Book Three – Fire – Chapter Eighteen – Sozin’s Comet, Part I – The Phoenix King
Without consulting Zuko, the gaang has decided to wait to attack Ozai until after Sozin’s Comet. With Ba Sing Se fallen, they don’t really see the point. This is when we finally learn what was said in that confounded war meeting from way back in Chapter 9.
Zuko enters the room of the meeting. I don’t know if this is the regular throne room or not. The Fire Lord always sits in front of a wall of fire. It could be for intimidation, or maybe it’s just drafty in there. I don’t know. What I do know is that it seems unnecessarily dangerous and wasteful. Anyway, Azula sits on one side of Ozai (criss cross applesauce) and Zuko on the other. Zuko is on the right hand side. What surprises me most about this scene is the fact that his father doesn’t chew him out for being late.
Ozai gets a report from one of his generals. The general says that earthbender rebellions keep them from having complete victory over the Earth Kingdom. Ozai turns to Zuko and asks for his thoughts, since Zuko has traveled widely in the Earth Kingdom.
Zuko is insightful, but he should have kept his mouth shut: he says that they’ll keep fighting as long as they have hope.
Ozai says: “Yes, you’re right: we need to destroy their hope.”
Ozai likes her idea: “Yes! Yes, you’re right, Azula. Sozin’s comet is almost upon us and on that day it will endow us with the strength and power of 100 suns. No earthbender will stand a chance against us.” Ozai explains that just like Sozin used the comet to wipe out the Air Nomads, he’ll use it to “end” the Earth Kingdom “permanently”.
His plan is to reign fire down using airships to destroy everything. And a new world is to be born from that – “a world in which all of the lands are Fire Nation and I am the supreme ruler of everything.”
Everyone claps. It’s kind of like the end of the play in The Ember Island Players, except these people will probably be banished if they don’t applaud. And the first person to stop applauding will get a bolt of lightning to the foreheaad.
I think I would have been happier if they hadn’t sent Ozai so over-the-top. I guess because they sent Azula right with him.
Their plan to get rid of the hope of the Earth Kingdom is standard war strategy. That’s why you always target the enemy’s heroes and leaders first. I can’t really fault Ozai for deciding on that general course of action.
But I am a little thrown off by Azula’s suggestion. She hasn’t done much killing or destruction so far. The drill would have taken down the wall, but it wouldn’t necessarily have hurt anybody. And when she finally did take Ba Sing Se, it was essentially a bloodless coup. Because that’s how good she is. Aang was the only person who actually got hurt in that action. I would have expected Azula to be a bit more strategic, and a bit less “kill them all” here. (Not that I think she really cares about any of them.)
And her and Ozai’s plan doesn’t actually make any sense: the Earth Kingdom is full of Fire Nation colonies and people. Some of these colonies are 100 years old. Those colonists and all of their property would be burned as well. And if Ozai wants the whole world to be Fire Nation, wouldn’t it be better to leave infrastructure in place? No one can live in a wasteland. But I guess he couldn’t be the Phoenix King unless he burned everything down.
You know, from the looks on Azula’s face, it seems like she was only trying to please her father. The way she smiles when he accepts her suggestion makes me think that that was what she really cared about, and not squashing Earth Kingdom rebellions.
Azula tells her servants to carry her faster. She enjoys “double time” herself, I guess.
She apologes for arriving late to her father, bowing behind him. “Good palanquin bearers are so hard to find these days.” If she really was late, then she wasn’t just being crazy-Azula in telling them to carry her faster. And again, Ozai doesn’t seem to care about punctuality. I guess that was a quality she developed all on his own. At least he waited to tell her in person that she wasn’t coming along, instead of just taking off.
In a perfectly normal tone she asks if everything is ready for their departure.
He calls her Azula, but I only remember him calling Zuko “Prince Zuko”.
“What?” Azula demands.
Ozai tells her that he has decided to lead the fleet of airships to Ba Sing Se alone, and that she will remain in the Fire Nation.
Ozai: “My decision is final.”
But Daddy!!!!! *stomps feet*
She stands. “You can’t treat me like this. You can’t treat me like Zuko.”
Ah. So maybe being Daddy’s little girl has always been about Zuko…?
Ozai: “Azula, silence yourself.”
Azula: “But it was my idea to burn everything to the ground. I deserve to be by your side.” Sorry to break it to you, Azula, but I’m not sure that idea was the stroke of genius you and your father seem to think it was. I think everyone has “destroy everything” in their playbook.
Ozai makes a very angry face and turns his head suddenly, and it totally seems like he’s going to do something horrible to her, like slap her or burn her, but all he does is say her name again in a reproving tone. And then he comforts her: “Listen to me. I need you here to watch over the homeland. It’s a very important job that I can only entrust to you.”
Ozai: “And for your loyalty I’ve decided to declare you the new Fire Lord.”
Azula: “Fire Lord Azula? It does seem appropriate. But what about you?”
Now, her sudden desire to be Fire Lord may seem like it contradicts all of the talk I did about how her seeming lack of desire to be Fire Lord is proof that she loves Zuko, but at this point, can you really blame her? Zuko is a turncoat. He’s not fit to be Fire Lord anymore than His Tea-Loving Kookiness.
Ozai: “Fire Lord Ozai is no more. Just as the world will be reborn in fire, I shall be reborn as the supreme ruler of the world. From this moment on I will be known as the Phoenix King.” It’s quite a spectacle: new banners and flags are raised, there’s a new headpiece involved – it’s very exciting.
So far she hasn’t seemed crazy at all.
She did come across as a little petulant, though.
This is the first scene we really see between Ozai and Azula. They are formal with each other, but he uses kind words and a kind tone to reassure her. He probably could have shut her down just by being gruff. On the other hand, he could have merely been trying to control her. I really can’t say. Does Ozai love Azula? Or is he simply proud to have a daughter in his image?
Zuko finds Iroh, who is near Ba Sing Se, and the two finally reunite. Zuko kneels on the floor of Iroh’s tent and cries and apologizes. He’s still apologizing when Iroh yanks him into a hug, which is the best. I mean, how can you not smile like a happy idiot during a scene like that?
Zuko: “How can you forgive me so easily?”
Iroh: “I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you had lost your way.”
Zuko asks if Iroh will come take his rightful place on the throne. I think that Iroh is the one who should be on the throne, but Iroh, apparently, wants to help retake Ba Sing Se for the Earth Kingdom, and then wants to work in his tea shop again. I’m sure the Jasmine Dragon was a nice place, but seriously?
Lame! Also, strategically, its silly. Iroh is one of the most powerful firebenders around – surely he could be doing something more useful. All they show him doing in the end is taking down banners.
Iroh tells Zuko that he needs to go to the Fire Nation and take his place as heir to the throne. “But Azula will be there,” he warns. How the hell does he know that Azula will be there? That wasn’t the original plan, after all.
Zuko makes an angry face. That Azula! Grrr…how I hate her! That sort of thing. “I can handle Azula,” he says. Yeah, sure you can. And you can make a living off of open-mike night at the Fire Nation comedy club.
“Not alone,” Iroh says. “You will need help.”
Zuko: “You’re right.” He invites Katara to help him.
I’d like to think that no one believes that Zuko could take down Azula in an Agni Kai, but they may all be thinking that Azula won’t be alone. She’ll have plenty of firebender guards, plus the Dai Li (well they should be thinking that, anyway). I’m going to choose to believe that neither Iroh nor Zuko thinks Zuko is a match for Azula.
I scoff at his “I can handle Azula.” No one can handle Azula – that’s what makes her so flippin’ awesome.
“Katara, how would you like to help me put Azula in her place?” Interesting wording. While this may be another case of target-audience-syndrome, I choose to believe that Zuko has zero intention of killing Azula.
And I can’t resist: where is Azula’s place, eh, Zuko?
He doesn’t have a lot of options for help, but in terms of fighting-without-fatalities, Katara is a good choice. He’s already seen her show mercy to her own mother’s killer, and as a waterbender she has a lot of ways of incapacitating without killing, though not as many as an earthbender – they seem to be able to make cuffs very easily. Sometimes Azula can break out of them, sometimes she can’t. If I remember correctly, it has been very inconsistent.
Plus, Katara seems like the option that would tick Azula off the most. “Look, Sister, I’ve come to fight you, and I’ve brought my new luva.”
I think Iroh should have been the one to come with him. He grew up in the palace, the Fire Nation is his country, and this is his niece. He sat idly by while his evil brother ascended to the throne, and he should be helping to mop up the mess produced by his evil brother’s evil seed. It’s his family.
I’m surprised Katara would be willing to separate from Sokka. If I were her, I would have stuck by him. He’s not a bender, and he may be all the family she has left when the day is through.
On that note, the writers really missed an opportunity by not having a scene contrasting Sokka and Katara’s relationship with that of Zuko and Azula.
We get another scene of Azula having her hairbrushed. She’s being groomed and pampered in preparation for her coronation, and she’s eating cherries.
But one of the cherries still has its pit! Oh no! She could have choked! After going about it in a rather patronizing fashion, she banishes the girl who holds the cherries. The girl asks for forgiveness, and Azula decides that she’ll show mercy since it’s a special day, and merely banishes her.
She kind of has a point. It’s possible to eat a cherry with a pit and not choke on it. But if you pop a cherry into your mouth not expecting it to have a pit, but it does, then something could have happened.
(Not that I don’t think she’s being severe.)
Azula is sitting on the throne, which isn’t a throne at all, but a carpet on the ground, only the ground is higher than the rest of the room. Well, you saw back at the War Meeting, but we’ve never seen it from this view before. Behind her the fire is blue. I love it. There’s also some in front of her, cutting her off from the rest of the room. I don’t know why the fire is blue. I mean, it’s blue because that’s her color. But practically, I wonder. Copper chloride?
We see the Dai Li walking towards her. It’s hard to tell that its them because we can’t tell that they’re wearing green because of the influence of the blue light, but we recognize their hats.
“You sent for us, Princess?” one asks. Personally, I’m of the opinion that all of the Dai Li are in love with Azula. Why else would they have defected so easily? I fully expect them to break her out of whatever institution she is put in after all of this is over. “Is everything all right?” he asks.
Azula: “Actually, everything is not all right. Do you know how long it took you to get here?”
One thing we know about Azula is how much she prizes punctuality. Apparently she didn’t get that from her father.
I don’t know how long it has been since the end of The Boiling Rock, but if that’s when Azula started to lose her marbles, she has certainly been hiding it well. And if I get my way, then she’s been losing it since the Day Of Black Sun. It has been weeks since then, but I don’t know how many.
Come on, Zules! It’s not that easy to take you down. Perhaps she has grown dependent on them?And yet she sure could have used them in The Southern Raiders.
Azula: “Is this how you plan to treat your new Fire Lord? With tardiness and disloyalty?”
This poor guy. “The Dai Li would never betray you,” he says with a quiet emphasis. And he really means it. Yeah, they are so hot for her.
Yeah, she’s lost it. While their fickle loyalties certainly should be considered, they have already proven themselves loyal to her. Several times over. They’ve left their homeland to follow her there. They helped her during the eclipse – if they were going to defect, that would have been the time to do it. She might have concern that they’d jump ship if it looked like she was losing, but she had no reason to believe that her side was anywhere near to losing.
I kind of love listening to her banish people, though. It’s really funny. I think I’m going to start banishing people too. First, all of my many servants. Then members of my family. And then my pets. I have a cat who looks like Momo. He can stay.
“B-but…” begins the head Dai Li agent. This guy is devastated.
They exit, maintaining their perfect formation.
“Please send in the next group on your way out,” she commands.
Well, I’m glad to see that Azula isn’t killing people. Banishment was pretty harsh for the cherry girl, but it’s almost a reward for the Dai Li. They were the ones who left their homes and followed her to the Fire Nation. Now they get to go home again.
I don’t know what she means by “next group”.
“Azula, we have heard what happened. Why have you banished all of your servants? All your Dai Li agents? And the imperial firebenders?”
Azula: “None of them could be trusted. Sooner or later they all would have betrayed me. Just like Mai and Ty Lee did.” She adds the last part heavily, bowing her head. There’s a sadness to it, even though her face is hard.
And everything is explained. She’s paranoid. And it’s all Mai’s fault. (I say that a little bit with humor but also it’s true.)
It’s very interesting how the betrayals of Ty Lee and Mai broke Azula. She doesn’t trust anyone now. I thought it strange that Azula had friends when they were first introduced, but obviously Azula really did view them as friends.
Li and Lo: “Azula, we are concerned for you and your wellbeing.”
“He thinks I can’t handle the responsibility of being Fire Lord.”
Sorry to break it to ya, babe, but you can’t. Not in your current state, anyway.
“I’m sure you will. But considering everything that has happened today, perhaps it would be best if you postponed your coronation,” suggests one of the old ladies.
Li and Lo each point at each other.
Duh Duh Duh
Only it’s false build up, because Li and Lo inform us that they are not firebenders.
We still don’t know who these ladies are. Relatives? Nannies? But it’s nice to see non-firebenders able to rise so high in Fire Nation society. According to certain sources, they are her firebending mentors.
This scene is pretty funny, I like it a lot. Azula looks absolutely beautiful, even as she’s obviously crazy. Plus we learn why she’s losing it, and she garners our temporary sympathy. We now know that she has sent everyone away, group by group. The paranoia vis-à-vis her father is interesting. She’s afraid that he doesn’t think she can handle the job. Apparently Ozai has instilled the same desire to please him in both of his children, Azula is just the only one who ever manages to do it.
Ursula? That’s funny. It’s a diminutive of Ursa. It means “little Ursa”, which is exactly what Azula is. And both names end in “ula”. Azula’s diminutive ending is a coincidence – her name is actually formed from Zula, to match Zuko and Ozai, and azul, which is Spanish for “blue”. Probably Azulon was named after her.
So, speaking of blue, I just love seeing Azula wander around in her blue fire during this scene. It’s so magical. She really is a goddess. Maybe I should change the name of all of these posts to “A Love Song For Azula, With Casual Mentions Of Zuko And Why They’re In Love”.
Azula leaves the throne room in order to get ready again for her coronation. She’s in front of a large mirror, asking it who is the prettiest of them all. It’s you, hon. I don’t know what room she is in. It isn’t square like her and Zuko’s bedrooms are.
“All right, hair: it’s time to face your doom,” she says, lifting up a pair of scissors. Mwa ha ha ha. I wouldn’t call someone crazy if they said that, except that she might actually be trying to punish her hair for betraying her. I talk to inanimate objects all of the time – and imaginary readers – but I’m not actually delusional. I don’t think…
Azula is animated a little bit differently beginning here, I think. She has dark bags under her eyes. Her hair becomes more jagged – even before she cuts it. I mean, you see this picture, right? It doesn’t look anything like her. The only thing that looks typically her is the fact that she’s dressed in red.
Azula admires the job she did in the mirror with a disturbing triumphant smile, but then we hear a voice: “What a shame: you always had such beautiful hair.” The “camera” pans left, revealing Ursa behind Azula in the mirror’s reflection.
“I didn’t want to miss my own daughter’s coronation,” the apparition replies warmly.
Azula: “Don’t pretend to act proud,” she exhorts skeptically, bitterly. “I know what you really think of me. You think I’m a monster.” The bit of anger in Azula’s tone dissipates completely into regret, discontent, despondency. I don’t know if there is the perfect word to describe it: suffice it to say, you can tell from her tone that she doesn’t like that her mother thought/thinks she is a monster.
This means that there is something good inside of Azula. If she really was the monster that she fears her mother thinks she is – that she pretends to be, then she wouldn’t care what her mother thought of her. But she clearly does care. This is the second time her displeasure has been referred to, and the fourth overall reference to Ursa’s maternal horror.
“I think you’re confused,” mirror Ursa replies. “All your life you’ve used fear to control people, like your friends Mai and Ty Lee.”
“No: I love you, Azula. I do,” Ursa replies motherlyly. Comfortingly. Warmly.
While it’s inconclusive, I think we’re to assume that Ursa was a hallucination. The hallucination doesn’t mean she’s crazy – plenty of not-crazy characters have similar visions, particularly of the dead or long-gone. In fact, I’m sure that if Iroh had ever died, Zuko would have had visions of him just like this one that Azula had of her mother, talking to him and giving him advice.
It’s better if it was a hallucination. While it would be nice to think that Ursa wanted to come see her daughter, and wanted to tell her that she loved her, we’re so much better off if these doubts and confusion are coming from within Azula, that her questioning is self-driven.
So I love and hate this scene. I hate it because it gave me hope. When I was watching this for the first time, I flipped out when I saw this scene. I could feel the hope for some sort of Azula beginning-the-path-to-redemption deal rising up in me, and I was terrified of the disappointment. I tried to murder the hope, to smother and strangle it by lowering my expectations rock bottom, but it didn’t work. So that’s why I hate this scene.
But of course I love this scene as well. For a crazy hallucination, it was quite lucid. In fact, she almost rehabilitates herself right then and there. She faces her two fundamental problems: 1) she doesn’t believe that her mother loves her, but she wants her mother to love her, and 2) she is incapable of trusting anyone, and has been broken by the realization that she can’t control everyone with fear. It’s all there – everything needed to make her better.
And Azula realizes it’s a hallucination. Even though she talks to it, you can tell that she never believes that Ursa is really there. That’s why she throws the brush at the mirror.
All along, Azula has been jealous of Zuko. That’s why she’s so mean to him. Right? I mean, one could make that case. It gives her a good motivation for wanting to be an only child. Of course, in movies it seems like the surviving sibling is usually worse off than before the favored child dies.
There’s so much here making Azula into a real person and not just a cruel, emotionless conquistadora. But it’s all pretty straightforward, so I won’t beat a dead horse.
Another thing : we learn that Azula didn’t go off the deep end because she lost Mai and Ty Lee – it was because their act of betrayal resulted in nothing sacred holding. Azula’s entire system of belief, the foundation upon which she had built her life and her conduct, was shown to be flawed. That’s why she loses it. To feel betrayed one has to trust, and Azula never truly trusted Mai or Ty Lee. I think from her behavior while speaking to her fake-mom you can see that Azula blames herself now more than she blames Ty Lee or Mai. Mai and Ty Lee are representative, both Azula earlier (with Li and Lo), and fake-Ursa here say “like” Mai and Ty Lee, using Mai and Ty Lee as examples rather than as roots.
In the next scene with Azula, it is her coronation. We’re at “I now crown you Fire Lord-“ when the guy stops because Appa is coming. As far as I’m concerned, that’s far enough for her to be considered Fire Lord. The guy never should have stopped.
This coronation isn’t nearly as impressive as Ozai’s.
Damn it, Zuzu! Five more minutes and she could have been Fire Lord without any question. Convenient timing, eh? She should have had herself crowned the second after her father declared himself the Phoenix King.
Zuko jumps down. “I am.”
Katara joins his side. “And you’re going down.”
One of the few servants still left in the palace is about to put the crown on her head, but she tells him she wait. She shouldn’t have.
She stands and tells Zuko that if he wants to be Fire Lord then they should settle it “just you and me, Brother – the showdown that was always meant to be: Agni Kai.” I was with her all the way to “Agni Kai”, and then grew disappointed when I realized she wasn’t talking about a roll in the hay. Zuko and Azula have always had two appointments with each other and fire: one is this fight, and the other is in bed.
Of course, what I really want Azula to do is drop down on her knees and begin crying. Zuko would break in an instant. I want her to refuse to fight him.
I think this is the first time that she has called him Brother.
I wonder if they decided to make Azula crazy because there was no other way that she’d go down. Think about it: if she hadn’t sent them away, she would have the imperial firebenders and the Dai Li. There’s no way that Katara and Zuko would win that fight. So the writers decided to make Azula paranoid so that she would send everyone away from her, afraid that they would turn on her. Plus, her craziness gives Zuko and Katara an edge in the fight.
Off in the Earth Kingdom, Ozai and Aang are battling it out. Aang has never been in the same room with Ozai – they’ve never spoken, never been anything but phantoms to each other – Ozai is in the middle of burning down the larger part of the entire world, not to mention having spent years trying to capture and “end” Aang, and yet Aang still tries to plead with him, telling him that they don’t have to fight, if Ozai would only stand down. Telling him that he has the power to stop everything.
And yet Zuko, about to battle his own sister, with whom he ran on grassy hills, with whom he played volleyball not that long ago, who is evil, yes, but who has also comforted him on several occasions, given him another chance, and neglected to kill or rat him out several times, and he doesn’t even bother? He doesn’t even try. You know: “Please, Azula: we don’t have to fight. I don’t want to fight you.” Or maybe he does want to fight her, and that’s why. Or maybe the difference is that Aang thinks he might have to kill Ozai, whereas Zuko is only planning to incapacitate Azula.
Good girls have gone bad. Very bad. They’ve gone crazy, in a bad way. Like Jean Grey going Dark Phoenix in X-Men III, or Willow going Dark Willow at the end of the sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Something set them both off. And they were both eventually talked/hugged back. Aang in the Avatar state is sort of the same deal. Now Azula’s trigger may have been a little bit more self-inflicted, and her “going dark” may have been a little less supernaturally influenced, and her good may be more deep down and in the future than in her origins, but I still think that the parallels are insightful.
But my point is that Zuko didn’t even try. He has seen more good in her than anyone else (with the possible inclusion of Ty Lee), but he didn’t think that she was worth trying to save? Not even trying?
On the other hand, I’m glad that he didn’t try and fail. It would have been nice to see that demonstration of love and hope from him, but seeing her reject it would have been a couple of steps backwards. I guess it’s almost a toss up.
Katara turns to Zuko and asks why he’s doing this when it’s so obvious that Azula only challenged him to an Agni Kai because Azula knew she couldn’t take them both.
Does she know that? I mean, it would certainly be challenging. Azula wasn’t doing so well against Katara in Crossroads Of Destiny. But if she caught her by surprise with her lightning, she could take her out. She could kill her. And let’s not forget about the comet, which is supposed to be making Azula super powerful.
Except wait: everyone seems to have forgotten about the comet. The power of 100 suns? I certainly didn’t see it. Maybe a little in Ozai’s fight. And Iroh does mention that he feels very powerful. But in this fight between Azula, Zuko, and Katara? It could have been just any old day.
“I know,” Zuko says, acknowledging that he sees what Azula is trying to do. He still has this suicidal desire to face her, but at least he’s not being so stupid about it as before. “But this time I can take her,” he says confidently, and I want to punch him and the writers. It’s bad enough that Azula has gone crazy and will inevitably lose – but she’s not even scary anymore? It’s just not fair!
Katara replies: “Even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula.”
Thank you, Katara! For the primary female protagonist I have always liked you more than I normally would, but sometimes you really outdo yourself. She clarifies the fact here that Zuko and Iroh weren’t talking about Azula’s helpers – they were talking about her and her alone when they said that Zuko couldn’t take her on all by himself and win.
And I’ll go into this now: damn straight he couldn’t take her on alone and win! She’s a firebending prodigy. Zuko can practice as hard as he wants to but it won’t matter because Azula wasn’t just born with talent – she’s a perfectionist. She’s used her firebending just as much as Zuko in combat (don’t you think?), and she practices. We see this in The Avatar State and Zuko Alone, and it’s all that we need to see. She works hard to get better at firebending. Zuko has two advantages: he has studied with the firebending masters (the dragons) – but did this actually make him a better firebender? I don’t know. It helped him understand fire better, but Azula doesn’t have that problem. The second advantage is that he knows how to redirect lightning. This is the biggie. But he’s had this skill since the middle of the second season, and it has yet to give him the ability to defeat her. Of course, she hasn’t used lightning on him since then. But that just shows that she’s not dependent on it.
This is good in two ways: 1) he thinks he can beat Azula not because he’s suddenly now good enough, but because she’s not at 100%, and 2) he’s observant about her. He’s been there for about 30 seconds, they’ve exchanged a handful of words, and as far as I’m concerned she hasn’t shown even a fraction of the crazy she’s cradling inside of her, and he already knows that something’s “off”. Zuko isn’t a people person. He doesn’t know people. He doesn’t know how to read them, or manipulate them. But here, in an instant, he can tell that something is wrong with Azula. Then he makes things even better by saying that he “can’t explain it”. That draws an intimate hoop around him and Azula that excludes Katara. He’s essentially saying: “trust me, I understand her, you can’t see it but I can.” Yip yip!
What’s bad here is that Zuko takes advantage of the crack in Azula’s armor to fight her rather than get through to the human inside.
Now, the animators of this following scene, the scene of the Agni Kai, are getting dirty glares from me. If you’ll recall, Agni Kai are fought shirtless. I don’t know if that’s for a show of masculinity, or to leave the chest exposed to fire, but we’ve seen two Agni Kai, and they were both done shirtless. Plus it’s summer, so it’s totally hot out. I’m not sure what proper attire for a woman in an Agni Kai is – probably not bare-chested, though wouldn’t that be a hoot? Point is that there should have been a lot less clothing in this scene. I guess the showmakers, since this is a Y7 show, had to cut down on the intense, incestuous eroticism of this scene by leaving their characters fully dressed.
She looks like she’s about to boogie. Reminds me of that dance from Gamer.
“I’m sorry it had to end this way, Brother,” Azula says. She doesn’t really sound sorry. Not even I can contentbend around that tone. But there is the possibility that instead of just being plain old mean and crazy, she’s strategically trying to throw him off his game by hurting him by implying through her tone that she couldn’t care less about him.
“No, you’re not,” Zuko replies. *whimpers* I don’t like that exchange. Maybe Zuko just thinks that Azula never loved him and never will, and has try to harden himself. Or maybe they’re both just facing the truth that they’ve always wanted to fight each other. And by fight each other I of course mean something else.
She doesn’t respond as she gets into position, keeping the creepy Dark Knight/Joker expression on her face. Her non-response could either be a concession of truth or a denial. I would have expected her to say: “You’re right. I’m not.” But she doesn’t…
So, I know they’re trying to make her look crazy, but the animation of Azula is way off in this whole scene. I mean, did they inject her in the cheek with a muscle relaxant? Or did she get some plastic surgery done for her “special day”? Because that is NOT her face!
She shoots first, of course. She has never not shot first. You have to admire that about her. Somehow Zuko manages to meet her halfway with his orangey-yellow fire even though she started first. He does some pretty cool jumping around – some new firebending moves he’s picked up, I’m sure. And I’m sure that him doing them, as opposed to Azula’s simple spinning around is supposed to show us what Zuko learned at the temple and how his firebending is purer or some scheisse like that, but in Zuko Alone we saw lil’ Azula doing some pretty darn fancy footwork, so they had better not try and feed me something about her inflexibility or stationary habits.
For about the billionth time we see his fire and her fire meet in the middle, and I’ll spare you my billionth joke about it being sex by fire proxy. It neither neutralizes, nor explodes. *will not make a comment about inconsistencies in bending*
But instead it swirls around each other. Does this look familiar? Because it looks EXACTLY like the special fire that the dragons used to teach Aang and Zuko their magic fire lesson. Do you remember Zuko’s remark? “Their fire was beautiful; I saw so many colors. Colors I’ve never imagined.” And then Aang says: “Like firebending harmony.” Yeah, I’ve got my own ideas here about “harmony” and things “never imagined.” What’s even more important, however, is the idea that Zuko’s fire meeting Azula’s fire creates something magical and beautiful and firebendingly pure. And I can’t believe I never remarked up on the interestingness of Zuko noticing the color of the fire in that scene in The Firebending Masters, because the fact that Azula’s fire is blue is certainly a substantial part of her identity and not something that’s forgotten.
Intense, incestuous eroticism.
I’m not going to describe their duel blow-by-blow. They both do some pretty impressive stuff. Azula propels herself around, kind of like she’s doing roller derby except WAY faster, which helps her avoid most of what Zuko’s sending her way, but then he creates a circle of fire all around him, and it hits her like a sonic boom, knocking her onto her tush. Whatever happened to the Azula the cat? She isn’t just knocked down, but she actually bounces a couple of times, like a skipped stone. Ouch. Of course, it’s only seconds before she’s back on her feet. The good news is that it knocked her hair down. I hope it doesn’t get in her eyes – maybe she should have chopped it all off. I mean, if it’s going to make the difference between winning or losing the duel then I’m all for a dramatic cut.
You know, I have to make a note of the music during this scene. It’s very slow and moving. It’s sad. Like funeral music. It’s not your typical drum-heavy battle theme. It really takes into account the gravity of the moment: the significance of this duel because it’s kind of a deciding moment, but even more than that, the sadness of brother fighting sister.
“What? No lightning today?” Zuko taunts. We’ve never really heard him taunt her before. Bad sign, methinks. “What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll redirect it?” While Azula probably already knows that he can redirect lightning because Daddy told her, if she didn’t know, Zuko’s an idiot for revealing that. Unless he’s trying to warn her…
Well, obviously he’s trying to get her to use lightning so that he can redirect it towards her. Of course, the one time we saw him do that, all it did was mess up Ozai’s hair. I don’t think we’ve ever seen redirected lightning actually hit a person. And redirecting lightning can be incredibly dangerous – exhilarating, but terrifying, as Zuko describes it. Iroh said that if you send it through your heart, it can kill you. If Azula learns how to distract him properly while he’s redirecting the lightning, she can gain the advantage again.
Speaking of ways that Azula can gain the advantage: when she hit Aang with lightning while he was in the Avatar state in Crossroads of Destiny, this apparently blocked his last chakra, or some such thing. He has been unable to go into the avatar state all this time. He somehow manages to unblock it again during his final battle with Ozai. But I wonder if it could be blocked again?
So, it’s not looking good for Azula. She has yet to land a hit on Zuko. She’s hardly whipped, but she has been hit twice, and she’s out of breath, while he’s taunting her. I don’t like it, and I don’t buy it. I just have to keep reminding myself that she’s not at the top of her game, she’s slowly going bananas. Or she already is bananas.
But she doesn’t.
She shoots the lightning at Katara.
While she hasn’t lost the Agni Kai, it’s still a pretty desperate move. I think she must forfeit the Agni Kai now. I don’t know the rules, but I can’t imagine that attacking someone on the sidelines, particularly someone that your opponent cares about, is allowed. I don’t think Zuko probably cares all that much for Katara – why should he? But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care that she is about to get fried.
He sees that he’s not the target, and jumps to intercept the lightning. I guess he can’t block it unless he’s standing in place – that’s good to know. What other explanation is there for why he didn’t block it?
Now, I don’t like Azula’s treachery here. Just because a bad guy is a bad guy doesn’t mean that they don’t have standards or honor of a kind. But then again, this sort of thing does smack of Azula. If it was anything but an Agni Kai, I’d think it was awesome. But what she did here was totally dishonorable, and that rubs me wrong. It’s not Azula that rubs me wrong, but the writers, who made her do it. What I dislike even more than the fact that she cheated like that is the fact that she was so desperate that she had to. I mean, her best way of winning was to hit Zuko with lightning, and in order to that she either needed to get him on the move, or to take him by surprise while he was distracted with something else. I’m sure she could have managed that.
Don’t forget: in The Chase, Azula was facing off against Katara, Sokka, Toph, Aang, Zuko and Iroh, and she managed to shoot Iroh with lightning. Not only does he know how to redirect lightning, but he was looking right at her as she did it. And she still managed it.
I comfort myself a little bit by reminding myself that while Azula took advantage of Zuko’s niceness and the fact that he acquiesced to an Agni Kai even though he could have had Katara’s help from the start, he took advantage of the fact that Azula was off her game.
Anyway, Zuko cries out “No” melodramatically, takes the hit, and falls to the ground. Thank God that I was too busy shipping Zuko and Azula to ship Zuko and Kutara, because I would have been intense about that (it’s just like your classic vampire love triangle, I always come out on the losing side, just like I would have here) and all of these teases, all ending in nothing – well, that would have turned me into Azula.
I think Zuko is just being a nice guy, here. This has nothing do with how he feels about Katara, specifically. Although I’m sure he recognizes that she is a very good person (after the way they bonded in the crystal cave), and is loved by Aang, etc., etc. I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t care about her at all, just that he would have done this for anyone in the gaang.
Katara cries out his name and comes running towards him.
So, it’s totally possible that Azula assumed that Zuko and Katara were an item – after all, Katara was the one who accompanied him here, and they had been spending all of that time camping out – and attacked Katara out of jealousy. Who’s to say that isn’t so? Azula’s on edge here – she’s losing her inhibitions.
Azula laughs hysterically as Zuko lays sparking on the ground, and she looks completely and totally deranged. I’d like to think that hurting Zuko so badly put her over another edge entirely. She’s off the even deeper end now. I am contentbending here: she is seriously crazier than she has been yet. Her hurting Zuko was the only stimulus for that. (Well, and her not doing as well as she expected in the Agni Kai, I admit). We don’t see her face immediately after Zuko accepts the blow, so we don’t know if she looked surprised, or dismayed or jealous, or what.
So, the blow to Zuko isn’t instantly fatal, but he isn’t going to be getting up any time soon.
Katara calls out his name, and comes running over. Azula blasts lightning in front of her, preventing her from coming any closer. WTF? Why didn’t she hit her? Katara was totally off guard (which was very stupid of her, but another matter altogether), and we know that Azula can produce very strong lightning that can affect a rather large area, so I call bullsh!t on the idea that Azula missed Katara, and ridiculous on the idea that she didn’t try to hit her. But, if she wasn’t trying to hit her – which is certainly how it appears me after studying the video, especially in light of her response, which isn’t how I would guess Azula would respond to an unexpected miss – then she was trying to keep Katara away from Zuko. I think Azula just didn’t want Katara’s grubby little waterbender hands on her Zuko. I can understand that she wouldn’t want her healing Zuko, because then Zuko might be back into it. But how would Azula even know that Katara is a healer? She would have no way of knowing.
Chapter Twenty-One – Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang
We get a bonus episode, episode 21 of the season. The symmetry bothers me, but I can’t complain about more Zuko and Azula.
Zuko struggles to get up, but can’t, and falls back down. Katara again tries running towards him (she’s got it bad for that boy), but Azula again shoots at her. This time we see Katara block the blow with water. But seriously, she’s just got this little bit of water around her fist, and Azula has the power of 100 suns. Right.
Zuko lifts his hand as if he’s going to firebend, but he’s not strong enough.
“I’d really rather our family physician look after little Zuzu, if you don’t mind,” Azula says. She has stopped laughing maniacally, for the moment, thank God. I suppose the implication in this statement is that Azula does know that Katara can heal, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, this could be confirming the fact that Azula doesn’t want Katara touching Zuko, but that Azula does indeed want to save Zuko’s life. Yeah, yeah – I know, she could just be saying that.
Azula shoots lightning at Katara, who takes shelter behind a column. And the column stopped the lightning why? In The Avatar State, Iroh redirects Azula’s lightning towards a very distant cliff and it’s incredibly destructive. But a direct shot at a nearby column doesn’t do anything?
“Zuzu, you don’t look so good,” Azula taunts. I guess she needs to rub it in after doing so poorly in their Agni Kai. If she wanted to kill Zuzu, he’s a sitting duck. She had plenty of reason to kill him, and with Katara running from her, she would have had plenty of time to do it. She spared him.
Azula chases Katara, and Katara runs, evading the hits and hiding. I understand that the show was looking for a conclusive ending – so either evil triumphed completely and all of the good guys died or went to jail (NOT an option for a kids show), or Azula died, or Azula was captured. It had to be one of these endings. So obviously I would rather that Azula was captured than that Azula died. So Katara surviving Azula, and managing to trap her, is really the best way for this to end. I realize that. But still I can’t help but complain – Azula, using the power of Sozin’s comet, not to mention her everyday abilities – really should have made tenderized meat out of Katara in a matter of a few short minutes.
Azula finally gets Katara cornered (she thinks), and stalks her down: “There you are, filthy peasant.” While I don’t approve of name-calling, Azula isn’t totally unjustified. We know how much she likes being groomed, and she is a member of the royal family. With respect to her being jealous of Zuko, this is the ideal insult for her to use on Katara, because she called Katara two things that are the most opposite of herself. She might as well have said: “you are undeserving of Zuko because you are a filthy peasant. I am a clean, meticulously-groomed (in fact, I just got a haircut today) member of royalty.” In fact, she was named ruler of her land. Top dog. Big cheese. Jefe.
I know that Azula is off her game here, because she continues to approach Katara, even though she should have been suspicious of the fact that Katara was holding her ground, and glaring. Katara obviously had a plan. Katara waits until Azula steps over the drain, and then pulls the water out from there and locks them both in ice.
Katara is able to manipulate the ice around her and manages to bind Azula’s hands and feet with a chain. It’s a really good plan (credit where credit is due), but I don’t see how it would have worked. Azula should have been able to blast that ice away.
It comes down to one question: Does Azula need to move and breathe in order to firebend? Well, in The Beach (as well as all of the Fire Lord portraits) we see fire coming out of the palms of her hands. She had to move her hands in order to get them into a position where the fire wouldn’t hit anything, but she never makes any firebending movements in order to produce that fire. She may need to breathe in order to produce fire out her mouth – I don’t really know. But even if she did have to move, Katara has to melt the ice in order to move Azula’s hands together to be tied up, which means that Azula should have been able to move her arms right before they were bound. It’s possible that she can’t produce fire while submerged in water, but that doesn’t seem right. Explosions happen under water. They don’t burn well, but as long as the source is strong enough, there will be that initial fire. That’s all she should have needed to break out of the ice. Also, in The Siege Of The North, Zuko approaches the city from underneath, and has to come up through the ice. His fingers burn orange, and he is able to melt the ice enough to punch through it. And I doubt he was even trying very hard. Plus he was working vertically, Azula would only have to to it horizontally. Plus, Sozin’s comet!!!!! It’s not supposed to be an extra cup of coffee: both Roku and Ozai made it sound like the firebenders would become incredibly powerful.
Anyway, Katara gets Azula chained up, and then chains her to the grate over the drain. Whatever. Couldn’t Azula have melted the chain? Or melted the grate and ripped the chain out and made a runaway. The grate had just been frozen by Katara, so the rapid change in temperate should have weakened it. I’m overthinking this, right? I just hate to see my beloved Azula taken down.
I do reassure myself a little that Katara had essentially been on the bench the entire agni kai while Azula was working her crazy butt off, so Azula is worn out and Katara enters the game fresh.
Katara runs over to Zuko and heals him. It’s not a romanticized moment at all. He says, “Thank you, Katara,” and she cries and says, “I think I’m the one who should be thanking you.” And she’s right.
When Aang was hit by lightning and died, Katara had to use spirit oasis water to bring him back, and then he was comatose for several weeks. When she heals Zuko here, he’s up and walking around with in a few seconds. That tells me that he would have recovered without Katara’s help. And that Azula didn’t send a fatal blast Katara’s way, which was very generous of her. She sent a fatal blast at Aang, and that wasn’t during SOZIN’S FRAKKIN’ COMET!!!
And then Azula begins sobbing. She stops breathing fire, and begins wailing, while tears pour out of her eyes. This girl is totally out of it. I’m embarrassed for her, with Katara and Zuko watching! Especially Zuko. He has never seen her weakness before – unless he heard her trying to hit on Chan.
But it’s a good thing.
Finally we see Zuko’s face, but it’s hard to read, as Zuko’s face often is. And we finally get a little bit of shirtless action in the Agni Kai: his shirt is still hanging on him, but it’s totally ripped down the middle, sort of like his chest. He’s got a very large mark in the middle of his ribs where the lightning hit. God I hope he has that scar forever. Aang still has his – and he was healed with spirit oasis water. Poor Zukey: a scar on his face from his father, and one just below his heart from his sister. Damn you, animators: why did you put that scar right where his heart is?
Anyway, back to Zuko’s expression: its much calmer compared to Katara, who is horrified. And scared too, I hope.
I almost think the lack of expression on Zuko’s face shows that he doesn’t know what to feel. This isn’t triumph. This isn’t what triumph feels like. In war there are no winners. It’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.
This whole time, Azula is crying in the background. It’s the crying of the incredibly broken, of the shattered. But it’s just crying.
And that’s the last time we ever see her or hear about her. That’s it.
So, anything could have happened. I hate to admit it, but Zuko could have killed her. I obviously don’t think that he did, or that he would have. But he had the advantage and coudl have done it. And he does go to visit his father to ask where their mother is (it cuts away before we hear Ozai’s answer), and it seems like he would have mentioned Azula’s “passing” to him. But its possible. It’s also possible that Azula escaped right then, though of course that, reasonably, would have been shown. But if they aren’t going to show us her in prison or tell us what became of her then we have a lot of freedom.
Crying often represents a breakthrough. Crazy people (in the way that she was crazy) don’t normally cry, am I right? When they cry, it usually means they are getting better. Now, this defeat obviously wasn’t very good for Azula’s self-esteeem, and she must have very low self-esteem if she had to control people through fear instead of trusting them through love. So she’s going to need to work through that. But I see no reason why Azula couldn’t have gotten over her crazy. It’s true, she didn’t have a loved one to reach out to her, like Jean or Willow, but maybe that hallucinated moment with her mother will finally get through to her, and break down her crazy and her complexes.
While watching Azula get defeated was VERY painful for me (although I do take comfort in the fact that I think it was a defeat forced by writers and not dictated by circumstances, and I take comfort in the fact that Azula was not “her best self” , not to mention the fact that she never actually lost the Agni Kai, and might still have won it, and the fact that if she hadn’t sent away her guards and her Dai Li she might have won the battle without even getting up from her floor-throne), it’s rather rewarding that two of the four main characters had their final battle with her. And Zuko especially, of course. All along it was all about his father and his honor, but his final battle was against Azula. She was the one he had to face. How appropriate. I mean, how could you not ship them? If they were step siblings, or childhood friends, or cousins – how many more people would be shipping them? Seriously. It would be, like, everyone!
So, I mentioned before that I read on the always reliable internet that the shows creators said sometime somewhere that Azula spent the rest of her life in the loony bin. While I am glad to hear that they don’t think that Zuko killed her, I am majorly pissed. Ozai spending the rest of his life in jail is totally fair. He wanted to burn down the world and make himself king of the pile of burning rubbish. Except for one picture of him as a laughing baby, him sort of comforting Azula, and a vague reference from Zuko to a time “when we were actually happy”, Ozai is never shown to be anything less than b-b-b-bad to the bone. He has zero redeeming qualities.
BUT THAT IS NOT THE CASE WITH AZULA! She is shown to love Zuko and her father (your miles may vary), and to not want her mother to think that she is a monster and to be deeply frakked-up by the lack of love from her mother. She also clearly cared about Mai and Ty Lee. Plus she made herself loveable in The Beach. And she’s way too awesome to end up this way!
Azula doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of her life in an asylum. She’s simply too awesome for that. Azula was crazy, yes. I admit that that girl was off her rocker. BUT SHE WAS NOT THE KIND OF CRAZY THAT YOU DON’T COME BACK FROM! Her behavior was extreme, but it made sense in a way. Her hallucination was almost palliative – at least it could have been if she had been encouraged instead of pushed off the edge by the showdown with Zuko which came almost immediately after. And let’s not forget her breakdown crying at the end. Ozai didn’t cry. That’s because Ozai is evil.
Have I made my point? I’ll sum it up: Azula is rehabilitatable. She can be rehabilitated. Her heart and her mind can be cured. I wish I could dive into the show and do it myself because I know exactly how I would go about it.
Sorry, writers, I don’t hate you, I’m just angry.
We get a scene with Mai and Zuko. Kill me now. She shows up, leaning against a wall.
He’s in bandages, getting dressed. “Mai, you’re OK? They let you out of prison?” I guess for all he knew, Mai was dead. He didn’t seem to care too much. He asks if this means that she doesn’t hate him anymore, and she says, “I think it means that I actually kind of like you,” or something very much like that, and they kiss.
No, writers, I guess I do hate you.
And then Mai says: “But don’t ever break up with me again.” And pounds him with his index finger. He looks scared – I’m going to count that as him not being ready to commit, which = him not being sure he really likes her that much. I never thought I’d say this, but I know a very nice girl who lives in Ba Sing Se and likes tea, Zuko. Maybe you guys could learn how to juggle together. Or better yet: Ty Lee.
Speaking of Ty Lee, she becomes a Kyoshi warrior. Because that’s the perfect solution to a life of trying to assert your own identity: joining a group of women who wear so much make-up it had might as well be a mask, dress exactly the same, and for all intents and purposes act as a unit. Plus, they’re Earth Kingdom!
When Zuko visits his dad in jail, he does express hope that his time in there will put him on the right path, like Zuko’s time in exile. If he has that hope for his dad then you just KNOW he’s got to be holding out for Azula.
They all hang out in Ba Sing Se at the end. Yeah, Zuko’s a great Fire Lord (!) A couple of days later and he’s already taking a vacation! This is why Iroh should be in the Fire Nation. Zuko is still just a teenager. He has grown a lot, but should he really be in charge?
It ends with Katara and Aang kissing. I don’t mind them getting together. My normal inclination would be towards Zuko/Katara, but since I’m in favor of Zuko/Azula, Aang/Katara becomes preferable. Although he’s still only 12. And she’s 14! When you are 14, 12 seems really young. A 14 year old girl is in puberty – may have already more-or-less finished puberty (I had), a 12 year old boy probably hasn’t even really started yet. So, that’s kind of…weird. Two years isn’t very much of a difference – but it’s never more of a difference than at that age. Or a one year old and three year old, probably. Those two periods of life.
So, I would prefer Katara with Sokka, obviously. But my intensity for Zuko/Azula really dampens all other feelings. So I’m not begrudging Katara and Aang what they get.
But I don’t think the show should have ended with their kiss. Their romance was the most prominent romance, but it still wasn’t central. They should have kissed earlier, and then it could have ended back in Iroh’s house. Or better yet, it could have ended with Zuko’s coronation.
Phew. Done. So, I’m worried about Korra, and what her 70 years in the future will tell us about Zuko, Mai, and Azula, and any children produced from them. I’m hoping she’s never even mentioned. I would prefer it if Zuko was never mentioned, but if he is mentioned (which seems likely, from the hints I’ve read), I hope there isn’t much of substance to it. He died ancient, and happy. Something like that. No doubt Mai will have become his wife and the mother of his children. They’re not likely to mix that up. No Mai was struck by lightning and killed during the full moon storm of the year of the great flood, or anything like that. Azula would be wise to do her killing under guise of a storm.
So, I don’t think there is a prison out there that can hold Azula, once she gets her shit together. She saved herself when she fell from the airship, and she has showed incredible ingenuity in other situations, such as when she used those cuffs to zip along the gondola line. If Iroh can escape, I’ve no doubt that Azula can. Plus she’s got sex appeal on her side: she could seduce her guards. I don’t care how muscly Iroh got while in prison: he wasn’t going to be seducing anybody. And If I’m this loyal to her, there’s got to be someone else out there in her world. What about Li and Lo? They always seemed to have a soft spot for her. And I’ve already mentioned the Dai Li. Plus, Azula isn’t a quitter. If Hama can learn bloodbending while in prison, and Toph can learn metalbending, then I’ve no doubt that Azula can learn something equally kickass.
I suppose you’re wondering what kind of future Azula could have? I think there is a place for her in Fire Lord Zuko and Avatar Aang’s era of peace and love: quietly plotting in prison. No, I’m (mostly) kidding. Well, I’ve done some thinking about this. She could coach volleyball,, she could make glass (the perfect way to put her lightning skills to use – you have seen Sweet Home Alabama, right?), or she could be a firebending master – a teacher. Now, I’m not sure any of these vocations would really satisfy her. She’s a warrior. This is only a bad thing because she’s on the bad side, right? Being a fighter isn’t a quality that’s always maligned. She just needs to find her niche. She could still lead armies – she’ll just lead them to do good things.
And this doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but I kind of feel like the whole Blue Spirit thing, and Zuko’s sword skills, didn’t go anywhere.
This series is great and well-plotted but let’s be real: it’s not perfect. (ETA: Which is why it’s too bad we couldn’t have had a movie series to distill it and tighten it.)
Want more? I did a post on my final thoughts, including a list of comparisons of Azula with others in similar situations, and a list of my favorite Zuko/Azula fan creations.