WHAT THE HELL THESE CHARACTERS WERE DOING. The greatest fight of their lives was closing in, and they were building sand Appas? I’m certainly not a fan of over-preparing myself, but this seemed like the polar opposite of that. Sokka, the king of over-preparation and mass paranoia, even seemed disinterested in Zuko’s insistence that Aang needed to train more. That’s when Katara reveals a secret that sort of puts an interesting context on the last few episodes: They had all decided to wait until after Sozin’s Comet passed to attack the Fire Lord. Considering that the Fire Nation had pretty much “won” the war after taking Ba Sing Se, what else could they do while Aang was still not trained as well as he could be?
I guess it sort of makes sense, though it’s about taking failure in a different direction than they had in the past. We’d seen Team Avatar fail numerous times since the end of season two, so now it looked as if they were being preemptive about protecting themselves. And I get that! But….surely they didn’t think that Ozai would just do nothing when the comet passed by?
I suppose that’s a moot point to make; Zuko reveals why he is so upset with the stagnant nature of the group. To be frank, the desire to know what Zuko had witnessed in that first war meeting with his father had never crossed my mind. It didn’t seem like the show was hiding anything from us at the time; it just seemed natural that the scene wasn’t shown to us. The story of Zuko’s unhappiness was more important than the details of a war meeting.
LOL NOPE NOT AT ALL. For Zuko reveals that in that very meeting, he inadvertently gave his father the idea that the only way to crush the Earth Kingdom’s rebellious nature was to exterminate them. It was immediately apparent to me what the writers would do: parallel this with the genocide on the Air Nomads. It’s almost the exact same situation: Ozai would use the same comet his grandfather did to wipe out an entire nation. jesus christ. Yet even knowing that this is what Ozai has planned, the writers do such a fantastic job dealing with the horrific moral quandary that Aang has now been thrust into.
We know that Aang prefers to use violence as a last resort, that he prefers being clever and witty (UM IS AANG THE DOCTOR WTF), but we also know that Zuko is probably right. There doesn’t seem to be any option left: Aang will have to kill the Fire Lord in order to stop him from eliminating every remaining Earth Kingdom citizen. It is touching, though, that Aang’s friends are quick to offer their support, to assure Aang that he won’t be alone in this mission. Seriously, what are friends for? Oh, right. Group hugs. Ugh, this show is slowly destroying my heart. I know we’ve already dealt with Katara’s anger at Zuko, but seeing her invite him into the Great Team Avatar Friendship Hug was wonderful.
And so the group, led by Zuko, begins to run Aang through a series of training exercises. Even if they only have three days to prepare, they’re certainly not going to waste what they do have. Zuko teaches Aang the ability to pass lightning through his body, warning how fatal it could be. When Aang jokes that Katara could just heal him afterwards, Katara sheepishly reveals that she used all of the spirit water on Aang the last time. WELL. SHIT. I’d been feeling that the training was going well, but from that moment on, everything just feels wrong. The writers wouldn’t include that detail without building off of it, and they use it to imbue the story with the reality of death: Either Aang or Fire Lord Ozai is going to die at the end of this.
That’s what makes this finale so spectacular, though: Aang refuses to believe this is the only choice he has before him. It’s a reluctant refusal at first, though. Because he must face the mighty Melon Lord before Ozai, and the Melon Lord is a valiant and frightening adversary. I bow before the Melon Lord. But it highlights the bizarre nature of what Aang is dealing with: His entire culture taught him all life was sacred, so much so that even slicing the head off of a melon dummy is too much for him.
Even later, when Katara finds a picture of Lord Ozai as a child and Zuko laments that the cute child grew up into a horrific person, Aang is still resistant. Even if Lord Ozai was responsible for the most heinous crimes imaginable, does that negate his right to life? (I know it wasn’t intended, but there’s a neatly coded criticism of the death penalty here.) Of course, everyone else doesn’t see the problem because they’re not the ones who have to kill another person. Well…I do get why Zuko doesn’t care. He doesn’t love his father, and the sooner the man has no chance of ever ruining his life again, he’ll have closure. Even then, the point still stands: Aang is the one who is supposed to take another life. Frustrated and confused, he storms away from the group, determined to figure this out on his own.
I think in hindsight, it was easy to assume that, upon meditating, Aang had somehow contacted someone or something in the Spirit World, and when the strange island appeared in the night, I figured that we’d be given some crucial information from other spirits (and maybe the past Avatars) about what Aang could do instead of killing Lord Ozai. So Aang and Momo head to this tiny, bizarre island, telling no one where they are. WHICH IS A GOOD PLAN, YES?
Regardless, Aang “disappears,” sending his friends into a panic about where he could be. It’s even pointed out that my own idea about Aang being in the Spirit World is impossible: He didn’t leave his body behind and Momo is gone as well. WELL, THIS IS INTERESTING. And who knew that there would come a day when Team Avatar would willingly ask Zuko to track down Aang? Oh, I love this show so much, and the way that it inverts things like this.
It was great to see June again, even if it was only a brief flash at the end of the first part, but the whole time, I couldn’t figure out why this chapter was called “The Phoenix King.” The writers were cleverly saving that for the end, as we switch over to the Royal Plaza, where Ozai is ready to depart to the Airship Base to begin his journey to the Earth Kingdom. I can’t lie: I was unbelievably shocked when Ozai told Azula to stay behind. It made no sense to me at first. But as he explained that he only trusted her to watch over the Royal Palace while he was gone, I sort of felt that he wasn’t stating the other reason: He thought she was a bit too much, which was clearly demonstrated by her resistance towards obeying her own father and pitching a whine fest. However, even if that’s the case, he still enables her to act out her hideous form of rule: He makes her the new Fire Lord, and then proclaims himself the Phoenix King, ruler of the entire world. Part of me thought that it was kind of sad that Azula’s new position was sort of meaningless under her father’s new role, but I was also worried at what Azula would do with her new power.
It couldn’t be good.
Well, Aang doesn’t exist anymore. How the hell is that possible?
The reintroduction of June into the story was done well, especially since it’s clear that she has no particular allegiance to anyone but herself and her Shirshu, Nyla. (Plus, given what happens at the walls of Ba Sing Se later, the group didn’t really need another person joining their group.) Aside from using her to establish that Aang was somewhere quite unique, it’s also remarkably effective at injecting this all with an air of surrealism. You can even see the slight shock on June’s face, as I’m sure this has never happened before. Which, of course, leads us to one question: Where is Aang?
As Zuko gives June an old sandal to June to track down the only other person who might be able to help him if Aang does not return (IROH IROH IROH IROH!!!), we flash over to Aang, who is just as confused as we are as to where he is. He’s no longer near the beach he left; in fact, he’s in the middle of the ocean. Ok, so it moves? How is that possible? IS THIS SHOW TURNING INTO LOST. Well, it’s definitely nothing to do with the Spirit World, so Aang figures he should head to the highest point on the island to get a better look at where he might be.
I love that the writers decide to switch back and forth between both Aang and the rest of Team Avatar making surprising discoveries at nearly the same time. Aang discovers a bizarre hexagon made up of a material that is impossible to bend. Which…even in hindsight, I can’t recall if this is ever explained. Simultaneous to this, June’s Shirshu brings Team Avatar to the walls of Ba Sing Se. My first thought was that Iroh had returned to the same tea shop that he had spent time in with Zuko, but that thought immediately made no sense once I remembered that Ba Sing Se had fallen. You know, that huge plot point. Instead, it appeared at first that they’d all walked right into a trap. After setting up camp that night before heading into the city, they are all woken up when they are immediately surrounded by fire. GREAT THEY JUST TURNED THEMSELVES INTO THE FIRE NATION, I thought. Except…doesn’t that guy look familiar? Wait….KING BUMI??? WHAT??? Oh, how fantastic was this reunion? All four masters we’d come across in this show–Jeong Jeong, Piandao, Pakku, and Bumi–have all come to help Team Avatar. Oh, right. Because they belong to the ORDER OF THE WHITE LOTUS.
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I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.
And as joyous as this was, I couldn’t help but notice how tonally contrasting Aang’s experience on his magical island was when you put the two side by side. As Team Avatar are reunited with their own masters and the idea of a Zuko/Iroh reunion looms before us, Aang is reunited with Avatar Roku in the hopes of attaining wisdom regarding the difficult path ahead of him. Surprisingly, Roku also has no idea where they are. That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?
If I’m going to talk about what feels comforting, then it must be said that it was a pretty bold move on the part of the writers to have every single incarnation of past Avatars that Aang calls forth advise him to kill Fire Lord Ozai. Roku admits that his careless nature in dealing with his friend Sozin is what caused the war in the first place, so he urges Aang to be “decisive.” Even worse, Aang then summons Avatar Kyoshi and even tries to reason with her, saying that Chin’s death was merely incidental. She disagrees, stating she would have killed him anyway if it had been necessary. She says something fascinating: “Only justice will bring peace.” Part of what justice is involves closure. How can Aang bring closure to this war and to the events that have torn apart the lives in his world if the Fire Lord is still around?
What a difficult situation. The writers never poke fun at it, and I’m glad it’s written so seriously. This is a heavy topic to deal with on a kids show, and they don’t take it lightly at all. Still, Aang is no closer to discovering another method of winning the war than he was before, and we finally get to meet other past Avatars besides Kyoshi and Roku. Aang summons the spirit of Kuruk, the most recent water bending Avatar. And it seems that Aang may have found his answer: Kuruk lived in a time of love and prosperity. However, much to Aang’s dismay, the man’s laziness was his ultimate demise. We finally get to see what Koh meant when he told Aang that he had stolen the face of the lover of one of his past lives, and the message is clear: Without taking a stance in the world, other forces shape your destiny.
Well, he’s 0 – 3. That’s….reassuring?
Back with Team Avatar, the group is brought into the White Lotus camp while Bumi recounts how he finally escaped from the Fire Nation at Omashu. (Oh god, I love Bumi so much.) There’s a lot going on in this chapter of the final episode, but when Zuko was taken to his uncle’s tent, I knew we were about to witness the one moment I was looking forward to. Even thinking about it now, I do feel a wave of emotions washing over me, and the image of Zuko sitting out side his uncles tent, unsure if the man who has been the best father he could ever want, will be willing to forgive him.
Dante Bosco gives his best voice performance in the entire series’ run in this chapter. If you re-watch Zuko’s apology again, it’s obvious that you can hear how Dante’s voice changed. We had never heard Zuko like this. His voice cracks and rises in volume, and he speaks as if he’s got a lump of shame and terror in the back of his throat. I was terrified, too, that Iroh had finally lost patience in his nephew, but before Zuko could even ask how to redeem himself in his uncle’s eyes, Iroh throws himself upon his nephew, tears freely falling from his eyes, because he had already forgiven Zuko. Ugh, I just had to stop for a second because my eyes started watering again. I am pressed to think of a more rich, detailed, and emotional character journey than that of Zuko, and if you think back to his first moments way back at the beginning, he’s an entirely different person than he was before. What’s great about that is that the writers have never made his story seem artificial and cheap. This has been a natural (if incredibly difficult journey) for the boy who once devoted his life to capturing the boy in the iceberg.
IT JUST MAKES ME HAPPY, OKAY? NO JUDGING ALLOWED.
I wish I could say that Aang’s journey was suddenly this easy, but when he manages to summon the last air bending Avatar, it’s now clear that Aang has a horrific decision ahead of him. Avatar Yangchen agrees that Aang has the right idea about the world, that all life is sacred, but that Aang’s role as an Air Nomad must be put aside to satisfy his duty as an Avatar. Contradicting what Guru Pathik told Aang, Yangchen reveals that the Avatar must remain attached to the world, since they would be destined to protect it.
And thus, Aang knows he only has one option left: He must kill Fire Lord Ozai.
“Sozin’s Comet” moves straight into the surreal and the terrifying in the final minutes of the second chapter. Still assuming that Aang might not come back, Zuko asks Iroh to join them in defeating the Fire Lord. It’s interesting thinking both about what Iroh tells Zuko and what the group decides to do having seen the full episode, too. Iroh refuses to fight his own brother, stating that it’s best for the Avatar to follow his destiny, rather than for him to follow in a long line of sibling violence and scrambles for power. While it’s certainly great to hear Iroh praise his nephew and urge him to take the throne as the next Fire Lord (!!!!!), I was totally fascinated when I realized how much this whole group had planned without Aang. Of course, they all hope that Aang will return in time to fight Ozai, but I never expected that in the finale, they would be split up in the way they do here. Aang is off on some mysterious island, Zuko and Katara are off to fight Azula, and Toph, Sokka, and Suki are planning on going after Ozai’s airships. When does splitting up ever work out? Ok, sometimes it does, but I didn’t really have the greatest feeling about it, and Aang’s disappearance was probably all a part of that. They had to come up with new plans in the spur of the moment. What if they didn’t work out? What if some other variable caused another failure?
At the very least, though, I was relieved to discover that Aang was not stuck out in the middle of the ocean anymore. That moving island? It’s not really an island. I can’t even recall when it was first mentioned, but the writers saved the appearance of the very first Lion Turtle until the end of the series. And holy shit, it is a million times bigger than I could have possibly imagined. I don’t know if lion turtles are known to be wise animals due to their age or if Aang was just desperate, but he asks the turtle for its wisdom regarding Fire Lord Ozai.
I certainly did not understand what the lion turtle was talking about, and I definitely had no clue why Aang lit up in an emerald blast of light when the lion turtle touched him, but Aang seemed so content and pleased to receive the creature’s wisdom. But what wisdom did he give Aang?
As Aang departs from the lion turtle with Momo, it’s apparent that the time for war has come. From here on out, as Sozin’s Comet suddenly arrives, the sky is painted blood red: a sign of violence. Aang waits on a cylindrical crag as the Fire Lord begins his journey to eradicate the Earth Kingdom.
Shit is gonna get real, y’all.
- Toph’s field trip was the worst. Poor Toph!
- HOW AWESOME WAS THE RETURN OF THE CHANT.
- I thought it looked like Suki.
- Does June always throw men into tables?
- I’m sorry, that had to be a Captain Planet reference, right?
- “I AM MELON LORD.”
- I may–may–declare Sokka’s belief that Appa ate Momo and Aang as the best joke in the series. Good god, that was so perfect.
- PAKKU IS NOW KATARA AND SOKKA’S GRANDFATHER! Granpakku!!!
- “So what about you guys? Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse?” “Nah.” “No, not really.” LOL INDEED.
- “All old people know each other. Don’t you know that?” Bumi, you are perfect.