By Grace Gardener
If you’ve ever tried to write a story, you’ll have noticed that even if the beginning is awesome but the middle and ending are a bit more boring. Creative energy just runs out. This isn’t only the case for beginners, but even for professional directors. Series often start great, but have pretty bad later seasons. It’s a sign that a show has good writers if the later seasons aren’t a huge disappointment. I think it’s fair to say that Avatar: The Last Airbender had good writers. Season One was good (read my review here), but I recently watched The Last Airbender Season Two, and… it gets better.
In Season One, Aang travelled to the North Pole to learn waterbending. This season, he has to learn earthbending. But that’s not the only thing going on: after learning some very interesting information about the Fire Nation, Aang and his friends go to the nearest Earth kingdom city to tell the Earth king what’s going on. This city is called Ba Sing Se and has been coming up a whole awful lot throughout the entire show. It’s been seen as a safe haven throughout. At this point, we’re only about halfway through the season.
One thing I really like was that there wasn’t just one climax in this show. It was a real rollercoaster. There are arena fights, desert voyages, invasions, secret agents and kidnappers. And JUST when somebody literally says “everything’s gonna go great from now on” (big red flag): Everything. Goes. Wrong. Season 1 ended with everything nicely wrapped up, with a short teaser in the end. But this season? No. Everything is in shambles. The last few episodes were very stressful.
To learn earthbending, Aang needs a tutor. This tutor comes in the form of Toph, a rich, blind girl. She’s a bit like a bat in that she can see though “waves”. This means that as long as her feet touch something she can bend, she can sense anything else that is also touching that thing (usually the ground). She’s the opposite of Katara: instead of being motherly, she is rebellious because her parents have babied her for her entire life; instead of being dainty and graceful she is tough and rough; instead of being sweet and caring she’s direct and blunt. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about people, she just communicates very differently. It actually fits very well with the element she bends: earth.
Aang isn’t the only person to gain allies. Zuko has a sister, Azula. She’s a firebender too, but prefers to bend lightning instead of normal fire. She’s cruel, smart and manipulative. Azula threatens two other girls into joining her on her quest to capture the Avatar now that he actually seems to be alive. She’s also after Zuko and Iroh for some reason. Iroh is considered a traitor to the fire nation because he openly fought Fire Nation soldiers and Zuko is considered a failure because he let Aang escape. I guess there’s no place for that in the Fire Nation. The two other girls are Ty Lee and Mai, who are each other’s polar opposite: Mai has grown up in an environment with only adults and never expresses any form of emotion whereas Ty Lee is bubbly and cheery all the time. Ty Lee and Mai aren’t benders, but they are very good fighters. Ty Lee knows how to block someone’s chi, which basically makes their muscles stop working or something like that. If she taps someone in a certain spot, they can’t move anymore or bend. She’s a trapeze artist in a circus. Mai fights with throw knives. There’s a very clear difference between how each character in the show moves during fights according to their personality.
We don’t only get new characters, one-episode characters from Book 1 come back too. In some cases, I was glad to see them (yay Suki!). In others, I was a bit skeptical at first. But the show managed to explain unlikable characters’ attitudes in such a way that they weren’t as annoying anymore. Another thing that really stood out to me was how we followed a certain family that first appears in ‘Zuko Alone.’ They aren’t important to the plot, but they give us insight into what it’s like to live in this world without the power that the main characters possess. We see them being pushed around and not being able to do anything about it. Because we know them personally we care more than if it had just been random citizens.
Not only did older characters get more shape, the original characters were explored more too. Aang’s deepest feelings are shown in a later episode. Katara and Sokka become more mature and kind. But the biggest transformation is seen in Zuko. Not only did he finally cut off his awful ponytail, he has started to doubt whether he is on the right path in life. His journey isn’t smooth but he’s getting there. It seems like a miracle, but he’s kind of getting more attractive every episode.
Not ignoring pain and suffering has been a big deal throughout the series, as Aang struggles with the fact that he’s been sleeping while the world powers fought each other. When the Gaang reaches Ba Sing Se, they find out that other people are voluntarily ignorant about the war. “There is no war in Ba Sing Se. Here we are safe,” is the motto. The government of the city does everything it can to keep people in line and ignorant, all to remain in power.
Throughout the season, the various characters have to learn to work together despite personality differences. Toph, Katara Aang and Sokka are all very different and this leads to a lot of friction. Every time, this is dealt with in a healthy way and the characters make up, accepting the fact that they have different personalities and backgrounds that lead to them behaving like they do. This contrasts with Azula’s group, where Azula is the leader, no questions asked. Mai and Ty Lee have some say, but once Azula decides what’s to be done, they should just move over and listen.
Zuko has to deal a lot with his traumatic childhood. He has believed since he was 13 that to get inner peace, he has to capture the Avatar so his father will love him again. Since this isn’t a Christian show, the message here is, as Uncle Iroh says: “Inner peace is not something somebody else can give you. It is something you gain yourself by restoring the balance inside of you.” I totally agree with the first part. No normal person can give another person inner peace. However, the idea that we have to do it all by ourselves is wrong too. According to the Bible, only a good relationship with God can make you truly peaceful.
Violence-wise, the show isn’t all that bad. It’s more the emotional backstories and scenes that are really intense. We find out more about Zuko and Azula’s childhood, for one thing. Already having found out that Zuko literally got his scar from his father, you can bet this will be a whole thing. There aren’t any very bad monsters this season, except this weird owl-spirit-thing. On the other hand, we have KGB-like agents, brainwashing and getting separated from loved ones or seeing them being hurt.
There’s a lot of spiritual stuff in this season. The concepts of ying and yang are worked out more. Personally, I don’t believe the perfect person is one in which evil and good are balanced. According to the Bible, the perfect world will be one where there is only goodness. On the other hand, the talk about the good and evil in you being at war does make sense in a Christian perspective. Chakras and chis are explained. I didn’t really get it, but I usually forget things like these the moment they’re not important anymore. This is a show for kids so everything that’s important is going to be repeated when necessary anyway. One thing I think is good is that the magic isn’t shown as something that is real in our world. In some movies, the magical and spiritual parts are made so that they are applicable in our world too. I think that sends the wrong message. In this show, however, the world is completely different from ours so it’s clear that all this talk about chi and chakras and reincarnation aren’t true in our world.
I was very pleasantly surprised when I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender Season Two. Instead of going downhill, it became even better. And that after adding another character, which is usually a bad thing for shows. The characters are still really well thought out and the plot works. The intense themes aren’t at all bad gore-wise, but the show doesn’t shy away from them just because this is a kids’ show. Overall, Avatar: The Last Airbender Season Two is a very good show that is worth spending your time on.
UPDATE: After thinking things over, and learning some more about worldviews, I have changed my opinion on this series and no longer recommend it. I still think it is very well made, but it shouldn’t be watched by those who are still young in their belief: what you watch influences you, even if you don’t notice it. The worldview in Avatar: The Last Airbender has a lot of Christian themes, but is essentially anti-Christian. –July 2021