Top 11 Worst Avatar Episodes
September 14, 2014
[The shortened opening]
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. If there's anything Avatar: The Last Airbender has taught us, it's that there's a yin to every yang.
[Clips from Avatar: The Last Airbender are shown]
NC (voiceover): For every good, there is a bad, and it's our duty to acknowledge them in order to keep balance. Considering how Avatar is my favorite show of all time, it only makes sense in honor of this philosophy to go over what many of you would probably see as a controversial issue.
NC: That, of course, being the bad episodes of Avatar. For no particular reason, I will now duck. [Bows down as several guns appear and shoot at him, but NC is unharmed] Let me go into a little bit more detail.
[More clips are shown]
NC (voiceover): In my opinion, there's really no such thing as a bad episode of Avatar. Even the weakest episodes have something of value and worth that goes beyond what's presented in most family-friendly shows. But if we want to acknowledge the best, it also makes sense to acknowledge the worse, so we can figure out how to continually make the art grow stronger.
NC: So I see no fault in looking over the "not bad, but just not as good" episodes of one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
[Malcolm and Tamara come in]
Malcolm: Uh, Critic, are you sure that's wise?
NC: Look, we're all adults and we're going to talk about this in an adult way. So what's the problem?
Tamara: Just, that when people see the word "worst" in the title, they might think the wrong thing.
NC: Well, that's technically what it is, isn't it? The worst of the best? I'm not afraid of a bunch of fanboys and fangirls, especially for a franchise that I love so much.
Malcolm: Shame your life had to end this way.
[Malcolm and Tamara walk away while tsking loudly]
NC: I'll be fine, thanks. [To the viewers] So, without further ado... [Malcolm and Tamara's tsking is still heard] Do you mind? I can hear your... [tsks] ...all the way in here!
Malcolm: [Off-screen] That's an even bigger shame.
[The tsking is still heard]
NC: SHUT UP! [The tsking eventually stops] Like I was saying, we're gonna look at the Top 11 "not as good" episodes of an all-around great series. Why Top 11? Because I like to go one step beyond. So, sit back and enjoy the Top 11 "Technically" Worst Episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
[He ducks down as the guns reappear and shoot at him]
[The arena from the episode "The Blind Bandit" is shown as an audience is heard booing. Sokka is shown booing as well. The logo "The Top 11 Worst Avatar Episodes" is shown. The image of the arena and the crowd booing will serve as the countdown's interlude]
NC (voiceover): Number 11: The Boiling Rock: Part 1 [Book 3, Chapter 14]. In this episode, Zuko and Sokka try to break out the prisoners from their failed invasion by getting captured themselves and working with Suki to find a way out. In all fairness, very little is wrong with the premise, the development, and even the kick-ass action scenes that come from it. The problem is minor, but still a noticeable one, that being...why is there a Part 1 at all? Seriously, this could've been just one episode. In fact, if it was, it could've possibly been the most tightly-written, action-packed one there ever was. But instead, we get time dedicated to planning an escape from the prison, putting that plan to motion, and ultimately having it fail, which, of course, leads to the second planning of an escape from the prison and a second attempt to put it into motion. That one succeeds, but, well...why the hell didn't they just edit the first one out then? Were they just short an episode, so they decided to stretch one out a little more? Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of character, there's a lot of development, and it furthers the story. But I think all of that probably could've been fit into one episode, maybe with just a tiny cut here or there. I guess, in some respects, it's a bit more realistic not to have the first attempt succeed, but...it's also realistic that Appa would most likely eat Momo at some point, but that doesn't mean I want to see it. When the episode finally does get going with the real plan in Part 2, it's great, it's a lot of fun. It's just sitting through Part 1 that isn't bad, but isn't necessary either. Probably a nitpick, but like I said, this is the worst of the best, so you'll probably see a couple more.
Sokka: You happy now?
Zuko: I'm never happy.
NC (voiceover): Number 10: The Serpent's Pass [Book 2, Chapter 12]. Team Avatar has to pass through a dangerous route to get to the city of Ba Sing Se. After agreeing to take a pregnant couple with them and being reunited with Suki, the team try their best not to get gobbled up by a giant beast, while also working out their emotional problems. Again, not a bad premise, but the emotional problems they're working through just aren't as engaging compared to other episodes. For example, Sokka gets overprotective of Suki because he has lost a loved one before. But we know how it's gonna end, right? He eases up as she convinces him that she can take care of herself...
NC: ...despite getting captured later. But come on.
NC (voiceover): That was like setting up bowling pins.
[A picture of a bowling ball knocking down bowling pins is shown as the signature sound of bowling is heard]
NC (voiceover): Aang is still dealing with the loss of Appa, but we got a lot of that in a much more intense episode prior. So again, it just kind of feels like leftovers. Heck, even Zuko's problems seem pretty mundane: just trying to get more food with Jet's gang at a ferry. Um...honor? Not that these are bad problems to focus on, but when you combine them all together and also throw in a mother giving birth, it's just kind of a slow one. Even the serpent, compared to all the other great designs they've had on the show, is not especially that memorable. I mean, what was the combination of animals on that one? The dragon from Zelda 2 with the novelty map? By no means awful, but even as the slower episodes go, this one just felt really slow. I guess if that was the intention of the episode, it definitely worked.
Sokka: Nothing major.
NC (voiceover): Number 9: Jet [Book 1, Chapter 10]. Fresh off the last episode, Jet has a great moral with a great payoff, but kind of a less than thrilling character to do it with. Jet, on the surface, seems interesting enough. He's like a young Robin Hood trying to teach the Fire Nation a lesson, but goes too far when he tries to take out innocent civilians. This creates some interesting baggage for the character, but for the most part, he's just kind of a good-looking thief. He's there to throw another wrench into Aang and Katara's romance and mostly just be a good-looking foil. It's not that he has no character, it's just not very much, again, by Avatar standards. It's not that he's annoying or unpleasant, it's just, we've seen the good-looking hero who, it turns out, is not the hero and has a stubborn side that's just never going to change. Most of us know it's coming, and we're just kind of waiting for it to take its course. While the moral it teaches about innocence caught in the crossfires of war is certainly a strong one, I do wish there was a slightly better character to get it across with. If he was even more memorable, maybe this could've been an even bigger deal, the kid equivalent of Magneto or something. As is, he's not bad, but like the episode proved, he's certainly not everything he was built up to be.
Jet: Doesn't seem fair, does it?
NC (voiceover): Number 8: The Cave of Two Lovers [Book 2, Chapter 2]. The romance in Avatar has always been one of the weaker points, at least for Aang and Katara, anyway. It's not that I can't see them together, it's that we have to go through a lot of the same cliches we got in other romances where they'll always be overly awkward, which leads to a misunderstanding, which leads to them being angry at each other, and, of course, leads to them both realizing they were wrong. Say "Directed by Garry Marshall", and we got a wrap.
[That caption "Directed by Garry Marshall" is shown]
NC (voiceover): In this episode, we go through most of that in a setting called the Cave of Two Lovers. On the one hand, I'm kind of glad all the romantic comedy cliches were kind of gotten out in this one episode, but still, I don't think you needed them to begin with. Falling in love is interesting enough without having to feel you always have to throw in this constant bickering, this continuing formula of the couple that argues all the time but then somehow gets together in the end. I mean, why does there have to be so much bickering in so many romances? Don't they know that's what marriage is for?
[A picture of a husband and wife arguing is shown as a rimshot plays]
NC (voiceover): We all know they're going to get together, so I never got why they tried to drag it out as long as they did. They did get together early on, there's nothing wrong with it. Have them be a couple afterwards, work through a relationship stunt that would happen after you decide to be a couple. Come on, there's other areas to go with this. And granted, it's not Office-bad, but it has those romantic comedy trademarks that Avatar just seems to be above. But still, when a nice scene does play out, it does seem legitimately nice, and we do see Sokka deal with this world's interpretation of...well, hippies, so it's by no means a loss. But I think this couple can definitely be strong enough without the Julia Roberts tropes.
[A clip of Julia Roberts is shown]
NC (voiceover): And God help you if you actually make Katara laugh that way.
[A shot of Katara laughing is dubbed over with Julia Roberts laughing]
NC (voiceover): Number 7: The Waterbending Master [Book 1, Chapter 18]. After making their way to the Northern Water Tribe, Katara is horrified to discover that they don't teach women and girls how to fight, but only how to heal. So she faces off with the prejudice of Aang's new master to show sisters are doing it for themselves. I never know how to feel about episodes like this. On the one hand, yeah, there's always gonna be people or cultures who are gonna be prejudiced about anything, gender, race, appearance, whatever. So it makes sense to stand up against that. On the other hand, isn't the message done better if instead of preaching about what you want to see, you just show it?
[Clips of girl characters from other cartoons are shown]
NC (voiceover): Growing up as a little boy, I always loved Gosalyn from Darkwing Duck and Babs from Tiny Toons. I didn't care that they were girls, and that's because the show didn't care either. They were just funny characters that were part of the group, so I never had any problem with them.
[Back to Avatar]
NC (voiceover): However, when the trope of girls proving they can do what boys can do comes in, I always feel like it's making the character more statistic than a person, and Katara is definitely not that. Neither her gender nor any prejudice against her was her identity, so this plotline didn't seem especially needed. As a kid, if the people in the world you love accepts something, it's more likely you're gonna accept it, too. But, again, on the other hand, we do know all this bullshit does happen in the world, and there's always going to be idiot douchebags out there who enforce it, so it's probably good to be prepared for it, right? It's hard to say what the best route to take is, but with this episode, we all know exactly what that route is going to be: She's going to win him over, and, of course, he's going to teach her in the end. Even if you are going to take this road, isn't there a slightly different way you could do it? Some variations, something we didn't see coming? Oh, well. We did get some great waterbending action, great shots of the city, and, hey, it's still these great characters being great characters. I guess all I'm looking for is a little bit more variety in the message, or, at least, the teaching of the message. But again, I still got to see Katara do what Katara does, and it's pretty awesome. So I can't complain too hard.
Katara: You can't knock me down!
Aang: Go, Katara!
NC (voiceover): Number 6: Sokka's Master [Book 3, Chapter 4]. This actually ties into the same argument I had with the last one, only this time, it's a bit of a different prejudice. Sokka feels bad, because he's not a bender like Aang, Katara or Toph. Because of this, he feels totally useless. So he finds a master to teach him the art of sword-fighting and being a great fighter. He even manages to put a sword made from a meteorite together, so now, he never has to feel left out ever again. The strange thing about this episode is that through the previous seasons, they tried to convince us Sokka had a point, and in my opinion, they succeeded. Sokka was more than just the comic relief. He was the idea guy, the one who thought out of the box, the one who at times could be a little too nutty, but always came through with what he needed to come through with. He even already had a weapon, his trusty boomerang, and we all associated it with him. So the idea of acting like he had no part in everything that was going on didn't seem necessary. He was important, not just for laughs, but for strategic planning, and he was good at it, great, even! So this whole episode about him trying to feel redeemed and valuable didn't really pay off because we already thought he was. Again, it's drawing attention to a prejudice you probably weren't prejudiced against and possibly didn't even know was a thing. Sokka's fine, no improvements needed. It's almost like the creators were anticipating a backlash for him that, as far as I know, never came. Who can't love Sokka? Sokka's great. Never change for anyone, big guy. Keep it real.
Sokka: [Whispering in a cool tone] Water tribe.
NC (voiceover): Number 5: The Swamp [Book 2, Chapter 4]. A lot of things are hinted at in this episode, but many of them don't turn out coming very far. The team is lost in a swamp that gives visions of the past, present, and even future. While trying to figure out what it means, they're also trying to outrun a couple of swamp rats who want to eat their animal companions for dinner. The ending is definitely interesting as it delivers a message about how all things are connected, and to its credit, in a very creative way. But there's one major problem: You're in the swamp! A disgusting, dark, bug-filled, gloomy-ass swamp! Who the hell wants to be in a swamp?! That isn't any fun! Couldn't this be, like, a nice forest or a creepy forest or...? I don't know, just anything but a swamp. Do we really have to focus on this world's version of Duck Dynasty? I think we can survive without that. We also get the return of Zuko as the Blue Spirit as well as haunting memories from Katara and Sokka's past, but none of them seem to especially go far in the long run. The only thing that really plays a big part is Aang seeing a vision of Toph who would eventually become his Earthbending teacher. But aside from that, we're just stuck in this nasty-ass swamp. And don't get me wrong, I know a lot of it is "don't judge a book by its cover" and, honestly, they did get a lot of wisdom and entertainment than I would've thought they would in this environment. But, yeah, the Avatar version of Deliverance? Not a fan.
NC (voiceover): Number 4: The Painted Lady [Book 3, Chapter 3]. I think we all kind of cringe when we hear an episode of anything is going to be about the environment. And, yes, the environment is important, save the Earth, all that good stuff, but, let's face it, guys. It's so rarely done well.
NC (voiceover): Truth be told, there's only two family-related shows I can think of that handled it with any subtlety or intelligence.
[Clips of Sonic the Hedgehog are shown]
NC (voiceover): Sonic the Hedgehog. I'm not even joking, there actually is a subtle environment message in there, but better than... [Clips from the other Sonic show are shown, annoying NC] THAT OTHER SHOW!
[Back to Avatar]
NC (voiceover): And, of course, Avatar. The whole show definitely has a strong tie to nature. Hell, the nations are named after the four elements. But it was never rubbed too much in your face. That is, with the exception of this. While in no way as bad as other environmental messages, why did the show feel they needed one addressing pollution and saving the Earth? The show's already kind of been doing that with its subtlety, hasn't it? Katara's concerned because while they're not supposed to interfere with the Fire Nation yet, a village is starving and losing their home to pollution. So she disguises herself as the spirit in the river known as the Painted Lady to feed and heal all those who need it. It brings up a good debate in how far does one go before interfering with other cultures, but like many of you, when you see a big bad factory spewing sludge and young kids who control the elements try to help, I only think of one thing:
[The Avatar opening is played with the theme song for Captain Planet]
Planeteers: Go, Planet!
NC (voiceover): Again, as most environmental episodes of family shows go, this one is not honestly that bad. But compared to what the rest of the show had been naturally giving us all this time, this one's just a hint too obvious.
Sokka: You wouldn't mind keeping that a secret by the way, would you?
Crazy old man: No problem.
NC (voiceover): Number 3: The Headband [Book 3, Chapter 2].
NC: I'm just gonna say it, Avatar. [Footloose poster appears] Really? Really?
NC (voiceover): Of all the movies for Avatar to joyfully rip off, we get a bizarre version of Footloose? Footloose?! Aang and the gang have to sneak through the Fire Nation dressed as civilians, but Aang gets picked up by a school and, sure enough, he's now getting an education. The only downside is, the kids aren't allowed to have fun. What to do? Throw a party, inviting all the kids, and show them it's okay to enjoy yourself, be silly, and, of course, even dance. A part of me really laughs that this episode even exists. I mean, Lord! "Avatar does Footloose". It's just so strange that you know the creators of this just had to do it. But, dude, this is the second episode of the last season, and the last one was pretty heavy. This is the follow-up we're given? I mean, yeah, okay, maybe you need something light after so much drama, but...this is really light and really friggin' corny! Yeah, Avatar has had a lot of corny moments, but this is throwing a prom in the heartland of your enemy. I don't know, isn't this just a little...really?! Footloose?! Kevin Bacon...Footloose?! On top of doing the obvious "follow your dreams" message, it does give us a nice chance to see, again, that not all the Fire Nation is made up of evil foot soldiers. They are normal people with normal kids and, unlike the ones before, we get to live a bit of that gentleness rather than just see it. It's cute, it's innocent, but if I told someone this was my favorite all-time show and this was the episode they saw, they'd think I was fucking mental. If you like seeing Avatar do Footloose, that's fine. It's not like I can't see why, it's just...
Sokka (Disguised as a Firebender's father): Go to your room!
NC (voiceover): Number 2: Bato of the Water Tribe [Book 1, Chapter 15]. When I first saw this, it was my least-favorite episode. Why? Because I felt it went against everything that Aang was. Our team comes across an old friend from the Water Tribe, named Bato. As Bato recommends them to look for their father, Aang finds a letter from exactly him, Sokka and Katara's dad. Afraid Sokka and Katara will leave him, he actually hides the letter, destroying the possibility of them being reunited. I couldn't believe it when I saw this episode. This is Aang, friggin' Aang, who destroyed this opportunity for his two best friends, who mean almost everything, too, for seeing what's left of their family. It just...it didn't feel like him. I know he's a kid and kids make emotional mistakes, but they have established him as being smart and sensitive. He grows up in an environment that is nothing but this! With everything that Aang's character seemed and what he was taught, this just didn't seem like him. It seemed downright alien. Even Sokka and Katara seemed a little harsher than usual, but to be fair, it's kind of hard to blame them. This was a pretty big deal.
NC: Now, with that said, there are a lot of good elements looking back on it again.
NC (voiceover): We got to meet June the bounty hunter, there was still some awesome fighting, and it does, I guess, cement them as a family unit. It's the only time, though, I've ever seen this character not feel like the character, which I suppose it's good, seeing how lots of shows make that mistake often and this one only slips up once.
[A poster of The Simpsons episode "Homer the Whopper" is shown]
NC (voiceover): Some good fighting and still an overall good message, but, man, I will never get that choice.
[A scene from another episode is shown, showing Aang dancing on a stage as an audience boos]
NC (voiceover): And the Number 1 Worst Episode of...
NC: Oh, who are you kidding? You know it's The Great Divide [Book 1, Chapter 11]!
NC (voiceover): Yep, the universally-hated episode by practically every Avatar fan. It doesn't connect much to the grand story, it doesn't further much character, and it's considered by many to be a complete waste of time. Though, is it really as bad as all that? Well, let's take a look at the setup. Two feuding tribes find they have to cross through a canyon called the Great Divide, and Aang decides to help them through it. Trying constantly to be the peacekeeper, all the tribes can do is bicker, complain, shout, yell, and blame each other for everything. And I hope you're a fan of that, because that is literally what takes up the majority of the episode. After listening to, oh, I don't know, 24 minutes of this, Aang finally lets them know that their feuding was all based on a bogus history, that this great big warring feud was actually based on two little kids fighting over a ball. That's actually a pretty funny idea. The tribes decide there's no reason to hate each other, and that the honor they were fighting for can be reached if they all decide to forgive. The catch? Aang is a fucking liar.
Aang: You could call it lying.
Aang: I made the whole thing up.
Katara: You did not. [Smiles] That is so wrong.
Aang: Now where's that custard tart?
NC (voiceover): And good Lord! Remember how I talked about breaking character in the last one? Where in the peaceful Airbending philosophy of balance and truth does it say "just make shit up"? "If you can't find the best way out, just lie about it! No harm done!" So, not only do you have an episode that's mostly complaining and arguing, even among the main characters, but you also have what would've been a clever message about prejudice reduced down to, "If someone's a racist, lie your ass off!" Sheesh, we could've had something if Aang just stopped talking and the two separated, but straight-up making up a story, explaining years of real hurt? This is a weird message they're trying to convey! I'm not even sure what you're supposed to take out of it. Sometimes lying is good? The needs of the short-term solution outweigh the needs of a long-term solution? The truth will set you free only when it's convenient? This episode was so hated that even in the series recap, they act out the scene, pretending like it never happened.
[That scene from the episode "The Ember Island Players" is shown]
Actor Aang: Look! It's the Great Divide, the biggest canyon in the Earth Kingdom!
Actor Sokka: Ehh! Let's keep flying.
NC (voiceover): It's clunky, it's misguided, it's confused. Much like the Great Divide, it's a great...mess.
Actor Sokka: Ehh! Let's keep flying.
NC: But, even with that said, I still don't think it's a bad episode.
[Clips from the show play out as NC speaks]
NC (voiceover): Because I still stand by that there are no bad episodes. Even at its weakest, Avatar was fantastic, because no matter what, it always had great characters, great story, great animation, and the ability to take children and adults 100% seriously. It's a show unlike any other we've ever seen. Yes, there's a lot of things that aren't good in The Great Divide, but the animation is still great. I still like following these characters, I still like hearing their performance, I still want to see where the story is gonna go. That's the incredible hold that the show has. Even when it's not great, there's still great things in it, and that's why Avatar will always be one of a kind.
NC: And seeing this is all about keeping the grand balance, it only makes sense next week to do the Top 11 Greatest Avatar Episodes. [Turns around to see that Malcolm and Tamara have returned] There. Will that calm you the fuck down?
Malcolm: I don't know, Critic. There's still two minutes left in the time bar. Something could still go wrong.
Tamara: Yeah, yeah, like there's somebody out there who could possibly do something...bad to you.
NC: Oh, yeah, what are people gonna do? Complain on message boards? Write mean comments? Show me one person who'd actually be crazy enough to cause me physical harm because of this list!
[Unknown to the Critic, he has gotten his wish. Inside a different building, a mysterious man is looking out a window. An analyst comes in, played by Rob]
Rob: Sir, I just received word from the Avatar fanbase. They say the Nostalgia Critic has disgraced the franchise by doing a Top 11 Worst Episodes list. How do you wish to respond?
[The mysterious man is revealed to be Dante Basco, who played Zuko in the show]
Dante Basco: Tell them I'll be arriving in one week's time. They'll look forward to winning back the fanbase...forever.
Rob: Yes, sir, Dante Basco!
[He leaves as Basco looks on with determination on his face. The credits roll with the message "Next Episode: Nostalgia Critic vs. Dante Basco]