Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender


Book 3: Fire

Most of what I want to say about season 3 is more appropriate as a conclusion rather than an introduction. And last season pretty much spoke for itself: with lightning! Therefore, in lieu of introduction or analysis, I will instead cover some material from outside of the series proper.

Between seasons 2 and 3, Nickelodeon decided to make a game on their website about Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not being content to make a plotless game, they decided to incorporate it into the overall storyline as something of a sidestory. I've never played it, but there are a number of cutscenes in the form of motion comics that are available on the season 2 boxed set. And I have seen those.

Therefore, now I will be covering Avatar: Escape From The Spirit World.

The story begins on a high note: Aang being shot in the back by Azula. We then see Aang in the Spirit World. He looks around, wondering what happened. Yue shows up to let him know where he is and exposit about what's going on. The Avatar Spirit has been damaged by Azula; Aang must quickly reconnect with his most recent 4 incarnations or the Avatar Cycle will be broken.

Avatar Roku

I think my leg is falling asleep... clearing mind... I hope we're not eating komodo chicken for lunch again...
Avatar Roku, failing at meditation

After some gameplay, Aang runs into Avatar Roku in a very lava-filled place. Aang apologizes for failing to master the Avatar State. Except that Aang did master the Avatar State; he just used it stupidly and got himself shot in the back. Roku says that mastering the Avatar State requires a lot of spiritual discipline (even though Aang did it in a day), which segues into a flashback from Roku.

He's in the Temple of the Avatar in the Fire Nation. He's working with a Fire Sage as part of his meditation to enter the Avatar State. No Chakras are mentioned or anything of that sort. It's just pure meditation. Roku however kinda sucks a meditation, as we see his thoughts linger on his leg falling asleep or what they're having for lunch.

Man, how much does it suck for Avatar Roku when Aang has more mental discipline than he does.

Anyway, Roku's past self says that he can't do it. Current Roku says that he decided to use the light from the winter solstice to trigger it. We cut to young Roku sitting as the solstice light reaches his eyes. Then, Roku gets all glowy and Aang thinks Roku mastered it.

Not so much, as we cut to an exterior shot of the top of the temple exploding.

Roku: worst Avatar ever. Oh, and if you think this is hyperbole (particularly in light of what we see next), we'll see more evidence of this in season 3.

Old Roku says that he got himself trapped in the Avatar State. And since he doesn't have Katara to hug him down, he must settle for the Fire Sage guy with a red crystal that reflects light into his face. This somehow shuts off the Avatar State.

So the Fire Sages have crystals that shut off the Avatar State. Why didn't the Firelord order them to equip his troops with them? Or does it only work on the solstice?

The Fire Sage guy who saved him says that Roku now needs to fix the temple before they can continue their Avatar State training.

Current Roku says that Aang shouldn't be too hard on himself, that he will master the Avatar State eventually. Then he sends Aang off to find Kyoshi.

Avatar Kyoshi

Sorry about that whole "wrongfully accused of murder" thing back in Chin Village.
Avatar Kyoshi

After another gameplay segment, Aang finds Hei Bei, the pandabear spirit. He rides him around to find Kyoshi. When they encounter each other, Kyoshi speaks the above quote. This also serves as a clunky segue into Kyoshi's story. She admits to having made some mistakes in her time as Avatar.

We cut to a picture of Ba Sing Se as Kyoshi says that one of her greatest challenges was dealing with a peasant revolt in Ba Sing Se. We see many people in Ba Sing Se denouncing the Earth King. Kyoshi says that they felt that the Earth King's role was outdated, that he didn't represent their interests. How could they ever have gotten that idea? Maybe it's the multiple layers of walls between himself and them that makes it easy for him to forget that they even exist, let alone have interests that differ from his?

We see the peasants swarming the upper ring and the palace, destroying stuff along the way. Kyoshi says that they destroyed anything representing the old government, including historical artifacts and priceless relics. So, being the Avatar, she was summoned to help deal with this.

We cut to Kyoshi in the throne room, with an elderly Earth King telling her to do whatever it takes to end the rebellion. Kyoshi flatly refuses. So he orders his guards to arrest her. Dude, the woman already took out an army of earthbenders; what do you think your measly guards are going to do? Oh, that's right; you don't know about that because the Earth King never leaves Ba Sing Se.

She slams down on them and confronts the Earth King, deciding to offer him a compromise. She says that she doesn't like this rebellion. No, of course not; everyone must kneel before the Earth King no matter what, whether he's a tyrant or an ineffective fop. Anyway, she says that if he listens to their grievances, she will protect Ba Sing Se's cultural heritage.

When the Earth King agrees, Kyoshi decides that the best way to protect Ba Sing Se's cultural heritage is to train an elite force of earthbenders. We get shots of earthbenders in training, climbing walls, even one with an earth-gloved hand.

Yes. Avatar Kyoshi made the Dai Li.

First off, does Kyoshi understand what the word "compromise" even means? She started off the conversation with the Earth King completely opposed to stopping the revolt. But after he has her attacked, she decides to... stop the revolt. And give him an elite group of earthbenders, ones that would be "feared by all." Dedicated to protecting the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se, which pretty much guarantees that any revolts would be stopped before they started.

And what does she ask for in return? Simply that he listen to their grievances. She doesn't ask that he form a new kind of government where he would be forced to abide by his people's wishes. She doesn't create a similar organization on the protester's side that would be able to counter the Dai Li and protect the people's interests. She just asks him to listen to them.

On what planet is this even remotely a "compromise?" The Earth King didn't just get what he wanted; he got far more than what he could have hoped for. He got a secret police trained in stealth that would ensure no such rebellions would happen again. I guess the way to get Kyoshi on your side is to sic your guards on her.

Aang calls her out on having created the Dai Li, but she says that she thought she was doing the right thing by creating a group that protected cultural history. Hey Kyoshi: cultural history doesn't need to be protected by a group that is to be "feared by all." Pro tip. She then says that actions always have consequences, even though some of them won't be seen for many lifetimes.

The only reason Kyoshi isn't the worst Avatar ever is because Roku already took that title. But it does mean that she was the worst Avatar of her day.

Oh and BTW, there's a infotag that came up during the segment that said that Kyoshi lived to be 230 years old. Yes, that's how they got around that accidental plot hole they created back in Avatar's Day; by making something just as stupid to explain it.

Anyway, Kyoshi sends him on his way to find Avatar Kuruk.

Avatar Kuruk

I loved impressing people with my bending prowess.
Avatar Kuruk, clearly compensating for something

So Aang rides Hei Bei around, saying that they should be careful as this is Koh's realm. Then Aang sees a man with a bear hat and jumps back, thinking that Koh replaced his face with that of a bear. No, it's just Kuruk with his ceremonial bear hat.

He says that he's looking for a pretty woman with long brown hair. Aang says he hasn't seen any such woman. Kuruk then flashes back about how he met his wife.

In his youth, Kuruk was kind of an ass. He challenged other benders to various tests and so forth. We get a shot of him and an earthbender in a contest of strength. We also see him challenge some random guy to an Agni Kai. And I really do mean "random guy;" he's just a guy going to the market. Of course, Kuruk was doing this to impress the ladies, and we see a shot of him impressing female airbenders by making a tornado that uses lotus petals.

Obviously female airbenders don't get out much.

Eventually, he fell in love at first sight. Of course he did; for him to fall in love for any actual reason would require the writers to put forth some effort. He met her at a gathering between the northern and southern tribes. This encourages him to settle down, and we get a shot of him giving her a betrothal necklace. So was this before or after the necklace had become the symbol of male oppression in the Northern Water Tribe?

Anyway, on the day of the wedding, taking place at the spirit oasis because obviously the Ocean and Moon Spirits wanted to attend, she is pulled into the water and disappears into the Spirit World. Apparently, Koh snatched her to punish him for his past mistakes. Every year since then, on their wedding anniversary, he traveled to the Spirit World to try to find her. But he never did.

Aang says he knows what failure feels like. What with him having failed and all. Aang suddenly remembers that he has seen his wife: one of Koh's faces. So Kuruk decides to go after Koh, but he sends Aang on to Avatar Yangchen first.

Wait: so Kuruk knew who had taken his wife into the Spirit World, but he never thought to check with Koh to see if he had her? Also, didn't Koh say that Kuruk tried to kill him? And didn't that scene seem to imply that he stole Kuruk's face too? So what's going on here? Did he attack Koh before or not? Or did he attack Koh, then decide that Koh didn't have her anymore, so he went elsewhere?

Why are all of Aang's past lives stupid?

Avatar Yangchen

So the Avatar continues to take human rebirth. And with each life, learns what it means to be human.
Avatar Yangchen

High up in some mountains, Aang meets Yangchen, a female airbender. After introductions and pleasantries, Yangchen asks him what he has learned meeting his past lives. Apparently, he's learned that they were all screwups like him. Then he asks why the Avatar is reborn at all. Why isn't the Avatar just a pure, immortal spirit?

Yangchen says that the Avatar must show compassion to all people. And we get images of the Gaang, including Iroh and Zuko of all people, despite the recent betrayal. Yangchen says that the only way to have compassion is to live among humans. The Avatar has to experience human life to appreciate the value of that life. This will help him do anything to protect that life.

Then we get some plot exposition. This journey has helped save the Avatar Spirit. But Azula's attack has damaged his body so that he can't enter the Avatar State. So instead of relying on his past lives, he has to rely on his friends. That would be a great line to start the season off with... if the season didn't end with Aang in a 1:1 fight, with his friends not helping him at all (they're busy in their own struggles). And if that fight didn't climax with him relying on his past lives to win.

This is like anti-theme; you set something up, and then show the exact opposite of it to be true.

Anyway, Yangchen then presses the magic reset button. Yep: Aang will remember none of this. And this lesson, about sticking with your friends, would have been relevant to him in the very first episode of the season. Indeed, much of the plot of that episode wouldn't have happened if he remembered any of this.

So, that was... not good. I understand the idea: show the past Avatars to be fallible. But the execution was terrible. Kuruk and Roku come out best, with Kuruk just being a prick and Roku being impatient. These are reasonable frailties. Kyoshi however is shown to be a trusting imbecile, giving the Earth King the tools to dominate Ba Sing Se while somehow expecting him to listen to his subjects. It wouldn't have taken too many writing changes to make Kyoshi's motivation for creating the Dai Li much more reasonable.

What's most interesting is that we learn nothing about Yangchen here. What was her failing? Where did she screw up the biggest? It's odd that she never tells us. The conversation with her is solely about Aang's metaphysical question. It's just strange that they wouldn't bother to give her some kind of backstory.

Personally, I don't consider this to be canon. Why? Because it's too stupid to be canon. It doesn't match what we eventually see later very well. It sets off a theme that is not merely ignored by the finale, but directly negated by it. It's also very poorly executed, particularly with the reset button ending. It's like something that could have happened, but nobody remembers it so who knows if it did or not. And if nobody can remember it, then it may as well not have happened.


Yangchen was pretty much femJesus, she was so good that she created a golden age of peace, the kind that could allow Kuruk to exist in the first place.

Kuruk attacked Koh but apparently he didn't know what Koh did. But again, a bit of a story weakness, although implications can be subverted, so that's not an issue.

It was a compromise; The King wanted Kyoshi to straight up preserve the status you but The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized so she had to ensure a peace, thus rather than letting the peasants go all French Reign Of Terror on them, she forced the King to not be a dick and kept anarchy from coming across with the Dai Li. And her age isn't a plot hole, old ages aren't unknown in the Avavverse (Sozin, Azulon, etc.) And Earth-folk are the longest lasting, combine that with the Avatar power boost and its not that crazy. Aang had like 160 years of Ava-juice in him, and they said she was the longest among them, so not that hard. Roku sucks. :P

JusticeMan 14th Aug 11