In the second half of the series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang finally faces Fire Lord Ozai as Zuko decides to confront his sister Azula once and for all. OH GOD NEVER PREPARED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Avatar.
I feel pretty confident in stating that there’s probably no single episode of this show executed quite as well as the third chapter of “Sozin’s Comet.” Now that I’ve seen the entire run, I know why so many of you couldn’t answer the question posed in last Friday’s review. The best scene of the whole series was right here.
Sozin’s Comet has plunged so close to the earth that everything seems to be awash in the colors of brutality and doom. The colors that the animators chose for these final two parts are unlike anything we had seen from the show before. (Though the use of color motifs for storytelling was not new in and of itself, as both season one and season two had their own general color schemes working throughout the story.) On top of that, by showing numerous locations in the Avatar world as being affected by the comet in terms of color, it gives the entire story a much more grand sensation: everyone is about to go to war.
It’s a tough task to have to deal with so many characters spread all over the world, but the writers master this with a great deal of respect for the many stories we witness. Aang awaits for the Fire Lord. Zuko and Katara head for the Royal Palace to take the throne from Azula. Toph, Sokka, and Suki try to intercept the air fleet to prevent the annihilation of the Earth Kingdom. The Order of the White Lotus prepare to defend the Earth Kingdom from the inevitable Fire Nation attack. If the first half was the set-up for the final battle against the Fire Nation, then chapter three provides the horrifying, awe-struck delivery.
Out of everything that happens though (and there is so much going on, and it is all beautiful, and absolutely nothing hurts), I was shocked to discover that my emotional attention was drifting towards the one character I’d never thought I’d feel anything for: Azula. Newly chosen to be the Fire Lord in the wake of her father’s imperialistic desire to be king of the entire world, we suddenly see, more clear than ever before, that she is a product of her environment, that her upbringing enabled her to become who she was here in the end of this grandiose tale. I don’t want to suggest that Azula should not be held accountable for the horrific things she did over the course of seasons two and three, nor do I want to put forth the idea that a person’s history always absolves someone of their crimes. This issue is much too complicated for that sort of simplification.
As we watch Azula’s paranoia grow and she begins to banish the people around her, it was obvious to me that she’d almost been…created this way? There are so many signs in chapter three that Azula is not only experiencing a crisis of morals, but that she’s realized her past has essentially come to devour her. I suppose one scene in particular stands out to me. When Azula hallucinates her own mother telling her that she loved her, regardless of how she turned out, I realized that she was the inversion of Zuko. She lived her life with all of the validation and positive attention that she could ever have asked for. (Even if she got those things by force.)Â She worked for nothing. I used the word “enabled” up above because it was clear to me that her father did nothing but foster her quest for power and her penchant for violence. Whereas Zuko desired nothing but the validation of his father, it seems no one ever stepped in to tell Azula, “NO.”
I can’t even believe I’m saying this, given how hard it is for me to separate Azula’s portrayal from her resemblance to my own sister, but…I felt sorry for her. And I want to be honest about this because I really respect this show and the tremendous stories they have given us. I never thought I’d reach a day where I felt anything other than rage and intrigue. But as Azula continued to feed into her own paranoia, unraveling into a downward spiral of self-worth, I didn’t feel angry at her anymore. It was like I was viewing her through this very specific lens the entire run of her character, and all of a sudden, the writers pulled back to show us her entire life, and I stopped feeling so much hate for her.
I don’t know how that makes me feel about my sister, though I can’t deny that now I’m thinking about my relationship with her. The parallels, however, are undeniable: There was never anyone to stop my sister or deny her the things she wanted. And as she learned to use fear to manipulate the people around, it built up to a point where it actually became a disadvantage to her to have been brought up under these circumstances. But the pain she caused is too real and our history is too personal. It’s not as easy for me to think about her in the same way that I do Azula. In time, perhaps, but I can certainly say that this episode inspired thoughts in me that I have never had before.
But that’s what is truly great about this finale, and probably Avatar in general: a children’s animated television show that doesn’t shy away from fart and saliva jokes, has made me reconsider my relationship with my estranged sister. And this was on Nickelodeon. It’s not even the only thing I enjoyed or took away from this all. The simple fact is that the writers start to close up these character arcs in ways that are respectful to the past, but also manage to surprise and shock even this late in the game. I do have an emotional attachment to the stories being told, but at the same time, I don’t want to ignore the spectacular writing, or the beautiful animation.
Oh, the animation. There are so many scenes in these final two chapters of Avatar that are astounding in their detail and composition. I adore that Azula’s throne room is drenched in blues. I love the imagery of Iroh utilizing Sozin’s Comet to send a blast of fire at the walls of Ba Sing Se. (Maybe it’s the symmetry nerd in me, but I also enjoy how that scene is organized in terms of where everyone is standing.) I was filled with trepidation and awe when Sokka and company came upon the Fire Nation airships, since I could sense just how overwhelming the situation was.
Seriously, from that moment on, this episode explodes into total chaos. Aang’s the first one to make a move, blasting the flagship’s engine, and successfully grabs Fire Lord Ozai’s attention. And really, there is no better way for this battle to start than for the screen to erupt as Ozai and Aang’s power collide.
The thing is…as we see Iroh and the rest of the Order of the White Lotus begin to make a positive headway in Ba Sing Se, the other two fights have also started and I get the absolute worst feeling in my stomach: all of these fights cannot go well. We are witnessing the conclusion of the three main story lines Avatar has given us, with at least two of them rooted in the very beginning of the show. It seemed pretty clear that we were definitely going to see the inversion of Iroh’s original dream as he liberated Ba Sing Se instead of conquering it. But the writers chose to focus the bulk of the emotional weight on Zuko’s confrontation with Azula and Aang’s fight with Fire Lord Ozai.
I think I can accurately guess the exact scene that so many of you said you could not name when I asked what your favorite was of the entire series. Playing out simultaneously, Azula challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai, and Aang begins to discover that the Fire Lord might be a stronger match than he anticipated. In perhaps the most awe-inspiring and frightening scene in the entire show, the dialogue and sound drops out of this show, and the music swells to overtake everything, and our screen is filled with bursts of orange and bright blue fire from Zuko and Azula, both of them giving the fight of their lives, using bending techniques we had never seen before. Aang struggles with all four elements as the Fire Lord pursues him aggressively, and he discovers he can’t seem to land a single hit on the Fire Lord. Toph, Sokka, and Suki discover their own problems, too, as they’re unable to knock down the flagship in time. Sokka–brilliant, wonderful Sokka–risks his own life and those of his friends as he turns the airship he’s stolen against the very fleet that is now shooting columns of napalm-like fire at the earth below, trying to eradicate all life, and the ship plows violently into nearly all ofthe other flying bringers of death.
It is perfect.
And it is scary. Because it suddenly seems very obvious that for at least someone, this is going to end in disaster. Sokka, Suki, and Toph are forced to abandon their ship as it splits apart, and Suki is left behind, falling with the debris of a broken airship. Ozai sends a bolt of lightning towards Aang and watches in shock as Aang is able to momentarily absorb it. However, Aang is unable to commit to killing the man before him and sends the bolt into the sky, and Ozai resumes pummeling Aang, causing him to fall into a shallow lake below, nearly dying. The fight between Azula and Zuko reaches a frantic pitch and Zuko teases her when she makes a small slip-up, her resolve clearly crumbling. As she prepares a shot of lightning for Zuko, she spots an unprepared Katara behind her brother, and the action is clear. In a moment of pure sacrifice, Zuko dives heroically in front of Katara and takes the blue lightning himself.
Aang earth bends a shield of rock around him as the Fire Lord relishes the opportunity to hammer fire at the Avatar, using the comet’s power to shower him with heat. It seemed to me that we had reached the moment of truth at the end of chapter three: Someone was not going to make it.
That’s what makes chapter three, “Into The Inferno,” my absolute favorite out of the entire series. It’s gorgeously animated. The music has never been more intrinsic to the narrative. The stories have never had such a high risk. It is remarkably satisfying to see these characters interact in ways we’ve all been waiting for.
And for the first time in the whole series, I genuinely believed that any one of these characters were completely expendable.
We had seen Team Avatar fail. A lot, actually. And all things must come to an end. With just twenty-three minutes remaining in the entire show, the opening of the fourth chapter of the finale did not make me feel better. The fire has nearly broken through Aang’s rock and he sweats. There is not much time left. Meanwhile, Toph has metal bended the rudder of the ship she and Sokka are on, but it causes them to draw the attention of a group of fire benders and Toph falls and breaks his leg in the process. To my horror, Toph nearly slides off the ship and Sokka grabs her. And I thought this was it. I thought we were about to see the one death in the finale that would make any possible victory bittersweet, and it seemed all but confirmed when Sokka lost both his boomerang and his space sword and there was still one more soldier left. And nothing to help them.
AH EPISODE WHY DO YOU CUT AWAY DURING A MOMENT LIKE THIS? Oh, so we can watch Ozai nearly destroy Aang, causing Aang to hit a jagged rock right on the location of the scar that Azula gave him. No lie, I just got chills thinking about it again. As freaked out as I was by the imminent loss of Toph, when Aang’s hand reached out of the rubble and it was clear he was in the Avatar state, I yelped in joy. Just….oh my god, when Aang is able to summon all four elements to create that thing??? That sphere of air with rings of water, fire, and earth? JESUS CHRIST THAT WAS THE MOST AWESOME THING I COULD HAVE EVER HOPED FOR.
Here’s the thing: If any of the main characters in Avatar had died in the finale, I still would have enjoyed this show. It would have been a bold, sad move, and I would have respected it. I think, personally, that is a greater feat that the tables turn at this point in “Avatar Aang” in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy, forced, or mischaracterized. I think it was much more difficult to find a way to get Aang out of his predicament, for Toph to be saved, and for Katara to face Azula in the way that she did.
Actually, can we just talk about Azula and Katara? I found Katara’s emotional defense of Zuko to be a touching sign of how much she had grown to care about him, even more so than her desire to get revenge for what Azula had done to her and her friends. Not only had she forgiven him, but she felt compelled to come to his aid. And OH LORD, does she ever come to his aid. Even though her water bending attacks are not quick enough for Azula, whose anger continues to build every second, she has one advantage: being clever. Katara has always been a creative water bender. Azula has always been powerful. Sometimes power does not mean you always win, though, and in a moment of pure, imaginative desperation, Katara tricks Azula into walking over a set of grates with water underneath them, freezing both herself and Azula inside.
I previously considered “The Puppetmaster” to have the creepiest moment in the series, but I have to change my mind. I will forever be terrified by the image of a broken, powerless Azula, wailing as her now-healed brother and Katara look upon her. Thinking back on this entire series, she has the most depressing and tragic character arc, but I appreciate that the writers did not make her defeat a simple act of victory. As awful as Azula has been…I just feel sorry for her.
Of course, the real big moment that we’ve all been waiting for since “The Boy In The Iceberg” has been the confrontation between Aang and Fire Lord Ozai. It became clear that Aang had the advantage and I sort of didn’t expect anything short of victory. But I was more interested in how he would do that. Now that he’d gained the ability to enter the Avatar state again, he had the advantage over the Fire Lord. As he shackled him to the earth with bending and used all four elements to deliver the final blow, I did believe for a second that Aang might have gone through with the action. However, I’m satisfied that not only did he refuse to kill Ozai, he had finally found the way to end the Fire Lord’s reign without murdering him.
There’s no sense trying to say that I knew it was coming. By that point, I’d forgotten entirely about the lion turtle doing that weird green energy thing. (I swear that I can describe things better than that usually, but what the hell do you call it? Lion turtle telepathy?) So I sat slack-jawed as Aang uses ENERGY BENDING.
Just….how gorgeous was that scene? Well, gorgeous and completely horrifying. It was a choice that Aang made that presented just as big of a risk as killing someone (COULD YOU IMAGINE IF THE AVATAR HAD LOST HIS BENDING ABILITY) and came with the responsibility as well. But it’s simply something that was only a small, tiny, minuscule thought in the back of my mind: Could someone lose the ability to bend? I guess this answers it by showing us how it can be COMPLETELY TAKEN AWAY.
oh my god i love this show forever
Aside from one moment Â of cheesiness (which I will excuse because it is HOLY SHIT), I absolutely adore the way that the writers chose to end this epic series in a way to give so many characters a final end that’s satisfying, but never ignores their past. From Ty Lee joining the Kyoshi Warriors (THE MOST PERFECT THING EVER HOW DID I NEVER THINK OF THAT), to Mai rejoining Zuko, to Hakoda’s blessing of his children…good lord. It is written SO WELL, even if these moments are brief and fleeting.
But really, LET US TALK ABOUT FIRE LORD ZUKO. Oh my god, isn’t that the best sentence I have ever typed? Ugh, I just want to sob tears of joy when I think about Aang and Zuko’s conversation about how much the world has changed, and how much they’ll change it together. It’s a way for the writers to avoid saying that the world is MAGICALLY FIXED now that Ozai has no powers. There’s still work to do. But it’s also in utter contrast to the first episode, where we learn just how much this world is torn apart.
can i say that i love this show again. can i.
I’m also glad that this episode ends with a large dose of humor and a kiss that was long-awaited. It seems like the greatest honor to be drawn by Sokka (even crudely so), but I enjoyed the scene because it was a last representation of unity. Isn’t that what this is all about anyway? Again, it’s the polar opposite of where Avatar started out. In that sense, despite that it is a cheesy thing to end the whole show on, it’s a beautiful way to show that even on a micro scale, these people have come together in an everlasting way.
I’m certain there’s been no show I’ve done for Mark Watches that I’ve fallen in love with so quickly, and I’m also glad that this is the first television show I’ve seen to its utter intended completion. (I don’t count Firefly, since it was tragically cancelled.) This is a story about hope, bravery, and the fight against oppressive, violent powers who aim to homogenize the world around them. I adore that it is youthful. I adore that it featured an entire animated cast of people of color. I adore that it dealt with such difficult things in a medium that people unfortunately write off as something that can’t be serious, on a network that probably had never addressed some of these themes before.
But I must praise what shines brighter than anything: the writing. From Sokka’s warm humor, to Katara’s hopeful speeches, to Toph’s no-nonsense attitude, to Aang’s moral crises, to giving animals who can’t speak a full characterization, to respecting character development and giving us a reason to care about the people on the screen, Avatar explicitly respects its audience. And I love that.
Of course, I want to end this review properly: There are few characters in all of fiction better written than Zuko. And I will always cherish this show for giving us a villain to hate, making us feel sympathy for his tragic past, and then handing us a redemption that never feels cheap or pandering.
I am very happy and honored to be able to call myself a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- Oh, you’re just not going to tell us where Zuko’s mother is? FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
- How rad was that parallel during the battle with Ozai when Aang is standing on that pillar and it looks like Roku during the credits?
- I only cried once during this second half of the finale: When Toph started cried when she realized she was about to die. Oh god, in hindsight, if we had lost Toph? I PROBABLY WOULD NOT HAVE HEALED
- AANG. THOSE FIRE WHIPS. YOU ARE MY FAVORITE.
- AIRBENDING SLICE!
- Oh my god, the entire birthday sequence on the Fire Nation airship. I know it’s tonally jarring, but christ, it’s so perfect.
- “Have I ever mentioned how sweet it is you invented metalbending?” “You could stand to mention it more.” RIGHT.
- So, Mark Watches Avatar might be properly over at this point, but next week, I’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con and will be posting updates about the Avatar fan panel (OMG I WANT TO MEET AVATAR_MOM) and the Legend of Korra presentation. Additionally, when Legend of Korra airs next summer, I’ll resume reviewing the show in real time, the way I am currently reviewingÂ Doctor Who and Fringe.
This has been a pleasure–and I mean that–and I am so happy to have been able to host the Avatar fandom for the last three months. (To the very date!) You all have been utter sweethearts and I thank you for how well you all have treated me.
Tomorrow, I’ll put up my review of A Very Potter Sequel. I’m taking Thursday off to prepare for my panel at LeakyCon, which is Friday, July 15th, at 12:00pm. You should check it out if you’ll be there! I’ll also put up my review for Deathly Hallows Part II on Friday, and then we shall move on to a new series on Monday! EXCITING!
Additionally, I’ve released Mark Reads New Moon, the second ebook in the Mark Reads Twilight series. You should buy it! Merchandise is coming very soon as well. Basically, life is rather exciting right now.