What they did with Azula in this episode was great, nothing short of a spectacular look at what betrayal did to the one that betrayed the most.
On top of that, this episode was an episode of pure action, and as a show that was influenced from the likes of Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, and FLCL, an episode filled with action is always incredibly fun to watch.
Now before I go on and praise the rest of the episode, I do want to touch on Ozai's plan to "crush the hope" of the Earth Kingdom.
Ozai's plan is basically to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, and from the ashes, his new Fire Nation empire will be born. Now, that's cool and all, but the plan itself is littered with so many flaws that it's almost sad to hear that the plan was inspired from Azula.
Ozai opts for what appears to be the worst strategy ever. The general that gives Ozai a report states that there are a number of Earth Kingdom rebellions that are still roaming around the Earth Kingdom. Ozai seems dissatisfies with this, which is reasonable. But the methodology in which he wants to achieve this surrender is impractical. Here's why.
The first is that there are much better "hope-breaking" strategies that have been used. Let's remember the episode Imprisonment, where martial law literally broke the hope of Haru's village. Now granted that was solved by Aang, but how many more Earth Kingdom towns were in such a dilemma? People in the Earth Kingdom seem to have a chronic problem of hopelessness. Heck, when Azula rammed the drill into Ba Sing Se, after Ty Lee defeated a band of Earthbenders who were trained to destroy the drill, the general at the top of the wall gave up hope too.
So wouldn't a better policy just be to capture every Earthbender and subjugate them to slavery in metal factories? That could be accomplished by what the general had originally planned, to supplement the forces in the Earth Kingdom with more soldiers. It's true that Zuko suggests that the Earth Kingdom can survive anything as long as hope exists, but I don't see a lot of hope for a kingdom when all of their prized benders have been captured and enslaved.
Let's also look at the practicality of burning the Earth Kingdom. The first is that it's so large that destroying a small part of land wouldn't even matter to the Earth Kingdom. There's also no way that Ozai could have gone through the entire kingdom and burned it down in the span of time that we saw the comet flying over the sky.
Even if the entire world burned under Ozai's burning fury, what then? What would he be ruler of? A burned wasteland that won't be ready for at least ten years? Where will his new subjects be? Fertilizer for the ashes of a new kingdom that Ozai might not even live to see? What was Ozai planning to do with burnt land, burnt trees, burnt animals, burnt everything?
I'm sure this can all be answered by the statement "Well, maybe Ozai just came up with a dumb plan", but the fact that Ozai is a primary antagonist just makes the whole scenario kind of dramatized for an effect that really wasn't there.
Now that being said, everything else in the episode was just great to watch. The animation was top notch. The focus on Azula was great, honing in on how crazy she was getting. The scenes with Toph, Sokka, and Suki battling against an armada of Fire Nation ships were fast paced and seemed perfectly complemented by the beautiful clash of blue and red in the fights between Zuko and Azula. And of course, there was the fight between Aang and Ozai, and we got to see just how much Aang paled in comparison with the might and power of the Phoenix King.
These animations were just so fun to watch, I forgot about a lot of things that might've been drawbacks to the episode.
A fan favorite, this episode is loaded with action, which is admittedly one of the most attractive aspects of the series overall. This episode shines in its display of not only more action in one episode than ever before, but also in its presentation of an indisputably eclectic array of battles and duels. Yet the much-anticipated arrival of The Comet brings more than just breathtaking bending.
I speak of Azula's character development, of course, though character deterioration may be more apt. With the Comet's arrival and her father's decision to name her the new Firelord, Azula begins to really crack under the pressure. Whereas previously her suffering wasn't exactly clear, in this episode her paranoia is glaring the viewer dead in the face. She ditches all her security guards and servants suspecting betrayal. Megalomaniacal and deluded by her new station, she is a totally different persona. Once calculating and perfect, she now exhibits countless flaws and devolves into emotional meltdown. The scene where she hallucinates her mother presence in the palace is chilling. Nevertheless, when Zuko comes to challenge her we are provided with a rare exhibition: an Agni Kai fueled by The Great Comet. Not only that, but Azula's insanity makes for a refreshing twist to the fight, thrilling many who love to hate the perfect princess. The music accompanying this duel is possibly the best of the series.
Other exemplary aspects of this episode: Toph, Sokka, and Suki commandeering the air ship to destroy the others and prevent The Fire Nation from decimating the lands of The Earth Kingdom. This is one of the most unexpected kinds of action you find here, reminiscent of the GAang's successful takedown of The Drill. Sure there's bending involved, but this part of the finale is more about successfully executing a plan against all odds. One of the things I've always admired about this series is the storytellers' collective ability to juggle so many different plot strains in one episode, and this episode provides a prime example.
My personal favorite part of this episode is the actualization of Iroh's destiny. A spiritual and learned man, alongside his international league of extraordinarily hardcore gentlemen, Iroh brings to fruition a prophetic vision of conquering Ba Sing Se, capital of The Earth Kingdom. Yet, true to his character, he reconquers it in the name of its rightful inhabitants. Amazing comet-fueled Firebending and masterful bending displays from our favorite old people aside, this part of the episode was awe-inspiring. An international coalition acted against the jingoism of The Fire Nation and worked to assist the Avatar in his duties: this gives the viewer hope.
Overall, this episode is obviously a masterpiece. The animation is painstakingly seamless, the action is eclectic and pervasive, and the concluding drama of the episode is as alarming as it is compelling. Excellent episode, plain and simple.