Avatar: The Last Airbender is responsible for changing the way stories are told in children’s television. It was one of the few serialized shows aimed for the age 7-10 demographic and helped usher in an age of Western Anime.
No episode of Avatar is irredeemable or unenjoyable, but rather kind of pointless filler. That makes sense, given that every season has around 26 episodes, it’s a necessary evil. And even then, filler episodes either help develop the characters or end up dropping crucial plot points.
Here are the five best and five worst episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
10 WORST - “Nightmares and Daydreams”
Did anyone else think this entire episode was a mass hallucination?
Unable to sleep with the Day of Black Sun on the horizon, Aang has some very interesting nightmares. Like any dream, they don’t always make sense. Sure, the fear of Fire Lord Ozai is real, but would he really use a math test against Aang?
It’s definitely an amusing episode, meant to be the calm before the storm, but sometimes the humor doesn’t hit quite right. Overall, it taps too much into senseless randomness. However, “Babe, you’re my forever girl,” is a keeper.
9 BEST - “The Ember Island Players”
Hands down, this is the best clip episode ever created. Most shows do a filler like this to just recap events and save on budget. But Avatar is not most shows. With information gathered from various sources (including a surprisingly knowledgeable Cabbage Merchant), the Ember Island Players put on a play recounting our heroes’ adventures up to that point.
The in-jokes kick the humor up a few notches. Yeah, Jet’s fate was really unclear. Season 1 Katara preached about hope a little too much. “The Great Divide” was the most pointless episode ever. It’s fun to see the crew poke fun at criticism and then churn out such a funny episode.
8 WORST - “The Fortuneteller”
Falling into the vein of somewhat useless episodes, “The Fortuneteller” doesn’t exactly give us any new information about the world of Avatar. Poor Sokka tries to combat an entire town’s learned helplessness and nobody ever thanks him for his effort. It’s a little painful to watch, honestly. All he gets is a headache and some unfair teasing for literally helping to save an entire village.
It also gives us the one-off character Meng, who literally exists to crush on Aang. Seriously, she never ever shows up again. No point.
7 BEST - “The Southern Raiders”
It only took us three seasons to find out what happened to Katara and Sokka’s mother. But wow, was it absolutely worth the wait. Every story beat in Avatar feels deliberate and thought-out, so it makes sense that they waited this long in order to have Zuko join Katara’s journey.
Everything just builds up to that final confrontation between Katara and her mother’s murderer. And in the end, she decides against exacting her revenge. But while she doesn’t forgive Yon Rha, she does forgive Zuko. Friendship!
6 WORST - “The Runaway”
While it’s a decent character bonding episode, “The Runaway” doesn’t have the same polish as others in Season 3. And it kind of rehashes the same conflict between Toph and Katara that were already resolved during their Season 2 adventures.
But it does end with a touching moment between the two, along with Toph’s realization that she really doesn’t hate her parents. That’s enough for Toph to ask Katara for help in writing a letter to her family. Too bad nobody told Sokka first. Sorry, Hawky.
5 BEST - “City of Walls and Secrets”
Major props to the crew for weaving in a complex yet understandable subplot about full governmental corruption. Oh, and they managed to slip in the income disparity that ends up segregating a majority of cities? Holy subversion, Batman!
This episode also got nominated for an Emmy, rightfully so. The setup for Ba Sing Se fully established the conflicts and goals that would be faced over the rest of the season. Despite being in Earth Kingdom territory, the Gaang isn’t safe. And of course, this episode gave us the iconic line, “There is no war in Ba Sing Se.”
4 WORST - “Avatar Day”
Adding to the tally of villages our heroes easily could’ve skipped over is Chin Village. Named after a ruthless conqueror, the people of the village have villainized the Avatar for over 370 years. A whole trial commences and honestly, Team Avatar has way better things to do than Law & Order it up on a little village. But Aang’s sense of honor keeps him there.
At least we get to see Avatar Kyoshi and learn how Kyoshi Island came to be. Honestly, the most unrealistic thing is that 370 year old footprint still being on the cliff. Sure, it’s a world full of spirits and elemental bending, but that footprint is going too far.
3 BEST - “The Siege of the North, Part 2”
The very first season finale of Avatar did not disappoint. Packed with a Fire Nation invasion and a journey into the Spirit World, it built up more of the universe’s lore and gave us absolutely stunning visuals. Some amazing scenes include Aang meditating in the spirits’ pond, the blue light from Aang’s giant fish monster engulfing the city, and Princess Yue’s sacrifice.
2 WORST - “The Great Divide”
It’s actually the most useless episode of Avatar ever created. The GAang gets roped into helping refugees cross the Great Divide, which can only be done on foot with the help of an Earthbender. The two groups trying to cross have been at odds with each other seemingly since the beginning of time. Aang ultimately lies to both groups in order to establish some peace between them.
While it doesn’t have a bad story or message, the whole situation is completely avoidable and Aang’s solution is a little out of character for him. But hey, even the Avatar has his limits. The crew feels the same way about this episode, slipping a line into “The Ember Island Players” with Sokka suggesting they fly over the canyon. With their flying bison. Sound logic.
1 BEST - “Sozin’s Comet: Avatar Aang”
A great ending to a great show. Just when we thought the show couldn’t surprise us any more, it manages to have one more trick up its sleeve. We get the final act of some great/beautiful fight scenes (Zuko and Azula’s agni kai is a gorgeous piece of animation), Suki being awesome, and Katara expertly taking down Azula. And then we get...spirit-bending?
Believe it or not, the show pushed itself in this direction since about halfway through Season 2. It was sort of foreshadowed the more we learned about the Avatar State, but the inclusion of the Lion Turtle and focus on chakras made the revelation believable. All around, it’s a well done finale. We can’t even be mad about the search for Zuko’s mother, they continued it in the comics. Closure!