(As a side bar to talking about the finale I want to say that the episode before the finale was my favorite episode of Avatar period, alongside the Beach and the one where Ang cannot sleep. It featured the gang going to a play that told the story of their adventures, unauthorized, for the fire nation. The comedy revolved around our character's reacting to the on stage versions of themselves, and the drama came out when Ang saw that Zuko and Kitara shared a moment together. For the audience it served as a massive series recap that was tons more exciting than the X-Files finale series recap, and also served as a dark reminder of what is at stake in the finale -- at the end of the play the Firelord beats Ang and takes over the world. But the best part was that the show sent up itself completely, making fun of itself with, for example, the scene in which Jet is defeated:"Did Jet just die?" someone asks. "It was kind of unclear" says Sokka. One imagines Jet's unclear defeat at the end of season three was the result of not being able to clearly kill a character on a kid's show).
The finale was overall excellent and satisfying, and I still consider Avatar to be one of my favorite shows: Azula's final descent into madness was stunning, for example, and I was riveted the whole time. But the finale was also severely limited. For one thing it reminded me of something I had forgotten: Avatar is a kid's show. This seems silly, but if you have seen the show you will be surprised how easily you forget this, it is so well written. No one can die, which felt like the wrong kind of end for this show; someone will surely call me a sadist, but the journey needs to COST something -- Tolkin taught us that.
But most egregious was that the finale completely compromised the ending that had been set up. Ang, in meditation with a guru, had given up many things of this world to unblock his ability to reach the Avatar state, but balked at the idea that earthly love for Katara should be one of those things. His chakra was blocked, and remained so for a while because (it seemed) he would someday have to make a choice between saving the world and having Katara, who clearly should have been with Zuko, the water to his fire. Ang, you will notice at the end, is a Monk. Either his boy hood pet goes the way of all flesh in an amazing tear filled sacrifice, allowing him to grow up into sexual love, or he stands above the earthly round, serene. In the end Ang's chakra becomes unblocked -- because the Fire Lord hits the small of his back against a rock. So the spiritual and thematic conflict is resolved through an accidental physical blow. That is the laziest storytelling move I have seen since James Franco developed amnesia in Spiderman 3 for no reason other than the screenwriters had too much going on to include him in the movie's second act.
In the end the Avatar ending is a lot like the Sport's Night ending. The show is cancelled, and everyone gets their happy reward early and a little out of nowhere. It is very sweet; it does not really work, but you feel like such a grump begrudging them good feelings.