Ranking Every Episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender Part Three: Season Three
The journey to Sozin’s Comet was like a flame that just kept getting bigger. Book 3: Fire was the time in which Avatar: The Last Airbender reached its peak as it braced itself for the final season of Aang and the gang’s adventures across the four nations on a quest to reunite the world. After The Crossroads of Destiny premiered and left fans on an ambiguous high note, season three went back to Team Avatar’s original plan to end the hundred-year war: defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes. For my rankings of Book 1: Water and Book 2: Earth you can read both here and here retrospectively. Before we rank every single episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender from the least best to the absolute best, its time to take a look back at the final season that ended Avatar Aang’s globetrotting adventure to master the four elements, Book 3: Fire.
21. Chapter 3, The Painted Lady
Katara has always been dedicated to helping those who are desperately struggling since the very first episode of the series. She will never turn her back on a group of oppressed people in need of help and The Painted Lady continues to show that in an unremarkable fashion. It is an episode that culminates into a lot of what we have already seen before in another unique location. The setup and premise are built up fine enough and provide several gripping ideas as to how Fire Nation industrialism continues to poison local civilians, but the payoff does not feel well earned by the time the conclusion hits. The twist that Katara is disguising herself as the spirit known as The Painted Lady is blatantly obvious from her first interactions with the townspeople, especially the kid who is in dire need of food. The entire episode plays out as if the team has nothing else to do, yet there is so much to still be explored with the cast’s current situation. The spirit of The Painted Lady herself is an interesting concept, but even then that is not fully explored by the time she appears.
20. Chapter 2, The Headband
There is a ton of substance in regards to Fire Nation culture that generally goes unappreciated by many fans when discussing The Headband. When Aang accidentally enrolls in a Fire Nation academy due to a misunderstanding between authorities and his stolen clothing, he decides that he is going to throw the restricted students a secret dance party to loosen them up. It is far from being the most important episode of the series, but it does shed a neat amount of light on the daily lives of young Fire Nation civilians in the current time period as they are fed propaganda and fabricated facts about their nation’s history. Zuko’s dismantled relationship with Iroh and the hiring of the assassin is undoubtedly the more desirable plotline of the episode, although the main focus never comes off as unwelcoming or even unpromising at that. Kuzon is probably viewed as a legend to these kids as he caused a revolution and disappeared in a matter of two days.
19. Chapter 7, The Runaway
Toph and Katara have always had a generally rocky relationship- one that always resolved the same way time and time again though. The Runaway contains tons of great moments between Team Avatar as Toph abuses her earthbending to scam street artists. It ultimately leads to Toph and Katara fighting about whether their form of stealing is right except this argument has already been tackled before. The problem with this episode is how this topic had already been addressed in the past. After season one’s The Water Bending Scroll, one could argue that Katara was written rather unreasonable in this chapter and contradicting to what she previous states about stealing from thieves. The back half of the episode gives good reasoning to Katara’s stance, but in comparison to what audiences had previously witnessed The Runaway can feel a little off at times. There are plenty of humorous stand-out jokes and needed relationship development here though that keep the chapter engaging till the end. Katara using her sweat to waterbend was a genius idea many fans previously wondered if it were possible to do.
18. Chapter 14, The Boiling Rock Part 1
The Boiling Rock is Sokka’s chance to redeem himself after his invasion failure during the solar eclipse, while for Zuko it is an opportunity for him to bond with a new friend he has attacked on more than one occasion. Boiling Rock is unique because of its location being a prison located in the middle of a volcano that is inescapable due to the heat. The science behind the location is a welcomed explanation that influences the storyline except the payoff of the island’s build-up is utilized more so in the second half. The reintroduction of Suki into Team Avatar is a surprise and motivational factor for Sokka not giving up on his father being relocated at the prison, except once again that payoff is more reliant in the second half. This chapter introduced a firebending prisoner known as Chit Sang who has been abused by the guards for clearly longer than the time Zuko and Sokka have been present. Chit Sang is the comical relief of the story though he does play a larger role in showing just how much the prisoners at this facility are taken advantage of by those in power.
17. Chapter 1, The Awakening
Aang with hair on a stolen Fire Nation warship? As if the season finale of Book 2: Earth did not provide enough questions, The Awakening adds dozens more to the stockpile as it builds an excellent foundation for the episodes that follow. The audience knew that Azula’s lightning blast would have serious consequences on Aang’s Avatar connection, but no one expected the character to fall apart the way he did. Seeing Zuko finally return home after completing his mission purposefully feels wrong yet necessary for his growth. This chapter presents our first true look at the inside of the Fire Nation capital we had seen in several flashbacks and of course the main villain himself Fire Lord Ozai. The Awakening delivers on two years of suspense that had been beautifully orchestrated to deliver one of the television’s finest overarching villains. As Aang and Zuko swap goals, the first chapter of Book 3: Fire creates an exceptional opening for arguably the best season.
16. Chapter 10, Day of Black Sun Part 1
Day of Black Sun Part 1 is still a great episode on its own, but compared to the following chapter where all the intense character moments and action takes place, the first half really falls short in comparison. The preparation of the solar eclipse has tons of great moments as dozens of characters across the three seasons unite for a small-scale invasion on the Fire Nation including Haru, the swampbenders, and Bato. Sokka’s leadership skills are truly tested here as the character must present his full battle plan to all the volunteers who came to the front and Aang makes it clear that the Avatar is ready to stop hiding his existence from the world after being proclaimed as dead. It is certainly a fitting gathering that brings back fan-favorite characters, yet all the payoff for what happens in Part 1 is contained in the following chapter. Even by itself though, compared to most other first halves to the several double chapters Avatar has, Day of Black Sun Part 1 can more than well hold its own.
15. Chapter 15, The Boiling Rock Part 2
In comparison to its first half, The Boiling Rock Part 2 blows Part 1 completely out of the water. Every character that escalates this story arrives during the second half to constantly keep amping up the stakes transition to transition. The entire dynamic between Zuko, Mai, Sokka, Hakoda, and Suki never fails to please during the back half of the story arc as the team makes their grand escape from the Fire Nation prison. Azula’s presence during this story is what really helps Boiling Rock keep itself high though. The final cable car battle chase out and down the volcano between the heroes and villains is thrilling to watch as the cast just barely makes it out alive, but it is the short moment between Mai and Azula that really seals this episode. The potential fight between Mai and Azula that could have ensued seemed like a fitting end for Zuko’s gloomy girlfriend. Seeing how Mai and Ty Lee would quickly turn their backs on Azula was unexpected yet justified from the two. Rather than losing one friend though, Azula lost two and it ultimately leads to her character continuing to crumble as her own best friends show their hate for her.
14. Chapter 4, Sokka’s Master
Sokka is the outlier of Team Avatar when we see the character as a fighter. Captain boomerang has no bending to contribute to the team, yet he still remains a crucial part of it due to his excellent planning and survival skills. When Sokka seeks his own master he comes across the final member of the White Lotus Master Piandao who is skilled in the art of sword fighting. He has always been the charming meat-head logical character of the show that everyone loves, but Sokka’s Master gives him a better chance to shine with his own unique weapon that oozes with his own personality. This chapter is a great opportunity for Sokka to get his own spotlight, but it does feel a little odd at times that he would consider himself unimportant to the team considering the topic has been touched on before. Sokka has used a Water Tribe machete plenty of times in the past, so it does make sense why a lot of people would not favor his choice of weaponry in the final season. The space sword is by far the absolute most stylish weapon ever seen in Avatar, but the man who wields the weapon is what deserves to be focused on- and of course, Iroh’s training sprinkled throughout the episode is worth mentioning.
13. Chapter 9, Nightmares and Daydreams
Nightmares and Daydreams is where everything begins to fall in place for the final slew of stories of the series from Aang and Zuko’s perspectives. It is when the darkest fears of the Avatar come into the light as he realizes how little time he has before he must face his destiny, while the Fire Nation prince is ready to acknowledge his mistake at Ba Sing Se. Aang losing his mind over the thought of facing Fire Lord Ozai is expected. He is just a scared child who is by far one of the least experienced Avatar’s- and the youngest to face such a difficult challenge according to his past lives. Despite all our hero’s fears being present in this chapter, it still plays off as absolutely hilarious and childish as Aang hallucinates talking animals having samurai duels and dreams about not being ready to face Fire Lord Ozai because of a math test. The fight between Momo and Appa will still go down as one of Avatar’s most comical moments. It is flat-out ridiculous and a nice change in pace before the Day of Black Sun story arc.
12. Chapter 11, Day of Black Sun Part 2
Day of Black Sun Part 2 is an endless run of constant payoffs after so much build-up to the solar eclipse. The event was teased all the way back in The Library and finally saw light here. Its major theme plays a substantial role in the build-up to Sozin’s Comet: there is no easy path to complete one’s supposed destiny. Zuko’s confrontation with Ozai is the episode’s highlight emotional moment that reeks of this. No one wanted Zuko to stay behind when his father teased him about his mother’s disappearance but he has to. Once again the prince demonstrated himself victorious by not only proving his father wrong in a battle of words but in a battle of bending lightning. The Day of Black Sun’s second half proves once again that there is no easy way to complete one’s destiny as seen by the heroes’ failure with the game-changing event and Zuko’s proper hesitance.
11. Chapter 12, The Western Air Temple
Zuko joining Team Avatar seemed inevitable since his metamorphosis in book two, but Aang, Katara, and Sokka accepting him into the group was going to be a large issue to overcome. The Western Air Temple has characters running from and facing their fears not long after the failed solar eclipse invasion. After their defeat at the Fire Nation capital, it is no surprise that Aang would be the one to want to take his mind off their situation by exploring the ancient temple rather than creating a plan, but with a lack of time before the comet comes the team needed to make some quick decisions. Zuko earning his place on the team was already hard-earned to the audience, but to our characters, he still had so much more to prove. Combustion Man was a short-lived villain that tied the story together, but he made one heck of an impact over the course of his run. It is just a shame we did not get to learn more about the Fire Nation assassin even though it was not integral to the story.
10. Chapter 5, The Beach
The cast of Fire Nation characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are flat-out broken. This group of children has been beaten down both physically and psychologically to an extreme extent that inevitably creates who each of them would become. They are more than scarred and in need of proper guidance from others. The Beach is a vacation to Ember Island with one core intent: reveal the inner feelings of our torn cast of “villains.” It is a chapter that heavily develops the relationships between Zuko, Mai, Azula, and Ty Lee like no other. This short vacation away from the Fire Nation capital perfectly delivers on exploring how each character feels about their own personal messy histories and sets them on their final paths to Sozin’s Comet. You are able to sympathize with the four each in unique ways. On top of all the phenomenal interactions between the Fire Nation characters, we get to see the powers of the assassin Zuko hired to kill Aang for the first time as he nearly obliterates Team Avatar.
9. Chapter 6, The Avatar and the Fire Lord
The Avatar and the Fire Lord is a chapter packed with mind-blowing revelations that allows Aang and Zuko’s stories to finally come full circle and intertwine. The episode follows the lives of Avatar Roku and Fire Lord Sozin through spirits and testaments, as the audience follows the two men that Aang and Zuko carry the burdens of. From Aang’s perspective, we see how Roku’s story teaches him how relationships are not always what they may seem to be, but they can also potentially last lifetimes as seen through the previous Avatar’s retelling of his complicated history with his best friend. Zuko on the other hand views that same story through the perspective of Fire Lord Sozin as he uncovers the truth behind his family history. In the end, Zuko learns from his Uncle Iroh that his mother’s grandfather was Avatar Roku. The plot twist draws another level of complexity for the prince as the audience learns how Zuko can end the mistakes of his grandfathers by taking the right course of action. It shows us how there is a deeper line of good and evil in the relationship between the Avatar and the Fire Lord.
8. Chapter 17, The Ember Island Players
Another interpretation of the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, what could go wrong? Well, every other version of these characters outside a comic book whether they are being featured in live-action or not is bound to cause someone in our main cast pain. Days before Sozin’s Comet, Sokka and Suki bring to the attention of Team Avatar that the iconic Ember Island Players are going to be presenting a story about their adventures around the world- a group Zuko complains that has butchered other shows. Naturally, the team proceeds to go to the theater, but rather than a few hours of entertainment they are presented with all their failures and problems from the past, present, and even future. The Ember Island Players is a phenomenal recap of the entire series that still manages to multitask developing characters and relationships despite being the penultimate episode to the final four-part story arc. Its purely comical to beginning to end as it pokes fun at plot points, consistent character feelings, tropes, and the inevitable upcoming finality of the hundred-year war.
7. Chapter 13, The Firebending Masters
In the same fashion as the other titled books, we were bound to see the origins of firebending incorporated into Aang’s training during Book 3: Fire. The Firebending Masters removes the scars of the modern Fire Nation to reveal the truth behind what is considered the most dangerous element by the majority of characters the audience has seen before. After Jeong Jeong’s appearance in season one, the audience is able to understand how badly the world has been scarred by a few individuals. Fire is part of life and something that the world must accept rather than fear. For Aang, it is a major step in defeating the Fire Lord as he finally gains the ability to properly bend and create his final element. For Zuko, it is proof to the audience and the Avatar that he has completely turned his back on the nation he once served to save it. The ancient civilization of firebenders hiding the master dragons Ran and Shaw inside two massive carved-out mountains is an incredible concept that does not even need to be touched upon in the chapter. The world-building and mythology centered around these ancient beings gives way to one of the most memorable settings in all of The Last Airbender.
6. Chapter 8, The Puppetmaster
How far can an element actually be bent? We have seen lightning manipulated by firebenders and an earthbender that could bend metal, but nothing is comparable to the horrifying reality of the power waterbenders can harness under a full moon. Even after two seasons of unique usage of Avatar’s magic system, Book 3: Fire continued to push the boundary of creativity further with The Puppetmaster. When the gang comes across a mysterious Southern Water Tribe bender named Hama, Team Avatar is caught between discovering a village conspiracy and one of the most powerful waterbenders seen to date. There is plenty of moral dilemma surrounding the fact that waterbending can be used to take and manipulate life itself when abused unnaturally through the art of bloodbending. Bloodbending is an ability that rightfully should scar anyone who uses it and while the idea only made an appearance during this particular chapter it went on to become a major influence in The Legend of Korra.
5. Chapter 16, The Southern Raiders
If there is one thing Avatar: The Last Airbender excels in it is creating characters that are critical to its story, but never actually explored for the most part. Characters like Iroh’s son Lu Ten are mentioned multiple times yet we never see them in action- and that is okay because not every character needs a full block of screen time to make an emotional impact. The Southern Raiders allows Zuko and Katara to gain closure to a longtime mystery. The two scour the Fire Nation to find the killer of Katara’s mother who was part of a military group symbolized by sea ravens. After so many emotional moments involving Katara and her family, we understand how important this event is for her character and how it will change the way in which she views Zuko. After betraying her in the crystal catacombs of Ba Sing Se, Zuko is finally able to repay Katara for his sins and help change her perspective of who the enemy is. While on topic of this chapter, the opening escape from The Western Air Temple is a phenomenal sequence that marvelously executes the episode’s plot.
4. Chapter 18, Sozin’s Comet Part 1: The Phoenix King
The comet was bound to arrive and Book 3: Fire was ready to embrace the long-awaited prophecy. Sozin’s Comet was teased all the way back in Winter Solstice Part 1: Spirit World. The episode has little to no action, but it does not need any to hold itself high as The Pheonix King awaits the final battle. Part 1 prepares the audience for the final episodes of Avatar by setting up both the heroes and villains to their final destinations. Aang’s final lesson to redirect lightning with Zuko completes the latter’s training while giving Aang a possible easy way out of his ultimate confrontation. It smartly focuses on Aang’s ambition to stay true to his roots while finding a way to defeat a man willing to kill him in a heartbeat. The Phoenix King’s overarching lesson is something that will resonate with all audiences. This was the chapter that definitively made Aang a hero as he desperately searches for a way not to take life to achieve victory. Book 3: Fire’s moral decisions made it by far the most sophisticated season of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
3. Chapter 19, Sozin’s Comet Part 2: The Old Masters
Ever since Iroh lost his lotus tile in his sleeve everyone has wondered what exactly the White Lotus’s importance is to The Last Airbender. Iroh may have initially seemed like a foolish and lazy uncle, but over the course of the show, we discovered just how wise he actually is. It was pretty evident as the show progressed that this secret conspiracy was going to play a major role in the future. The Old Masters slips everything out from under our noses as it reintroduces the masters that Team Avatar previously encountered. The title, however, does not just refer to the Order of The White Lotus leaders and the previous Avatar’s Aang attempts to draw wisdom from. The show cleverly introduces an ancient lion turtle who teaches Aang how to bend the energy within oneself- something first teased during The Library in a book the team acknowledged. The elders of the four nations bring in the best life lessons the series could present to audiences during their final chance to bestow wisdom on our heroes.
2. Chapter 20, Sozin’s Comet Part 3: Into The Inferno
The Avatar versus Fire Lord Ozai is unquestionably the main event of Into The Inferno, but it would be hard not to talk about all three of the battles that begin during this chapter. While Aang fights for the future of the four nations against Ozai, Zuko challenges Azula to an Agni Kai for the Fire Nation throne, and the Order of the White Lotus descend on Ba Sing Se to recapture the Earth Kingdom Capital from the military. Every character gets in on some incredible action during Into The Inferno- even characters that made very few appearances that are part of the White Lotus including Jeong Jeong and Paku. It is definitely not packed with philosophy, but the audience knows the high stakes and what must be achieved during the last two chapters. It is a massive battle between good and evil for the sake of the world being charted on a better future. Into The Inferno is the beginning of the end as the cast fight for their lives to protect their morals and save their home. If there is anything that this episode should be recognized for though, it is Azula’s mental downfall that gets the best of her. The Fire Nation Princess finally collapses under all the intense pressure and it is all the more rewarding to witness.
1. Chapter 21, Sozin’s Comet Part 4: Avatar Aang
Sozin’s Comet Part 4: Avatar Aang is the perfect conclusion to a television series. It phenomenally closes the doors on Team Avatar’s adventures while leaving open possibilities to be explored in the future if Nickolodeon ever chose to return to the world of the four nations- more adventures, however, that the audience does not require in the slightest to be left completely satisfied with the ending. It is the ultimate combination of sixty previous episodes being tied together for one final hurrah as Aang and the gang finally face their destinies to reunite the four nations once and for all. The action is fantastic, the set pieces are jaw-dropping, the conclusion is more than satisfying, and the ending soundtrack is beautiful. It ties up every main character’s story just in time to answer a few more questions before hitting the credits. Avatar: The Last Airbender ended on the highest note it possibly could as it rapidly approached its long-awaited closing scene. If there had never been any consumable content that took place after this ending, barley anyone would likely complain. It is without question one of the best series finales to ever air on television.