Avatar: The Last Airbender was originally only given thirteen episodes, a fan-favorite episode from season 1 might have been the series finale.
“The Blue Spirit” is one of the best episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and co-creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko confirmed that it would have been the series finale if the show ended with its original thirteen episode order. In the book Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series, DiMartino and Konietzko revealed that “The Blue Spirit” was intended to work as a finale in case they didn’t get any more episodes, and also needed to work as a jumping-off point for a potential second half of the season. Luckily for DiMartino and Konietzko, “The Blue Spirit” launched the second half of season 1, and gave viewers a glimpse of the direction that Avatar: The Last Airbender was going.
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In season 1, episode 13, “The Blue Spirit,” Aang is kidnapped by Commander Zhao, the leader of the Fire Nation navy and Prince Zuko’s rival. Aang is rescued by a mysterious figure in a striking blue mask, which is revealed to be Zuko in disguise at the end of the episode. Prince Zuko was set up to be the primary antagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the last few moments of “The Blue Spirit” are the first indication of Zuko’s redemption arc. “The Blue Spirit” is the first time that Avatar: The Last Airbender took on a more serious tone, and an indication that DiMartino and Konietzko were planning to take the series to a darker and more mature place.
Nickelodeon initially picked up Avatar: The Last Airbender for only thirteen episodes. The first thirteen episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender do a great job of efficiently setting up the premise and stakes, but the series hadn’t fully gotten its footing. “The Blue Spirit” was a pivotal point in Avatar: The Last Airbender that raised the stakes and put Aang in legitimate danger, while also adding much-needed ambiguity to Prince Zuko’s character. Not only does the episode start to cast doubt on Zuko’s loyalty to the Fire Nation after his banishment, but it’s a really exciting, action-packed episode that elevates the combat of the series and introduces the mature themes Avatar: The Last Airbender began to take on.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series, Bryan Konietzko describes Zuko as his favorite character, and says that Zuko’s Blue Spirit disguise was, “free of the burden of his fall from grace.” The mask was designed to look creepy and supernatural, with an exaggerated, Kabuki-style face, and blue was chosen to not give away that he was associated with the Fire Nation. Since DiMartino and Konietzko didn’t know if the series would continue after “The Blue Spirit,” the episode was the perfect opportunity for them to take risks. “The Blue Spirit” complicated the relationship between Aang and Zuko, by motivating Zuko to save Aang, and Aang wondering if he and Zuko could have been friends.
Avatar: The Last Airbender became a critically acclaimed, beloved animated series because it dealt with more mature themes and nuanced characterizations than other animated shows. “The Blue Spirit” is the first time that Avatar: The Last Airbender began to find its footing, and it would have been a tragedy if it was the finale. Luckily, it was renewed past its originally thirteen episode order, and “The Blue Spirit” was just the beginning of the narrative depth that eventually characterized Avatar: The Last Airbender.
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