Now that we are waiting for the Avatar: The Last Airbender Netflix remake, which recently landed an executive producer, let’s take a look at the best episodes from the original series. It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to 10, but it had to be done. Please let us know what your favorite episodes are in the comments!
10. The Siege of the North Part 2
A lot happens in this episode. It also has a lot going for it. It’s the season finale of book one, which wraps up the Northern water tribe arc. It has everything. There are some sad moments, great character development, some creepy moments and unforgettable action. Even the moon dies… First of all, we are introduced to Koh, the face stealer. A creepy centipede-like spirit. Koh mostly serves as a way for Aang to learn about the moon and ocean spirits, but its a fun scene nonetheless. The episode gives us the “my sister was born lucky, I was lucky to be born” line from Zuko. This continues Zuko’s altered quest to feel loved by a father that hates him.
The book one finale has the climax of Yue’s story where she sacrifices herself to save the moon spirit. There is also Zhao’s “death” when the moon spirit drags him into the ocean. All because he was too stubborn to take Zuko’s hand. Lastly, we see Aang fuse with the moon spirit and destroy a whole fire nation fleet. See I told you a lot happened in this episode. This is only a taste of what Avatar has to offer. It only gets better after this folks.
9. The Avatar and the Firelord
Now let’s skip all the way to book three. This episode finally gives us some backstory on how the 100-year war started. This is a story of betrayal. Two best friends are slowly pulled apart by their designated roles in life. These two friends are the past Avatar (Roku) and the past Firelord (Sozin). Sozin’s desire to spread fire nation influence is contradictory to the Avatar’s role. When a volcano erupts over Roku’s hometown, Sozin sees it as the perfect opportunity to take out the only obstacle in his path – his childhood friend. He leaves Roku to die on the volcano. This episode does a lot of world-building for the Avatar universe. It also makes Aang and Zuko’s friendship(Avatar and Firelord) even more special. It’s the opposite story. Zuko and Aang went from enemies to friends while Roku and Sozin went from friends to enemies. Zuko and Aang started an era of peace. Roku and Sozin started an era of war.
8. The Blind Bandit
This episode deserves all the praise just for introducing one of the best characters in Avatar – Toph Beifong. There is great satisfaction in watching Toph completely annihilate all the Earth Rumble Six participants. This small, blind girl takes on the buffest, strongest earth benders. They were out of their league. The storyline of Toph’s parents being overprotective and isolating their daughter from society is well done. Toph’s line: “I’m twelve years old and I’ve never had a real friend” hits me every time. It’s so heartwarming to see Toph meet her first friends. Not to mention Toph made the show ten times better than it already was.
7. Lake Laogai
This episode falls into one of the best story arcs in ATLA’s history – The Ba Sing Se storyline, which is filled with political corruption and intrigue. It’s amazing how this political thriller made its way onto a kid’s show, but I’m glad it did. The best part of this episode is Appa’s reunion with the group. It’s been a long, emotional time for team Avatar after they lost Appa. The audience felt every part of it. When Appa finally returns to Aang, you can’t help but feel immense joy. The backstory to the reunion is also great. Zuko finds Appa but lets him go, which is a major step for his character. In the process he leaves behind the blue spirit mask, leaving behind a part of his identity. The decision was influenced by his uncle’s emotional speech. A speech that sums up a major theme for Zuko. Is he following his own destiny or a destiny someone else forced on him?
That’s not all though. The episode had the death of Jet. Jet was never a fan-favorite, but you can’t help but fill bad for his team of Freedom Fighters. Team Avatar leaves with Longshot and Smellerbee crying over their friend and leader. This episode pulls no punches.
6. Zuko Alone
This episode is the embodiment of emotional storytelling. The western aesthetic of this episode is a nice touch as well. Zuko makes friends with a boy in a small earth kingdom town. The episode is all about identity and the fear of being fully known. We get to see Zuko’s unlikely friendship with this boy grow throughout the episode. It is rather sweet. The boy is eventually captured by some dirty earth kingdom soldiers. Zuko is forced to firebend to save the boy and he becomes confident in who he is, revealing his full title as fire prince. The boy is disgusted with this and says he hates Zuko- even after he saves him. This is all commentary on how people look at someone’s title instead of who they really are. The boy let the evilness of the Fire Nation overshadow the kindness Zuko showed him.
Zuko Alone also introduces one of the most interesting plotlines in Avatar: what the heck happened to Zuko’s mother? Zuko’s flashbacks reveal a plot where Ozai is ordered to kill his own son, Zuko, to secure his place on the throne. Zuko’s mother does some behind the scenes action to save her son, but is never seen again. It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the series.
5. Tales of Ba Sing Se
This “filler” episode turned into one of the best episodes of Avatar. It follows each character as they each go on a little adventure in Ba Sing Se. Toph and Katara get makeovers, Zuko goes on a date, Aang makes a zoo and Sokka has a haiku battle. These are all fun, heartfelt storylines. Momo even gets the spotlight as he goes out looking for Appa. That last one was surprisingly well-executed and emotional for having no dialogue. What makes this episode stand out is Iroh’s tale. Iroh celebrates his deceased son’s birthday and it’s a tear-jerker. It stood the test of time and is one of the show’s most memorable scenes. It’s also a tribute to Iroh’s original voice actor- truly a special moment.
4. The Firebending Masters
Zuko lost his stuff. His firebending was fueled by rage, but Zuko turned a new leaf. Zuko and Aang decide to find the true meaning of firebending. What follows is an awe-inspiring episode that symbolizes Zuko’s amazing character development so far. It results in Aang and Zuko meeting the last dragons and performing an ancient firebending form. It is one of the most beautiful spectacles in the show.
3. The Day of Black Sun Part 2: The Eclipse
This is what the whole series lead up too. The invasion of the fire nation. It’s fun to watch every character from the show’s history come together. This is a great episode for Azula, the key for the fire nation’s eventual victory. She and her Dai li agents held off Aang, Toph, and Sokka long enough for the eclipse to end. Aang didn’t get to face the Firelord and the invasion was lost. Zuko also confronted his dad in what turned out to be a scene with great dialogue and action. What makes this episode so impactful is how it illustrates a full-scale battle, which was built up for the majority of the series. It illustrates that sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. The adults have to stay behind and be imprisoned so Aang can live to fight another day.
2. The Crossroads of Destiny
Talk about defying expectations. One would think book 2 ends with Aang defeating Azula and the Fire Nation losing Ba Sing Se. Nope. Aang is critically injured by Azula. The heroes run away and the Fire Nation takes control of the Earth Kingdom. It’s a rather heartbreaking episode, but that’s what makes it so good. It all correlates to Iroh’s speech. “Sometimes life is like a dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving… you will come to a better place.” The whole episode is a dark tunnel for the main characters. The audience can only hope there will be a light at the end of the tunnel in book 3. Besides its rather dark ending, the episode does offer some impressive fights, Iroh breathing fire and a great scene between Katara and Zuko that initiates their future rocky friendship.
Honorable Mentions: The Storm, The Blue Spirit, The Deserter, The Swamp, The Chase, The Library, The Drill, The Day of Black Sun Part1: The Invasion, Sokka’s Master, The Southern Raiders, Sozin’s Comet Part 1-3.
1. Sozin’s Comet Part 4: Avatar Aang
The show ends with what is pretty much an hour and 20-minute movie. The last four episodes flow so well together that it’s difficult to distinguish them. But for the rules of this list, the very last episode takes the number one spot. It just ended the series so well. Every character has a role to play and everything is tidied up nicely. The two most compelling storylines for me is Azula’s and Aang’s. Azula slowly descends into insanity. It’s a sad ending that made the audience feel bad for someone they spent most of the series hating. Everyone left Azula. She has no one. Everyone is afraid of her, even her own mom. This all culminates in her breakdown after being defeated by Katara. It is a heartbreaking moment.
Aang, on the other hand, has to balance his pacifist nature with his role as the Avatar. His treatment of this role drove the majority of his storyline, remember he never wanted to be the Avatar. This sweet, innocent, often immature kid was forced into a role that required maturity, sacrifice, and even violence. Luckily, he finds a compromise that culminates in an intense battle between him and The Firelord. The finale has everything the series does best. It perfectly balances the innocent nature of these kids with the dark reality they are thrown into. The fight scenes are worthy of their series-long build-ups and characters(mostly Aang and Zuko) reach the end of their arc nicely. This well-executed finale largely determined the quality of the series as a whole(could you imagine the devastation of a great show being ruined by a trash finale). ATLA has seen a lot of praise over the years and this finale proves why.
Devin is a recent graduate of the University of North Texas where he studied journalism. He enjoys story-driven adventure games, which makes Naughty Dog his favorite developer(Sic Parvis Magna). Devin will avidly say that Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best show with Breaking Bad following close behind.