As Avatar comes to a close, I can’t help but feel that Book III is a ten episode season stretched to cover twenty one episodes. When this season shines, it really shines- the opening episode, the “Day of Black Sun” two-parter, the prison break, and the four-part finale (though I do have my own criticisms there). The rest of the season, though, doesn’t quite live up.
When the season started, I recall myself saying something to the effect of “they’re starting off in the fire nation? What could they possibly do on their way to the capital that will take twenty episodes?” It turns out I was right. Sure, they filled the season up, and there were only a couple of episodes- the beach party in the first half of the season and the play in the second half- that felt like blatant filler. At the same time, “The Southern Raiders” could have been done without, as could a few others, in favor of extending the plot. These types of episodes feel like sidequests in a video game- they flesh out the characters, give you a few moral choices, but when it comes down to just beating the game and getting the plot where it needs to be, they’re completely meaningless. So… all in all, it’s a mixed bag.
Did I get my expectations up unreasonably high? You’d better believe it. Is it entirely my fault? I don’t think so, no. The second season was superb. Every single episode in Book II was about accomplishing the goals of the season (Finding an Earthbending Teacher, getting to and defending Ba Sing Se) or Aang dealing with his powers as Avatar. That’s not to say the swamp episode didn’t get old fast, but the swamp episode is certainly better than some season 3 episodes. The other reason my expectations for this season were so high were… this season. Sokka trains under a master swordsman and creates a sword of black meteor… only to never use it against anyone worthy of a swordfight. In fact, once Mei and Ty Lee step out of the picture (completely), the only non-bender worthy of fighting Sokka is Tsuki- who, by the way, fights even less, and pretty much is reduced to Sokka’s hanger-on from this point on. The Order of the White Lotus summons gifted masters from all across the planet, and not even an enemy as substantial as the Dy Lee remains to fight them. So you’ll forgive me if I got my hopes up for something that was not ready to deliver.
Speaking of the Dy Lee, I did say I have some complaints about the finale. Since the beginning, we’ve fought Azula alongside her partners and, later on, alongside her pet Earth benders. One of the key points of the Day of Black Sun was that Azula was nearly undefeatable thanks to having a small army of skilled Earth benders protecting her from any attacks she couldn’t normally counter. You know, like if Toph decided to show up and encase her in solid stone. That type of thing. So when Azula got rid of them, it was just like… why? She was a threat when she could neutralize Toph. Now, she’s just an annoyance.
Now that I’ve said that, I still enjoyed this season. There were things that should have been done differently, but the main points of the season- the beginning, middle, rising action (middle of the end) and end were all solid. Part of the fight between the Firebender siblings reminded me of one of the scenes near the end of the PokeMoN movie- the good one, not the five or ten sequels- and the action was pretty badass all around. I am a little disheartened that they never chose to continue the series on past its obvious end, not even in a DTV movie, but hey, it’s Nickelodeon- what do you expect, right?