The Zuko/Azula Shipper’s Guide To/Optimistic Interpretation of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – a.k.a. Contentbending In Pursuit Of Flamin’-Hot Incestuous Love, a.k.a. Delusions Of Zucest – Part IV of V: Episodes 46-57

I’m going to pick up right where I left off, but first: the links to the first three parts of my Zuko/Azula series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Chapter 6 – The Avatar And The Fire Lord

Let’s talk Zuko’s lineage: his father is Ozai, and his mother is Ursa. Ozai’s father was Azulon, and Azulon’s father was Sozin.

Zuko finds a scroll outside of his door telling him that he needs to learn the truth about his great-grandfather. He assumes this refers to Sozin. But in reality, of course, each person (typically) has eight great-grandparents, so it was rather narrow-minded of Zuko to assume that the message referred to Sozin. Though Zuko and Azula’s inevitable love child(ren) will have only four great-grandparents.

Zuko goes off to investigate. We find him the portrait hall, where portraits of the past Fire Lords hang on the wall. He is standing in front of Sozin’s, and Azula comes walking along.

Sure, it seems like a casual encounter, but it’s perfectly possible that she was either wandering around looking for him, or she knew exactly where he was and went there.

“It’s never too early for a sitting with the court painter, Zuko. Make sure he gets your good side,” she says.

Although her tone has an edge of typical Azulaness to it – a quality which I am finding hard to describe as in this case it’s neither mockery, nor cruelty, nor threatening, nor amused – there’s nothing in her tone which suggests that she’s making a joke. In fact, she sounds quite serious. And that makes this perhaps one of the single most significant lines that she says to him.

If she had any designs on the throne herself, she would never say such a thing – she would never speak about Zuko as the Fire Lord. This line implies that she expected him to accede to the throne and that she was at least accepting of that, if not happy.

Of course, her actions have implied this in the past. If she wanted the throne for herself, she never would have reached out to him in Crossroads Of Destiny. With the Dai Li to help her, she probably could have taken the Avatar herself, so she never actually needed Zuko. And now that Zuko has implied that the Avatar is still alive, she could have tried to find proof and expose Zuko as having failed, but she hasn’t done that either. His visits to Iroh gave her another opportunity to be rid of him, but she never did.

This is the proof that Azula loves Zuko. One would automatically assume that Azula, being who she is, would want to be Fire Lord. She is loyal to her father, so she would never take the throne from him, but she would want to follow him. (Of course, she would probably be following him right to the grave since he looks to be only 10 years older than she is.) But that’s not the case. She seems to want Zuko to be Fire Lord. And it could be that Azula would assume that her father would never make her his successor as long as Zuko was still alive, but Azula has had plenty of opportunities to kill Zuko as well and hasn’t. She could have accepted his Agni Kai challenge in Crossroads of Destiny and smoked him good, but she didn’t. She could have killed him in The Chase, and didn’t. Either of those occasions would have been perfectly honorable fratricides, but she even could have hidden the fact that she had done it, if she had wanted to. Point is, the fact that Zuko is not in prison or dead is proof that Azula loves him.

Of course, she could be keeping him around so that he’ll get rid of Ozai for her, and she never has to be anything but the dutiful daughter. Maybe she planned it all…

I know in my movie post I was delighted by the prospect of a throne rivalry between movie Zuko and Azula, but we don’t actually need to that to create tension (there’s enough already) – Azula wanting Zuko to be Fire Lord is much more valuable to the ship.

The jibe about his scar is perfect, as well. Just as he never forgets that its there, she never does either. This cruel remark almost offers a counter, a balance, to what the earlier part of her sentence implied.

It could also be taken as a compliment – that she’s even saying that he has a “good side”.

I love the way that Zuko never really turns to look at her. His eyes move from one side to the other as she walks behind him – he’s guarded, suspicious – but he tries not to even acknowledge her. This is sort of a strange follow-up to The Beach, unless he’s worried about what he said while on the beach and what she might do with that information.

It seems like he’s going to let her walk away, but then he asks for her help.

“Wait. I need to ask you something.” Will you marry me?

OK, no, that’s not his question. Damn it.

“What do you know about our great grandfather’s history?”

Azula stops, but she doesn’t turn to look at him. She really wants him checking out her backside, doesn’t she? She must think she’s really got something behind her.

I’m surprised that Zuko would ask Azula. He would be bound to get a much more complete account from a historian or a scroll. In fact, it’s almost like they threw in this scene with Azula just to have one. Maybe just to show that during this period, they are living in the same house (encountering each other casually in the hallway), and having normal sorts of conversations. Zuko and Azula are together a lot, but you hardly ever seen Ozai walking around the palace. Zuko had to actually go and see him in the throne room in The Awakening.

I might point out that he said “our great grandfather” instead of Fire Lord Sozin, like he was drawing attention to his and Azula’s biological connection, but I won’t. (See what I did there?) Of course, Azula makes the same error that Zuko did, and assumes he’s referring to Sozin. Then again, he’s standing in front of a painting of Sozin, so she’s slightly more justified.

“Oh, Zuko, it’s so strange how your mind works,” Azula responds, turning around and walking towards him.

His mind might seem a little strange to her, but she’s never failed to understand him. Except for the big reveal on the beach. And I almost want to call foul on that because I think Azula would understand that Zuko was angry at himself, even if she couldn’t exactly understand why.

“Fire Lord Sozin began the war, of course,” she begins. She said Fire Lord Sozin instead of our grandfather, and this is the girl who laughed at her mother for not calling Azulon “grandfather”.

“He spent his early years secretly preparing, but he was as patient as he was clever. He famously waited for the comet, later renamed Sozin’s comet, and used its power to launch his full scale invasion of the world. In the end he died a very old and successful man.”

Zuko doesn’t even respond to “full scale invasion of the world” which sounds nefarious and evil.

-

“But how did he die?” Zuko asks.

“Didn’t you pay any attention in school, Zuko? He died peacefully in his sleep. He was ancient.”

She’s back to saying his name a lot.

-

-

"Let's hold hands, K?"

Look at this picture: it looks like she’s trying to take his hand. Hee. In the video, it really does look like she’s trying to brush her hand against his.

"Fine, don't take my hand."

He hates to see her go, but loves to watch her leave. His eyes on her as she exits the room, and then he turns back and looks at the picture of Sozin.

It’s so nice to see his hair pulled back again, isn’t it?

-

-

Aang spends the episode in meditation, talking with his former life – Roku. Roku was the Avatar who came before him, and a citizen of the Fire Nation. Roku and Sozin were best friends growing up. Sozin seems like a nice guy for a long time. Until Roku gets married, and at the wedding Sozin reveals that he wants to spread Fire Nation culture to all of the other poor nations. (Just a note: this was when I realized that Aang and Katara would probably end up together, since Avatars can get married. I was still operating under what I was told in the movie: the Avatar can’t have a family. That almost seemed to be confirmed earlier in The Storm, when Aang was going to be sent away from the Southern Air Temple because he was growing too close to Monk Gyatso. And in the lesson from the guru about giving up earthly attachments – which reminds me: there were NEVER any consequences to that once he finally did it.)

"Jeez, how long is this thing?"

Zuko discovers Sozin’s hidden personal memoirs. Sozin does speak about his younger years as a time when “things were so much brighter”, but even when he reaches the end of his tale, we don’t hear any regrets about what he has done. The episode leads us to believe that Sozin had some sort of deathbed conversion, but it’s all a red herring. What Azula told Zuko was 100% correct. I liked that, because in The Headband, Aang takes issue with something that’s in one of the Fire Nation school textbooks. The teacher asks what year the Fire Nation faced off against the Airbender army, and Aang corrects her saying that the Air Nomads didn’t have an army. The implication is that the history is in the eyes of the victor. But if you ask me, that’s just semantics. The Air Nomads were pacifists, but they knew how to fight. And all of them were airbenders. When we learn that Azula’s answer was essentially correct, it doesn’t contribute to the idea that the Fire Nation is a propaganda state. Although the Fire Lord (at least Ozai in particular) did seem to be arranging a sort of cult-following around himself. There were large pictures of him in every room of the school, it seemed, and the children knew rhymes about him. Aang even made a noodle picture of him while at school. I can’t wait for that to trouble Zuko and Aang after their victory.

I also wanted to note that not only did Aang make friends with some of the kids at the school, but he seemed to have a lot of fun with them. While the Fire Nation might be strict, it certainly isn’t a place of misery. In The Painted Lady, an episode that doesn’t have any Zuko or Azula in it, the gaang encounters a town where the river has been poisoned by a metal factory used by the army. That was one case where some blame definitely needs to be placed on the Fire Lord. Polluted rivers fester a society from within.

So, Sozin and Roku (before Roku learns that he is the Avatar) are play fighting, and Sozin totally wins. I guess it was all of that training that made Roku powerful, not his natural Avatar abilities. That implication leaves Aang with the potential of being beatable.

So, in a strange turn of events, Roku’s animal guide or whatever (like Appa is to Aang) is a blue dragon, and Sozin has a pet red dragon. Sound familiar? Except you would expect it to be the other way around, and it’s not. What does this mean? I haven’t a clue. But it gives me hope for Azula – that’s why I mention it.

So, Sozin explains that the Fire Nation is experiencing an unprecedented period of happiness and prosperity. I guess this is so that we know that what he did was a bad bad thing. We would be more sympathetic if the Fire Nation was poor and suffering. But Sozin’s justification is that he wants to share this with the rest of the world. Sorry to break it to you, Sozin, but abundance is usually the source of such happiness, and that’s a zero sum game.

Sozin identifies the Fire Nation as an empire already, and from what we’ve learned he’s got a point. The two water tribes are not united, and the Earth Kingdom seems rather tribal as well, with two separate and uncommunicating leaders in Omashu and Ba Sing Se, and a bunch of other villages with little connection to those two places.

So, Sozin begins occupying Earth Kingdom territories. Roku confronts him. Sozin demands Roku to have allegiance to the Fire Nation above all else. Interesting. In fact, Sozin expects it. The other Avatar we know rather well – Kyoshi – also had a clear attachment to her birth nation.

Sozin attacks Roku. That guy has balls, right? Sozin wins (he goes immediately into the Avatar state), but spares Roku.

Roku lived on a an island, but the volcano on the island erupts. Roku goes into the Avatar state, but he still isn’t able to stop the volcano. So, there are weakness to the Avatar state as well. I’m just trying to help Azula out here: if she wants to dominate the Earth, she’s going to have to figure out how to beat Aang. Roku sees it happening from his palace and flies over to help. Sozin breathes the toxic gas from the volcano, and it takes him down to his knees. Weakness! So, in this scene, the dragons have changed colors. Weird. I mean, I don’t know how long dragons live. I suppose they are different dragons. Anyway, Sozin leaves Roku to die. Why did he even show up in the first place? Maybe he was a good Fire Lord and wanted to help save the island or the people that lived there? I suppose he could have been trying to take out Roku while he was off his guard, but if that was the case, why did he wait so long? He nearly died himself.

So, Zuko finishes the memoirs, and decides that the supposed “secret history” of his great grandfather should be renamed “the history that most people already know.” That’s pretty funny. Zuko makes a good joke from time to time. Not as great as his impressions, though. He goes to visit Iroh, whom he assumes is the one who put the message outside of his door. I don’t know how Iroh did it, but he did.

This is the first time we hear Iroh speak since Crossroads Of Destiny. Sadly, the voice actor who worked on him before, Mako, had passed away, and new a voice actor, Greg Baldwin, does Iroh for the third season. Greg Baldwin does a great job of imitating Mako’s Iroh, but it’s just not the same. I noticed right away, and was deeply disappointed. Of course, I grew even sadder once I learned that the change in casting was due to a death.

Anyway, Iroh reveals that Avatar Roku was Ursa’s grandfather. Crazy! Zuko freaks out a little bit. It would have been nice to get a mention of Azula here: Roku was her great grandfather too.

Zuko wants to know why Iroh is telling him this. I want to know why he doesn’t already know. I know who my great grandfathers are, and I’m just a lowly peasant. If my great grandfather was the Avatar you can be damned sure someone would have told me. You’d think Ursa would have told him. You’d think Iroh would have told him already. You’d think Azula would have told him. Azula would be the type to know that.

Iroh explains that the struggle between his two great grandfathers should help him understand the struggle inside of himself. “Evil and good are always at war inside of you, Zuko. It is your nature, you legacy.” Why isn’t it Azula’s nature and legacy? Because she’s the youngest? Because she’s a girl?

Iroh says that Zuko can resolve this now. “Because of your legacy, you alone can cleanse the sins of our family and the Fire Nation. Born in you, along with all the strife, is the power to restore balance to the world.”

Zuko doesn’t make any happy faces during this scene. I guess he feels a little weird about having spent years hunting down his great grandfather. He doesn’t like the idea of Avatar blood inside of him, I guess.

Why Zuko alone? Iroh discounts Azula just like her mother did, and he has from the start. What happened to the uncle that held her up in the air when she was a baby, and sent her dolls while he was away.

Now, there’s a lot of different concepts of balance. There’s the elemental balance, which is what I assume Iroh is talking about. But there is also the balance between good and evil.

If the Avatar is good, then who is his evil counterpart? I don’t  know a lot about the Eastern religions. I guess they don’t really conceive of evil the way that we do. But the show certainly sets up that kind of dichotomy.

Even for Iroh, this is sort of coming out of nowhere. Because he lost his son, and his throne, and was disgraced by his failure to take Ba Sing Se, I found it perfectly reasonable that he would want to settle down with Zuko somewhere in the Earth kingdom and live out the rest of his days serving tea with his nephew by his side. I thought it was selfish, but I understood it. That’s why he convinced Zuko to let Appa free in Lake Laogai. He wanted Zuko to be happy, and to not continue his miserable quest. But it suddenly all came to be about “good” in Crossroads Of Destiny. If Iroh has been so good all along, what about the entire first season?

And what happened to all of Iroh’s make-your-own-destiny talk to Zuko in Ba Sing Se. He wanted Zuko to give up on the Fire Nation and live out the rest of his days working in that tea shop. Now all of the sudden Zuko has a great legacy and great destiny to wash his family and nation clean? That’s what I’ve been saying all along! I had always said that Zuko needed to return to the Fire Nation, that his destiny lied there. Iroh’s suddenly changing his tune.

I think I’ve figured out that I love Iroh, but mostly just up through The Chase. In the episode after that, Bitter Work, Iroh says that Azula is crazy and needs to go down, that’s when he loses me. (And he hasn’t seen crazy!) It’s not long after that that they head to Ba Sing Se, and it’s all down hill from there. I like the Uncle Iroh who is a good and wise man, but for whom it’s all about Zuko. In this scene Iroh is talking about nations, and global balance, and history and destiny. But season 1 Iroh just wanted to be there for Zuko, to be the father to him that Ozai never was, and to throw in jokes about tea.

That’s about the point where I started losing interest in Zuko, too. I still like him, but I haven’t really loved him since then. Of course, Tales Of Ba Sing Se is sort of a universal exception (I cried for Iroh then, I’ll cry for him now). Zuko’s high point for me will always be the speech he gives to the unconscious Aang while they’re taking shelter from the blizzard in Siege Of The North.

-

Anyway, back to this. For some reason, Iroh had the headpiece that is supposed to be worn by the crown prince. I don’t know how Iroh came to have possession of it, or how it came to be in his jail cell, or why an extremely powerful firebender has such a standard jail cell, but there it is. Zuko takes it and holds it with awe. I’m not sure I get that, but I think it’s nice to see Iroh and him reaffirming his position as crown prince.

Iroh was so betrayed when Zuko sided with Azula in Crossroads Of Destiny, but Zuko didn’t end up doing much, and Zuko was always meant to return to the Fire Nation that I don’t really see what was so bad about it. In fact, the knowledge Zuko picked up in a war council meeting is instrumental to the gaang winning the war.

Now I don’t want to waste too much time or energy on telling you what bugs me about bending. Science is obviously just a suggestion in a place like this. But I did want to talk about bloodbending, something that Katara learns about (and masters!) in the episode The Puppet Master. The bloodbender can literally force the person they’re bloodbending to do whatever they want them to. It was a great episode, but come on! While I did point out before that waterbenders are perhaps the most powerful benders because they could suck all of the water out a person’s body, killing them almost instantly, this bloodbending just goes too far. Of course, Katara can only do it when there is a full moon, but still! Within the realm of the show it isn’t quite as ridiculous as when you think about it logically, because a waterbender should only be able to move water, whereas we see waterbenders on the show bending soup and other things. That just doesn’t make sense. There are other things in blood besides water. In fact its whole purpose is to carry oxygen to different parts of our body. The bloodbender would have to consciously be controlling all of that. If they take control of the blood from the host’s brain/heart, then in order to not kill that person they also have to do all of the things that the brain and heart would be doing, right? Anyway, I’m done. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Don't mind if I do."

Chapter 9: Nightmares And Daydreams

In this episode we are given a vision of palace life for the royal Fire family. In the first scene, Zuko’s lever is shown. A host of servants stand around him, helping him dress and offering him water and warm towels. Neither the music nor Zuko’s face give us any sinister or denunciative indications.

-

He steps outside of the palace to see a crowd of citizens. He smiles at them and waves. He is headed to Mai’s house (damn it!), but is going to walk. His servant tells him that he should travel in the palanquin (a carriage that his carried by servants) because that is proper for a prince. He acquiesces with a smile. Mai lives comically (and disgustingly) close.

-

Let me just take this opportunity to ask why she hasn’t returned home. We know that her parents are now governing Omashu (or New Ozai, as Azula had it renamed). Shouldn’t she be at home, living with them? I guess I could reluctantly understand why they would rather be pimping out their daughter to the crown prince.

-

"I am so whaa-tssshh!!"

The next scene takes place scandalously at night. Zuko and Mai are cuddled up together on a daybed/couch. Of course, they’re wearing as much clothing as I am right now, and it’s about 45 degrees in the room I’m in – I don’t know what their excuse is, but I’m happy about it.

Zuko: “If you could have anything you wanted right now, what would it be?”

Mai: “Hmmm. A big fancy fruit tart, with roses on top.”

While I approve of that fact that Mai asked for dessert, this was a great opportunity for her to say something really nice about Zuko, like “I want nothing, I’ve got you”, but she didn’t.

Zuko is still trying to give her gifts – like the shell – only now instead of giving her things she doesn’t like, he’s just asking her what she wants.

Zuko: “You know, being a prince and all, I just might be able to make that happen.” He asks one of his servants (who is just standing there) to procure one. I like that the servants are standing there, it means that Zuko and Mai weren’t getting too hot and heavy.

They’re sitting in front of large bay windows which overlook the palace. Hmmm. I bet that’s what Zuko spends his time looking at, thinking about how Azula is there…

Mai: “I guess there are some nice perks that come with being royalty. Though there’s boring stuff too, like that all day war meeting coming up.”

Yeah, Mai is going to make the perfect Fire Lord’s wife with an attitude like that (!)

And her statement doesn’t even have value, because we can automatically assume that she’ll find everything boring.

Zuko pulls away from her and sits up: “War meeting?! What are you talking about?”

It’s nice to see that he’d rather figure out what’s up than canoodle with her.

Apparently he doesn’t know about this alleged “war meeting”.

“Azula mentioned something. I-I assumed you were going too,” she says.

Thank you, Mai, for mentioning Azula.

This should have made Zuko relax, because if he was meant to be secretly excluded, Azula never would have mentioned anything to Mai – she’s not that stupid.

“I guess I wasn’t invited,” Zuko says.

Now, I’m not evil. At least I don’t think I am. At least, I’m mostly not evil. But somewhere along the way I found myself wanting Zuko to be bad with a good streak rather than good with a weak streak. So I was tremendously pleased to see that even after what Zuko realized in The Beach (he’s angry at himself, he’s confused, he doesn’t if he knows right from wrong anymore, etc.), and what Iroh told him about Roku and his legacy and his destiny, that he’s still living his life just like before all that.

He’s afraid that they don’t think he can be trusted. Ironic, because he can’t be trusted. Or maybe his paranoia and insecurities are what drove him to decide to turn on his father.

I can only hope that Zuko left Mai’s immediately, but we don’t really know.

The next scene is the best, because Azula is in it. We see glorious brown hair being combed in water. I know that sounds strange, but it makes more sense when you look at the picture.

-

-

-

She’s lying down on a structure, and a servant has probably washed her hair and is now combing it.

Sozin may have started the war, but he was already living in a palace. The royal family has a history of luxury that dates before him.

I don’t know what room they are in, but Zuko comes strolling in. It seems to be open, if it can be judged from the curtains in the back.

Azula is wearing a robe, robe = state of undress. And like I said, she’s lying down, or as I’d like to see it: already in position. 

“Hello, Zuzu,” she greets. She could barely have seen him. And I don’t know about her, but my eyes would have been closed. So maybe she just sensed him coming…?

Zuzu! It isn’t used in a cruel way. Any other sister, and you’d think that’s what he wanted to be called the way she says it.

She continues: “If you’ve come for a royal hair combing, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait.”

Well, maybe she’s cruel for making him wait for his royal hair combing, but it seems to me like this is a pretty amiable exchange so far.

I like that Azula knows how to have fun. And it’s nice to see her indulging in such pleasures.

Speaking of pleasures: Azula may not be naked, and the pleasure may not be derived from manual stimulation of the genital area, but watching someone get pleasured in any way is considered voyeuristic. This reminds me of the scene in Supernatural when Sam gets uncomfortable watching Dean enjoy the bed’s magic fingers. And this whole thing is pretty funny, because I had always imagined Zuko going to visit Azula while she was getting a massage. I bet firebenders do the best massages – the heat comes right out of their fingers.

And I’ll just mention this here before I forget it: I totally imagine that if when Azula and Zuko have sex, it’ll be like Elle from Heroes. She conducts electricity, and sends lightning herself. She likes to spark/electrocute/shock her sexual prey. She shocks Peter (Milo Ventimiglia, who turned up strangely in Gamer) and he recoils a bit. Then she tells Peter: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it…and then you’ll start to like it.” Kristen Bell delivers that line perfectly. That’s one of my favorite scenes from that entire series. Elle is a little crazy herself, but not too crazy for society.

Zuko: “So I guess there’s a big war meeting coming up, huh? And apparently I’m not welcome there.”

I sort of blame Zuko for this. Azula has known for a long time that the other side was planning an invasion on the day of black sun (a.k.a. the solar eclipse), which is coming up in two days – it makes sense that they would be having a meeting. Mai has been keeping Zuko from his duties.

I’m glad but a little surprised that Zuko would come to see Azula. I suppose he doesn’t know any of the others going to the war meeting very well, and he certainly wouldn’t go to see his father, but this shows a lot of trust. By asking Azula, he’s exposing the fact that he wasn’t invited, and exposing his insecurities regarding such a thing. For someone so jealous of her perfection and hateful of her cruelty, Zuko sure does spend a lot of time revealing his insecurities to her. He has to feel something from her that doesn’t always come across on screen – he must feel the love that I proved earlier. Despite everything, there’s a little part of him that trusts her.

Azula: “What do you mean? Of course you’re welcome there.”

Zuko: “Oh yeah? I guess that’s why no one bothered to tell me about it.”

Azula: “Oh, Zuko! Don’t be so dramatic. I’m certain Dad wants you there. You probably just weren’t invited because it’s so obvious that you’re supposed to be there.  

Zuko: “Well, were you invited?”

Azula: “Of course. I’m the princess.”

Zuko: “And I’m the prince.”

Right. The royal "hair combing". This picture included for the pleasure of your dirty mind.

I don’t know why, but that assertion stirs something in me. They’re prince and princess because they’re brother and sister, and not husband and wife, but I totally want to run away with that line.

Azula: “Exactly. So stop acting like a paranoid child. Just go to the meeting.”

She says the last line rather impatiently. I guess she’s annoyed that he isn’t believing her.

Zuko: “Forget it: I’m not going.” No, he’s not going. He’s coming. (someone stop me)

Azula was right to call him a child – what an attitude! He’s pretty crazy here, so it really does run in the family. I don’t know what he hopes to accomplish by not going to the meeting – it’s ridiculous.

Again Azula comforts him. This is only the billionth time that she’s done it. Sadly, it’s the last time. Considering how many times she has tried to sympathetically allay his fears, it’s really out of line to say that she’s inhuman.

Zuko has another scene with Mai. He’s staring out the window (as he often does) at the palace, and she tries to make him feel better: “Zuko, it’s just a dumb meeting. Who cares?”

Zuko: “I don’t.” Yeah, right (!) Mai obviously isn’t listening to him very closely, because a baby could tell that he was lying.

-

Mai: “Well good, you shouldn’t. I mean, why would you even want to go? Just think about how things went at the last war meeting you went to.”

Nice, Mai – thanks for bringing that up! See what I’m saying? Worst. Mrs. Fire. Lord. Ever.! She doesn’t understand anything about responsibility.

Zuko hangs his head a little lower and sighs: “I know.”

"double time"

Mai: “You know what will make you feel better? Ordering some servants around. I might be hungry for a whole tray of fruit tarts. And maybe a little palanquin ride around town, double time.” The radar people at TTAI seemed to think this was an allusion to sex. I’m not so sure (although “double time” does sound dirty). I think it’s just Mai being evil. Ordering servants around? That’s a good time? (I guess we don’t have to worry that she’ll bring about a socialist revolution.) She sounds like Azula, eh eh? She probably doesn’t even think those things will be fun – she’s just prentending for Zuko – so he’ll snap out of his mood.

I forgot to mention one aspect of the brother falls for sister’s best friend trope: the friend can sometimes just be a substitute for the sister. A sister by proxy. I’ve certainly seen that in fiction before. Of the two of Azula’s friends, Zuko certainly picked the one that was most like Azula. I’ve emphasized their differences, but let’s not forget that Azula and Mai also have a lot in common. Long, straight brown hair. Sharp features. Calm demeanors. Luxurious tastes. Deadly hobbies. Identical educations. And so on.

"But you can't deny that I look good in red."

Now, I don’t think that Mai really has the right stuff to be an Eleanor Roosevelt or a Hillary Clinton to Zuko, but I could always look at it as Zuko having chosen a wife that would be accepted by his people. As him having his eyes to the future already. Mai belongs to a prominent and respected political family. She has proper manners. And above all, she’s Fire Nation. Can you imagine Katara as Queen? Not only is she a waterbender, but she was raised in a fishing village of a few dozen. Zuko would be overthrown in minutes. Maybe he just decided to latch onto the best girl for his country. Azula, being his sister, was obviously not an option for marriage. And that’s why I love ancient Egypt.

I admire her appetite, though – a whole tray of fruit tarts. I guess that’s a thing that Zuko looks for in women. I guess that’s why he tried to bring her ice cream.

Remember what he said to Jin?

It reminds me of the son in City Island. He got off on feeding women food. That’s a great movie, by the way. If you can ignore the accents. It got pretty close to incest. The long lost (hot) son enters his father’s home without knowing its his father’s home. He does shirtless pushups in front of his half-sister, watches her on the beach, unwittingly watches her at a strip club before yanking her out of there and handcuffing her to himself. No, I’m not making this up. And there’s more…

No, I’m not making this up. And there’s more… I actually have seen a  movie where the lost long son is brought into his father’s home and has an incestuous relationship with his half-sister, but that was considerably less enjoyable because he was a homicidal maniac. It’s called The King. “Her name is Yolanda.” *shivers*

Well, I do appreciate Mai trying to cheer him up, but delightfully it doesn’t work. Zuko refuses to be distracted.

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"Nobody loves me..."

The next day he is at Mai’s again (those two spend way too much time together, it sickens me – but in his case I can understand why he wouldn’t want to be in the palace while the war meeting was going on) when a servant arrives, telling him that everyone is waiting for him.

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Zuko: “You mean my dad wants me at the meeting?”

This was all about Dad. In The Beach Zuko expressed his growing disillusionment with his father’s love, but right here he’s back to wanting and needing it.

Servant: “The Fire Lord said he would not start until you had arrived, Sir.”

Zuko smiles.

Mai is waiting outside for him. When he leaves, she asks him how he went. He describes how everyone welcomed him.

Zuko: “During the meeting I was the perfect prince. The son my father wanted. But I wasn’t me.”

Wah, wah. Is this guy never satisfied?

So, it certainly seemed like this came out of nowhere, but we later learn what went on during the meeting, and it makes more sense.

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"I forbid you look at the royal nakedness!"

I don’t like the Zuko stuff in this episode, and particularly the massive amounts of Mai. But the Aang stuff is pretty funny. Aang is terrified of facing Ozai, and refuses to sleep because he keeps having nightmares about it. And so he beings to hallucinate. It was silly, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t laughed as much as I did when Appa and Momo face off against each other in his delirium. Aang finally conquers his fears, and dreams that Ozai isn’t wearing any pants. Hmmm. “Oh no! My royal parts are showing.” Yes, that’s actually the line.

In Chapters 10 and 11: The Day of Black Sun, the gaang attemps their invasion. It’s realistic in that they know the eclipse will only last for eight minutes. During those eight minutes is when Aang is supposed to face Ozai.

Iroh escapes during the first half.

During the second half, we see Zuko. He’s look at a picture of his mother. “I know I’ve made some bad choices, but today I’m going to set things right.” He grabs his swords and covers his head with a hood and walks out of the room.

Aang gets to the palace, only to realize that it’s abandoned. Ozai, and everyone else is gone. Sokka jumps to the conclusion that everyone will be nearby. I guess with only eight minutes of weakness, it makes sense that Ozai wouldn’t bother to go too far, but honestly, why not take the day to go to Ember Island, instead of waiting where the Avatar will still have enough time to find you? In the end it doesn’t matter, because Azula is perfectly placed in the underground catacombs to distract Aang while the eclipse passes. Even without her firebending, she is able to stand up against them. She darts around, evasively. It’s not a fight – she probably couldn’t have beaten them in a fight – but she isn’t even trying. Even after they realizes what she’s doing, she’s still able to keep them occupied with what she says. She distracts Sokka by referring to Suki, the Kyoshi Warrior whose place Azula took in Ba Sing Se.

With Azula around, taking down Ozai is only a temporarily solution for Aang, so it’s interesting that he doesn’t attempt to bring down Azula in this scene. Or maybe he does and fails? Or maybe he sees in Azula what everyone else should: someone one is still a little girl.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, buster?”

And maybe she distracts him with her body. She and Sokka have some hot moments during this scene. Under different circumstances, I might even have shipped them. Except for Zuko, he is the only acceptable guy on the other side for her. She and Aang…well, it’s just laughable. But if she was looking for power in a mate (like she indicated before), I suppose Aang would be the best option. I hope I’m not angering anyone by showing their drawing here. I find it delightful in that it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. What I feel when I look at it is what I think most people feel when they think about incest. I’m going to need to learn how to draw.

I realize that this is only the case because it’s a kid show, but honestly, the Fire Nation isn’t so bad. It seems like the only person they have killed is Sokka and Katara’s mother. Everyone else becomes a prisoner, and the conditions aren’t even that bad. The characters say that the conditions are bad, but they’re really not. No one’s coming down with leprosy. If this was made for grown ups you can bet that Suki would be pushing daisies.

Of course, Sokka has to restrain himself from killing Azula because he needs to know where Suki is, so there was a strategic advantage to that. But then Azula could have just lied. As she points out, she’s an excellent liar, and Toph, who can sense lying through its vibrations, has to agree.

Azula is armed with tiny razors, which come out of nowhere just like Mai’s daggers. Azula has got way more to her than just her firebending. 

During the eclipse, Zuko goes to see his father.

Ozai: “What are you doing here?” I wonder where he’s supposed to be…

Zuko: “I’m here to tell the truth.”

Ozai: “Telling the truth during the middle of an eclipse? This should be interesting.” He sends his guards away. He didn’t have to, but he did.

Zuko: “First of all, in Ba Sing Se, it was Azula who took down the Avatar. Not me.”

Ozai: “Why would she lie to me about that?”

Zuko: “Because the Avatar’s not dead. He survived.”

Ozai: “What?!!!!”

Zuko: “In fact, he’s probably leading this invasion. He could be on his way here right now.”

Ozai: “Get out. You’ll get out of my sight right now if you know what’s good for you.”

Zuko: “That’s another thing, I’m not taking orders from you anymore.”

Ozai: “You’ll obey me, or this defiant breath will be your last.”

Zuko pulls out his swords: “Think again. I am going to speak my mind, and you are going to listen.”

Ozai sits down.

Zuko: “For so long all I wanted was for you to love me, to accept me. I thought it was my honor that I wanted, but really I was just trying to please you. You, my father, who banished me just for talking out of turn. My father who challenged me, a thirteen year old boy, to an Agni Kai! How can you possibly justify a duel with a child?”

Ozai: “It was to teach you respect.”

Zuko: “It was cruel, and it was wrong.”

Ozai: “Then you’ve learned nothing.”

Zuko: “No, I’ve learned everything. And I’ve had to learn it on my own. Growing up we were taught the Fire Nation is the greatest civilization in history, and somehow, the war was our way of sharing out greatness with the rest of the world. What an amazing lie that was. The people of the world are terrified by the Fire Nation, they don’t see our greatness – they hate us. And we deserve it. We’ve created an era of fear in the world. And if we don’t want the world to destroy itself, we need to replace it with an era of peace and kindness.”

Ozai laughs.

So, Zuko says that he’s had to learn on his own, but that’s complete bullsh!t of course, because Iroh is the one who has been teaching him. Iroh hasn’t just been more of a father to him that Ozai was, Iroh has been a father to him, period.

Now, all of this really feels like its coming out of nowhere, but once we learn what was said in the war meeting it makes a little bit more sense.

While Zuko was traveling around, he saw how the people feared and hated the Fire Nation – he saw that from day one. But all of the sudden that matters to him? It never seemed to open his eyes before. Even in The Cave Of Two Lovers, and Zuko Alone, when he was face to face with people who had suffered tragedy at the hands of the Fire Nation, he was only sympathetic so far as he related to them – missing his father, cousin, being burned, etc. In Zuko Alone, he didn’t fight against Fire Nation, he fought against citizens of the Earth Kingdom.

Ozai: “Your uncle has gotten to you, hasn’t he?”

Zuko: “Yes! He has. After I leave here today, I’m going to free Uncle Iroh from his prison, and I’m going to beg for his forgiveness. He’s the one who’s been a real father to me.”

Ozai: “Well isn’t that just beautiful. Maybe he can pass down to you the ways of tea and failure.”

Zuko: “But I’ve come to an even more important decision: I’m going to join the Avatar, and I’m going to help him defeat you.”

Ozai: “Really? Since you’re a full blown traitor now, why wait? You’ve got your swords. Why don’t you just do it now?”

Zuko: “Because I know my own destiny. Taking you down is the Avatar’s destiny.” He puts his swords away. “Goodbye.” He turns around and begins walking out of the room.

Ozai: “Coward! You think you’re brave enough to face me, but you’ll only do it during the eclipse. If you have any real courage you’ll stick around until the sun comes out. Don’t you want to know what happened to your mother?”

Zuko stops and turns around.

So, at first I was kind of on Ozai’s side, wondering why Zuko didn’t just kill him then and there. I’m not sure Zuko could have taken him, but he is good with his swords. We don’t know how Ozai is with anything at this point, and in the end we really only see him firebend. But then I realized that Zuko probably wouldn’t be able to ascend to the throne if he killed his father like that. So maybe that’s why he joins Aang.

I can see why Zuko needed to get all of that off his chest. Though it’s still not really clear how he came to change his mind about his father or the Fire Nation.

Zuko: “What happened that night?”

Ozai: “My father, Fire Lord Azulon, had commanded me to do the unthinkable to you, my own son. And I was going to do it. Your mother found out and swore she would protect you at any cost. She knew I wanted the throne, and she proposed a plan, a plan in which I would become Fire Lord, and your life would be spared.” It was Azula who saved Zuko’s life. She’s the one who told Ursa what Azulon had demanded of Ozai. Zuko owes Azula his life.

Ozai: “Your mother did vicious, treasonous things that night. She knew the consequences, and accepted them. For her treason she was banished.” I like that Ursa was willing to do this. That makes her OK in my book. Except for what she did to Azula.

Zuko: “So she’s alive.”

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Ozai: “Perhaps. Now I realize that banishment is far too merciful a penalty for treason. Your penalty will be far steeper.”

It would seem that Ozai cares very little for Ursa, even though she’s very beautiful and gave him a totally awesome daughter. Plus it seems like they were able to come to an amicable arrangement.

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Ozai can feel the sun come free again and sends lightning Zuko’s way. Zuko is able to use the technique that Iroh taught him, and redirects the lightning back towards his father…

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…although it doesn’t seem to affect him except to make him angry and mess up his hair (hairbender to the rescue!), but it gives Zuko the chance to get away.  It’s totally a surprise attack from Ozai, so I find it hard to believe that Zuko was able to arrange his defense in time, but whatever.

Ozai did a good job of keeping Zuko around until the sun came back. He knew how to push his buttons.

So, I don’t like Ozai – he’s a pretty bad guy. The only reason that I don’t like Zuko finally freeing himself of the yoke of needing his father’s approval is because the inferiority complex he has regarding Azula is largely because of Daddy favoring her. Now that he doesn’t care what Ozai thinks, it’s like it doesn’t he even matter that Ozai prefers Azula. Fortunately, Azula is still a better firebender, is beautiful, is smarter, and lots of people worship her, not just her dad.

You know, maybe Zuko realized not that his father’s love wasn’t worth it, but that he never had it. Ozai may say that he’s proud, may wait for Zuko to arrive before he starts the war meeting, but I don’t think he ever really loved him.

This might be a good time to mention who voices Ozai. It’s Mark Hamill. Yeah, that Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker. It doesn’t sound like him, does it? But apparently he does a ton of voice work now. Who knew? I think its hilarious. But now every time I watch Star Wars, I’m going to be thinking about the irony, and I’m probably not going to be able to concentrate on the movie, because I’ll be too busy thinking about Zuko and Azula. Maybe Azula would have been more like Leia if she had been raised on Alderaan.

Azula runs off after shooting some lightning, I’m not sure why she didn’t face them, but she doesn’t. Some of the invasion force surrenders, but our main characters get away on Appa.

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Zuko follows in a war balloon.

Chapter 12 – The Western Air Temple 

Zuko is pretty hilarious while he’s trying to join up with the gaang. They are reluctant to trust him. The best parts are when Zuko is alone by himself, practicing what he is going to say.

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He says to himself: “What would uncle do? Zuko, you have to look into yourself to see yourself, your other self, only then will your true self reveal itself.”  His impression is delightful. “Even when I’m talking for him I can’t figure out he means.” Hee! 

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"Listen, Avatar:..."

Then he changes tack: “What would Azula do? Listen, Avatar, I can join your group or I can do something unspeakably horrible to you and your friends. Your choice.” Yeah, he’s got her pegged. The words are right, but the impression is a little off.

He agrees: “I guess I’m not that good at impersonations,” he despairs, sitting down despondently.

It was nice to see a mention of Azula. That he would even consider her method shows me that he doesn’t consider her totally evil. I’m sure he wasn’t actually considering it, but you can’t change the fact that he was thinking about her. He missed her so much that he had to do an impression of her to comfort himself, but he grows sad that it didn’t satisfy him.

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"I miss Azula..."

The gaang ends up accepting him because Aang is in desperate need of a firebending teacher, and Zuko shows him that he knows the dangers of fire. Plus Appa remembers that Zuko let him go, and Appa keeps licking him all over. I’ve never wanted to be Appa more.

Chapter 13 – The Firebending Masters.

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"Ahhhhhh! Dragons!!!!!"

Zuko is trying to train Aang, but is unable to produce very much fire. He doesn’t know why. So he and Aang try to investigate the origins of firebending, which was the dragons, who did it first. Zuko says that the dragons are extinct, because it became prestigious to hunt them. He says Iroh killed the last one, but they find out that Iroh lied, and that two are actually still alive – one blue, and one red. Hmm… Good on Iroh, I say. I’m in favor of biodiversity, among animals anyway. You know where I stand on human genetic diversity. JK.

Zuko and Aang go to the temple of the sun warriors. Zuko is pretty smart about figuring out how to get into the temple. Very impressive, actually.

The dragons won’t teach them unless they deem them worthy, but the dragons do deem them worthy. That’s largely due to Aang, who thinks that the dragons want them to do the fire dance, the footsteps for which were in the temple.

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This scene with the dragons reminded me so much of the dueling dragons ride at Universal Studios in Orlando. It’s different now – it has become part of the Harry Potter attraction there.

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Uh...Is this supposed to be telling us something?

When the dragons stop, the blue one stops in front of Zuko.

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The dragons give them a display of beautiful fire, and through that Aang and Zuko realize that fire is energy and life and that there is firebending harmony. I wish all of my lessons were that short. Zuko says: “Yeah, it’s like the sun, but inside of you.” Then he says to Aang: “That’s why my firebending was so weak before, because for so many years hunting you was my drive, my purpose. So when I joined you, I lost sight of my inner fire. But now I have a new drive: I have to help you defeat my father, and restore balance to the world.”

I don’t know how I feel about this. I like how Zuko and Aang learned that fire is life, and not just destruction. That fire isn’t inherently evil. That was a lesson that needed to be taught on the show. But I don’t like that Zuko’s firebending was miserably weakened. I don’t like him saying that he lost sight of his inner fire. Obviously, because I want Azula to be his inner fire. Although, he did lose it when he left Azula. Hmmm… He was driven to return home. And he lost his inner fire when he abandoned his home to fight against his home. I guess that actually makes sense.

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Chapters 14, 15: The Boiling Rock

I hate this episode so much. It’s boring, and then it becomes discouraging.

Sokka wants to rescue his dad from prison, so he enlists Zuko’s help, and they go to the Fire Nation’s top prison. I don’t see why Hakoda (Sokka’s dad) would be sent to the top prison when he isn’t a bender, but not matter. They luck out, because Suki is there. But things become complicated when Zuko is recognized. The warden is Mai’s uncle. He says: “So you’re the guy who broke my niece’s heart,” or something to that effect. Zuko says, “I never meant to hurt her.” I love that he says that, because it’s kind of a stock line, you know. That’s kind of what you say when you’ve used someone. It doesn’t express love for the one you’ve hurt, just remorse and apology. And he says it again to Mai later on.

Mai arrives, and meets with Zuko alone. She’s angry, but not too angry. Not passionate. “All I get is a letter? You could have at least looked me in the eye when you ripped out my heart.” She doesn’t sound like she’s had her heart ripped out.

Zuko: “I didn’t mean to-“

Mai: “You didn’t mean to?” She reads from the letter: “Mai, I’m sorry you have to find out this way, but I’m leaving…” Wow, Zuko: crappy letter.

Zuko: “Stop, this isn’t about you. This is about the Fire Nation.”

Mai: “Thanks, Zuko, that makes me feel all better.”

Zuko: “Mai, I never wanted to hurt you. But I had to do this to save our country.”

Mai: “Save it? You’re betraying your country.”

Zuko: “That’s not how I see it.”

So, I’d like to just take Zuko’s break-up letter and this conversation to say that  Zuko doesn’t love Mai. I barely have to energy to talk out the points. I just hate them together so much, I’m probably not even rational about it anymore.

It’s nice to hear Zuko talk so much about the Fire Nation, though.

He locks her up in that room so that he can escape. They make eyes through the peep hole. His “I’m sorry” blink feels like an “It’s over” blink.

Fortunately, Mai didn’t come alone. Zuko, Sokka, Suki, Hakoda, another prisoner, and the kidnapped warden are making their escape on the sky gondola. They look down and see Azula and Ty Lee. “Who’s that?” Hakoda asks.

“That’s a problem,” Zuko informs him. “My sister and her friend.” She’s kind of your friend too, isn’t she, Zuko?

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Ty Lee runs up the suspension cables, while Azula takes my advice and uses her fire to shoot her up into the air like a jet pack. Of course, in reality, her doing this predates my suggestion, but I had never seen her do such a thing when I came up with the idea.

“This is a rematch I’ve been waiting for,” Suki says.

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“Me too,” Zuko states gravely, never looking at Suki, but keeping his eyes on Azula as she continues towards them. She had taken cuffs from one of the guards, and now that she’s in the air, she has hooked the cuff onto the suspension cable, and using fire to force her forward, like a zip line, only with even more zip.

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Then Zuko turns, and climbs out of the gondola onto its roof. Suki and Sokka join him up there.

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Suki and Ty Lee face off, while Azula takes on Sokka and Zuko.

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Azula is smirking rather evilly. Methinks she is already gone, but I’ll go more into that later.

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-‘

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Azula doesn’t waste any time – she shoots blue fire out of her feet, and Zuko matches it with his own. I’m going to pick on bending again: fire+fire does not neutralize fire. You don’t neutralize fire with more fire. Now why is Azula’s fire blue? It’s either hotter, or it’s simply to differentiate hers. I think it’s hotter.

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Ty Lee is so graceful. I just love her so much. She’s taking her job here very seriously.

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Azula and Zuko shoot back and forth.

The warden tells his guards to cut the lines.

The prison is called The Boiling Rock, and it’s a rock, sitting in the middle of a lake of boiling water. I don’t know why all of the water hasn’t boiled away, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be asking those sorts of questions.

When Azula and Ty Lee see that the line is being cut, they hitch onto another gondola heading back towards the prison.

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The gondola shakes as the line is being cut, and Sokka would have fallen to his doom if Zuko hadn’t helped. Azula did not take this opportunity to accomplish anything.

Azula shoots herself up into the air: “Goodbye, Zuko,” she says, evilly. It hurts me. The implication is that if the line is cut, the gondola will fall into the burning lake, and everyone will die. Zuko and Sokka’s earlier escape plan involved floating across the lake in a similar metal contraption, however, so I’m not totally convinced. Plus you know the guards will try to rescue the warden, even though he has made it clear that he would rather die than see any of his prisoners escape.

So Azula is sort of condemning Zuko to his death here. Ouch. That’s me that’s hurting, not Zuko. I’m sure Zuko is hurting too, but right now I think I might be hurting worse. What are they thinking?  We don’t get very much insight.

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Ty Lee is standing right beside her on the other gondola. She is somber, but she certainly didn’t try to rescue anybody.

“I hope this thing floats,” Hakoda says. You and me both, Hakoda. And it very well might. If so, then Azula wasn’t condemning Zuko to death at all. She was just putting him in a much more vulnerable position.  

But Mai shows up! She throws daggers at the dozen or so guards up there. “What are you doing?” one asks. “Saving the jerk who dumped me,” she replies. So Zuko really has dumped her. Yay!

I realize that Mai is very good, but those guards should have posed more of a match for her. She seems to be able to pin people against things by throwing daggers through their clothes. But why would a dagger go through a metal wall? And why don’t they just rip their clothes and escape?

I can’t believe that I never tied in Mai’s dagger-chucking to the joke I made during my description of Zuko Alone about Zuko throwing knives at Azula and her getting off on it. Now I don’t really know what to say.

Also, how does someone fight off fire with a four inch blade? Some of those guards are firebenders.

Well, however it happens, Mai manages to save the line.

What is she doing?” Azula ponders angrily aloud.

Zuko and the others make it to the other side safely.

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Mai has been apprehended. She probably allowed herself to be apprehended, but we don’t really see it happen.

Azula is staring her down. “I never expected this from you,” she says, after sending the guards away.

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Poor Ty Lee is very tense.

“The thing I don’t understand is why. Why would you do it? You know the consequences.”

Mai: “I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated: I love Zuko more than I fear you.”

Azula makes a hideous face, but she makes it when Mai says “I love Zuko” – she’s already made it before Mai says “more than I fear you” and hasn’t made it yet when Mai finishes saying “you miscalculated.”

Azula makes an even more hideous face: “No, you miscalculated: you should have feared me more.”

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She gets into position, as does Mai. I admire Mai’s spunk, but come on! Fortunately for her, Ty Lee is there.

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She chi-blocks Azula, who falls paralyzed to the ground.

Ty Lee grabs Mai and tries to make her run, but they’re surrounded by guards within a second.

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“You’re both fools,” Azula spits. The guards hold her up: “What shall we do with them, Princess?”

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Azula: “Put them somewhere I’ll never have to see their faces again. And let them rot.”

*whimpers*

It’s just so sad.

Now, I think that Azula would have given Mai a pass. I’m perfectly willing to admit that in this case, I could totally be blinded by my love for Azula, but I can honestly see Azula waving it off. Plus, it wasn’t just Zuko on that gondola – Mai’s uncle was on it as well. Now Azula may not care very much for her uncle, but I think she could understand that many people do love their uncles, and that Mai might.

I also think that Ty Lee would have plead for Mai’s life before chi-blocking Azula, and I can see Azula being amenable to Ty Lee’s cries, like she was before. I think Azula is totally justified for throwing Mai and Ty Lee in prison for doing what they did, particularly Ty Lee who crossed a major line, but I would have liked to see a little mercy from her. Now we know that Azula likes to make speeches about snuffing weakness out, but we’ve never seen her do anything other than talk about it.

I’d also like to point out that Mai hasn’t always hated Azula. She looked quite happy to see her way back in Return To Omashu. She defied her in The Drill without any consequences. And I’d also like to point out that Ty Lee seems like much better friends with Azula. Azula is a bit sharper with Ty Lee, but I’m sure Ty Lee has gotten used to that. They’re the ones who are having all of the fun together.

Now, why do I think that Azula is already slipping? Well, reason #1: she was going to let Zuko die. She normally has enough control that she can capture him without resorting to that. And why didn’t she bring Dai Li with her? An earthbender could have created an island underneath the gondola, saving everyone but trapping them there. Plus, notice how little Azula spoke to Zuko? Just a goodbye. I think she was too hurt to do anything but make mean faces. And her mean faces in this episode are totally similar to her crazy mean faces from the finale. Reason #2: she miscalculated with Mai, and with Ty Lee. Azula does know people. But she didn’t here. And she shouldn’t even have brought them along if she was going to be hunting Zuko, because Ty Lee is a softie in general, and Mai is a softie for Zuko. Reason #3: she let Zuko and the others get away. She should have dealt with Mai later. Azula and Ty Lee would have been perfectly capable of attacking Zuko and the others on the other side of the lake and preventing them from escaping the island. Mai might have saved Zuko’s life (might), but she didn’t guarantee his getaway. Even from the other side of the gondola line, way back at the prison, Azula could have fire jetpack zip-lined herself to the other side with plenty of time to catch the escapees. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Now, I’m not totally in favor of the Azula goes crazy plotline. Actually, I might hate it. I haven’t quite decided. Better that she’s crazy and can firebend, than be in jail and can’t firebend like her father. Better she’s alive than dead. I certainly feel that way. I might have supported a storyline in which she went a bit more Ophelia (without the suicide), and a bit less Lizzie Borden, but that’s not that we got. Well, whether I like the storyline or not, whether I buy it or not, it’s there. It’s a deeply-rooted tree and I cannot blow it over. So I must deal with it. And my first method of dealing with it, is by deciding that her decline began with Zuko’s betrayal, and not with Mai’s.

I actually like the crazy and maladjusted ladies most of the time. I think they’re fascinating. So much more interesting than more typical characters. Unfortunately, Azula’s crazy leans more towards the grotesque and pathetic.

So, there you have it. The Boiling Rock. Worst. Episode. Ever.

Chapter 16: The Southern Raiders.

This episode begins with the gaang still at the Western Air Temple.

That guy that Aang, Katara, and Sokka met at the Northern Air Temple in season 1 claimed credit for having invented the Fire Nation war balloons, but here Azula seems to be in some sort of dirigible or airship. There are about three or so of them. They are shooting missiles.

"You're welcome!"

Zuko pushes Katara out of the way and rolls on top of her. The shows writers are such dicks – what a cruel ship tease. I would have been happy with a little Katara/Zuko action here to drive a wedge into Zuko/Mai (known as Maiko). In fact, this episode is about Katara learning to trust Zuko as he helps her face her mother’s killer. But it doesn’t go anywhere.

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They earthbend an escape route through the mountain, Zuko says to go ahead, that he’ll “hold them off”. Kind of like Uncle Iroh, in Crossroads of Destiny. Zuko’s head has gotten astronomical.

But then he adds: “I think this is a family visit.” Well, any attack from the Fire Nation is going to be a family matter, since his family is the one with the power to say whether he is to be hunted down or not.

But I like to see him wanting to face Azula. In fact, his desire to face Azula is so strong its suicidal.

-

She rises up on another airship. And you can see from her face that something is wrong. I’ll admit, she looks far crazier here than she did at any point in The Boiling Rock, but I think her insanity is just being compounded. She was a little crazy, a little off, when Zuko had turned on her. Now she’s lost Mai and Ty Lee, and she failed by losing them and by losing the prison escapees. Things are pretty bad for her right now.

“What are you doing here?” Zuko demands. She’s bringing you the scarf she knit you, Zuko. What an idiot. What the hell do you think she’s doing there? She’s hunting down her traitor brother and the Avatar. In fact, Appa and Momo are the only ones she wouldn’t be justified in eliminating (from a certain point of view). And probably the kid in the wheelchair, too.  

“You mean it’s not obvious yet?” Azula asks, lifting her arms. “I’m about to celebrate becoming an only child.”

Sad. Like I pointed out in my preamble to Part I, just because Azula says she’s trying to kill him doesn’t mean that she actually is. It would certainly seem like she is, though. You can hear the crazy in her voice, even though her actions aren’t particularly deviant in any way.

She blasts him, and jumps down the ship as he gets blown back onto the ground. He lifts up his eyes in hate, then jumps up and runs towards her. He runs up a falling cement structure, and then leaps into the air and flies through the air towards the ship, and while shooting fire at her. Not bad.

But he doesn’t make it, and he falls down into the mist. Azula watches. She couldn’t have saved him. She isn’t smiling. She isn’t sad. Her expression is serious.

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But Zuko isn’t dead! He landed on another airship. Nice of Azula to bring so many. It rises up behind her, and she turns around to see him, his expression defiant. It’s interesting: they play a variation on the Fire Nation dread theme as the background music. I love it so much. DUH duh DUH duhhhh. Four notes: hi low, hi low. This is a moment of triumph for the good guys, but they play the bad guy music.

Azula smiles. And I’d like to say that she’s happy that he’s alive, but it’s not really that kind of smile. Although, we’ve seen her pissed off face, and it’s not a smile, so things could be worse.

He runs off of his ship and leaps onto hers. I don’t know why – it didn’t work out so well last time. But he makes it this time. She blasts him, of course. They blast back and forth.

So, we’ve seen them do this before, but never as powerfully: he shoots orange fire, and she shoots blue fire, and it’s a big conflagration around them. Only this time, instead of neutralizing each other, the union explodes and sends them both flying backwards and off the ship. Well, if that’s not metaphorical, I don’t know what is. (Metaphorical for good sex – you did pick up on that, right?)

Now, although it seems like there were equal amounts of each color when the explosion happened, this doesn’t prove that either one was more powerful than the other, or that they were equal. It just seemed to reach some sort of critical mass, and was strong enough to promise mutual destruction. You know, them dueling each other and killing each other might actually have been a preferential ending for me. I would have liked that. I would have felt bad for Iroh, though.

Lucky for Zuko (apparently he’s got luck on his side now), the others have escaped on Appa and they manage to fly over to him in time. Can Appa fly that fast? I don’t know. A human falls pretty fast. Just a few episodes ago Zuko was angry that Appa wasn’t faster.  

He looks back and watches Azula falling.

He’s somber.

“She’s…not gonna make it,” he says slowly, disbelieving. There isn’t much to be seen in his face (the animators did not outdo themselves…perhaps they didn’t want to commit too much to a certain reaction); it’s all in Dante Basco’s delivery. He really gives it his all in that line. The tone is incredible. Zuko is sad, disbelieving, shocked, confused…he’s everything all at once. It’s like they’ve been play fighting all this time, and now he has to face the fact that she is actually going to die, and he’s having difficulty accepting it.

She had just told him that she was going to kill him, and was happy about it, and he’s still upset.

Well, it’s not that easy to take down my girl. Even though she should have brought one more airship to rise up just then, she didn’t really need it. Azula has certainly been in situations where she felt more safe, but she saves herself and isn’t even too shaken to smile after. Well, it’s the hint of a smile. It’s actually the least crazy she’ll look for the rest of the series, if you ask me.

What she does is shoot fire out of her feet, which sends her against the cliff. Brilliant! She slides down the cliff on her feet for a while and the friction slows her down – good thing she’s got nice fireproof shoes (I mean she has to, right? It must be the same stuff used to make The Human Torch’s suit). Somewhere along the way her hair came out, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Now she’s the one who needs my hairbending skills.

Before she even hits the wall we can see her holding something sharp – it looks like a stake, but I’m not sure why she would be holding one of those. It makes more sense if maybe she’s got a few of Mai’s can-pierce-anything daggers. We saw her with something similar in The Day Of Black Sun. She’s smart and pulls it out while she’s still free falling. Then she forces herself over to the rock wall and eventually gets it jammed into a crevice.

Again, Zuko’s face is hard to read as he says “Of course she did.” It’s not somber the way it was before, it’s resentful, perhaps. He’s got to be really torn. On the one hand, he’s relieved, because she’s his sister, and I’m going to assert that he loves her. He’s glad that she hasn’t died.

-

-

Have you seen Aeon Flux? Spoiler: Trevor Goodchild finds out that his brother has gone behind his back to depose him, is now willing to kill him, has killed many pregnant women, has been lying to him for 400 years, has an evil plan for their city, and essentially killed his wife, and he’s still crying and caressing his brother’s face while he dies. That sibling bond can be very strong no matter what its put through.

-

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-

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But on the other hand, she is a major threat to him and his goals. But he certainly didn’t sound relieved when she was falling to her death.

I think his response is very symptomatic of their relationship.

I like the resentment in his tone. It goes right back to Azula’s flawlessness. He’s still jealous. He’s jealous of how awesome she is. And he should be. And I love it. So even though I would have been giddy to hear him sound relieved that she had saved herself, his actual response is almost better. Although, admittedly, the best thing woudl have been Zuko begging the others to help him save her.

There’s a small part of him that would have been proud that he had managed to kill her. And that small part of him is disappointed. It’s reaffirming his inferiority complex.

This makes me wonder: Ursa very obviously not only preferred Zuko, but actively disliked Azula. Azula knew this, and Zuko was older than her. So he must know. He certainly knows after Azula brought it up on the beach, even though she made it sound like she didn’t care. Why doesn’t he take comfort in that? His conflict, his rivalry with Azula goes so deep that it hardly matters that they were balanced out in terms of parental preference.

Zuko turns his face away from her angrily. I think he’s relieved that he gets to go back to hating her. I’m sure that mourning her would have been an extremely disconcerting process for him. It would have been fun if she had faked her death, only to reappear later, throwing him for a loop. You know, I think Zuko goes back to hating her so quickly to cover up the moment of love that he felt. It was too weird – it had to be quelled. The butterflies had to be smothered. Hate is good. Hate is familiar. Hate is reassuring.

Well, I don’t know how good Zuko’s eyesight is: his burned eye seems to work, but it may no longer be 20/20. Azula was pretty far. But I hope he didn’t turn his eyes away before he got to see this:

I’m sorry, but has she ever looked more gorgeous? More glorious? How could he not be madly in love with her?

There’s a lot that’s troubling about this scene between them, but I also like it a lot.

And it’s the last time they see each other before the big show down. The prize fight.

Poor Toph...being blind has never been more depriving

The last episode before the finale Chapter 17: The Ember Island Players, has Zuko taking the gaang to the royal cabin on Ember Island. He makes some good points about why they should be there, but honestly, I think someone on Ember Island would have noticed that the royal house was suddenly occupied, and tried to find out more. I’d like to think that Zuko either goes there to take comfort in the memory of his mother (whom he now believes to be alive), or to test himself. Can he really help kill his father? Can he really take on Azula?

I’d hate to think that that house means nothing to him. If it means something to Azula, then it has to still mean something to him. He’s profaning it by bringing his treasonous mission there.

Azula isn't the only one who likes to stretch!

The upside is shirtless firebending.

Firebending is a lot cooler looking than waterbending. The steps that Zuko and Aang do here remind me of the entrance of the Bulgarian students in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

He tells Katara that his father has been there since “our family was actually happy.” Knowing that there’s happiness in their past, I find it hard to believe what Zuko is willing to do.

Katara explores the house a little, and brings out a picture of Zuko as a giggling baby. Except it’s not Zuko – it’s Ozai. Ha! Cute baby, disturbingly attractive man. This is when I officially decide that killing Ozai is not OK, and get behind Aang’s normally frustrating no-kill policy. I’m such a sucker for pictures of people as kids. It makes me totally want to forgive what they are now.

In this episode, an acting troupe puts on a performance of Aang’s life, and the gaang goes to see it. It’s pretty hilarious, covering all three seasons. In the play, Katara and Zuko are in love, and Katara sees Aang as a brother. It’s pretty mean of the writers, not that the play is generally so off. Aang gets so mad that he storms out.

In the play, Azula defeats Zuko, and Ozai defeats Aang. It’s kind of fun to watch. The gaang walks out of the theater, hating the play, naturally. Here’s a picture of Zuko reacting to play Azula having just killed play-version him. It shows how scared he is. It’s precious.

Ozai doesn’t sound any less evil in the play than he does in the rest of the show, and the crowd is cheering him on full force. I think Zuko has his work cut out for him.

Finally, one of my major fears about Zuko turning good was that he would become a different person. You know – he’s angry because he’s confused because he’s not sure if he knows right from wrong. So, it seems like he’d be at peace once he got everything all worked out, and wasn’t confused anymore. But he’s still angry. He’s impatient. Selfish. Snappy. He hasn’t changed…at all. Well, he does make tea for the gaang and attempt a joke (and fails…just like Azula…and Katara), but other than that. That was a relief. Zuko still isn’t that great of a guy.

Zuko: "Quit trying to cheat off me!"

When Zuko and Aang visit the dragons, they are supposed to take fire up to the bridge. Aang’s fire goes out, and he tries to get Zuko to give away some of his, but Zuko won’t.

Aang: "Don't be stingy!"

Sokka (to Zuko) says something(in The Boiling Rock)  to the effect of: “Fine. You caught me. I’m going to get my dad. Are you happy now?”

And Zuko responds: “I’m never happy.”

Yay!

I also think its important to note that Zuko, after joining Aang, never stops wearing his Fire Nation clothing. He’s not as decked out as he was at the palace, and his hair is down, but he’s still in the red and gold of the Fire Nation. And he continues to refer to himself as the crown prince.  While he may have left the Fire Nation and joined the enemy, he clearly doesn’t consider this to be permanent. He was in no way giving up on his future as the leader of the Fire Nation. In fact, Zuko is just as ambitious as other members of his family, his ambitions are just more noble.

And he makes a Freudian slip, referring to Ozai as the “Father Lord” and not “Fire Lord”. That was a great touch by the writers. This is as close as we get to second thoughts. In fact, I think a more nuanced portrayal would have shown some more hesitancy on Zuko’s part.  I think it would have been pretty realistic to see him constantly torn. I mean, after all, he does tell us that there was a time when his family was happy. As angry as he is with Daddy, this whole thing ought to be eating him alive, even as he realizes that he’s doing the right thing for the world. And if Zuko remembers his grandfather, then he should realize that his father had a relationship with his own father which was  less than rosy.

As it is, this is all we get. The slip shows that Zuko is either thinking very much about the fact that he’s helping Aang kill his father, or he’s making an effort not to think about it at all, but it pops up because you can’t successfully repress something like that for too long. When Aang (or is it Sokka?) points out the slip that Zuko made, he gets defensive and goes into denial.

Just things to note.

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19 Responses to The Zuko/Azula Shipper’s Guide To/Optimistic Interpretation of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – a.k.a. Contentbending In Pursuit Of Flamin’-Hot Incestuous Love, a.k.a. Delusions Of Zucest – Part IV of V: Episodes 46-57

  1. Ashok Jaiswal says:

    Very nice………….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your texts sound like you are obsessed with the idea of intercursions and your dislike to Mai against your likedom to Azula’s figure leads you to missinterpretations alot. You even interprete their speech in the royal spa as sexual indices???!!! An opened mouth????? You should reconsider if your universe isn’t way too focused on intercursions – for your sake.
    It is partially eerie the way you seem to think.
    Example the bedroom scene by Azula: If someone nows how people are, he would never see something of a special relation between Azula and Zuko. 1. Zuko enters not cause of his right to do s! He has quite different problems than that. He can’t figure out that Azula lied to Ozai to control him. This troubled him so much he couldn’t wait. And it is completely normal to not knock at the sister’s door, though not good form in general – he has other problems than that. The shadow you interprete is eerie! Of course light comes through the door and throws Zuko’s shadow onto the blanket. If intentioned meaning anything, the creators would have drawn it quite differently. And her walk is exclusively for the show of her speech. Yes he watches her, of course. But not delighted. Ho only wants to figure out of her.
    Zuko shows no signs of affection at all for her. Noone would with that family history. The only genuine feelings Azula shows are her envy for everyone’s social life in the 3. book, her solitude created by Mai’s love to Zuko, Ty Lee’s friendship to Mai, and by Ozai’s nonaffectuous departure from her, and so, her logical hatred for Zuko, but also the only caring scene of her to Zuko concerning the visits in the prison.
    This series has no sign of brothersistercouplelove at all. It would have been widely known otherwise.
    Your texts are sobing wet of your desire to find brothersistercouplelove or even abnormal indices of intercursions in the story (e.g. royal spa) and you change the meaning of many scenes for that and your personal opinions of the characters in a massive way. And in an eerie way.

    • Astrid says:

      Well, I appreciate the fact that you read the entry and took the time to comment. I don’t actually disagree completely with anything you said. But it’s important to note that I was never trying to persuade anyone to believe that Zuko and Azula have incestuous feelings for each other, I was merely presenting a possible interpretation of their relationship. I myself don’t believe that the writers, voice actors, etc. intended for me to interpret the relationship the way I did. But I enjoyed shipping Zuko and Azula and amused myself with examining their scenes with that kin of angle, and I simply shared my thinking. I understand why I am in the minority for shipping Zuko and Azula, and for liking/rooting for Azula in general. I would hardly expect anyway who is totally grossed out by brother/sister incest to enjoy what I write on this blog, but I think I make it pretty clear what kind of content is to be found here, and my recommendation is: Don’t like? Don’t Read.

  3. Anonymous says:

    thanks for posting this blog, I loooove Zuko and Azula ship!

  4. Randal says:

    Eh, no comment on the actual subject of the post except to note you have an impressive attention to detail, but there’s one thing I would like to point out:

    That “stake” Azula uses to catch herself when she’s falling in the “Western Air Temple” episode is her hair-piece. The pointy flame-shaped crown thingie she’s always wearing on her topknot. -That’s- why her hair comes loose. While falling, she has the presence of mind remember her hairpiece is made of some kind of strong metal, grab it, and use it to save herself. She’s just that awesome.

    • Astrid says:

      I did not know that. Wow, that is an really cool detail. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite scenes, and definitely one of Azula’s crowning moments, so I’m happy to know more about it. That kind of presence of mind is exactly what makes her who she is. I suppose I should have figured that out, but that kind of wind pressure would make anyone’s hair fall out of its do so I never considered she had actually removed that part of her hair piece.

      Thanks! And thanks for sharing!

  5. Taka says:

    I really like your in-depth psychological analyses. I may be a bit guilty of bias here because I already love Zucest and Azula in general. Fortunately, though the post-series manga prove that Azula was placed in an asylum, she wasn’t there for long and Zuko lets her go free (^.^). She even seems to be of perfectly sound mind and she’s still the same Azula we know and love. I also agree with your position on Maiko, but that’s not really relevant. Through your analyses, I did pick up on evidence of possible Tyzula (by far my favorite ship from any series ever, though Zucest certainly comes in at a close second). Though it’s more along the lines of, Ty Lee is a lesbian (or perhaps more likely, bisexual) and has a crush on Azula and Azula either doesn’t notice, doesn’t care, or perhaps is even willing to humor her without letting it go too far. (Let’s just pretend that The Boiling Rock never happened and call it a day.) I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that’s my piece. Now, for part 5 of the post. :3

    • Astrid says:

      Thank you!!!! While I would love to hear that I had converted someone to Zucest, I wrote these for readers who already considered themselves shippers, so your bias is very welcome.

      I haven’t really heard anything about this post-series manga. I am perfectly comfortable in not counting something like that as canon, but I am also very pleased to hear that Zuko lets her out and that she becomes more-or-less the same Azula we love so much. I’ve been dreading that she’ll be mentioned on Legend of Korra, which, again, I am comfortable as excluding from my Azula canon, but it would still hurt to hear she had died in the asylum or some such thing.

      It’s very nice to here you agree with me about Maiko. I fully recognize that being a Zucest shipper was a factor in that for me, but I still feel that Zuko and Mai were not right for each other, and she’s not the right woman to be the first lady of the Fire Nation.

      Ty Lee is one of my favorite characters, and I understand the allure of Tyzula. You’re not the only one who wishes The Boiling Rock had never happened! I like your headcanon of Ty Lee maybe having a crush on Azula that Azula tolerates. I wish we had had more episodes like The Beach to learn more about them and their relationship.

      I really appreciate you commenting – it means a lot to me to get feedback about what I’ve written and just to have some community with other fans!

      • It’s save to watch the first season of Korra. It doesn’t mention Azula, it only teases the mystery of her and Zuko’s mom a little further but that’s it.

        You might be a little peeved to see that lightning generation has become pretty mainstream over the years though. And BTW, Zuko is alive so he’ll probably make an appearance in later seasons.

        About the post-series comic. The Search seems promising but don’t get the Promise that comes before it. It’s not written very well (even if it does end Maiko).

        • Astrid says:

          I actually did end up watching The Legend of Korra, despite the fact that I said I probably wouldn’t. You’re right, it has been safe so far, to my relief. But I suppose it’s only a matter of time before Azula is mentioned, especially now that we’ve met one of Zuko’s descendants. I didn’t remember it being mentioned that Zuko was alive – that’s even more frightening, honestly.

          You’re right, it does bother me that lightning is more commonplace. Azula was still a prodigy for her time, but I would like her to still be considered an unparalleled firebender.

          So there’s a post-series comic that breaks up Mai and Zuko? I’m surprised, but pleased. I doubt I’ll ever read either The Search or The Promise, but I am interested in what happens.

          All the same, as far as I’m concerned, canon ends with episode 61, no matter what happens in the comics or on Korra. But I truly appreciate your comments – they were very helpful. I’ll have to follow up on The Search.

          Thanks so much!

  6. Himitsu says:

    I enjoy your content bending. I am not a huge fan of the Book of Fire after The Beach episode. The season did have its moments. Thank you for mentioning all the times Azula did not kill Zuko. She could’ve killed Zuko on more than one occasion. I think it was because she cared about Zuko. She actually did need him like she said in Crossroads. Zuko continued to go to Azula with his insecurities and questions because he knew she had the answers. Even if she lied, he wanted it to be the truth. She gave him comfort in her own way. I’m glad you mentioned how she responded to him. Many people dismiss her responses as being mean or condescending. That was not case she was honest with him but blunt or serious. That’s the way she shows she cares like when Toph hits people to show affection.

    Azula and Zuko’s relationship was more layered than a simple brother sister rivalry. I think Iroh saw that, and he wasn’t a fan of Azula’s influence. Azula knew Iroh could influence Zuko as well. Maybe that’s why Iroh was so eager sever Zuko’s ties to Azula. If Zuko were torn because of Roku being his grandfather, wouldn’t that mean Azula would have the same issue at some level. That deep down there is good in her. It would’ve been interesting to see Zuko’s reaction to that. Instead Iroh isolates Zuko. Now he can’t run to Azula. He thinks there’s no way she would understand or could help. It was actually a good strategy it made things less complicated for the show.

    Day of the Black Sun: Loved the episode because of Azula’s awesomeness. Still think it was messed up of Ozai to send his 14 year-old daughter, who has lost her fire bending, to face the Avatar and an army/ navy.

    Boiling Rock had good parts and bad. Ty Lee, Mai, and Azula friendship break up boo. They were like my favorite girl band :). Zuko’s break up tweet, I mean letter was actually funny. I watched the episode again a couple of months ago and kept picturing Zuko sending a direct twitter message @Mai I’m sorry you have to find out this way, but I’m leaving. Then he changes his Facebook status :)

    Azula was slipping into madness the last time she faced Zuko before the Angi Kai. She was under way too much pressure for a 14 year-old, and she had been betrayed too many times for anyone. When I think of her, I think about those kids in Japan that committed suicide because they couldn’t live up to being perfect. I like the Ellie connection. Ellie’s father contributed to her mental issue. Fathers can screw up their daughters even if their daughters are powerful. However, Ursa played a big role in Azula’s demise. Have you read The Search trilogy?

    • Astrid says:

      I also don’t enjoy the show as much after The Beach. There are some good scenes but I enjoyed it a lot more up until that episode.

      I totally agree about Azula. If she had been absolutely determined to kill Zuko she could have easily gotten it done. I think her conflicted feelings were part of what started driving her crazy. And also all the pressure that she was under, to be perfect, to succeed. And needing someone who was there for her, and having no one.

      Those are great points about Iroh. I think he definitely feared Azula’s influence, and he almost definitely encouraged Zuko to cut ties with her as much as possible.

      LOL at Zuko’s break up tweet and change in facebook status!

      I’m not familiar with the Search trilogy, sorry.

      It has been so nice to talk with someone else who ships Zuko/Azula most and who doesn’t like Zuko/Mai. I really want to thank you for all of your comments and the discussion and insight you brought. I’m so glad you enjoyed my commentary on the series. You have no idea how happy it makes me to know that someone appreciated it.

  7. Mac says:

    I find myself disagreeing with about 50 percent of what you’re saying here, but dang if it isn’t so much fun anyway to revisit one of my favorite series through different eyes. And you’re so thorough! (I actually had briefly entertained an idea of Azuko happening, I just don’t see nearly as much love involved. I see her doing it to screw with his head. I like thinking of Azula as a sociopath. It’s not very often you get to see a female character be one, and I very much disliked “The Beach” for attempting to reconstruct that, weakening her armor. And I enjoy thinking of Zuko as essentially being in her thrall, an even odder situation given that he’s older, and yet has been scared of her since forever. Zuko feels so many things, and everything so hyper-intensely, that for Azula he’s the most fascinating case study available for the experience her actual brain structure bars her from having. Until “The Beach” retconned it. Ah well. We all have dreams.)

    Firebending, by the way, would not destroy her shoes. Firebenders don’t come into contact with their fire — according to the guys who conceptualized the different bending techniques, firebending is the ability to manipulate their chi to superheat the air around them. So there’s a small distance between their skin and the flames — this is why it still makes sense that Zuko, a firebender himself, could be burned when Ozai’s fire actually touched him. (And it looks cool beacuse it’s kung fu! :-) As opposed to waterbending, which is based on tai chi movements. Actually I find them oddly complementary.)

    Somebody else pointed out the pin thing. :-) I didn’t hear sadness in Zuko’s voice at that point — he was stunned into shock and disbelief that his invincible sister could even be capable of dying. He would have been sad later, I’m sure. (I believe he was sincerely sad for her at the Last Great Agni Kai. *I* was sad for her at the Last Great Agni Kai, in no small part because Grey De Lisle is amazing in all respects.) I don’t think Azula would have been sad if the situation was reversed, especially since he’d escaped her thrall by then — she showed way too much glee as a little girl watching him get his face burned off for me to buy it. Azula liked to keep Zuko around because playthings are fun, and Zuko — poor Zuko — was *easy*. When he was no longer easy, he became disposable, an object of rage instead of amusement.

    I still feel that even though Azula was sociopathic, she could have been molded into something approaching a protagonist if she hadn’t had Ozai as a father. Ursa was straight up scared of her, but at least tried to discipline her — but Ozai encouraged her xenophobia and contempt of her brother and of anyone who wasn’t ‘as good as’ she was, as a princess, prodigy, and member of the Fire Nation. I nearly wept during the Last Great Agni Kai, thinking of how amazing it would have been circumstances could have been altered so that the pair of them could have fought side by side, with Zuko with an unbroken moral compass and Azula… less dedicated to causing him pain. :-)

    I don’t hate Mai — I hate Mai as a “good guy.” As a lazy villain she was appropriate and very funny. As a person on the side of righteousness she makes no sense. And AtLA’s one single flaw, IMO, was this idea that you’re obligated to like someone back just because they like you, which is why I can’t bring myself to ship Mai/Zuko or Katara/Aang — at least, not until they’ve all gone their separate ways and matured some. Actually, I feel that way about all the children on this show. Pair up when you’re grown up, jeeze. Sokka and Suki can stay together. They seem to make each other happy properly and there is consent in their relationship.

    Anyway, very belated thanks for a very fun read! You put a great deal of work into this. Off to read the last bit and then go to bed, finally…

    • Astrid says:

      I’m so happy you enjoyed reading all of this craziness that I wrote. I was really in a state, wasn’t I? I hope it was clear that I was just putting forth a possible interpretation, and not trying to make any assertions about authorial intent. (It’s been a long time since I wrote this/read over it, so it’s hard for me to remember. It was some of my earliest work on this blog and my style has evolved a little.)

      Personally I don’t enjoy seeing Azula as a total sociopath whose only out to mess with Zuko and in the end would like to see him dead (obviously, lol), but I can’t argue that it doesn’t make sense. A lot of that is probably just me – I never enjoy totally sociopathic characters. In either case she’s a rich character, and a fabulous one, and I miss her all the time.

      It would have definitely been interesting to her abilities directed as a force for good, even though she probably could never have been good herself. An AU with her at Zuko’s side would interest me to no end. The Agni Kai between them is heartbreaking.

      • Mac says:

        You were very clear on your intent, and it was fun! (And hey, aren’t I doing the same thing? I didn’t write the thing, and can only interpret.)

        The past couple of years, I’ve been working on a doctorate, and the concept of sociopathic characters in fiction has come up, and it’s really a fascinating area. The main surprise for me was to learn that sociopathy doesn’t have to equal violence, hate, or anything like that. What it is, is a lack of empathy, or in milder cases reduced empathy, or the the ability to turn empathy off, bound up in the way the amygdala has formed. Pure sociopaths are incapable of grasping why the neurotypical experience emotions, and some of them make a study of it, which can lead to manipulation of others just to observe, almost scientifically. Most learn to mimic the outward behaviors. And some of them drive themselves to ever more intense experiences in order to approximate emotion. (And of course, they’re not all pure sociopaths and can feel some things. It’s a spectrum.)

        So yes, there are a lot of criminals and dictators who were sociopaths due to a reduced capacity to feel — but on the other hand, and the thing that fascinates me most, is that one of the professions with the highest number of sociopaths in it is surgeons. It serves them very well, because when they get to the operating table they can turn off any worry and fear and go directly to the precise, lifesaving motions that they know will work, they don’t have the panic that will throw them off their game, they clinically calculate the pros and cons, and they don’t second-guess themselves into dangerous hesitations. It’s a case of competence elevated to almost a superpower. It’s AWESOME. :-) (This is why the creators gave her blue fire — it was pointed out in commentary that her bending is honed and pure and isn’t driven by emotion, by anger or rage. Her only drive when you see her in the beginning is perfection of the discipline, bending for bending’s sake. It simply flows, effortlessly, thus it burns far hotter. It’s also why she can produce lightning at such a young age without killing herself, where Zuko has to do yoga breathing and can only redirect. It’s also why Zuko will never match her — and seriously, he’s a pretty amazing bender in his own right. She is the only one in the series who can make him look bad, which makes it even clearer just what a phenomenon she is.)

        I read one true life account of a surgeon who was a sociopath (but without the criminal or violent component) who never did anyone any harm at all, and indeed did a massive amount of good — what he noticed about his life, mainly, was that his wife was unhappy not because he treated her poorly but because he treated her like anyone else — he could could see, but he couldn’t internalize, why emotional attachment should make him treat some people better or more intimately than others. I think this is an aspect of the condition that many fiction writers miss, when they go straight for the scary, deadpan-violent cliches. (The closest they come are people like House, but House totally has emotions, he’s just bitter, an antihero.)

        This is why I always stress that if Azula had been molded correctly in childhood she could have been spectacular — even a spectacular, genius-level force for good, against what Ozai became. Competence as superpower.

        The lack of that upbringing is heartbreaking for me — it really comes to the fore in scenes such as the one where Ozai left her behind. She wanted to please him, as is normal for children, and in her head, pleasing him meant being better-than, opposite-to Zuko. Her pleasing Father meant Zuko had to be a nothing, and she had to be everything, flawless. That’s Ozai’s doing. He pitted them against each other from the start when they ought to have been a team.

        (Granted, Ozai obviously has some serious head issues himself. I can only feel bad for Ursa, as she was given to Ozai at a young age and had no say — as royal marriages do tend to go, in general — thrown headlong into that family where generations of suck had already led to an atmosphere where telling Ozai to KILL HIS TEN-YEAR-OLD CHILD was considered reasonable punishment for saying mean things about Iroh’s son. No wonder Ozai thought setting his children on fire was a logical act. And Ursa was NOT a trained psychiatrist to be dealing with these people, poor kid, oh my god.)

        Then again, if Zuko and Azula had been a functional team, there probably would not have been much hope for the rest of the planet… :)

        I know they had to mess with Azula’s competence in the end, but I wish it had been done… differently. Sigh. Usually I’m better at coming up with fictional alternatives, but this one has stumped me for years now.

        In my headcanon Azula regained her composure while in hospital, put on a veneer of religious piety, became a figure of sainthood to those members of the Fire Nation who didn’t want to give up their empire, and started a religious faction to attempt to overthrow Zuko. I have not decided if she was successful. Did I mention Zuko is my favorite character? I’m so mean in my headcanon.

        I’m sorry for going on at such length! I found your series via a completely random Googling, and got totally sucked in. I’ve had AtLA on the brain for a while now, as I am not liking Legend of Korra anywhere near as much. The original has so much attention to detail, in setting, magic system, belief systems, and characterization.

        ——————————————–
        P.S. Mai and Zuko broke up in the comics, by the way. So far nobody knows who the canonic mother of Zuko’s children is! (I *really wish the pacing of Book 3 had been better — then they wouldn’t have had to fill in so many holes later on with comics, though I have to say I have enjoyed them. It’s not the same kind of love, but they scratch an itch.)

        • Astrid says:

          Fascinating stuff about sociopathy! I would never had guessed that so many became surgeons, but that makes sense. (Congrats on pursuing a doctorate, by the way. That’s awesome.) It seems hard for me to imagine that without empathy they wouldn’t end up being destructive, ultimately, but I can certainly conceptualize that they wouldn’t be particularly prone towards violence or crime. I bet, in attempting to mimic society in order to fit in, their outward behavior is better than most peoples’.

          Yes, poor Ursa. She was not equipped to be dealing with these people and their issues, lol.

          I LOVE your headcanon for Azula post the series. I’m rooting for her!

          I’m not liking Korra nearly as much either. I just keep watching it anyway.

          Well, I know I said I don’t consider the comics canon but I am very pleased to hear that Zuko and Mai broke up. :)

      • Mac says:

        Oh, and —

        I don’t think that technical sociopathy precludes attachment. STRONG attachment. I believe [my version of] Azula would have been like a cat who got into the cream if Zuko had died in the gorge at the Boiling Rock that day — for a while. She was that furious. At that point. But ultimately, the loss of Zuko would have destroyed her, and to my mind it would have been a more logical self-destruct than the one the show put her through over Ozai’s rejection and Ursa’s perceived rejection.

        (I still don’t believe Ursa loved her less. I believe that she had no training in dealing with a non-neurotypical child, and that the Fire Nation Royal Family was the absolute worst place in the universe for such a child to begin with. So not so much with the “born lucky” in that respect, for Azula. Young mom in a hostile environment has one kid who’s cuddly and a hugger, and another kid who has a condition she’s not familiar with, is not a hugger, doesn’t quite get why terrifying her– easily terrified! — brother is wrong, is unnaturally good at lying [canon!], and is really, really good with fire.** The hugger is going to get hugged. This even happens in families with neurotypical children, just due to the vagaries of personality. Parents gravitate to the child who appears to be more sensitive because they perceive more need in that child. Zuko, highly emotional, actively sought out comfort from his mother. It’s not wrong to be an undemonstrative kid, but I do not at all believe Ursa would have pushed Azula away if she had approached, or would have actually told her to go away while she read Zuko stories. Azula was simply born with more inner equilibrium than Zuko would ever have. Ozai on the other hand was just a d*ck. Ursa may have been too inexperienced to deal, but Ozai blatantly saw his children as tools for his use. Even the fact that he had them at all was, for him, just a tool to usurp his brother — what got him in trouble was that he said this aloud. There are some really good Ozai/Zuko scenes in the comic “The Promise.” They’re not perfect, the comics, but there are moments.)

        ** [Note that Ursa can't firebend, and is also vulnerable that way amongst that family. The Fire Nation, being the least spiritually balanced, has the greatest number of non-benders per capita, while in the super-spiritual Air Nation, everyone was a bender. Being a nonbender with a bender baby, especially fire, is a scary concept.] [Tangent -- there is a ridiculously cute AU fic I came across once, where for some reason child Zuko was being raised with Sokka and Katara in the Southern water tribe. Baby Katara, who was about three, started telling oversensitive Zuko that Sokka didn't want to play with him anymore, and he should come and practice bending with her instead -- and non-bending mom had to listen to everyone and figure out the problem and sort it all out -- Katara was jealous because the boys were ignoring her without realizing; it was the only way she could figure out to make them pay attention, and the bending was a childish pretext.]

        Honestly, I’m not much of a romantic shipper in general, or much of a romantic at all, in my life, but I believe Zuko and Azula did have an incredible bond, and that in the end, if not at the start, Azula might have needed it even more than Zuko did, in order to define herself. So much of her idea of self was being “not Zuko,” as if he were the setting to her diamond, a dynamic fostered and stoked by Ozai. Rage made her attack him at the jail and might have satisfied her for a short time, but she would ultimately have been nothing to herself without Zuko to shine against. (She’s still be great to the rest of us, but we’re talking about her own brain here. :-) )

        And ultimately she was healthy for Zuko, in a twisted way. His personality is kind of amazing in a way I don’t often see in fiction: He’s used to failure, he expects failure, he even sees himself as worthy of failure and yet he keeps going anyway. Because reasons. It was trendy in fandom to call him a whiner, especially among Maiko shippers, but he really isn’t. All through the first two books, when he does talk about his (very much justified) emotions, it’s to unconscious people, or the sky, or himself (“The Beach” aside *shudder*). I was seriously uncomfortable watching him infiltrate the North Pole from underwater, as that is one of my worst nightmare death scenarios — trapped in freezing water while in perfect viewing distance of light and air and safety. He’s fully aware of his own competence, but he’s not completely unafraid. He puts himself into that on purpose, and has NO self esteem, and just… does it anyway, because it has to be done. (Or his pep talk to Sokka! “Look, Sokka, you’re going to fail a lot before things work out….
        But even though you’ll probably fail over and over and over again… you have to try every time. You can’t quit because you’re afraid you *might* fail. “
        It is to both laugh and cry… because he’s right! He’s absolutely right, but what kind of life has he had to teach a 16-year-old kid that??) These are the types of people all the self-help books tell us are the ones who really succeed, the ones who never give up even when all logic and sense says they really should think about giving the hell up, and I don’t think he’d have been able to become that kind of person without Azula. Ozai alone would have just broken him, destroyed him. Not given him anything to prove himself against, just given him cause to curl up and wilt.

        He’s her setting — she’s his whetstone.

        *shuts up now* :-) :-)

        • Astrid says:

          Thank you so much for all of the interesting discussion! It has been a while since I’ve watched ATLA but Zuko and Azula will be precious to me forever and it’s such a great series with so much depth – there’s so much to mine in the relationships and the characterizations.

          I agree about Azula’s relationships with her mother and with Zuko. If Azula had actively sought affection from Ursa then she would have received it. Ursa just didn’t quite know how to be a mother to her, and you can’t blame her, because Azula was terrifying, and not only because of the bending. And Azula, being the younger sister, defining herself as “not Zuko”, is so important.

          I can see her doing something out of rage that she would regret later, though her dispassion is part of what I loved so much about her in the beginning.

          Zuko really is an amazing character. Never giving up, always trying to better than he is, making the right choice even when it’s the most difficult. His arc was amazing.

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