Recently, after weeks of Netflix binging, my wife and I finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I had never seen it before, and overall, yeah, pretty good show. And normally, I’d be able to just kind of leave it at that. But Avatar isn’t supposed to be a pretty good show. Avatar is supposed to be an amazing show. It’s a show that is still celebrated today as one of the great works of animated television. When Game of Thrones ended and everyone was mad about it, I saw a lot of people recommending Avatar as an antidote. And specifically, they were recommending it as an epic fantasy story that sticks the landing. As I was going through the show, I was having fun, sure – it’s a really cool world populated by some absolutely superb characters. But I wanted to get to the end, because the ending of a story tells you so much about the story as a whole, and because I had heard so much about the ending of this particular story.
And it turns out the ending of Avatar is…not great.
I can already hear the sounds of a thousand die-hard Avatar fans slapping their hands to their foreheads. Look, I don’t enjoy this any more than you do. I wanted to love this. And I’m definitely not doing this to take a dump on your nostalgia. But as an adult watching this show in 2020, I think the ending is a near-total failure on multiple levels, to the extent that I’m fascinated by all the different ways in which it doesn’t work. This isn’t just any bad ending – “Sozin’s Comet”, the final 90-minute episode of the series, relies heavily on deus ex machina, actively undermines the show’s themes and characters, and shows a shocking disregard for the idea of set-up and payoff. I’m not analyzing this because I want to make Avatar fans feel bad – I am an Avatar fan, and I felt really let down by this. And the show as a whole is good enough that it’s worth exploring what went wrong.
(Incidentally, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re already familiar with the show and the characters, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t attach an explanatory rider sentence to the first instance of every name or plot element, and just in case you’re skipping to the words in all caps, SPOILER WARNING FOR THE ENTIRELY OF AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER.)Continue reading “The Disappointing Dullness of “Sozin’s Comet””