As Avatar Season 1 wraps up, continuity really starts to become involved in the otherwise episodic series. A perfect example of this is when Zuko uses a necklace that Katara lost earlier in the series to hire a bounty hunter to track the team through everywhere that they’ve traveled since they last encountered Zuko.
Zhao also comes into his own as a villain here, not only being promoted to an Admiral, but also revealing that he was taught Firebending by a high level Master, whom Aang also learns from for a short time. With more Zhao-Zuku confrontations thrown in, it makes for a compelling story as a viewer almost finds themself cheering for Zuko every time he gets close to capturing Aang. This was a good decision on behalf of the show, and it’s an easy one as well because it’s pretty obvious at this point that Zuko is not going to remain as Aang’s biggest rival (though I did expect him to remain the primary antagonist through Season 1, and was wrong).
Another positive surprise I had was the return of the spirits that had so vexed me earlier on. Aang makes a trip to the spirit world to obtain the wisdom of the moon and ocean. This sequence has elements that remind me of both Native American and African folklore, though I imagine that it draws heavily from Asian beliefs such as Shintoism as well. I would imagine that these beliefs might have some indication as to why the moon and ocean spirits chose to gain material forms as well (and I don’t mean as the moon and the ocean).
The highlight, of course, is the arrival at the North Pole. For the first time, we encounter fully trained water benders. We also encounter gender-based societal roles, to which the show replies, “I spit on your culture and demand you to change it until you do so.” Now, I’m sympathetic, but I do wonder if that’s the right approach? That, or that semester of Anthropology made me soft. I do think that if Katara simply explained that she is the South Pole’s Luke Skywalker and doesn’t have the option to just be Cilghal, they might have taught her.
The closing two-parter has both a massive battle and several personal conflicts. The personal is heavily tied to the massive, of course, but we’re left to wonder what happens to the larger battle after Aang and the Moon Spirit have had their say. The same way Return of the Jedi ends, after all, although at a lower level and therefore a little harder for me to assume the end of the battle.
Overall, it’s a great closing sequence for the season. There’s real suspense, and it builds off everything that came before. I do wish they had made it to the North Pole earlier, but it didn’t disappoint. It does indicate that Season 2 will be very Zuko-centric, and not necessarily in a Zuko v Avatar Team way, although that’s possible as well.