What a brilliant and totally spontaneous suggestion.
My criteria for OH FUCK moments is quite simple. They are the moments that are shocking. Tingle inducing. And even when you know they are coming up when re-watching an episode you can’t help but get excited. Without further ado…
#5 — Azula Does The Unthinkable
Azula is without a doubt the greatest villain the Avatar series ever produced. One of the reasons she holds that title is because she accomplished what so few villains ever achieve — she kills her target. It was a shocking moment to say the least. While everyone in the catacombs looked up in amazement at Aang, Azula being the devious individual she is simply walks behind him and fires a killing strike. It’s brilliant, heartbreaking and frightening all mixed into one pure stroke of narrative genius.
#4 — The Beard Grab
There is nothing more satisfying than a villain extolling hubris right before their downfall. Ozai goaded, humiliated and pummeled Aang during their battle. He was revealing in the belief he would get to kill the last airbender, but his actions led to Aang fortuitously unlocking the Avatar State. In a moment of perfect cinematic and musical direction, Aang rises up from the ashes and shows his true power. The audience hadn’t seen the Avatar State for over 20 episodes, and it returns in the most spectacular fashion. Time slows down, and the kid who was yet to land a blow on Ozai simply shrugs him away with the back of his wrist before firing him into a pillar hundreds of meters away. If dictionary definitions could have gifs, the world epic would be accompanied by this moment.
#3 — The World Turns Dark
The Season 1 finale is full of moments that are simply breathtaking, but I feel none can quite match the utter shock and dread that come from Zhao killing part of the Moon Spirit. The audience is tricked into a false sense of security when Zhao calmly puts the fish back into the Koi pond, but his arrogance overwhelms him and in a fit of rage he sends a vicious blow across the water. In doing so the sky literally turns black. The moon fades from existence and the world is cast into darkness. Talk about upping the stakes.
#2 — The Ultimate Betrayal
“You miscalculated, I love Zuko more than I fear you." Iconic words from Mai and this entire scene sets in motion one of the most important plot arcs in ATLA. What is so paradoxical about this scene though is the fact it’s both excellently foreshadowed yet so completely surprising. Mai’s betrayal of Azula was well built up, small moments of dissent and frustration built up across seasons. But equally Ty Lee’s choice and saving Mai and paralyzing her best friend are easily comprehended. Yet everytime I watch it, Ty Lee’s sudden intervention is always so captivating. The sensationality is underlined by the fact it’s what finally cracked Azula. She had everything worked out, everything planned to perfection, in her own words she was a "people person". Yet even Azula didn’t see this coming.
#1 — There Is No War In Ba Sing Se
Did anyone else get chills just from reading that sentence? It would be no surprise if you did, the brainwashing scene in ‘City of Walls and Secrets’ is one of the darkest, most compelling and brilliantly staged moments of ATLA. Exceptionally edited, the scene of Jet being tortured is interspersed with a speech by Long Feng on the need to keep order and harmony within Ba Sing Se. It dawns on the Gaang that their last hope against the Fire Nation is currently a dystopian city run by a truly malevolent figure. As Jet is trapped in a chair and is subjected to propaganda the audience is drawn in with him, “…There is no war within the walls. Here you are safe. Here you are Free.” It’s completely terrifying and yet could quite possibly be the best ending to an ATLA episode ever.