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.
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.
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…
Or she could be keeping him around to take the fall for anything that might go wrong in the future.
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”. She’s rubbing it in – his disgrace.
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.
“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?”
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.
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.
“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.
She’s back to saying his name a lot.
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, like Katara – which reminds me: there were NEVER any consequences to that once he finally did it.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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 and indecisive 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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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: “I don’t.” Yeah, right (!) Mai obviously isn’t listening to him very closely, because a baby could tell that he was lying.
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.”
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?
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.
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? I don’t really know.) Maybe he just decided to latch onto the best girl for his country. Azula, being his sister, was obviously not an option for marriage.
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?
The next day he is at Mai’s again (those two spend way too much time together, right? – 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.
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: “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?
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.
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 mean no offense – it’s quality art. 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.
Ozai: “What are you doing here?” I wonder where he’s supposed to be…
Zuko: “I’m here to tell the truth.”
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: “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.”
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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
…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.
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.
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!
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.
What? That wasn’t your interpretation of that scene?
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.
Chapter 13 – The Firebending Masters.
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.
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.
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.
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-“
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“What is she doing?” Azula ponders angrily aloud.
Zuko and the others make it to the other side safely.
Azula is staring her down. “I never expected this from you,” she says, after sending the guards away.
“The thing I don’t understand is why. Why would you do it? You know the consequences.”
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.”
Ty Lee grabs Mai and tries to make her run, but they’re surrounded by guards within a second.
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 pleaded 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 than she is with Mai. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Sad. Like I pointed out in my preamble to Part III, 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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
I’m sorry, but has she ever looked more gorgeous? More glorious? How could he not be madly in love with her?
And it’s the last time they see each other before the big show down. The prize fight.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.