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

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

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Character creation (as in the literal development of a character) can be challenging. 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. A lead character should drive the plot forward, and the plot should bring out challenges specific to the lead character. The better a series can apply this rule to each of its characters, the stronger position the character and the series will be in.

Characters are not just defined by plot, though; they’re made to feel alive by clothing choices, their likes and dislikes, their vernacular, and their appearance and age. Part of Breaking Bad’s depiction of Walter White/Heisenberg relied on the visual differences (such as the pork pie hat) and vocal differences (anyone who watched the show knows the “Heisenberg” voice) between the two facets of Walt’s personality, providing a good example of the importance of the details in character creation.

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, almost 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 basically means he can move and control air through his movements. Waterbenders, Earthbenders, and Firebenders can also each move their respective elements). 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, well, 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 than that 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, and quite frankly it shouldn’t have to fall on him. 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, which 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. He 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 should I say 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 (except for “The Great Divide,” but let’s just fly past that one).

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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Editorials

‘Riverdale’ Season 5: What Every Character Is Up to After the Seven-Year Time Jump

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Riverdale Killing Mr. Honey review

Riverdale will embrace a seven-year time jump a few episodes into Season 5!

The move is not only exciting for fans of The CW drama but also for the cast as it allows them to leave high school behind (and the Riverdale as we know it) and play with some more mature storylines for their characters.

Of course, fans have spent much of the hiatus wondering what this means for their favorite characters. Who will they be seven years from now? Where will their journeys take them?

A lot is still unknown, but the cast and crew have given some sneak peeks as to what we can expect! 

Here’s what we know so far: 

 

Archie Andrews

KJ Apa revealed the time jump gives the show a chance to “freshen up the characters,” according to TV Line. 

In fact, he revealed a lot more than he probably should have about the jump forward, which is great for us! 

Apa explained that after graduation, all of the characters went their separate ways. Archie enlisted in the Army and upon returning back home several years later, learned that Hiram Lodge has turned Riverdale into a bit of a ghost town. Leave it to Archie to leave town and return only to reignite his feud with Hiram. 

Archie calls in reinforcements — aka he brings the gang back together — to essentially save Riverdale.

“They talk about how they can revive the town again. Archie very much takes the lead on this. He came back and saw Riverdale turning to s–t pretty much, and he’s like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this happen.’ So he wrangles the whole team in, and they figure out ways to revive the town, and the best way to do that is through Riverdale High,” he explained.

Does this mean Archie becomes principal? A teacher? A coach? The possibilities here are endless!

Riverdale Brave New World

Riverdale — “Chapter Thirty-Five: Brave New World” — Image Number: RVD222b_0192.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Robin Givens as Sierra McCoy, Camila Mendes as Veronica, KJ Apa as Archie, Ashleigh Murray as Josie and Charles Melton as Reggie — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Betty Cooper

Not much is known about Betty’s future life. Based on Riverdale Season 4, we know Betty will likely attend Yale University. It’s unclear what transpires between Betty and Jughead in the two episodes prior to the time-jump, but there’s a chance they break-up after finding out about her brief rendezvous with Archie. But what does a post-college life for Betty look like? We’ll have to wait for the series return to find out! 

Riverdale The Ides of March review

Credit: The CW/ Riverdale

Jughead Jones

Since Jughead’s escapades at Stonewall Prep, his chances of getting into Yale have been pretty much shot, so it’s unclear where he’s going to college, but word is he may attend the University of Iowa. This puts him on an entirely different path than Betty, which is fitting because if they do break up, I can see them going their separate ways anyway.

Maybe Jughead will focus on writing and be a published author by the time jump?

Cole Sprouse on Riverdale arrested during George Floyd protest

Credit: Riverdale/ The CW

Veronica Lodge

Veronica is a married woman in the time jump. Based on Riverdale Season 4, we know she was going to attend Barnard College in New York City, where she likely meets Chad Gekko, a Wall Street banker. But while that sounds super impressive and like the kind of guy Hiram Lodge would approve of, he’s not actually a great husband to Ronnie. He’s described as a “controlling and jealous alpha male.” 

“Chad is threatened by Veronica’s life in Riverdale, especially her friendship with Archie,” the official description adds.

So, is it safe to say that Ronnie and Archie will get back together when she returns to Riverdale?

Riverdale Witness for the Prosecution Review

Credit: Riverdale/ The CW

Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz

It’s not clear what happens between the Queen B’s of Riverdale High, but we do know that the writers have written in Vanessa Morgan’s real-life pregnancy into the storyline. Morgan made the reveal on her Instagram account shortly after wrapping up production and going on maternity leave. Is a #Choni baby on the way? Or did the duo go their separate ways and Toni is pregnant with someone else’s child? Both Cheryl and Toni were said to be attending Highsmith College in Riverdale, and since they are a fan-favorite ship, let’s hope they are one of the high school sweethearts that last! 

Vanessa Morgan says her pregnancy will be written into Riverdale. Is a #Choni Baby on the Way?

Credit: Riverdale/ The CW

Kevin Keller

We’ve actually seen Kevin five years in the future when he appeared on the short-lived spinoff, Katy Keene. When he visited Josie in New York on Katy Keene Season 1 Episode 10, we found out that Kevin was a drama teacher at Riverdale High, but he wasn’t entirely happy with his decision. There was definitely a ton of resentment towards the murderous town. 

Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa also gave fans a glimpse at the filming of the upcoming season on Instagram and revealed that flash-forward Kevin got “hella swole.”

Riverdale's Kevin Keller crossing over on Katy Keene

Credit: The CW/ Katy Keene/ Scott McDermott

Are you excited about all the storytelling opportunities that follow a time-jump? What do you think everyone is up to?!


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Editorials

9 Political TV Shows & Documentaries to Watch Ahead of Inauguration Day

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9 TV Shows to Watch on Election Day 2020

Inauguration day is upon us.

As the U.S. gets ready to swear in a new president, we suggest tapping into a political show to fully embrace the moment: 

Here are some of our favorites:

 

Scandal

Who could ever say no to the madness that ensues when Olivia Pope and her White Hat advise President Fitzgerald Grant?

 

Veep

It’s a comical yet punchy look at the White House, which finds Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the second-in-line to the Commander-in-Chief. 

 

Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman, a lower-level cabinet member, suddenly finds himself the President after an attack on the night of the State of the Union kills the president and nearly all of the Cabinet. 

 

 

Knock Down the House

AOC, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortnerz, is among four Democratic hopefuls profiled in the documentary that highlights the race dubbed as one of the most “shocking political upsets in recent American history.”

 

The Final Year

The documentary filmed throughout 2016 follows Barack Obama and his team in his final term. 

 

The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin delivered a series about the inner workings of the White House that has inspired many political shows that followed. 

 

House of Cards

Prior to those Kevin Spacey allegations, the series was one of the most popular amongst households as it followed Congressman Frank Underwood. After he was fired, Robin Wright took the lead.

 

Madam Secretary

In this political drama, Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA operative and political science professor, runs the world as Secretary of State. 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Critics have draw parallels between the series, a dystopian drama about a futuristic America where a society controls women, and Donald Trump’s America. The series has also inspired many protests around the world, most recently the women’s movement against the abortion ban in Poland. 


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Editorials

5 Powerful Shows, Movies, and Documentaries to Watch to Learn About Racial Injustice

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Shows, Movies, and Documentaries to Watch About Racial Injustice

Guest post: Hiba Abdillahi

There’s a problem in our country. If you’ve been watching new news or checked in on social media, you have seen the murder of African American men at the hands of police (most recently, the tragic death of George Floyd while in police custody), racially-motivated encounters, and, as a result, protests, riots, and lootings that have spanned nationwide. 

The conversation about racial injustice, racial inequality, and systematic racism has never been louder or more charged up, and for those of you who may not know much about it or have never experienced it first hand, it’s a time to get educated.

The list of shows and documentaries that cover what it’s like to be black in America and capture institutionalized racism continues to multiply quickly as streaming services. 

But we’ve narrowed it down to a list of 5 shows, movies, and documentaries that can be a starting point for you and your family to help you understand how root of violence against black Americans and how it affects everyone. 

 

1. When They See Us (Netflix)

The jarring Netflix mini-series by Ava Duvernay is based on the story of the Central Park Five, a group of five black Latino boys failed by the justice system after they were wrongfully convinced of raping and assaulting a woman in Central Park in 1989.

 

2. 13th (Netflix)

How much do you know about the U.S prison boom? Once again filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores issues of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States in the Academy Award-nominated documentary.

 

3. I Am Not Your Negro (Youtube or Amazon Prime)

Sometimes we need to look back, to see how we can move forward. This documentary is based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin and covers the history of racism in America, focusing on the stories of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

4. Dear White People (Netflix)

We could all use some comic relief these days while educating ourselves, of course. This comedy-drama series on Netflix follows a group of black college students at an Ivy League (predominately white) college. The series covers plenty of racial topics young African-Americans face including cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism, and slippery politics.

 

5. If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu

It’s the story we’ve seen play out in our society time and time again. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, the 2018 drama focuses on a young black man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and a young back couple fighting for justice and the American dream.

 

Bonus: Just Mercy

Michael B. Jordan’s film follows the real-life story of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who fought to clear Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), wrongfully convicted of murder and placed on death row.

Warner Bros. announced it will be free on all digital streaming platforms during the month of June to teach people about systemic racism. 

 

 


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