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.
Stranger Things Season 4: Nancy Wheeler Owes It To Herself to Give Steve Harrington a Chance
It seems almost silly and trivial to prioritize romance when the world — specifically, Hawkins — is being taken over by a disturbed and power-hungry creature from the Upside Down, but it’s such a human emotion to value and champion love even in the darkest moments when everything looks bleak.
As Stranger Things continues to prove, love, in all of its shapes and forms, trumps hate every time. And Nancy and Steve? They love each other. They might not know it yet or simply aren’t ready to admit it, but there are some strong feelings there that deserve to be explored, especially in light of a possible end-of-the-world scenario. Ask yourself, if not now, when?
Stranger Things Season 4, through all of its darkness, found a light with Nancy and Steve. Hero hair aside, Steve underwent massive character growth from your stereotypical and shallow jock to a father figure, caretaker, and most importantly, a man who knows what he wants. Steve and his voluminous Herbal Essence commercial hair ran towards danger countless times for the greater good and for his friends. Steve’s emotional glow-up wasn’t lost on Nancy either, as she took notice on several occasions, and at times, found herself taken aback by his newfound maturity. As some people pointed out on Twitter, Season 4 Steve Harrington just hits different.
Yes, he’s portrayed as a ladies’ man, but on the inside, Steve is a softie with a mad crush and a dream of having a real relationship with the right one. He acknowledged the progress he’s made since season 1 and how much he’s grown in the swoon-worthy speech to Nancy that further drove him into heartthrob territory with audiences while proving to Nancy that those butterflies she’s been feeling whenever he looks at her aren’t just a result of an unexpected trip to the Upside Down. Steve Harrington told Nancy flat-out that he was to have six kids (six nuggets, to be exact) with her, and if that didn’t convince her that he’s top-notch boyfriend material, I honestly don’t know what would.
I wouldn’t have blamed them if they took advantage of the moment and used the “apocalypse” excuse to sneak in a passionate kiss, but that’s the other point — despite his desires, Steve never made a move on Nancy because he respects her and their friendship. He knows that she’s with Jonathan, and he’s not going to cross that line even if they might never get a chance to pursue these feelings again. At least not without Nancy making a move and giving him the go-ahead.
Deep down, Steve cares about Nancy as a friend. He proved it not just with words, but also with his actions as he stood by her when Vecna put her in a trance. He could’ve left the Upside Down at any point to save himself, but he would never leave her there. And, in turn, Nancy proved that she would risk it all for Steve when she jumped into the water and swam into the Upside Down to go after him. She’s always had a soft spot for Steve, but now that he’s become a man worthy of her, there’s no denying the attraction.
There’s also a love and understanding between them that has provided for a solid foundation that would be helpful if they were to pursue a romantic relationship.
Stranger Things benefited from the love triangle this season, in particular, as it kept tensions high and provided a personal escape for the characters, but it also cannot be dragged into the final battle. The bottom line is that Nancy and Jonathan can’t string each other along as Steve continues to pine Nancy — it’s not fair to any of their very deserving characters.
One might argue that Jonathan has always been the underdog so he deserves the girl, but even that’s starting to change as Steve grows into his own and figures out his real connection to Nancy that’s only intensifying as time goes on.
This brings me to Jonathan. I know it isn’t entirely his fault that he wasn’t by Nancy’s side when the fight against Vecna began, but it speaks volumes that he was on the other side of the world. The reason Mike was with Eleven when it mattered is because he willingly made the trip to go see her. Neither Nancy nor Jonathan chose to visit each other despite being apart for so long. The chance was there, but they both decided to stay put and deflect.
There was a time when Nancy and Jonathan were the right choice for each other, but there’s nothing left between them but a forced relationship that continues because it’s comfortable and safe. The spark between them barely has a pulse. When they were finally reunited at the end of the season, it didn’t seem like a romantic relationship but two friends who care about each other. And that’s the thing — they’ll likely always love each other and feel a connection through shared trauma, but they are not in love with each other anymore.
They aren’t on the same page anymore, no matter how much they hope to be. They want two different things out of life, but they’re refusing to come to terms with the fact that their paths are taking them in opposite directions. Nancy wants to excel in college and make something of herself, while Jonathan didn’t even apply. The worst part is that they both know that time is running out on their relationship, so they are avoiding the hard conversations. Neither of them has the heart to tell the other the truth.
Even if nothing happens between Nancy and Steve in the upcoming season, in the face of the unknown and a potential apocalypse, Nancy and Jonathan owe it to themselves to be honest about their feelings and go after what their hearts desire. I’m not sure what that is for Jonathan at the moment as he seems pretty lost about his future, but for Nancy, I think that definitely involves six little nuggets with Steve Harrington somewhere down the line.
Who Dies On ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4B?
Stranger Things Season 4 was quite a bloodbath as Vecna brutally claimed a handful of victims in his plan to take over Hawkins.
The body count included a handful of pivotal and core cast members that will forever leave a mark on our hearts.
Dr. Brenner – When the FBI came in guns blazing, Brenner tried his best to get El to safety. But the truth is, she wasn’t even supposed to be there. If he simply allowed her to leave when Dr. Owens insisted, she would’ve been on her way to help her friends fight Vecna. Also, there definitely wasn’t a solid contingency plan in place in the event that the FBI did find their secret hiding spot.
In his last moments, Brenner assured El that he loved her and always meant well, but it’s hard to really believe any of that when he pushed her to her limits, shamed her, treated her like nothing more than a lab rat, held her against her will (in hopes that she’d understand), and even put a dog collar on her in order to mute her powers. Brenner was definitely not a friend. And in the moment where they say goodbye, El realizes what true love is when she sees her friends sacrifice everything to come and save her. Papa never came from a place of true love — it was all self-serving and manipulation masked as love. It’s unclear if Dr. Owens survived or if the FBI took him out simply because he betrayed them. If they did, I bet they’re regretting it now.
Eddie – Eddie is a fan favorite, so his time on the series was limited considering Stranger Things has a track record of killing off the lovable, new guy. After a really metal guitar solo in the Upside Down, Eddie took one for the team and sacrificed himself to stop those bats from digging into his friends. It was a redeeming moment as Eddie proved he wasn’t a coward as he “didn’t run away” this time. I only wish he held off a little longer so El could do her thing because he could’ve been spared!
Max (kind of) – Max was marked this season, and it’s unfortunate. Everyone in that group is brave, but Max, in particular, risked it all in hopes of defeating Vecna and stopping his plan. She allowed herself to become his target — the bait that lures him while everyone works in the background to slay the monster. Eleven tried her best to help Max when she could no longer stay in the light and run from Vecna’s wrath, but it wasn’t enough. Vecna got his grip on Max before El could regain her strength. And even after she broke his hold on Max, the damage had been done as her bones snapped and her eyes were glossed over and bleeding. She died in Lucas’s arms, a hero that only a few will ever truly know about. As far as death’s go, it one was the most heartbreaking next to Eddie’s. But then, Max came back to life. Her heart stopped beating for a full minute before it restarted in what doctors call “a miracle.” We know, however, that Eleven used her powers to resuscitate Max. Unfortunately, the injuries were intense and she’s now in a coma. It’s not known when she’ll wake up, if ever… and the battle for Hawkins, and the world, inches closer. For this reason, Max stays on the list.
Jason also died in a gory scene, but honestly, there was nothing more satisfying than seeing him burn in half right after he tried to kill Lucas. The ego on that dude was next level, so he had it coming. Also RIP Chrissy, Fred, and the 22 and counting other souls that died in the mysterious and seismic earthquake that unexpectedly hit Hawkins. A natural disaster it was not! Not to mention all the Russians who fell victim to the Demogorgon and the Demodogs…. they, too, had it coming,
Only Murders in the Building Season 2 – Who is the Killer? We’re Logging Every Clue on the Murder Board
Only Murders in the Building season 2 carries the torch of the first season, putting a unique spin on the murder mystery genre.
The killer, who is most likely also the person framing Mabel, Charles, and Oliver (who are all persons of interest) likely won’t be revealed until the final episode, but we’re creating an online murder board to keep track of all suspects and possible clues hinting at this person’s identity.
Join us — and the characters who attempt to solve the whodunnit on their podcast via new weekly episodes that air every Tuesday on Hulu– as we theorize who is responsible for the latest murder at the Arconia!
*Cue the theme song*
Victim: Bunny Folger
Her Last Words: 14 and Savage
Cause of Death: 8 stabs wounds
Murder Weapon: A knife that has yet to be located and a knitting needle
Place of Death: Mabel’s apartment
Played by Cara Delevigne, Alice slides into Mabel’s DM’s shortly after she lands the front page of the tabloids as “Bloody Mabel.” The art artist collective owner invites Mabel to a gallery opening in an attempt to cozy up to her and get her to open up. Maybe she just sees past Mabel’s flaws, but considering the whole mystery hinges on a missing painting by the artist Rose Cooper (who also died a mysterious death), we simply cannot rule it out. Maybe she wants the painting… maybe she wants Mabel. Honestly, maybe Rose was Alice’s mom who was murdered by Charles’ dad, her lover, and Alice is trying to get revenge on him by getting close to Mabel. Also, Alice Banks doesn’t sound like it would be her real name, so she’s suspect #1 for now.
Amy Schumer is playing an exaggerated version of herself who just moved into Sting’s former penthouse. She’s a fan of the podcast — almost to an obsessive point — who wants the rights to it so she can turn it into a streaming service series and channel her inner Jan. You need a murder mystery in order to have a successful podcast… and then a show, I’m just saying. Plus, I have to believe that there’s a reason the series included her character!
I’m sorry to do this to you Uma, but there’s no one that knew Bunny better than her best friend. She not only knew about the painting, but she knew its worth. Maybe jealousy got the best of her?
We don’t know much about Nina other than the fact that she’s the New Board President. Howard says she has wanted the gig for a long time, which gives her motive. And he also warned the trio not to be fooled by her “maternal glow,” comparing her vibe to Rosemary’s Baby instead.
We learn a bit more about Nina in the third episode as she gets into a heated altercation with Bunny. Nina and Bunny seemed to be on good terms with the former training the latter and passing on her Board President wisdom and duties. Nina seemed like a star pupil worthy of taking on the title, but when Bunny suddenly had a change of heart during her “retirement party,” things got pretty ugly between the women. Nina told Bunny the only reason she was Board President was because of her mother. She called her a “selfish, self-important, stuck in the past relic,” which is, well, harsh. When Bunny told the “power-hungry baby bumpy bitch” that she wouldn’t let her “get away with this,” Nina seemingly threatened back with “I won’t let you stop me.” The altercation happened mere hours before Bunny was accosted in her home.
Killing your own daughter is certainly cruel, but crazier things have happened. Leonora wasn’t really phased by her daughter’s passing, but she was very interested in finding her painting. She even came with the original bill of sale in order to retrieve her prized possession. Yes, she’s technically blind and can’t cut a piece of cheese to save her life, but it could’ve all been an act. And there’s also the whole affair with Charles’ father that she casually mentioned after informing Charles that she knew exactly who he was this whole time. She clearly knows way more than she’s leading on.
If she’s devious enough to blatantly steal a podcast, she’s not above murder. A murder suspect has to benefit from the crime, and Cinda sure does! By giving the Arconia another murder victim, she deepens the mystery and secures herself a compelling season.
I don’t ever want to think badly of Ursula, but she was really suspicious when angrily throwing out a random box of documents and looking around to make sure there weren’t any witnesses. What’s she trying to hide? This couldn’t have been a routine dump.
Yes, she supposedly went missing in the ’50s and is believed to be dead, but no one ever found a body. There could be so many unknown twists and turns about her identity that we have yet to discover. What’s her true connection to all of this? Or is Rose Cooper actually Leonora?
Mabel’s sort-of ex. What happened to him? Why are they moments away from the friend zone? Are we to just believe the streamer couldn’t get him back this season, or is there another reason he’s staying away… I don’t know, maybe like framing your girlfriend and her friends for murder?
While I don’t actually think that Oliver has what it takes to kill Bunny, the truth is that he had a deep hate for her, at one point even calling her a witch. Furthermore, he did mention that Bunny would “die at the Arconia,” so he’s slightly suspicious. It could also be why he’s gunning for the team to revitalize the podcast and clear their names. Of course, he was also on the rooftop celebrating his podcast success with Mabel and Charles, so the odds of him being the killer are slim.
Bunny was a lot to handle, so it’s safe to say that as Board President, she harped on Lester quite a lot. We saw a brief scene where she called him “useless” as she belittled his work ethic and even said she would have him fired.
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