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Note: The commentators recorded the commentaries for "Sozin's Comet, Parts 1-4" in one sitting, cutting off the commentary just before the credits on each episode, with the exception of "Part 4".
Michael Dante DiMartino Hi, this is Mike DiMartino, co-creator of Avatar.
Bryan Konietzko And this is Bryan Konietzko, the other co-creator.
Mike And welcome to the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Bryan These are the last four episodes of this three-season story.
Mike Yeah, and uh, a lot of people were wondering if there would be a Book Four. Air Book. We are here to tell you there will be no Air Book.
Bryan Yeah, this, the f-the seasons were named after the um, the elements that Aang was learning in order to become the Avatar, and he already, already knows air, so.
Mike Yeah, we had... planned on this being a trilogy from the beginning, when we first pitched the show about six years ago. And so, it's very satisfying to see it all come to a great conclusion, uh, a lot of hard work, sweat, and... blood and everything went into this-making this uh, finale, and the whole series in general.
Bryan And tears.
Mike And tears too. [Bryan chuckles.] We cried a lot.
Bryan [Brief pause.] So, we uh, we conceived of this... last, you know, these last episodes as like a three-part movie. And what happened was uh, the last one was just so full of... stuff, there was no way we were going to fit it into a twenty-two minute, uh, episode. So, we ended up having a four-part finale, and um, Mike wrote this first part, chapter eighteen.
Mike [Brief pause.] Yeah, it was really fun to kind of conceive of this whole ending as-as kind of a movie, even though we still had to... uh, keep them as separate episodes obviously. Um, we did kind of plan the whole story, kind of pitched out the whole story of these four episodes all at one time.
Bryan And there were definitely things that we knew, you know, from a long time ago that we were going to have to, to deal with. And then some stuff uh, as we got closer to the-to the end of the series, you know, certain things shaped themselves, like Suki coming back into the group, and uh...
Mike Yeah, certainly, probably at the beginning of the season, we hadn't thought about Suki being a big-such a big part of the... the finale, but once we knew she was coming back in the show, and seemed just natural that she would stay with uh, Sokka and the gang. And it was nice to have her there, think she did some uh, [Bryan chuckles.] good stuff. [Brief pause.] So, one of the challenges, I thought, when we were first pitching out this, this story was I felt like we kind of wrote ourselves in a bit of a corner where we had already said that Aang had to fight the Fire Lord before the comet came, and, [Refers to Zuko getting infuriated at the rest of Team Avatar relaxed behavior, and not preparing for the arrival of Sozin's Comet.] so starting to have a little more conflict at the beginning of the story, we had to come up with a-a way of explaining why he is not fighting the-the-the Fire Lord, uh, before the comet comes. So, we-we developed this idea where... where, we-we haven't seen it in any of the episodes, but the group as a whole have kinda decided Aang's not ready yet, and uh, and they're gonna wait a little while. [Refers to Zuko attacking Aang during the group's beach party.] Of course, they did not fill in Zuko on this decision of theirs, so he's, he's-he's very confused why Aang's not uh, doing his job, basically.
Bryan And we also, pretty early on um... before we kind of realized that issue, um, we knew wanted to-to step up the Fire Lord's game, you know, that, that he had a very-a more specific plan than just, you know, taking over the world or winning the war, or something. [Refers to Ozai's plan to use Sozin's Comet and the soon-to-be-deployed Fire Nation airships to burn down the entire Earth Kingdom.] Um, I remember Mike, and Aaron and I went to brunch, and, it was a long time ago, but we were just like, "what, you know, what evil plan could he hatch," like some way that he was upping the ante, and uh, we came up with the idea of the-using these, um, you know, these zeppelins during the comet. [Refers to Zuko's flashback to when he learned of Ozai and Azula's plans.] So, then we had to look at how we could um, tie that in, and it was-it was pretty cool that Zuko had gone to this war meeting, so we realized, you know, we can use that from uh, episode 309. In that episode, it was, you know, we were looking at that-that meeting for a different plot purpose, but um, but once uh, you know, we get to this point in the story, we realize the significance of the-what happened at that meeting. [Refers to Zuko chasing Aang through his family vacation house.] It was kind of fun seeing uh, Zuko and Aang going at it again.
Mike I-I was just thinking, [Bryan chuckles.] it's kinda-it's kinda like old times, you know. [Bryan affirms; refers to the crescents of fire that Zuko bends to cut off Aang's escape routes, and Aang forcefully airbending Zuko out of the house.] Get to see a little... a little action between the two, and they've both grown a lot, and uh, you know, I don't think Zuko's, you know, trying to hurt Aang too bad, but he, [Laughs.] he's trying to knock some sense into him a bit, but...
Bryan [Interjects.] A little tough love.
Mike ... but uh, Aang seems to have a bit of an upper hand on him. Oh, it was fun to-we knew this was going to be a pretty serious episode overall, serious finale that um... that at the beginning we could have a little fun with this beach party, and, and-and stuff like that, so is-it was fun to see them all kind of-kind of with their guards down before what would turn out to be the biggest fight of their lives.
Bryan Yeah, this is definitely the lightest episode of the four. [Refers to Sokka's instigating of the beach party, his sand sculpture of Suki, and trying to rescue Momo from Appa's mouth.] Mostly with Sokka's antics.
Mike He does have some fine moments in this episode. [Refers to Katara explaining that the reason the group was not concerned about Sozin's Comet effect on the war, was that the war was already over after the fall of Ba Sing Se.] So, here Katara's kind of talking about what-what Bryan was talking about before, how the Fire Lord, like she says, has already, they-the Fire Nation's pretty much won the war. They-they, they control Ba Sing Se and a lot of the Earth Kingdom and stuff. So, it was kind of what beyond just technically, you know, having a lot of troops around the world would the Fire Lord do to sort of up the ante, and up-up-up the, the drama of this finale.
Bryan It also was a-a character thing for us, you know. [Refers to Ozai, in Zuko's flashback, explaining his plan to his advisors and children, one which he will personally lead.] Ozai, up to this point, had pretty much just been a guy who sat around and, expensive clothes, you know, and we needed him to be more dynamic and more active, um, so, having him like hatch this more aggressive plan, um, I-I think deepened him as a villain, um, not just a, you know, like a plot conflict.
Mike We definitely had to kind of be careful of how we approached such a uh, dastardly plan, 'cause we couldn't call it certain things, but [Laughs.] it had to be serious and it had to be life-threatening, so.
Bryan Yeah, it's-I mean, it was a challenge with the whole series. [Laughs; Mike affirms.] Um, you know, on one hand, we're not trying to make a really... uh, edgy show, or something, but, you know, we want things to be serious, and uh, we want the stakes to be high, and, or else, it's hard to-to care for the characters as much, and believe in their, their challenges and their plight. Sort of the, when we pitched this show six years ago, we said, um, you know, it-it needs to end, it needs to have a beginning, and a middle, and an end, and just felt like to-to do an epic series, that's a necessity, you know, there has to be a goal, and at some point, you have to meet that goal, or fail. And um, I mean, we're-we're flattered that fans want it to keep going, but I always think, I don't know, if someone came up to me and said... you know, "oh man, I-I have this great story. It never ends, [Mike and Bryan chuckle.] let me start telling you," I just feel like I would walk out of the room, I don't want to hear a story that doesn't end.
Mike Yeah, that's a good analogy.
Bryan You gotta know where you are [Mike and Bryan chuckle.] in a story. So, um, I know, there are some series out there that just [Laughs.] go on and on and on, but, for us um, you know, we love the Avatar world, and it's-it's, it's a very, um, fertile place for stories and characters and-and, you know, can really keep going on in different directions, but, but, you know, this story has to uh, culminate and conclude. It's really the best thing for the world.
Mike [Laughs; refers to Aang's struggle to reconcile his personal beliefs with what is seemingly best for the world.] Much like Aang's journey.
Bryan [Refers to Team Avatar's, minus Zuko's, beach apparel.] I remember there were a lot of discussions about, you know, we knew they were going to have this beach party thing, [Laughs.] but we're like, "are they going to be wearing their swim, [Mike chuckles intermittently.] their swimming outfits for this really serious discussion? Is that weird?" and we actually decided it was-it was good, because... it...
Mike [Interjects.] It had that-yeah, it kinda made them more vulnerable, and...
Bryan [Interjects.] More vulnerable, they just look like kids, and literally, they're caught with their pants down, [Mike chuckles.] you know, they're just having fun, wearing their skivvies, and then they realize, you know, the Fire Lord's not going to beach parties, he's still planning serious uh, attacks.
Mike Yeah, and to me, the s-the story is always stronger when your hero is-is, like you said, caught with his pants down, [Bryan chuckles; refers to Aang feeling like he still needs to improve his firebending and earthbending before he faces Ozai.] he's like not totally ready for this big battle. If he had trained with Zuko for another, you know, couple of months, and been all cool and everything, you're not as uh, you're not as worried for him when he goes into that f-that battle.
Bryan Yeah, that was always the, kind of the pitch. It's like this kid has to master four elements in a short amount of time, and usually it takes a lifetime, and, you know, you put a ticking clock on it, and uh, then you have something interesting, you know.
Mike [Refers to Zuko teaching Aang how to redirect lightning, using Iroh's explanations on the bending involved.] I like this little callback to uh, episode 209, where... Uncle Iroh had taught Zuko uh, how to redirect lightning, and now Zuko's passing that knowledge onto, onto Aang. It's a nice little, little illustration of the passing of knowledge, and-and lineage of styles and stuff, which is cool.
Bryan Yeah, it's cool, I-it-it's been a neat thing that really kept working its way in. It's always, yeah, traces back to Uncle and how he opened his mind to other styles, and sort of evolved firebending.
Mike And it's nice to see Zuko has grown so much that, you know, at the beginning of the series, he would never have listened to Uncle about some waterbending technique, you know, he would-he would've been solely all about the aggressive firebending, but now he-he kinda understands the different styles and different points of view in the world.
Bryan Yeah, he's sort of-Uncle was, you know, very patient and always generous with his uh, wisdom. And f-and, as the case with most kids, you know, sometimes you're just not ready to hear it. It's going in your brain, but you're just not ready to really absorb it, and uh, Zuko seems to learn the most from Uncle after Uncle's been gone, you know, it's when he, [Mike affirms.] out on his own, but, you know, he prepared him, he gave him all of these, all of these things to think about, and realize.
Mike [Refers to Team Avatar being in their usual clothes or combat armor as they train with a mock fight against a stand-in Fire Lord.] Alright, now they got their clothes on, they can do some fighting. [Bryan laughs; refers to the stone Fire Nation soldiers Toph bends toward the group.] Man, Toph carved some sweet rocks there.
Bryan They had-that's why, [Mike laughs.] that's why it's sunset, they had to wait for her to carve.
Mike [Refers to Toph enthusiastically proclaiming herself the Melon Lord, maniacally cackling as she hurls giant flaming rocks at Sokka.] She re-she wa-she wa-ah-I feel like she took this job very seriously, she wanted it, you know, to be very realistic, and [Bryan chuckles.] wanted the danger to be heightened. So, she was the perfect person to uh, be the fake F-Melon Lord.
Bryan She wanted to articulate the joints on those rock [Mike laughs intermittently.] guys, but they wouldn't-they didn't give her enough time. So, this uh, this episode was directed by Ethan Spaulding, a good friend of ours, worked on the show for...
Mike [Interjects.] Since the beginning.
Bryan ... a very long time, yeah, since the beginning of the series production. And um, this is the last episode he did for us. The first one was 203, "Return to Omashu", and uh, Ethan's just, great artist, just his drawings are so full of life and very wacky.
A pause in commentary until Aang, trying to convince his friends of non-violent alternatives to killing the Fire Lord, starts brainstorming how he could glue Ozai's limbs together to incapacitate him.
Mike Yeah, I really like how everything came together in this scene. [Refers to Aang, frustrated over being pressured by the group to abandon his pacifistic and ethical beliefs, lashes out at Katara when she tries to reconcile Aang's objections.] Uh, Zach Eisen, uh, the voice of Aang, and, and uh, Mae Whitman, the voice of Katara, did, did a great job like conflicting over-over, you know, whether or not to kill the Fire Lord, and she's trying to help, but Aang's very frustrated, and it's just one of the, in animation it's rare to have these kind of like what I think of as realistic moments, kind of. [Refers to Aang frustration and desperation being evident in his expression, voice and body language, as Sokka tries to make light of him potentially killing Ozai.] Like right here, I really felt like Aang was a real kid with real problems, and his friends just weren't understanding him, and just kind of came out in this very frustrated rant.
Bryan I also like about this scene, uh, earlier Aang, he kinda throws out this joke pitch, like, [Imitates Aang.] "you know, maybe we could get glue and, and uh, we could glue the Fire Lord, his arms and legs together so he can't bend anymore". And in a-in a sense, it's kind of what he [Laughs.] does, [Mike chuckles intermittently.] eh, in the ending, it's-it is actually very close to the solution he comes up with. And [Laughs.] what I like is that Aang also did that in um, in "The Siege of the North", uh, he was like, "well, maybe we-you know, we could ask the spirits for help, and they'd unleash a crazy spirit, you know, power", and-and, and that's exactly what happens, and um, at the time, you know, when he throws it out, everybody's like, "ugh, this is ridiculous idea". But I think it plays to Aang's trickster, um, archetype, that he is not your usual hero, he kinda goes about, um, he goes about things in an offbeat way but produces a positive result, os-often just through mischief or, you know, just [Laughs.] not really doing what he's supposed to be doing, but somehow intuitively he's-he's, you know, doing the right thing.
Mike [Refers to the Buddhist chant playing in the background, as Aang, in a semi-conscious state, heads toward an island that's suddenly appeared off the coast.] Just want the cool chanting that's going on in this scene that's kind of calling Aang, and beckoning Aang to come to the island.
Bryan Yeah, Jeremy Zuckerman was our uh, composer extraordinaire, and he did just an amazing job on these uh, four episodes. Uh, something that really helps pull them together like a movie, uh, is-is the score, um, he actually recorded, he and Ben Wynn, the sound designer, recorded a sixteen-piece, uh, chamber, uh, ensemble of string players, and uh, you know, normally due to the schedule and budget, you know, we'd have to use MIDI and things like that, but um, actually got real, real players, and uh, just sounds amazing, and, I mean they always, you know, the Track Team always does an outstanding job, but-but they really went above and beyond the call of duty on these-these four, and it really-really just raises the bar and gives it a more cinematic feel.
Mike [Brief pause; refers to the rest of Team Avatar discounting the usual possibilities of how Aang could have disappeared, including him getting captured, running away, or going to the Spirit World.] Um, I kind of like this scene 'cause it's like addressing all the... all the usual things that, [Laughs.] that we think of when Aang disappears, [Bryan laughs.] 'cause, you know, this isn't the first time. So, the usual theories are thrown out and dismissed so that we can wonder for real where-where is he. [Brief pause.] We had fun throwing in a few callbacks to some other episodes. [Refers to Katara and Suki finding Actress Aang, repeating her catch phrase to a crowd of fans.] So, we get to see eh, the Actress Aang from uh...
Bryan Right from... [Laughs.]
Mike ... [Interjects; laughs.] 317.
Bryan ... Rachel Dratch.
Mike Yeah. 'Cause we-everyone loved that "Avatar State, yip-yip!" line so much that it seemed very appropriate [Laughs.] to uh, put her in the-in the crowd again. [Refers to Toph's field trip with Zuko, with Zuko telling her to try and focus on finding Aang after she instead talks about her strained relationship with her parents.] And this little scene with Toph and Zuko is... is delightful, I find. Not just 'cause I wrote it. [Laughs.]
Bryan I was gonna say. [Mike laughs; in a tone of mock disbelief.] You like this scene 'cause you wrote it? [Laughs.]
Mike But-see, so, ah, honestly, sometimes when we watch an episode, and I'll forget that I wrote it or something, 'cause like, I feel like we've, you know, we're a part of every part of every episode, so...
Bryan [In the background.] Yeah, they all-they all...
Mike ... we kind of lose track [Laughs.] sometimes of...
Bryan ... they all mush together. [Mike affirms.] I mean, it's, it's a good case of "design by committee", you know, um, on one hand, the show's really kept a pretty singular vision, uh, but it's, it's all from the efforts and talents of, uh, many people, and kind of that magical combination.
Mike Definitely. We've just had so many wonderfully talented writers and artists.
Bryan [Refers to Sokka sliding out of Appa's mouth in a puddle of the bison's drool; laughs.] Like Ethan back there, drawing a...
Mike Yeah, little things like s-that-that, Sokka sliding out...
Bryan [In the background.] Sokka sliding out.
Mike ... in the Appa spit, kinda came out of the storyboard process, and Ethan came up with.
Bryan Uh, just his drawings [Mike laughs.] of that were just hilarious.
A brief pause in commentary until Appa flies out toward the sea, groaning loudly after Sokka questions why Zuko is having the group go from Ember Island to the Earth Kingdom.
Bryan That was Appa complaining too, he's like, "man, I don't want to fly across the entire ocean". [Refers to Ozai and Azula being carried on palanquins toward their docked ship.] I thought this sequence came out really cool. Um, this was storyboarded by some of our colleagues in uh, Korea.
Mike [Refers to the formations of Imperial Firebenders bowing down as Ozai passes through them.] Yeah, he feels like the F-the leader, you know, like everyone's kind of bowing down to him, and seeing him off on this uh... what would be a disastrous... [Bryan laughs.] day. [Laughs.]
Bryan [Refers to the standard-bearers and formations of Imperial Firebenders in the background.] These are uh, these were difficult scenes to do before Photoshop, and things like that. Um, luckily now they can repeat background characters and things, so, um, it's a little bit easier to do huge ensembles of people.
Mike [Refers to Azula's usual conduct going from shocked disbelief, to petulant pleading after Ozai orders her to remain at the palace during the comet's arrival.] So, this is kind of the-the first beat on the finale too, where we see Azula starting to crack a little bit. We've-we've hinted at it in uh, in 316... kind-kind of once...
Bryan [Interjects.] 3-3-315 was the first.
Mike ... yeah, the-the beginning really was when Mai and Ty Lee turned on her, and, and uh...
Bryan [Interjects.] Oh yeah, that was...
Mike ... chi blocked her, [Bryan laughs.] and-and escaped, but uh, or didn't escape, but...
Bryan Basically, the moment Mai says, you know, "you miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you," it's like Azula's whole, like her whole framework of-of fear and domination and manipulation over the people in her life's just started to crack. And um, realize that right under the surface of Azula, it's-it's a pretty scary mess. [Laughs; Mike gives an affirming murmur.] You know, she's very good in uh, controlling people and being charming, or-or, you know, good in social situations, well, other than hitting on guys we've seen. But, [Mike chuckles.] anyways, other than that, [Laughs.] she's completely crazy.
A brief pause in commentary until Ozai crowns himself as the Phoenix King of the new world that will emerge after Sozin's Comet, his Royal Procession raising up new phoenix-themed banners and standards in ahead of the usual Fire Nation iconography.
Bryan This is another case where being able to repeat the animation helps the scale of things. [Mike gives an affirming murmur.] I was pretty happy with these uh... these like Phoenix King logo things that Elsa and I worked up.
Mike Yeah?
Bryan [Interjects.] Working on a cool...
Mike So, one, of course one of the talks, I think in-as we were discussing the finale was what characters that we've seen in the past would come back.
Bryan [Refers to Team Avatar finding June to track down Aang.] June!
Mike And June, once-once Aang, you know, we knew Aang was disappearing, and they'd have to find him and all that business, it seem like she was a great character to bring back to help them uh, try to track him down.
Bryan Yeah, we had, we had an idea very early on about bringing her back, um, but if you remember Mike, it was to find people for the invasion.
Mike Oh yeah, that's right.
Bryan It was like, they were going to find the mechanist, and uh, some other people.
Mike [Brief pause; refers to Toph saying she likes June after sensing her beat up several guys in a bar.] And I-I love that To-you know, Toph didn't know her from, [Bryan chuckles.] from before, and that seeing this lady kick a bunch of dude's butts, she-she respects that.
Bryan Yeah, I like that, that she's like, "who's Jeong Jeong? Aw, forget it". [Mike and Bryan chuckle.] You know, like she... she's kind of like some of my family members who haven't seen the whole...
Mike [Interjects.] Yeah, [Bryan laughs.] they just start in the middle of the series, and they're like, "who are these characters? Oh, I guess if it's important, I'll find out later."

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