Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best shows that has been made by Nickelodeon. The series is funny, dark, action-packed, and deeply influenced by East Asian cultures. It creates a rich fantasy world that children and adults get invested in. It led to a great sequel series, a bad live-action film, and, most recently, a live-action Netflix remake. To celebrate this announcement, let’s look at some of the best episodes of the original series.
10. The Blue Spirit – S1, E13
“The Blue Spirit” is an episode that is highly revered by fans of the show. In this episode, Aang goes off to find medicine to help Sokka and Katara. Aang ends up getting captured by Admiral Zhao, who uses the legendary Yuu Yan Archers. Fortunately, Aang is saved by the Blue Spirit, a masked fighter who took on some of the Fire Nation’s finest warriors.
“The Blue Spirit” has the simple, arguably stock plot of the hero who gets caught and needs to be rescued. What makes this episode stand out is how thrilling the escape action is. The episode also has a big twist with the Blue Spirit. It’s revealed that The Blue Spirit is Zuko, who rescued Aang so Zhao wouldn’t get the glory of capturing the Avatar. But Aang sees that there is more in Zuko than the angry Fire Nation servant. Aang offered friendship which Zuko rejects.
9. Sozin’s Comet – S3, E18 – 21
“Sozin’s Comet” was the final episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and it was an epic conclusion for the show. The four-part episode showed the final confrontation between Aang and the Fire Lord Ozai. In the episode, Zuko reveals that his father will use the passing of Sozin’s Comet to make a final offensive against the Earth Kingdom. This means that Aang may have to break one of his most important personal rules. “Sozin’s Comet” raises the classic moral debate – is it right to kill someone if it means saving others?
“Sozin’s Comet” is over 80 minutes long, so it fits in a number of storylines. These include Aang seemingly running away from the fight, and Ozai anointing his daughter to become the new ruler of the Fire Nation. The latter storyline leads to the teenage girl going insane and various characters playing their part in the final battle. It was fantastically animated, action-packed finale that was a worthy send-off for a great series.
8. The Tales of Ba Sing Se – S2, E15
“The Tales of Ba Sing Se” was an anthology episode, showing what characters got up to while waiting to meet the Earth Kingdom king. The episode told six mini-stories focusing on the main characters, including Toph and Katara having a girly spa day, Sokka entering into a poetry rap contest and Zuko going on a date. The most poignant was The Tale of Iroh where the kindly character goes around the city helping everyone he meets, including a mugger, before finding a solitary place so he can sing “Leaves from a Vine” for his dead son on his birthday. The mini-stories were humorous yet offered moments of character depth like Zuko being unable to let loose despite being with a girl who was interested in him, Toph worrying about her looks and there was a fair amount of emotional reveals.
7. The Storm – S1, E12
“The Storm” is considered one of the best and most important episodes in the series and acted as a origins story for both Aang and Zuko. In the episode memories for both characters are triggered when sailing during a storm. For Aang he looked back on his life at the Southern Air Temple, his friendship with Gyatso, being told he’s the Avatar too early and revealing why he ran away.
Iroh tells the crew on the ship why Zuko was banished and how he got his scar. Zuko was the heir-apparent to the Fire Nation and invited by his father into his war room. But Zuko unwittingly insults his father when he argues against a mission that needlessly put soldiers lives at risk and in a ritual fight the Fire Lord punishes his son.
“The Storm” added a lot of depth to Aang and Zuko’s characters. Aang was smart and a skilled fighter but he was a child, and he had the responsibility of being the Avatar thrust upon him – people are typically told they are the Avatar on their 16th birthday. He had significant responsibilities and ostracised by his peers. While Zuko is a tragic character, who is seeking his father’s approval.
The episode has a great little touch by showing Azula for the first time watching the fight and having a sadistic grin on her face.
6. Appa’s Lost Days – S2 E16
One of the key events in the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender was the capture of Aang’s sky bison, Appa, which drove Aang to one of his most raged filled moments and led to a major subplot in the series. The episode “Appa’s Lost Days” looks at what happened to Appa between “The Library” and ” The Tales of Ba Sing Se” in an emotionally charged episode.
The episode shows Appa being sold to a Fire Nation circus, being abused by a cruel ringmaster, fight a warthog-porcupine creature, encounter the Kyoshi Warriors and getting captured again when he flies to Ba Sing Se. Anyone who’s an animal lover can’t help but feel for Appa as he faces cruelty and kindness – the episode even won an award from the Humane Society for its portrayal of the mistreatment of animals.
This was an episode packed with story as Appa is forced to explore the world by himself.
5. The Southern Air Temple – S1 E3
“The Southern Air Temple” was the third episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the one that expanded the show beyond the South Pole. It also showed how willing Avatar: The Last Airbender was to embrace dark themes.
The episode sees Aang, Katara and Sokka go to the Southern Air Temple, the place Aang was born and raised and he looked for advice from the Air Nomads – unaware of what happened over the previous century. Katara and Sokka try to defend Aang, but they cannot hide the truth, that the Fire Nation had killed all the Air Nomads, including his friend and mentor. In his emotional distress, Aang enters into the Avatar State which leads to many people around the world finding out the Avatar has returned.
On the Zuko front, he has to confront an arrogant commander leading to a duel between two. Zuko wins, and the commander tried to attack Zuko when his back is turned. As Zuko’s Uncle Iroh puts it; even in disgrace, Zuko has more honor.
“The Southern Air Temple” built on the characters, the world, and history, had some funny moments like when Aang and Sokko play a game and has heavy ideas about genocide in a kids’ show.
4. The Puppetmaster – S3 E8
“The Puppetmaster” was a third season episode set when Team Avatar was in the middle of the Fire Nation and find out people from a town have been disappearing when there’s a full moon. The team also meet an old woman called Hama, a waterbender who had escaped from Fire Nation custody and took Katara under her wing, teaching her new skills like getting water out of plants so she could waterbend with it. Hama also reveals why she was captured and how she escaped by developing the technique of bloodbending, an ability to control people through the water in their body. When Hama threatens Team Avatar, Katara ends up using bloodbending to save them, and despite Hama getting recaptured by the Fire Nation, she knew she won because she made Katara use her dark side.
“The Puppetmaster” is one of the darkest episodes in the show’s run, which is saying something. Despite only appearing in one episode Hama was a wonderfully tragic character who has every right to be angry and did what she had to survive. But her anger led to Hama punishing the whole of the Fire Nation. The episode showed that Katara, the kind, mature, caring member of Team Avatar could be driven to take desperate action and she was distressed when she used bloodbending. It sowed the seeds to come.
3. The Southern Raiders – S3 E16
In the third season, “The Southern Raiders” saw Katara and Zuko team up as Katara explores her dark side. In the episode, Zuko helps Katara in her personal quest for vengeance as she seeks to find the man who captured and killed her mother. As they dig deeper into the Fire Nation, Katara becomes more aggressive and violent, torturing Fire Nation soldiers by using bloodbending. But when Katara finally confronts the commander of the raid she discovers a man filled with guilt and remorse and revealed that Katara’s mother sacrificed herself so Katara would be safe.
“The Southern Raiders” was an emotionally charged episode that explored the idea of revenge and it can drive even good people into doing reprehensible actions, and it also looked more in-depth at the relationship between Katara and Zuko because Zuko only helps Katara so he can earn her trust.
2. Zuko Alone – S2 E7
“Zuko Alone” was an important episode focusing on Zuko’s character development. As the title suggests, “Zuko Alone” focuses on Zuko leaving his uncle and striking out for himself. In the episode, Zuko befriends an Earth Kingdom family and mentors their young son – teaching him how to use the dual swords. However, when Zuko defends the town from oppressive Earth Kingdom soldiers, he reveals himself to be a firebender he greats rejected by the town because of his nationality.
“Zuko Alone” had a Western movie plot like Shane where a mysterious outsider who comes to town, works on a farm and protect the residents from bandits – but twists this by having Zuko’s being rejected, showing how ingrained the hatred is between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. The effects of war mean that people are not able to see the person behind the nationality. It also shows that despite Zuko’s allegiances, he is a character with a moral code, and he wants to do what is right.
1. The Crossroads of Destiny – S2 E20
“The Crossroads of Destiny” was the second season finale and was a dramatic, action-packed, ending with one heck of a cliffhanger. It was the Empire Strikes Back of the Avatar franchise. The episode was built on all the second season story points, like Aang giving up spiritual enlightenment to save his friends, and Zuko’s loyalties being torn between his nation and his uncle.
The comparison to the Empire Strikes Back is more than just skin deep. Aang is like Luke Skywalker, giving up on his training so he can face his more experienced rival. Zuko’s arc in the series was to find out what he truly needed which put him in a state of spiritual and physical flux but ending up choosing to work with his sister so he could resort his honor and status within the Fire Nation – this despite his emotional connection with Katara when they were placed in jail together. It was an episode that raised the stakes for the third and final series.
What is your favorite episode from Avatar: The Last Airbender? Comment below with your thoughts.