How to Love Your Enemy, Avatar-Style

There are so many reasons why I love the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. One of those reasons is something that distinguishes Avatar from most other popular good-VS-evil stories of its time–how Aang defeats the Firelord and brings peace to the world once again.
As we’ve seen in most action-based movies, shows, books, and video game stories, the way to stop the bad guy is by eliminating him. Once the bad guy is gone, peace is restored and the good guys “win.”
As we watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, we learn that the main character, Aang (who’s destined to restore peace to the world from the chaos and destruction that Firelord Ozi has created), has been raised by monks (a natural upbringing for airbenders), whose teachings contain the concept that all life is precious. Therefore, the sanctity of life is extremely important to Aang. As the story progresses, the fact that he must be the one to stop the Firelord begins to weigh down on him. Aang begins to question the correct way to win.
The conclusion that his close friends, and even past Avatars, come to is that he must kill the Firelord.
baby-zukoAs you can already imagine, this doesn’t sit too well with Aang. There’s a very interesting scene where Aang and his small gang sit at a vacant Fire Nation temple of sorts, and Katara shows the team a picture she found of a baby,
Katara: “Look at baby Zuko! Isn’t he cute?”
Zuko, the son of the Firelord, is on Aang’s team at this point in the story (and has turned from his wrong ways), and he points out that the picture isn’t him; it’s actually his father.
Katara: “But he looks so sweet and innocent.”
Zuko: “Well that sweet little kid grew up to be a monster, and the worst father in the history of fathers.”
Aang: “But he’s still a human being.”
Zuko: “You’re going to defend him?”
Aang: “No. I agree with you. Firelord Ozai is a horrible person, and the world will probably be better off without him. But there’s gotta be another way.”
lion-turtleThe story progresses, and Aang finds himself in a very difficult internal conflict as the time approaches when he must face the Firelord. On his journey of contemplation and struggle, he meets a very ancient creature called a lion turtle. Full of wisdom, the lion turtle speaks with Aang. We don’t really know what fully happens during their conversation until later.
Fast-forward and we come to the final climactic battle between Aang and the Firelord. During the battle, we see the Firelord overtaking Aang, due to the fact that Aang is still uncertain of what to do and therefore conflicted during the fight.
However, there comes a point where the battle becomes a matter of life or death, and Aang finally decides to go full-out Avatar state and tip the scales of the battle in his favor, and with ease.
ozai-trappedAang eventually traps the Firelord to the ground using earthbending, and states, in his Avatar form, that the Ozai must “pay the ultimate price” for his actions.
As Aang combines all of the elements into a pointed vortex and shoots it directly toward Ozai to impail him, Aang lets go of it last minute, and the elements fall to the ground, the water splashing onto Ozai.
Aang releases Ozai from the earth, and says, “No. I’m not gonna end it like this.”
Ozai responds, “Even with all the power in the world, you are still weak.”
Ozai moves to attack Aang from behind, but Aang traps him once again, spins around, and presses his thumb to Ozai’s head. There’s a flashback to when Aang was with the lion turtle, and we see the lion turtle doing the same to Aang, giving him a “gift” of some sort.

aang-spares-firelord-ozai

We then see the energy flowing through the Firelord and Aang, and as Aang overcomes the Firelord’s energy, a huge beam of blue light erupts from them and into the sky.energies
As Aang releases the Firelord, they both stumble back onto the ground.
“What did you do to me?” the Firelord asks.
Aang: “I took away your firebending. You can’t use it to hurt or threaten anyone else, ever again.”
There are several other battles going on at this time, but this is the battle that restores balance to the world.
The biggest thing that separates Aang’s way of “defeating” the enemy from most other stories and heroes is that Aang doesn’t resort to killing, even though it is the most “logical” thing to do and everyone is telling him that it is the only way to win. It seems like the default answer in a good majority of action movies is to kill the bad guy to defeat evil, without really reflecting on the idea or seriously considering other options. And the audience seems to cheer when the bad guy dies.
Aang, however, shows a huge internal struggle with this decision to kill, and even stops himself at the last minute from going through with it. And this is what I love about the climax of this show: it causes the audience to reflect on Aang’s actions. It shows that Aang considered his ultimate mission to eliminate the evil, not necessarily the person doing the evil deeds. Armed with this mindset, Aang is able to stop the evil, restore peace to the world, and also give the Firelord a chance to change his life and ways. Contrary to the Firelord’s words, this doesn’t sound like weakness at all.
Connecting Aang’s story to the life of Jesus, I see many parallels to how Jesus treated those labelled “sinners” and “outcasts” in the community. In the story with the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), the Jews challenged Jesus by saying that a woman caught in adultery must be stoned for her evil ways. Rather than agreeing with this “logical” punishment, Jesus basically points out that they’ve all messed up and they should stone themselves as well if she’s to be stoned. Convicted by Jesus’ words, the crowd disperses, and Jesus tells the woman to sin no more. Rather than agreeing to kill her because of her sins, Jesus saves her from the crowd and tells her to change her ways.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
Aang’s character seems to exemplify Jesus’ commandment of love throughout the Avatar series–especially in this ending scene. By doing everything in his power to find another way to stop the Firelord without ending his life, Aang follows Christ’s example by “loving his enemy.”
Aang: “I learned there was another way to defeat him and restore balance.”
Toff: “Wow, who taught you that?
Aang: “A giant lion turtle!”

Eric Perez

Have a topic suggestion? Email me at eric.perez@geeksundergrace.com and I'll potentially cover it! | Other projects I do include producing fitness videos, directing a web show, and hosting two podcasts.

3 Comments

  1. Zero Tolerance on January 8, 2017 at 12:44 am

    I never did like this ending because it struck me as deus ex machina. Yes, everyone says that Aang is destined to kill Fire Lord Ozai and he laments the task, but up until the finale, the show was making the argument that sometimes we must do even if we don’t want to.

    Your parallel between the lion turtle and his final battle is a great observation. The existence of said lion turtle is still problematic, because we are told throughout the series that all Aang needed and all there ever was were the other schools of bending–not some ancient, mystical creature.

  2. HarryB on December 20, 2016 at 4:40 am

    Really profound. This is why I loved the series, that, and the fact that it really is a well written show. Good article!

    • Eric on December 22, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks Harry! Exactly my thoughts too about the show!

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