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For the most part, the final season of this show is on par with season 2. All of the characters get moments of development, and the overarching plot really starts to come together. However, I have to say that overall, it falls slightly below S3 for for one reason: the finale.
While for the most part the finale was well executed (Zuko and Katara's showdown with Azula was awesome, and Sokka, Suki, and Toph's destruction of the Fire Nation air fleet was amazing), Aang's showdown with Ozai, while well-choreographed and fun to watch, wasn't quite as satisfying as it could've been. There are three main reasons for this:
1. Aang's aversion to killing Ozai appears out of nowhere. There was an entire episode dedicated to Aang mulling over the eventual confrontation leading up to the Black Sun invasion, yet the whole "I don't want to kill him" dilemma isn't mentioned. It's in-character for Aang, but it was weird to see it show up so late rather than be built up over the season.
2. There isn't quite as much emotional torque in the battle because Aang has zero personal interaction with Ozai before their confrontation. There is an emotional victory in Aang's defeat of Ozai, but it's primarily a moral victory for Aang, and as per point 1, that particular element was too recently introduced. The battle feels impersonal for Aang; no "You screwed up Zuko's life" or "You killed my friends' parents" or anything like that. The fact that it's Ozai he's fighting isn't important.
3. I know this is one of those issues in the fandom, but I felt like Aang didn't really earn his victory. I have no issues with Energybending existing or being introduced so late in the series. What bugs me is that the emotional drive of the fight rests on Aang's moral dilemma, yet he himself never puts any effort in solving it; the answer is just given to him. Similarly, the fight itself, while awesome, is won by luck rather than skill. Aang won the battle not because of his training or wisdom, but because Ozai accidentally unlocked his chakra, allowing the Avatar State to kick in. The strategy attempted way back in "The Avatar State" works. Turn on the Avatar, instant win.
Now, this isn't to say that the ending ruins the series or anything. The finale is still 90% awesome. It's just annoying to know that it could've been better.
There isn't quite as much emotional torque in the battle because Aang has zero personal interaction with Ozai before their confrontation.
Yeah, this is one of the big problems with the Evil Overlord trope; it's very hard to balance them well in terms of threat and involvement. If a writer goes the Ozai route and has most of the Big Bad's villainy carried out through The Dragon or other various lieutenants, the audience becomes more invested in seeing The Dragon defeated than the Big Bad, and the ultimate battle has more trouble living up to the previous showdown with The Dragon. On the flipside, if you have the Big Bad frequently interacting with the heroes directly, you run the risk of turning them into a Harmless Villain by virtue of always being thwarted by the heroes. Where's the threat in their final showdown if the heroes have won every direct confrontation with them to this point, ala Zhao?
No, it didn't.
Aang didn't like it when he learned that Katara was going off on a quest for revenge to kill Yon Rah, in "The Southern Raiders". He even tried talking her out of it, 'til he finally relented and said confronting her mother's killer might've been what she needed. At the end of the same episode, Zuko asked Aang, if revenge wasn't the answer, what was he going to do when he finally faced his father?
Aang said he didn't know, but it was fairly obvious that he didn't like the implication of what was being expected of him.
When Sokka arranged their practice drill for how they'd take down Ozai, Aang choked. And when Sokka told Aang to finish him, Aang said he couldn't do it. So Sokka decapitated "Melon Lord" himself and told Aang that's how it was done. Killing wasn't in his nature, 'cuz it went against his personal beliefs as an Air Nomad.
Yes he did. The night before he left for the Lion Turtle's island, he said he'd been trying not to think about, because he didn't know how he was supposed to resolve the conflict without having to kill Ozai. Which is why he blew up and Katara.
While he was on the Lion Turtle's island, Aang consulted with each of his past lives to see if any of them could offer an alternative solution, but they all pretty much said that it was up to him. Though Roku and Kyoshi both agreed that killing Ozai is how they would've handled it.
Just because Aang didn't spend the series angsting about it, doesn't mean it wasn't on his mind.
That's 'cuz he's the Final Boss.
Seriously, think about every video game you've played and ask yourself: how often does your character interact with the final boss before you finally face-off against them, in the end? I'm willing to bet the answer'd be: "hardly ever". Instead, you hear about them and the horrors they've committed, which tells you why they need to be stopped. You may even catch an occasional glimpse of them, but direct interaction is usually limited to the final showdown. Everything leading up to it, is dramatic build up.
It's no different with most stories - unless the protagonist has some sort of personal history with the man, himself, or they meet by happenstance.
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