After finishing up Book II of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m a little surprised. Early on in Book I, and then amended toward the end of Book I, I had pretty much presumed Avatar would continue to follow a certain formula.
That formula, originally, was that the antagonist would be revealed at the beginning of the season (as both Zuko and Azula were) and defeated at the end of the season (as Zuko sort of was), for a new antagonist to take over for the third. I had assumed, of course, that the Firelord would be the final enemy.
During the end of Book I, I had to alter this idea, with the thought that Zuko might be a Heel Face Turn, with more evil antagonists introduced during the season to be the Big Bad- for example, Long Fang (I apologize, it’s Long Feng) seems to take over the role of villainy at the end of Book II- that gets completely defeated. But then “The Crossroads of Destiny” through me for a loop.
Actually, this duology irks me in a few ways. First off, it seems to imply that mastering one’s mind and spirit is a simple process, caused only by willing things away. I get that Aang and the Guru may have spent days in meditation, but it’s hard to get that, especially since the process by which he lets go of his guilt and other character flaws is sort of expedited. The best example of this is the way he sits in a meditation position, and immediately gives up his attachment to Katara. There’s no explanation as to why this is a good thing, other than that it’s needed to unlock the final Chakra, or of how difficult it is.
On top of that, with this ending Zuko officially becomes a Heel Face Revolving Door. There is no explanation here that makes sense. It took Zuko the entire season to ease his way into becoming a more protagonistic character. Then, a character whom Zuko is fully aware has no honor and lies more often than she tells the truth, tells Zuko that he can return to the good graces of someone who’s ordered his arrest by joining her, he does what she asks with no question. This makes absolutely zero sense to me.
Beyond that, though, the series continues to evolve. It sort of reminds me of a roleplaying game in which the heroes and the Big Bad fight so often that their skills increase exponentially while the rest of the world is in relative limbo around them. Katara, Zuko and Aang are all much more powerful benders than they were even halfway through the season. Zuko almost makes the final step toward looking the good guy, but is interrupted by his sister. Katara, on the other hand, takes yet another step toward being the definitive girl, as she spends the climax with her hair down and altogether reminding me of The Little Mermaid.
The last thing I want to comment on is the Empire Strikes Back similarities. These are beyond denying- you don’t even have to be looking in the same direction to see them. The young, impetuous hero is learning enlightenment from the wise and extremely old man who came into the plot out of nowhere, has a vision of his female friend in peril, and leaves to save her, just as he’s being told he must complete this part of his training before leaving and that he must not let attachments ruin everything.
That’s the obvious one. It sort of sets up for us not to be surprised when said young, impetuous hero gets his ass beat by the Big Bad because he’s not fully trained, and must be saved by the heroine and the flying… well, Appa’s not exactly the Millennium Falcon, but it’s similar otherwise. Bespin and Ba Sing Se went the same way as well.