Well, here we are. The penultimate episode of The Last Airbender. That means we can expect a final confrontation to start but our heroes will be in a really bad place when it ends to make the stakes higher for the final episode in the only “book” of this series to run more than 20 chapters.
I am fine with that.
The thing that makes me so fine with that is simply how much the show still keeps everyone more or less in-character. Azula, about to be crowned Fire Lord, has grown incredibly paranoid and distrustful since her two closest friends (Mai and Ty-Lee) both turned on her. It’s probably a good thing this is a kids show, so her punishments to, oh, everybody is limited to banishment and not barbecue, starting with a servant girl who didn’t successfully remove the pits from a bowl full of cherries. At this rate, Azula won’t have anyone left anyway, but there really is a difference on display when Zuko shows up and she challenges him to a firebending fight to the finish.
See, Azula has always come across as more powerful and dangerous, and she still is, but the fighting style has changed. Zuko is calmer, in control of his rage and feelings, while she strikes out again and again like a wild animal. The crazed look in her eyes isn’t helping, and if you really want proof that Zuko is a better person, it comes when Azula shoots lightning at Katara and he takes the bolt aimed at her.
Of course, that means he’s down and Katara has to face a supercharged Azula alone.
Likewise, Sokka, Suki, and Toph are on their own, a little too late to stop the Fire Lord’s airships from taking off. They do manage to capture one by virtue of Toph being awesome and using the metal door into the pilot’s chamber to bend it around herself like armor, allowing her to pound the crap out of the firebenders flying the thing. And then Sokka uses an incredibly juvenile trick to dump the rest of the crew into the ocean. The birthday party ruse as humor is only enhanced because it really was some guy’s birthday.
And though the trio can’t stop the Fire Lord’s own blimp from starting his scorched earth attack on the Earth Kingdom, they can use their blimp to take down the others. Granted, that ends with Toph and Sokka on one blimp going down and Suki on another. That can’t be good.
Really, the only group doing well is Iroh’s gang of old men retaking Ba Sing Se.
That leaves Aang with the Fire Lord. And it’s a rather good fight. Aang may be holding his own, even redirecting some lightning aimed at him…away from the Fire Lord. Aang could have ended things if he wasn’t against killing anyone. Instead, he ends the episode hiding in a ball of rock as the Fire Lord pounds on the outside and shouts abuse.
That guy is a dick.
Whatever Aang does to him in the finale, dude has it comin’.