Season 1 of ATLA already did a fantastic job of establishing the characters and setting up the unique world within the story, so it seems impossible that each season managed to be better than the last.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” really comes into its own in Season 2 – it’s a lot less happy-go-lucky and jovial than Season 1, and you can really feel the tension and the stakes in each episode’s adventure. It’s amazing how many thought-provoking themes they managed to cram into such fun, light-hearted television, and if it wasn’t for Season 3 I would easily call this the greatest season of a cartoon show ever. How would I rank these excellent episodes?
You can check out my Season 1 ranking below, as well as some of my other TV show rankings:
20 – The Swamp
Enough happens in this episode to keep me vaguely interested, but the setting and the plot are a bit bland compared to the rest of the season’s standards.
19 – Avatar Day
Quite an odd episode from start to finish, but the Kyoshi confession at the end was a pretty cool addition.
18 – The Cave of Two Lovers
I’m all for the Aang / Katara relationship, but it felt a bit forced (and a bit too childish) for my liking here.
This one could have possibly been my least favourite of the season, but the banger of a track “Secret Tunnel” knocks this one up a few places.
17 – The Serpent’s Pass
The vast majority of episodes in Season 2 are at least “Good”, which is why I consider this to be a shining example of animated television.
The dilemma of crossing the titular Serpent’s Pass is a fun one, and there are enough interesting character moments to make this a rewarding watch.
16 – Return to Omashu
It was fun to see the Gaang return to Omashu and meet with Bumi once more, and the showdown with Azula and her posse is lots of fun – that being said, this is nowhere near the best showdown in the Season.
15 – Bitter Work
On paper this should have just been a run-of-the-mill “protagonist trains to overcome a challenge” episode, but Aang’s struggles running parallel to Zuko’s make this a much more intriguing watch (and the lightening redirection is an awesome addition to the lore)
14 – The Earth King
A great episode, and I particularly love the scene of the Gaang taking on the defences of the Earth Kingdom single-handedly.
13 – The Desert
Nothing’s Quenchier! It‘s the quenchiest!
12 – The Library
Quite a chilling and unnerving episode for a kid’s show, but still a really good one.
The knowledgeable owl is quite a menacing figure, and the sequence where the Gaang escapes the library while Appa gets stolen made for thrilling viewing.
11 – The Avatar State
The first episode of Season 2 was a great one – Azula’s betrayal was good fun, and Aang being forced to use his Avatar State was both tantalising and terrifying. It served as a harsh reminder that Aang is not to be messed with, and that he can be pushed over the edge if you’re not careful.
10 – The Drill
This is one of those full on action romps, and I love it.
This episode came at a slight lull in the story (at least, in terms of action) so it was great to see the Gaang throw hands against Azula and her humungous drill.
9 – The Blind Bandit
A.K.A The one where we’re introduced Toph, the best character outside of the OG trio (and Iroh maybe. Oh, and Zuko. Damn, there’s lots of great characters aren’t there?)
There are some great scenes of Toph absolutely destroying her competitors, and I’m all for it. Add in a nice sub-plot about coming out of your comfort zone and fulfilling your destiny, and you get a really excellent episode of cartoon television.
8 – City of Walls and Secrets
As soon as the Gaang sets foot in Ba Sing Se, you can tell something is horribly wrong. The majority of the episode is a fun adventure trying to crash the Earth King’s party, but the deeply unsettling undertones set up the incredible Ba Sing Se arc that makes Season 2 one for the ages.
7 – Appa’s Lost Days
I wasn’t expecting an episode all about Appa, but somehow they made me care deeply about a fictional flying bison.
It’s not like this is completely unrelated to the Season as a whole either – The Guru makes a cameo appearance, and we finally get to catch up on Suki again.
6 – The Chase
On paper, this episode seemed like it was going to be a bit of a slog. Azula and her posse are relentlessly chasing the Gaang, and our group of heroes start to tire out quickly from being constantly chased through the night.
What I wasn’t expecting was one of ATLA’s best fight scenes to close off the episode. Everything comes together – even Zuko and Iroh get a chance to fight back – and the fight scene alone is enough to bump this up to the A Tier.
5 – The Guru
The first of the two-part finale, and this is really a character exploration more than anything.
We get to see Zuko / Iroh finally meeting up with the Gaang, whilst Aang has to learn to let go of any Earthly attachments – even Katara – if he wants to use his Avatar State again. A great way to set up the finale.
4 – The Tales of Ba Sing Se
I had a hard time ranking this one, as there are so many moving parts and individual stories. I think it would be best if I mentioned each of the vignettes:
- Toph and Katara: Possibly the weakest of the vignettes, as it was a bit of a boring watch. It was nice to develop Katara and Toph’s characters further, but I think they could have come up with something a bit more interesting.
- Iroh: Easily the best of the bunch, we get to see Iroh living a harmless day in Ba Sing Se. What really sets it apart is the ending, which wrecked me emotionally. A perfect vignette which single-handedly puts this episode in the A Tier. Leaves from the vine, falling so slow …
- Aang: Another quite weak story, but there’s enough action involved with Aang causing a stampede to keep me engaged.
- Sokka: A really fun vignette where Sokka has to compete in a Haiku battle, with some genuinely funny moments and a great ending.
- Zuko: Second only to Iroh’s tale, I wasn’t expecting such a heart-warming and sincere story for such a stoic character. Zuko’s character development is in its crucial stages in the second season, and its episodes like this that cement his arc as one of television’s best.
- Momo: With all of the previous tales being seemingly unrelated to the tale at large, it was great to have a tale that directly linked to a major dilemma – Appa’s whereabouts. The scene where Momo rests defeated in the footprint always gets to me.
3 – Lake Laogai
It wasn’t entirely clear what the Dai Li did to Jet (it’s not clear if he died either, but that’s a debate for another day), so when he was forced to turn on the Gaang it genuinely moved me. This was just a young lad after all, who was caught up in something bigger than he could ever imagine, and his untimely sacrifice gave the Gaang a reason to keep fighting.
Also, the scene where Iroh confronts Zuko is definitely one of my favourite exchanges of the season – “I’m begging you Zuko! It’s time to look inwards … Who are you, and what do you want?”
2 – Zuko Alone
There have been so many fan posts and video essays as to why this episode is one of the greatest, so I’ll keep it brief.
This episode is purely about Zuko – there’s no Gaang in sight, and no Iroh to rescue him when times get tough. This means Zuko has to fend for himself, and this is one of the greatest episodes of character growth / development I have ever seen.
The ending was also very poignant, and I was just as frustrated as Zuko when he got rejected by the people he so valiantly rescued. It’s a cycle of despair, and I’ve never sympathised with a cartoon villain more.
1 – The Crossroads of Destiny
“Zuko Alone” might be a critical darling, but I’m a sucker for an explosive finale.
The Ba Sing Se arc comes to a thrilling conclusion, and every thread set up over the season gets a satisfying resolution. The Azula fight is amazing, Zuko’s betrayal is heart-breaking, and the twist of Aang getting mortally wounded left me speechless. A near-perfect finale, and I was desperate to find out what happened next.
Season Rating: A-
This was a sensational season of television, especially for an animated kid’s show. There are some excellent moments of character development, and the run of episodes in Ba Sing Se is easily one of my favourite TV arcs of all time.
- 6 A (30%)
- 11 B (55%)
- 3 C (15%)
Those are some very solid stats, with a whopping 85% of the episodes being at least good.
Total so far:
- 10 A (26%)
- 20 B (53%)
- 7 C (18%)
- 1 D (3%)
Doing well so far, with 30/38 episodes being in at least the B Tier. We only have Season 3 to go now, and until then you should check out some of my other blog posts:
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