Hello, and welcome to the final day of Too-Much-Avatar Week. It is now Friday, and the countdown to Korra is now within arm reach. Today, I would like to just kick back and write about something a little less intense for once. Here is a short but in-depth list on what I personally believe to be the three best Avatar episodes of the whole series. These are the episodes I have watched repeatedly the most. They highlight the series’ stark visual style, unique musical tones, and display some of the greatest instances of action and adventure Avatar has to offer. But enough beating around the macahoni berry bush. Let’s put up the spoiler warning and get started.
Book 1 Chapter 13: The Blue Spirit
I have already talked quite a bit about this episode on Monday in my Top 5 Darkest Episode List, so I’ll do my best not to repeat myself. When creators Mike and Bryan first got the go to pursue Avatar, their first contract was for 13 episodes. So, in the event that the show bombed and was going to be canceled early, they made a note to make their 13th episode climactic and thrilling enough that it could theoretically serve as a finale under the worst-case scenario. The result was The Blue Spirit, and it did not disappoint.
We already know in general why I considered this episode to be on the darker side of the Avatar series, so let’s discuss a few more assets of this episode in detail. For starters, I was really drawn to the music cues they used to highlight the Blue Spirit character. They were ominous, captivating, and fit the visual aesthetic of both the character and the scenery of the Fire Nation fortress perfectly.
The Blue Spirit himself is one of the most visually striking characters we have met thus far, with his intricate mask design, tight lips, and sharp precise movements in every action he takes. In the season one finale, when we take a glimpse at one of Koh’s several faces in his collection, it is revealed to us that the Blue Spirit is in fact based on an actual being that exists (or did exist before Koh stole its face) in the spirit world. Thus why the Fire Nation has to put a disclaimer on his wanted poster that reads, “Please disregard the rumors that he is a ghost.” (This information was gathered from the Avatar Art Book).
Mix in a thrilling race toward freedom with the Avatar and the Blue Spirit working surprisingly well together, displaying some of the craziest acrobatics we’ll see until The Boiling Rock, finishing off with a tender moment of Aang’s first attempt to reach out to Zuko as a friend, with Iroh’s beautiful Tsungi Horn solo playing in the background, and you got an episode for the history books. I truly believe that Aang and Zuko’s bond is the most intriguing relationship in the whole series. Any time they are on screen together, you can cut the tension with a broadsword. This episode played a strong role in building up just how complicated things are between them. While it does end on quite a somber note, with Aang’s offer for friendship instantly shot down, there is a small hint of hope left that perhaps this bond will someday bare fruit. Someday… eventually… in only 40 more episodes.
Hey, that’s still shorter than most Shonen Anime fight sequences.
Book 2 Chapter 13: The Drill
One of Avatar’s most unique visual traits was their choice to render all the Fire Nation machines, the ships, tanks, etc., in digital form. While this aesthetic choice received varied opinions among viewers, I was into it. It made the Fire Nation’s superior lead into the Industrial Revolution seem all the more outlandish and intimidating to their opponents. In what was their crowning jewel of stolen technology (off the desks of everyone’s favorite Mechanist from the Northern Air Temple), we have one huge ass drill, slowly in pursuit of the Earth Kingdom Capital’s supposed impenetrable wall. What follows is 23 minutes of Aang’s skills, Sokka’s brain, and Katara’s waning patience with Sokka’s mouth, versus their biggest opponent yet.
Everything about this episode was so fun for me. The construction of the drill was brilliant, and we got to see it from so many angles. The engine room, the outer shell, the pipeline, were all so well designed. I loved seeing inside the command center and how a dozen pilots controlled the machine with Ozai’s Angels watching over it all on this throne for three. Then War Minister Ching comes in and is like, “This Drill is the Fire Nations’ greatest weapon of all time. The Earth Kingdom is ours. Nothing can stop us. Mua ha ha ha!” It had such a retro villainy vibe to it, like something out of my childhood. Think Technodrome from Ninja Turtles. Think Serpentera from Power Rangers. Whatever you do, think of something, and fast.
And think of something they do. Sokka’s brilliance finally pays off as he quickly dispatches a plan to take the gigantic freaking death machine down. Of course said plan does not involve anything he can do, so we get to hysterically watch as he goads, badgers, and cheerleads in the background as his fellow benders have to manually saw through each and every metal brace in the outer shell.
But in the end, it is up to the Avatar to deliver the final blow, but not before a certain Princess everyone loves to hate catches on to what he’s doing and confronts him on the top of the drill for one of the most gripping one-on-on fights ever. Watching Aang implement every bending discipline he has learned thus far in this battle, while Azula just keeps on coming with one badass firebending attack after another, ultimately coming to a close as the Avatar Theme music begins playing as he runs down the 600 foot wall of Ba-Sing-Se to put the nail in the coffin.
I have rewound and watched this scene about a thousand times on my TiVo, and then a thousand more times in slow-mo. This is the one and only time we get to see the baddest of the bad girls go blasting off, Team Rocket Style, in a blaze of humiliated glory, and I treasure every moment of it. The only thing better than the epic ‘splosion of slurry that preceded this final blow was Mai’s blunt uninvested declaration:
And just to put the cherry on everything, The Drill was also the point when Sokka coined the term Team Avatar, and despite what Katara would have you believe, it totally caught on.
Book 3 Chapter 13: The Firebending Masters
In The Drill, we got to see Aang combine the use of three bending disciplines in one of his greatest battles ever. In the last of my top three episodes, it is all about him and his new teacher developing his fourth and final bending discipline. The Firebending Masters takes place exactly 40 episodes after The Blue Spirit, and wouldn’t you know it, it revolves around the Fire Prince and the Avatar going on yet another adventure together, just the two of them. How’s that for a happy coincidence?
This episode could not have come any sooner. The bromance on display here will play your heartstrings like a violin. After being at odds for so long, Aang and Zuko are just so endearing and loveable working as friends and colleagues. This is the exact thing fans have been craving for since they became fans, and lo and behold the creators gave us exactly what we wanted.
I would be a fool not to mention how Aang and Zuko’s journey first begins when it is Toph of all people who teaches them that sometimes, the best way to learn something is to start at the very beginning. She does this by sharing the story of how she learned earthbending from Badgermoles, the world’s very first earthbenders, and the coolest animals in the Avatar world. While Toph is my personal favorite character, she is still easily the least developed member of the main group and is given the shortest screen time. That said, I truly believe she is the strongest and most knowledgeable as far as bending goes, and it was very much welcomed to see her be the one that indirectly sets our duo on the right path on their journey to learn the origin of Firebending.
What follows is what could only be described as Nerd Porn. In a quest across the Ancient Ruins of the Sun Warrior civilization, Zukaang confront a cornucopia of classical fantasy tropes, including Indiana Jones-style traps, door puzzles by nature of Legend of Zelda, and even new firebending forms that pay homage too that one show Chris loves so much.
If Book 3 of Avatar had one recurring theme that carried on through the whole season, it was introducing us to the people of the Fire Nation. Before Book 3, over 90% of the people from the Fire Nation we ran into were all soldiers in full body armor with intimidating helmets and skull masks, all ruthlessly carrying out the will of their Fire Lord. Book 3 opened by giving us a good glimpse of normal Fire Nation citizens, showing us that in many ways, they weren’t all too different from the commoners in the Earth Kingdom. The Firebending Masters expands on this theme by introducing the Sun Warriors, a whole new clan of firebending citizens seeking to preserve their nation’s origins.
The Sun Warriors were such a refreshing take on firebenders, and I loved the native, Aztecan/Mayan inspired design of their culture. The Sun Chief in particular was fun, and tops my list of Avatar characters I wish I could have seen more of.
All this builds up to a climax that is built more on Zuko and Aang facing their fears and impending judgment for their past tribulations, as opposed to a conventional battle. As they walk the steps up the mountain to confront the masters, I immediately recognize the Sun Warrior’s chant as the music from the show’s ending credits. I was overjoyed to see/hear this tune I have come to love so much finally used in actual context.
And then… they come out.
If there are any two creatures even more cool than badgermoles, it is the Firebending Masters themselves, Ran and Shao. The scene of them circling the bridge in their own synchronized dance is still one of the most beautiful sequences I have ever witnessed in the history of animation. Period. In addition, it served as an amazing call back to the Ocean and Moon spirits Tui and La from the Book One finale and how they circled each other in a similar fashion.
Lovable chemistry. Gorgeous scenery. Majestic creatures that breathe energy and life onto the screen. Perfection.
So there you have it. My three favorite Episodes of Avatar the Last Airbender. Interestingly enough, each episode is the 13th chapter of each season, and today also happens to be the 13th of April. Before any of you get any ideas, I swear to Roku I did not plan this. Okay, maybe I did a little, but I genuinely believe these three episodes to be the best, and it just so happened that the last day of Too-Much-Avatar Week conveniently fell on Friday the 13th.
Of course, this is all my own personal taste. For those of you who have your own favorites that differ from mine, your reasons for liking those are no less valid. Feel free to share your own favorite Avatar episodes in the comments below. Thank you for joining us for Too-Much-Avatar week, and we hope you all tune in for the premiere of The Legend of Korra tomorrow morning at 11AM!