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Avatar: The Last Airbender – Bringing Balance to Character and Plot

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

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Developing characters for a story can be challenging. Determining a character’s clothing choices, likes and dislikes, vernacular, and appearance and age is difficult enough, but there are still steps beyond these crucial details. A series should always try to balance the intrigue and personality of a character against the story that the series is trying to tell, and both pieces should naturally bring the best out of each other. 

There is nothing like the true synergy of a character’s personality influencing the plot as the plot perfectly challenges the personality behind the character, creating a perpetual motion within the story. Yin and yang – perfectly balanced – and few shows do this as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender has some of the most meticulously crafted personalities in all of television. Not only is each character’s personality designed around their storylines, but also around their connection to an element of Water, Earth, Fire, or Wind, and in some cases, specifically designed around their lack of connection to one of the elements.

Let’s dive into some of these characters to learn just how effectively they were developed for this story.

Aang, the protagonist of the series, is the titular “Last Airbender.” He has the ability to “bend” air (which means he can move and control air through his movements. Waterbenders, Earthbenders, and Firebenders can each move their respective elements as well). Aang’s personality is light and fun – he’s adventurous and seeks out joy wherever he goes. On a base level, these traits line up with the concept of air quite well. Aang’s personality is breezy. He just wants to be free to live as he pleases, and he hopes for the same for others.

But the show takes Aang a step further and makes him a pacifist, which makes sense when associated with the element of air since air is the least tangible element. Air on its own cannot hurt you – if it were to harm you in some way it’d most likely be through an object that has been affected by air, and not the air itself. To double down on Aang’s pacifist ways, Aang is a child in the series: only 12-years-old. Children have a much more idyllic view of the world, and Aang’s lack of experience and exposure to the outside world keeps him in a place of innocence and in a mindset that tells him that violence is never the answer.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

This is where the perfect synergy of character to plot starts to perpetuate. Aang’s personality is perfectly suited to the element he’s associated with, but the plot challenges that personality in the most vigorous way possible. Aang is alive during a war, as the Fire Nation has attacked and is trying to spread its influence, and Aang is the “Avatar” designed to bring balance to the world. The responsibility of peace is placed on Aang’s shoulders. Aang is a good person at heart, so of course he agrees to help the world and stop the Fire Nation, but what he has to do to help is in direct contrast to his principles and personality. The closer Aang gets to fighting the Fire Nation, the stronger his internal conflict to remain a pacifist becomes, creating a perfect synergy between plot and character.

Once again, Aang’s age doubles down on this synergy. He’s just a kid; he doesn’t want the world’s responsibility. He gets easily distracted along his journey and sometimes avoids fights and training to try to have some fun. Aang is the perfect protagonist because he has to grow and mature to fulfill his role in the war, providing satisfying character growth, but also because his childlike nature and pacifist ideals place value on peace. Combined, this allows for a deep exploration of the association between peace, violence, and responsibility.

We find similar development techniques behind the other major characters in the series. Katara the Waterbender is kind and caring and acts very motherly towards the group. Water’s ability to nurture and heal fits along with this characterization nicely, but it also fits with Katara’s tendency to be stubborn and single-minded. While she’s willing to flow and adapt, sometimes Katara’s personal ideals blind her from other perspectives and she forces her will onto others, like a strong current in the ocean sweeping innocent swimmers away.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Of course, the overarching plot once again perfectly challenges all of Katara’s strongest traits. As Aang and Sokka grow more and more independent on their world-spanning journey (with Aang eventually surpassing Katara’s ability to Waterbend), her motherly instincts and position as the “mature” one become less of a boon and more of a source of conflict, forcing her to reevaluate exactly what it means to be nurturing and caring. Her strict moral code is also challenged by the complexities of war, and as she learns more about the complicated lives and difficult decisions other people have to make, her vision of what’s always “right” is challenged. Yet through all of this, part of what makes the entire team successful is Katara’s singular vision and ability to keep a focus on their goal, helping to continually push them, and the plot, forward.

Sokka is the only lead character without an element bending ability, and – shocker – his character is created around this idea. Sokka is a teenager who always looked up to his father, who was a great warrior. When Sokka’s father left to fight in the war, he attempted to assume the mantle as the defender of his small tribe. Sokka is desperate to prove his worth as a leader and warrior, constantly taking on bigger battles than he can handle. This character motivation spirals perfectly with his lack of bending ability, as Sokka is consistently an underdog amongst the several other characters who can control elements. Compared to his companions (and many enemies) he isn’t as well equipped to participate in a battle of the elements, which often sidelines him in battle. This only creates a further complex within him to prove his abilities and establish his place in the war. Once again, this synergy creates a perpetual motion, as the further into the plot we get, the stronger all the characters become, and the stronger Sokka’s internal conflicts manifest, forcing him to grow. This pushes him to take more initiative, which helps push the plot forward – and the cycle continues.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Zuko, the dishonorably banished teenage son of the Fire Lord (the man who leads the Fire Nation and commands the war), is a young teen burdened with insecurity and anger. His goal is to capture Aang the Avatar to regain his honor and return to his home nation. Zuko was an emotional child and didn’t receive the emotional support he needed from his father, who constantly put him down and propped his sister up as better than him. This results in an adolescent unable to properly express his rage, which matches the element of fire perfectly. The fact that he was banished from his home country makes Zuko an “outsider” to the Fire Nation, and his position as an outsider meshes with his position in the narrative.

Zuko’s hunt for Aang pushes Zuko further and further away from his home nation, causing him to see more and more of the damage that his nation has done to the world. The more Zuko sees the flaws in the Fire Nation, the more complicated his journey for acceptance becomes. If he doesn’t belong in the Fire Nation, where does he belong? Will he be accepted by those he has fought against, or should he rejoin the Fire Nation once he gets the chance? These questions are brought up in the narrative naturally by Zuko’s specific personality while allowing the show to explore acceptance and what makes a person truly honorable —  be it honor to their nation, their friends, or themselves. Every facet of Zuko’s character is meticulously designed to open the story up to these themes. Imagine instead if he had never been banished and was solely on a quest to please his father – the plot remains exactly the same, but the story of banishment and what it means to belong and exhibit honor completely disappears.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

And then there is Toph, the Earthbender, a blind child who was holed up by her parents as a precious gem for her entire life. The thing about Earth, though, is unlike Air, Water, and Fire, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t change – you can’t reshape a mountain in whatever image you’d like. Toph as a character is designed and implemented with this in mind – they could have introduced her in any number of ways, but the decision to show her refusal to be molded by her parents represents the element of Earth more strongly than most plot lines would. All of the characters I’ve mentioned above change and develop, but Toph is mostly a static character, matching her element and providing the series with a “rock.” The further they get into the complications of war, the stronger Toph’s resolution becomes.

Static characters can be boring when done poorly, but when implemented for a purpose they can improve a series by reflecting how other characters are changing. In such a complicated world, there’s a freshness to Toph’s solid outlook on everything. Her principles nor personality ever shift to fit the world around her. She helps provide Aang a foil, or a balance, between what the world wants him to be and what he wants to be. It’s not a coincidence that Aang ends the war in his own non-violent way immediately after using a technique taught to him by Toph, further emphasizing his unwillingness to sacrifice his principles to save the world, just as Toph refuses to change to fit the world around her.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

This is incredibly specific character work, and I cannot imagine the work it took to develop these characters behind the scenes. Each one is so perfectly suited to explore different themes within the story on so many levels that it’s almost hard to keep track of all the ways their personalities reflect the stories and elements within the series. Each character creates and perpetuates their own conflicts and plots while working together to make a seamless world, resulting in organic growth and development for the personalities and the story, which is why there is hardly a slow spot throughout the entire run of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Not every television character needs to be designed so meticulously to be great. Some shows are less character-driven or have simpler universes to explore. A comedy, for example, may require a greater emphasis on how characters interact with each other than how they interact with the world around them. There is also always an aspect of character adaptation when it comes to a television series as writers often find disposable or new facets of their characters as a series progresses.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

But for a series that relies so heavily on world-building, mythology, and thematic resonance, the better crafted your characters are at the start, the better the foundation to explore that world will be.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a peak example of this, as there are few shows whose characters are as accessible, deep, and intrinsically tied to plot. The Avatar is designed to bring balance to the world, and the series itself represents that methodology by bringing perfect balance to its character and plot. This is a huge part of why Avatar: The Last Airbender is such a phenomenal series that’s still being watched and discussed 15 years after its release.

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Chicago Med

Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave ‘Chicago Med’ Already?

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Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave 'Chicago Med' Already?

Chicago Med introduced a new third-year resident to the fold in season 9—Zola Ahmad played by The Wilds’ Sophia Ali.

Ahmad’s character was initially described as “impulsive” and a troublemaker who tends to cause “headaches” for her Gaffney Medical fellows, which we saw play out in real-time when her unconventional approaches rubbed Crockett Marcel (Dominic Rains) the wrong way.

Marcel tried to give Ahmad the benefit of the doubt on numerous occasions, and Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson) even acknowledged that she was taking a big chance by hiring her on a prohibitionary basis given her track record with previous hospitals—but ultimately, Ahmad’s behavior and decisions to overstep and not follow protocol got the best of her.

When Ahmad decided to declare a patient—letting the fact that he wasn’t a good man dictate her reasoning—dead prematurely (and then attempted to justify it), nearly killing him, Dr. Archer (Steven Weber) chose to suspend her. It was very obviously a fireable offense, so it’s a good thing that the series writers held her accountable. Plus, it seemed like the perfect chance for a teachable moment and a redemption arc, not to mention, there was definitely some chemistry with Ahmad and Crockett that could’ve been explored down the line. She had potential as a character at Med, if she just reeled it in a little bit—and that would’ve been interesting to explore on a more granular level.

However, by Chicago PD Season 9 Episode 9, it was over for Ahmad. 

Did Dr. Zola Ahmad Leave 'Chicago Med' Already?

CHICAGO MED — “A Penny for your Thoughts, Dollar for your Dreams” Episode 9008 — Pictured: (l-r) Sophia Ali as Dr. Zola Ahmad, Dominic Rains as Dr. Crockett Marcel — (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)

The series seemingly listened to the Chi-Hards fanbase as Ahmad paid the ultimate price for her reckless decision; Goodwin very briefly (and in passing) informed Crockett that Ahmad was let go, something he called a “shame.”

And that was that. There was no further mention of it, nor is there any indication that she’ll return anytime in the future. Her final episode of the season was listed as Chicago Med Season 9 Episode 8—and it seems like she’ll just be a blip on the radar of the show’s long-running tenure. 

It’s a drastic decision for the series, especially after hyping up Ali’s character at the beginning of the season. Why wouldn’t they give her arc a proper conclusion? Many of the complaints from the fan base were that her character was written inconsistently—her intentions were good most of the time, it was the execution that suffered—and crammed into an already shortened season due to COVID, so they weren’t able to build her character up in a way that would’ve given her the necessary nuance; her portrayal was overly negative and it was hard to defend her actions or keep her around when each week, she was pushing buttons and creating unnecessary issues without having the tenure to excuse them or back her up, like her predecessors Will Will (Nick Gehlfuss) and Natalie (Torrey Devitto). When those two acted irrationally back in the day, they had a history with Med and Goodwin that allowed them to stir the pot. 

It seems that the writing was on the wall for Ahmad from the get-go—the lack of good character development in the writing sealed her fate prematurely and gave fans whiplash with her quick arrival and departure. 

Would you like to see her return to the series?

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

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Editorials

Walker Season 4 Premiere Review – The Quiet

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Walker Season 4 Premiere Review - The Quiet

Walker returned to The CW for its 4th, and, likely final, season. 

Despite a 5-month time jump, the focus remained on serial killer Jackal, whom Walker and Trey were pursuing at the end of season 3, and the suspect that previously drove Cap. Larry James into a tailspin, effectively ending his marriage to Kelly before fate gave them another shot. 

Only this time around, Larry’s wife, Kelly, asks Cordell not to drag her husband down this road again—a promise he intends to upkeep, though, knowing Larry, he’ll figure out that his rangers are up to something and have no other choice but to get involved, especially since Trey’s tip for a detective reveals that Jackal, whose trail previously went cold for several months, is gearing up for “something big.”

This will be the overarching mystery of the season, while other weekly cases will also see our rangers getting into plenty of shenanigans, as they did with their pursuit of the Delmonico brothers. Also, props to all of them for taking part in a steak-eating competition and then jumping into a raid. It was bold of them, but it’s how Cordell wanted to spend his birthday, so I’m glad that despite the best-laid plans being uprooted, he was still able to feel the love from those around him.

A lot seems to have changed in the past five months, as evidenced by Walker and Geri’s steamy hook-up. Even when everything is going wrong, we can have faith in their love being a constant, which is what fans have been hoping for since season 1. 

There’s also Cassie, who blows back into town after taking a lengthy leave to go work for the FBI. She’s back with a newfound confidence about her abilities on the job, but she’s also struggling with a personal decision as she’s been offered a spot at Quantico, which means further uprooting her life and leaving behind her loved ones, er, Trey. 

Yeah, Trey and Cassie kind of addressed the elephant in the room—their feelings for each other—but neither of them was honest about it, so we’ll likely get something more truthful and heartfelt in the near future. 

Another lingering storyline is the break-in at Geri’s place that rattled Stella to her core. She hasn’t been the same since shooting and killing Witt, and it’s likely because she also lied to the police about having met him before. The officer who called her and Liam in over a “breakthrough in the case” said that the case was closed due to lack of resources, but the way he watched Stella sign the paperwork (and questioned if that’s “all she knew”) makes me uneasy—there’s definitely more to this storyline. What does he know that he’s not letting on?

As for change, I think that in the midst of all the “I’m Walker, Texas Ranger, you’re under arrest” in case you needed the reminder, we’re also continuing to see Cordell as a flawed human and a father coming to terms with the fact that he’s about to be an empty nester. It’s the next phase of his life—and one that brings about plenty of concern over the “quiet” that will allow his dark thoughts to flourish. Hopefully, Geri will be the light to cut through all of that. 

What did you think of the episode?

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Wild Cards

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

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Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

I meant to write this post when Wild Cards first premiered on The CW, but time got away from me, and before I knew it, the season finale of the series was upon us! 

I’m not a huge fan of The CW’s decision to axe some of our favorite shows in its rebrand, but what does ease the pain of losing the likes of Nancy Drew is the addition of promising shows like Wild Cards

To be quite frank, Riverdale never did Vanessa Morgan much justice. She amassed a huge number of fans, who were mostly hoping to see her character Toni reunite with on-screen love interest Cheryl (played by Madeleine Petsch) in the later seasons, and while she was seemingly considered one of the “core” characters, she rarely got the storylines she deserved.

We knew she could act—but Wild Cards shows us the depth of Morgan’s talents. It lets her shine, dominate, lead,  and even carry the series, opposite her on-screen partner and potential future love interest, Giacomo Gianniotti’s Ellis. 

Morgan delivers with the role of Max, a whip-smart and very charismatic con artist who utilizes her special skillset to help a “down in the dumps” maritime officer get his mojo back—and, spoiler alert if you’ve watched the season finale, his badge and desk back. 

Despite his initial hesitation with the idea of her joining the force as a consultant, even Ellis comes around, amazed by her abilities and the way she’s able to navigate every crime scene and follow the leads to produce results.&nbsp

The two grow very close over the course of the season’s 10 episodes, largely due to Morgan’s delightful on-screen persona and presence. Even when it’s not clear whose side she’s really on (is she fully on board with helping the cops or does she have a larger-than-life plan up her sleeve to pull off her greatest con yet and help her dad George—90210‘s Jason Priestley—snag a “get out of jail free” card), you find yourself drawn to her and rooting for her because of her likable personality. 

Vanessa Morgan Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves With ‘Wild Cards’

Credit: The CW

The series not only gets us invested in Max’s character—learning about her past—and what it entails for her future, but we also find ourselves rooting for Max and Ellis to finally get together… or even test the boundaries of that electric chemistry that they share (a moment that is, sadly, ruined when her husband Olivier (Dewshane Williams) blows into town). 

And it’s the mystery of Max that has all of us begging The CW to renew the series for a second season. We need more Max. We need more Ellis. We need more Morgan and Gianniotti. And we need answers. The good news is that Morgan told TVLine that season 2 of the quirky crime procedural is “very likely,” and trust that we put all our faith in her. 

As for the answers I mentioned we need, well, we need to know who killed Ellis’ brother, a murder that was the catalyst for him to get knocked down from his detective responsibilities in the first place. When he met Max, he was in a hard place, still trying to pick up the pieces of his brother’s death. And though he’s come a long way, surely, the fact that he can crack this specific mystery is one that he won’t be able to pass up. 

At the end of the finale—spoiler alert, again—Max convinced the authorities to help her pull off a heist that was two years in the works, hoping to frame her estranged husband Olivier after he steals a $33 million egg (he’s the one who betrayed her dad and landed him in prison), lessen her father’s sentence, and restore Ellis’ badge. However, there was a piece of the plan she didn’t share with Ellis—she swapped the real egg for a fake egg, and hatched a plan to disappear forever alongside Ricky and her millions. 

She didn’t expect Ellis to figure it out, though, this was one of the weaker points in the episode because she should’ve known him better than that by now, but she figured she’d be halfway across the country and it wouldn’t matter. What she didn’t anticipate in her plan is that Ricky, who was transcribing incriminating recordings from the mob as part of their safety-net policy, would find something on the drive about Ellis’ brother, namely, who murdered him. 

It’s at this moment that we see the biggest change in Max. She’s not the same person she was when the series first started. Her skills have become more valuable to helping than stealing, and she’s grown to care about someone other than herself and her father. She can’t, in good faith, leave with this knowledge and leave Ellis hanging. 

And that’s where we leave off—a promising cliffhanger on a promising series with two very promising leads. 

Your move, The CW.

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