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The Best Recap Episode in Television – Avatar: The Last Airbender


Okay so stop me if you’ve heard this before… Avatar: the Last Airbender is a great series,
no scratch that, it’s an incredible series, wait wait wait, scratch even that, it is probably, in
my experience, the most unanimously enjoyed series in the history of television. Now that might seem like a bold statement
sure, but ask 99 out of a hundred people and they’ll all say that Avatar is just one of those
shows you can’t not like… and then they’ll proceed to beat up the one person who didn’t
say that, it’s a good series man. But on the flipside
of that, let’s take a look at something most people do NOT like; recap episodes. Chances are if you’ve had experience with
serialized television, you’ve run into a recap episode, that annoying little thing
that abrupts your progress in a story to show you a bunch of things you’ve already seen. Now if you’re binging a show, this is an easy
skip, but if you’re keeping up with something as it releases weekly, monthly, whatever,
it’s obviously going to be annoying seeing a clip show in place of a new episode. So what happens when you take a show that
everyone loves, and you put in this thing that is generally disliked? Right before the finale to the entire series
I might add. Well… you get something that everyone loves
anyways, as anyone who’s seen the show will tell you, Avatar: The Last Airbender has definitively
the best recap episode of all time. An episode near the very end of the final
season, called The Ember Island Players. [Sugerland Shimmy – Cuphead Soundtrack] Now before we get into WHY this episode, why
Avatar’s recap is the best, we have to understand what distinguishes a good recap from a bad
one, ultimately the majority of recap come from the need to prolong the production, most
likely because the staff involved have run into trouble and need an extra week to get
things back on track. It’s also used in longer running shows to
get newcomers up to speed in the hopes of gaining a new weekly watcher, and honestly
recap has been good for me personally in the past when I’ve taken a break from a series
and didn’t want to rewatch everything just to understand what was going on in the story. Essentially there are many reasons to HAVE
a recap, but the bad recaps are the ones that only do the bare minimum, and since they’re
often the result of poor productions, that’s usually all they are. However as you’ll soon see, that’s not
all recaps have to be, and there are some out there that go the extra mile of really
trying to give meaning or entertainment to what would ordinarily be pretty boring. Look at Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood for
instance, this is a great series and it too has a clip show recap around the 27 episode
mark, but instead of them just being edited in a dull “here’s what’s happened so
far” sorta manner, we have them arranged in a way that gives thematic meaning to the
overarching story as Hoenheim reflects on his own personality and his perspective on
things we didn’t know before, I honestly couldn’t tell you if this was an episode they planned
from the beginning or not because it works surprisingly well to develop that character. Another way of handling it is the way that
Re;Creators does, another clip show recap but one that’s filled with comedy and meta-commentary. We watch one of the show’s characters, Meteora,
have fun embellishing various aspects of the story like visioning her own character as
a beautiful, voluptuous goddess, or making fourth wall jokes about only knowing characters
from reading the official website. It’s pretty funny hearing her make fun of
everything and it gives new enjoyment to old material. In a similar vein, even Avatar’s successor,
The Legend of Korra, had a surprisingly great recap episode, despite all of the garbage
Nickelodeon put that entire production through. It’s very much like Re;Creators in that
it’s a clip show recap with characters narrating and making fun of various elements, but eventually
it devolves into complete madness when one of the characters named Varrick takes over
the narration and turns the recap into complete fanfiction, at that point the episode basically becomes
a glorified abridged series and it’s just amazing. “Hey guys, I’m totally in for taking out Bolin, he’s way too
powerful and awesome but can we please not include…” “Not include who, Amon?” I cannot convey how much I love
that entire section, and beyond comedy, the reason why I think it’s valuable
is because it feels like pure fanservice, it’s so clear that the creators and writers
were in tune with what the fans loved and didn’t love about the series, and they
purposefully poked fun at all of it. Like they directly call out Unalaq for being
the worst villain in the series, it doesn’t get much better than that…. Or does it? Compared to the rest of these series,
what does Avatar: The Last Airbender do to really add value and meaning
to its recap before the final battle? Well basically all of the above and even more. What’s interesting to note about Avatar
is that it’s technically already had a recap before this point in the story, at least in
a technical sense. No I’m not talking about the previously
on Avatar stuff (even though I like those a lot as well) I’m talking about an episode
in season 2 called “The Guru”, this was the first section of the two part finale to
that book, and while the majority of it is amazing character interactions, awesome fights,
and pushing the story forward in compelling ways, y’know, all the usual Avatar fare,
there’s a part in this finale where Aang visits the eponymous guru in order to learn
how to control the Avatar state. I feel like this part is worth noting here
because it’s got some of the aspects that I’m going to be discussing in the actual
recap episode during season 3, it’s quite literally Aang reflecting on the series so
far, the choices he’s made and will have to make, as well as what’s important to
him, and it gives us a new perspective and understanding on those previous episodes. Likewise this is something that’s explored
heavily in The Ember Island Players, except a little differently. For one, instead of Aang facing his past,
it’s the entire main crew watching a loose and cartoony depiction of their adventure
so far. This is a great tool to use as a recap because
even more literally than the Guru episode, it forces our characters to look back at their
past experiences, and that’s where the interesting stuff comes in. From their perspective, they’re literally
having a mirror shoved in their faces highlighting all of their past failures, insecurities,
and sides of their personalities that they may or may not like. Katara doesn’t like being shown as some
overly dramatic and preachy whiner, Aang doesn’t like confronting his loss at Ba Sing Se, and
probably the one that hits all of us the hardest, Zuko doesn’t like rewatching his betrayal of Iroh, what
he considers the biggest mistake he’s made in life. Forcing these characters to acknowledge things
from the past or sides to their personalities that they don’t like is a good way of fleshing
them out, even when you’re not technically progressing the story. On the flipside of that however, there is
naturally a wealth of comedic and meta potential in having your characters look back firsthand
on the series. Ironically enough this allows the writers themselves
to reflect on their own mistakes, and poke fun at them in a way only fans would
appreciate. This is why I brought up the concept of fanservice
before, because it’s nice to feel like the creators care about your opinion. It’s awesome to watch them willingly acknowledge
that nobody liked The Great Divide episode, it’s satisfying to hear them make fun of
the fact that they had to leave Jet’s death ambiguous because it was airing on Nickelodeon,
it’s hilarious to hear them tease Zuko about the way his hair grows throughout the series. It’s basically everything I want the creators
of a property to be, I want them to be in tune with what the audience cares about, what
I care about, and to have a passion for making us happy. I think it’s one of the biggest reasons why
so many people love this series in the first place. One thing I said before that I’d like to
clarify a little bit is the idea of no plot actually progressing in this episode. This actually isn’t entirely true, and it’s
just another example of the writers really going all out to make The Ember Island Players
feel as important as possible. In the midst of the gang revisiting their
past memories, we have Aang constantly being faced with his relationship and dynamic with
Katara, something that’s been built since season 1, but has always had some kind of
obstacle or diversion getting in the way. Whether that be Jet, the impending war that’s
surrounding them, or the Zutara shippers pretending it doesn’t exist, Aang has always had trouble
communicating his feelings to Katara and he’s not even sure how she completely feels about
him either, which is why it’s effective to have this play resurface those feelings,
especially considering they haven’t really had the time to dwell on that with all the other
craziness that’s been going on. And when I say resurface,
I mean RESURFACE. I mean full on confrontation, second kiss, dramatic stakes kind of resurface, that’s how you do it, and even though it doesn’t
necessarily resolve in anything quite yet, it’s still great for reinforcing this relationship,
and also highlighting some of Aang’s character flaws. Now they could’ve left this episode at that
and it would already be the greatest recap episode of all time, the comedy, the introspection
and development for our characters, the progression in Aang and Katara’s relationship, it’s
already one of the better Avatar episodes, let alone a recap episode, but the writers
weren’t done yet, there’s more to do here. As I mentioned earlier, this episode aired
at the very end of book 3, right before the finale to the entire series, and while it’s
great to summarize everything that’s happened before that ultimate culmination, it’s equally
as important to build up and transition into that final event, which is exactly what The
Ember Island Players does. Once we catch up to the present time in the
play, we reach an alternate ending so to speak where Zuko and Aang meet their final opponents,
Zuko vs. Azula, and Aang vs. Ozai, and since this being the fire nation propaganda that
it is, of course we have both of them lose, and also die in incredibly graphic, but well
choreographed ways. The Fire Nation wins the war and the Avatar is gone. This is a very smart way of ending
the episode because after all of the time our characters spent reviewing their past
and their failures, now they’re forced to watch what could be their future, and final failure
against the Fire Lord. It beautifully sets up the stakes for the
finale, and while it doesn’t directly reference it, we still have the looming dilemma Aang
is facing about whether or not he can actually bring himself to kill the Fire Lord, something
that, as you all know, becomes incredibly prominent in the finale itself. In conclusion, Avatar is one of the greatest
pieces of fiction ever made, so it’s fitting that it also contains the greatest recap ever
made. I think it also goes without saying that the
fact that this recap is fully animated as its own episode only further cements it as
a complete creative freedom on the writer’s part, meaning it was something they planned
to do from the beginning of production, maybe even from the beginning of
the series, I don’t know. Hopefully this video gave you guys a little
recap on just what an amazing series Avatar is, and the standard that other television
shows should strive to follow. Speaking of striving to follow, you should
go over to Twitter @PhenomSage and follow me where I occasionally post opinions or thoughts
about various things, it’s a good time trust me. (it’s really not but please follow me) And while we’re on the topic of things I recommend doing, if you want to chat with me or make friends, you should definitely join my Discord server,
it has a great community of people, we watch movies and series together, it’s a lot of
fun, we actually just got done watching Avatar together recently as well, so if that sounds
like something you’re interested in, stop on by, links down in the description below! And just as a final message… studios, I
know recaps are usually the result of scheduling problems, I know they might be the last thing
you actually want to do, but please, if you think for even a moment that you’ll need one… try to make it as meaningful as possible. [Rainbow Love Zone – Might Switch Force 2
Soundtrack]

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