I’d like to commend the makers of Avatar for showing that Americans can still turn out a quality animated tv series that has a story to tell and ends itself when that story is told. I felt, though, that they dropped the ball with the ending. (Spoilers ahead.)
There were two aspects that bothered me about the ending. The first is the ‘deus ex machina’ way the show resolved itself. I find it sad that the mystical turtle that appears outta nowhere is the only way they could come up with resolving the central conflict with Aang not actually killing the Fire Lord (Phoenix King really but I’ve always thought of him as the Fire Lord). They could have gotten us ready for the turtle by mentioning a couple tidbits early in the series. For instance, when they were at that ancient library maybe they could have come across a book that mentioned earlier types of bending or about the time before the avatars. Something. We knew about the Order of the White Lotus before so when they showed up at the end it wasn’t unexpected.
Also, there are ways that Aang could have subdued the Fire Lord. If Zuko and Katara could subdue Azula then Aang should have been able to subdue the Fire Lord. The first method that comes to mind is if Aang created a sphere around the Fire Lord that didn’t have any air in it. The Fire Lord would have fallen unconscious and could have been captured. Or open a huge hole in the earth under the Fire Lord. Or Aang could have broken the Fire Lords arms and legs so he couldn’t fire bend. As I’m typing this I just thought the creators could have used the fact that fire needs air to exist as another possible means to let Aang prevail. My sister mentioned having the Fire Lords Chi points blocked so he couldn’t firebend as another way.
The central dilemma of Avatar that of one who does not desire to kill but must kill was handled in one of my favorite animes of all time Kenshin. Kenshin had to kill Shishio or else all of Japan would be plunged into another war but due to circumstances in his past, he vowed not kill anymore. In this case, Shishio was given a believeable limitation that Kenshin could exploit if he was good enough. The guy that created Kenshin obviously thought out the ending before he got there so it would feel authentic.
The second aspect that bothered me, and which gave raise to the title, is how Aang turns his back on the collected wisdom of the past Avatars. He asks several of the past avatars for their wisdom and they all give him very good bits of wisdom: be decisive, only through justice is there peace, and the needs of the world and being the Avatar outweigh personal needs.
If he earnestly desired their wisdom he should have pondered what they said instead of immediately dismissing them. He was hoping one of the avatars would back him and he tried to keep going till he found one. He finally gave up when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to hear what he wanted to hear. He acted like a little kid and showed no maturity at all. Thinking about it, everyone else in his party have matured greatly throughout the course of the show with only Aang still acting the same as he did at the beginning. I’d’ve been fine if, after contemplating the past avatars wisdom, Aang made a mature decision that he wasn’t going to kill the Fire Lord and live with the consequences.
Another favorite character of mine, Vash, also lived by a code not to kill. At one point in the show we see what this conviction has done to Vash’s body – it’s scarred and battered because he has had to work much harder at not killing. He’s willing to go the extra mile to live by his code and I have nothing but the highest regard of him.
Then there is also the moral question of the type of bending that Aang uses to subdue the Fire Lord. Why has the type of bending become unknown and what happened to the people that practiced it? Aang professes that everyone is sacred but doesn’t seem to have any qualms with monkeying around with a fundamental part of someone else. What Aang does could definitely be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
What’s done is done I guess but if this world is revisited in a future series, I would like to see to consequences of Aang’s decision shown. A sizable portion of the military would rebel against Zuko and free the Fire Lord and Azula from prison and retake the capital. The war-hawks of the Fire Nation will not simply lay down their weapons and go home because there has to be balance in the world.
And because I don’t want to be totally negative I want to mention that the recap episode done right before the last set of episodes. It is easily the best recap episode I have ever seen; it was so genuinely brilliant that I wish anime makers take the time to watch this episode and realize what they can do with a recap episode.