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Avatar: The Last Airbender (animated) season three

Avatar The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender originally aired on Nickelodeon. It’s animated, and the characters frequently behave/react childishly. Does that combination mean its a kid’s show? We can have a long discussion on what constitutes a kid’s show and what doesn’t and find many examples of shows that blur the lines. I can’t imagine any are more blurry than Avatar.

Avatar has relatable characters who must face challenging psychological issues, both their own and those around them. I can’t say with confidence how a young child might react to the lessons that are presented in the show. It seems like they are presented in a way that a maturing individual might relate, but you would have to ask many children to know for sure. I can say that the lessons aren’t lost on myself—a middle-aged man. The insights that the characters have of themselves, and others is refreshing and educational.

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But besides all that, the show never gets buried in trying so hard to present a lesson and forgetting to be entertaining. Sure, some episodes are better than others, but they are all fun and advance a plot that we know is headed toward an inevitable showdown.

S3.E1 ∙ The Awakening

I was surprised by how the writers decided to demonstrate Katara’s relationship with her father and vice versa. She was angry and insulting, but the father never fought back and took her verbal abuse. In my experience, it’s uncommon to see a child unleash verbal abuse on a parent who doesn’t retaliate. Of course, there is a reconciliation between the two when the father asks Katara why she’s angry. His response helps her understand the sacrifice that he made for them, which was has hard on himself.

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summary, obviously awesome for bathroom or snack breaks mid movie, and I also love that it tells you if there’s anything after the credits which is very handy.

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S3.E2 ∙ The Headband

I got a kick out of this one. It’s Footloose meets Avatar.

S3.E3 ∙ The Painted Lady

What Avatar consistently does well is display characters doing the right and wrong things simultaneously. Katara wants to help the locals, but she tricks her friends in the process. In the process, we get to see Sokka voice his support for his sister and strengthen their relationship.

S3.E4 ∙ Sokka’s Master

This is two episodes in a row that illustrate characters simultaneously doing the right and wrong things. It was a little odd that they compressed a decade of study to become a master into two days, but I guess the reality of the show is that they need Sokka to level-up and there is only a short time remaining before the eclipse occurs. They are on the clock. I love that Sokka was successful, but then recognized that his achievement came at the cost of deceiving his master/teacher and confessed.

S3.E5 ∙ The Beach

If there’s a weak link in any of the character motivations it would have to be Azula. Her character appears to be evil for the sake of evil. There’s no obvious cause for her relentless pursuit of domination. Zuko’s character arc is my favorite. I think it shows the most depth and conflict. I wonder if there will be some revelation for Azula as well.

S3.E6 ∙ The Avatar and the Fire Lord

We discover more about the cause of Zuko’s internal conflict. This will clearly play a pivotal role on the resolution of the final conflict.

S3.E7 ∙ The Runaway

This was brilliant. The conflict between Katara and Toph has been building from the very beginning. It’s a cheap trick to resort to character growth by overhearing a private conversation, but it works and sometimes it’s the quickest and most direct method to advance the story and the character development.

Kudos to the animators/director for using the dolly zoom technique in the scene where Katara comes face-to-face with the Boom-Boom-Sparkle-Man—as Sokka called him.

S3.E8 ∙ The Puppetmaster

I’ve always believed that what defines a superhero isn’t their power, but the cost that comes from gaining/using that power and the vulnerabilities that it creates. Now Katara has a powerful new ability, but it comes at a cost. Clearly we’re setting her up to have a necessity to use bloodbending in the future, but what will it cost her?

S3.E9 ∙ Nightmares and Daydreams

Easily the weak link of the season.

S3.E10 ∙ The Day of Black Sun

Lesson of the episode: you can be great, even if you’re not great at everything.

S3.E11 ∙ The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse
The episode had the feeling of a middle act in an action movie, where it seems like there will be a big showdown, but it’s too early in the movie for this to be the climactic battle. The antagonist gains the upper hand, and the protagonist goes away unsure of themselves. That’s what this episode was all about. While the Fire Lord and Azula where successful with their plan, they didn’t know that Zuko would defect. They won the battle, but because Zuko will train Aang they will lose the war.
S3.E12 ∙ The Western Air Temple
There were two great lines in this episode:
And I thought I was the blind one.
—Toph
Why am I so bad at being good.
—Zuko
I’m curious to find out how Uncle Iroh will play into this. He might end up becoming the wildcard.
S3.E13 ∙ The Firebending Masters
The writers have a nuanced understanding of character motivation. It is great writing that Zuko has lost his firebending abilities now that his raison d’être has changed. And it makes for a great bonding experience with Aang to go on this adventure.
S3.E14/15 ∙ The Boiling Rock: Part 1/2
Interestingly, we get back-to-back episodes that feature Zuko integrating into Team Avatar. First, Zuko has an adventure with Aang to relearn firebending, and now he’s off with Sukko to rescue Sukko’s father. The only thing left is to gain acceptance from Katara. Now that Zuko has helped save her father it shouldn’t be too hard.
S3.E16 ∙ The Southern Raiders
Now Zuko’s unification is complete, or as complete is it can be for now. Zuko helps Katara track down the man who killed her mother. It’s a great revenge story and concludes in a satisfactory way with a good message about seeking revenge.
There’s a great quote:
“You need to face this man. But when you do, please don’t choose revenge. Let your anger out, and then let it go. Forgive him.”
— Aang advising Katara.
S3.E17 ∙ The Ember Island Players
This is good story pacing. This episode is pretty light. It allows the characters to be themselves for one last episode before the series’ climax begins.
S3.E18 ∙ Sozin’s Comet, Part 1: The Phoenix King
And now begins the endgame. Most importantly, Zuko reveals that they cannot wait for the comet to pass and then attack, because by then it will be too late. Thus establishing the commitment they must make. At the same time Aang continues to feel doubt that he can kill Ozai even if given the opportunity. This is a kid’s show and we know that Aang wont kill Ozai. In some ways that’s a limitation for the writers, but in truth, I think it’s liberating. Aang killing Ozai is the easy way out of the story. To make something memorable there must be another outcome to the final battle.
S3.E19 ∙ Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters
Aang has his last lesson and it’s a beautiful one. All of his predecessors share stories about their own failings because they didn’t act decisively enough when they needed to. This left other’s to suffer for their lack of conviction and willingness to kill. Aang listens to one story after another, and in the end, is not convinced. This is the last test he must pass before gaining the final bending skill.
S3.E20 ∙ Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno
We get to see how Azula becomes her own greatest enemy. Her downfall was fairly predictable, especially after her friends betrayed her.
S3.E21 ∙ Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang
This might be one of the best writing final battles in story history. There are few final battles where the hero must battle an aspect of himself. When Aang enters the Avatar State, he loses control and the other Avatars take over. They’re about to kill Ozai, but Aang is able to reassert his control over the Avatar State and prevent it. Aang concludes the battle by using his newly discovered bending power to remove Ozai’s power from him. Making him a normal human, with no bending power at all. This is a punishment worse than death for Ozai.
The only thing I feel is lacking in the ending is that Aang and Katara end up together. I didn’t think that would happen and I’m not sure it should have. But aside from that, these final four episodes are some of the best story telling in history.
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