Well, this is how you end a long-running, serialized animated series. That’s a lesson Voltron: Legendary Defender could have learned. What a study in contrasts.
It helps that, for Last Airbender, there was never a feeling that an episode was a waste of time. Even episodes where not much happened to advance the overall plot of the series either had moments that were, often unexpectedly, called back later or were character-driven episodes that made Aang and his friends seem like real people. Heck, it did that for Aang’s enemies. Azula’s complete mental breakdown in the final few chapters totally worked as an extension to everything that went before it. Zuko’s progression from main antagonist to someone who will share a hug with Aang and pledge to work with him to make the world a better place worked because the series took time to make the character that kind of person. Even characters like Toph who arguably weren’t that deep were still consistently true to who they were, and remember, I really like Toph.
Eventually, though, it all comes down to Aang. Sure, Zuko’s self-sacrifice to protect Katara means she has to face down Azula alone, but Katara doesn’t fight with power so much as intelligence and manages to restrain the deranged princess without too much trouble. And sure, Sokka and Toph looked to be in a lot of danger as they took down the last of the Fire Nation’s blimps, but Suki was always gonna save the day there.
Ultimately, the solution to the war was always going to be whether or not Aang could find a way to defeat the Fire Lord without killing him. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, advised Aang to kill the Fire Lord and he didn’t want to do it. He came really close when he went into Avatar Mode. This show has always been good about showing creative bending all around, but given Aang can at his most powerful control all four of the elements, and seeing he made the Fire Lord run like crazy, it sure could have ended with Aang killing him. Instead, Aang stopped himself just long enough to power down and did something else, a lesson taught to him by the giant Lion-Turtle: he took the Fire Lord’s bending away.
From there, the Fire Lord can be locked up, Zuko can make up with Mai and assume the throne, all of Aang’s many allies can be released from prison with Ty-Lee joining the Kyoshi warriors (a good fit for that character), and everyone can eventually go to Ba Sing Se to enjoy a little company at Iroh’s tea shop, ending the series with Katara and Aang sharing a kiss that she initiated this time. Am I cool with kids that age being romantic? Not really, but it still felt earned and I know the two do stay together for the rest of Aang’s days.
Anyway, perfect end to a damn fine show. 10 out of 10 realized moments of shared humanity.
But now that I am done, do I end things here? I mean, I could track down the comic book continuations that are apparently canon, but I don’t think so. I guess I’ll just have to do the logical thing and go with the decades-later sequel series The Legend of Korra.
It looks different from what we’ve seen so far, and that piques my interest already. Besides, Netflix dropped the series the day after I ordered a DVD set of both shows…good thing I have lots of nieces and nephews…