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 II Of V: Episodes 28-40

Voilà the thrilling and long-awaited sequel to my shipper-goggles analysis of Zuko/Azula scenes from the first two seasons of the animated television show. What? You mean those two adjectives aren’t an accurate description of this post? Well, most of that sentence was true anyway. Be sure to check out Part I, which covers all of the first season and the first seven episodes of the second season, a.k.a. Book 2. It’ll also refer you to two of my earlier posts on the franchise. Links for the three posts that cover the third season are at the bottom.

I’ll pick up here with Chapter 8: The Chase, another personal favorite.

The way the show is set up, Aang, Katara, and Sokka are the A plot, and Zuko and Uncle Iroh are the B plot. So where does Azula fit in? The villain often makes up the marginal C plot, but Azula is more complicated than the typical villain because she’s Zuko’s sister and daughter of the series-long adversary which renders her indisposable, and also wildly entertaining and deserving of more than a few shadowy threats here and there. The writers seem to have compromised and forced Zuko to share the B plot with Azula, which means they’re either together, or they trade off. So in Chapter 1: The Avatar State, they shared screen time. In Chapter 2: The Cave of Two Lovers, Zuko got all of the scenes and Azula had none. In Chapter 3: Return To Omashu, Azula got all of the B plot scenes and Zuko was no where to be found. And so on.

After Chapter 7: Zuko Alone, which featured Zuko in the A plot and Zuko/Azula flashbacks in the B plot, I would have expected us to get an episode light on them, but instead we got the opposite: Azula in the B plot, and a lengthy Act II featuring Azula, Aang, and Zuko all together.

It’s great!

The plot of the episode is rather simple. Appa, Aang’s enormous flying bison and his group’s means of transportation, has been shedding, allowing Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai to track their prey. As if their Fire Nation train-thing wasn’t enough, they’re also riding giant lizard things as well, which may be the same creatures we saw in the attack on the Northern Water Tribe City.

Aang finally figures it out, and so they give Appa a thorough washing (even Momo helps)…

…and then use some of the hair to create a false trail. Azula is not easily outsmarted: she sends Mai and Ty Lee in Appa’s true direction, and follows the ruse herself.

Aang, who doesn’t know who is following him, decides to wait and face his opponent.

When Ty Lee sees the matted hair flowing down the river, she is trying to remember a certain word – “clumps” – which Mai supplies. Ty Lee hugs her, and Mai looks distinctly uncomfortable. She and Zuko have a lot in common. Too much, in fact, is my conclusion. They’re too similar.

Considering the fact that neither Ty Lee nor Mai seem able to firebend, they certainly manage to hold up pretty well against the waterbending Katara and boomerang-wielding Sokka. In fact, they defeat them, but Appa takes them by surprise and sends them flying with a wag of his tail. So, they lost the fight in the end, of course, but we could hardly have expected anything different, just as we expect them to get away, which they do. Not that Katara and Sokka really had the means of arresting them.

Ty Lee makes us like her even more when she notes that Sokka was “kinda cute”.

Aang’s newest groupie, Toph, an earthbender, is on the outs with the group and heads off on her own, only to run into Uncle Iroh, who has been following Zuko around.

“Is he lost?” Toph asks.

“A little,” Iroh replies. Ha! Obviously that’s true in a metaphorical sense, but I don’t have any trouble imagining Zuko going around in circles, and Iroh shaking his head to himself as he followed close behind.

The conversation between Toph and Iroh is kind of beautiful.

“You sound like my nephew – always thinking that you need to do things on your own, without anyone’s support. There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you,” Iroh says. “I know he doesn’t want me around right now. But if he needs me, I’ll be there.”

He helps her to understand the root of her troubles with Katara and the gang, and she says to him: “Oh, and about your nephew: maybe you should tell him that you need him too.”

And then Iroh takes a thoughtful sip of his tea. Awwww. Breaks my heart.

So, Azula catches up with Aang. He demands to know who she is.

“You mean you haven’t guessed? You don’t see the family resemblance? Here’s a hint: ‘I must find the Avatar to restore my honor’,” she imitates, covering one of her eyes. Aang gives her a dead stare, and I’m not sure I understand why: he didn’t get the impression, wasn’t in the mood to humor her, or didn’t appreciate her mocking Zuko.

She says: “It’s OK, you can laugh: it’s funny.”

Sorry, Azula, but it really wasn’t that funny. I still like that you did it, though. And it’s OK: Aang will find you funny in a second.

I think it’s very interesting that Azula chose to identify herself through Zuko. She could have said, “I’m Azula, daughter of the Fire Lord,” or, “I’m the Fire Princess”, or “I’m here to capture you for the Fire Nation,” but instead she says the equivalent of “I’m Zuko’s sister.”

I’m not sure exactly how much Aang knows about Zuko, so this identification for Azula isn’t even particularly informative.

So, again I say, interesting choice. It certainly wasn’t for our benefit: we’re all well aware of who she is. She has plenty of identify away from Zuko, we don’t think of her as Zuko’s sister anymore. What else could this be but a demonstration of the fact that she is thinking about him. That’s the way that she chooses to identify herself.

Just picture it without the giant lizard

So, parts of the Earth Kingdom bear curious resemblances to the Old West. In certain cases, the architecture is clearly of Eastern inspiration, and even if it wasn’t, the coolie hats certainly take us out of Deadwood. But the location of the showdown in The Chase, which is also where Zuko and Iroh are during the next episode, makes we wonder where the saloon is.

“Do you really want to fight me?” Azula asks as they stare each other down. I’d say it’s high noon, but it looks more like dusk.

“Yes, I really do!” declares Zuko, popping out of nowhere on his noble steed and leaping off gracefully. Too bad that’s the only time he ever makes that landing, whereas Azula the cat is allergic to falling on her derriere.

I know that ostriches are supposed to be quite fast, but the ostrich-horse just doesn’t seem like it would have the speed and stealth that’s attributed to it during Zuko’s entrance. He removes his coolie hat, revealing his idendity in a manner that would normally be way too cool for him, and says his line.

“Zuko!” Aang exclaims, his eyes wide. There is fear and surprise in his voice, but there’s something else too. I think there’s a part of Aang that admires Zuko. He’s always saving Zuko’s life and trying to be friends with him. Aang has never even seen the worthy side of Zuko and yet he has always believed in the better part of him. When Aang says his name, there’s almost awe.

“I was wondering when you’d show up, Zuzu,” Azula says.

So much there!

First: I’m delighted to hear Zuko’s nickname back again. It’s great for all of the reasons I listed before, but by using it twice Azula truly establishes it and that is wonderful.

Second: Azula may be understandably contemptuous of Zuko’s skills (she fought him off with her bare hands the last time they squared off), but this line shows that she has a certain amount of faith in his abilities; she was expecting him to find the Avatar. If she was expecting what impresses me, then she must think much higher of him than I thought, because I was impressed that Zuko found Aang.

Well, Azula gets her laugh from Aang. “Zuzu?” he repeats to himself, snickering. That look on his face is priceless.

“Zuzu?”

I have to give Azula some (more) credit, because it seems like she really sized Aang up right away. One of the first things she said to him was a joke, and now she’s showing off the cracks in her family’s foundations without a second thought: it’s like she already knows that Aang isn’t going to play dirty games with them. He’s going to fight them head on. She doesn’t need to be anything other than who she is around him. Does that make sense what I just wrote?

“Back off, Azula…he’s mine,” Zuko says, taking up a stance with one ready hand aimed towards Aang and the other ready hand towards her. He’s facing her, which he’s wise to do because she’s the real threat. Aang and Uncle Iroh are the only ones in Zuko’s fan club (aside from me), whereas Azula’s putting up wanted posters for him. So, this is silly, but I love the way that Zuko/Dante Basco says, “he’s mine”, and the little side to side motion the animators did with Zuko’s eyes.

I swear I could watch that little 5-second part over and over and over again. He looks younger here, but also better than he ever has before.

Azula is amused at first, her arms crossed.

Then she assumes an offensive position (as in “on the offense”, and not as in “indecent exposure”, unfortunately): “I’m not going anywhere,” she says, and credit where credits due – Grey DeLisle did that line great. There’s menace, confidence, and still that hint of amusement, while still at the same time taking him seriously.

I feel like they both kind of show their hands here. If Zuko was loyal to the Fire Nation, than he would put capturing the Avatar above the petty matter of who did it. He freed the Avatar before from Zhao’s possession, but that was under the guise of the Blue Spirit, and no one knew that it was him. In this case he’s showing Azula directly that it’s more important for him to capture the Avatar himself rather than help her to capture him for the Fire Nation.

On the other hand, Azula could have said: “Zuko, we’ll get him together, and I’ll make sure that you get the credit.” But she’s just not that nice. If Zuko didn’t already know, he now does that she’s not on his side.

So, the three of them are in a triangle. Zuko and Azula favor staring at each other for a long time, but then they eventually begin all looking at each other, wondering who is going to make the first move.

I could have told you it was going to be Azula. She shoots some blue fire at Zuko, knocking him down. He makes some fire of his own, but not in time. I can understand why she would put him out of commission considering the last time they saw each other he attacked her, but I think she should have focused on Aang and not worried so much about  Zuko. Even if Zuko did capture Aang, Azula could probably have gotten Aang from Zuko herself later, if she really wanted to. Though that would have been petty of her.

Aang tries to fly away on his staff/glider: Fire Nation, listen to me: destroy that thing! He’s certainly not powerless without it, but he uses it a lot and it might be good to take it away from him.

She shoots Aang down, and they struggle a bit in the street – her shooting, him running. Zuko bounces back up pretty quickly, and it’s the three of them again giving it their all. Aang never uses any airbending, though. At first it seems like Zuko and Azula are focusing on Aang, but it’s not long before they’re just fighting each other.

Zuko leaps at her – I don’t know how, because no human could jump like that, but no mind.

It’s a pretty awesome move: fire starts coming out of his feet while he spins a circle in the air, and then he hands and blows up like a bomb. Azula is not caught unawares, and she’s quickly created a blue-fire wave of her own.

They’re both in total conflagration, but the coloring seems to be equal, and it burns away with no one hurt. Is it possible that they had equal strength? I don’t know.

While so close that they could be touching, they shoot at each other, but they keep missing.

Aang is apparently forgotten. It’s easy to understand why they would get so wrapped up in each other that they would completely forget why they were there.

Azula eventually creates a fireball so powerful that Zuko has to leap backwards and away, and she shifts her attention to Aang.

She chases him inside of a building, which has no interior, no floors, only walls. Aang is floating on an air ball in the middle. Azula almost goes flying off the edge, but our nimble girl manages to keep her balance. However, Zuko comes flying in after and free falls down to the ground. Poor Zuko. I mean, the building did look sort of condemned, but who would honestly expect it not to have a floor?

When Zuko falls, Aang freaks out. I don’t know if he’s upset that his dear Zuko fell (literally, hee!) for the deceit intended for his sister, or whether he’s realizing that he’s like fish in a barrel for Azula now.

He manages to get away, knocking her down, but she lands on her feet like the cat she is, just as Zuko is lifting himself up.

We head back outside to Aang, leaving Azula and Zuko inside for five whole seconds doing things that we cannot see. I wonder about the looks they exchanged (there wasn’t time for much else, unfortunately) before Azula apparently shoots Zuko right out of the building.

He’s out for the count this time. And this is the point at which I realize that we’ve never seen blood on this show. In fact, everyone seems to have supernatural healing abilities except for Aang, who has airbending tattoos, and Zuko, who has a burn on his face.

Azula, through some strategic fire shooting, manages to get Aang down and trapped, and she’s about to fire blaze him unconscious when Katara magically appears. Some of the waterbending on this show is a little iffy, but I roll with it.

For some reason, Azula chases after Katara who runs away instead of staying to finish off Aang like she had originally intended. When Azula gets outside, Sokka is also there.

At the same time, Uncle Iroh arrives and helps a grateful Zuko to his feet.

Toph then arrives on scene, taking Azula by surprise and knocking her off her feet. That’s something that earthbenders are good at.

She decides to run, but they corner her. All six of them. Those are pretty bad numbers, and Iroh should count for, like, ten people because of how badass he is.

“Well, look at this, enemies and traitors all working together,” she derides. Zuko, unfortunately, has shown himself in this scene to be something of a traitor, like I pointed out before.

She feigns surrender: “You’ve got me; a princess surrenders with honor.” I’m a bit confused by that statement – isn’t surrendering kind of an honor-forfeiting sort of deal? Surrendering doesn’t bother me, certainly, but in that kind of culture, isn’t that the case?

Well, it’s a moot point, because of course she isn’t actually surrendering. She smiles, and shoots lightning at Iroh to distract everyone.

Zuko is horrified! It’s one of his best moments. He couldn’t handle the loss of Uncle Iroh. No one’s heart is that strong.

They all (except Zuko) turn back to Azula and give her everything they’ve got, but she’s created a sphere of blue fire around her and all they’ve got isn’t enough. There’s an explosion, which creates zero visibility, and then Azula is gone. I don’t actually understand how she got away, because except for this little thoroughfare, there’s nothing but desert around.

Zuko is beyond distraught, he’s nearly crazy with grief as he sits at Iroh’s side. Iroh’s moaning, so we know he’s not dead yet. The first time I watched this, I was nearly crazy with grief myself. I was cursing, ready to throw things and yell. All I had to cling to was the hope that a children’s cartoon wouldn’t break my heart in this way.

As the others slowly approach, Zuko bellows, “Get away from us.” I love how he doesn’t even care about them anymore. He isn’t trying to capture Aang, he isn’t scared of what they’ll do to him – he can’t even think about those things.

Katara is one of the rare waterbenders who can also heal. Why didn’t they also make it so that she can fly at the speed of sound and see through walls?

“Zuko, I can help,” Katara says. Reminding us why they’re the good guys, I guess. Although, honestly, if someone murdered my entire family and I saw him in as much torment as Zuko is during this scene, I would probably wish I could fix it.

“Yes, help! Help!” I cry to her.

This is great for Zuko/Katara shipping, which I’m not against.

Zuko makes himself difficult and shoots fire above all of their heads, shouting: “Leeeeeeeaaaaaavvvvvvveeeee!”

“Let her help!” I’m yelling at him. “She can heal! Let her help!” But he doesn’t hear me.

Perhaps Katara should have led with: “I can heal, Zuko. Let me help.”

Well, you can’t really blame them for running off after that.

But how did she get away? I feel like a giant lizard would be a little conspicuous…

I love that Azula got away, and I love to see Zuko showing his love for his uncle, but I hate how this is going to drive Zuko and Azula apart.

Azula isn’t in Chapter 9: Bitter Work, but there are some great references to her.

So, grassy hill = happy memory for the Fire Nation, apparently. We’re treated to some of Iroh’s fever dreams/memories of his son. So sad. One is of his son chasing him.

Grab your kleenex…

He slowly begins to wake to see Zuko’s face – that part doesn’t sound so bad to me. “Uncle, you were unconscious,” Zuko says. “Azula did this to you. It was a surprise attack.”

“Somehow that’s not so surprising,” Iroh responds. Ha! I love him.

Yay! Iroh is fine. I guess we didn’t need Katara’s help after all. The way Zuko was acting, it seemed like a near-killing blow, but I guess that was just in order to have a cliffhanger ending. Iroh isn’t back to 100% yet, but he certainly seems to be in the clear.

Zuko hands him a cup of tea: “I hope I made it the way you like it.” It’s disgusting, but Iroh hides that. He throws the next cup out the window! Zuko can’t be blamed: Iroh is a connoisseur of tea. In fact, he later on in Ba Sing Se gets considerable recognition for his skills.

Zuko must realize that Iroh is going to be fine, because he moves on to the next order to business: “So, Uncle, I’ve been thinking: it’s only a matter of time before I run into Azula again. I’m going to need to know more advanced firebending if I want to stand a chance against her. I know what you’re going to say: she’s my sister and I should be trying to get along with her.”

“No, she’s crazy and she needs to go down,” Iroh replies. I’m caught between laughing my butt off, and hating seeing Azula written off by her uncle as not worth trying to save, or being beyond saving. Also, I have to take a little offense on her behalf at the word “crazy”. In my post on the movie, I was operating under the assumption that Azula was Journal-of-Psychiatry material, but now I see that she’s not crazy at all – she’s just cold and effective, deadly and precise, with ambition and a teeny tiny cruel streak. There’s a difference.

Zuko nods at his uncle. Come on, Zuko – stand up for her! Oh well.

“Stand a chance against her” and “she needs to go down” dance around the idea of death. I’m going to assume that they don’t intend to kill her, but I really couldn’t say for sure.

I like that Zuko and Azula keep trying to get their parental figures to make them harmonize. In Zuko Alone, Azula tries to get their mother to make Zuko play with her, because they’re brother and sister and it’s “important” for them to “spend time together”. Now we’ve got Zuko expecting Iroh to tell him to get along with Azula, even after everything she’s done to them! I guess they are too proud to reconcile on their own.

Zuko wants to “stand a chance against her”, which is understandable. But why? Maybe he should be focusing on trying to find Aang. Or maybe he’s driven simply by the desire to beat her in a confrontation.

I realize that firebending practice takes privacy, but why did Zuko ever stop training?

Iroh stands up: he’s ready to start training Zuko again.

“Lightning is a pure expression of firebending, without aggression,” Iroh explains. “It is not fueled by rage or emotion the way other firebending is. Some call lightning the cold-blooded fire. It is precise and deadly like Azula. To perform the technique requires peace of mind.”

Again, I take offense on Azula’s behalf. I’m sure she’s got some emotions.

But there’s the silver lining: now that we know this, every time that Zuko fails to shoot lightning at Azula, we can know that it’s because she’s dredging up too much emotion in him.

In an interesting twist, lightning is created through separating yin and yang. When they come back together you get the lightning. This reminds me of what I said about Zuko’s dual broadswords being a metaphor for him and Azula, and now his battle with Azula takes a yin and yang turn.

Iroh demonstrates the technique, and he seems even better than Azula. Zuko tries it, but he fails, time after time.

“Why can’t I do it? Instead of lightning it keeps exploding in my face,” he complains. “Like everything always does.” Awwww. I’ll hum along to your pity ditty, Zuko. He’s so right, though. Talk about bad luck. The only luck he ever had was being born, just like his daddy says.

“I was afraid this might happen,” Iroh replies. “You will not be able to master lightning until you have dealt with the turmoil inside you,” Iroh says.
“WHAT TURMOIL?!!!!!” Zuko demands fiercely. See how he’s hilarious without ever making a single joke.

“Zuko, you must let go of your feelings of shame if you want your anger to go away.”

“But I don’t feel any shame at all. I’m as proud as ever.”

“Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”

“Well, my life has been nothing but humbling lately.”

True that!

I like that Iroh addresses Zuko as Prince Zuko. He has still retained some of his Fire Nation civility even after all of this time. As (near) heir to the throne, I wonder if Zuko holds a higher position than the disinherited Iroh?

Zuko doesn’t have any reason to be ashamed. Well, except for some of the bad stuff he has done recently, like steal and come after Aang again and again even though Aang has been nothing but nice. But Zuko feels shame anyway.

I choose to believe that much of Zuko’s turmoil relates to Azula. She’s his sister, and I’m sure a part of him loves her (don’t forget about his happy memory of her, of them playing and having fun, of them laughing together and Uncle Iroh’s letter), but she’s his enemy. And if he’s in love with her, it’s that much more perturbing. Which he totally is, right?

Iroh cheers Zuko up by promising to teach him a move that even Azula doesn’t know because he made it up himself.

This garners a smile out of Zuko. Why? Because it’s a move that even Azula doesn’t know. It all comes down to his competition with/need to best her. Even if we never get the moment where he actually wins, his desire to win is still representative of those feelings: I consider their competitiveness to be an element of shipping them because in that moment when Zuko wins over Azula (or simply his vision of that moment), he’ll have essentially tamed her, in a way. It’s a conquest. His desire to beat her all comes down to that second when she looks at him in defeat (ignoring, of course, the complications presented by their biased father). Obviously, on a show like this, that victory isn’t going to result in sexual pleasure for Zuko (that’s shown to us, anyway), but in a less restricted world, if things were allowed to run where they may, we might be looking at something sexual.

Plenty of times when a male and a female have a physical confrontation (without intent to kill) it devolves (or evolves, depending on how you look at it) into sex or (less excitingly) into a sexual moment.

But there’s a particular effect when one of them is expected to win, but it’s the other one who actually does, or when they’re nearly evenly matched. It often creates a sexual electricity due to the heightened emotional investment in the outcome, which ties almost contradictorily at the same time into the physical nature of the conflict, a condition which frustrates the inhibition of sexual impulses/sexual desire. What better environment for Zuko and Azula to embrace their chemical potential?

Of course, it’s also an animal thing: some animals mate this way. The proud female fights the male off or runs/flies from him, and then when she’s either too worn out from running or fighting, or she is bested, the male gets his way. So, you know, the same here, except less rape-y.

Some sort-of examples:

Buffy/Spike in the episode Smashed of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (I tried to find some pictures that weren’t verging on pornographic and essentially failed – this one’s hilarious, though, and a propos)

Damon/Katherine in the episodes The Return and Masquerade of The Vampire Diaries.

Elena and Zorro in The Mask Of Zorro.

Aurelius and Mira in The Last Legion.

Anyway, all of that was to make the point that Zuko wanting to beat Azula in a firebending competition does not run at all contrary to the idea of them wanting to be in/having an incestuous relationship, and in fact that such a confrontation should be encouraged because under different circumstances it would probably end with them in bed together, most particularly if Zuko was the victor.

Iroh’s firebending move involves understanding the other three elements and nations, like the Avatar. The combination. This firebending move he learned by studying the waterbenders. It’s actually a defensive move against lightning which sends it flying back at whoever sent it – a redirect – so that’ll be helpful.

Unfortunately, Zuko can’t know if he’s mastered it until he faces down lightning. Iroh refuses to shoot lightning at him. That’s understandable. Lucky for Zuko (which is rare), there is a storm. So he heads up the mountain to face down the lightning.

It’s one of his saddest moments ever.

He stands there, in the rain, the storm swirling around him. “Come on! Strike me! You’ve never held back before!” he screams at the sky. Then a tear runs down his face. We haven’t seen him cry since his father derogated him for refusing to fight in the Agni Kai. He screams in emotional anguish and collapses. No, that wasn’t thunder, that was my heart breaking.

Bitter work indeed.

Zuko and Iroh fall in with the refugee crowd and end up emigrating to Ba Sing Se, the great Earth Kingdom city which Iroh was unable to conquer several years ago – his “greatest military disgrace”. Iroh gets them jobs in a tea shop. Apparently he forgot how bad Zuko was at making tea. Maybe Zuko just pours and serves, and wipes down tables. They have a close call with a fellow refugee seeing a small piece of evidence that they’re Fire Nation and then goes crazy with it. Fortunately, Zuko is able to fight him off without firebending, and Iroh’s tea-making skills have made him a valuable member of the community.

Iroh is getting more and more settled in, decorating their apartment with flowers and things like that – he wants the place to look nice in case Zuko decides to bring a girl home. Zuko warns him not to get too settled because they weren’t going to be staying there for long.

One of the best episodes of the series in terms of quality is Chapter 15: Tales Of Ba Sing Se. In fact, if you only ever see one episode, see this one. You don’t even need background in order to understand and enjoy it.

Zuko’s story involves him going out on a date. One of the regular customers in the tea shop has been staring at him, and he hilariously assumes that she knows that they’re Fire Nation. That was so clever of the writers, it’s just so…Zuko to make an assumption like that.

I hate to say it, but she’s a very pretty girl.

“It seems to me she has quite the little crush on you,” Iroh says, explaining that he has noticed the girl as well.

Of course Zuko goes bug-eyed.

This girl, Jin, is very forward. She chooses today to start making conversation with him, asking him his name and then jumping straight to asking him out. Loose woman!

“Uh…what?”

Zuko would have refused, but Iroh jumps right in: “He’d love to.”

So, Iroh helps him get ready for his date. Apparently it took him 10 minutes to comb Zuko’s hair.  I certainly can’t imagine Fire Lord Ozai ever doing anything like that. Maybe that’s good thing because it looks awful.

That’s why I appreciate it when Jin messes it all up, although that was quite audacious of her.

So, every time I type Jin, all I can think of is Lost.

They go out to dinner.

Jin: “So, how do you like the city so far?”

Zuko: “It’s OK.”

Jin: “What do you like to do for fun.”

Zuko: “Nothing.

That’s one of my favorite lines from him.

The waiter makes the egregious mistake of referring to Jin as Zuko’s girlfriend, and Zuko yells, loud enough for everyone to hear: “She is not my girlfriend!”

Jin has enough class not to be offended. Perhaps she can sense that Zuko needs to be handled with care. And while I certainly find him good looking for an animated character, the bounty hunter from Bato Of The Water Tribe called him too ugly for Katara, indicating to me that his burn scar is perhaps a little off-putting, so Jin may be a class act all around.

“You have quite an appetite for a girl,” Zuko says to her. Another reason to like Jin, I suppose.

“Uh…thanks?” she replies. He doesn’t really understand the gaffe he made.

So he begins twiddling his thumbs.

Jin: “Where were you and your uncle living before you came here?”

Zuko: “Well, uh, we’ve been traveling around for a long time.”

Jin: “Oh, why were you traveling so much?”

Zuko: “We were, uh, part of this traveling circus.”

Jin: “Really? What did you do? Wait, let me guess: you juggled.”

Zuko: “Yes, I juggled.”

Jin: “I’ve always wanted to learn how to juggle. Can you show me something?”

Well, Zuko can’t juggle. Not even a little bit. What an idiot. Apparently Azula never taught him how to lie. Interesting that we get another reference to the circus (the other being Ty Lee).

The music playing while Jin hands Zuko the stuff she wants him to juggle with is possibly indicative of the idea that he wants to impress her. Which I don’t like. But it’s not indisputable.

He explains that he hasn’t practiced in a while. That, at least, was a decent lie. I feel bad for him, that he can’t go on a real date because he can’t tell very many truths about himself. He has to lie about everything.

She takes him to one of her favorite places in the city, a court yard which is normally lit up with torches, but it’s dark when they get there. Fortunately for Zuko, there’s no else there, so he tells her to close her eyes and he lights them all up.

Bad Zuko! The other guy who knew they were Fire Nation found out before when Iroh heated up his tea. That was considerably less ostentatious than this.

I also don’t like how much he wanted to please her. That’s only natural, of course, but I get defensively jealous, and I’m defensively jealous on Azula’s part. I like Jin, but I’d pick Katara, Mai, or Ty Lee before her. But the truth is that I don’t like Zuko liking this girl because I don’t want him wanting to stay in Ba Sing Se or settling down there.

She grabs his hand, and they turn to face each other, and she moves in to kiss him (like I said, she’s a loose woman), and then Zuko blocks her mouth with a coupon for the tea shop that he gives to her. It was Iroh’s idea, because she’s such a valued customer.

She tells him to close his eyes, and she kisses him – just a short one. She pulls her lips away, but she’s still only centimeters away from him. He leans in and kisses her again, but then he pulls away suddenly and backs away.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“It’s complicated,” he says. And that’s not a line for him. It is complicated. But I’d like to think it’s even more complicated, as in “I’m in love with my sister” complicated.

He abandons her: “I have to go.”

“How was your night, Prince Zuko?” Iroh asks when Zuko comes home.

Zuko goes straight into his room, shutting his doors. But then he opens them up slightly and says: “It was nice.”

Boo!

I know, I’m as bad as Azula not wanting him to have a nice night, but sorry, happy Zuko should be the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, this does represent a trend.

In the episode after next, Chapter 17: Lake Laogai, Zuko sees that the Avatar is in Ba Sing Se. He tries to kidnap Appa, but Iroh shows up and gives him a real reaming. “And then what?” he demands. “You never think these things through. This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole. You had him, and then you had no where to go.”

“I would have figured something out.”

“No, if it his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death.”

“I know my own destiny, Uncle.”

“Is it your own destiny? Or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”

“Stop it, Uncle! I have to do this.”

“I’m begging you, Zuko! It’s time for you to look inward, and start asking yourself the big questions. Who are you? And what do you want?”

Zuko decides to let Appa go and he throws his Blue Spirit mask into the water.

I have a number of issues with this scene. First of all: how does a firebender freeze to death? Yeah, Zuko was cold during that scene, and yeah, it was at night when firebenders are at their weakest, but he was in a cave. He and Aang could have cuddled! Seriously, though, he could have done something.

My second major issue is that Zuko has never once wavered from his desire to go home. He needs the Avatar to go home. That’s just that. In fact, no one has ever tried to force a destiny on Zuko. If his father really wanted specific things for Zuko, he wouldn’t have banished him, no? Zuko is the one who has been self-driven this whole time.

And whatever happened to Never Give Up Without A Fight, Iroh? You gave him that knife.

Now, I agree, Zuko should spend some time being introspective – everyone should. And it’s very true that his Appa plan wasn’t very well thought out – he doesn’t even know about Yip Yip. But the course you’re advocating sounds a heck of a lot like giving up.

I love Iroh, but I really didn’t like him during this part or for the rest of the season. He’s still a great man, but he becomes a little selfish: he wants to open his own tea shop and live in peace in Ba Sing Se with his substitute son. But Zuko does have a destiny, and it’s in the Fire Nation! Even if Azula didn’t exist I would still feel this way. But she does exist, and I certainly feel like his destiny is as tied up with hers as it with his Aang’s.

Well, in the episode after this, Chapter 18: The Earth King, Zuko is sick.

Iroh says: “Your critical decision – what you did beneath that lake – it was in such conflict with your image of yourself that you’re now at war within your own mind and body.”

That’s his theory. My theory is that Jin the Slut gave him mono, or some other disease spread through saliva.

“So…thirsty…” – You’re making me thirsty, Zuko!

I’m sorry, but Zuko’s sudden struggle has come out of nowhere. I don’t like this whole “image of yourself”, “destiny forced on you” business because there hasn’t been anything indicating it up until now. It’s true that Zuko has desperate for the approval of his people and his father, but his drive to return “home” has been much stronger than the honor thing. And his innate goodness has certainly conflicted with what the Fire Nation requires of him, but I don’t think that’s really the same thing.

However, we do get some fever dreams. Unfortunately, they’re not flashbacks.

He has a vision of himself as Fire Lord, with two dragons – one blue, and one red – on each side. Um, angel and demon on your shoulder, anyone?

Guess who voices the Blue Dragon? That’s right: it’s Azula!

The Red Dragon is Uncle Iroh.

It doesn’t lend itself too easily to analysis, unfortunately.

Blue Dragon: “It’s getting late. Are you planning to retire soon, My Lord?”

Zuko: “I’m not tired.”

Blue Dragon: “Relax, Fire Lord Zuko, just let go. Give in to it. Shut your eyes for a while.”

Red Dragon: “No, Fire Lord Zuko, do not listen to the blue dragon. Get out of here, right now! Go! Before it’s too late.”

Blue Dragon: “Sleep now, Fire Lord Zuko. Sleep. Just like mother”

And then their mother calls out for help, but Zuko cannot save her, and he wakes up.

So, it kind of seems like the Blue Dragon is trying to kill Zuko. The throne and palace sort of crumble around him. There’s also the strange implication that their mother is dead, but she’s not, so that’s weird.

Is the fever going to kill him? Or is it his future that’s going to kill him? His current path? Because Iroh doesn’t seem too concerned about the fever, though he is taking excellent care of his nephew.

I think it’s great that Azula even made an appearance in his dream. And unlike Iroh, the Blue Dragon is definitively defined as Azula not only by her voice and from her opinions, but because she calls Ursa “mother”, and there’s only one person in the entire world who would call Ursa “mother” to Zuko, and that’s Azula.

So, all of the references to “retiring”, “getting late”, and “sleeping” certainly have my mind running to the bedroom.

And of course Zuko would dream of Azula calling him “My Lord.” That’s exactly what I was talking about earlier with the taming and the victory.

And what about all of this talk of “giving in”? “Give in to it, Zuko!” That’s what I shout at him whenever Azula is around. “Give in to her!” And now he’s having night terrors about the exact same thing.

In the meantime, Azula and the gals have taken down a group of women called the Kyoshi warriors. The Kyoshi warriors wear traditional make-up and dress, so it disguises them perfectly. They head to Ba Sing Se as Kyoshi warriors and are invited with honors into the palace and handed the Earth King’s trust on a silver platter.

Later, Zuko has a vision of himself as Aang. Weird. But instead of getting even more screwed up, he’s suddenly better, like that vision was his cure or something. Well, his temperature has gone back to normal – I wouldn’t call him better. It’s more like he has been replaced by a pod person, or he’s gone Stepford on us.

This is actually from the beginning of the next episode – Chapter 19: The Guru. Iroh remarks that ever since Zuko’s fever broke he is like a new person. A new, creepy person, I remark, as I watch him smile and get excited about breakfast porridge.  I’m cowering in terror, but Iroh is smiling.

Zuko says: “It’s a new day. We’ve got a new apartment, new furniture. And today is the grand opening of your new tea shop. Things are looking up, Uncle.”

This is not my Zuko!!!!

And you shall know that it is the End of Days when the Zuko will smile…

Azula had some bad luck with her giant drill when she tried to drill her way into Ba Sing Se before, because the Avatar happened to be there. But she’s had uncommonly good luck this time around. Not only has she, Ty Lee, and Mai effortlessly weaseled their way into the palace, but the Earth King reveals to them within minutes his plan to invade the Fire Nation on the day of black sun, a.k.a. the day of the solar eclipse. As if that wasn’t good enough, in Ba Sing Se there already happened to be a secret police (or not so secret) poised for a coup. All she had to do was put herself at the head of that coup, which she does easily enough. She explains her plan to Mai and Ty Lee, and Ty Lee says: “Gosh, you’re so confident. I really admire that about you.” Hilarious. Ty Lee pays Azula a lot of compliments. I had to wonder why a girl like her would ever want to be friends with Azula, but maybe she’s scared of getting on Azula’s bad side, or maybe she’s ambitious and realizes that being friends with the princess is a good move.

Uncle Iroh opens up his new tea shop (he’s so good at making tea that he has investors volunteer). And Zuko is really excited about it. It’s horrible. It’s sweet, but it’s horrible. When they first arrived in Ba Sing Se, Zuko said that this place is “a prison: I don’t want to make a life here”, and now listen to him!

“Follow your passion, Zuko, and life will reward you,” Iroh says. Um….? Iroh normally gives such great advice, but that sounds like crap to me. The better life is for him, the worse his advice, it seems to me.

“Congratulations, Uncle.”

“I’m very thankful.”

“You deserve it. The Jasmine Dragon will be the best tea shop in the city.”

“No, I’m thankful because you decided to share this special day with me. It means more than you know.”

And then they hug! Awwww. I guess there is a small part of me that likes to see them happy. This scene really shows how much Iroh loves Zuko. But I’m starting to wonder what Iroh has been putting in the tea…

So, Aang is studying with a guru, and he’s learning about chakras. I like that word (though this isn’t the first time I’ve heard, I’d like to  point out). The first he has to learn is the earth chakra, at the base of the spine, which deals with survival and is blocked by fear. So Aang begins to meditate and has visions of what he’s afraid of. Some of his fears were quite understandable – Katara in danger, the uncontrollable power of the Avatar state. But I was piqued that the first thing that came to mind was the Blue Spirit, and flashbacks to that episode from the first season.

Dream Zuko closes his swords around Aang’s neck. The funny thing is that he really did do that, but he was protecting Zuko – blocking fire – and not trying to hurt him.

And Zuko never hurt Aang as the Blue Spirit – they fought together to escape. But even if all that wasn’t weird enough, I find it hard to believe that Aang would fear Zuko considering how many times he has managed to escape him. Is Zuko alone really that big of a threat?

And then Aang’s final vision of fear is the Fire Lord. I can personally attest to the fact that Ozai is the last in a long line of terrifying Fire Lords, but he’s just one man. Aang can handle one firebender.

So, Zuko really can’t get a break, because Katara decides she wants a cup of tea, and finds her way to the Jasmine Dragon. Bad luck? No, I don’t think so. Destiny, baby! I’m smiling wickedly right now. Iroh should have known better – Zuko can’t make his own destiny even if he wanted to. That’s what destiny means!

“Oh shi….”

And Azula’s good luck continues, because Katara runs immediately to her old friend Suki the Kyoshi warrior to give her the news, only it’s not Suki, it’s Azula.

Katara thinks that the Fire Nation has infiltrated the city, because she somehow missed the fact that Zuko is a wanted fugitive by the Fire Nation. Well, Katara’s right, it just isn’t Zuko who has done the infiltrating.

She says that she just saw Prince Zuko, and Azula’s eyes widen. And then she smiles. Yay! I would think that Zuko and Iroh would sort of be unwanted trouble at this point, but Azula is delighted.

She reveals herself to Katara and then Ty Lee (I think) attacks and knocks her out. They eventually throw her in jail..

“So, Zuzu is in the city, too,” Azula says to her posse. “I think it’s time for a family reunion.”

Zuzu! A third time we get to hear the nickname. And Zuko isn’t even around to hear it this time, which means that she isn’t doing it for his benefit. That’s how she thinks of him. He’s still her brother to her. There’s still that intimacy in her mind. And Iroh is the one she’s really trying to capture – he’s the real traitor – but she doesn’t even mention Iroh (though Katara did), her mind stays stuck on Zuko. It’s not: “My uncle the traitor is here in the city,” or “Zuko and my uncle are here in the city,” but it’s “Zuzu is in the city, too [like me]”.

She sends word for Zuko and Iroh to come serve tea at the palace.

Chapter 20: Crossroads Of Destiny

Long Feng has been the man behind the puppet earth king, and he’s the leader of the Dai Li (the secret police), but he was thrown in jail after Aang revealed his treachery. The Dai Li take Azula to see him, and she arranges a deal. She is placed as temporary leader of the Dai Li until the coup.

We get to see another one her motivation speeches. She’s no longer hiding as a Kyoshi, but she is still dressed as a citizen of the Earth Kingdom, and she looks so cute! The green thing in her hair looks just like a big, green bow. (She looks like Minnie Mouse – I love it!) That green thing in the middle looks just like a target, though.

“Nice speech, Azula,” Ty Lee compliments. “It was pretty and poetic but also scary in a good way.”

“Yeah,” Mai chimes in, “I thought you were gonna make that one guy pee his pants.”

I’m not so sure he didn’t.

Azula points out that there are still some loose ends: the Avatar, and “my brother and uncle.” Wow, she’s paying the two of them a major compliment by giving them that much credit!

“Destiny is a funny thing,” Iroh remarks, walking up to the palace. There’s a clear irony here considering how much time he spent besieging the city from the outside.

“It sure is,” Zuko says with a smile.

Stop smiling!

But I’m smiling, because I know what awaits them inside. Destiny, indeed!

So, they quickly figure out that something is wrong when the Dai Li surrounds them. Azula shows up in person – again, flattering them. She should have brought more guards.

Zuko leaps up: “Azula!” God, I love hearing her name roll off his lips. If I ever met Dante Basco, I would ask him to say “Azula” over and over again, for hours, differently every time.

Iroh is hilarious: he asks, “Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname The Dragon Of The West?”

Azula: “I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, Uncle.” Ha. He does sort of seem like the type. It’s a great way to remind us that they’re family, as if we could have forgotten.

“It’s more of a demonstration, really,” he says, and he and Zuko exchange a smile. Ha. Nice one, Iroh. Demonstrate away!

Oh, I should have done it earlier, but I’m going to point out how much Zuko needs a haircut. It’s a nice way of showing us the passage of time, but honestly, he looked so much better at the beginning of the season after he had just sheared it all off. The Chase was a highpoint for his looks, if you ask me.

Well, Iroh can breathe fire, sort of. It’s pretty awesome.

We’ve seen Zuko breathe fire too, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed.

Azula should have brought more guards.

Zuko and Iroh take off running down the hallway, pursued by the earthbending Dai Li, Azula not far behind.

Iroh jumps out the window (it’s the second or third floor), but Zuko doesn’t follow: “No. I’m tired of running. It’s time I faced Azula.”

Iroh does a facepalm, which is exactly what I was doing.

Zuko, honey, you’re not ready!!!!! I know you’ve learned some new moves since the last time you faced her, but I really don’t know why you can’t get it through your thick skull that she’s better than you!

“You’re so dramatic,” Azula comments as they stare each other down. She’s got a dozen guards behind her, so Zuko is outnumbered, and outmatched, and stupid. –

“What? Are you going to challenge me to an Agni Kai?” she asks. She’s right, though: he’s totally dramatic, especially in comparison with her.

“Yes, I challenge you,” he says. Idiot! I mean, he’d be better off doing an Agni Kai with her than he would be taking on her and her Dai Li guards, but it’s not as if he could win that fight either.

“No thanks,” she says. See, I told you she would walk away from a fight with him again. It’s a busy day for her – she doesn’t really have time for such a thing, and she shouldn’t be expending all of her energy so soon. But maybe she also doesn’t want to hurt him.

He gathers a large ball of fire and sends it her way. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t even blink. The Dai Li step forward and block it with earthbending.

They lock him onto the ground with stones, and once he’s clearly been captured, Azula turns her back and slowly strolls away.

God what a bitch.

They’ve been keeping Katara in the underground crystal caves, which are beautiful. It’s nice to know they’ve got all of that extra real estate down there. Urban sprawl certainly isn’t a problem since the entire city is surrounded by a wall. But they’ve got such an influx of refugees that one has to wonder why it hasn’t become wildly overpopulated.

They throw Zuko in with Katara. That seems stupid: let’s put two powerful benders together so they can come up with a way to work together to escape. Or maybe Azula is hoping they’ll kill each other. Or maybe she knows that Aang will come for Katara, and Zuko will be there to help catch him.

So, Zuko/Katara has a lot of potential. They’re enemies, and it’s almost an affair since Aang/Katara is the closest thing we have to central couple. Plus firebender meets waterbender – two opposites. It’s good. It’s like Shark Boy and Lava Girl.

“Zuko!” she exclaims, with the same sort of surprise meets almost admiration that Aang did in The Chase.

But then she frowns at him. No fear, just anger. But that’s fair, because Zuko has only ever been after Aang.

Well, if I was Katara, I would probably have a big whopping crush on Zuko, even with all things considered.

In The Chase, with Azula hot on their tails but them not knowing who it was, Katara suggested that it might be Zuko – and she says that without even the slightest hint of acrimony or even displeasure. Toph asks who Zuko is, and Sokka explains. Sokka, in fact, is the one who is consistently negative. He always describes Zuko as angry, which is accurate. In this case he says: “Oh, just some angry freak with a ponytail who’s tracked us all over the world.”

“What’s wrong with ponytails, ponytail?” Katara asks. Sokka has a ponytail. And, in fact, Zuko doesn’t anymore.

Katara is confused about why Zuko is in prison, but she assumes it’s a trap. She posits her idea about him only being there to catch Aang, and Zuko, who has been looking away, turns to glance at her for a second. I don’t know if it’s because he’s realizing that’s why Azula had him put there, or if he’s thinking that he might be able to catch the Avatar.

Instead of ignoring Zuko, Katara rants at him. Which turns out well, in the end. She explains how the Fire Nation has hurt her personally (her mother), and Zuko is able to point out that the same is true for him.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Earlier she had said that spreading hate and destruction was in his blood, and he said that she didn’t know what she was talking about. I’m not sure what he meant. While that was true in the sense that Katara would have more sympathy for Zuko if she had known the details of his upbringing and expulsion, it could have just as equally been a naïve defense of his father and nation that Zuko was trying to put forth.

So, Katara starts crying. She obviously wasn’t putting on her tough face for Zuko, was she? I mean, I could understand how she would be disheartened, and she had been talking about her mother for a second, but still: this is not the time for a break down, Kat. Or maybe she felt safe enough around Zuko to do such a thing?

Iroh goes to Aang to seek help. I don’t know how Iroh knew how to find him. Maybe it was the giant flying bison outside. Toph is the one who knows immediately that they can trust him – Sokka and Aang are terrified when they first see him.

“Then we’ll work together to fight Azula, and save Katara and Zuko,” Aang says. He was pretty quick to come around, all Iroh had said was that Azula was in Ba Sing Se and that she had kidnapped Zuko.

Sokka is hilarious: “Whoa there, you lost me at ‘Zuko’.” He points at Aang, and Aang almost looks embarrassed.

Iroh can understand why they’re reluctant to help (although Aang doesn’t seem to be all that reluctant), but he tries to assure them that there is good inside of him. Sokka wants Iroh to come back when there’s good on the outside too. Hee.

Well, Aang is right to work with Iroh, because Iroh has kidnapped a Dai Li guard who is very informative: he tells them the details of Azula’s coup, and the location of where Katara and Zuko are being kept. Iroh almost could have gotten Zuko back on his own, but maybe he couldn’t get down to the crystal caves – he needed an earthbender.

He and Aang head down to the cave-dungeon, while Toph and Sokka go to warn the Earth King.

Toph had told Aang that Iroh gave good advice, so he asks the old man about his personal dilemma: he can’t be the best Avatar that he can be unless he lets go of his earthly attachments, namely Katara.

The best advice is the advice you take yourself. Iroh tells Aang that power and perfection are overrated. He says, “I think you are very wise to choose happiness and love.”

Now, in real life, I totally agree. But those are not the sort of choices I want to see from Zuko or Aang – it’s all too mushy. Of course, in the end, inevitably those are the choices that we will see. I won’t know until then whether I’m OK with it or not.

What’s funny here is that the traitor Iroh is perhaps unwittingly helping out the Fire Nation. Aang is unable to go into the Avatar state until he lets go of Katara, and it’s really only in the Avatar state that Aang becomes undefeatable. Of course, at the same time, Aang is almost at his weakest in the Avatar state, because if the Avatar is killed while in the Avatar state, then the cycle will be broken and the Avatar will not be reincarnated. But again, I’m not sure if the Fire Nation knows that or not.

Sokka and Toph get captured by Mai and Ty Lee, and Ty Lee keeps hitting on Sokka. “It’s like we’re dancing,” she says as he keeps trying to avoid her jabs. Toph, however, has somehow managed a primitive form of metal bending, and they easily escape. I guess they’ll have to keep her in an ice jail. The two of them, the Earth King, his pet bear Bosco, and Momo make an escape on Appa.

Meanwhile the coup goes off without a hitch. Long Feng attempts to double cross Azula, but it doesn’t work because she has earned the allegiance of the Dai Li.

One of the guards, when talking to Long Feng earlier, had said, “She’s really taken charge. She’s terrifying and…inspirational at the same time. It’s hard to explain.” I guess that’s the “everyone adores her” part of her personality.

Azula faces him down. I’ll include her speech because of how great it is: “I can see your whole history in your eyes. You were born with nothing, so you’ve had to struggle and connive and claw your way to power. But true power, the divine right to rule, is something you’re born with. The fact is they don’t know which one of us is going to be sitting on that throne, and which one of us is going to be bowing down. But I know, and you know.”

He bows to her: “You’ve beaten me at my own game.”

She says, “Don’t flatter yourself. You were never even a player.” That’s kind of what I want to say to Zuko every time he thinks he can fight her.

Clancy Brown does the voice of Long Feng. I love him so much! He also did a voice on Phineas and Ferb. His voice in this case makes more sense because I think he regularly did a voice on Spongebob Squarepants. Whenever I get around to covering Carnivale, you’ll get to hear plenty about him.

So, back to Katara and Zuko. She apologizes for yelling. That’s pretty big of her. Zuko may have a sad story, but that doesn’t change how many times he has tried to capture Aang. She explains that every time she pictured the enemy – the Fire Nation – she pictured his face. Just an excuse to picture his face, I expect. He gets sensitive about his scar, but she alleviates that by saying “that’s not what I meant.”

“It’s OK. I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, I’ve realized I’m free to determine my own destiny, even if I’ll never be free of my mark.”

Silly Zuzu, haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve been saying about destiny? You know very well that I want you back in the Fire Nation as the prince, and so you can always be near Azula – why do you hate me?

Katara puts her hand on his scar. Whoa there, hot tactile moment! Do you know who is a very powerful bender, Katara? Zuko! (a fortuneteller once told Katara that she would fall in love with a very powerful bender). It’s hard to not look at them in this scene as a potential couple.

Katara offers to try and heal the scar using magic water she got from the spirit oasis in the Northern Water Tribe City, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of Iroh and Aang.

They get closer together when they hear the explosion. Hmmmm…

Katara runs over and hugs Aang. Aang smiles at her and then glares at Zuko.

But why? Is he glaring because Katara and Zuko were standing so close together? I’d like to think so. Or maybe he’s glaring because Zuko is always trying to kidnap him. Eh, toss up.

Then Iroh runs over and hugs Zuko. As if their movements were parallel enough, Iroh has a braid down his back like Katara, so they even have the same hair.

Zuko seems a little disappointed to have been interrupted. Maybe he’s ready to kiss a girl who won’t give him a virus.

But then Zuko turns and glares at Aang. “Uncle, I don’t understand, what are you doing with the Avatar?”

“Saving you, that’s what?” Aang smarts back.

Zuko leaps after him, but Iroh restrains him.

This part is kind of hilarious, but it’s also one my favorites so far in the episode. First of all, Zuko acts like he hates Aang. He has no reason to hate Aang. His motivation to capture Aang is completely understandable, but he should be apologizing to the bald little boy instead of growling at him – Aang has saved your frakkin’ life on more than two occasions even though it would have been in his best interests to leave you there to die.

What I love even more than Zuko’s ridiculousness, is that he then tries to attack Aang. All of this talk about happy tea shops and making his own destiny, but when it comes down to it he’s still trying to kidnap the Avatar! Sure, Azula sort of screwed up his “new day” and his “new apartment” and his “new furniture”, but Zuko has already done a complete 180 from that morning. Well, it was probably a couple of days ago, but whatever.

Iroh tells Aang and Katara to go help their other friends, that they’ll “catch up” with them. He tells Zuko that they have to talk.

Katara leaves with a longing lingering stare for Zuko. He looks back at her. Inscrutable looks. What are they thinking? I don’t know. I don’t want to hazard a guess. They seem sad. I can see why Katara would be sad that Zuko was trying to go after Aang again after the nice chat they’d just had. I was flabbergasted, personally.

“Right back at ya, babe.”

“You’re not the man you used to be, Zuko,” Iroh explains. “You’re stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been. And now you have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It’s time for you to choose. It’s time for you to choose good.”

Shut up, Iroh (although nice job incorporating the episode title)! I’ll be the Blue Dragon until she gets here: “Give in, Zuko. It’s not time for you to choose good. Choose evil! Choose evil! Choose A-zu-la!”

Thankfully, Azula arrives at this moment, because I wasn’t really doing a very good job and Zuko didn’t seem to be listening to me. The earthbenders trap Iroh in crystal, and Azula proceeds in her stately way down to the floor.

Azula: “I expected this kind of treachery from Uncle, but Zuko? Prince Zuko? You’re a lot of things, but you’re not a traitor…are you?”

Zuko: “Release him immediately.”

Azula: “It’s not too late for you, Zuko: you can still redeem yourself.”

Iroh: “The kind of redemption she offers is not for you.”

Azula: “Why don’t you let him decide, Uncle?

I need you, Zuko.

I’ve plotted every move of this day – this glorious day in Fire Nation history, and the only way we win is together.

At the end of this day you will have your honor back, you will have father’s love, you will have everything you want.”

Iroh: “Zuko, I am begging you, look into your heart and see what it is you truly want.”

Azula: “You are free to choose.”

Have you ever heard a more delicious exchange? She calls him Prince Zuko to his face, which tickled me. No “Zuzu” this time. He has the nerve to demand that she release Iroh – like he could make her. Hilarious. Azula has apparently changed her mind: it’s no longer too late for him, although it seemed to be too late for him all of the earlier times when she tried to arrest him. I wonder if putting him in that crystal dungeon was meant to be some kind of test.

Iroh’s scariest line is “The kind of redemption she offers is not for you.” Because he’s right, but we don’t want Zuko to realize that, not if we want him back in the Fire Nation, which we do.

Azula, again, gets pissed off when Iroh tries to interrupt. She’s trying to have a conversation with her brother, Iroh – you’re just there. It’s easy for Iroh to cut off ties with the Fire Nation – he’s lost his son, his parents are dead, and his brother is a bastard (though not literally, unfortunately). He’s got nothing tying him there. But Zuko has everything: a father, a missing mother, a sister, and a throne.

Now, if Azula meant what she said, it would be the most beautiful and glorious thing ever for our ship. But I’m reluctant to trust her. I haven’t forgotten what Zuko always forgets: Azula always lies. On the other hand, Azula has never hidden her nature from Zuko. If she wanted to play the loving family card, she would have behaved differently towards him all this time, but she hasn’t. So, since she hasn’t set up an effective lie, maybe it’s the truth?

“The only way we win is together,” is an interesting line. Azula has already had a successful coup, she has already won Ba Sing Se for her father, so what does she mean…? Maybe she’s speaking in a much more personal sense. Him on her side is a personal win for her, and vice verse. It’s delightful to hear her say “together”, though, isn’t it?

The other great line is “you will have everything you want”, because it could include her (wink, wink).

This scene, of course, plays out just like Zuko’s fever dream.

“Are you planning to retire soon, my Lord?” is the only missing line.

Azula leaves him free to decide what he will. Either she was totally confident he would pick her, or she didn’t really care if he and Iroh got away. You know, I’m surprised she spent so much time dallying with her brother when Aang was out there causing trouble.

The scene ends with Zuko thinking hard. I was on the edge of my seat the first time. I knew what I wanted him to do, but I didn’t for the life of me know for sure what would happen.

So, Azula follows Aang and Katara, and they all throw down for a couple of rounds, but then there’s a blast of some of that good old fashioned yellowy-orange fire, and we see Zuko.

It’s not clear at whom he has shot. We’re held in suspense.

He looks at Azula, she looks back, unsure herself.

He looks at Aang, and Aang looks back, and then grows scared as he realizes that Zuko is going to blast him.

Azula takes a second to smile and then she goes after Katara.

Yay! Zuko gave in. He didn’t choose good. Yay! Phew, wipe the sweat off your brow, the suspense is over. I’m sure Zuko did what Iroh told him to do – he looked inside of his heart, and he chose – and what he chose was Azula. Yeah, home, whatever. But also Azula.

It’s actually pretty sad watching Zuko and Aang fight. Zuko holds up his own well. He sends an intense fire volley towards Aang, who then blacks it by earthbending the crystal, but Aang’s black isn’t quite strong enough.

Then Zuko gets giant, long arms of fire (we’ve seen Katara do this with water) and he waves them around.

He looks like the bad guy in Iron Man 2.

Some of this bending really makes no sense to me. Sometimes earth blocks fire, sometimes fire cuts through earth. Sometimes water blocks fire, sometimes fire cuts through water. Sometimes water cuts through hair. It’s never consistent.

I would love to be a hairbender, by the way.

Do I even need to point out that our lovely little foursome here could be taken as parallel? Aang and Katara – love interests, vs. Zuko and Azula – brother and sister/love interests? Aang the Avatar, Azula the prodigy? Azula the 14 year old, Katara the 14 year old? Water arms vs. fire arms. Firebenders vs. waterbenders? Royalty vs. the poor.

This scene is sounding more and more like the plot of High School Musical. But who will get the leads in Twinkle Towne?

Katara gets her water arms wrapped around Azula, and Azula can’t break free. Explain to me how that works. Zuko uses fire to break Katara’s water hold.

Again, I’m not sure any of that makes sense, but Zuko just saved Azula and she’s smiling at him, so I couldn’t care less about the bending logic. They switch partners. Azula goes after Aang, and Zuko takes on Katara.

Awkward.

“I thought you had changed!” Katara cries.

“I have changed,” Zuko responds. I’m not sure what he means by that, but he says it with threatening confidence, so I suppose he means he’s changed into a better firebender. Or maybe he means that for once all of this truly is his choice. Or maybe he’s changed because he thinks he has his honor back.

So, Azula lights her backside on fire and uses it to zoom towards Aang, which has me wondering if they could have used their firebending like jetpacks and been flying all this time. Aang covers himself in crystal and rolls towards her, and then they collide, with Azula as the winner! This must be some weak-ass crystal in this cave, because fire has defeated it twice now. Find another element, Aang!

So, the following shippy moment might have been the collateral of narrative artifice, but Azula leaves the knocked-out Aang to come help Zuko with Katara. Sweet, but stupid! Aang always wakes up quickly. This is the third or fourth time that Azula lost Aang because she took her time dealing him the conclusive blow.

But I guess she just wanted to go tag-team with Zuko, and who could blame her?

They’re a little rough on Katara, though – her hair falls out of its’ braid and she falls down to the ground, out for the count. That wouldn’t be a problem if I was there with my hairbending abilities – the braid part, anyway.

Right on cue, Aang is back up and coming at them. But Azula and Zuko don’t even need to do anything (although I feel like they probably could have won), because the Dai Li have arrived, and there are simply too many of them.

Zuko and Azula stand poised to fight with dozens of earthbending guards behind them.  When did they get so close together? I wonder if they shared a joyful hug while our eyes were elsewhere? Honestly, they very quickly moved very close together for no apparent reason other than the simple enjoyment of each others’ proximity.

Aang realizes that in order to save themselves, he has to go into the Avatar state, which means letting her go. So he does.

But Azula doesn’t let herself be dazzled; while everyone else is gawking at the display, she shoots lightning at him and fries him but good.

If she had only known that killing him in the Avatar state would break the cycle, I’ve no doubt she wouldn’t have failed to finally deliver that killing blow.

Katara, of course, is heartbroken. She hates seeing Aang in the Avatar state, but seeing him helpless is even worse. Plus I’m sure she had reason to fear he was dead. She was very fortunate that there were some reflective pools in the room so she had plenty of water to work with. Convenient.

She sort of floods the room as she rides a wave over to Aang.

Apparently earthbenders can’t swim, because Azula and Zuko are already up and walking towards Katara as she holds the unconscious and near-lifeless Aang in her arms, when suddenly they are blasted with fire.

It’s Iroh! I can’t be too hard on him here, because Katara and Aang look so sad and pathetic that I would have defended them myself. It hurts more than I could ever imagine to see him fighting Zuko, but he promises Aang and Katara only to “hold them off as long as he can” while they get away.

Man can’t walk on water without Jesus’ help, but Katara can ride water topsides. She doesn’t even need to turn it into ice. I promise I’m done picking on the bending for this post.

Once Aang and Katara have made it out of the cave, Iroh surrenders, allowing the earthbenders to trap him. He probably could have gotten away himself somehow – he never really tries.

Azula is smiling – the traitor in custody! – but you can imagine that Zuko’s feeling pretty darn low. While it’s true that he and Katara shared a moment, and he does owe Aang a lot, he has never once asked for their help, so he has never actually betrayed Aang and the gang. He made a very definitive break with Iroh, however, by choosing Azula over him. Even Iroh is sympathetic to his choice, I’m sure, but that doesn’t change where they stand now.

Iroh gives Zuko a stern look, and then looks down in shamed disappointment.

Even I feel ashamed, and I’m just a viewer, so I can’t imagine how Zuko must be feeling. Iroh’s silent reproach is literally so fierce that it’s reaching out of the screen at me and strangling my poor little heart.

Katara uses her magic water on Aang, and while it doesn’t seem at first like its working, Aang is resuscitated, and he gives a weak smile.

Was he dead? It seems quite a stretch that Katara’s healing ability and some spirit water would be enough to resurrect the Avatar.

I may have mentioned that I actively don’t ship Aang and Katara, despite liking them both, (and it’s not necessarily because of Sokka or Zuko) but this scene is so sumptuously beautiful that I can’t not mention it. I hope the next movie does it justice. Of course, long wavy hair in the wind while flying through the sky – it’s hard to go wrong with that. Also, the music during this part does a lot. Really, I have to clap for the person who does the music for the animated series. I mean, they’re not James Newton Howard (who is except for him?), but it’s quite good for a cable animated TV show.

Aang also kind of looks like a baby in this scene, though. He’s smaller than her, and bald.

We get another scene with Zuko and Azula which I appreciate all the more simply because it wasn’t strictly necessary. On the other hand, it almost was necessary because of all of the questions it *might* have resolved.

I’ll set the scene: Zuko and Azula are alone (yay!) in the throne room of the palace. Where are Mai and Ty Lee? I don’t really care! (Although it really is kind of odd that they’re not there…maybe Azula wanted it to be a family moment.)

Azula is sitting in the throne (big surprise there) and Zuko is standing a little off to the side. I appreciate that because it shows it’s casual. He’s not recognizing her as queen or anything, he’s just kind of standing around.

“We’ve done it, Zuko,” Azula says. “It’s taken a hundred years, but the Fire Nation has conquered Ba Sing Se.”

“I betrayed Uncle,” Zuko responds. I’m not feeling your enthusiasm about the Fire Nation’s great victory here, Zuko! So, not that I doubted it, but I’m glad to hear that what went down between him and Iroh is weighing heavily in his heart. Just as great is the fact that he’s confiding in Azula and looking for comfort from her.

Even better is the fact that she gives it to him: “No. He betrayed you,” she corrects! And I actually agree with her. Iroh loves Zuko, and wants what’s best for him, no doubt. But Iroh has wanted a peaceful life involving lots of tea and Zuko’s company, and that’s what he has fought for. Zuko, up until his mysterious reversal, has wanted his honor, his father’s love, and permission to come home. Those two goals have come to be at odds with each other. In Chapter 16: Appa’s Lost Days, Iroh spots Appa flying through the sky while they’re on the ferry heading towards Ba Sing Se, but he tells Zuko it was nothing. He forces Zuko out on a date, convinces him to let Appa free, no doubt whispered all sorts of brain-washing persuasion into his ears while he was feverish, and then there’s everything that went down in this episode.

Azula stands and takes a step towards her brother.  “Zuko, when you return home, Father will welcome you as a war hero.”

“But I don’t have the Avatar; what if Father doesn’t restore my honor?” Zuko asks, and it’s a good question in my opinion.

Azula puts her hand on his shoulder. Yippee! Except for fighting and a sudden hug initiated by Ty Lee, this is really the first time we’ve seen her touch someone. Putting your hand on someone’s shoulder can be an incredibly effective, powerful, and moving gesture – I’m speaking from experience. Don’t forget – when Iroh came to join Zuko in The Avatar State, he put his hand on Zuko’s shoulder. Katara does it to Aang after Appa gets kidnapped. I can’t think of any examples of someone putting a comforting hand on someone’s shoulder and not meaning it. *crosses fingers that no one else can think of an example either*

Zuko looks down at her hand (at least I think he does, it’s hard to tell). I think he’s a little taken-aback at first, but he doesn’t show it very much. He certainly doesn’t shake it off, even though he has almost as much reason as ever to be angry with her.

What a family! Earlier that day he was challenging her to an Agni Kai.

He looks so touched in this picture!

“He doesn’t need to, Zuko. Today you restored your own honor,” Azula replies.

Nice answer, Azula! Although, how exactly did Zuko restore his own honor? He did choose you over Iroh and whatever else might have tempted him away. But he played no part in helping conquer Ba Sing Se, and he failed to capture the Avatar yet again. Oh well. If Azula said it then it must be true.

The scene ends on Zuko’s face…his expression is dubious. Maybe he’s wondering whether he really has restored his honor, which is to say, whether the honor he is seeking is the right kind. Bad Zuko!

So, Azula says his name a lot, right? Maybe she has just missed him so much that she likes to keep saying it over and over again.

That’s what Lindsay Lohan’s whichever twin said in The Parent Trap when finally reunited with her daddy to explain why she kept putting “Dad” at the end of every sentence.

So, I’d like to say that after this scene it doesn’t really seem like Azula has an ulterior motive. The battle is over – she could have easily had the Dai Li take him into custody again. I mean, sure, it would be smarter of her to wait until they were back in the Fire Nation, but she’s also running the risk that he’ll try to free Iroh.

The way I see it, Azula has never done anything that contradicts for sure the idea that she loves Zuko. She was, perhaps, less loving in the flashbacks, but on the other hand the flashbacks showed us her preoccupation with him.

All in all, for Zuko and Azula shipping, an excellent episode and an excellent season.

Now the third season awaits…

I don’t know what’s coming, but like I always say: as long as they’re both alive, there is still hope!

Wow, I wish these posts had marketable value, because I’ve written a book!

If you wish to read about the third season, do it here: Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

And I’m tagging on at the end some funny quotes from Season 2 – particularly for Sokka/Katara shipping:

Katara (to Sokka): “What, like you’re ready to go right now, naked guy?”

Sokka (to Katara): “Why do things keep attaching to me?”

Sokka (to Momo): “What are you doing in my mouth? Momo, you need to be a little bit more sensitive to my boundaries.”

Sokka (to his prey): “You’re awfully cute. But unfortunately for you, you’re made of meat.”

Sokka (to Katara): “If I sweat anymore, I don’t think sticking together is going to be a problem.”

Katara (to Sokka): “Sokka, wait! You shouldn’t be eating strange plants!”

Sokka (to Katara): “Good technique little sister. Keep it up! Don’t forget to breathe.”

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6 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 II Of V: Episodes 28-40

  1. Himitsu says:

    Yeah, another one, good job. Book 2 is my favorite book because of Toph and Azula. Azula managed a feat at 14 that no fire bender could, conquer Ba Sing Se.

    Azula’s joke in The Chase is one of my favorite ATLA moments. I still replay that scene. I never paid it much attention that she introduced herself as Zuko’s sister. I like your thoughts on it. I love how Zuko and Azula get caught up in each other. They turned things around for few moments and made all about them, when it should’ve been about catching Aang.

    I was disappointed that Iroh gave up on Azula. I think he saw too much Ozai in her. Maybe he tried to change Ozai and it didn’t work.

    I actually liked Jin with Zuko. My first choice is Azuko. Zutara is in distant second followed by Jinko.

    It’s awesome how the dragons had the voices of Iroh and Azula. They must be the two most important people in his life. Who know all Zuko needed to do was dream about Azula being a dragon that wrapped itself around him, whispered in his ear, and called Fire Lord Zuko, for him to reach his happy place. Imagine how happy he would’ve he’d dreamt about her in human form ;-).

    You’re a right about Azula’s speech to Zuko. Iroh said he was at a crossroad to choose his destiny and Zuko chose Azula. Iroh told him to listen to his heart, and Zuko in the end he chooses Azula. She offers Zuko redemption and Iroh counters that’s not the right redemption. Then Azula changes from offering redemption to telling Zuko she needs him. He chooses to follow Azula. Their conversation was all about wants, needs, and destiny.

    When Azula and Zuko fight together they are in sync. IMO they fight together better than anyone on the show outside of Aang and Toph. It’s understandable for Aang and Toph because she taught Aang. Zuko and Azula just seem be in sync. They really fight well together and not just beside each other.

    LOL at your picture of the woman and her baby for Kataang, not that I have anything against Kataang it was just funny as heck.

    BTW Toph was conceived as a boy as well.

    Have you seen this video http://youtu.be/bG82P1lYD90?t=2m5s ? I really think the creators were testing the Azuko waters. Too bad this isn’t a manga. This book would be different http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781416949848_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG

    • Shipcestuous says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this page too. Book 2 is my favorite as well. Who doesn’t love Toph? And watching Azula outmaneuver everyone is one of my favorite things to watch.

      I like Jin and Zuko too. I think the main reason I didn’t enjoy them together is because I don’t like the idea of Zuko giving up on returning to the Fire Nation and reclaiming his “honor” and returning to his home and family. If he grew happy with Jin, satisfied with his life in Ba Sing Se, then he might have decided never to return. But I liked them a lot.

      I loved reading your thoughts about Crossroads of Destiny and Zuko’s dream. There was something very sensual about the way that Azula’s snake form interacted with Zuko in the dream, and I think you really pinpointed that with all of the wrapping around him and whispering in his ear. And that’s a good summary of the themes of their conversation. Zuko is susceptible to all of that discussion of destiny and being wanted and needed.

      I love watching Zuko and Azula fight together. I wish we had gotten to see them work as a team a lot more. They would have been unstoppable.

      Toph was conceived as a boy as well? I had no idea.

      I hadn’t seen that video, though I did read that they had proposed Azula and the Blue Spirit was a couple. I loved the person in the audience yelling out, “What’s wrong with you?!” That was hilarious.

      Thank you for your comment! I love your feedback on the commentary and it’s so great to discuss Zuko and Azula again.

      • Himitsu says:

        I am glad you loved my comments. The yelling out guy is so funny. I hear him at times when I’m writing my fan fic. If you enjoyed my comments you may like Bryan Konietzko comments on the matter, “When you study Eastern philosophies, the ego is a really tough enemy or antagonist. Again, we like to treat our characters very realistically. In real life, people have moments of great weakness, usually tied in with the ego. Your siblings can push your buttons. I have four siblings, a brother and three sisters, and no one can get you like your siblings. Azula knew ALL the right buttons to push to play at his weaknesses, parts of his ego which were susceptible to her. She did it well, and it was a moment where he just tasted this thing which he’s wanted and focused on, obsessed over, for so long. I think it was very realistic.” I read this last night through sleepy AZUKO shipper eyes and thought wow. The entire interview is found here http://www.avatarspirit.net/interviews.php?id=20

        • Shipcestuous says:

          Wow, those are great comments from Koniezko! Thank you for sharing and for providing the link. That was my impression of Azula as well. I’ve described her as manipulative but in a lot of ways it’s just because she’s his sister and knows him best.

          • Himitsu says:

            I am glad you enjoyed the comments. Thanks to Koniezko I view that scene a little differently. We knew about Zuko’s quest to reclaim his honor. However, Azula stroked his ego by offering herself before mentioning his honor. She said she needed him. It worked because she knew what buttons to push and when to push them. I also like the idea of Azula needing him being one of the things Zuko has obsessed over.

            • Shipcestuous says:

              Me too! Azula using herself to tempt him back as much as his beloved honor is one of the shippiest things about Zucest.

              I like your headcanon about Zuko obsessing over being needed by her. I always imagine he was a little obsessed by having the chance to show her up or defeat her in some way, and then in Crossroads of Destiny he realizes that being needed by her would be just as good.

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