The best Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch starts in season 2

I feel a little guilty about the way I rewatch Avatar: The Last Airbender

I count the show among my favorite television series ever. Even as an adult, I’m impressed by the way the showrunners used Aang’s journey to defeat the Fire Nation to thread together an entire tapestry of a world affected by violence and injustice. Its characters’ stories, like the redemption of Prince Zuko, become vessels to craft a story that’s all at once political and personal. Just the mere mention of Avatar can prompt a gush of positive thoughts of why I love the series and want more. But even given all this, I struggle to bring myself to watch a vast majority of the show each time I rewatch it, and I end up skipping a lot of it. Whenever I revisit the series, I start from Book 2, episode 6, an episode called “The Blind Bandit.”

Here is where I admit — somewhat embarrassingly — that I have started three rewatches from this exact point in the series. At first, it didn’t start as a conscious choice. I would rewatch that particular episode because I always loved Toph as a character and just wanted to rewatch the episode where she joins the gang. I loved the action sequences and the thrill that came with seeing Toph in action for the first time, but I also appreciated the way she breaks free from her parents’ idea that she’s a helpless child. The thing is, when you get on the Avatar rewatch train, even if it’s just for that episode, it’s kind of hard to get off.

Image: Nickelodeon Animation Studio

There’s just so much of the good stuff in this section of the series. Zuko struggles to figure out his own moral compass as he takes up shelter with an Earth Kingdom family and we get a window into his childhood life. Princess Azula pursues Aang on lizard-something-back and immediately brings a newfound sense of dread and breathlessness to Team Avatar. Aang finally learns how to earthbend. Before we know it, we’re at the spirit library episode, and you know I have to keep watching until Appa and Aang reunite. It’s truly banger after banger.

I’m not saying everything that comes before this is bad. Some of my favorite episodes arrive before season 2, episode 6. I love to see Sokka get his misogynistic ass kicked by the Kyoshi Warriors in the first season and Aang’s reunion with the bumbling King Bumi early in season 2. But I can’t help but feel that the showrunners really found the beating heart of the series. Aang’s mission to confront the Fire Nation comes with a stronger sense of direction as he learns earthbending and seeks to recruit comrades to fight during the upcoming solar eclipse. But even then, this portion of the series shows us what distinguishes Avatar as a truly great television series. Episodes like “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” don’t do much to develop the plot, but they enrich the world with emotional portrayals of its characters and creatures.

A still from the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated tv series showing a memory of Zuko as a child. He sits by a pond with his mom and she holds him as he laughs.
Image: Nickelodeon Animation Studio

Given the importance of episodes like the aforementioned “Tales of Ba Sing Se” in Avatar, I do feel a bit of guilt skipping straight to the juicy stuff. But here’s the way I see it. Season 1 plants the seeds for many of the stories I love in the show and develops a much-needed foundation for understanding the world at large. The stories of characters like Zuko wouldn’t hit the same if we didn’t see him running around being an angry teen for so long, and I would never recommend a first-time viewer start in season 2.

However, by the second season, we have a strong idea of what the world is like by this point, and we really get to see the show flourish and bear the fruits of so many points set up earlier in the story, and even plant a few new seeds of its own! So now, whenever I start a rewatch, I will just start from there. I imagine I’d see something new if I rewatched it from the beginning of the series, but still, I can’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe, I intuitively stumbled onto the best way to rewatch Avatar.