Staff Sokka Simp
It’s a scene Avatar fans will never forget: While out on a fishing trip, a waterbender named Katara and her brother, Sokka, discover a young boy and his sky bison frozen inside of a hundred-year-old iceberg. This boy turns out to be our beloved protagonist, Aang, a rambunctious twelve-year-old kid whose first thought after being freed is to go penguin sledding. This kid also just so happens to be the Avatar, the long-lost master of all four elements (water, earth, fire and air) and the key to ending the rule of the tyrannical Fire Nation.
As the Fire Nation nears world domination, Sokka and Katara manage to find what the world needs most just in the nick of time. The same could be said for me discovering this show mid-quarantine. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” came to me when I needed it most.
The pandemic put me in a really dark place. The quarantine’s sudden imposition ripped me out of my freshman Fordham experience right when I was finally feeling completely comfortable. I found myself trapped in my childhood bedroom for months on end, only seeing my friends through a dimmed phone screen. I spent countless nights searching for validation over social media and found myself overthinking every single relationship I had. I could also find no sense of purpose, especially with both outdoor track and cross country being postponed “indefinitely.” As someone who has defined their self-confidence upon their athletic performance for so long, the absence of any sort of competition completely washed away any sense of self-importance.
Needless to say, I had lost any semblance of self-confidence in myself whatsoever, and March through May were some of the loneliest periods of my life. I feared losing the people I cared about, and in some cases I did. I tried to open up to others but often closed off in fear of becoming a burden.
Like Aang on his glider, Netflix swooped in and released all three seasons of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on May 15th. A friend of mine told me that I just had to watch it, so I checked it out. I’m not the type of person that can bang out eight seasons of a show in one weekend. I don’t have the attention span or time to do that. But when I saw it was three seasons of only twenty minutes episodes, I figured, “why not?”
From the moment Sokka, Katara and Aang first met, I was absolutely hooked. “Avatar” was the first show I had truly connected with since my eighth-grade obsession with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” (we don’t talk about my brief “Riverdale” stint). I blew through it in a matter of weeks, a relatively quick binge for me. Whenever I started to feel down, I would put an episode on. However, it took me quite a while to start “Sozin’s Comet”—I never wanted the show to end. Once I finished it, I immediately embarked upon my rewatch the next day: “Avatar” had become my happy place.
What got me so connected to this show was, of course, the “Gaang.” The writers succeeded in making every single character—from Aang, Toph and even the Cabbage Man—well-rounded, complex and relatable in their own ways. I cared so, so deeply about every single one of their individual journeys and relationships with one another. I cheered, empathized and even cried for them (Looking at you, “The Tale of Iroh”). They gave me some company on the many a late night.
The show also provided an escape from the real world while also remaining grounded in reality. The four nation universe of “Avatar,” from the walls of Ba Sing Se to the interwoven secrets of Ember Island, is enchanting. The animation was groundbreaking, the visuals and soundtrack were incredible—I could go on and on about the show’s design, but its greatness lies in its symbolism. Every storyline addresses a serious theme, such as the devastating effects of war, corrupt governments and the importance of mental health.
The best lessons I learned from “Avatar” are about the maintenance of hope and the commitment to love. “Avatar” tells the viewer, often through the words of the beloved Uncle Iroh, that everyone is capable of being loved and of changing for the better. The show reassures us that everything will be okay, and things always work out in the end.
Just take a look at Prince Zuko: I, like everyone else, fell for him the moment he stepped on screen, ponytail and all. (Sokka, however, will always have my heart, especially when his hair’s down.) His critically acclaimed redemption arc from a vengeful prince desperately seeking his sociopathic father’s approval to a strong, kindhearted individual proved that anyone is capable and deserving of change.
“Avatar” gave me hope in a time when I was completely hopeless. It has guided me towards addressing my own struggles and opening up to others about them. The show helped me grow as a person. As Iroh states in the “Crossroads of Destiny”: “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving… you will come to a better place.” This saying is something I will carry for the rest of my life.