The Chase (book 2, episode 8)
“The Chase” sees the gang endure several sleepless nights because a mysterious machine keeps catching up to them. Naturally, tensions rise, and Toph eventually heads out on her own after a spat with Aang, which leads to a delightful and enlightening encounter between her and Iroh. Meanwhile, Aang winds up in a fantastic three-way fight with Zuko and Azula in an abandoned town. Not only does the climactic conflict further establish Azula as a great and dangerous adversary, but it also foreshadows the unlikely alliance that formed in season 3.
The King of Omashu (book 1, episode 5)
After we met Suki in the previous episode, “The King of Omashu” acquaints with two new figures — Bumi, and of course, the cabbage merchant. Three amazing characters back to back? We are truly blessed. Only Bumi could keep the audience on his side even after going, “How can I impart wisdom on this tween, who’s also my childhood friend? Threaten to kill his friends, obviously.” The king gives Aang and the show some much-needed edge by forcing the Avatar to think like a mad genius and get creative to save Katara and Sokka. And who can forget just how visually astonishing Omashu is? We still want to ride those giant chutes.
Lake Laogai (book 2, episode 13)
Indicative of Book 2’s unique strengths, “Lake Laogai” simultaneously feels like one of the happiest and one of the darkest episodes in the entire season. On the one hand, the gang finally recovers Appa! What a joy it is to see the Dai Li secret police get their asses kicked by him too, huh? But is the short-lived catharsis of seeing Long Feng thrown in jail worth Jet’s tragic death? Even his sacrifice is but the capper to a horribly sad life. Jet’s experience of pillage, thievery, and brainwashing is an honest depiction by Avatar: The Last Airbender of how some poor people get horribly consumed by wars they had nothing to do with.
The Firebending Masters (book 3, episode 12)
It’s not just Aang who spent most of Avatar: The Last Airbender terrified of fire bending. We viewers had only been shown as a destructive, conquering military force. From the first moments of the opening credits, we are told that there are four major elements to this world, but one of them is wrong, bad, and opposed to the other three. One of the great joys of Book 3’s final stretch is showing how things don’t have to be that way. By journeying to meet the Sun Warriors tribe and the last dragons they’re protecting, Aang and Zuko learn that fire can also be beautiful, colorful, and life-sustaining. Far from being inevitable, Firelord Ozai’s reign of terror is a perversion of the world (a good reminder in our own age of seemingly endless war). Fire doesn’t have to destroy, just like Aang and Zuko don’t have to fight each other; in fact, they’re much stronger when they’re growing and burning together.