People love Avatar: The Last Airbender. Few shows rival the fandom that the cartoon has garnered since it debuted on Nickelodeon in 2005. And now that it’s back on Netflix, old and new fans alike are enamored by the adventures of Team Avatar.
The show, which ran for 3 seasons and has 61 glorious episodes, had a lot of great moments. But what are the best twists in the series? One might argue that the show doesn’t really have any twists, per se, since every episode is built upon phenomenal character development and plotting, so the story just unfolds organically. But I would disagree since there are seven key events that really threw me for a loop. So, let’s get to some of those moments, people! And hopefully, someday soon, Netflix will put Avatar: The Last Airbender’s follow-up series, The Legend of Korra, on their streaming service, too. A boy can dream, can’t he? Oh, and MASSIVE spoilers, by the way. Obviously.
7. Appa Gets Taken – Book 2, "Appa’s Lost Days"
Everybody’s favorite sky bison is kidnapped (Bisonnapped?) by sandbenders and given to a Fire Nation Circus. Once there, he’s abused, but manages to escape. Like a dog, he finds his way back home, going to the Air Temple, where he encounters a guru who tells Appa to go to Ba Sing Se to find Aang. But once he reaches Ba Sing Se, he gets captured again!
Appa getting kidnapped was a twist because by this point in the story, we expected bad things to happen to Aang and his friends, but not to Appa! But this storyline let viewers know that even innocent creatures could get hurt, and it showed that no topic was off the table. Even animal cruelty.
6. Zuko Loses His Ability to Firebend – Book 3, "The Firebending Masters"
Zuko was always a force to be reckoned with when it came to firebending. But in Book 3, when Aang needed a firebending teacher the most, Zuko had become a shadow of his former self, shooting out little tiny spurts of flame. That’s because he always needed anger to fuel his bending. But by this point in the story, he isn’t angry anymore. So Aang and Zuko go to see some dragons and learn the true way of firebending. Protip: Anger is not required.
Zuko losing his firebending was a big twist because I didn’t expect somebody to actually lose their ability. But this was great storytelling because it showed what a drastic change Zuko had made by Book 3. This episode and a few others is why Book 3 is my favorite season.
5. Toph Invents Metalbending – Book 2, "The Guru"
Toph comes from a family of wealth, so when she ran away from home, her parents wanted their daughter back. So they hired earthbending tournament promoter, Xin Fu, and Master Yu to retrieve her, and they succeed, locking her up in a cage. Things look hopeless for her. But then, she remembers that there are elements of earth in metal. So Toph creates a whole new subgroup of earthbending and learns how to metalbend (!!!) just to make her escape.
This moment blew my mind since I thought the elements were pretty much set in place of water, earth, fire, and air. But when Toph started ripping metal apart with her bare hands, I knew that time was up for Xin Fu and Master Yu.
4. Bloodbending is a Thing, and It’s Terrifying – Book 3, "The Puppetmaster"
Hama is just a normal old lady who happens to be a waterbender. Nothing to be scared of. She even teaches Katara her technique and tells her that she was once a captive of the Fire Nation. But it was such a traumatic experience for her that she created a technique called bloodbending to get back at the Fire Nation. Katara unwillingly learns the technique and actually uses it on Hama to save her friends, but she feels tainted afterward.
Like learning that metalbending is subgroup of earthbending, learning that bloodbending was a subgroup of waterbending shocked me. This was a “kid’s show,” right? And here was a character using a person’s own blood to control them. It made me think of the torture somebody could inflict on a person if bloodbending was actually real. And like Katara, I felt a little tainted after learning that. Even so, could we get a Hama Funko Pop? That would be pretty rad.
3. Zuko is the Blue Spirit – Book 1, "The Blue Spirit"
Aang gets captured after trying to heal his sick friends, and he ends up getting imprisoned. But a mysterious person in a blue mask rescues him. What a pal! Well, actually, no, since that person is actually his greatest nemesis at this point in the story—Zuko!
This was a huge twist because up to this point in the story, Zuko was chasing Aang so that he could bring him back to his father. But this moment changed everything and set Zuko’s story arc in a different direction. Even though Zuko was just “rescuing” Aang to capture him for himself, it still showed a different side of Zuko that we hadn’t seen before. This was also the best part of that terrible movie, and I’m sticking to that.
2. Mai and Ty Lee Stand Against Azula – Book 3, "The Boiling Rock, Part 2"
Zuko and his friends try to escape a prison, but they’re in for some trouble once Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee arrive, since any one of them would be a match for Zuko. But Mai, who loves Zuko, turns against Azula. When Azula tries to attack her, Ty Lee chi blocks her, sending her to the ground.
I always thought Ty Lee would turn out good in the end, but I didn’t see Mai choosing Zuko over her allegiance to Azula. That was pretty much a death sentence! Thankfully, things turned out alright in the end, but I definitely didn’t see that coming.
1. Zuko Betrays Iroh – Book 2, "The Crossroads of Destiny"
Azula becomes head of the Dai Li, and Zuko, who has been turning over a new leaf the entire season, decides to choose his sister, who is certifiably evil, over his Uncle Iroh, who has been like a father to him. Iroh begs Zuko not to side with Azula, but he does so anyway, feeling deep shame in the process.
This was by far the most shocking moment on Avatar because ever since the episode, “The Storm,” I wanted to like Zuko. He was a broken character, and you knew he wanted to be good. But this moment showed that he still wasn’t making good choices. This propelled the events in Book 3, and Zuko’s redemption was arguably the most rewarding change of a character in the entire series.
And those are my picks. Were there any events that shocked you that I didn’t mention? Leave them in the comments.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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