But I’ll deal.
I’m going to have to wait until near the end of this recap to freak out about Azula.
But I’ll deal.
Avatar is over.
But I’ll deal.
Sozin’s Comet, Part 1: The Phoenix King
With Katara finally forgiving Zuko for his villainous past two episodes ago, the final rift between the members of the gaang has finally been healed. But there’s one major thing they still need to work on: Communication.
Zuko: Why didn’t you tell me you decided to attack my father AFTER the comet?
Aang: Why didn’t YOU tell ME your father was planning to use the comet’s power to raze the Earth Kingdom to the ground?!
You’re both grounded!
We see in a flashback that Fire Lord Ozai has reached peak dickery, as he decided in that war council meeting Zuko was invited to that the only way they can defeat the Earth Kingdom is to completely destroy it, like Sozin destroyed the Air Nomads. (Even better: Zuko is the one who kindasorta accidentally suggested it to him when he said the Earth Kingdom was strong and would never stop resisting as long as they still had hope. “Ya Dun Fucked Up, Zuko,” Part 587/590.) Zuko wanted to speak out against the plan, but didn’t, the reverse of that other war council meeting he attended. His shame at being the sort of person who would go along with injustice what prompted him to leave his family and join the Avatar. By extension, we’re seeing Zuko finally realize that he did the right thing in speaking out in that council meeting when he was younger, and that–this is a really huge deal for Zuko–his father was wrong to banish him and wrong to say he’d lost his honor.
Now Aang, who’s been chilling his heels on Ember Island, actually does have to fight Ozai in three days. The part that really sucks (aside from all of it) is that, despite the arguments of his more practical-minded friends, Aang doesn’t think he’ll be able to kill Ozai. Hell, he can’t even kill the Melon Lord:
That night, Katara digs up what she thinks is a drawing of baby Zuko they can all LOL at, but instead it’s of young Ozai, whom Zuko rightfully refers to in this scene as “the worst father in the history of fathers.” Denethor, you’ve been beat. Again.
Aang’s pissed that his friends are so blase about killing Ozai and so unwilling to understand the extent to which he very, very much feels that killing anyone, no matter how much of a d-bag they are, is wrong. He wanders off by himself and eventually falls asleep, after which he’s drawn in by a mysterious wooded island that’s appeared off the coast.
The next morning, the rest of the gaang discovers that Aang is missing. Sokka and Zuko argue about where he might have gone until Kat”Get Shit Done”ara (hey, it’s tough when people only have one name) suggests they just split up and find the guy, for pete’s sake.
Sokka flies around the island on Appa, Suki and Katara check out the town, and Toph insists on partnering with Zuko. (In doing so, she betrays a crush in addition to the one she has/had on Sokka. Damn, the girl cannot get noticed. It’s OK, Toph. Some of your descendants are in Korra, so you get busy eventually.) Hey, everyone else got a life-changing field trip with him! Unfortunately, she tries to play the “I had a shitty childhood” game, which is not one you’re going to win when you play against Zuko.
Zuko, being the resident expert at Aang-hunting, takes the lead, and the group heads off to the Earth Kingdom, where they meet up with June the bounty hunter from “Bato of the Water Tribe.” She’s the first “blast from the past” character we’ll be seeing, and praise be to Jesus, she’s still kicking Ryu from Street Fighter‘s ass.
Near the end of this episode, we check in with my Queen, Azula, who’s told by Ozai that she won’t be joining him when he attacks the Fire Nation. Her response is “Fuck no, you are not treating me like Zuko right now.” Ozai placates her by saying holding down the fort is an important job, plus she’ll be the new Fire Lord, because he’s crowning himself the Phoenix King. And he totally is treating her like Zuko, by the way. A Zuko whom he doesn’t hate, but still. Azula being Fire Lord doesn’t mean anything if Ozai’s still around. And maaaaaybe him ordering her to stay behind is a decision borne 100% of military necessity and not of the fact that Azula’s been getting more and more unbalanced… but I don’ think so. Look at her eyes when he tells her looking after the (practically empty) Fire Nation HQ is a very special job only she can do:
He knows she’s slipping. She knows, on some level, that she’s lost his approval. This won’t be good.
Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters
June and her pet mole… thing… are unable to find Aang, because, as June helpfully explains, “he doesn’t exist.” She is, however, able to track down Uncle Iroh, whom we will be seeing, heck yes! It’s played as a joke that Zuko literally kept one of uncle’s sweaty old sandals around, but it hurts me in my soul, just like 95% of everything involving Zuko does.
June gets the gaang to the walls of Ba Sing Se and then skips out, being replaced by four other characters from previous episodes: Pakku (the waterbending master whom Katara taught a lesson about THE PATRIARCHY); Piandao, Sokka’s swordfighting Mr. Miyagi; Jeong Jeong, Aang’s first firebending teacher from “The Deserter“; and Bumi, who took advantage of the eclipse to recapture Omashu from the Fire Nation. He also, along with Iroh, makes up the core membership of the Uncomfortably Buff Senior Citizens Brigade.
Glad to see you back, bro.
The four men are members of the White Lotus serving under the Grand Lotus, Uncle Iroh. Though Zuko wants to see his Uncle Again, he’s also scared to, because he thinks the way he turned his back on Iroh in favor of Ozai made Iroh hate him.
Let me repeat that for the benefit of those who have not yet been rendered unable to feel emotions by Zuko’s existence: Zuko legitimately believes that Iroh–who’s always been there for him, who loves him, who is the closest thing he has to a real father–WILL. HATE. HIM.
Instead, when the reunion takes place, Iroh cuts off Zuko’s tearful apologies by pulling him into a bear hug. He explains that he was never mad at Zuko, only sad that he lost his way. There’s crying. There’s hugging. Like Zuko confronting Ozai, it is everything I wanted.
Meanwhile, Aang wakes up on the mysterious island having no clue where he is. As always, when there’s Avatar shit that needs solving, he calls upon Roku, who, as always, gives him cryptic advice before winking out of existence like a less helpful, Asian Obi-Wan Kenobi. “I have no clue where you are, and I can’t tell you anything constructive, but… you have all the answers inside of you, I guess? I have a date in five. Good luck.”
Following Roku’s sorta-advice, Aang calls upon the spirits of past Avatars–Kyoshi, a chill surfer dude named Kuruk whose wife was killed by Koh the Face Stealer (hey, I remember that!), and an Air Nomad named Yang Chen. The conversation goes something like this:
Aang: Everybody expects me to kill Ozai, but I don’t know if I can.
Kyoshi: IDK what to tell you, man. You gotta do what you gotta do.
Aang: Wait what. There has to be another way!
Kuruk: Nah. I totally wish I’d killed Koh.
Aang: But all life is precious!
Yang Chen: Nut up or shut up.
Aang doesn’t have much time to be distressed about his past lives telling him he has no choice but to abandon his fluffy bunny principles and get with the killing, because he realizes that the wooded island he’s on is actually the shell of a giant lionturtle. Good to know Morla the Aged One is still getting work after The Neverending Story.
Morla tells him something cryptic and whammies him in the head with a bright green light that will probably be important later.
Back at what Bumi calls “old people camp,” Zuko tries to convince Iroh to fight the Father Fire Lord and take his place, but Iroh refuses, because then history would see the battle as yet more Fire Nation family drama. Aang, wherever he is, is the only one who can fight Ozai. And Zuko is the only one who can become the next Fire Lord, as only someone with “unquestionable honor” can restore the honor of the Fire Nation.
Zuko hitches a ride on a giant eel hound to the Fire Nation so he’ll be on-deck to assume the throne once Ozai kicks it. Going with him is Katara, who after the last two seasons is more than ready to kick Azula’s ass. Sokka, Toph, and Suki will go try and intercept Ozai’s fleet before it can make the Earth Kingdom…
Then BAM. COMET.
Halfway through the recap. DANCE BREAK.
Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno
We start with Azula continuing her swift slide to insanity: She banishes a servant because one of her cherries accidentally had a pit in it and, as she explains, she could have DIIIIEEEEDDDDDD. Later, she sends for the Dai Lee and flips because it takes them five minutes to get to her, which also means she, the new Fire Lord, could have DIIIIIEEEEEDDDDDDDDDD. You’re banished. They’re banished. One of the old ladies is banished. EVERYONE IS BANISIHED.
Sokka, Suki, and Toph are a smidge too late to stop the Fire Nation’s airships from taking off, but Toph just shrugs and says “I got this,” asking Sokka and Suki where one of the ships is so she can use her earthbending to launch them onto it. This is my favorite Toph moment from the finale, because she can’t see the ships. A) That speaks to the trust Toph has for her friends, which makes me all warm and fuzzy when you consider how “I’m tough, I can do everything by myself!” she was when she first joined the gaang, anbd B) even though she trusts Sokka and Suki, she is still without hesitation hurling herself into a void that she cannot see.
Toph, my child, I will miss you.
The badass doesn’t end there: Toph bends herself a rough suit of armor and charges through the control room wrecking shit. Doing much better than Han Solo did over the PA (“we’re all fine here, now. How are you?), Sokka manages to trick the ship’s crew into standing over a hatch, which is then opened, ejecting them into the ocean.
(I actually felt really sad for the guy who was so happy when he thought the Captain remembered his birthday. Nope. Sorry. Your ship just got hijacked. No validation or birthday cake for you.)
While the White Lotus, led by Uncle Iroh, singlehandedly fights the Fire Nation forces in Ba Sing Se, Aang finally confronts Fire Lord Ozai, who has begun using the power of the comet to raze the Earth Kingdom. Aang tries his whole “we can all be peaceful!” schtick, but fuck if Ozai’s going to be beaten by a 12-year-old, so he has a quick costume change and starts zooming around with his jetpack OF FIRE.
With Ozai and Aang fighting, it’s up to Sokka, Suki, and Toph to take down the other ships before they can burninate the Earth Kingdom. They do this by ramming their ship into the other ships, which is NOT SAFE AT ALL and has the side effect of separating Sokka and Toph from Suki. Man, this show reeeeally likes to make us think Suki is dead.
Azula finds that dismissing her entire staff because she’s paranoid about them betraying her (Mae and Ty Lee’s defection fucked her up big-time) maaaaaybe wasn’t the best decision in the long run, at least as far as her hair is concewrned. But hey–maybe the chunky, uneven bang look + crazy eyes will be the next big thing! She also hallucinates seeing her mother (relevant quote from “The Beach”: “My own mother thought I was a monster. She was right, of course, but it still hurt.”), who tells her that she loves her, which causes Azula to break down into angry, frustrated tears.
Then it’s time for Azula’s coronation, which is gatecrashed by Zuko and Katara. Azula puts a halt on the proceedings to challenge her brother to an Agni Kai over who gets to be the Fire Lord, because her decision-making it shit now. (Remember when Zuko challenged Azula to a duel, and Azula was like “But that would be stupid of me–I am here to get shit done, not to engage in petty drama.” Those were good times.) Katara tries to convince Zuko not to accept her challenge, as it’s clear that she’s just trying to separate them, but Zuko argues that he knows he can beat her, and if he does, she won’t be able to hurt anyone else.
I could spend paragraphs saying how awesome their Agni Kai is, or I could just post the video so you can all watch it again:
That music. Damn. It’s the best fight scene this show has ever done.
The Agni Kai is intercut with Ozai and Aang fighting. Both pairs are evenly matched at first; Aang even gets the upper hand when he redirects Ozai’s lighting as Zuko taught him, but instead of throwing the bolt back at Ozai and ending the fight right there, Aang’s unable to kill Ozai and shoots the lighting bolt off to the side. Zuko looks like he’s going to win, too, but then Azula sees Katara standing off to the side and sends a blast of lightning at her. (Guess Katara was right, huh?) Zuko runs to block it and gets fried. Both Aang and Zuko end this episode in a pretty bad place: Aang hiding inside a ball of rock that Ozai’s fireblasting, Zuko twitching on the ground like a frog.
EVERYBODY’S ABOUT TO DIE.
Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang
…but they do not die. No one dies in the season finale, thank you God. Aang’s all FUCK THIS and airbends himself out the the rock, but he ends up getting stabbed in back and goes full Avatar State. Ozai doesn’t stand a chance.
Sokka and Toph manage to play dominoes with the Fire Nation airships, taking them out of commission, though they end up dangling off the edge of one of the ships, surrounded by guards. It looks like they’re going to die, but then Suki (who’s managed to commandeer a ship off-screen) shows up to save them. I was a little frustrated at the way Suki’s been sidelined during the finale, to be honest, but after all she’s not a main character, and Toph and Sokka are. And when she does pop her head back into the narrative, there’s a good 70/30 chance that it’s because her boyfriend needs rescuing, and I dig that.
Speaking of men who need rescuing: After two seasons, Katara has had E-FUCKING-NOUGH of Azula’s bullshit.
Katara and Azula: THE REMATCH. Azula anticipates Tumblr trends by a good couple of years when she calls Katara a “filthy peasant.” Katara wins the fight by trapping them both in ice, melting the water around her, and chaining the still-frozen Azula to a sewer grate. Azula immobilized, Katara goes to heal Zuko, and the pair of them look at Azula with pity as she finally breaks down. This is the last time we see her.
I love Azula. I love Azula because she’s evil. If you’ve been reading these recaps, you know that. I love female villains. But God damn if I don’t pity her now, too. Not in a woobie “Loki’s just misunderstood!” sort of way. But. Azula’s fourteen. She’s a child. And her childhood was influenced by some seriously fucked-up circumstances courtesy of Ozai, just like Zuko’s was. I’m not using the fact that Ozai is a manipulative, abusive (emotionally, physically, and psychologically) father to justify Azula’s actions. Zuko undeniably had a much harder time of things than Azula, and he went up against some extreme challenges to get on the right moral path.
But this final scene does, I think, turn Azula into a tragic figure in addition to a villainous one. It made me realize I’d been looking at her all wrong. I thought of her as a miniature version of Ozai, but that’s not entirely correct. A miniature version of Ozai is what she desperately wanted to be, but she could never quite get there. It’s what she had to be, or else in her mind she was just as weak, as stupid, as worthy of her father’s hatred as Zuko. Mai and Ty Lee’s betrayal flipped a switch in her head and tapped into a long-held fear that people would turn against her, that fear of her wouldn’t be able to keep them loyal to her, because she’s not as powerful, as worthy, as GOOD as her father. She felt the same pressure Zuko did, only that pressure manifested in a different way, and she responded to it in a worse way. Knowing where she ends up, a few Azula lines from earlier in the finale–“You can’t treat me like Zuko” and “He thinks I can’t handle the responsibility of being the Fire Lord, but I will be the greatest leader in Fire Nation history”–are heartbreaking.
Because if people don’t fear her–if her father doesn’t respect her–if she doesn’t win every fight–then what does she have?
And that’s a hell of a burden for, again, a fourteen year old to have.
We don’t see here what happens to her after she’s defeated, though I assume the post-show comics address it. Given my love for evil Azula, I never ever thought I’d say this, but I kind of want her to get a redemption arc where she gets the chance to atone for her past behavior (which, after all, is a big thing in the ATLAverse). I just feel so bad for her.
Let’s have a toast for my favorite ATLA character. May she play unusually aggressive beach volleyball for the rest of her days.
Aang catches Ozai and is about to kill him but comes out of Avatar state at the last minute, which must have taken some serious willpower. He uses the power Morla the Aged One gave him to permanently remove Ozai’s firebending ability, which is a bit of a pat resolution to the “should I kill Ozai?” dilemma, but still an appropriate one. Having its lead kill someone would’ve been a little dark even for Avatar. And the visuals are great. The whole thing relates to the orgins of the Avatar–that they used to bend energy, not elements. I don’t even know, man. I’m still internally flipping out over Azlua. Aang goes back into Avatar mode and puts out the fires Ozai started. Ozai and Azula are defeated. The White Lotus has taken back Ba Sing Se. Sozin’s Comet has passed.
At this point I’m thinking, holy shit, there are nine minutes left, something’s going to happen, everything cannot possibly be over, but it is. We end the show with nine minutes of the good guys being happy, which I for one really needed.
Zuko is reunited with Mai, who was released from prison by her Warden uncle. She warns him not to ever break up with her again, and they hug. Katara and Sokka are reunited with their father, who against all odds actually survived the show. (I’m used to Game of Thrones-level death counts, OK?) We find out that Ty Lee has joined the Kyoshi Warriors, a prospect that has Sokka genuinely frightened. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Zuko and Aang have the following exchange:
Zuko: I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…
Aang: And now we’re friends.
Zuko: Yeah… we are friends.
And I cried.
At Zuko’s coronation, which people from all nations attend, Zuko gives it up for the Avatar, the real MVP of the day. Aang stands before a cheering crowd, his crippling guilt about past failures to live up to his destiny finally put to rest. He did save the world. And now he and Zuko are going to work together to make it better.
A newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko visits his Ozai in prison, where he tells his father that being banished was the best thing that ever happened to him, because it set him on the right path. At long last, Zuko doesn’t seem scared of his abusive father. He’s finally free. He, like Aang, is happy with himself and what he’s achieved. And oh by the way, jackass, WHERE’S MY MOM?!
(I know that the search for Zuko’s mother is what [some of?] the post-series comics are about, and I am really glad they set that up in the finale. It would’ve felt weird if it looked like Zuko just forgot about her after the big reveal in “The Boiling Rock, Part 2.″)
We end the show with everyone happy and peaceful in Ba Sing Se: Zuko serves Iroh tea, Sokka paints a(n awful) group painting, and Aang and Katara kiss on the balcony in front of a setting sun.
It’s been good times, people. Stay flamin’. Check back for my review of the movie, which I am putting myself through for some reason. Perhaps because I am a masochist. And after that: Korra recaps!