I had very little expectations going into ATLA – I had seen a couple of episodes on Nickelodeon when I was but a wee boy, so when it arrived on Netflix I was hesitant to even begin to watch this “kiddy” cartoon.
ATLA shattered all of my expectations, and with each subsequent season I found myself enthralled by the plot, the characters, the charm, and the expert world-building. A magic system based off of the four elements is wildly overdone, but somehow Avatar manages to be the defining achievement in the cartoon fantasy genre.
Season 1 of ATLA is pretty great. It’s not perfect (it would need a few episodes to fully find its footing) but I found myself enjoying each adventure with every passing episode. There are some great ones in Season 1, but how would I rank them all?
You can check out some of my other related lists below:
18 – The Great Divide
This episode gets dunked on quite a lot, and rightly so in my opinion – it’s a complete filler episode, with meaningless characters, plot developments, and a moral at the end of “Hey kids! Lying is good!” to cap things off.
It’s not completely useless though – “The Ember Island Players” in Season 3 has a great joke at its expense, and it makes “The Great Divide” well worth the watch just for the jokes alone.
17 – Bato of the Water Tribe
Is it bad that I can’t remember a single thing from this episode?
Right, I’ve checked the IMDb page and I think I can remember why I ranked this so low. First of all, there isn’t much plot in it – Sokka and Katara meet with one of their Dad’s old friends, and Aang acts uncharacteristically selfish.
It’s the decisions made by Aang (and the reaches the writers go to in order to create an artificial conflict within the group) that really grinds my gears for this one. Not worth a re-watch.
16 – Jet
One of the most anime episodes of ATLA ever, and there’s a couple of reasons why this ranks so low.
Katara’s sudden crush on Jet feels a little forced / rushed, and only serves to annoy Aang and the audience. This also feeds directly into my second criticism – I hate “boy who cried wolf” stories, and it’s painful to watch here. Nobody believes that Jet is a villain, and I wanted to rip my hair out by the end of this.
15 – Imprisoned
A.K.A. the one where Katara gets herself imprisoned to rescue a boy she likes.
There isn’t much to say about this one really, the episode does what it says in the tin – you wanna see the Gaang imprisoned and escape, and that’s what we got.
14 – The Fortuneteller
Actually quite a decent episode, and I like the whole mystique around the titular Foretuneteller and the final confrontation with the volcano.
Similar to “Jet”, this has a “boy who cried wolf” vibe with the volcano for the most part, and the Katara / Aang sub-plot is too centre-stage and lovey-dubby for my tastes.
13 – The Waterbending Scroll
Just pure fun from start to finish, I really like how the Gaang have to deal with the pirates and it all leads to a great climactic battle between everyone – including Zuko, who is still hot on their trail.
This was also one of the episodes that made me fall in love with Uncle Iroh’s character – the scene where he forgets the chip was in his sleeve his whole time is easily one of the highlight jokes from Season 1.
12 – The Avatar Returns
A nice follow-up to the pilot, and it goes just about how you expect. Aang saves the Water Tribe, gets the better of Zuko, and the Gaang set off on their adventure.
In the grand scheme of things, this episode is fairly forgettable. It has some key plot points that carry the show moving forward, but in execution there isn’t much to take away from this one.
11 – The Warriors of Kyoshi
I quite like how Season 1 takes more of an episodic format, and up until “The Winter Solstice” they go on a random adventure each time.
The lack of any sort of goal per se means I wasn’t as invested in the first half of the Season, but episodes like this are still fun – and it was funny to see Suki give Sokka a piece of her mind (and not for the last time in the show).
10 – The Northern Air Temple
I like the conflicts that arise from this one – Aang doesn’t like how the inventor is meddling with one of the Air Temples, which is a completely reasonable argument to be made considering how Aang is the last Airbender (hey, that’s the title!).
It’s also one of those episodes that proves Sokka isn’t as dumb as he looks – he may be goofy and aloof, but his various shenanigans and ideas across the series show he is far from stupid.
9 – The King of Omashu
Quite a fun episode early on in the Season, and I really like the fights between Aang and Bumi.
Similarly to other episodes in the first half Season 1, this whole adventure feels a little bit like a time-waster / filler before the true goal of stopping the Comet is revealed, but I still had a great time with this one regardless.
8 – The Boy in the Iceberg
A great example of a pilot done well, it sets up the whimsical tone, the antagonists, and the plot of the story moving forward in an effective yet fun way.
If I had to nit-pick, I’d say ATLA gets off to a bit of a slow start in its first Season, and the pilot is no exception – although in this case, the first episode did enough to peak my interest, and I was invested to see where the show would go.
7 – The Southern Air Temple
It’s a little vague at the start of ATLA why Aang was trapped in the iceberg for 100 years, and this is the episode that begins to shed some light on the tragedy that befell the Air Nomads.
It’s quite a sombre episode by the time the credits roll, and we get to see Aang finally submit to his unbridled fury – the Avatar State. This sudden display of immense power made for chilling viewing, and pair that with the gruesome death of the Southern Air Nomads and you get a fantastic episode from one of the darkest, most unique kid’s programmes ever put to screen.
6 – The Waterbending Master
A.K.A the one where Katara kicks Master Pakku’s ass. Nothing else to say really, an easy B+ he had it coming let’s move on to the next one.
5 – The Deserter
Over the course of Season 1, it was made very clear that each element would have to me mastered methodically and in order – water, earth, and then fire. When Aang suddenly got the chance to learn from a Firebending Master, I was intrigued to see what would happen.
Aang learns some invaluable lessons at a heavy cost – he can’t rush his training, and complacency will lead to misfortune if handled incorrectly. The finale with Admiral Zhao is also great, and overall this is an excellent episode.
4 – The Winter Solstice Pt. 1 / 2
For me, this is the episode where ATLA finally become the titan it had been hyped up to be.
All of a sudden, the show had huge death stakes – if Aang didn’t master all four bending styles before Sozin’s Comet arrived, the whole world would succumb to Firelord Ozai’s evil regime. This immense urgency meant my intrigue had peaked, and I was desperate to watch the rest of the series to see where the story would go.
3 – The Blue Spirit
One of the things that instantly stood out to me when I watched ATLA was the superb writing – Zuko could have easily just been another angsty teen villain / annoying fodder for the protagonist, but across all 3 seasons his character arc was arguably the strongest of them all.
The actual escape from the prison made for great viewing as well, but it’s the Zuko reveal at the end that bumps this up into the A Tier.
2 – The Storm
A.K.A the one where we finally get the backstory we’ve been begging for.
It’s amazing how the writers managed to reveal Aang and Zuko’s tragic past simultaneously, and it leads to the viewer drawing their own parallels between the two. This adds to Zuko’s increasingly complex character arc, and also lifts the curtain on the most prominent mystery up until this point – how Aang was trapped in the iceberg, and how the story was set up to begin with.
1 – The Siege of the North Pt. 1 / 2
As epic a finale you would ever find in a cartoon show, these fantastic episodes tick all the boxes: it bookends things nicely, it sets up the next season, and it’s just straight up awesome.
Admiral Zhao gets his come-uppance, all of the various stories suddenly intersect in an explosive and satisfying way, and the emotional stakes are the highest they’ve been up until this point. This was a fantastic finale, yet the show still had so many more breath-taking moments to tell.
Season Rating: B+
This is an amazing first season for a show, and even if there were a few hiccups along the way (and the first few episodes are a bit slow / aimless) I would still recommend it highly. As I usually do for these TV episode rankings, I’ll compile a list of stats:
- 4 A (22%)
- 9 B (50%)
- 4 C (22%)
- 1 D (6%)
That D rated episode is gonna let the stats down in the end, ’cause the only way is up from here. Until I get around to doing season 2, you should check out some of my latest blog posts:
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