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Throwback Thursday - Avatar: The Last Airbender - Sozin's Comet

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Sozin’s Comet Parts 3 (Into the Inferno) and 4 (Avatar Aang)

Spoilers for the series' end!

While Avatar: The Last Airbender aired its last new episodes over a decade ago, the show’s recent release on Netflix has catapulted it back into the the collective consciousness. The last two episodes of the series are some of my favorite television episodes ever made. Not only is there a satisfying ending to a mythology based story, but the quality and care put into these episodes make them outstanding examples of the animation medium.

While technically the series finale, “Sozin’s Comet,” is a 4 parter, with the last two episodes, “Into the Inferno" and “Avatar Aang” acting like one continuous episode. These two are also the most action packed. Parts 1 and 2 of “Sozin’s Comet” are set up, with the payoff in parts 3 and 4.

And what a payoff it is. Most of the long running story lines of the series are addressed in these episodes. The entire series has built up to when Sozin’s Comet will pass by, granting fire benders increased powers. The last time the comet passed the fire nation took the opportunity to eradicate the Air Nomads. This time their plan is to destroy the Earth Kingdom and take over the world. So the stakes are pretty high.

Our hero Aang and his gang of misfits set out on different missions to save the world. The Order of the White Lotus are kicking butt in the Earth Kingdom. Sokka, Toph and Suki try to stop the Fire Nation fleet from reaching the Earth Kingdom. Katara and Zuko go to stop Zuko’s sister Azula from being named the next Fire Lord. And Aang is in charge of killing Fire Lord Ozai before he can complete his plans for world domination and genocide.

Did I mention this was a Saturday morning cartoon on Nickelodeon?

The first story line I’d like to touch upon is Azula’s descent into madness. Introduced as Zuko’s life-long foil, we quickly see the cruel and remorseless villain deteriorate as previous friends and allies abandon her and turn to the side of good. Her paranoia grows and she sees threats to her rule that aren’t really there. In these episodes she banishes all her loyal servants from the Fire Nation until she’s a lone figure who can’t even take care of herself. Frustrated at not being able to style her hair right she maniacally takes scissors to herself.

Right after this shot she imagines her long-missing mother and calls herself a monster. Oh boy.
So when Zuko and Katara come to the Fire Nation for Zuko to challenge Azula's place as the next Fire Lord he sees that his sister is off. These scenes with Azula by herself and then fighting Zuko are set to an almost Hitchkockian score, full of high pitched strings that remind me of metal scraping against metal. It’s eerie and haunting and very effective at implying Azula's warped state of mind. The animation also shows Azula’s changes through her body language. Instead of the cocky swagger she’d shown throughout the series her movements are jerky, almost as if she’s attached to strings. When she’s defeated and reduced to a crying, raging, incoherent mess it’s more sad than satisfying.

Don't feel too sorry for her, she's a jerk.
While one villain is facing her comeuppance, our other heroes and busy going on suicide missions. Sokka, Toph and Suki must stop the Fire National fleet of airships. They are vastly outnumbered. Their solution is to sneak and fight their way onto the ships until they can crash them into other ships. The choreography in these scenes show our heroes jump and dodge both debris and enemy soldiers and it’s fun. But then Sokka and Toph become trapped and I honestly thought that would be the end of two integral characters. When they showed a close-up of Toph with tears in her eyes I was on the verge of tears myself.

A crying Toph means things are really, really bad.
During this sequence Sokka also loses two of his weapons, Boomerang and Space Sword. No, I did not mistakenly capitalize. Those two inanimate objects had actual history within the series and when Sokka says, “I don’t think boomerang is coming back Toph,” I felt it like an actual character died. Sokka's voice is so dejected I felt his pain. Boomerang is supposed to always come back.

Finally we have the big fight that the entire series had built up to. Avatar Aang versus Fire Lord Ozai (Ozai gives himself a promotion to Phoenix King during these episodes, but it doesn’t really stick). Aang is at a disadvantage before the fight even starts. His allies have told him time and again that the only way to beat Ozai is to kill him. But Aang is a pacifist and can’t reconcile his beliefs with what he’s told he must do.

So when the fight starts Ozai is aggressive, strengthened by Sozin’s Comet. Aang is doing more running than fighting, using tricks that he’d picked up during his lessons on mastering the elements. But he’s obviously over-matched by Ozai and when he becomes corned and trapped in a makeshift rock bunker it’s hard to see how he’ll prevail.

When his hiding spot is blown up Aang is thrown backwards, a scar on his back from a previous fight with Azula hits a rock. That action unlocks the avatar state, giving Aang access to all of his avatar powers.

Hi previous Avatars.
It’s a phenomenal scene, with quick cuts and a soaring score letting the audience know that they're watching the game change. When Ozai taunts Aang, unaware of his transformation, Aang pops out of the rubble and swats Ozai away like a ragdoll. The next fight scene is inverted from the prior one, with Aang chasing Ozai as the one-time Fire Lord tries to defend himself. Where before Aang fought Ozai one element at a time, the uninhibited Avatar Aang uses the elements together to go after the villain.

Avatar Aang is done playing around.
When Aang finally has Ozai beaten and defenseless he unleashes the killing blow. And then promptly stops himself before he can complete the deed. He can’t give up his principles to kill, even if it seems like the only way to stop more deaths. Ozai sees Aang as weak for not killing and goes after him, but the avatar state kicks in and Aang acts, for us in slow motion, immobilizing Ozai and then using his power to manipulate Ozai’s own bending powers. Aang must be careful not to let Ozai’s own evilness corrupt him. It looks like it might happen but then Aang’s own goodness wins out, his strength flooding into Ozai and taking away his fire bending, neutralizing the threat without killing.

Isn't this just gorgeous?
These two episodes are exhilarating, frightening and suspenseful. The animators use shadows to great effect, especially on Aang after he unlocks the avatar state. The show was originally created for children, like most Western animation, but it was able to evolve into a multifaceted exploration of family, legacies and friendship that also speaks to adults.

The series wraps up with a small epilogue, with most of the characters finding happiness. Some dangling threads are teased that are picked up again in the comic continuation of the same name. The universe continues in animation with The Legend of Korra and an upcoming Netflix live action show.

We shall never speak of the live action movie.

What is your favorite episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender? Comments go below!

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