⚠️ SPOILERS AHEAD. ⚠️
In hindsight, I should’ve been more specific about what I was watching in the observations below and why I drew the conclusions/comments below. That would be rigorous and this was for leisure.
Some thoughts I had while watching ATLA for the 3rd (?) time:
Book 1: Water
Chapter 1 - The Boy In the Iceberg
Chapter 2 - The Avatar Returns
Sokka and the water tribe have to contend with a conflict in concentric responsibilities. There’s a tension between one’s responsibilities to those closest to them (e.g. stay with family and tend to their needs) and one’s responsibilities to the world (fight for your nation and for those yet to be born). There’s a special kind of selfless greed we can have for those closest to us if it’s not “balanced” with service to the outer rings like community, nation, and the world. Those rings will not hold equal weight and the circumstances+choices of an individual dictate their capacity to serve and their actualized service but I digress.
Aang is hope for the world but he has endangered the water tribe and Sokka’s primary responsibility is to the water tribe. Katara wants what’s best for her (to be a water bender) and what’s best for the world (Aang is hope that the century-long war could finally come to end).
Sokka and Katara had a conservative upbringing with traditional gender roles. Sokka wants to be a good soldier that protects the tribe. Katara was outraged at Sokka in chapter 1 for having to clean both of their clothes, particularly Sokka’s dirty socks.
Chapter 3 - The Southern Air Temple
Aang doesn’t want to be the Avatar. Largely out of fear of the responsibility and expectations that follow. Aang is unsure if he can clear the bar that he believes is set forth in front of him by the world.
Katara wants to protect Aang so she doesn’t want Aang to know what happened to his people.
Zuko is determined. He spent >2 years constantly looking for the Avatar and is foolish or courageous (or both?) enough to challenge a master fire bender to an agni kai.
Chapter 4 - The Warriors of Kyoshi
Sokka seeks knowledge and reluctantly sheds what holds him back: his belief in traditional roles and false notion that being a man means he should be better at something or that he should be more responsible for something than a woman. He puts that aside to learn from Suki. Then he puts his low quality belief down for good when he apologizes to Suki.
When the fire nation attacks the Kyoshi warriors’ village, Katara wants Aang to run. Aang knows he can’t stay but he also can’t leave the village burning; he has a responsibility to the people. So he dramatically leaps from Appa and uses the Unagi to put out the fires before leaving with Appa and gang.
Chapter 5 - The King of Omashu
Aang, in his pursuit of short term joy, is reckless and endangers the cabbage man’s livelihood. Just kidding. Well... anyways.
There’s some foreshadowing in this episode when Bumi tells Aang, “I hope you will think like a mad genius” when Aang must face Fire Lord Ozai.
Chapter 6 - Imprisoned
Another situation with conflicting concentric responsibilities. Haru’s mom must protect Haru. Haru wants the village to fight and resist the Fire Nation’s oppression. Haru lost this father to the Fire Nation and wants to avenge him. Haru’s mom doesn’t want to lose Haru too; she has lost her husband, so why would she risk her son.
The old man turns in Haru to the authorities despite Haru saving the old man’s life with the forbidden art of earth bending. Fire Nation has turned the villagers against each other by:
- capitalizing on the conflicting concentric responsibilities (leveraging the innermost circle to stop the outer circle from being fulfilled)
- probably incentivizing citizens to report earth benders
Chapter 7 - Winter Solstice Part 1
Zuko must choose between finding his captured uncle or pursuing Aang to capture him. He chooses correctly and saves Iroh.
Aang isn’t confident he can solve the villages problem with Hei Bai because he doesn’t know how right away but he agrees to try because it’s the responsible thing to do. Is he ambitious and determined? Yes. Is he foolish and lucky? Yes.
Chapter 8 - Winter Solstice Part 2
A fire sage gives up everything to fulfill his duties. While many others pledge their allegiance to their nation, his only allegiance is to his responsibilities.
Chapter 9 - Water bending Scroll
Chapter 10 - Jet
Jet attacks the old man from the Fire Nation because of the atrocities committed by the Fire Nation. Sokka understands the old man posed no threat and didn’t need to be attacked. Sokka acts with purpose and forward-moving goals, Jet acts with hate and seeks revenge.
Chapter 11 - The Great Divide
Two groups of people with their differences hate and vilify each other. It’s up to Aang to resolve the conflict between the two groups of people that have fought with each other for hundreds of years.
How does Aang resolve it? He tells the tribes they got their history all wrong and Aang explains the true origin of the conflict between the two tribes which was caused by a miscommunication between two kids. There’s just one slight problem: Aang is knowingly lying to them about their history. Aang’s story is completely made up but Aang believes the ends justify the means.
Aang effectively resolves the conflict by getting the two groups to drop their versions of the past altogether and move forward in peace.
This episode is awful — the premise of two groups of people with a history of conflict (each group having their own version) and an unbiased outsider trying to broker a peace between them is an interesting situation but it’s a hard problem, so the writers of this tv show wrote a bs ending so they could both introduce and completely resolve a difficult conflict within 25 minutes.
This episode shouldn’t exist.
Chapter 12 - The Storm
Aang is struggling to cope with the ideas that he was given a responsibility he never asked for, that he evaded his responsibility for over a hundred years, and that many people needed him while he was gone. Many of those people are now dead.
Aang doesn’t want power. He never wanted to be the Avatar. He would rather go penguin sledding or play airbending games. But given Aang’s abilities and what the world needs, he knows he must fulfill his responsibilities. Above all else, Aang wants to do what’s right (well, usually).
Zuko’s father punished Zuko for voicing his belief in opposition (and expressing empathy for Fire Nation “fresh meat” soldiers that the Fire Nation generals were willing to sacrifice). Note Zuko doesn’t express regret for voicing his beliefs. Zuko is too busy wanting to restore his honor and way of life but he hasn’t evaluated whether that’s what really wants. Zuko doesn’t need his father’s acceptance or nation’s respect. Zuko is trying to be somewhere he doesn’t belong and, in doing so, he isn’t being himself. Zuko blindly pursues the Avatar so he can be accepted by those he doesn’t even like or respect.
Aang is hard on himself. He’s stuck in the past. Katara is in the present.
When Uncle Iroh informs Zuko’s crew about Zuko’s past, the crew goes from hating Zuko to understanding Zuko. This is an excellent scene.
Chapter 13 - The Blue Spirit
Why does Zuko save Aang? Zuko doesn’t want Admiral Zhao to take away Zuko’s chance at restoring his honor.
Why does Aang save Zuko? Aang is shocked that Zuko saved him but understands he can’t leave Zuko to the Fire Nation soldiers after Zuko has helped Aang get out. Aang doesn’t understand Zuko’s motive yet so Aang remains puzzled.
Chapter 14 - The Fortune-Teller
The fortune teller is dishonest.
Chapter 15 - Bato of the Water Tribe
Chapter 16 - The Deserter
Jeong Jeong understood that true mastery in a skill requires mastery over oneself. Admiral Zhao sought to get good with fire-bending but Admiral Zhao’s lack of discipline holds him back from true mastery. In Chapter 20, Zhao pays a heavy price.
Jeong Jeong is not free from his past.
Chapter 17 - The Northern Air Temple
The northern air temple represents unchecked, free-rein technological advancement. Most see progress (new capabilities are empowering and can lift people up, quite literally), Aang sees destruction (pollution and weapons). Unchecked, free-rein technological advancement doesn’t discriminate between good or bad (a bit of a circular definition given the “unchecked, free-rein” prefix).
Chapter 18 - The Waterbending Master
Chapter 19 - The Siege of the North: Part 1
Chapter 20 - The Siege of the North: Part 2
Admiral Zhao is removed. It is quick. Aang kills with reason and a sense of necessity for the greater good but not out of hate.
Book 2: Earth
Chapter 1 - The Avatar State
Moral of the story, if there’s one, is probably “be cautious of shortcuts”.
Chapter 2 - The Cave of Two Lovers
At the beginning of the episode, I like how Appa is just motionlessly, chilling on his back in the water with his relatively little arms sticking up towards the sky.
“destination fever” — I like this term. Means “being fixated on the results and forgetting to enjoy the process”
Lmao when a fire nation soldier says, “It's too dangerous. Haven't you heard the song?”
Zuko’s face when he sees Song has burn marks too shows Zuko is empathetic but is largely occupied by his own desires to notice the suffering of others at the hands of his nation’s leadership. Zuko cares about his Uncle but doesn’t seem to enjoy his company because, again, Zuko is too occupied with his own desires.
LOL at Aang when he says, “What? I'm saying I would rather kiss you than die - that's a compliment.”
When Song mentions the Avatar, Zuko looks straight ahead as if he can see his goal. Zuko is focused on a selfish desire. He proceeds to steal a horse-like animal from Song’s family despite Song and her mother providing Zuko, and Uncle Iroh, with free hospitality. Zuko thinks he got away with the theft but Song sees Zuko steal the animal. Song is disappointed.
I like how when Momo starts sharing a story, Appa sits down to listen. But they’re animals so, you as the viewer, cannot understand Momo. Yet, we can see that Momo was eager to share with Appa what had happened.
Chapter 3 - Return to Omashu
Azula seems like a wholly bad person.
Aang returns the child to the fire nation leadership at Omashu despite the fire nation leadership’s oppression. Why did Aang do it? Perhaps because the child shouldn’t suffer for their parents’ actions.
Chapter 4 - The Swamp
Zuko is humiliated by the passerby making Uncle Iroh dance for a coin. Uncle Iroh is having fun and sees good in the passerby. Zuko is obsessed with status and respect from others. Uncle Iroh doesn’t give it any thought; he has enough self-respect to not be offended, knows he needs the coin for food, and singing/dancing is harmless so he does it. I’m not personally sold on Iroh’s response; it certainly seems like an enlightened response but I’m missing the complete why.
Chapter 5 - Avatar Day
Zuko steals resources for him and his uncle. Uncle Iroh suspects that and doesn’t approve but also needs the food for sustenance.
I like how Aang easily takes his head and arms out of the wooden pillory/stocks when participating in a discussion circle with the three other prisoners who are large, tough men but also wholesome, supportive softies.
Uncle Iroh tells Zuko that there’s “a simple honor in poverty” and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. He also says, “You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
Chapter 6 - The Blind Bandit
I like how Toph’s seismic sense is portrayed with a moment in time frozen/slowed-down with white rings and everything else going dim/discolored. Clever way to visualize how vibrations are being sensed by a blind girl.
Chapter 7 - Zuko Alone
We see from a young age that Zuko has sought validation, to prove himself to others. But we also see that Zuko will “never give up without a fight” — the inscription on the knife that Iroh gifted to Zuko at a young age is fitting.
This episode is dope, we see flashbacks interleaving the present and get to understand Zuko better.
It’s unclear if Zuko’s character is a product of his upbringing though. He had a terrible father, a terrible sister, and his mother had to leave him at a young age. However, Zuko’s empathy comes from his mother while Azula’s apathy comes from their father.
Chapter 8 - The Chase
Iroh gives Toph advice, “You sound like my nephew, always thinking you need to do things on your own, without anyone's support. There is nothing wrong with letting the people who love you help you.” Toph gives Iroh some advice too; “Oh, and about your nephew, maybe you should tell him that you need him, too.”
Azula’s fire is blue — the color of perfect combustion, representing her perfectionism. But only in fire-bending, not in character.
Chapter 9 - Bitter Work
Lol @ Iroh saying, “No, she’s crazy, and she needs to go down.”
“Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.” — Iroh
Aang stands his ground when important things or people are at stake.
Zuko runs off to find lightning to practice a technique that, if done incorrectly, could cost him his life. Zuko understands it’s necessary; he must be prepared to face Azula. He will die today, Azula will kill him, or he will survive. To survive, he must be prepared.
Zuko stands at the peak of a mountain to practice redirecting lightning. He rages at the storm and cries, “You've always thrown everything you could at me! Well, I can take it, and now I can give it back! Come on, strike me! You've never held back before!” This is really sad.
It’s remarkable that Zuko opts to live a life strife with hardship instead of a comfortable life, doubly so for a misguided reason (capturing the Avatar to gain approval from his father).
Chapter 10 - The Library
Chapter 11 - The Desert
When Aang enters his Avatar state, everyone except Katara runs away in fear.
Chapter 12 - The Serpent’s Pass
The cabbage man is resilient; despite his business failing and being repeatedly destroyed, with no justice or course for retribution to the offenders, the cabbage man continues to produce and sell cabbages. Remarkable.
LOL @ the serpent path’s pillar’s inscription saying, “Abandon hope.” That’s too damn funny. It’s so unexpected and sharp.
Aang says, “The [air-bending] monks used to say that hope was just a distraction, so maybe we do need to abandon it.... Hope is not going to get us into Ba Sing Se and it's not going to help find Appa. We need to focus on what we're doing right now and that's getting across this path.” Aang says we need to focus on the present and take action. Iroh in Chapter 5 of Book 2 said, “You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
Chapter 13 - City of Walls and Secrets
Chapter 14 - Tales of Ba Sing Se
Uncle Iroh helps everyone but he couldn’t help his son.
Chapter 15 - Appa’s Lost Days
Poor Appa, he deserves much better.
Chapter 16 - Lake Laogai
What do you want from life and why?
Iroh: “We have a chance for a new life here. [Cut to Zuko looking out a window.] If you start stirring up trouble, we could lose all the good things that are happening for us.”
Zuko: “[Turns to Iroh.] Good things that are happening for you! Have you ever thought that I want more from life than a nice apartment and a job serving tea?”
Iroh: “There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity. I suggest you think about what it is that you want from your life and why.”
Zuko: “I want my destiny.”
Iroh: “What that means is up to you.”
Iroh: “And then what!? You never think these things through! [Points at Zuko] This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole! You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!”
Zuko: “I would have figured something out!”
Iroh: “No! If his friends hadn't found you, you would have frozen to death!”
Zuko: “I know my own destiny, Uncle!”
Iroh: “Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”
Zuko: “Stop it, Uncle! I have to do this!”
Iroh: “I'm begging you, Prince Zuko! It's time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you, and what do you want?”
Above transcript is from https://avatar.fandom.com/wiki/Transcript:Lake_Laogai_(episode)
Appa to the rescue! So funny how Long Fee gets skipped like a rock across the water. Appa is a mighty beast and Long Fee is like a pebble to Appa.
Jet redeemed himself. He’s no perfect person, and he has a dirty past, but he died with honor.
Chapter 17 - The Earth King
The episode has a spicy ending.
Chapter 18 - The Guru / The Crossroads of Destiny
Guru Pathik drops wisdom applicable to anyone. Aang unblocks those chakras a little too quickly to be realistic.
Hahaha - https://www.reddit.com/r/TheLastAirbender/comments/pctq7b/priorities_people/
Iroh says, “Perfection and power are overrated. I think you were very wise to choose happiness and love.” I think Aang choosing to be attached to Katara instead of being an all-powerful Avatar was irresponsible. It is possible to love and be detached.
Zuko chooses incorrectly, thinking he can redeem himself by capturing the Avatar. He didn’t really let go of his low quality desires. Ironically, Zuko could’ve redeemed himself if he chose to help Aang instead.
Quick thinking from Azula when she strikes Aang rising in his Avatar state.
Zuko remains in conflict despite choosing to help Azula. He explicitly acknowledges that he betrayed Iroh.
Book 3 - Fire
Chapter 1 - The Awakening
Zuko’s father’s love is conditional. Azula is perfect so she has her father’s love.
Katara has abandonment issues. The conflict in concentric responsibilities (leaving your family to help fight for nation(s) vs being there for your family) strikes again.
Azula isn’t 100% sure Aang died so she sees taking credit for it as a risk to her reputation. She also suspects that Zuko was lying when he confirmed there was no way Aang could’ve survived. So she lies to her father and says Zuko killed the Avatar.
Chapter 2 - The Headband
“We were on our way to play hide and explode. You wanna come?” LOL
The following exchange between Mai and Zuko while they’re watching a sunset is amusing.
- Mai: I don’t hate you.
- Zuko: I don’t hate you too.
I like how the Fire Nation schoolchildren have Aang’s back.
Chapter 3 - The Painted Lady
The ending is a nice touch.
Chapter 4 - Sokka’s Master
The pai sho tile.
Chapter 5 - The Beach
Mai and Zuko call each other out on their flaws.
Zuko’s longs for the past when things were simple. Things are more complicated today. He’s an adult with decisions to make.
I think a good way to think about life is that all is deterministic, and people are decreasingly the product of their environment while increasingly the product of their choices as they grow older.
Zuko is at an inflection point in his arc. There was a potential inflection point when Zuko had to decide whether to fight for or against Aang in Book 2.
Chapter 6 - The Avatar and the Firelord
Sozin came to Roku’s aid and then... betrayed him as soon as he realized he had something to gain that he cared more about than a friendship with Roku.
Whatta twist; Zoku’s great grandfathers include Sozin and Roku.
Sozin doesn’t make sense though, he wanted to spread peace and prosperity but he just spread destruction and suffering. Surely he must’ve noticed? Idk, I guess it’s just a TV show and they need a Very Bad Individual somewhere.
Both Iroh and Roku said, “restore balance [in/to] the world”. It’s not about a utopia. It’s about balance.
Chapter 7 - The Runaway
Toph actually asks someone (Katara) for help. That’s big; that’s character growth right there.
Chapter 8 -
Chapter 9 - Nightmares and Daydreams
Aang is undergoing a lot of stress.
LOL at Appa’s voice and the way he’s standing in the Momo vs Appa fight; this is the best scene.
Chapter 10 - Day of the Black Sun
They gave it their all to make it that far. At least they were rational enough to know they couldn’t continue; they avoided the sunk cost fallacy.
After Zuko gets what he wants, he finds it didn’t give him contentment.
Tbh Zuko should’ve struck down his father and then left.
Chapter 11 - The Western Air Temple
So many good lines from Zuko in this episode.
“Zuko, you have to look within yourself to save yourself from your other self. Only then will your true self, reveal itself.” — Zuko, when in need of Iroh’s advice but Iroh isn’t there so he tries to impersonate Iroh.
“And, uh, I’m good now” — Zuko to Aang’s group.
Writers did a good job of capturing the awkwardness of Zuko having to explain he wants to switch sides.
Poor Zuko; the Fire Nation banished him and now Aang’s group won’t [initially] accept him.
I like that in Aang’s group’s discussion of Zuko, they’re a bit confused by Zuko’s actions. They want to believe he’s a simple person who is truly evil but Zuko has done things that don’t make sense for a purely evil or one-dimensional person to do. Toph empathizes with Zuko and notes that he could’ve turned out much worse given his upbringing. Zuko, in all his complexity, is neither good nor bad; a boy who was first trying to pursue something external (his father’s acceptance) in the world but arrives at the conclusion that there is something internal (honor) to pursue through external means (help Aang). He no longer cares about the throne or being in a position of respect wrt his father. He now cares about the role that he must play, which in turn will draw his journey.
In previous episodes, we’ve seen that Zuko doesn’t rest in comfort for long even when given opportunities to do so. He will either die in his efforts or he will live long enough to find other work that must be done after the Firelord is defeated.
“Why am I so bad at being good” — Zuko
“I thought I had lost my honor, and that somehow my father could return it to me. But I know now that no one can give you your honor. It's something you earn for yourself, by choosing to do what's right.” — Zuko
Chapter 12 - The Firebending Masters
LOL “think about our place in the universe”
“Fire is life, not just destruction” — Mister Sun Chief sir
- Thus far, fire has been a symbol of rage and destruction in this TV show.
Zuko is arrogant to think he and Aang could take on Ran and Shao before meeting them. Zuko assumed they were mere mortals.
Aang: [In a low voice.] Still think we can take 'em?
Zuko: Sshh. I never said that.
The dragons didn’t check for fear or imperfections. They checked for heart.
Chapter 13 - The Boiling Rock
This exchange is dope:
Mai: “I guess you just don't know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you.”
Azula: “No, you miscalculated! You should have feared me more!”
Chapter 14 - The Southern Raiders
I’m not sure I follow Aang and Sokka’s reasoning behind why they believe Katara shouldn’t search for the man that killed her mother. It ended up being unproductive of Katara, with hindsight, but if the man was still a threat to others then Katara would’ve been right to pursue him and put an end to his violence.
Chapter 15 - The Ember Island Players
I like how the Ember Island Players depicted King Bumi: so jacked lol. Toph really enjoyed the play. LOL at how they had someone carry Mai’s sword across the stage. The play reminds Zuko of his mistakes. Toph was kind to Zuko by relaying what Iroh had said to her; she’s gotten nicer/warmed up to the crew as the TV show went on. Suki doesn’t find Sokka’s jokes funny but is happy to hear Sokka laugh.
The ending of the play is the crew’s worst nightmare. The play also serves as a brief summary of some of the highlights in the TV show thus far.
Chapter 16 - Sozin’s Comet
Oof, a gap in communication among the crew has led to them having to expedite their plans quite a bit. Realistically, Aang will/should die when he faces the Fire Lord because Aang is woefully unprepared but this is a TV show.
Aang shouldn’t have qualms about taking the Fire Lord’s life. It should be seen as necessary action for the greater good.
How would a small group of people train to face the Fire Lord? Their training is better than nothing but no amount of preparation will be like the real deal. However, they have to continue their training nonetheless.
I like that Aang takes his responsibility seriously and has a hard time grappling with the idea that he must deal with the Fire Lord. He puts a lot of thought into it. He is the arbiter of justice.
Aang has access to all the wisdom of his past Avatars but, ultimately, Aang must decide for himself.
Wisdom from the past Avatars that Aang calls upon:
- “You must be decisive”
- “Only justice will bring peace”
- “you must actively shape your own destiny and the destiny of the world”
- “selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world”
They low key suggest he'll need to kill Fire Lord Ozai but Aang wants to find another way. He’s stubborn.
Iroh isn’t the uncle that Zuko deserves but Iroh is the uncle that Zuko needs.
Zuko is a little disappointed that Iroh said Zuko needs help facing Azula, but Zuko has grown and requests help from Katara. Zuko is shedding his ego by committing himself to a cause greater than him or his desires.
Azula insists on things going exactly her way. She cannot know peace because she seeks complete control over external matters.
Ozai’s position on his blimp is a risky position. One gust of wind and he will plummet to this death. Actually, nah, he’s a fire bender so he’ll use his hands like a jetpack or some bs like that.
Azula is losing her sanity. Why? https://www.reddit.com/r/TheLastAirbender/comments/gpibo8/what_exactly_happened_to_azula_at_the_end/
Seeing members of The Order of the White Lotus fight is dope!
“Airship slice!” — Sokka, shortly before him, Toph, and Suki takeout an entire fleet of Fire Nation airships.
Aang is unwilling to do what’s necessary when the time calls for it; Aang could’ve redirected Ozai’s lightning towards Ozai and finished him. Fortunately this is a TV show and Aang soon gets an opportunity to do things his own way.
Azula cheated at the Agni Kai by targeting Katara. Zuko should’ve never accepted the Agni Kai.
Aang looks like an atom in his Avatar state with all four elements flowing around him.
Katara could’ve blood-bended Azula smh.
Aang carved his own path in the end by finding a way to make Ozai powerless without killing him.
If we accept the surreal premise of the show, the ending is not quite realistic; allowing Aang to take away Ozai’s bending is a cop out.
Aang should’ve apologized to Katara for what happened in Chapter 15.
The ending is mostly satisfying.