Welcome back to the Multiversity Summer TV Binge! This year I’ll be reviewing the third and final season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. My reviews of the first season rekindled my love for the show, and I watched the entire series an additional few times between my write-ups of seasons one and two. Now, though, this will be my first time watching the show in 9 months — which I’m excited about, as that was the length of the hiatus between the original airing of seasons 2 and 3.
All that said, let’s dig in!
1. We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore
The choice of shots in the first minute of the episode almost feel like a fever dream. First thing we see, our boy Aang’s got hair? Suddenly, we see that he’s in a Fire Nation ship? Where have all his friends gone? Wait, is that Momo??
It thoroughly throws us off balance, shaking up the status quo in a way we’ve never seen before. The show has always been about traveling across the world on this giant quest, so while the storytelling dynamics still stay the same, the sudden shift in the world and cast make us feel like we’re experiencing something truly new.
2. It’s Been a While…
Much of this episode is about establishing what has happened in the weeks since the last episode. On the storytelling side of things, we have a few nice devices to help us out. Aang has been in a coma since we saw him get shot by Azula’s lightning, which means he becomes the audience surrogate as we get brought up-to-speed. Over on the Fire Nation side, there’s a large Nazi-like gathering where Lo and Li announce to their legions all that has transpired. This latter device is less effective for me since it’s a shouted speech, though the visuals that accompany the speech are all beautiful in their own way; the shots of the Dai Li tearing down the Great Wall of Ba Sing Se are particularly striking. Beyond the large world-scale updates, the smaller character beats are given in the usual understated-yet-effective way, like showing Zuko and Mai kiss or having Sokka explain his new battle strategies while giving Aang his world updates.
Since the episode acts to catch everyone up on the new status quo, the single-episode story isn’t very strong, which means the few action scenes feel a little forced (no matter how well-directed). Because of this, I consider this episode one of the weaker single entries of the series — not a bad episode in the grand scheme of things, just not a great isolated experience.
3. Katara’s (Justified) Moodiness
This subplot always felt underdeveloped to me, though it’s difficult to imagine how it could have played out any other way. For a kid whose father left her at a young age, even if his reasons for leaving were to fight to protect his kids’ future, Katara’s anger and confusion are completely justified. They’re natural emotions, and there’s no way the show could have skirted around them. Still, the whole storyline takes up only a few short scenes, first with Katara being pretty harsh towards her father (which admittedly isn’t completely out of line for a teenager), and later falling into his arms as they express their angst about this impossible situation. It’s very short for something that had been built up over the prior 40 episodes, yet at the same time, dragging it out any further would have descended into a type of melodrama that the show has always avoided. I guess it was one of those “we have to address it, but we can’t spend too long on it” things, and an angsty reconciliation does the job.
4. Aang and Zuko Parallels
Towards the end of the second act, Aang says that he has to regain his honor, after which the shot of his face on the right side of the screen fades into a shot of Zuko’s face on the left side of the screen. This visual metaphor pushes forward the idea we’ve been establishing since season two that the two characters are on separate but parallel paths.
Interestingly for this episode, Aang’s path is about trying to regain an honor that he never really lost — this defeat is simply a lost battle, not a lost war — while Zuko’s path is about finally regaining an honor that he never should have searched for. They’re both a fool’s errand, but for different reasons. By the end of the episode, Aang realizes that this is simply a roadblock in his journey, and he’ll be able to move on with a different path. Zuko, on the other hand, accepts the honor his father bestows upon him — without realizing he’s being manipulated. Where Aang uses the experience to move forward, Zuko’s choices have him descending further into a place he doesn’t want to go.Continued below
5. Azula, You Crafty Bitch
I’ve mentioned before that I love Azula, right? All she has to do is walk up to the turtleduck pond, which Zuko is calmly throwing bread into, and suddenly all of the delicate creatures scatter. Azula is power incarnate.
Her big moment in this episode comes towards the end. It turns out that Azula has told her father that Zuko killed the Avatar instead of herself, which has led their father to restore Zuko’s honor — Zuko’s goal for the entire series thus far. So why would a sociopath like her do something so selfless? Because she realizes that Zuko knows the Avatar might still be alive. And once their father finds that out, Zuko will be even further disgraced than he had been, and Azula will gain all of their father’s respect. Azula built Zuko a house of cards that will ensure his permanent banishment — maybe even his death — all so she could attain greater power once those cards collapsed.
I love you, you crafty bitch.
What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!