Fans of Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender have had a long and frustrating wait for the conclusion to book 3. That wait is finally over as “Sozin’s Comet,” the show’s four-part season finale, finally hits the airwaves on July 19. The wait was worth it. “Sozin’s Comet” truly is the culmination of the preceding 57 episodes, expertly utilizing its extended running time to give this season of Avatar the finale that it deserves.
The astronomic event of the title has been a looming threat since the show’s first season. A century earlier, the arrival of Sozin’s Comet (and its amplifying effect on the Fire Nation’s forces) was used by Firelord Sozin to launch a genocidal attack that exterminated the Air Nomads. The comet’s return again threatens the world’s stability, with only the Avatar Aang and his small group of friends standing in the way of Firelord Ozai and a complete and irrevocable Fire Nation victory. The stakes are impossibly high, and “Sozin’s Comet” plays this tension to the hilt.
While waiting for the finale, a common topic of discussion among Avatar fans has been, “Will Aang kill Firelord Ozai?” Ozai’s monstrous and irredeemable nature has only been matched by Aang’s benevolence and fundamentally non-violent character. What has gone unstated up to now is the lynchpin for the first half of the finale, as Aang grapples with the fact that the confrontation that he has been preparing for seems destined to end with the death of one opponent at the hands of the other, flying directly against every ethical and moral precept that defines him as a person. To the show’s credit, they tackle this subject head-on, with Aang’s ethical dilemma getting thoroughly explored before the action picks up in the second half. Little else can be said without spoiling the entire plot, but the resolution to the dilemma manages to be quite satisfying while staying true to all the characters.
The third and fourth episodes are marked by four-pronged combat pitting Aang and his allies against Ozai, the malevolent Princess Azula, and the forces of the Fire Nation. These extended battle sequences range from vast, sweeping battles involving casts of thousands to extremely personal, intimate, face-to-face duels. Both are handled with equal skill and inventiveness, yielding up pulse-pounding thrills and heart-stopping reversals, along with some of the most sophisticated action animation ever seen on this show or, for that matter, any American action cartoon to date. It comes as little surprise to find the concluding episodes were directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, one of our favorite action animation directors, but he shows equal skill at the slower scenes, including one moving reconciliation and the quiet coda that ties off many of the remaining loose ends of the series.
Earlier two-part episodes of Avatar haven’t always been very tightly coupled to each other. However, the epic scope of “Sozin’s Comet” truly needs its four half-hour chapters to tell the story that concludes this season of the show. It manages its running time just about perfectly, using every moment either to drive the plot forward or to ratchet up the tension and raise the stakes for Aang and his friends. The only serious complaint that can be leveled at this season finale is that the voice of an important new character is a bit too hard to understand, which is quite serious considering the importance of the character’s words to the conclusion. A more serious criticism is that the quality and emotional heft of “Sozin’s Comet” makes the first half of book 3 seem even less substantial in hindsight. Perhaps rewatching the entire season again will make the larger plan clearer, but at the moment, “Sozin’s Comet” makes many of the episodes up to “Day of Black Sun” seem like entertaining but ultimately unimportant filler.
The sense of finality to “Sozin’s Comet” is also noteworthy. Franchises seem to be the theme of the day at many media companies, with many movies and TV shows getting more and more brazen at leaving doors wide open for interminable sequels and spin-offs. There are definitely unresolved plot elements and unanswered questions by the end of “Sozin’s Comet,” and it is unquestionable that Avatar‘s creators, its fans, and Nickelodeon all want more stories set in the richly engrossing Avatar world. Even so, “Sozin’s Comet” provides a powerful sense of closure to Aang’s story. This tale is Finished. Those dangling plot threads aren’t an invitation to more direct follow-ups as much as they’re just reminders that life is messy and we don’t always get answers to the questions that we have. If there is to be more Avatar in the future, one hopes that it will not pick up where this show left off, but strike off in a bold new direction instead.
One thing is certain: with “Sozin’s Comet,” the bar has been set almost impossibly high for any future Avatar tales. Despite an uneven first half to the third season, this season finale easily cements Avatar‘s position as one of the finest animated television series ever made. The cast and crew of Avatar has produced a work that is truly exceptional, and “Sozin’s Comet” manages to produce a truly satisfying conclusion while still leaving us hungry for more.
“Sozin’s Comet” premieres on Saturday, July 19, 2008, at 8:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific)