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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Found Season 1 Episode 10 – Missing While Indoctrinated
M&A suffered minor setbacks on Found Season 1 Episode 10 when the team’s license was revoked following Melissa’s death, with Mallory egging on the narrative in the media.
That, however, didn’t stop Gabi in the slightest—it fueled her to do what was right by Tony despite everyone trying to push her away from the case, including his father, who didn’t trust her after Tony was shot while trying to save Matthew from being turned over to sex traffickers.
Tony’s father’s reaction was understandable considering he was just trying to do the right thing for his son—and the right thing wasn’t exactly clear in this situation—but when the cops showed up mere moments after Tony opened his eyes from a monthlong coma and placed handcuffs on him, it was clear that he didn’t have much of a choice. If he wanted to help his son, he needed to place his trust in Gabi’s hands.
Gabi naturally went above and beyond to ensure a good outcome for Tony, yet he was also reluctant to help her out. Tony didn’t trust anyone, especially Gabi as he, too, blamed her for accidentally getting shot, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he used the bathroom excuse to give them the slip.
The investigation hit much closer to home than Gabi initially anticipated, but being forced to confront her past so head-on is ever so slightly helping her work through the trauma she endured. And most importantly, she can put herself in the shoes of the victims, knowing exactly what needs to be said or done to assure them that she’s on their side.
In an attempt to find Tony, they brought in his estranged mother, who admitted to being scared of her son and wanting nothing to do with him in order to protect her two other children. It was actually heartbreaking to witness her stance toward Tony, however, Matthew’s mom managed to persuade her to stand by her boy and not give up on him. Despite Tony’s involvement in Matthew’s kidnapping, she was able to forgive him when he stopped by with an apology, realizing that he was just a good boy who was being taken advantage of, and who was also lost and scared.
M&A figured that it was possible that Tony was trying to get back into the game and recruit other students when he returned to school, yet that didn’t track with his apology tour. And it turns out, he was at the school to get revenge on those who ruined his life, namely Finn, the one who recruited him and straight up lied to Gabi’s face, along with the principal, Chloe, who prided herself on lowering the truancy rate. It wasn’t overly obvious that she was involved, but there was something off about her from the start. Not to mention they always say that kidnappers tend to be someone you know and trust, and aside from parents, kids trust their teachers and friends the most, so it tracks.
Gabi got very emotional when she figured that one of the teachers at school might be responsible, even before pinpointing Chloe as the one leading the trafficking ring (who, after her arrest, sang like a canary, according to Trent), and it led to one of the biggest revelations about Sir to date—he was her English teacher.
I’ve always suspected that he knew Gabi in some shape, way, or form prior to her kidnapping as it couldn’t have been random, and this makes so much sense now, especially all of their forced literature discussions. The clues were always there.
Gabi was having additional flashbacks throughout the episode that involved a girl who tried to help her. The girl first knocked on the door having claimed that her car broke down, however, she later returned to promise Gabi that she would get help. In a follow-up flashback, Sir informed Gabi that he took care of the girl who was threatening their future, and Gabi pieced two-and-two together and realized it was Sir’s previous victim, Annie, who was also one of his former students. Annie risked her life to come back and offer her help, but she was never seen again. And since then, Gabi has been looking for Annie, promising Sir that it’s the last piece of the sick saga before she ends it all. Sir insists she won’t find Annie because he didn’t kill her, but Gabi isn’t listening to a word he says. Of course, this sparks curiosity as to what actually happened to Annie as there’s a chance that Sir is telling the truth.
As Gabi tries to heal, she’s also caught in the constant cat-and-mouse game, holding Sir prisoner and trying to make sense of the trauma he inflicted on her, all while doing the exact same thing that the monsters she despises are doing. She may be ridding the world of an evil man, but he also brought up a fair point when questioning why Gabi didn’t feel like he was worthy of redemption as some of the other people she’s dealt with.
Obviously, this case is the most personal to Gabi, and she views him as the worst man in the world, so she doesn’t consider there to be any good in him, but we know that monsters aren’t just born, they are made. His cruel mother, who was abusive to him during his childhood, made him this way, and while that’s no excuse, it’s something I do hope the writers dive into deeper.
As for Gabi, there’s no getting rid of this pressure, which means she can’t open herself up to love from Trent, who is there, patiently waiting and willing to be with her at the drop of a hat. He loves her, even when she’s being exceptionally cold and rude to him, because he cares about her—and he made sure that she knew he wasn’t going to apologize for that. Thankfully, she apologized to him for the way she’s been treating him before suggesting that he get his job back at the DCPD because they need him as “he’s one of the good guys.” Being a cop, a good cop, is his purpose and all that he’s ever wanted, plus it will help them in the long run.
Gabi may have landed a win with Tony’s safe return in the loving arms of both his parents (yes, his mother came around finally), all the people she saved rallying behind her on public television to change the narrative about M&A, and finally, in getting her license back, but she’s constantly losing because she can’t get out of that basement or be honest with the people she loves.
The rest of M&A is doing the work to make sure they can heal and become the best versions of themselves, including Margaret who, with her therapist’s help, moved back the time of her train station arrival an hour. They may be baby steps to her in the grand scheme of things, but they are massive to her.
Elsewhere, Zeke called in a request to his estranged father to get the license reinstated, informing him that he never asks for anything, while making it clear how much he relied on the purpose that M&A gave him. His father stopped by later, having successfully done what Zeke asked, and it was a small breakthrough in their frought relationship, one that happened after Zeke was taken. Lacey was on hand to support Zeke during the moment, and let’s just say, I’m excited to see them take their relationship to the next level.
What did you think about the episode? Are you surprised about what we learned about Sir?
Who Is Lark on ‘Virgin River’?
Lark (Elise Gatien) made her debut on Virgin River Season 5, specifically, during the episodes that tackled the wildfires that ravaged parts of the picturesque town.
Warning – this post has spoilers from the Virgin River holiday episodes.
After Jack and Brady risked their lives to save Lark’s daughter, Hazel, who went missing from the campsite during the fire evacuation, the single mom began to bond with the latter, extending her gratitude to him for going out of his way to prioritize her daughter’s safety.
When Brady found out that Lark and Hazel were squatting, he offered them up a place in one of the lumber yard trailers, a selfless gesture that speaks to his big heart.
Lark definitely set her sights on Brady, especially on the heels of his generosity, and a connection sparked around the time that Brady’s relationship with Brie crumbled and he was looking for some companionship. Lark also helped Brady see the better parts of himself, as Brie held his lies (even though he couldn’t tell her anything about being an informant) against him and made him feel guilty.
One thing led to another and eventually, Lark and Brady began a relationship after his romance with Brie ended. It was also helpful that Hazel really took to Brady, and thus, he became a bit of a stepfather figure in her life.
Fast forward a few months to the timeline of the holiday episodes, Brady and Lark are going strong, fully embracing their romance and sweet little family together. Lark even invited Brady to meet her mother, though he claims that’s a little too fast-paced for him, which is understandable considering he still harbors strong feelings for Brie, who has currently moved on with Mike.
However, Brady seems to be in a good place in life, particularly as everything with Melissa Montgomery’s money laundering/drug smuggling at Emerald Lumber has finally settled down. He’s finally able to move past the nightmare that started when he was roped in by Calvin when he was young and reckless, or so fans thought. In retrospect, I guess we should’ve been more suspicious of Lark’s attempts at inserting herself into Brady’s life, though she definitely made it seem so natural.
In the final moments of Virgin River Season 6 Episode 12, Lark sneaks off to pick up a call from Hazel’s father, who turns out to be Jimmy, who is serving time in prison. Lark informs him that “Brady doesn’t suspect a thing,” which shows that this is Jimmy’s form of getting close enough to Brady to get revenge.
It’s an awful and disappointing twist considering all the progress Brady has made to turn over a new leaf and hit refresh. He can’t seem to shake this whole Emerald Lumber fiasco, no matter how hard he tries. Bad luck just seems to follow him based on one bad decision he made way back when—and it’s cost him so much, including his friendships and his romance with Brie.
I’m hoping that Lark realizes just how good of a guy Brady is and how much he’s sacrificed for her and Hazel and decides not to go through with whatever she and Jimmy have planned.
Lord knows that Brady deserves some sliver of good news and positivity in his life, along with a storyline far removed from the lumber yard.
ExMas Movie Review – Robbie Amell and Leighton Meester Make a Holiday Bet
While most holiday movies this time of year are centered around one’s Christmas wish, ExMas takes a different approach.
Beware—spoilers from the movie ahead!
Imagine the worst possible situation that can occur when you come home on Christmas…. is it your parents inviting your ex-fiancée, who broke your heart into a million pieces, over for Christmas dinner after you told them you weren’t coming into town due to previous work commitments but then decided at the last minute on a change of plans as part of a surprise? If so, that’s the exact plot of Robbie Amell (a treat for all of us Upload fans) and Leighton Meester’s (Gossip Girl) new Freevee movie.
And let me tell you, it brings plenty of comedic moments and jokes, sprinkled into what turns out to be a heartfelt plot about owning up to your mistakes and apologizing for shortcomings in a failed relationship, all while expertly capturing the chaos that is going home for the holidays. You know the former couple will find their way back to each other in the end—this is a Christmas movie after all—but it’s less about the destination and more about the journey that gets them to the “aha” moment.
It’s a fa-la-la-oh-my-god-is-this-really-happening situation that Amell’s Graham and Meester’s Ali turn into a competitive bet to see which one will win over the family’s love and which one will be kicked out before Christmas day.
Along the way, Graham and Ali realize that they aren’t over each other one bit, while also admitting their own faults led to the demise of their relationship. Graham explains that he was doing what he thought Ali wanted—working more so he could work his way up the corporate food chain to make enough money to provide them with the perfect life. However, all Ali ever needed was for him to be there for her, present and willing, though she didn’t voice it either because she was scared he was going to walk away, so, she walked away first.
It all comes down to a lack of necessary communication in a relationship—which happens far too often to couples these days that are caught up in the hustle and bustle of life—but there’s no shortage of time to talk it out when you’re forced to spend the holidays under the same roof.
Graham’s reaction upon walking into his childhood home and seeing the woman who broke his heart standing at the top of the stairs was to freak out, naturally. And who wouldn’t? This is a huge betrayal of trust from the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally and side with you, no matter what. As he tries to make them see the issue, their argument is that she’s been part of the “family for a very long time.”
When he realizes that Ali has ingrained herself into the family by playing Wordle with his sister and helping his brother study for his exams, he realizes that he can’t just up and leave, he has to show the family how “evil she is” by making them dislike her to “save his family” and “save Christmas.”
Admittedly, it’s a pretty extreme retaliation, but one that delivers plenty of good fun, especially since Graham knows her faults and weaknesses—like her competitive streak—and can easily exploit them. And that’s a two-way street as Ali is also able to sabotage Graham, making her the perfect and worthy opponent. Graham leverages Ali’s irrational fear of goats to ruin the dealership’s Christmas party, while she deliberately moves a sign in the bathroom to ensure that he floods it when flushing, allowing her to be the toilet bowl plunger hero. Of course, these are just two adults acting silly so that they don’t have to confront the harsh reality of their former relationship, but it’s all in good fun.
They both try to make the other jealous with new crushes—and she tries to sabotage his relationship with Jess by telling her that he has problems in the bedroom (though that short-lived romance tanks all on its own when Jess suggests a threesome with her roommate/special friend), while he allows her to invest in Brady knowing that it will eventually end with him trying to sell her a car during the date.
But it also emphasizes that the dating scene is a scary, scary place, and once you’ve found your person, you have to hold on to them tight and never let go.
It also becomes evident why the family gravitated toward Ali instead of Graham in the first place—and why the duo inevitably broke up—as Graham isn’t present most of the time; he doesn’t care to ask about his family members’ personal lives or keep up a relationship as he’s too busy with work. His sister, Heather, assures him that Ali was always there at every event when he wasn’t.
The Christmas season, which starts off to be the stuff of nightmares, helps Graham reprioritize what’s important as he begins to see that he took everything that mattered for granted, his family and Ali included.
When Graham’s father suffers a sudden cardiac arrest following a competitive, yet friendly, game of hockey during the holidays, that’s when he really starts to understand just how much time he’d invested into the wrong thing. Of course, a career is just as important as anything else, but it shouldn’t take precedence over the things that truly matter–and he was working for a boss who expected him to meet a Christmas Day deadline and had no qualms about calling and demanding more from him even when he was in the hospital following a family member’s health scare. At that moment, Graham takes a leap of faith and quits—the start of his new life on the horizon. (This may or may not be a Horizen pun, I’ll let you decide.)
There were several other factors that brought him to the finish line, where he realized he screwed up and couldn’t live without Ali, including a heart-to-heart with his mom, a night of amazing drunk sex with Ali, and saying goodbye to her after they both forgave each other for the pain they inflicted.
Once she was out the door, Graham and his family couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing—and in true Christmas movie fashion, they all ran to get the girl, trying to fit into a vehicle that wasn’t up to par for the journey. As they made their way to the other car, Graham found Ali standing at the front door and immediately poured his heart out to her, only for her to explain that she only came back because she forgot her phone.
Obviously, that was the last cruel joke she played on him as the two made up and sealed the deal with a kiss. Admittedly, there wasn’t undeniable chemistry between Amell and Meester as actors—they sold the friendship more—but the plot was believable enough that you found yourself rooting for them regardless. It’s actually quite nice for the chemistry to feel more grounded and realistic rather than the kind always portrayed in holiday movies that can sometimes feel unattainable for the average couple.
Fast forward to the next holiday, at their home in Los Angeles, Graham came through on his promise to help her start up her bakery truck, proving that his priorities are finally in order, as yet another time jump two years later, revealing that they welcomed a baby together.
And just because so much time had passed, doesn’t mean Graham didn’t have revenge on his mind as he invited his sister’s ex, Heather, for the holidays because they remained such good friends after the breakup.
As they say, payback’s a bitch, but if Graham’s situation is any consolation, maybe Mindy (Veronika Slowikowska) and Heather’s story will have a happy ending. After all, isn’t that the magic of the holidays?
The film also stars Michael Hitchcock, Kathryn Greenwood, Steven Huy, Thomas Cadrot, and Donna Benedicto. It’s available to stream now on Freevee.
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