Welcome to Part 2 of my top fifteen tenacious episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you haven’t seen the first part, read it here. In this article, I’ll continue my countdown with 10-6. So, let’s get into it.
10. The Puppetmaster
How was this episode allowed in a kid’s show? This was one of the creepiest episodes ever. Bloodbending? Talk about the thing of nightmares.
Why did I love this episode then? It gives the reality of the benders. It’s not just the firebenders who are “evil.” They may have been the most outright dangerous because everyone knows the dangers of fire, burns: ouch. And then they pull out lightning, so naturally firebenders are super EVIL.
But waterbenders, pssht, like waterbenders are dangerous. Am I right? Ok, there’s stabby-stab with ice or drowning someone, but we don’t really ever say anything super dangerous from a water bender. And then this episode happened.
Scary stories about the fire, Sokka’s not the greatest storyteller. And then Katara’s story. Cue creepy entrance by a sweet old lady in the woods at night. Sokka had a weird feeling about her from the beginning, and those of us who have watched horror movies are like “yes, listen to Sokka. She’s totally creepy and hiding something.”
Then the writers lull us into a false security, when they out her as a waterbender. So cool, Katara has someone like her, isn’t that nice? And she wants to teach Katara a new skill, isn’t that nice? And she’s showing her all those pretty flowers, isn’t that NICE? Run away, Katara!
Boom. Bloodbending. ISN’T THAT NICE?
Bloodbending took Hama years to discover and master. Katara figures it out in a matter of minutes. And it horrified her.
This episode shows that no one nation is inherently good or evil. It also shows that the skill doesn’t make you bad. Katara can bloodbend, but she doesn’t let it corrupt her. She holds herself to a higher standard. (And has bloodbend outlawed, if you haven’t seen Legend of Korra.)
9. The Firebending Masters
This episode has the direct contrast to the last one on my list. “The Puppetmaster” shows how waterbending can be used for evil. “The Firebending Masters” shows how fire and firebending should be used.
Fire isn’t just a force of destruction. It is more than power and anger and aspiration. It’s more than cunning, ambition, resourcefulness… wait, that’s Slytherin. The point remains, no (general group) is inherently evil.
When Zuko and Aang meet the Sun Warriors, they get the first glimpse at what fire truly is. They have to face the mysterious masters, and they make a plan to fight their way out should they be found unworthy. It isn’t until they face the dragons and see the fire, they really know what fire is.
Zuko finds something more than his anger to fuel his bending, and it’s the next step in his character’s growth. Aang’s growth comes when he realizes fire isn’t something to fear. They both find fire is life and energy, but can be used for evil. It’s about their choice.
8. The Southern Raiders
Katara out for revenge, Zuko along for the ride, and Aang shouting after them “Forgive him!”
The best part of the episode is when Zuko realizes just how powerful Katara’s become. All they show is Zuko’s eyes, but even in animation, you can see the thoughts of “This girl would totally kick my butt. Note to self, stay on Katara’s good side.”
It also shows just how far vengeance can drag a person. After the horror Katara felt when she learned bloodbending, she used it on someone for the sake of revenge. Ultimately, she has all this power, she could have killed the man who killed her mother, but she doesn’t, she can’t bring herself to do it. It shows that just because you may want to do something, there’s still the choice.
7. The Tales of Ba Sing Se
I have never been so entertained by a simple “day-in-the-life” sort of episode. Nor have I ever had my heart ripped out by two such short vignettes in such quick succession. Iroh and Momo have the best, and saddest, stories in the episode.
Iroh has always been this character who tries to alleviate some of the tension and stress of Prince Zuko by being a tad ridiculous. Through the beginning of his bit, he’s mostly the same. He makes a child laugh and tries to pass his wisdom onto others who need it. He’s even kind to a man who tries to rob him. It’s all fun until the end when the emotions shift to the sadness of a man who lost his son.
Then, as the episode draws to a close, The Tale of Momo. The flying lemur, who is more of a cute pet, somehow becomes a character that you understand without words. The others miss Appa, but so does Momo, and he wants to find the flying bison if he can. And the episode ends with a cliffhanger that not only leads into the next episode in the show, but the next episode on my list.
6. Appa’s Lost Days
Just like Momo in “The Tales of Ba Sing Se”, the writer of “Appa’s Lost Days” gives a creature with no ability to speak a voice in a different way. Without words, we know what Appa is feeling and thinking.
Even as Appa manages to escape again and again, he isn’t left unscathed. He fears fire more after his misadventure than he did before. He’s distrustful of people, like the Guru and Suki. All of his fears are given reason.
I also love seeing Appa’s memories of meeting Aang and of the Air Temple. Baby Appa and little Aang adds a bit of relief from the sad episode as Appa tries to get back to the gang.
All the near-misses between Appa and the others were frustrating, because the viewer totally knows Appa just missed them. And then he gets to Ba Sing Se, and he hears Aang’s bison whistle. The relief. He’s about to be reunited. Hard cut to Aang sleeping and definitely NOT blowing the whistle. And then from the shadows… as if we didn’t already hate Long Fang enough.
Such an emotional rollercoaster of an episode.
So, did you think any of these were going to make my list? Did they make it to yours? What do you think will make the top five? Check back soon for which creative episodes make the cut.