Avatar: The Last Airbender is a series which proved that cartoons aren’t just for kids. The series features well developed characters spanning beyond the main cast, fantastic storytelling, questions of morality, fluid and exciting animation and is just a joy to watch fresh or re-watch.
To try keep this list somewhat fair and because I’m a cheater, I’ve grouped any multiple part episodes into one (Sozin’s Comet has four parts okay). I have also not ranked any of these episodes because I don’t think I need to, they all deserve your eyes and ears. Each episode is listed as it appears in the show. As such, here are 10 of the best episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Season 1: The Storm
‘The Storm’ is a fan favourite and for good reason, it’s one of the earlier episodes whic proves that Avatar: The Last Airbender is not your average children’s cartoon. The episode plays on our expectations of our current protagonist, Aang, and antagonist, Zuko, to stay within their roles. Aang is ‘childish’ and Zuko is obsessed with honour. Yet what ‘The Storm’ does is give insight into their pasts, showcasing traumatic events that shaped who they are. They aren’t cookie cutter characters.
Season 1: The Blue Spirit
‘The Blue Spirit’ is one of the initial turning points for Zuko’s character. It marks the start of a long personal journey from antagonist to ally: a journey which spans the entire show and a central reason so many love both Zuko and the show. In this episode, Aang is captured by General Zhao with seemingly no hope of escape. However, a mysterious masked figure saves Aang, revealed as none other than Prince Zuko, who up until now has been hell bent on the avatar’s capture. The audience aren’t given easy answers as to why Zuko freed Aang. Easy answers imply it was an easy decision and I’d imagine this decision shocked Zuko the most.
Season 1: Siege of the North Part 1 and Part 2
These two episodes mark the climatic end of our first season with the avatar. The season has built to this, the Fire Nation’s attack on the northern Water Tribe. This is the biggest event team avatar has been a part of up until now so they are many close calls. These two episodes are filled to the brim, we see Sokka’s girlfriend turning into the moon (without this we wouldn’t have Zuko’s iconic line), Aang transforming into his avatar state and taking out the Fire Nation and the face stealer, who is just terrifying. An incredible conclusion to an equally incredible first season.
Season 2: Zuko Alone
A neo-western episode entirely centred around Zuko you say? Sign me up. Here, Zuko finds himself alone in an Earth Kingdom village. Coming to the aid of a village boy, he forms a bond with him and his family. Despite the warm welcome however, he is ultimately turned away once they discover his true identity. ‘Zuko Alone’ ends on this bitter but necessary note. Avatar frequently has episodes like this, short stories showing the realities of war on a smaller scale. It’s not just fighting and soldiers, the effects of war are everywhere. The writers make it clear in this episode that good and evil are not so black and white.
Season 2: The Tales of Ba Sing Se
Now, we all saw this coming. I’m not going to say much about this episode because it is one of the most well-known of the entire show. Basically, it’s an anthology episode, consisting of short stories following each of the main characters and showing daily life in Ba Sing Se. The episode’s power however, all comes from the final story centred around Iroh. It’s just so good and sad. Go re-watch it.
Season 2: Crossroads of Destiny
The writers behind Avatar clearly know how to create an amazing season finale, evident as every season finale feature on this list. The culmination of many stories come together in ‘Crossroads of Destiny’, Katara is just starting to see the enemy’s face, Zuko’s face, in a new light, Azula has acquired new forces, Aang is mortally wounded and Zuko becomes torn between the ideals of his sister, Azula and uncle, Iroh. Two opposing views. He ultimately chooses Azula and with the shift in power, the episode ends with Ba Sing Se, the city which for so long remained unconquered, falling to the Fire Nation.
Season 3: The Avatar and The Firelord
This is another episode contrasting Aang and Zuko, done by exploring the relationship of Avatar Roku, Aang’s predecessor and Firelord Sozin, Zuko’s great grandfather. They learn that Roku and Sozin were best friends who eventually drifted apart due to opposing ideologies. Sozin wanted to expand the Fire Nation and Roku as the avatar, stood for balance among the four nations. At the close of ‘The Avatar and The Firelord’, it is revealed that Avatar Roku is actually Zuko’s maternal great grandfather. Zuko’s internal struggle between good and evil is one that began long ago with his own two great grandfather’s battles. Iroh explains, ‘It is your nature, your legacy’. Damn Iroh.
Season 3: The Puppet Master
‘The Puppet Master’ is yet another episode setting Avatar apart, it is deeper and far darker than the majority of ‘children’s’ television. The team meet an elderly innkeeper, Hama, who is inherently unsettling but it’s when her past is revealed that things get dark. Hama originally came from Sokka and Katara’s tribe, was kidnapped by the Fire Nation, imprisoned for years and kept on a tight lease. To escape, to survive, Hama learnt one of the darkest arts of bending, blood bending. Hama’s story is terrifying as it shows the extreme measures taken to survive, it shows someone pushed to the edge, caged and forced to transform. The episode ends with Katara blood bending Hama to save her friends, she became trapped in that same cage and is horrified by the actions she had to take.
Season 3: Ember Island Players
Oh, thank god, a light-hearted episode. ‘Ember Island Players’ is a welcome comedic break from the heavier episodes in season 3. It is set up like a classic recap episode but is filled with meta-commentary. Everything from making fun of characters, dropped plot lines, the audience and everything in between. Jokes are made at Zuko’s constant need for honour, Katara constant complaining and the plot line of Jet, ‘Did Jet just… die?’. It’s an episode for fans but since it’s Avatar, it’s not simply there to fill space.
Season 3: Sozin’s Comet
For a show as brilliant as Avatar, it only seems fitting that the show’s epic four-part finale would conclude this list. This collection of episodes has everything you could ask for; amazing animation, epic fight scenes on both the small and large scale, emotional character climaxes, incredible music and fantastic storytelling. Absolutely chef’s kiss. Some highlights are Aang defeating the fire lord without the use of murder, the White Lotus reclaiming Ba Sing Se, Sokka, Sukki and Toph destroying Fire Nation ships and Katara and Zuko defeating Azula. Each of these events could honestly have their own analysis, they are each so rich and so good. One of my favourites being Azula’s climax, god it’s so heart wrenching.
With Avatar: The Last Airbender now fully on Netflix, you have no excuse not to watch it.