Mark Watches ‘Avatar’: S02E07 – Zuko Alone

In the seventh episode of the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko ventures off to an Earth bending village when he befriends a young boy. There, we get flashbacks to Zuko’s heartbreaking childhood as he struggles with hiding his identity. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Avatar.

Anyone who’s been reading Mark Watches (and Mark Reads, of course) is at least somewhat familiar with my life. That’s sort of a weird thing because I was raised to keep all emotions to myself, that all that mattered was doing good in school and not expressing anything that wasn’t TOTES MASCULINE DESIRE or OBEDIENCE. And now that’s changed completely, as I have gotten used to sharing nearly everything about my life with complete and utter strangers.

I like it, for the most part, as it helps me feel a bit less like I’m swimming in a pool of cosmic loneliness, and it’s allowed me to face things I had chosen to ignore for many, many years. The one thing I’ve been able to come to terms with the most over the past year is how I was raised, and how it wasn’t what most people experienced, but it also wasn’t something that no one experienced.

I chose to watch “Zuko Alone” right before bed, after a particularly frustrating bout of playing Borderlands and getting stuck because of a stupid glitch where one of the Lance troopers got trapped BELOW THE FUCKING FLOOR and seriously, video game, what the hell are you doing, I cannot shoot bullets through the floor i just wasted three hours of my life. So suffice to say that I was in a bit of a ~sensitive~ position when I curled up in bed, one of my cats in my lap, and started watching this episode.

I have been lucky enough to pick series for either of my sites that have enabled me to find things that I can relate to in these really uniquely personal ways, but generally it’s not an entire episode. I was initially quite excited to get an episode about Zuko’s journey after parting from Uncle Iroh, but in no way was I prepared for the story that I was given.

There’s a part of me that almost things this episode should have had a trigger warning, but only for me: WARNING. MARK THIS IS YOUR ENTIRE CHILDHOOD IN ANIMATED FORM. But the shock of seeing this unspoiled absolutely helped me to appreciate it more. (I’ll repeat myself forever: This is why it’s so important not to tell me little things like, “Oh, I can’t wait for you to get to Zuko’s backstory!” and such. Even those tiny, subtle hints can lead my brain in the right direction, possibly ruining the experience.)

I know this feels a bit ramble-like, but I’m doing my best to explain how this episode basically feels like someone took me off of the track I was on and threw me down a mountain. And in a good way, because it’s so refreshing and cathartic to feel such a loving and intrinsic care for a mere television show. At the same time, it’s been hard for me to think about the many details of my life and how “Zuko Alone” expands on them.

I’ll start like this: I can point to multiple instances and characters in this episode and use nearly every bit of detail to apply it to my experiences. I was Zuko, very much in the sense that I was a young boy, consumed with the conflict of being not-as-masculine as I’d like to be. I sought affection from both of my parents, and I got it from neither of them. (That’s one difference from my life, as I didn’t have a positive force like Zuko did here. WE’LL GET TO HEARTBREAK.) And I had to deal with a sister who had an attitude and predilection towards tormenting me.

Are you getting the picture yet? Seriously, this episode should have just been called, “Mark Alone,” AMIRITE AMIRITE

But this story starts off very much like a traditional western, and a lot of what is written here reminds me of the movies I used to watch with my father. This is the first time we see a landscape that seems to stretch forever that isn’t water, and the dry desert extends out farther than we can see. Zuko is a lone rider, shuffling aimlessly down the road, suffering from hunger, exhaustion, and dehydration. What this sets up is represented visually here: this is going to be an incredibly lonely journey for Zuko, and no matter what he does, it’s going to be something he has to do alone.

Zuko, more than any other character in this show, has to face what his past head-on in order to move forward. I feel that Aang has largely already done this, but Zuko is still plagued by the memories of his father and what got him to the place he is in. One top of that, he seems to be willing to deal with his violent temper; we watch him hesitate as he touches the sword at the side when his hunger wants to get the best of him.

That small gesture is a sign of how his conscience starts to struggle throughout the episode, and when Zuko finally meets Lee, it sets in motion the events of the story. Lee, the main side character of “Zuko Alone,” must remind Zuko of himself in a few ways, the least of which is the fact that Lee is also a young boy who seeks out the approval of male figures in his life. It’s adorable to watch Lee admire Zuko and ask him all of those slightly irritating questions out of pure interest. What’s great is that Zuko doesn’t want to crush the boy’s spirit, and then the writers show us why.

“Zuko Alone” relies heavily on flashbacks, but interjects them in the narrative the way that LOST did, making sure to contrast these moments with what’s happening in the present. Looking at Lee and seeing that wonder in his face, Zuko flashes back to his life when his family was all together. I knew that Zuko’s history was tragic, but I could not have anticipated just how awful things were for him. Zuko’s relationship with his mother is loving, supportive, and beautiful, something that we’d only seen from Iroh, though Zuko was never quite as accepting as he was as a child.

(Side note: TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS.)

But this whole story is about Zuko trying to find his identity. He sees throughout his childhood that Azula’s cruel behavior and tendency towards violence is rewarded by Ozai and the current Fire Lord, yet he doesn’t ever quite feel as home being exactly the same as her. He tries multiple times, both when trying to feed the turtle ducks and when trying to demonstrate his fire bending skills to Lord Azulon. I love that throughout this, Zuko’s mother (who is strangely unnamed at this point) always is as positive and supportive as she can be towards her son, affirming that he can be whomever he wants to be.

What is so heartbreaking to me is the fact that despite trying his best, and despite trying to be a good person, Zuko is summarily rejected by nearly every one around him, and it’s these moments that strike heavy in my heart. I know this episode is depressing enough already, and it’s not my intent to RUIN ALL OF YOUR DAYS, but I know what this feels like. I know the dissonance of having the whole world tell you that you are to love your family, that this is supposed to be who you feel connected with, and experiencing some of the most intense and traumatic feelings from the people who are supposed to love you. I know that my perspective was perhaps a bit skewed in those days. I know now that my parents did indeed love me and just chose a fairly awful way of showing that, but it took me many years to see this and forgive them. Still, I look at families presented to me on TV, in movies, and in books, the ones that seem at least slightly stable and supportive, and I, quite literally, cannot imagine what that feels like. I don’t know. It’s sort of like how I feel about God. I literally cannot describe a moment in my life where I knew what it felt like to have some sort of being or thing or entity looking out for me, some cosmic father or mother or creator, and there’s always going to be a part of me that feels envious of those that experience this. I will never know that feeling, and it’s too late to know what a “complete” family will feel like, either. (It must be said that my brother, my mother, and I get along fantastically these days, and I do love them with all my heart.)

But of everything that I was able to latch on to, I was absolutely flabbergasted in the show’s portrayal of Azula. This episode didn’t change how intrigued I am of her as a villain, but it is making it rather difficult for me to like her, and I feel compelled to share the reason why: Azula is the most accurate depiction of my sister I have ever seen in any form of media. She is selfish to an extreme that it is literally inconceivable for her to think about a world that doesn’t revolve around her. She takes great joy in the very notion of violence towards me, she enjoyed watching me suffer, and she did whatever she could growing up to emotionally pit my parents against me. This generally involved her playing one of two roles: a pathological liar, either lying to me to make me believe my parents were un-adopting me (no, seriously, she did this) or lying to my parents to get me in trouble. She had this inane ability to manipulate my mother’s religious sense of conservatism and her fear of my failure in nearly any situation you could think of. She would convince my mother of the most detailed and absurd fantasies about my life, and that frequently got me punished. (Punishment, as I’ve shared before, was rather physically and emotionally strict in my household, and I lost count around age fourteen of how many times a lie of my sister’s caused my mom to withhold dinner from me.

She simultaneously played off the authority of my parents, respecting it whenever it could get me into trouble, and she reviled it, constantly making it obvious that she knew that she was spoiled and could get away with anything she wanted.

It is harsh to say, and it is with great sadness that I say it, but I hate my sister. She helped ruin so much of my life, and she continues to do things to interject her specific brand of narcissistic fury into my life. And while I think I am doing a good job appreciating the depth to which Azula is written, this episode made it incredibly difficult for me to not see my sister in every scene she appeared in.

For me, it does bring Zuko’s story to a much more sympathetic (and in my case, empathetic) point, as it reaches to an emotionally difficult place in his past to explain the supreme loneliness he feels. It’s no longer hard to imagine what he was thinking in all of those past episodes where he simply scowled off into the distance, silent and pensive. If anything, this backstory has re-contextualized nearly every moment we’ve seen of Zuko’s.

It also must be said that “Zuko Alone” doesn’t ignore the other main part of his life: Uncle Iroh. I’m at a point where I demand that we get a story about what the hell is in Ba Sing Se, especially after this story. But knowing how hard Iroh worked to break the walls of that city, and then knowing how Lu Ten’s death broke Iroh, explains exactly why Iroh has taken Zuko on as his metaphorical son.

They are both alone.

But perhaps nothing represents this most than the end of “Zuko Alone.” I was talking to my friend Roshan about this episode while I was writing the earlier parts of the review, and zie mentioned something I could not put into words: this story is a fantastic representation of how privilege works. Zuko has benefited from a life of luxury at the hands of the Fire Nation. It is also undeniable that he is trying to do good here. But as Zuko fights the unnamed thug and is slowly losing, he remembers that his mother told him, before disappearing, that he must never forget who he is. In a rage of fiery fury, Zuko lashes out at the bully who’s been tormenting this town for years, sending waves of fire with every swing of his dual blades. It’s truly an awe-filled moment, but there’s another meaning to Zuko’s defeat of the thug: he’s just outed himself as a fire bender. As he announces who he really is to the town, showing his mother that he is refusing to forget who he is, you can hear the expectation in his voice. He is anticipating validation and acceptance. He gets derision. The crowd rejects him, just as his father had rejected him for trying to do something good. As he faces Lee and tries to get the young boy to accept the dagger he wants to give him, Lee rejects Zuko, too, telling him that he hates him.

Zuko is alone. He cannot depend on people who he and his nation have oppressed to find his way, to find his identity, and to right the wrongs that he has done. He is reminded of the brutal and violent past he came from, and he is reminded that hatred brings the very rejection that his life seems to revolve around. He sets off into the red sunset at the end of the episode, and there is a crowd of spectators viewing him with a muted disgust.

Zuko is alone.

THOUGHTS

  • There are going to be a LOT of these, as I didn’t get to talk about many of the amazing details in this episode, so BUCKLE YOURSELF IN, WATCHERS.
  • I am quite excited that Zuko outright names what those rogue army men in the Earth Kingdom village are: bullies.
  • “Read the inscription.” “‘Made in Earth Kingdom.'” “The other one.”
  • TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS TURTLE DUCKS
  • WHAT ARE THOSE PIG HYBRIDS. I think I liked the pig rooster the most.
  • Lee’s father is a totally fascinating side character who I’d like to see more of. I like that he just sort of understands Zuko, especially when he tells Lee that a man’s business is his own. Is Lee’s father hiding something in his own past, too?
  • Actually, on that note, I imagine we might see this family again, since Lee’s father is off to find Sensu, no? YES PLEASE.
  • SERIOUSLY, AZULA, WHAT DID TURTLE DUCKS EVER DO TO YOU
  • omg a young Mai and Ty Lee THIS IS CLEARLY THE BEST EPISODE EVER
  • The entire bit of internal politics involved with Lord Ozai and Lord Azulon are INTRIGUING. But one question is entirely unanswered: Azulon threatened Ozai after Ozai asked for the thrown, but we’re not shown what it was. What happened between then and Azulon’s death?
  • Ok, maybe this is intentional, but this was the most of Lord Ozai’s face that we’ve ever seen.
  • I mean, it should be evidence enough not to like Azula since she doesn’t like Iroh. THAT IS BLASPHEMY.
  • Ok, seriously, Azula literally tells Zuko that HE IS GOING TO BE SACRIFICED. My god, she is just so EVIL.
  • Zuko is particularly talented with his double swords and I truly love watching him fight with them, but GOOD GOD HE IS SO AMAZING WHEN HE FIRE BENDS AT THE SAME TIME. Simply stunning.
  • Why did Zuko’s mother leave and where on earth did she go?
  • I honestly think this is one of the least funny episodes of the entire series so far. Good god.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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461 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Avatar’: S02E07 – Zuko Alone

  1. Anne says:

    gah, tiny!Mai has the MOST ADORABLE hairstyle ever. Along with an adorable childhood crush on her friend's brother.

    I love the nods to Dante Basco's dancing skills in Zuko's firebending and fighting style. So cool *_*

  2. wishywashy says:

    I feel like Zuko had to keep telling himself that "Azula always lies" because it would completely devastate/ruin/demolish him if it were true that his father was willing to sacrifice him. But what if it is true? That doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to me. He's already made it clear that he thinks Azula is a much better and more impressive child than Zuko. To keep himself in his father's good graces, would he really not be willing to murder Zuko?

    If Azula is telling the truth here (and it would be just like her to share some awful news like that because she's SO EVIL DEAR GOD), then perhaps that is why Zuko's mom is gone. She, unlike her husband, favors Zuko. She would probably do ANYTHING to keep him from being killed, even if that meant doing something pretty awful herself. Maybe that's why she leaves in the middle of the night, and all of a sudden Ozai is the new fire lord…

    • slharrop says:

      I'm so right there with you. I just think the family dynamics lend themselves to that sort of result.

  3. shoroko says:

    This may seem a little weird, but this was actualy the only episode where I felt a little sorry for Azula. I'm not saying it's comparable to what Zuko has to go through, but the scene where Iroh gives Zuko the dagger and Azula the doll always really bothers me. I'm going to limit my discussion of gender politics in the Fire Nation because I can't remember what they've shown of that, but what happens here seems pretty clear – Zuko receives this gift that works in a narrative of honor and pride. Iroh, not only as Zuko's uncle but also as a prestigious male figure in his life, bestows upon Zuko this symbol of their shared glory in a victory for the Fire Nation. Zuko gets to be part of this (rather masculine) narrative, something he obviously continues to consider an important part of his life given that he's kept the dagger and attempts to pass it on. For Azula, on the other hand, he shows that he really knows nothing about her apart from her gender, and gives her a gift that's entirely predicated on her gender rather than her identity.

    • shoroko says:

      Azula is locked out of this narrative created by Zuko's gift just because she is a girl. Full stop. Not that there's anything wrong with anyone enjoying a lovely doll, but making that kind of gender assumption and, again, locking Azula out of a social construct because of her gender is pretty messed up.

      It's a minor thing, but I do think there was some intent to mark that as Not Okay, and perhaps place some of Azula's manipulative and nasty tendencies somewhere – after all, it was apparent that from at least one corner, she wasn't being taken seriously, and there was a taint of gender bias with it.

      (Or maybe Iroh knew all about Azula and was just trolling her. I still don't like it because it's sexist trolling, but yeah, he totally could have been doing that.)

      • shoroko says:

        But Zuko, on the other hand, is shown again and again paying the price for simply striving to be a good person. Last season it was shown he got his scar from simply calling a general out on his horrible scheme that would have gotten a number of Fire Nation soldiers killed for little reason. In this he generally clings to his human decency and is pretty much kicked around for it, whether by Azula's and Ozai's manipulation and ambition, or the Earth Kingdom town's (in many ways rightful) rejection. Interestingly, even when he mentioned his throne last season as a reason for his pursuing the Avatar, here and then he seems to have little ambition; more than anything, Zuko seems to just want to know what path he should take, and that's really not easy now that he seems to have none at all.

        And is the comment limit shorter than it used to be? I don't feel like I'm writing a whole lot more than I usually do, yet I had to split this into three comments…

        • echinodermata says:

          I like your commentary on the doll, too. Makes me wonder how much of it is Iroh and how much of it is societal.

          As for comment length, I'm pretty sure the limit is based solely on which web browser one uses. I think firefox and chrome let you submit long comments, whereas IE has a really short limit. Don't know about other browsers.

          • shoroko says:

            Ugh that totally explains it. I don't usually use IE, but my current connection wasn't loading pages properly with Firefox. I'll have to remember to switch back in the future. Thanks!

            • xpanasonicyouthx says:

              My server's been buggy lately and I might need to switch to stop this from happening. So that is why you might have had to switch to IE.

              Anyway, thank you dearly for this thread. I don't know why the doll scene totally didn't register any of this in my head, but I think what you've elaborated on here is pretty spectacular. Thanks!

              • shoroko says:

                I know in my case my connection or generally something on my end must have been part of the problem, as I also couldn't load things like my gmail on Firefox but could on IE. But for what it's worth I'm in a different place now and Firefox is working fine.

                And thank you! πŸ™‚

              • Fish says:

                I'd like to think it didn't register because giving a 6 year old a knife isn't something most anyone would do, especially since the last time you saw said 6 year old was when she was 3 or 4.

        • monkeybutter says:

          I loved when Azula burned the doll and I don't think it reflects poorly on her, either. I think you're right that it was done to show that Azula's interests lie elsewhere, and she resented being given a toy and not taken seriously by her uncle the way Zuko was.

          • SpiderHyphenMan says:

            Yes because when I receive a gift that I don't like I set it on fire instead of appreciating being given a gift in the first place oh wait no I don't. Also I don't see anyone saying IROH WAS BEING SEXIST BY ASSUMING ZUKO WOULD LIKE A WEAPON JUST BECAUSE HE'S A BOY.

            You're all reading WAY too much into this.

            • xpanasonicyouthx says:

              lol WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE THEN.

              i'm sorry but this whole site/project that I do is specifically about reading way too much into anything ever

              Seriously please don't bring this defeatist, shaming attitude 'round here. Thank you!

            • arctic_hare says:

              No. Don't do this. This is the sort of privilege-denying garbage specifically noted in the site rules as being unacceptable. Please go refresh yourself on these rules and take them to heart. before commenting again.

              • SpiderHyphenMan says:

                If you're going to complain about Iroh giving Azula a doll despite her aggressive nature and complete lack of empathy, then it would be hypocritical not to notice that Iroh gave Zuko a dagger despite the fact that he is a compassionate and very sensitive person.

                • shoroko says:

                  Zuko's interest in the machinations of the Fire Nation's war, as a potential future heir to the throne and certainly regardless someone who would be influential the nation's politics and military choices, as well as out of his own personal interests, was firmly established. He also worked on firebending combat techniques, even if he wasn't as good as Azula. He was interested in Iroh's updates from the war front and we've seen him later trying to take an active role in military matters. It was perfectly clear that the knife was a gift he would like, particularly with the story Iroh provided with it. His being "sensitive and compassionate" doesn't somehow cancel that out. People don't come in perfect dichotomies of supposed-masculine "aggressive" and supposed-feminine "sensitive."

                  Not to mention that I think the show has made clear that Azula, especially as compared to Zuko, is not aggressive. She's consistently portrayed as reserved, as well as cunning and manipulative. Even here, as a child, she not once really raises her voice, while Zuko snaps at her "put that apple on your head and we'll see how good I am." But that hardly makes her passive.

                  Frankly, this is a weak double standard argument. But even changing it up – let's say Zuko clearly showed no interest in war or combat and was being pulled into it against his will (which, again, I don't think the episode was suggesting at all – I can stand corrected, but the conceptions of masculinity Zuko resisted here were the cruelty, crude ambition, and insensitivity that Azula and Ozai showed – not just anything that could be traditionally thought of as "masculine"), and Iroh's gift was a part of that – yeah, it would be problematic. As would giving Azula the doll. How does one gender stereotype cancel out another?

                  But that's not what happened. And I'd say on top of it, not only was it something Zuko would have an interest in, but it wasn't a toy. It was, as I said above, a spoil of war meant to create a social narrative for Zuko to enter – one that was denied to Azula, who was given not only toy, but a gendered one, at that.

                  • SpiderHyphenMan says:

                    What I'm saying is that you are applying genders to objects so if you say "THE DOLL REPRESENTS FEMALE GENDER ROLES" then I'll say "THE KNIFE REPRESENTS MASCULINE GENDER ROLES" and we'll get into a pissing contest that ends with both of us drowning because what really inspired me to get involved in this discussion was the idea that Azula burning the doll was not only okay, but commendable. That's the real issue I have.

                    • SpiderHyphenMan says:

                      If a (geographically) distant relative sends you a gift that doesn't suit you, or even insults your intelligence because you feel you've outgrown it (remember, Iroh's been away for two years, so he doesn't know anything about Azula's interests) you don't fucking burn it. I don't care if it was a "GENDERED OBJECT MADE BY THE GENDER ROLES POLICE" you don't fucking set a gift on fire. God.

                    • shoroko says:

                      I'm sorry, I find that just a simplistic argument. If Azula was a girl and liked dolls, it would have been perfectly cool for Iroh to give her a doll. Then he would have given her the doll because she liked them. Zuko got the knife because it's something he would have liked, and because it spoke to a part of his identity and inculcated him into a social narrative that the gift and Iroh's presenting it to him represents. Azula got the doll – and moreover, not a gift with a similar message – because she was a girl. It's not a "pissing contest" – they're not the same thing. There's a difference there, and frankly I think you're side-stepping it to deny the sexism inherent in that act. That's privilege denying and this is the last time I will respond to it.

                      As for whether Azula's act in burning the doll was commendable – I know I never said it was, though I did say I could understand why she would have been upset with the gift (because it reduced her to having no identity beyond her gender – something not uncommon for women to experience). And I do think we were meant to, even if briefly, see her point of view in it – that's called rich characterization. And frankly, I don't blame her for rejecting the notion that she should be expected to like this thing on the basis of the gender to which she identifies. I think there are more reasonable ways to handle that situation, though honestly, saying she should have just sucked it up strikes me as a tone argument, even if it is Azula, so I don't really want to go down that road.

                    • SpiderHyphenMan says:

                      If you honestly think Azula burned it because she was offended that it perpetuated gender stereotypes I don't know what to tell you. She burns it because she doesn't like it, and what Azula doesn't like, she burns. She's a 9 year old child in that scene. The idea of "DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY" doesn't apply in the SLIGHTEST.

                    • Avit says:

                      I highly doubt that any nine-year-old child in a pre-industrial civilization would understand the notion of "perpetuating gender stereotypes". Nobody is claiming that she is. Most, however, would understand "this is stupid, just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I want a doll".

                      Being Azula, of course, this is expressed violently.

                    • SpiderHyphenMan says:

                      I disagree with your assertion that Azula looked at it that way and furthermore wait a minute I'm arguing about the motivations of a fictional nine year old princess at 2 am what is even happening.

                    • Please use this moment of self-awareness to take a step away from this discussion. Thank you.

                    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

                      I'll tell you what's happening. You are being a silencing asshole who has derailed a perfectly respectful, reasonable, and enlightening thread about people's experiences with THEIR OWN GENDER ROLES in order to wave around this ridiculous assertion that NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT.

                      I'll tell you what else is happening: You are demonstrating exactly what is going to happen to everyone else on this site if they pull this bullshit and make other people feel like shit for having a safe space to talk about this kind of stuff without being shamed for it.

                      So enjoy being the first person banned from Mark Watches for violating site rules that are LITERALLY FOUR DAYS OLD!

                      Everyone else: Please continue this absolutely wonderful conversation knowing this person will not be around to continue derailing it.

                    • Morgan says:

                      Wow, really? I also disagree that Iroh giving Azula a doll is a representation of Azula's being spat on by Fire Nation society for being a girl. I think there was a good point somewhere in the beginning, but it got lost when everyone got all excited. Iroh may or may not know his niece and nephew's personalities at this point. If he did, there's really no damn reason for him to give Azula a weapon given that she's clearly got a few screws loose. If not, it can easily be explained as, hey, here's this cool thing I found for you to look at/play with that displays another culture's fashion. And yes, it is a doll. I don't think it's that big of a deal. I don't think it was meant as a symbol.

                    • arctic_hare says:

                      Privilege-denying AND ableism, wonderful. Stop doing both of those things.

                    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

                      Yawn.

                      Here's a hint, community members! Disagreeing? Totally cool. Either outright saying or insinuating that others should not disagree or discuss a topic? Not allowed ever. Please stop this stuff immediately. The end.

                    • Sammy says:

                      Wait! Are you saying arctic_hare shouldn't be saying that? Or Morgan? I really don't want to do something wrong int he future, but I'm genuinely confused here because Morgan wasn't telling anyone to stop, but arctic_hare was calling out bad things. Am I missing something?

                    • Tauriel_ says:

                      The thing is, Iroh hasn't seen Azula in 2 years or so. We don't know what Azula was like before he went to war – for all we know, she might've liked dolls then, and only changed to a manipulative evil little bitch during the time Iroh was gone. If that was the case, then Iroh's choice of a doll as a gift would've been perfectly okay and without any sexist subtext. I'm not saying that's necessarily the case, but it is a possible option. It is equally possible, that Azula's character was always the way we've seen her, in which case Iroh's gift is inherently sexist (even though he might not have intended it that way).

                      That said, burning a gift from your uncle IS pretty extreme, in any case…

                    • Rickard says:

                      Iroh, as far as the series show, really don't know Azula and is outright unfair to her.

                    • Avit says:

                      Your use of sexist slurs is not helping your case :/

                    • arctic_hare says:

                      manipulative evil little bitch

                      "Manipulative" and "evil" are fine, but not the gendered insults. This is a warning not to use this language again on this site.

          • Fish says:

            How many 6 years olds you haven't seen since they were 3 or 4 do you take seriously? Because I take none of them seriously.

            And she wasn't burning the doll to say "Yea! Screw the patriarch" she was going it because she's a little demon and hates Iroh. It reflects poorly on her because she's clearly unthankful for anything she's given. She also has a belief that she doesn't have to earn anything, it's just her right as the better fire bender.

            There's more I could use as proof but sadly it's a ways away until we get there. Suffice to say, look at how she treated the ship captain, and then look at how she treats her friends. Not a very big difference.

            • shoroko says:

              I'm not sure where you're getting your ideas about their ages from, but they don't conform with other sources and I don't think they're right. Additionally, Zuko's not exactly a lot older than Azula (I know the exact age difference, but I can't remember if that would be a spoiler or not so I'm not saying it), yet I don't think he got a knife because "he's a boy and little boys like knives(?!)" I mean, if Iroh's giving Zuko a knife, I certainly hope he's taking him a little seriously. Not to mention that these people are all royalty. They are taken seriously, even when they're stupid kids. That's a pretty prominent theme in this episode. Not to mention you're also presuming Iroh doesn't know anything at all about her – it's certainly possible (though I don't think it's an excuse, it still has the same effect on her), but it's also perfectly clear Iroh had the means to communicate with them, so you don't really know that.

              And you're still ultimately side-stepping the issue here. I know I've said over and over in this thread that none of this excuses Azula's behavior. I don't personally agree with the above that burning the doll itself was necessarily a positive thing. I did say that it was an example of her not being taken seriously (and in a gendered way), and I can inference from that a response of nastily intimidating, manipulating, and lording over others. That doesn't make it okay, it just makes her not a flat character. I do think in part or even mostly she just didn't like Iroh because of his temperament and the fact that he threatens her ambitions, but I also think it's fair to point out why what happened there was problematic to her, and that she was also responding to that. No matter how awful Azula is, that doesn't really change Iroh's gender-based reasons for how he treated her. But I'm also not saying Azula is somehow like Zuko here in terms of what they've respectively gone through and what it means for their actions. Even as a child, Azula was clearly beyond that, and of course none of this is comparable to Zuko.

        • MichelleZB says:

          Look, I want to offer an alternate perspective on this. I'm not saying this is absolutely what happened, but it's within the realm of possibility…

          Maybe Iroh DID know Azula's character, and quite genuinely didn't want to give her another weapon! Would you give a 6-pack to an alcoholic as a gift? No. Would you give a lovely set of swords to a violent, calculating child?

          Worth thinking about, at least.

          • shoroko says:

            There are still alternatives that a) wouldn't have distinctly commented on her gender and b) might have actually been tailored to her interests. The knife was a spoil of war, presumably there could have been other, non-weapons: a piece of Earth Kingdom armor? An example of Earth Kingdom money? Informative scrolls?

            Not toys, but neither was the knife for Zuko. They could have made the "he didn't give her a weapon because she's violent" implication with any sort of non-weapon gift that she didn't like. But he gave her a pretty doll, a "new friend" – because she's a girl.

          • PAWN1 says:

            I don't know, while I agree that that may have been Iroh's reasoning, I still find that sentiment pretty misguided. He didn't have to give her a weapon to give her something that actually had anything to do with her interests. I mean, he still could have even given her a doll– but maybe of an Earth Kingdom soldier, instead, and carefully explained the combat and cultural significance in the design of their uniforms and what Azula could learn from it, or something. Would she have appreciated it any more? Probably not, by that point she had probably been infected enough by her father's thinking that she wouldn't have taken it to heart. But it at least would have shown that Iroh was thinking of her as Azula, his niece who was a budding fighter and strategist, rather than Azula, his niece who was a girl.

            Not that I think Iroh is an OMG HORRIBLE PERSON/UNCLE for getting her a doll, or that that one particular incident had a huge impact on Azula or anything, but yeah– even taking into account that he might have been trying to be thoughtful and not encourage her towards further violence, it was… well, a rather misguided attempt to do so, I'd say. SAD DAY. πŸ™

        • WHATATWIST says:

          Man, you've got it all wrong. Iroh isn't forcing Azula into gender stereotypes, he's teaching Azula to hate the enemy. He gives her a doll, dressed up specifically in Earth Kingdom clothes, knowing that her first instinct will be to burn it, which is EXACTLY WHAT IROH WANTS. He knows that Azula is full of hate, and he wants to foster that.

          LAYERS WITHIN LAYERS.

    • arctic_hare says:

      Yeah, I love Iroh, but I side-eye that choice of gift for Azula, because it was chosen based on her gender rather than her actual tastes and preferences.

      • shoroko says:

        Yeah, I agree. Granted, in the same scene he also laughs about burning down a city, so I'm willing to believe it's, like that, some he's possibly moved on from (and knowing Iroh, I don't doubt that he thought it was a cool gift, which is part of why I prefer not to think he was trolling Azula – but that doesn't make the gender-based assumption he made about her okay). But yeah, it does definitely always make me uncomfortable, in part because it is Azula and simultaneously so awful here that I don't really want to feel sorry for her!

        • doesntsparkle says:

          it is Azula and simultaneously so awful here that I don't really want to feel sorry for her!

          That's exactly how I feel. Why does this show have to have such compelling villains?

      • Strabo says:

        We don't really know if it was "because of her gender". Iroh was gone for two years. Azula might very well liked and played with dolls two years ago (she would have been six-seven back then?). Maybe by biting off their heads or doing mock executions, but still…

    • MichelleZB says:

      I wondered about that, because of all the element nations, the Fire Nation seems to be the least systematically sexist. Azula seems to have been trained in combat at a school for girls–at which other Fire Nation noble girls were trained, too. There are Fire Nation women in the armies. Iroh may have been leading some women soldiers…

      … or hey, maybe not!! I just thought of this: I wonder if letting women into the army was something that started under Ozai's reign?

      • kartikeya200 says:

        There's some commentary in the art book about the gender dynamics of the Fire Nation military which, unfortunately, will mostly have to wait until much later, but I found one thing terribly interesting:

        Because of the way that things are set up, many new Fire Nation soldiers are generally trained by female Firebenders.

    • RocketDarkness says:

      One thing to keep in mind is we don't know the exact time-frame this occurs in. It's hard to say how much Iroh knows about her beyond her name, gender, and whatever Ursa writes about her in any letters she send him (I get the feeling Ozai and Iroh didn't really keep in touch, hahah). If Azula's only 7or 8, it's possible Iroh's been away at war for most of that time. We know the siege of Ba Sing Se took a hefty bit of time on its own.

      • shoroko says:

        Honestly? That doesn't make it okay. He still made a judgment on her solely based on her gender. It's not unexpected, sure – sexism generally isn't really unexpected. But I can understand why Azula wouldn't like what basically amounted to "I don't know anything about you, but you're a girl, and all girls like dolls!" – especially in light of the very powerful gift he gave Zuko. Granted, I can't speak to/am sidestepping speaking to Fire Nation cultural context here, but it very much plays into the themes of certain things, like this narrative of glory associated with warfare that was clearly culturally important, being shared among men, and kept away from women – the same themes brought up when Paku refused to teach Katara.

        I'm not discounting that Iroh, through not necessarily any direct fault of his own, may just not have known what Azula would have liked – but that doesn't make it okay for him to base his judgment solely on her gender.

        • RocketDarkness says:

          While it's a bit of a jump…based on the tone of Iroh's letter, it felt to me as though Ursa and Iroh communicated fairly often, in which case anything and everything Iroh might know about her is filtered through Ursa's pen. It's all speculation in the end, but it feels like it could be true. And if that's the case, I doubt Ursa is going to be very keen on having Azula running around with a knife. She's dangerous enough with firebending as is.

        • Avit says:

          I feel like our love of Iroh is leading us to jump through hoops to defend his past actions. He is an awesomefount in many ways, but the show's hardly gone out of its way to depict him as a crusader for gender equality.

          • slharrop says:

            I adore Iroh, but his interactions with women have been somewhat sexist, not all, but enough that yeah, I think there were some gender assumptions involved in the gift of the doll. Thus far the two times I have been unhappy with Iroh have involved women – 1st the scene where he felt up the female bounty after she was paralyzed (so not on) and 2nd giving Azula a doll which was clearly not appropriate based on her interests. If it had just been the second, I would have given him a pass simply because I don't know how much he knows about Azula and I can see her mother attempting to redirect gift giving into non-hazardous presents. But with both, he had/may still have issues on this front.

          • xpanasonicyouthx says:

            Basically what Avit said. I was remiss not to comment about this in the review above.

        • ShinSeifer says:

          I think that IF really Iroh did not know Azula's personality at all, a doll may be a fair guess from his part. Not knowing what she would have likes, he went with the "classic". Also, very probably, all girls Azula's age in the Fire Kingdom have a doll, and very often, little children, regardless of their tastes or personalities, which may not have developed fully yet, simply go "she has it, I want one too!"
          So yeah, I go with "traditional gift", even if it can be sexist from the culture of Fire Nation.
          Also, Iroh is on a battlefield, maybe there wasn't much choice for souvenirs; and in my head, Iroh genuinely LIKED the doll. I think he saw it as a piece of art. Yes, he was a war general then but deep down I think he was the Iroh we know and love.
          And it is far more tragic that HE didn't become Fire Lord instead of Ozai…

          • shoroko says:

            I don't really think it was some Evil Plan on Iroh's part to Make Azula Feel Bad (I suggested the troll alternative, but I don't really think it was the case), but that doesn't make it not sexist. And he referred to it was "a new friend" for Azula (maybe even "a new friend to play with" – I can't remember the exact line) suggesting he thought it would be a toy for Azula, not a piece of art, even if it could be appreciated for its cultural value in that wore the "latest fashions" of Ba Sing Se (or, frankly, maybe that was another "girly" thing Azula was supposed to appreciate). I also suggested upthread Iroh himself may have liked the doll, and in my original comment that this wasn't comparable to what Zuko went through.

            But none of that makes it not sexist or Okay. I love Iroh, and I think he's allowed to have flaws like any other character in the show.

            • ShinSeifer says:

              Yeah, I was not trying to say that Iroh made the Right Thing, just to elencate some reasons he might have had to think that his gift was a good gift.
              But I forgot that line about the "latest fashion", so maybe it IS just Iroh distractly assigning gender stereotypes =P. oh well, maybe it is for the better that Azula never had a dagger, who knows.

    • PAWN1 says:

      I agree! I feel like it mayyyy have been an attempt on Iroh's part to expand Azula's world beyond TRAINING FIGHTING PERFECTION a little, but it was definitely a very shoddy and misguided attempt. And I can kind of see why: he was away for ages and probably didn't know how much Ozai was affecting Azula negatively, she was the favored daughter and Zuko the neglected son, surely she didn't need the same attention and he's not perfect… But all the same, there were ways to grow Azula's world a little while taking her personality and interests into account, and instead he just got her a doll.

      I feel a little sorry for Azula too– she's just as much of a victim of her father's standards as Zuko; she just managed to cope and flourish under them rather than flounder. If she had the ability to, why WOULDN'T she try her best to please her father and meet his standards, as inclined to cruelty as they were? She saw what being a "failure" meant for Zuko, after all. I think if Iroh or Ursa had had the tools to nudge her towards healthier thinking and interests, she would have flourished under those as well– but they didn't, and she wasn't able to progress past the cruelty that her father taught her was the only way to succeed. IN SHORT: OZAI IS THE WORST PARENT ALWAYS.

      • slharrop says:

        I so agree. In families with impossible standards, it is in some ways (assuming you manage to survive) better to fail early and often. At least that way, you can get the 'getting disowned' part out of the way early enough to remake your own life. The more successful, favored child on the other hand knows exactly how precarious that perch is and has to keep rising to the occasion of what is no doubt an accelerating moving target. I know it sounds horribly harsh to say Zuko may be better off than Azula, but he's spent the last two years with Uncle Iroh and now has an opportunity to remake himself. Azula has spent the last two years under Ozai's eye, without their mother to intervene, and it would take something utterly shattering for her to have any chance to recreate herself. Of the two of them, I really think Zuko has the better chance for creating a life that includes joy.

      • shoroko says:

        I don't want to entirely ascribe Azula's behavior to her upbringing under Ozai or Iroh and Ursa's possible failures (or obviously this one single incident – while I think it may speak to her experience, you don't get to be a horrible manipulative person to others because of that), but I do agree with a lot of what you've said. By virtue of their birth, family, and culture, Zuko and Azula were growing up in a rather hostile environment, and they played the hands they were dealt with it in different ways. Azula's behavior isn't excusable, but it didn't come from nowhere, nor even did Ozai's.

        And yeah, that also seems possible from Iroh, but it has the same problems – stop playing with all that fire and have a doll like a normal girl! I could even see him giving the more substantial gift to Zuko just because he may know the difference with which Ozai treats the two respectively, but Azula still gets her gift because she's a girl, and that's it.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      Actually, I've always seen the "doll for Azula" thing as Iroh being old-fashioned and traditional, which kind of fits him… I don't think he even considered the gender subtext when he got the doll – I think he thought, "Oooh, what a lovely doll! Girls like dolls, right? I'll get one for Azula."

      • shoroko says:

        And that's sexist. "Old fashioned and traditional" doesn't make it not sexist. "Girls like dolls?" is making a judgment about an entire group based only on their gender. And more notable, it wasn't done with Zuko here – he wasn't given some random knife just because he's a boy (though the issue would still be different). The fact that he didn't likely didn't consider the gender subtext just underlines his male privilege and reinforces the action.

        • Tauriel_ says:

          Hey, I didn't say it wasn't sexist! Good grief… I just speculated on what Iroh probably thought when he chose that particular gift. He may not have thought it was sexist, but it was, subconsciously.

    • Ozaira says:

      I honestly didn't see the gift as sexist. I saw it as Iroh thinking "hmmm…well, my son loved ____ when he was a kid, so Zuko will love this!", and not knowing what to get Azula because he doesn't have a daughter, and he probably hasn't seen her in years. Think about it. Azula was probably around 6-7 when the siege of Ba Sing Se began.

      Also, he probably knew that Azula was too proud of her firebending to want another weapon.

      /my two cents

      • shoroko says:

        I've already said this about a dozen times upthread, so I'll just cut to the gist: A lack of intent to be sexist =/= not being sexist. I'm not saying he got Azula the doll with the intent to put her down. I don't think he did that. I'm saying giving her a doll purely, solely because she's a girl was a sexist thing to do. It was a decision made solely based on her gender with no consideration for her identity otherwise. That is sexism.

        And even if she didn't want/need a weapon, again, that doesn't mean his only options were weapon or doll.

        Moreover, I don't think he thought "my son loved this knife I received from an Earth Kingdom official who personally surrendered to me when he was a kid" when it came to Zuko's gift. It's not like it was a toy car or something. It was an object of particular social significance. Giving that particular knife to Zuko meant something; it imparted a message ("never give up without a fight") and a sense of worthiness to receive something that had belonged to a fallen enemy. Giving Azula the doll meant "you're a girl so you must like pretty things."

        It's totally awesome to like pretty things and/or dolls, regardless of gender. It's not okay to make an assumption based only on gender.

    • Strabo says:

      The "father/uncle gives girl a doll, despite her not playing with dolls, showing that they know nothing about her" isn't an uncommon thing (see Game of Thrones episode 3 where Ned Stark does the same to Sansa). Hell, I already made a mental note to not do this to my niece once she gets older (she's two now).

      I still remember my younger sister getting a puzzle by our grandma for Christmas and how disappointed she was – the puzzle was for four year olds, she was eight. Odd, which memories still stay with you 20 years later…
      It caused a odd thing for me: A dread to give gifts, showing that I'm underestimating the development/maturity of the person I give it to.

      • shoroko says:

        Mmmph I have such an example response to this but I don't know if I should be saying spoilery things about Game of Thrones so I'm not going to. Suffice to say I think that was the point then and … yes and I think I'm agreeing with you? Though I do think it's not just an age issue in this case, and I think that was emphasized to a degree here when contrasted with Zuko's gift. Zuko gets this special thing with a special message and Azula gets a pretty doll. And I think that goes along with the "father/uncle not knowing better" trope you brought up – and were this character not Azula, he probably just could have gotten a straightforward rebuke.

        … and there is an example! I'll just say I think there's another character in GoT that fits it really well and is would be a good contrast. And that's it >_>

      • notemily says:

        My neice will get books. Always. πŸ™‚

      • Naru says:

        I had the same thing when I was younger. Distant relatives kept giving me jewellery and makeup when I was around Azula's age here, and I hated it. I was so not girly I was a bookworm so I never used them. It's pretty common I'd say, gifts are often hard to buy for people you don't know well. But I never set fire to any of my gifts.

    • With respect to all of these repliers, Iroh just conquered a city and laughs about it. I think the point is: Years ago, Iroh was not perfect. You don't have to defend his past actions.

      I think that the joke is that he gave Azula the MOST inappropriate thing possible. But I'm not going to say that it wasn't a gender motivated choice or try to trivialize shoroko's emotional response to a scene.

      That being said, when I was a boy at that age, I probably would have preferred an Earth Kingdom doll to a knife.

      • shoroko says:

        I pretty much agree with what you've said here – I think it was a joke to an extent, though given how gender-conscious this show tends to be, I think they were also aware of what they were doing here (I'd contrast it with how Iroh treated June, which I personally think was just a bad and unfortunate/gross decision on the part of the writers, though I'd understand an opposing view). And yeah, I think we're supposed to see the Iroh here as different from the one we've seen before this, though I don't want to say much more on that yet.

        And as a young girl I would've preferred the doll, too. I was trying to make it clear that liking dolls was perfectly cool for anyone, so I hope it didn't come off otherwise!

    • littletonosense says:

      There is plenty of amazing commentary about this already, so I'm just gonna add my own personal experience with gender-specific gifts. Growing up, every year, EVERY SINGLE YEAR, I would receive more than one Barbie doll for my birthday. Since I was a polite, well-behaved child, I always told whatever family member that gave it to me "thank you very much" and that "I loved it."

      My brothers on the other hand always got the really cool toys, like the aliens from Independence Day, or the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.

      Somedays, I really wish that I had taken a page out of Azula's book and burned my Barbies. Perhaps then people would have stopped buying them for me.

      • Avit says:

        No can do; plastic is much more toxic when burned than wood and cloth πŸ˜›

      • notemily says:

        That reminds me of the book "Totally Joe," which is about a gay kid. He talks about always getting GI Joe dolls for Christmas from his grandparents, until one year when they asked him if GI Joe had been in any wars lately, and he said "No, but he and Ken got married last week." Ha.

        • littletonosense says:

          Sounds like a good book. I myself didn't really like playing with GI Joes either. Instead, my brother would play with them and I would just pretend to be a giant fire-breathing dragon… or a tiger.

          Those were some good times.

    • laleia says:

      Yes! This, very much!

      I never really thought about this scene at all the first time I watched Avatar (but the first time I watched Avatar, I also didn't catch Mai's name, and also stopped watching halfway through for a year and a half, and picked it up later, having forgotten a lot of what happened before), but I read this fascinating essay on Azula and so I was watching for it this time.

      I think it's interesting that after losing his son, Iroh has essentially chosen to mentor Zuko (with presumably no similar interest in Azula) and positively influenced him. Azula, on the other hand, had … umm the old ladies from that previous episode (I don't remember the names I have in my head for them came from canon or from fanfic), who we know nothing about.

    • H. Torrance Griffin says:

      I think the dispute here needs to be split in two. The most charitable take on the gift itself is genuine cluelessness on Iroh's part. If he did not think a weapon was needful, why not get the kid a book or something?

      That being said, leaving the thing to gather dust or regifting it to someone that likes dollies would have indicated far better socialization on Azula's part (even as a 8 year old) than setting the blasted thing on fire.

    • MocataJoy says:

      I don't want to go on a little tirade here, and I'm sure everyone around these parts has heard this same story before…but I'm a girl who didn't fit into the gender roles ascribed to me, and it caused me all kinds of grief as a kid. And in this particular scene, I do feel sorry for Azula. It's the only scene where I feel sorry for her. In the entire series. But it's still there.

      I know from EXPERIENCE how infuriating it is to be handed dolls, birthday after birthday, Christmas after Christmas, even after you've clearly told people "I DON'T LIKE DOLLS." I know from EXPERIENCE how painful it is for someone to look at you when you're playing with bugs (or climbing trees, arm wrestling your fellow kids, etc.) and saying "honey, stop that. Girls don't do that." No, seriously, FEMALE TEACHERS actually told me that girls DID NOT AND COULD NOT DO THE THINGS I WAS DOING.

      So for someone like Azula, who is clearly ambitious and EXTREMELY talented, being given a fucking DOLL, while her brother (who is not even half the firebender she is) gets a fucking awesome DAGGER, would be extremely insulting. Just as it was insulting for me when members of my family, people who were supposed to know me, gave me dolls. Even if I'd asked them for other things.

      At the same time…and I do want to say this…Iroh is a really REALLY smart guy. At this point in the series, we haven't even had a chance to see just how incredibly smart he is yet. Someone as smart as Iroh could probably figure out that Azula was a monster within ten minutes of meeting her. So it could very well be that he just did not want to give her a weapon because SHE'S AZULA. So, while I do feel sorry for Azula here, I still do think it's likely that she simply got IROHED.

      • shoroko says:

        I don't really have a problem with trolling Azula, even child!Azula, because she was pretty awful. But as I said above, I do have a problem with sexist trolling, which is what this would have been. As others have said above, it's not like [weapon] and [doll] are Iroh's only options. If they wanted to make the implication that Iroh was giving her something else because he didn't want to give her a weapon, and Azula didn't like that, they could have done that – but this gift clearly screamed [YOU'RE A GIRL]. Trolling on Azula is fine – bringing her gender into it is not.

        • MocataJoy says:

          It's true. I'm just having a hard time admitting to myself that Iroh can be sexist, even though he clearly has that ability (he has shown that not only here, but by the way he treated June.) I just…don't want Iroh to be sexist. I want him to be AWESOME 100% OF THE TIME BECAUSE HE'S IROH. And since I have my own personally bad experiences with sexism, I really REALLY don't want him to be sexist that much more. I know that creating characters who have flaws is one of this show's great strengths…but…Iroh. Why can't IROH be PERFECT?

          • shoroko says:

            I really love Iroh! This was totally not meant to be my hate-on-Iroh-time >_> But as Avit describe it above, I don't feel comfortable jumping through hoops to excuse his behavior here. I love pretty much every character on this show, but they've all been imperfect – hell, I love Sokka forever and ever and the show literally opens with Katara calling him out on being sexist. And I do think, especially since he just before it laughs off the idea of conquering a city and burning it to the ground, we can infer that walking away from the battle, losing his son, and losing the throne may have had a pretty transformative effect on him.

            But I can get what you mean about not wanting it due to personal experience – I think that's probably why I try to shift what happened with June off on the writers just making a bad choice for him, because… yeah.

  4. "Zuko Alone" is the episode of Avatar I have watched more than any other. It is a fine, fine, fantastic piece of storytelling and, I daresay, one of the best episodes of television of all time. It's so brilliant and amazing I can't even stand it. With a hefty dose of dark, twisted backstory, it is a more compelling and effective character study than many live-action series. In addition to the incredible character development for Zuko, we learn a great deal more about his family and Fire Nation politics. It's Shane meets Lost. Like many of the series's greatest episodes, it is exquisitely written, many lines of dialogue containing hidden depths. It's so complex my nine-year-old cousin didn't even understand the implications of the ending; the word "regicide" was not in his vocabulary. Despite all this, there's plenty of humor to balance the heavy emotion. In order to put the awesomeness of this episode in perspective, consider that the last episode introduced Toph, giving you the expectation that the next episode would be inherently better than everything ever simply because of the presence of Toph, and "Zuko Alone" manages to knock it out of the stratosphere without Toph. Well played, Elizabeth Welch Ehasz. Well played. A+++

    • rokkit says:

      Yes, this is definitely my favourite episode of the entire series, many of the reasons you cited. It manages tragedy without melodrama, and just really yanks your heart out. And I'm really glad someone else sees the 'Shane' homage- with the totally subverted ending. Poor Zuko. If he weren't already my favourite character at this point, this episode would have cemented it.

  5. hallowsnothorcruxes says:

    I think I love this episode almost as much as Rose loves drugs.

    The episode seems like a beautiful homage to westerns with a distinct colour palette, the last shot of Zuko riding out of the village towards the fiery sunset with the villagers looking on.
    <img src="http://images.wikia.com/avatar/images/1/16/Zuko_Alone.png "/>

    Fictional he maybe but Zuko has endured such trauma at the hands of his own family. His father not only burnt half his face but was willing to kill him to take the throne. This episode is so dark and upsetting especially for a children's show. But I guess children are far more resilient than we think.

    Zuko showing Lee how to use the dual swords is a nice little parallel to the two sides of Zuko and the constant conflict within him.
    <img src="http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090501195749/avatar/images/archive/f/f1/20110101054448!Lee_and_Zuko.png "/>

    <img src="http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ll0lo4WOeW1qdmlfso1_500.gif "/>
    Never forget who you are…

    <img src="http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l1a0xt5Yg41qb6lqdo1_400.png "/>

    • tehrevel says:

      "But I guess children are far more resilient than we think" Did you never get Watership Down rented for you because "oh look at the cover, tis clearly a nice film about bunnies" or watch the air conditioner scene in Brave Little Toaster or the whole of All Dogs Go To Heaven? Kids stuff has a rich history of being gloriously fucked up from the old fairy tales to that incinerator scene in Toy Story 3 (they all hold hands and prepare for FIREY OBLIVION)

      • My five-year-old son has watched WATERSHIP DOWN about eight times by now. He loves it. I am either a terrible parent or yeah, it's a great book, and kids are more resilient than we think.

        • Although I should add, lest all the other commenters go O_O at my callous indifference to violence, that the first time my son saw WATERSHIP DOWN was at the home of his sweet German grandmother who had no clue that it wasn't a nice little movie about bunnies, and he liked the film so much she sent it home with him for further viewings. So having seen that he'd got through it without batting an eye and was eager to watch it again, I figured that rabbits battling each other to the death was not his particular nightmare fodder, and he'd probably be OK. After all, how many farm kids grow up seeing chickens' heads chopped off on a regular basis?

          My older son, on the other hand, was deeply traumatized by an Ace Ventura cartoon about a "were-moose" and had crying nightmares for days afterward. Sometimes you just don't know what's going to upset a kid until it happens.

          All of which is to say, I think shows like AVATAR sometimes traumatize adults more than they do kids, because we can pick up all the subtle implications and feel their emotional impact in a way kids don't.

          • chichichimaera says:

            I think I liked Watershi[p Down as a kid because it didn't shy away from showing that kind of violence. I would always get so frustrated with say, Disney movies, because they would have people fighting and hitting each other with swords and there would be NO BLOOD. WHERE WAS THE BLOOD! I was such a violent little child.

            • Seriously, I think I'd rather my kids know that fighting hurts and causes people to bleed and suffer and die than to think they can just go POW POW POW at somebody and nothing will happen. In a way more people ought to get seriously hurt in AVATAR than really do, considering all the fire and swords and such that are being thrown around. But on the other hand, things like Aang accidentally burning Katara's hands are a pretty good way to show it without going overboard.

              • chichichimaera says:

                That's a very good point. However Avatar is better than most for showing this – remember the S1 finale, where Zuko was still bruised and beaten up from the explosion on his ship.

                (Also, considering how high even non-benders can jump in the Avatar universe, I think some of their lack of injuries can be attributed to Kung-Fu Physics.)

                • Admittedly, Kung-Fu Physics is pretty awesome. I'd hate to lose that for the sake of realism.

                  And speaking of the point you brought up about Zuko's injuries being visible in the S1 finale, I do very much like that AVATAR embraces change and accepts long-term consequences in a way that many other animated shows don't. Characters change their clothes and their hairstyles all over the place, and when Stuff Happens it frequently resonates right through the whole season or even the rest of the series. It's a very mature approach to storytelling and it's one of the best things about the show, I think.

      • tehrevel says:

        All Dogs Go To Heaven is even more sad when you read what happened to the little girl who did the voices.

        • sundaycoma says:

          Yeah. TV Tropes linked me to that article.

          And once more, with feeling, TV Tropes will Ruin Your Life.

      • myshadow says:

        I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Movie when I was 4, and my mom let me watch The Rocky Horror Picture when I was 5 or 6. Fortunately neither one scarred me for life.

        • Hyatt says:

          My parents let my brother watch South Park when he was in elementary school (we didn't have cable when I was that young). He also wasn't scarred for life, though my mom did tell him not to let others know that he watched South Park.

      • Hyatt says:

        I got Watership Down rented (and bought) for me! …because I'd read the book/had the book read to me and loved it.

      • Ridia says:

        Oh man, Watership Down gave me serious nightmares as a kid. When I was little my parents would take my sister and I to the video store every weekend to rent a video (boy that makes me feel old) and Watership Down was one of the movies we would rent if we could find absolutely nothing else (the other was The Dark Crystal, which also terrified the crap out of me as a child). Weirdly, though, I absolutely loved All Dogs Go to Heaven even though it's probably even worse than Watership Down (oh look, Charlie's dragged into Hell nightmare! For kids!). And then in high school I finally read the book of Watership Down and it's basically one of my favorite books ever. So now I own the DVD of the movie that terrified me like crazy as a kid. (However, I've found that I still cannot watch its more terrifying cousin, The Plague Dogs. I saw it on Netflix streaming and decided to give it a go and had to stop about ten minutes in. The dog whose body gets tossed in the incinerator looked like *my* dog ;_;)

    • Tauriel_ says:

      AWESOME PICS ARE AWESOME. <3

    • chichichimaera says:

      Zuko getting to his feet wreathed in flames = SO BADASS.

    • hallowsnothorcruxes says:

      Sorry to go off topic but have you guys seen this?
      <img src="http://i53.tinypic.com/121qr0h.jpg"&gt;

    • Morgan says:

      "I think I love this episode almost as much as Rose loves drugs."

      Is this… a Teen Titans reference?

  6. arctic_hare says:

    Mark, in your Avatar Day review, you said this: "can we please have an entire episode devoted to this." with regards to Zuko travelling alone.

    Ask and you shall receive. πŸ˜€ I know I wasn't the only one amused to read that, because I knew that your request would be granted in a matter of days. HA HA HA. And what a marvelous episode it is! I was very excited for it, to see how Zuko would function on his own without Iroh around, and what he would learn from the experience. An examination of Zuko's character is always, always welcome by me, so this was pretty much destined to be a favorite of mine.

    Right from the start, I find it very interesting and telling of Zuko's true character that, hungry as he is and as inclined as he is lately to use violence to take what he needs from people, bypassed that couple once he saw that the woman was pregnant. We've seen before that he has limits – his treatment of the Southern Water Tribe, and his leaving of Kyoshi Island as soon as Team Avatar vacated the premises, and this fits right alongside them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: he's not a bad kid, just a misguided one on the wrong path, who quite understandably has internalized a lot of his father's bullshit.

    Of course, it wasn't easy growing up alongside Azula, either, as we see in the flashbacks. Even as a child, she's cruel and a bit manipulative, and extremely callous towards her own family, wishing death upon Iroh (omg you fucking monster) so that her own father could become Fire Lord. Her own mother is clearly alarmed by her; meanwhile, she dotes on Zuko and it is increasingly clear that all the good parts of his nature were influenced by her. Ozai, meanwhile, favors Azula already. The downturn of his mouth when Zuko declares that he wants to demonstrate what he's been learning says it all. The family dynamic is one where each child is favored by, and primarily influenced by, a different parent. Ozai dotes on Azula, and she has taken to heart his attitudes and mindset, while Zuko is preferred by Ursa, for his kinder and gentler nature. This is not a happy family, this is a family divided. Zuko and Ursa alike are appalled by Azula's behavior and care about Iroh and Lu Ten, while Azula is disdainful of Zuko and Iroh, showing little concern when the message about her cousin's death arrives. She shows disrespect in private towards her own grandfather, too. We don't see Ozai interacting privately with any of them, but I can't imagine that his is a loving and happy marriage, not with such a stark difference in world views between them (it screams "arranged marriage" to me). I can, however, easily imagine how interactions between him and his children go, and it's not a pretty picture either way, for entirely different reasons. SERIOUSLY, WORST FATHER EVER. Ursa, meanwhile, is a pretty damn good mother to Zuko: I love her words to him after his less-than-impressive display of firebending in front of Fire Lord Azulon: that that's who he is, someone who keeps fighting even though it's hard. It's true, that's the kind of person he is, and I'm glad that he had someone around in his childhood to encourage and nurture that, to be a good influence on him that drew out his better side. That everything went to hell after Ursa vanished from his life is no surprise to me.

    As an Iroh fan, one of most important parts of the flashbacks to me is the fact that we learn the circumstances of when and how Iroh lost his son: during the siege of Ba Sing Se. We now know why Iroh withdrew from that siege, and it was his grief over the loss of his son. It gives new, heartbreaking context to his answer on the matter to those Earth Kingdom soldiers who questioned him about it in Winter Solstice Part I: "I was tired. I'm still tired." At the time, you think he's talking about mere exhaustion of the body, but after you watch this episode you know better. You know that he's talking about the utter exhaustion of heart and soul that was caused by the death of his only child, his beloved son. And if you're anything like me, you just want to cry forever for Iroh, and somehow reach through the screen and give him all the hugs.

    (I wonder, though… he was laughing about burning Ba Sing Se to the ground before that happened. As awful as it sounds, I think his son's death is at least partly responsible for Iroh's present badassery, though apparently he always loved tea. As well he should.)

    (cont)

    • arctic_hare says:

      Ozai, on the other hand, is not content with being the worst father ever, he also needs to go for the Worst Brother Ever title, and frankly I think he runs away with it here. Asking your father to revoke Iroh's birthright and make you the heir to the throne right after Iroh lost his son? Your nephew is dead and your brother is grieving a horrible loss that no one should ever have to suffer through and that's all you can think about? JESUS CHRIST. YOU HORRIBLE FUCKING MONSTER. It's no wonder Azula is growing up into what we've already seen of her, what with your influence poisoning her young mind! Ursa, that's what's wrong with your daughter: she has this asshole for a father. Ursa is trying to instill better values in Azula, that much is clear, but there's only so much she can do versus Ozai's powerful influence over her.

      I think it says something that even Azulon is horrified by Ozai's request. Then again, that's rather a double-edged sword: if Azula is to be believed (and the fact that Azulon died and Ursa disappeared the same night, something I really doubt is a coincidence, seems to support it, despite Azula being established as a manipulative liar), then Azulon would have willingly seen his other grandson put to death to demonstrate to Ozai just what losing a child feels like. Well, this certainly explains where Ozai might have gotten the idea that it was acceptable to burn his own child's face off and declare that suffering would be his teacher, doesn't it? Assholes.

      Meanwhile, in the present, we are treated to another nuanced portrayal of the Earth Kingdom. The soldiers we see are ostensibly supposed to be protecting the citizens from the Fire Nation, but are in reality self-serving, violent jerks. I appreciate this sort of acknowledgment of the unfortunate fact that even the military of the good guys is going to have some douchebags in it; it goes hand in hand with the fact that we've been shown that the Fire Nation, the bad guys, has sympathetic people within it. And just like Team Avatar saw firsthand in The Deserter that there are just average citizens living their lives in the Fire Nation, now Zuko is learning much the same thing about the Earth Kingdom. He is being forced to confront the fact that his nation's enemy is largely made up of normal people just living the best they can, and that they are kind and good too. Not only that, but he is seeing in multiple ways the effect that the Fire Nation's war is having on average citizens. First with Song, and now this family. But the key difference here is that he took advantage of Song's kindness and stole her family's chocobo, here he is warm to Lee and shows him how to use the dual swords, and helps to repair the family's roof, and most importantly of all, agrees to rescue Lee when he is taken away by those douchebag soldiers. He even takes the risk of exposing himself as Fire Nation royalty just to save that one boy, despite knowing that they'll probably hate him afterwards. I'm sure it hurts that they do indeed look upon him with hatred, but I can't fault them for it. He did just save one of them, it's true, but that doesn't change the bigger picture, that his country is trying to destroy and oppress them, that they've lost friends and family members on the front lines thanks to the Fire Nation. The selfless act of one banished prince doesn't do a thing to alter that, to them he is still an enemy. In the end, I also think Zuko needs this. For the other bigger picture is that he needs to see for himself exactly what the Fire Nation is doing to the world, and the effect it has on people, and this town's rejection of him simply for being who and what he is, is a part of that.

      This is a marvelous character study of Zuko, and a wonderful next step in his ongoing growth as a person. Needless to say, I love it forever and can't wait to see where Zuko's path takes him next.

      Other stuff:

      – "Maybe a chicken flew over." LOL I LOVE YOU AND YOUR SNARK, ZUKO.

      – TURTLE-DUCKS. OMG THE CUTENESS. <3 <3 <3

      – Young Mai and Ty Lee! ALSO OMG THE CUTENESS. πŸ˜€

      – Whoa, that's the dagger they cut their top-knots off with in The Avatar State! I love little things like that.

      • H. Torrance Griffin says:

        Point of order. While he did have to expose himself as a firebender, whatever his motives for announcing his true name and lineage (and I can see where they may have been understandable ones) doing so went against the principles of both Situational Awareness and Damage Control.

        Agreed on just about everything else.

      • chichichimaera says:

        I love your long reviews, they're so excellent. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ Agreeing with pretty much every point in this.

      • psycicflower says:

        Forget worst father or brother, Ozai should just outright win the Worst Person Ever Award. Just when you think he couldn't be any worse, you get this episode.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        "…if Azula is to be believed (and the fact that Azulon died and Ursa disappeared the same night, something I really doubt is a coincidence, seems to support it, despite Azula being established as a manipulative liar), then Azulon would have willingly seen his other grandson put to death to demonstrate to Ozai just what losing a child feels like."

        I would posit that Azula doesn't have to be telling the truth for things to happen the way they did. I tend to think that Azula was lying, but somehow managed to convince her mother of the lie. Given what we know about the family dynamic ("in our family, things are not always what they seem"), I could see Ursa confronting Ozai and/or Azulon about it, them (truthfully) denying Azula's claims, and Ursa disbelieving them because she honestly believes 1) that they're fully capable of going through with it and 2) that they'd lie to her to keep her from saving her son's life.

        Of course, the only reason I prefer that version of events is because it follows the Rule of Sad; not only would Azulon's death be a complete misunderstanding (except on Azula's part), but it would be a misunderstanding that kept Iroh from the throne (and I tend to think he might have halted the war had he come into power). If only his family weren't known as such violent, manipulative liars.

    • lossthief says:

      This post just made me make a connection click in my head.

      Ursa (S2E07): "That's who you are Zuko. Somebody who keeps fighting even though it's hard."

      Zuko (S1E20): "I've always had to struggle and fight and that's made me strong. It's made me who I am. "

      Holy crap!

      • notemily says:

        See, and this is what I think Ursa means when she tells Zuko to "never forget who he is," not his title and royalty status. But Zuko still gets those things confused.

        • Mauve_Avenger says:

          Comparing how we think of the Fire Lords to the way young Zuko performs in this episode, it's not hard for me to believe that he would've internalized the idea that his blood status is the only thing he's got going for him.

          On a certain level, I could really see him thinking that if he'd been born to another family, he wouldn't have felt pressured to hone his skills and probably would've remained a *worthless weakling* his entire life, and might not have become a Firebender at all.

    • Strabo says:

      Yes, Iroh surely didn't fight the war with lollypops and sunshine. He surely fought it honorably and with mercy, but under his command still many people died and many people were killed by his troops. There is no way around it. Iroh as Firelord wouldn't necessarily have meant the ware stopped. At least not Iroh pre-Ba Sing Se.

  7. thefireandthehearth says:

    Hey, let's get the obvious out of the way first- Zuko, darling, I know this whole "announcing your name like you're Inigo Montoya" thing was apparently part of you character development. But if you hadn't said anything, Lee and the other townsfolk probably would have assumed you were a deserter who was sick of the war and this could have ended in a less depressing way. Of course, the universe hates Zuko even more than it hates Sokka, so we CANNOT HAVE ZUZU HAPPY FOR MORE THAT THREE MINUTES.

    <img src="http://i183.photobucket.com/albums/x119/zeldamistoffelees/Gif/zuko.gif"&gt;

    I know, bb. It sucks.

    So, anyway, this episode is filled with horrible depressing things and a pain-filled backstory enough to make any Harry Potter glance at Zuko and go "wow, your life wasn't fun". I mean, even ignoring the fact that Azulon apparently ordered Zuko to be killed just to punish Ozai, this was not a normal childhood. Ozai, stop favoring your daughter over your son. And stop being a royal dickbag, while you're at it. We also meet Zuko's mom, who I find fascinating in herself. Who is she? How was her relationship with Ozai? All of these unanswered questions, but one thing we do know- she loves Zuko. Also, she does have a name, and it is mentioned in the episode, Mark- it's Ursa. As in, "mama bear". FITTING.

    AND WHAT ARE THESE TANTALIZING THINGS WE FIND OUT ABOUT IROH?!?! I mean, Iroh sitting about and laughing about how he's going to burn Ba Sing Se to the ground is a far cry from the Iroh who threatened to pay Zhao back tenfold for harming the Moon Spirit in the name of the Fire Nation. What, then, exactly happened? Lu Ten's death must have hit him pretty hard. Not that I blame him (like Azula is *GLAREFACE FOREVERMORE*), but I want to know just how we got from A to B. And I want to know more about Lu Ten himself! why must you tease me with interesting characters, show?

    Also, baby Zuko. Baby Mai. Baby Ty Lee. Even baby Azula. ALL OF THESE ARE CUTE AND DELIGHTFUL (though in Azula's case, she has a thick layer of creepy over that). Zuko manages to be especially adorable because he's trying so so hard to have people love him. Mai's hilariously adorable, too- crushes do tend to be awkward. involve getting set on fire, and falling in fountains. Or maybe that's just me.

    It also bears noting that we still cannot see Eviler Darth Vade- I mean, Ozai's face in the full. Personally, I think this means he's wearing the top half a Darth Vader Mask.

    • wahlee says:

      It also bears noting that we still cannot see Eviler Darth Vade- I mean, Ozai's face in the full. Personally, I think this means he's wearing the top half a Darth Vader Mask.

      You know that Fire Lord Ozai is voiced by Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, right? πŸ˜€

      • thefireandthehearth says:

        Yup! And that's why I refuse to let the go of the "Luke Skywalker grew up to be Ozai and even more evil than Darth Vader" joke. I'm a Hamill fan like that.

    • Strabo says:

      My personal theory regarding Iroh is, that after the death of his son devastated him he journeyed into the Spirit World to find him. There he found enlightenment, peace and the calmness and positive outlook that make Iroh Iroh.

  8. monkeybutter says:

    I know I said this yesterday, but FINALLY!! I was really looking forward to you watching this episode because of your past. And it’s so damn satisfying to finally have more background about Zuko and his family, and still there are so many more questions to be answered. And this right after the introduction of my favorite character of all time. Season 2, I love you!

    As sad as I was that Zuko left Iroh, seeing the contrast between the joyful little (mama’s) boy and the sullen kid that he is now makes it clear only he can address his problems. Iroh can provide guidance, but Zuko’s life has changed in so many ways over the past few years that he needs time alone for introspection. And what better place for a brooding outsider to deal with his past than an Old West-style town plagued by bullies? We finally get to see Zuko’s his life was before he was sent down a path of exile and unhappiness, and I eat it up.

    <img src="http://i55.tinypic.com/15frwhh.gif"&gt;

    Zuko was such a happy kid! I mean, still a little snotty, but a normal kid who was loved and wanted. I adore Ursa; she’s everything that Ozai isn’t, and Zuko and Azula were obviously better off having her around. She’s the protective mama bear turtleduck, and she wants her kids to get along and become good people (in their own, Fire Nation way), which is a great reason to encourage them to play together, and for Azula to socialize with other talented girls her age. And I agree that Azula was awful, even as a kid. Just look at the glee in her face as she taunts Zuko, they eavesdrop on Ozai and Azulon, and finally as her father is crowned Fire Lord.

    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/4g213l.png"&gt;

    But she’s still not as bad as she becomes as teenager. A lot of her flaws are explained by environment; everyone laughs at the idea of burning Ba Sing Se to the ground, even Iroh (wow, did he change). You can see the confusion on her face when Ursa drags her away for a little chat; she can’t see why her behavior is wrong. She’s already well on her way to being the Azula we know — the one who cheers on her brother’s mutilation isn’t a far cry from the one who jokes about his death or changes to the line of succession brought on by other deaths. She still had a sense of humor, though, and wasn’t as cold. It seems like she could have benefited from the guidance of someone other than her conniving, monstrous father.

    Anyway, back to Zuko. Ursa’s last words to him were to never forget who he is; his answer is “my name is Zuko. Son of Ursa and Fire Lord Ozai. Prince of the Fire Nation, and heir to the throne,” but as the villager reminds him, he’s an outcast. He needs to figure out what it means to be Zuko, Prince of the Fire Nation, and how he’ll conduct himself from here on out. He defeats the local soldier, but doesn’t seriously harm him. He tries to make peace with the Lee, but is rebuffed. He’s fierce, but he isn’t evil, and there’s no place for him in the Fire Nation or the Earth Kingdom. While Zuko doesn’t quite reach the Toph and Iroh levels of awesomeness, he’s in my top five favorite characters, and he arguably has the most interesting story.

    And just as an aside, Zuko’s expression during Ozai’s coronation reminded me of the look on his face as he realized he was going to have to duel his father.

    <img src="http://i56.tinypic.com/anhetl.gif"&gt;
    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/2805xko.gif"&gt;

    His time in the Fire Nation under his father’s rule was bookended by confusion and terror. Poor kid.

  9. echinodermata says:

    These episodes are such a great back-to-back.

    I really appreciate seeing the supposed good side of the war being not-so-good. I like that there are Earth Kingdom soldiers that are shitty and into extortion.

    It's interesting to me that we see Zuko apparently having no qualms previously about stealing from random people, but when faced with a family that wants to feed him, he feels like he can't accept their offer without
    helping them. Makes me wonder what's going on in his head, and what he's gotten up to by himself.

    <img src="http://i56.tinypic.com/flan9j.gif"&gt;(Source)
    And flashback! Zuko's mom! Them being adorable together! And tiny Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee! With Azula being a devil even this young (with her having some nice aim and firebending skills as a kid), and Mai with a crush, and Ty Lee generally being adorable!
    <img src="http://i53.tinypic.com/n2ftk6.gif">(I do love that Mai just sits there. Likely unimpressed.)
    <img src="http://i54.tinypic.com/35lcldx.gif"&gt;

    And then Iroh as an active general! Sending gifts to his niece and nephew, and clearly not knowing Azula. And then Azula being ambitious even then, and insulting Iroh as well. And taking pleasure in being callous about her relatives. Girl, you're screwed up. Although it seems that her father and grandfather helped with that.

    Glad to see some of the family dynamics being explained, and this episode does a good amount in helping characterize both Azula and Zuko, which I quite appreciate, since I find them both very compelling characters.
    <img src="http://img121.imageshack.us/img121/7569/vlcsnap00373.png"&gt;
    Their expressions say it all.

    <img src="http://i53.tinypic.com/50mwxs.gif"&gt;
    Also cool to see Azula's firebending being red-orange when young. Makes the lightning that much more interesting, since it's obviously an acquired skill.

    And how shitty is it that Zuko has to chant to himself that "Azula always lies." Even now.

    Yeah, so I love those flashbacks. But I also love Zuko's swords, and the fact that he swordfights and not firebends in most of this episode. And then the combination of swords and fire is cool.
    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/2wcjfyd.gif"&gt;(Source)

    The resolve with the family turning on Zuko is sad, but I thought it was very poignant. And necessary, both in terms of realism, but also in this journey that Zuko's going through.

    Random thoughts:
    Lots of pretty in this episode.
    <img src="http://img585.imageshack.us/img585/5619/vlcsnap00057.png"&gt;

    Tutleducks are one of my favorite hybrid animals.
    <img src="http://i54.tinypic.com/27xmcf6.gif"&gt;

    I want to see more of Ursa. More of the whole family, actually, but it looks like she plays an interesting role in Zuko's development, whereas we already know how his father screwed him up.

    • sakiexcel says:

      It's interesting to me that we see Zuko apparently having no qualms previously about stealing from random people, but when faced with a family that wants to feed him, he feels like he can't accept their offer without helping them. Makes me wonder what's going on in his head, and what he's gotten up to by himself.

      I think he just doesn't want to be in anyone's debt. His weird ideas of pride make it easier for him to be the asshole thief than an object of pity and charity; that's why he stole the chocobo from Song, and that's why he can't accept food from Lee's family unless he's doing some work. He just wants to be able to take care of himself, basically.

  10. affableevil says:

    Zuko Alone is beautiful, and heartbreaking, and every time I watch it my heart breaks for Zuko a little more, but I re-watch it all the time because I love it, and I don't even think I have any gifs to properly express this, so you guys just get this one rambly sentence with too many commas instead.

  11. arabellafigg says:

    Just quickly: Zuko's mother's name is Ursa, he tells the villagers at the end of the episode when he announces his true identity.

  12. Tauriel_ says:

    I love that throughout this, Zuko’s mother (who is strangely unnamed at this point)

    Actually, she is. Zuko tells her name when he finally reveals his identity at the end – "son of Ursa and Firelord Ozai."

    Or did you mean "at this point in the episode"?

    • Emily says:

      I always liked that he named Ursa first. Because he is primarily the son of Ursa – Firelord Ozai is an afterthought.

  13. Openattheclose says:

    Isn't this family heart-warming? First you have Azulon, who may have ordered his own grandson be killed by the grandson's own father. Then there's Ozai, who wins the most horrible father of the year award every year. It's implied that Ursa did something horrible before she left, and she's the nice one!

    And Iroh, oh Iroh. It's horrible to say, but I think it might have been a good thing for the world that Lu Ten died. We get a glimpse into what Iroh was like before his son died, and it's kind of scary. Iroh might have been a kinder Fire Lord than Ozai, and he was almost certainly a better father, but he would have burned Ba SIng Se to the ground and laughed about it.

    • chichichimaera says:

      Yeah, he would have been the Benevolent Overlord to Ozai's Cruel Overlord. Both have the metaphorical Iron Fist, but Iroh's is covered by the Velevet Glove.

    • tehrevel says:

      I figured Iroh would not really believe in Azulon's war but felt he had too fight and better him than crazy burn everything and kill everyone Ozai (this was his nickname at school probably). Or maybe he thought capturing Ba Sing Se would end the war quicker and lead to less loss of life overall. Something like Rommel in WWII, never convicted of war crimes, treated POWs humanely and never killed any civilians.

    • FlameRaven says:

      They seem to imply that Ursa went in and killed Azulon, presumably to save Zuko from being killed. Early in the episode they mention that Azulon is pretty healthy, if old, and then he conveniently dies right after there is a threat to Zuko's life, and right before Ursa mysterious disappears? Yeah, there was some murder going on that night. (ONCE AGAIN: CHILDREN'S SHOW.)

      • Openattheclose says:

        Oh yeah, that's totally what they were implying. I was just trying to keep it vague.

  14. MissDirect says:

    This episode never fails to move me. There are several episodes in this show that genuinely make me feel so strongly for the characters that they seem real to me, and this is without a doubt among them. It really cements Zuko as a sympathetic character, while underscoring Azula's cruelty. Also Iroh backstory + young Mai and Ty Lee = awesome. I just… cannot say anything else about this episode without spoiling things. But remember, Azula. Always. Lies. Too bad Zuko forgot that at the beginning of this season.

  15. @funksteena says:

    Marks, some people were waiting for you to meet Toph, I WAS WAITING FOR YOU TO SEE THIS EPISODE. That's all.

    Except TURTLEDUCKS.

  16. Tauriel_ says:

    Also, interesting factoid: Zuko's mother's name, Ursa, means "female bear" in Latin. Ties in nicely with what she said about protective mothers. <3

    Anyway, this episode is AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL and HEARTBREAKING and I WANT TO CUDDLE ZUKO-CHAN FOREVER.

  17. OMG TURTLEDUCK.

    Why can I not pet and cuddle it through my monitor screen. :(:(:(

  18. ldwy says:

    One top of that, he seems to be willing to deal with his violent temper; we watch him hesitate as he touches the sword at the side when his hunger wants to get the best of him.

    I definitely agree that we see Zuko consciously working on controlling his temper and I think it's wonderful, but I actually didn't think this instance was one of them.

    I think Zuko would have robbed the man. I interpreted this situation similarly to many of Zuko's actions we've seen before. I think it was his strong sense of right and wrong and honor that stopped him here; it was when he saw the woman (who was pregnant, right?) that he specifically decided not to approach.

    I thought his (wise) attempts to not engage the soldiers if he could help it, and to not use firebending (well, he slipped at the end and revealed himself, but I'm glad he/the show were conscious of the fact that he's pretty much got to conceal his main weapon if he wants to stay in hiding) were prime examples of him slowly teaching himself to practice control of his hot temper.

    • MichelleZB says:

      Also, another theory why the pregnant woman stopped him from stealing: I think Zuko has a soft spot for mammas.

  19. NeonProdigy says:

    Anyway, on to more important things.

    This episode. THIS EPISODE.

    This is probably the most emotional episode, to me at least, so far in the series. Zuko, why must your backstory be exponentially more tragic the more we see of it?!

    I love that moment where Zuko reaches for his swords and stops too. Our first Season villain has become even more complex and conflicted than he already was since he and Iroh became "Traitors" to the Fire Nation. Speaking of Iroh, IROH WHERE ARE YOU? YOUR NEPHEW NEEDS YOUR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE!

    • NeonProdigy says:

      Also, how wonderful and loving is Zuko's mom? How did she ever end up with a tyrant like Ozai? I have no idea… but I do know that turtleducks are adorable and I want one.

      I agree with you Mark on that moment at the end, where Zuko outs himself as a Firebender, and despite all that he'd been doing to help these villagers, the simple fact that he's Fire Nation makes them hate him more than the "Militia" that had been bullying them.

      It's disheartening, depressing, and I couldn't even imagine being Zuko at that moment, when being himself, just like his mother told him to be, earned him so much derision and hate.

      I suppose 100 years of War Crimes and Oppression on the part of your Nation can affect people's views of you.

  20. arctic_hare says:

    These pictures are spoilery, so I'm going to delete this comment, but please repost the rest of it!

    • justira says:

      Oh no! I didn't think about the character design being spoilery D=

      Thanks for the catch, reposted!

  21. beeftony says:

    It's pretty easy to figure out what happened to Zuko's mother (her name is Ursa, btw; it never actually came up in the show, so that's not a spoiler). She tells Zuko that when a mother's baby's are threatened, the mother bites back. She drags Azula off for questioning, right after she tells her brother that their father is going to kill him. The next morning, Fire Lord Azulon is dead, Ozai is the new Fire Lord and Ursa has disappeared.

    Draw your own conclusions.

    • beeftony says:

      Also: the leader of the thug soldiers is named Gow, Lee's father is named Gansu and his mother is named Sela. These are only mentioned once or twice in passing, so it's easy to miss.

      And finally, Sela was voiced by Susan Eisenberg, who voiced Wonder Woman on Justice League.

    • notemily says:

      Didn't Zuko say at the end that he was the "son of Ozai and Ursa"?

  22. tigerpetals says:

    I can hardly believe I managed to get here before the comments exploded and the overloaded server gave me trouble.

    I knew you would identify with this episode. Was anticipating exactly how.

    I like how those thoughts about privilege make me think of Thunder something, that movie about an Amerindian chief was reincarnted as a half-white white looking guy who saved a reservation. This episode pretty much subverts the "White man saving the natives and becoming their hero" trope (though it's all about Asians, but still), and I love that.

  23. This episode is Shane + Yojimbo + the eternal breaking of my heart.

    Mark, I'd like to say how much I admire your speaking out about your past and sharing yourself with us. We may be strangers on the internets, but we care! <3 (if I may be so bold)

    I grew up in an abusive household. I don't know what "normal" families are like. I completely, achingly understand what you mean about seeing the presentation — the promise — of loving family life and not fucking having it. If it matters, from a stranger on the internet, you are not alone.

    Finally: TURTLEDUCKS TURTLEDUCKS TURTLEDUCKS!

  24. monkeybutter says:

    She is selfish to an extreme that it is literally inconceivable for her to think about a world that doesn’t revolve around her. She takes great joy in the very notion of violence towards me, she enjoyed watching me suffer, and she did whatever she could growing up to emotionally pit my parents against me.

    I don't want to get all ranty, but my sister must be yours East Coast ganger. To be honest, I love Azula as a villain because it feels so right to me.

  25. hpfish13 says:

    This is my favorite episode. Its so powerful, and just makes my heart hurt every time I watch it. It starts to build up hope that Zuko is connecting with these people and then all that hope is crushed. Still, I think this episode represents a huge amount of growth for Zuko. I think Zuko needs a hug….For that matter, I think Mark needs one too.

  26. elyce says:

    TURTLEDUCKS!TURTLEDUCKS!TURTLEDUCKS!

    I am SO glad you were finally introduced to the turtle ducks. They are my favorite hybrid ever invented by this show and possibly of all time!

  27. chichichimaera says:

    Such an amazing episode. I love that we start our in the desert, and the whole 'Western' theme going on. It is very representative of his current emotional state. It's also good to see that even though he's been a thief in the past few episodes, even he won't stea food from a pregnant woman. There's hope for you yet Zuko!

    The pearl dagger is very interesting too. The engraving pretty much describes Zuko's motto for life; he never gives up. Even Sokka commented on it back in the S1 finale. Also from the way he keeps it with him, and clearly values it highly, I think it says a lot about how few gifts he must have recieved from his 'real' father. It's also a bit of I guess foreshadowing for his latter use of dao blades – perhaps it was the gift that sparked his interest in learning that kind of thing. It also isn't the first time we've seen this dagger – it's the one he used to cut his hair in the first episode of this season.

    It's clear to see that the Fire Nation royals have a very fucked-up family dynamic, which is muti-generational if we go by what we heard Azulon say to Ozai, and what Azula reported he had ordered later on. It makes me kind of wonder if Ozai was the UnFavourite when he was young, and as second-born, was basically taking it out in part on his own First-born. And of course I imagine that would only be one factor in a variety of reasons why Ozai thinks of him as being 'weak'.

    Another thing is that I think there is the option for multiple interpretations of the scene in Zuko's bedroom, since we only have Azula's word to go on. Maybe she was telling the truth, and perhaps the other options are unlikely, but it's fun to speculate. So:

    Option 1: She was telling the truth.
    Option 2: Azulon meant to give Zuko to Iroh in an adoption, not kill him. Azula lied, and when Ursa went to ask Ozai what was going on, he took the opportunity to get rid of his dad.
    Option 3: Azulon never said anything of the sort, but was going to punish Ozai some other way. Azula lied, etc as above.
    Option 4: (unlikely) Azulon knew Ozai didn't give a shit about Zuko so he told him to kill Azula. Azula lied, etc as above.

    From Zuko's mother's earlier comments about 'mother turtle-ducks', I don't think there's any doubt she killed Azulon to protect him. (Although on first watching this I was kind of thick, and thought Azula had killed him and that was why she had stolen and was playing with Zuko's knife. Pretty sure even she wasn't yet that evil…)

    And now, to offset some of that seriousness, some comedy. Texts From The Fire Nation! (Srsly, if you guys feel I'm spamming with these, please do say so. I enjoy them, and hope others do to, but I wouldn't want to be obnoxious.)

    <img src="http://i70.photobucket.com/albums/i95/Gestalt1/tumblr_ljpeyoLfrj1qi3k37o1_500.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    <img src="http://i70.photobucket.com/albums/i95/Gestalt1/tumblr_liqd201FFx1qi3k37o1_500.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    (more in replies)

  28. Dear Azula,

    You always lie? Me too! Let's be friends.

    Sincerely,
    Lyra Belacqua

    • Now, there's a terrifying crossover. Who would win? What if they teamed up? Which would be worse?

    • FlameRaven says:

      I think there's a key difference, there– there is a distinct air of malicious intent to Azula's lies that seem to be lacking in Lyra's. Lyra seems to lie like she breathes, but I never get the feel that she's out to, you know, destroy people with them. Azula is definitely trying to cause harm.

      • TheWelshPirate says:

        Lying or blunt truth, Azula will always choose the one that hurts somebody the most.

  29. Sophi says:

    I have a hard time forming attachments to people, and while I love my massive family–my mother is one of eight, I have twenty cousins–there's always this weird splinter feeling about our group. My father is resolutely atheist and slightly contemptuous about religion. It's bizarre going to a party thrown by another cell of the family and having to leave early the next morning because they're going to church. Going to a wedding and not knowing any of the hymns when everyone else clearly does, not knowing when to say "amen" and being caught off guard in the midst of something that should be familiar and comfortable; family.

    I have another little dig as well, the fact that I'm panromantic and how the hell do you explain that to your family? My mother has enough trouble getting her head around "gay"–she sprung are-you-sure-it's-not-a-phase on me when I first came out. By the way guys, you might have had suspicions about me liking girls, but hey, I don't get sexual feelings at all, my first romantic experience was with a transgender person (trans man) and we broke up because the church screwed us over. There's an event horizon looming–second time in a row I'm going to a prom with a girl, or someone who was assigned female at birth. Is it going to be "just friends" again?

    However, in nearly every respect, my family are amazing, diverse people with a range of experiences, abilities, disabilities, personalities and tolerances. I'd be pretty hurt if some of them treated me differently, but I have faith in the younger generation, I guess. If I can be out and proud and loud at school even to teachers, then one day I can be out and loud and proud to my family and stretch their tolerance levels, show them a different way of thinking and a different experience.

    Also, in a complete non-sequitur, I'm off on holiday for a week and man, I'm gonna miss these reviews while I'm gone! I'll be missing the liveblog and everything. This one stirred weird feelings of inadequacy in me. I am loved but what if that changes, they don't love me any more, or the family splits because of me, if they treat me weirdly, if I know I'm still the exact same person but they don't see it the same way? It's strange, I suppose; I was raised to be completely self-confident and sure in myself, I just torture myself all by ownsome. I suppose it's because I take that love for granted. The idea of it suddenly being removed terrifies me.

  30. lovelyhera says:

    I'm pretty sure Ursa killed/had Azulon killed in order to protect Zuko. As the seven year old I babysit said after she watched this episode "It's like the mama turtle duck right? You don't mess with a mom's kids." And I think that's exactly right. Also – more proof that Zuko's not a bad kid – his instinctive reaction when Azula shoots the apple off Mai's head is to protect her. By pushing her into a fountain, but you know, this is Zuko if he were IN ANY WAY smooth or otherwise non faily he wouldn't be Zuko. And OMG, Azula. Talk about a little psychopath right there. "What is wrong with that girl?" indeed. I think this is the point when Zuko definitively stops being the main antagonist, or an antagonist at all really. He is officially an anti-hero – not quite a hero, not yet, but definitely not a bad guy. We have Azula for that!

  31. @kouredios says:

    thrown = throne + crown, y/y/y/y? πŸ™‚

    Backstory always makes me happy. Is it wrong to be so filled with glee at a backstory that's so filled with tragedy? It makes such a wonderful story, and explains so much.

  32. Pelleloguin says:

    I love this episode so much. I know several friends who come from homes almost as messed up as Zuko's and while they are good people (my friends), the environment they have grown up in really does affect them. Every one of them has their own Ursa, who helps them stay good people when it seems like they are about to turn into their parent/sibling/other-human-of-importance-in-their-life-good-or-bad.

    The way that Zuko shouts his heritage to the crowd was an "What an idiot" moment to a lot of my family, because they now know he's Fire Nation and a prince to boot, so bring on the hate. To me it's what people with a life like his do when in deep trouble. They go back and find that one person or one saying that they can hold onto and use that as an anchor to hold them steady.

    Needless to say I take this episode a little personally and I want to hug the writers for making it so wonderfully, heartbreakingly real.

  33. Megan says:

    Er… No Toph stanning post today because there's no new Toph material. But this episode is amazing. Like the last episode. The one that Toph was in.

    πŸ˜€

  34. monkeybutter says:

    Cute turtle duck doodle! And everything you say about Zuko's firebending and identity is perfect.

  35. @redbeardjim says:

    On the Weird Hybrid Animals front, not only did we get TURTLEDUCKS this episode, we also got the Least Kosher Farm Ever.

    • TheWelshPirate says:

      Aww, you beat me to the punch on the subject of Kosher Nightmare Farm.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      Seriously. Pigsheep and roosterpigs and antlered deerpigs at the least. And I'm guessing that the ones that looked like normal non-hybrid white pigs with black spots were actually supposed to be cowpigs, as well.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      I remember reading somewhere that Mike and Bryan admitted that the farm with the pig-hybrids went a bit too far with the hybrid animals… XD

  36. kaleidoscoptics says:

    As painful as it is, I’m kind of glad that Zuko outed himself and everyone ended up hating him. He’s still prideful enough to shout out his name and fucking lineage. Zuko’s main character traits throughout the series has been his stubbornness and pride. He simply cannot let go of who he was.

    The flashbacks. Good god the flashbacks. Zuko is easily the most tragic figure in this entire show. That is saying a whole lot. At least Aang had a good childhood, with friends and a supportive father figure. From the looks of it, Zuko only really had his mom. His sister is a manipulative, sadistic little horror from the start. (Seriously, she is terrifying. It's even more horrifying that people like that really exist.) His father didn’t have time for a son who wasn’t perfect. Are we meant to understand that their mom sacrifices herself to protect Zuko? Jesus, man. This is so bleak. Kid Zuko is so incredibly nice and empathetic. I hope he can regain that sort of outlook. He is being really nice to the Earth Nation family here, which surprised me.

    The view of the earth kingdom town here is really nice. It’s an interesting change from the rest of the series so far. Now we’re seeing the misery that the war has brought to these villages, how hopeless everything feels. They’re losing children to the war, and losing money to the thugs who’re taking advantage of an otherwise unprotected town. It’s really depressing.

    • MichelleZB says:

      I don't know if shouting out his name was a bad thing, necessarily. Zuko is on a hero's journey, yes, but this is also sort of a "King's Ascension" story arc. Zuko is the rightful ruler of the Fire Nation, and he has to find out what that means.

      • notemily says:

        THE FIRE NATION HAS NO KING. THE FIRE NATION NEEDS NO KING.

        Wait, wrong epic.

      • kaleidoscoptics says:

        Storywise, it's a good thing. But for him right now, it just doesn't come off as too smart.

        • MichelleZB says:

          Well, how was he supposed to know they'd get all touchy about who he was? They'd just been cheering him on a second ago…

          … this is how he learned how deep-seated the hatred for the Fire Nation ran. He didn't necessarily know before.

          • kaleidoscoptics says:

            I should have been more clear, but I was talking more about the fact that the 'smart' thing to do would be to keep your identity secret in enemy territory. Otherwise, I'd still kind of disagree. He knows that the family's son is out on the front lines, possibly captured by the Fire Nation Army. That's not a situation that's likely to engender much kindness towards the son of the enemy leader, even if he did just beat up a few thugs.

      • slharrop says:

        Bingo, so right. If his hero journey is to bring the Fire Kingdom back into balance, then he has to create himself as an Heir to the Fire Nation that the other nations can trust.

  37. empath_eia says:

    And now you understand why Zuko is my favourite character in the whole show (not far ahead of everyone else, of course, what with them all being unbelievably awesome). This episode made me fog up and want to give him all the hugs he could deal with.

  38. arctic_hare says:

    Saying whether or not something is addressed later on is a spoiler. I'm deleting this.

  39. @MeagenImage says:

    So, to jump back a little – just like The Great Divide looked even worse in between Jet and The Storm, now you can sort of see how Avatar Day, coming in just before the two-punch of excellence that is The Blind Bandit and Zuko Alone, looks more out of place.

  40. psycicflower says:

    Oh Zuko.
    <img src="http://i54.tinypic.com/161a44.gif&quot; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">
    It's hard but necessary to see what his background was like growing up. Losing his mother to where ever she went is clearly a terrible loss for him. The one person who loved and supported him no matter what is gone and he's left with a power hungry father who he disappoints and a sister who lies to and dislikes him and who's favoured and better than he is. Yes he has Iroh, but we don't know when Iroh came back into his life after his mother's disappearance given it seems he didn't come back straight away after abandoning Ba Sing Se. And poor Iroh too. Comparing flashback Iroh with the one we know and love now clearly shows how much of an effect his son's death had on him. I'm glad that he and Zuko had each other.

    Iroh clearly didn't know his niece very well. What would make anyone think Azula would be happy with a doll? Unless it was a play set with action figures attacking each other or some kind of war game. I love seeing young Azula, Ty Lee and Mai. I love Azula pushing down Ty Lee because she's better at cartwheels than she is and Mai's complete nonchalance at having a flaming apple on her head. Her crush on Zuko and the teasing they both get over it is cute. I really hope we get more flashbacks to all of their childhoods.

    The Fire Nation likes to put captured soldiers in Fire Nation uniforms on the front line, leave them weaponless and just watch. That's a special kind of horrifying if it's true.

    (And yes, turtleducks and pigroosters are the best)

    • monkeybutter says:

      The Fire Nation likes to put captured soldiers in Fire Nation uniforms on the front line, leave them weaponless and just watch. That's a special kind of horrifying if it's true.

      How they've evolved from sending fresh recruits to their deaths…

  41. Beansie says:

    I really should have commented a while ago, I've been reading these for a while.
    I have been waiting for this episode. It is such a heartbreaking, beautiful episode. It's in my top three.
    Zuko was such a happy child., soit's sad to see what his confusion and bitterness have turned him into, but at the same time in this episode, he opens his heart to Lee. He doesn't think of only himself in this episode, but it also concerned about Lee. Lee looks up to him, comparing him to his older brother. And then my heart breaks when he tells him he hates him.
    Personally, I like Azula, but I completely understand where you're coming from. She's horrid, I would never want to meet someone like her in real life. "Azula always lies…."
    Oh, and TURTLEDUCKS!!!

  42. Kaci says:

    I am honestly surprised you were able to write a coherent review of this episode because I couldn't have done it. I have literally no words for this episode, just feelings.

  43. doesntsparkle says:

    It breaks my heart to criticize Iroh, but I don't understand why anyone would think that Azula would like a doll. He probably didn't know Zuko and Azula very well when they were children. He's a very busy General and it was nice to send his niece and nephew any gift, but the assumption that all girls love dolls rubs me the wrong way. Some girls want daggers.

    • ShinSeifer says:

      True. I assume that Iroh, not knowing Azula very well (The Siege of Ba Sing Se lasted nearly TWO YEARS and Iroh probably was away from home even before that) and not knowing what she might like, decided to give her an object traditionally given to young girls. He knew that not ALL girls like dolls but he went and guessed.
      It is also worth mentioning that the doll was an Earth Kingdom doll (just like the dagger). It may not be much, but it shows that even in his conqueror days, Iroh had this layer of respect or at least FASCINATION towards other cultures that is seldom seen in other Fire Nation officials. He jokes about burning it down, but he clearly admires Ba Sing Se, its walls and even its brave defenders. In this episode we see the seeds of the future, awesome Iroh, hidden under his old "Dragon of the West" personality; and this is one of my favorite subtext in the entire episode.

      • doesntsparkle says:

        Conquering nations usually love stuff from the nations they invade. That's a big reason for invading in the first place.

        Iroh's awesome, and one of my favorite characters, but his gendered gifts to the kids shows some small mindedness that I hope he grew out of. It's as unfair to assume that Zuko would love a manly dagger as it was to assume that Azula would like a girly doll.

        • ShinSeifer says:

          "Conquering nations usually love stuff from the nations they invade. That's a big reason for invading in the first place. "
          True in general, but this is not the attitude we've seen so far in the Fire Nation. The despise other cultures, see them as "barbaric" whereas they see themselves as the "dominant element". They wiped out an entire civilization without even caring about preserving the tiniest bits of their culture, and they were prepared to do that again with the Water Tribes. We've seen places where the mere practice of earthbending was a capital crime, and colonies within the conquered parts of the earth kingdom where there was a blatant display of Fire Nation culture and propaganda.
          Yes, maybe Iroh was not yet a Good Person all in all when he was Dragon of the West, but at least he showed some basic respect and admiration of other cultures. He did not see them as inferior, only different. I like to think that, if Lu Ten had not died, Iroh would have become a wise Fire Lord who eventually would have brought peace or at least diplomacy.
          It MAY be wishful thinking, though.

          On the issue of the gift, indeed it was sexist, but I think it was a cultural thing and not simply Iroh's small mindedness. If he had knew what kind of peson Azula really was, I doubt he would have given her a doll just because she was a girl.

    • MichelleZB says:

      A little up the thread, I put forth the theory that Iroh DID know Azula very well, and thought she could do without another weapon! This makes his actions not so much sexist as… cautious.

      • Tauriel_ says:

        That's a good point! He maybe even wanted to inspire her "gentler, more sensitive" side? (And failed miserably, yeah…)

        That said, we don't know what Azula was like before Iroh went to war (she would've been 3 or 4). For all we know, she might've loved dolls at that time, and only started to change into the manipulative evil creep while Iroh was away – and then his gift would've been totally valid and without any sexist undertone. But we don't know what Azula was like before he went away.

      • doesntsparkle says:

        Honestly, if he knew her well, I think it would be worse. I'd be like forcing a Tomboy to wear a dress to fit in and be girly.

        It's personal for me, I had uncles stationed abroad in the Air Force who who do exactly what Iroh did, send me a doll and my brother something I thought was much cooler, now that I think about it one actually did give him a knife. They didn't really know us, they just bought something for a girl and something for a boy.

        The dolls and tea sets that I never played with sat in the closet, some of them are actually kind of valuable because they're in mint condition and the puzzle box I was so jealous of was broken almost a decade ago.

        • ShinSeifer says:

          It was argued elsewhere in the comments that even if Iroh didn't want to give Azula a weapon for the obvious reasons, there may have been other, less gender-biased gifts to send her.
          And that's true, but, especially in the light of your story, it does not make it ok for Azula to BURN her gift, instead of at least appreciating the gesture. It shows on one hand that Iroh is/was not very thoughtful on the matter, and on the other hand, that Azula was and still is an horrible person with little or no consideration of others' feelings.

        • MichelleZB says:

          We're committing a logical fallacy here: we're trying to argue that a knife isn't necessarily "boyish", and that the gift of a knife could be for a girl or for a boy. Why, then, are you comparing a doll to a dress? If a knife is a genderless gift, let's assume that a doll is, too.

          Look, I'm actually pretty sure that sending Azula the doll was a sexist move on Iroh's part. BUT I'm arguing that, if we want to theorize another plausible, non-sexist, reason why Iroh sent the doll, this is it: that Iroh knew Azula's character well–thought she exhibited sociopathic tendencies, even–and thought she should be given a harmless toy instead of a weapon. At that point, it doesn't really matter whether the "harmless toy" was a doll or a puzzle. He was sending it to her because she was evil and not because she was a girl.

  44. Lobster says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAqdH5E21Go

    Just thought I'd post the song that is basically this episode – Not One Of Us, Lion King 2. SRSLY MARK. IT IS WEIRD.

  45. kartikeya200 says:

    This episode had turtleducks, the end.

    <img src="http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y29/kartikeya/Avatar/zukoalone1.jpg"&gt;

    Haha JUST KIDDING.

    Let's start again.

    <img src="http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y29/kartikeya/Avatar/zukoalone2.jpg"&gt;

    Azula always lies.

    This episode is so beautifully, gorgeously dark and tragic forever. I am shocked it was aired on Nickelodeon. Honestly, I think Mark's said everything I wanted to say (and more), and I'm kind've at the place where I have a billion words and none of them seem adequate.

    So let me go on record and say that Azula is a terrible terrible human being and the creators portrayed this amazingly.

    <img src="http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y29/kartikeya/Avatar/zukoalone3.jpg"&gt;

    I can't remember if Zuko's mother's name is ever actually said in the series. I know what it is, but it IS weird that it's not said here.

  46. GeneralNerd84 says:

    Not reading any of the comments before I post this, so sorry if I repeat something that has been said.

    In the last episode we were introduced to a new character, so in the next episode, not featuring that character at all might have been a bit of a risk, but if it was, it paid off. Toph's introduction was strong enough that we aren't likely to forget about her, and we really needed this episode at this point. Like Mark said, Zuko needs to face his past before he can move forward, and in order for us to understand Zuko, we need to learn more about his family.

    One thing I noticed about this episode is that for the first time Zuko comes off as downright heroic. He's not trying to catch the Avatar, not trying to get back his old life, not thinking about his honor. He's just trying to help out a struggling family. This is the first time we see Zuko as who he was always meant to be, but couldn't be because of his past and his family. But there's one thing missing; Zuko doesn't seem to realize yet that what the bullies were doing to the town in this episode is the same thing his country is doing to the world. He also doesn't yet know that this is the right path for him to take; the reaction to him at the end of the episode certainly doesn't help matters.

    Also, it's probably been pointed out already, but Zuko says his mom's name at the end of the episode when he reveals he's a Firebender. It's Ursa.

  47. Stephalopolis says:

    I absolutely loved this episode. It's amazing. Wonderful. The best.It was also the first episode of Avatar I ever watched πŸ˜› This episode made me go back and watch the series from the beginning (Which… is a little hard since Zuko is so mean the first season, but I had this Zuko that I loved from this episode going against that…)

    • Doodle says:

      That happened to me too! I knew things about Zuko from the very beginning, so I always loved him, even when he was the 'villain'!

  48. dfgthjklkjdtrhj How is it possible you have a sister like Azula? D: I didn't even realize people like that actually existed. Oh, how I am utterly ignorant in my little protective bubble.
    And I totally have a crush on Zuko.

    Edit: WTF YOUR TWIN BROTHER LOOKS TOTALLY LIKE YOU! Which is kinda totally normal… -Two- of my best friends are twins, so I shouldn't find this so mindblowing, but still, ~mind blown

  49. Tauriel_ says:

    Also, I can't believe no one pointed this out yet:

    "The egg had to come from somewhere."
    "Maybe a chicken flew over."

    OMG ZUKO MADE A JOKE!!!! Surely the world is coming to an end… πŸ˜›

  50. ldwy says:

    I had similar questions as you, but there's a big one I think I've worked through in my brain.

    The entire bit of internal politics involved with Lord Ozai and Lord Azulon are INTRIGUING. But one question is entirely unanswered: Azulon threatened Ozai after Ozai asked for the thrown, but we’re not shown what it was. What happened between then and Azulon’s death?
    and
    Ok, seriously, Azula literally tells Zuko that HE IS GOING TO BE SACRIFICED. My god, she is just so EVIL.
    and
    Why did Zuko’s mother leave and where on earth did she go?

    I took there to be some truth in what Azula told Zuko, that the current firelord Azulon (um, grandpa) insisted that Ozai experience the same loss that Iroh did. Lose a son. Then Zuko's mother comes, reminds him how much she loves him, and tells him that what she's doing was for him. I believe she took his place as the sacrifice of one of Ozai's loved family. I think she was killed.

    Heartbreaking in an already heartbreaking story. But I think I'm right.

    • Diana Kingston-Gabai says:

      I believe she took his place as the sacrifice of one of Ozai's loved family. I think she was killed.

      I don't recall verbatim, but when Zuko wakes up the next morning, Azula tells him that "Mom's gone" and that "Grandpa passed away". Now, this being a Nickelodeon series, one might expect the terms to be interchangeable… but this series has broken the mold in so many ways, I like to think the difference in wording is deliberate. Azulon is dead – it's his funeral that serves as Ozai's coronation – but Ursa is simply "gone".

      • ldwy says:

        You make a good point. Perhaps she left the family in Zuko's place? An exile of some sorts similar to what he's enduring now?
        If this is the case, I HOPE HOPE HOPE we'll meet her?

  51. Jay Gatsby says:

    This episode truly hit me on emotional level similar to Mark's response and for similar reasons. We both empathize with Zuko because we're both dealing with our pasts on a day-to-day basis.

    You see, my childhood encased me in loneliness as well. My parents divorced when I was 7-years which had different effects on them. For my mother, she became bitter, angry, and isolated; and so she took her bitterness and anger out on me. I had always been a quiet and shy boy, and so the daily threats she made to me caused me to hold more fear–to the point where I would hide in my closet when she arrived home. As for my father, he became withdrawn completely from his role as a parent. I would go to his house and he wouldn't say a word to me at all. I accepted this relationship because it was far better than living in a perpetual state of fear in my mother's house.

    I admit though that I was living in a state of "privilege." Both my parents come from affluent families, so I lived an upper-middle class life. I found most of my solace through my grandma who lived with me in my mom's house. My grandma was a "hippy" type and accepted me for who I was. She would drive me anywhere and buy me anything I so desired. And so I was privileged in being able to have and do literally anything I wanted up until 6pm when my mother arrived home from work. Then I would hide and do my best to be invisible to her.

    SORRY FOR RANTING! It's just that, in reviewing an episode that is entirely based in exploring a painful past, I can't help but understand in terms of my own confusing past. I understand Zuko's loneliness on a very personal level. Growing up without the emotional support from your parents is hard. But, as Iroh has said in a past episode, "In the darkest times hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength." Never give up without a fight. Struggling and suffering only makes us stronger!

    And if anything, just try to do good for the world.

  52. doesntsparkle says:

    OT, I love messed up royal families too. I highly recommend A Song of Fire and Ice.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I don't know if you've been watching Game of Thrones, but when Ned gave Sansa the doll, I thought of Azula.

      • doesntsparkle says:

        I am watching the show. I have some Sansa issues, but that was even more ridiculous. Ned's her father and lived with Sansa her whole life. At least Azula was young enough to actually play with dolls, if she wanted to.

  53. Depths_of_Sea says:

    Omg this episode. Such ~feelings~.

    Mostly, I love the hilarious implication that Azula and Ty Lee are Zuko/Mai shippers and spent a lot of their childhood arranging awkward situations between them.

  54. fantasylover120 says:

    I want a turtleduck pond…I have nothing else to add because you've pretty much commented on the awesomeness already and anything I have to say would just be repeats.

  55. shoroko says:

    Pretty much. It certainly doesn't make Azula's behavior okay, but that scene in particular made me think that we are supposed to recognize that Azula, as well, is being affected by things out of her control; in this case, very problemtically, her gender, but more broadly also by being the second-born. I'd even extend it to Ozai, given that his father was apparently so heinous that he'd order the death of a child just to prove a point.

    But of course, the same is true for most of the characters on this show, and some of the manage to not be manipulative awful people, so. (And I say that with a deep love for Azula and even admiration for some of her qualities were she not using them for Evil.)

  56. MichelleZB says:

    Oh, Mark, I have to give you ALL THE HUGS IN THE WORLD. I was a little worried about you watching this episode!! I remember what you'd written before about your sister… I was almost going to warn you, but that would be like spoiling you… so I didn't.

  57. notemily says:

    "Made in Earth Kingdom" is one of my favorite lines in this show, for reals. I laughed for like five minutes when I first saw it.

    The whole trying-to-be-more-masculine thing is part of why I really thought Zuko might be gay at this point. Although I also ship him with Katara, so… my brain is equal-opportunity about this.

    I'm really confused by what happened with Zuko's mother leaving and Azulon dying. My roommate tells me that it's: Ursa found out that Ozai was going to kill Zuko. She begged him not to and said she would do whatever he asked. He said she should kill Azulon so he could be Fire Lord. She did so, and then he had her imprisoned somewhere far away.

    I got the impression that she ran away, not that she was imprisoned, but I really have no idea what happened. Maybe she offered to leave so that Ozai could feel the pain of losing a wife instead of a firstborn son? I DUNNO.

    I kinda love that they're teasing the audience with Ozai's face. It adds this "MYSTERIOUS MONSTER" vibe to him, even though he probably doesn't have, like, FLAMING EYES or something, as someone probably would have mentioned that by now…?

    Watching Zuko go "Azula always lies, Azula always lies" is painful. I'm so sorry you had to grow up with that, Mark. I'm glad that at least Ursa recognizes that there is something WRONG with the way Azula is cruel all the time, but after she was gone there was no one to stop Azula from doing awful things.

  58. justira says:

    [reposted minus spoilery fanart! whoops! D= ]

    Other stuff–

    – Tiny Azula is ridiculously adorable and SO TERRIFYING, what is wrong with that child

    – TURTLE DUCKLINGS

    – It's interesting to see the Iroh of this flashback contrasted with the Iroh of the present day, especially when joking about razing an entire city. haha HILARIOUS AMIRITE?

    – LU TEN ._.

    – I love all the insight into Fire Nation culture here — this feels like the first really detailed, rich look we get at the Fire Nation. There's so much here — the usual incredible attention to architecture and wardrobe, some native fauna, common pastimes, and formal events. Almost everything we've seen of the Fire Nation up to this point has been militaristic, even Zuko's previous flashbacks (which has to do with war meetings and an agni kai) that I feel it's really refreshing to get a look at what other aspects of life were like there for Zuko.

    – Love how Zuko calls out the bullying soldiers!

    – Love hammer-based earthbending; it suits so well!

    – Pretty cool seeing a little history of Azula with Mai and Ty Lee

    – HEY BY THE WAY THE WHOLE PLOT OF THE LAST FEW FLASHBACKS IS SO CREEPY. What did Ursa DO? What happened to Fire Lord Azulon?? Holy shit did she kill him? OH MY GOD

    – "I am here, father, and my children are alive" — OH NO YOU DIDN'T

    – In general, seeing the history behind the switching of heirs was so fascinating — up until this point, I don't think it had ever really occurred to me to wonder why Iroh wasn't the heir/current fire lord

    – TURTLE DUCKLINGS

  59. notemily says:

    OMG, that is heartbreaking. I never thought of that before.

  60. Tauriel_ says:

    Doctor: "What is that?"
    Zuko: "It's a turtleduck pond."
    Doctor: "Why aren't there any turtleducks?"
    Zuko: "I don't know, there's never any turtleducks (because Azula killed them all)."
    Doctor: "Then how do you know it's a turtleduck pond?"
    Zuko: "It just is! Is it important, the turtleduck pond?"
    Doctor: "I don't know. What would I know?"

    Sorry, I had to… πŸ˜›

  61. Lindsay says:

    Long time reader and lurker DElurking to say that this line of dialogue:

    "Hey mom, want to see how Azula feeds turtleducks?"

    and the following action should be taught in schools in a master class called How To Do Characterization In One Line or Less!!!!

    Because, really. We understand a whole lot about their sibling dynamic, Zuko's need to impress, etc. JUST from that one line.

  62. 123123123 says:

    The more and more I read your reviews, the more I feel you're not ready for what is to come…

    And it's killing me because you're going to take so long.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

  63. jeno says:

    Ozai's not the only one who played favorites – that 'what is wrong with that child' from Ursa surprised me, especially in contrast to the love Ursa showered on Zuko. I think this family is divided in more than just the obvious ways. While Ozai's despicable treatment toward Zuko informs a lot of Zuko's character, I think there's something to look at in how Ursa's reactions to Azula influenced her.

    (then again, Azula is portrayed as pretty sociopathic, so I'm not sure how far this thought goes. But it's still worth thinking about.)

    • Anne says:

      There does seem to be some distance between Ursa and Azula in the flashbacks. Of course, these are Zuko's memories we're seeing, but still. I noticed that while Ursa immediately consoled her son after his failed demonstration, she didn't compliment or praise Azula. In fact, the only interaction they really have is when Ursa scolds or lectures Azula. Possibly Ursa thinks Azula doesn't need more praise, and focuses on nurturing her neglected son.

      • Diana Kingston-Gabai says:

        There's also the fact that Ursa says "what is wrong with that child?" within earshot of Azula…

    • H. Torrance Griffin says:

      I suspect that statement was more effect than cause. It is clear that something is very wrong with said child when she openly discusses the demise of those between her father and the throne.

  64. Avit says:

    Uh can we not use the "psychotic" thing here

    crazy isn't evil

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Can we also not use "sociopathic"

      guys please stop equating mental illnesses with BEING EVIL. Not only are the two not even remotely comparable, but the concept of "evil" is not some quantifiable term that can be used to describe some sort of hierarchy of good and bad and then a mental illness is WORSE than that.

      So yes, please, please, please stop this.

      • thinofsubstance says:

        I didn't mean to suggest that because they were evil, they must be mentally ill, or that any mental illness they may have is what makes them evil. I thought that the behaviors Ozai and Azula have displayed indicated that sociopathic/psychotic might be an accurate way to describe them–namely, that they seem to have fundamental difficulties with empathizing with other people. Which makes it easier for them, specifically, to act in ways that can be considered evil.

        THAT BEING SAID.
        1. Intent is not magical.
        2. I am not qualified to make that diagnosis.
        3. I should shut up right now.

        I apologize. My description was ill-advised and ill-considered. I will do better in future.

        • notemily says:

          "Psychosis" just means a break from reality, not necessarily a violent one. I can see the argument for sociopathy, since it is specifically about anti-social behavior which you could argue Azula and Ozai exhibit. But psychosis isn't about being anti-social or about empathy, it's just about losing contact with reality. You might be thinking of psychopathy, which is different.

          But, in any case, medical diagnoses applied to fictional characters are dubious at best. I just wanted to clear up that confusion.

        • MichelleZB says:

          Thinofsubstance, I think you are mixing up some terms! See my definitions of sociopathy and psychosis below.

          I think when you say "psychotic" you really mean "psychopathic" and that is what is causing the confusion. A "psychopath" is the same as a sociopath, and I think that is what you meant to say. A "psychotic" person is someone who is delusional or hallucinates. I don't think you were trying to argue that Azula hallucinates, I think you were trying to argue that she is a sociopath–someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

          Right?

          • thinofsubstance says:

            Thank you for clarifying. Yes, psychopathic is exactly what I meant and exactly what I didn't say. All the more reason for me to refer to numbers two and three.

      • MichelleZB says:

        I have no idea what the original comment said, so I'm sure you were right in objecting to it and deleting it.

        I'd just like to respectfully point out that there is a difference between the terms "psychotic" and "sociopathic", and I'd like to define them briefly here. I agree very strongly that neither term means "evil". It is, however, possible that any character in Avatar could exhibit behaviours characteristic of either a psychotic person or a sociopath, and it wouldn't be ableist to list those behaviours and theorize that the character may, in fact, have one of those disorders.

        A "psychotic" person is disconnected from reality, often through delusional or paranoid beliefs and hallucinations, like, say, hearing voices. Psychosis has many possible causes, from brain tumours to bi-polar disorder to sleep deprivation. Psychosis is a serious mental illness and causes many problems for the psychotic person, often impairing their ability to function, perform everyday tasks, and interact with people. (I am not a psychiatrist so I hope I defined this okay!)

        I see no current indication from Azula's behaviour that she is psychotic. On the contrary, she seems very connected indeed to the "real" world–almost hyper-observant.

        The terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" are used pretty interchangeably to refer to someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder. I'd like to argue that Azula *does* exibit many behaviours that would earn her a diagnosis of APSD.

        I think we'd just have to be very careful, if we want to argue that Azula is a sociopath, that we say she is a sociopath AND evil, and that we don't use the terms interchangeably.

        • MichelleZB says:

          Okay, and here is my longer argument for why Azula could properly be theorized to have ASPD. You've only known her for a few episodes, so I will use only examples from what you've currently seen. I don't mean to be longwinded, but I literally just read a book about sociopaths and it's been on my mind.

          I have stolen this next bit from Wikipedia. It is the definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition. I'll put my comments in italics.

          A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring for as long as either childhood, or in the case of many who are influenced by environmental factors, around age 15, as indicated by three or more of the following:
          The important point here is that ASPD often shows up in childhood. Parents often observe their children being cruel to animals (Azula and the turtle-ducks!) or other younger children and this can be helpful in diagnosis. Ursa's "what's wrong with that child?" can be a common sentiment for the parents of children with ASPD. It can be difficult for a parent without the disorder to understand the child's mindset.

          1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
          Azula is a perfectly placed sociopath in this respect because, as a princess, she is in most ways above the law! She makes the law. She tends to take pleasure in the idea that the rules don't apply to her. You can see this idea when she switches the terms of the Bumi-Tom-tom exchange at the last moment. She won't respect a treaty, a ceasefire, or a deal.

          2) deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
          Azula always lies. Think of how she blatantly lied to Zuko about how his father wanted him back. Lying is easy for her.

          3)impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
          I don't see this characteristic.

          4)irritability and aggression, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
          Azula is very violent, a born fighter. Fighting, for her, is a pleasure.

          5)reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
          Yes on both counts. She takes personal risks, but was also happy to burn Ty Lee's safety net and set wild animals on her. She didn't care if a baby was in the hands of rebels forever. She's happy to set a fire on her friend's head.

          6)consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
          If you lent Azula money, would she pay you back? It is this sort of irresponsibility–more of a lack of caring about society's rules–that Azula exibits. It is interesting that many sociopaths are either unemployed OR high-powered bosses because they are the kind of people that are unable to see the point of working for The Man. In this respect, sociopaths may be seeing more clearly than the rest of us, because they are unable to feel social pressure the same way a "normal" person does. Azula, as a princess, has a work ethic, but only does things she wants to do. She is not the kind of person who would be able to work at something she found boring or fulfil something because it was an obligation.

          8)lack of remorse, as indicated by indifference to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
          Um, yeah. That pretty much defines her from the start, doesn't it?

          So that's my argument, and I really don't think I'm being ableist by comparing Azula's behaviours to those behaviours considered characteristic of a sociopathic person. It is very likely she *does* legitimately have Antisocial Personality Disorder.

          Does that make her evil? No. But it certainly makes being evil easier on her. Zuko is clearly not a sociopath and being evil is harder for him.

          • notemily says:

            What book were you reading on sociopaths? Just curious. I watch a lot of Criminal Minds. πŸ˜›

            • doesntsparkle says:

              I just finished a really interesting book called the Psychopath Test. Here is an article that summarizes it, if you're interested. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/21/jon-r

            • MichelleZB says:

              I read The Sociopath Next Door. I'm not sure if I'd recommend it. It is a bit biased. But it does present some interesting composite profiles of common types of sociopaths.

              • notemily says:

                Biased in what way?

                • MichelleZB says:

                  Here's a review I wrote of it:

                  The author, Martha Stout, is a psychologist. Her main experience with sociopaths (or people with sociopathic traits) is with her many years treating people who have been damaged by sociopathic partners, bosses, family members, etc. A real sociopath does not often go into therapy, as they do not feel like there is anything wrong with their lives.

                  The book is interesting, providing us with some composite case studies and character profiles on sociopathic people–people who have no conscience. This would be a good book for an author looking to create some good villainous characters. Stout carefully outlines what motivates people with no conscience–what they care about and what they don't care about, what inspires them.

                  The author treats a conscience throughout as something a person either has or doesn't have. I wondered whether there are gradations of conscience–i.e. people who have "better" or "stronger" consciences than others, people that have "weaker" ones. This is not discussed in the book.

                  The author's views on morality are a bit confusing. At some point, she says that a sociopath knows, intellectually, the difference between right and wrong, but doesn't care. At many other times, she says that a normal person's conscience leads them to feel the difference between right and wrong. Well… is morality instinctual or not? Is the "right" decision–and according to Stout there always seems to be a "right" decision–felt by our consciences or understood with our intellects? She is never particularly clear about this.

                  In general, she presents a simplistic view of moral reasoning, attributing selfless love and empathy as the main factors in a "normal" person's moral choices. In reality, non-sociopathic people make decisions based on all sorts of other factors–fear, love, empathy, preservation of self-image, preservation of public image, desire, tradition, laziness, social pressures, etc.

                  Also, there are whole chapters at the end devoted to convincing us how much "better" it is not to be a sociopath, how having a conscience enriches our lives. She tells us that if we could choose to have a conscience, we should. This is all a bit silly since we can't choose this. Sociopathy seems to be incurable–a deficiency in understanding, in brain wiring, that the sociopath keeps for life and cannot change. Why does it matter if it's "better" to have a conscience? It's not like a sociopath can read this book, think, "Aw, shucks, I should really get one of those conscience things," and then go out and have one installed in his brain.

                  Worth it for the fun character descriptions, but not very in-depth.

          • Tauriel_ says:

            Well reasoned! I agree that saying "Azula, who is evil, displays sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies" does NOT equal saying "all sociopaths/psychopaths are evil".

            I mean, we wouldn't otherwise have Sherlock, our favourite self-styled "high functioning sociopath" who is clearly NOT evil, would we? πŸ˜‰

          • ShinSeifer says:

            This. so much this. It was exactly what I've been thinking.
            sometimes we can use the term "sociopathic" or other descriptive words in their descriptive meaning, to indicate or theorize that a character may be showing patterns of behaviour associated with a given disorder.
            Of course, we must be VERY, VERY careful not to cross the line and end up using the name of a mental disorder as a synomym for "evil" or "horrible person", thus turning it into a slur, and for what I understand the last thing the language needs is more descriptive words turned into slurs.

            The important point here is that a character can be mentally ill, a horrible person, both or neither. After all, Zhao was a horrible person and did not have a mental illness, whereas, uhm, the herbalist from "The Blue Spirit" was mentally ill, a good person and still a fairly competent herbalist.

            Also, in my experience with tv, movies and books, evil characters who are evil without the "excuse" of a social disorder are considered MORE despicable.

            My two cents, of course. Hope they were not inappropriate.

            • MichelleZB says:

              More despicable sometimes, or more interesting. It's one thing to be evil because you are just mentally unable to empathize with other people. And it's another to be righteously evil–to really think that your evil actions are the "right" thing to do. It often takes a religion or other ideology set to convince people that despicable actions are really for everyone's own good. But those kind of villains can be interesting to read.

              J. K. Rowling's villain, Voldemort, was clearly a sociopath, but she did a really good job of coming up with other motivations for her other evil characters. She wrote normal people who were motivated to do evil by bigotry, or fear, or a lust for power. Very interesting.

              I think my interest in Azula–because I am very interested in her–doesn't come from her motivations. I just accept that she will try to get what she wants by whatever means necessary. It is her excellent *methods* which are interesting–how truly manipulative and clever she is.

              • ShinSeifer says:

                That's right. there are many types of interesting villains. Some are interesting because of their motivations, some because of their personality, mannerisms and charisma; some because you can't really put your finger on their *true* morality… Then there are those villains you just love to hate.

                Like many others, I tend to like stories with good villains in them. Azula counts, too.

                (On this note, I hope that someday, somehow, there will be a Mark Watches Death Note, that would be very interesting)

                • jeno says:

                  Has he agreed to watch any anime? Or read any manga? I know other series like FMA have been pimped a lot, but I haven't seen anything about him planning to try them.

                  • Naru says:

                    Moving from Avatar to something like Death Note would be a fairly smooth transition in my opinion. Plus he could happily watch the DN dub (because I know a lot of non-anime fans dislike subtitles, though I don't know if Mark fits that) without missing much. It's one of those good gateway drug animes.

                    Plus Death Note is mostly brilliant with great villains and animation.

                    • jeno says:

                      imo, a transition from Avatar to one of the FMAs would be a bit smoother if only because DN is very, very different from Avatar. FMA has some seriously dark spots, but it's still light hearted, too.

                      But hey, if he gets into animanga then I'm not gonna quibble about the order. xD

                      (I would LOVE it if he tried reading some manga, too, though I'm not sure what his stance on scanlation sites would be…)

                    • ShinSeifer says:

                      unfortunately I don't think there are manga or anime in Mark's to-do lists, but one can hope for the far future^^ and yes, Death Note is definitely a gateway series for japanimation, more than one friend of mine who never watched anime before loved it (and with subtitles, no less); Fullemetal Alchemist also, but Death Note is more easy to over-analyze (and we know how much Mark loves to over-analyze!), a thing that is rare in Japanese material, which is often best to take at face value.

                      EDIT: apparently next up in his list are Battlestar Galactica and Buffy.

    • arctic_hare says:

      You're missing the point. I'm going to delete your comment.

      • thinofsubstance says:

        Would it be alright if I reposted my comment with significant editing to remove the ableist content? Or was the entirety of it objectionable? (If so, please let me know what other privilege blinkers I'm wearing so I can take them off!)

      • SpiderHyphenMan says:

        Hey what's the point of removing downvoting in order to prevent silencing those with differing opinions if you're going to delete comments that state opinions different from yours?

  65. I rewatched it a few months ago, and it still holds up! By which I mean, I was still sobbing by the end.

  66. That was my assumption: Iroh went to the spirit world for Lu Ten. I hope he found him, or found peace, or both. πŸ™

  67. isoycrazy says:

    Mark, your comments this are not alone. Many people raised those questions after this episode. I cannot confirm or deny any of them being answered, based on your pleas for not spoiling things. But I will agree that this episode redefined Zuko once more in the eyes of the fans.

    I was moved by this episode as well. I was inspired to make a wmv using scenes from this episode and other zuko scenes to the song No Son of Mine by Genesis. If you have never heard of this song, here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsUpBsbJy4Y But I should note it is about a child suffering abuse in his life.

  68. tethysdust says:

    Now I have to confess: When you first said you were going to watch Avatar, my first thought was "OMG Mark's going to hate Azula, she's pretty much exactly like his sister from his life stories. Zuko's family life is going to hit him hard."

    Now that you've confirmed it, I feel kind of weird for knowing so much about someone's life who knows basically nothing about mine. :/ I think I'll just say it's all thanks to your skill as a writer, and how you vividly portray the personalities of the people you know!

  69. ShinSeifer says:

    A Tiny Bit of Fridge Logic, just for ruining the mood.

    How can a random earth citizen from the chinese version of the wild west know the story behind Zuko's banishment and his scar when a season ago even his own lieutenant was unaware of it? Maybe the information became public (even in the earth kingdom) after Zuko and Iroh were marked as traitors?

    Seriously though, this episode makes it in my top 5 in the entire series easily. As I said before, Season 2 is when I really started to get hooked. Season 1 was "pretty good", but season 2 was "REALLY good" and this particular episode, right after the introduction of that awesome character that is Toph, was the point when it became "one of the best american animated series I've ever seen". And it was only the first half of the series. The best is yet to come.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      Maybe the information became public (even in the earth kingdom) after Zuko and Iroh were marked as traitors?

      You pretty much answered your own question. πŸ™‚ By this time there are wanted posters of Zuko and Iroh everywhere, and the story about Zuko's scar and banishment must've spread from the Fire Nation people who knew the story (we know from "The Storm" that there was a pretty big crowd present at Ozai's and Zuko's Agni Kai).

  70. ShinSeifer says:

    I had the same thought last time I watched this episode, but on a second thought, for what we know the Spirit World is just a parallel plane of existence where spirits live, so it's not an actual afterlife…
    Or maybe there's much about the Spirit World we don't know?

    • Diana Kingston-Gabai says:

      There does seem to be some degree of overlap, though, if only because Roku's there, and Koh mentions stealing the face of a woman connected to a previous Avatar…

      • ShinSeifer says:

        Unfortunately I cannot elaborate much on this point because of spoilers. However I think Aang can talk to previous avatars because he IS them, they are his past lives and not "separate" entities that are alive in some form of afterlife.

        • Mauve_Avenger says:

          Re: Roku being present in the spirit world, I would think that the fact that Avatars are the link between the spirit world and the living world would also make a big difference.

          As for the former Avatar's love's face being stolen, it could mean that the Avatar at the time fell in love with a spirit, or it could mean that Koh (like Hei Bai in "Winter Solstice") lives in the spirit world but can sometimes *cross over,* and stole the lover's face in the living world.

  71. hpfish13 says:

    Holy crap!! I never thought of that. And now I'm crying again…………..

  72. WhiteEyedCat says:

    http://i53.tinypic.com/n2ftk6.gif

    I love how the dynamic between Azula, Ty Lee and Mai is shown here. Azula has to be the best at everything and always get her way, and if she's not the best, then she bullies people. She's also very good at bullying people in different ways, Ty Lee gets a lot more of the physical side, like being pushed over when cartwheeling and the whole fire and wild animals thing at the circus. Whereas Mai gets more psychological stuff, like being embarrassed in front of Zuko and Azula putting her baby brother at risk…although she didn't really seem that bothered about that.

    Pretty much everything else that I have to say about this episode has been said. SO great to have an in depth Zuko episode! Now an entire episode for Iroh please!

  73. Pimento says:

    This and The Blind Bandit are two of my favorite episodes, and like everyone else, I was dying for you to get here.
    One neat thing about this episode for me: Azula tells Zuko that he’s always playing with knives and he’s not even good. Well, of course Zuko kept trying and he became the awesome swordsman he is now. Sigh, I love Zuko.

  74. thinofsubstance says:

    Take two, now with less ableism!

    Confession time: I love wildly dysfunctional royal families. The interplay of politics and family ties (or the lack thereof) and the complications of emotion those entail–it makes for a really compelling, though usually thoroughly tragic, narrative.

    And boy howdy, is the Fire Nation royalty ever wildly dysfunctional.

    Even Iroh–who becomes the wise, tea-drinking badass we all know and love–is here depicted as a joyous, if unsuccessful, conquerer. And why shouldn't he be? It's in his blood. War is the Fire Nation birthright.

    I think it's important to note that the only one who is portrayed as consistently compassionate is Ursa, and she wasn't born into the warmongering. She just had the spectacular good fortune to marry into it. Though it's certainly lucky for Zuko that she did, considering she's the reason he got one parent's unconditional love. And possibly the reason he had a childhood at all, considering the implications of those last flashbacks. (Eeeeeeee, political skullduggery!)

    Ozai, on the other hand… If there's an asshole event horizon, he passed breezily by it and fell into a gaping black hole of endless dickbaggery.

    HEY, DAD, SO I KNOW MY BROTHER JUST LOST A SON AND ALL, BUT I REALLY WANT TO BE KING CAN I CAN I CAN I PLEASE? I PROMISE I'LL MONGER THE SHIT OUT OF THAT WAR.

    Clearly he is Relative of the Year. But seriously–he's not a good son. He's not a good brother. He's not a good husband. And he's obviously a terrible father. Basically, if you're related to him, he is going to screw up your life someway, somehow.

    Probably the most subtle instance of this is Azula, who is a complete terror from such a young age. Precocious even in malice. Especially in malice. And while other commenters have already talked beautifully about the way she is very much her father's daughter, I want to highlight a parallel that has thus far gone undiscussed:

    -Ozai is a second son who is crueler and more ambitious than his brother. Who believes himself (though this is not shown to be demonstrably true or false) more talented than his brother.
    -Azula is a second child who is crueler and more ambitious than her demonstrably less-talented brother.

    No wonder Ozai so strongly favors her. And no wonder Azula is following so closely in his footsteps.

    • MichelleZB says:

      Yes, I think it's clear Ozai sees himself in Azula–the scrappy younger sibling who, in his mind, deserves a chance to rule.

  75. slharrop says:

    Turtleducks, Roosterpigs (or is it pigroosters), and a really good western – I LOVE this show! The Paean to The Western was even better than The Blind Bandit’s paean to pro-wrestling.

    Meta on Zuko’s Hero Journey and Dysfunctional Families

    Zuko is at a point in his journey where is cut off from his past completely. His mother is gone, most likely due to her protecting him. His father was never truly there. His sister has been a lifelong rival, who for the most part won. And he has left his uncle behind in a quest for his true self. At the beginning, he is outcast, alone, and no longer has a claim to any identity. He is not a blank slate, but an old over used slate with bits and pieces of the permanently embedded into it, but no clear vision of now or the future.

    At the end, he remains outcast and alone, but has claimed both his identity and his quest: “My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Firelord Ozai. Prince to the Fire Nation and Heir to the throne.”

    Importantly, he names Ursa, his mother, first giving her precedence and, I think implicitly, if not explicitly, accepting her lessons and values. This is quite important in his Hero Quest, because Ursa’s lessons are ones of protection, caring, and honor. Like Uncle Iroh, there is balance in Ursa’s life and in her lessons. I can’t tell for sure, but I think this is the point I’ll look back on and say is when Zuko finally accepted the call to arms and claimed the quest for his own. He might not understand his real quest yet, but he’s starting to move past the snipe hunt and reclaim himself from the impossible expectations of his father.

    The portrayal of Azula and Zuko’s rivalry was both painful and quite accurate to how perfectionist expectations by parent(s) work upon their children. A child who can meet the expectations consistently is showered with praise, attention, and rewards and shown off like a prize winning pet. A child who can’t is disparaged, ignored or scolded for the failure to reach the near (or completely) impossible goals, suffers punishment, which also almost invariably utterly disproportional to the ‘failure’ and unless unavoidable shoved to the side in any gathering; as much as possible out of the spotlight. Both ‘favored’ and ‘disfavored’ children are terribly damaged in this situation.

    Children need their parent’s approval and I call it ‘need’ very purposefully. Children want parental approval to the extent that they willingly deform their bodies and spirits in order to gain it. In my mind, that’s a ‘need’. In this case, Azula is a prodigy, she can consistently meet the bar being set by her father and may in fact push it higher. That sounds great for her, but she’s in a very precarious position – one failure and it all comes tumbling down. And she knows it; she saw what happened when Zuko failed. Their father scarred him, cast him out, and sent him on a snipe hunt. Zuko as outcast knows he doesn’t measure up to his father’s standards and wants nothing more than to somehow gain his approval. Oddly of the two of them, Zuko is probably the one with the better chance to recover and build a personal identity that is powerful and based on his own internal wants and needs. He’s already outcast, he never had what they both wanted (and Azula values so much), and he has Iroh.

    Iroh knows his brother and knows that for Zuko to ever receive that ‘honor’ (really parental approval) he wants so much he would have to twist himself into something he simply isn’t and should never be. I’m not too happy with Iroh’s doll for Azula, but the knife for Zuko has so many layers of meaning that it sent me over the moon. What a wonderful message, Never give up without a fight. I don’t think this simply means in battle – never give up on his training; never give up your identity, never give up your values. Simply never give up who you are without a fight. It’s a very powerful message.

    • beeftony says:

      The inscription is also hilariously ironic because he got it off an Earth Kingdom general who surrendered as soon as they broke through the outer wall.

      • Tauriel_ says:

        Well, the Earth Kingdom general definitely did not give up "without a fight" – since Iroh's son was killed, so I assume there was quite a big battle there.

        But yeah, the irony is still there.

  76. shadeedge says:

    What I find most interesting on rewatching this episode is that young Zuko looks a lot like Sokka. Normally i'd just chalk that up to poor animation, but the quality of that in this series makes me think that it's deliberate.

    I think it could be to draw a parallel between the two characters. Obviously these are two characters whose sisters played a big part in their upbringing, for better in one case and worse in the other. But i'd say the biggest similarity, and the important one for this episode at least, is that these are both characters who have father issues. It's interesting that Sokka, whose father hasn't been around for a while, is still relatively well-adjusted (not totally, but not that bad). He's entirely unavaliable to Sokka, but by and large he's coping. Whereas Zuko's father was pretty avaliable to him, but emotionally almost entirely absent. I think it's a, well, not good exactly, but interesting and important message. A parent without emotional sensitivity or empathy can be worse, much worse, than a parent half the world away or wherever if their child knows that they're loved and respected, as Sokka does.

    • Hyatt says:

      Sokka's father only left a couple of years prior to the start of the series. Zuko was banished three years ago. They've both been without the biological father for roughly the same amount of time, with Sokka maybe having more time with his dad. (I specify biological father, because Zuko's had Iroh around constantly, and Iroh is 1000x the father Ozai is.)

  77. Doodle says:

    I HAVE BEEN SO EXCITED FOR YOU TO GET TO THIS EPISODE.

    It is just SO amazing! I love love love Zuko's backstory. He has had the shittiest life of trying to reconcile his true desires with what his father wants of him, and as a result, when we meet him he is just this angry angry jerk obsessed with gaining his father's love. Not to mention his mom disappeared and his sister is a sadistic asshole. It BREAKS MY HEART. ILU ZUKO.

  78. seacalliope says:

    Awww, "Zuko Alone." Definitely one of my favorite episodes. I always find it hilarious that it's modeled on "A Fistful of Dollars" — which is of course an adaptation of "Yojimbo" (which is based on "Red Harvest"). The sheer recursiveness of an anime-flavored cartoon doing a Western that's based on a samurai flick that's based on a noir novel is just completely hilarious to me.

    It's so incredibly sad to think about what Zuko's childhood must have been like, particularly after his mother left. There would have been months, at the very least, where Ozai was Fire Lord, Ursa was gone, and Iroh had not yet returned. That would have been a lonely, awful time for him.

    One thing I find rather ironic is that the only version of the truth of what Azulon said/what happened to Ursa comes from a canonical pathological liar. I always wonder if Azulon truly demanded Zuko's life. There are other ways to "lose" a first born son. He might have been demanding that Zuko be adopted away to Iroh as Iroh's heir, putting Ozai out of the line of succession. That itself could have been motive for to arrange Azulon to die, since Ozai would need him gone before anything official was written down. It also would have reinforced his hatred of his own son. πŸ™

    • beeftony says:

      Or he never made such a request in the first place and Ozai played along with it later when Ursa confronted him about it.

  79. Matt Thermo says:

    "Ok, seriously, Azula literally tells Zuko that HE IS GOING TO BE SACRIFICED. My god, she is just so EVIL."

    Ironically, Azula coming to his room to tease about it may have been the only thing that saved his life. To this day, I still can't decide if that was intentional or not.

    Mark, when you mentioned in the "Avatar Day" review that you'd love to get an episode about Zuko's wandering but hinted that you didn't really expect to get that… I think I peed myself a little. And now that you have that thought in your head, let me get to the meat of my post.

    It amazes me that this episode even made it to air. Just think about it from the perspective of an executive at Nickelodeon. This episode features none of the "good guys". Focuses entirely on one of the "bad guys" (remember, we're looking at this from an outside, executive perspective). Features a father planning on murdering his son on the orders of his own father. Implied regicide/assassination. A cremation scene. The Earth Kingdom "Soldiers" taunting a family about how their son was probably cruelly killed in battle…

    You know, typical Nickelodeon stuff.

    But, my god, am I glad it did. With this show, it's really difficult to choose a favorite episode, since a lot of episodes are so intertwined with one another, that the full enjoyment and payoff of any single episode requires the viewing of several others. With that said, I can't say that "Zuko Alone" is my favorite episode, but I certainly think it's the single most important episode in the entire series. Both in terms of what it shows what stories this series is willing to tell, as well as the depth of it's characterization.

    This is the episode that really made me understand that this wasn't just a really good "kids show". This was straight up one of the best shows on TV, period! This is exactly what "family shows" should be. Not just "Kiddie" shows that parents can tolerate, but literally a show that the entire family, and any age demographic, can thoroughly enjoy on several different levels. Seriously, I'm a carpenter in his mid-thirties, and this is easily one of my favorite shows of all time.

    • notemily says:

      The cremation scene was interesting, I forgot about it until you mentioned it here. It makes sense that the Fire Nation would cremate their dead; the Earth Kingdom probably buries them? The Water Tribes might do a burial at sea, but I'm not sure about the Air Nomads. (I know from my Neil Gaiman that there is such a thing as "air burial," but it's kind of gross.)

  80. Gimlimonkey says:

    I think I speak for everyone who has ever read anything you have ever written in any blog ever, Mark, in saying that I was greatly anticipating your review for this episode. I knew you would strongly connect to it. I loved this episode, but have little need to expand this description. It should be obvious why this episode is so good.

    Also, TURTLE DUCKS ARE SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  81. SpiderHyphenMan says:

    Well I didn't see the comment, so… welp.

    • notemily says:

      The comment specifically contained ableist slurs. Also, those slurs were not necessary to make the point that the poster was trying to make. They could have easily been substituted with non-ableist words or concepts.

      Also, I think you should go back to the site rules/spoiler policy and reread point #5 of the site rules. #4 could do with a reread too.

  82. Arione says:

    Sometimes, reading your reviews is a terribly difficult thing to do. I want to stress that in no way do I mean this as a negative. I respect and appreciate everything your bring to this blog, but in a way enjoying your writing is the same as listening to a particularly expressive musician. All the sadnesses and stories are effecting, and after reading many many many your posts, as a reader I begin to feel a sort of sense of you as a person.

    Along with that comes the urge to give you all the hugs, and to want to offer comfort and friendship and good things until the end of forever. Unfortunately, I’m a person tapping words into a mobile phone and whilst I feel like you’re a friend to me, some one I can check in on daily, you have no real knowledge of me. So whilst I would like to make you cups of super chai, and vegan mushroom risotto, and have phat chats with you about music, and movies, and the way everything is really kinda glorious in spite of awfulness, I can’t.

    So instead of trying, especially seeing as I’m not good at expressing myself in comment form, I just wanted to let you know that everything you write and say has this amazing power to create change, whether in yourself or your readers. Also, because you write here, it becomes this gift, to the internets and its citizens. So thank you for said gift, my appreciation goes to you, and with it loves and hopes, and that inexplicable empathy that is a listener/reader/observer’s gift to the person that creates.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Well, shucks. SHUCKS. This is seriously one of the best comments I've ever received. I'm touched.

      Thank you, Arione. You may not know it (and others might not either), but the members of this community help me every day to face these sort of things and I honestly could not do it without you.

      Thank you. <3

  83. Matt Thermo says:

    P.S. Since this episode is somewhat depressing (somewhat?)… Speaking of Turtleducks, I totally saved a turtle today.

    I saw this little guy trying to cross the road on my way into work today. Cars were swerving around him as he (I’m making an assumption here, I didn’t actually check… I wouldn’t even know what to check?) made his way across the road. So I pulled over and ran into the road, picked him up and put him in my passenger seat.

    There was a little pond just down the road, so I put him there.

    Ok, ok. So that’s not in anyway “Avatar” or “Mark Watches” related, but this episode, while really good, is kind of a downer, so I thought this would help.

    • Matt Thermo says:

      OK, so I apparently did that wrong. Just copy/paste the part without the ";" and it should work fine.

    • arctic_hare says:

      Yay! Glad you saved the turtle! <3 SO CUTE.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      Good, good, you've made the first step! πŸ™‚

      Now find a duck and CROSS THE TWO TOGETHER!!!

      <img src="http://imgs.xkcd.com/store/imgs/stand_back_square_0.png"&gt;

    • doesntsparkle says:

      Aw. That's great. Now all you have to do is save a duck and see what happens.

    • mkjcaylor says:

      There are a few things to check. But firstly: Is a tortoise, not a turtle!

      Okay.

      So the biggest thing that is the most obvious is the fact that the box turtles males' undershell (plastron) is concave. This is because they need to be able to mount a female, so they have to have a way to sort of hook themselves on. πŸ˜€

      Males also tend to be more brightly colored and have brilliant yellow eyes. By this fact yours looks like it could be a female, although the coloration does fade over the years.

      Also, I believe that females have a shorter tail.

      Good on you for saving the Eastern Box Turtle! Which is a tortoise. … Confusing names.

  84. Caterfree10 says:

    I have to admit, Zuko Alone is my favorite episode out of this entire season, if not the ENTIRE SERIES, it is that wonderful. U mean, I love a lot of episodes, but this by far sticks out the best in my mind for so many reasons, including, ah, spoilery things related to it.

    I WANT TO SAY MORE ABOUT URSA BUT I CAN'T WITHOUT GETTING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY. ;A; (And yes, Zuko's mom's name is Ursa, he names her when revealing himself. :B It fits with her telling Zuko about how mothers protect their kids like she did in one of the flashbacks! <3)

    BUT MY GOD, I JUST. This episode is phenomenal, truly. *_*

    *INSERT VARIOUS SPOILERY COMMENTS HERE~* /shot

    Also, FUCK YEAH TURTLEDUCKS. I WANT ONE. <3

  85. Doodle says:

    I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEXT EPISODE AAHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    why do we have to wait until Tuesday =[

  86. Apox says:

    Something I want to point out because it's something a lot of people miss re. Azula and how vile and evil she is.

    Everything that Azula is and grows to be is validated by her father especially, but also by her entire society as a whole, except for her mother. In this episode, more often than not, the mother rejects Azula for her moral failings while supporting Zuko through his social/physical ones.

    It is heavily implied in this episode – I think as much as it can be implied in children's programming – that their mother's departure had something to do with Azulon's death, Ozai's rise to power, and by extension, the fact that Zuko wasn't sacrificed. In saving her son, the mother has also abandoned her daughter, and she's apparently done so without second though.

    Not trying to redeem Azula here, because she is despicable. But she's not entirely unsympathetic. The whole family is a mess.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      But she's not entirely unsympathetic. The whole family is a mess.

      There's a certain spoilery quote that's just SO appropriate here! πŸ˜›

  87. anon says:

    TOPH AS DAREDEVIL ILU BB. <333

    – tartanshell on LJ, who writes DD fic.

    • Steeple says:

      It's not Daredevil, it's a character from Homestuck named Terezi. She's blind and also has a unique way of getting around, by smelling and tasting colors (red is the most delicious).

      She's also a total BAMF, so the comparison was simple.

  88. @audzilla says:

    I love this episode and all its homages to django westerns. I suspect more than one scene has direct inspiration from others.

    I've watched this episode multiple times and the sudden departure of Zuko's mother is still .. sad and confusing and interesting. One of the things that makes Azula such a terrible, manipulative villain is that most of her lies are based in truth, and one of the strengths of Avatar's storytelling is that the writers don't always feel the need to spel it out for us, or clarify it at all

    Little Zuko is so cute!.

  89. TheWelshPirate says:

    TRIVIA TIME!: The creators liked the idea of certain weapons that complimented and "enhanced" a particular bending style. Zuko's Dual Dao Broadswords utilize a very circular style that compliments the Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu that represents Firebending. The strong, heavy hammers that the Earthbending soldier wields in this episode are the official Earthbending-enhancing weapon. And I think pretty much everybody has already guessed that fans are the Airbending weapon.

    Unfortunately, the show never shows us what the Waterbending weapon is. But Bryke has said in one of the commentaries that they imagine it would be a Katana. And that knowledge just upsets me that we never got to see a Katana-wielding Katara. But I think it explains the origin of her name.

    Oh, and Turtle-Ducks are awesome/cute.

  90. banans13 says:

    Homestuck WIN. This is another reason Mark should Read Homestuck. *just sayin'* *hides*

  91. Anseflans says:

    Dear Mother Nature,
    I am writing to ask you to provide us with Turtleducks, because they have the evolutionary advantage of being adorable. Now, I know this 'evolution' thing usually takes millions of years to take place, but I'm sure you can figure something out.
    Sincerely,

    Your Marktians.

  92. Avatar_fan_mom says:

    *sigh*

    Love this episode. It really gives us more to chew on with Zuko's character. He has obviously been having some serious internal struggles, and I think this episode shines a bit more light on why. The stark contrast between his mother and father is amazing. Like, how did those two get together?? Zuko trying to win everyone's approval and FAILING so miserably (except with his mother – <3 moms) is heartbreaking. It is not for lack of effort…he tries and tries and just doesn't seem to get rewarded – at least not in the way he wants. I think its great that the writers are really taking their time with his development. It really leaves us as viewers begging for more.

    In the end, Zuko really is alone to figure life out…which can be depressing or uplifting, depending on how you look at it. In a way, wouldn't it be grand to have all the love and support in the world to make getting through life and figuring things out easier? But on the other hand, the struggle of loneliness and having to carve out one's own destiny often makes things more interesting, more real. In the end, it isn't up to other people to help determine our lives paths – it is our responsibility alone. Our actions and drives to be genuine have to come from within.

    Love. This. Show.

  93. TheWelshPirate says:

    Sorry for the randomness of this, but when I saw it I just had to post it.

    <img src="http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/3900000/Avatar-the-last-airbender-avatar-the-last-airbender-3965732-750-600.jpg"&gt;

  94. Macy says:

    Sorry you had such a rough childhood, Mark. But I think it's really great that you can actually relate to a character in this series. That's the sign of an amazing show: actually being able to feel what the characters are feeling/going through.
    This episode was one of my favorites as well. It felt like it nearly fleshed out some of the characters completely. As for Azula, I think since she was "the favorite" (of Ozai), she probably hung around her father more than her mother and picked up on his mannerisms and twisted mind-set. One of the commenters above noted that she seemed confused when her mother dragged her away to scold her. At that moment we get a glimpse of the child in the "monster" she has become. There's a human in there somewhere. Just buried REALLY deep under layers of corruption via Ozai.
    I also really enjoyed seeing a fairly happy, careless Zuko (without the scar as well!). He was such a cute kid. A little spoiled, but what do you expect from a prince? But hearing him repeat his mantra, "Azula always lies" just broke my heart.
    Oh, and TURTLEDUCKS.

    (Am I shallow to like this episode partly for Zuko's short hair? Because DAYUM.)

    • Amanda says:

      Not shallow at all. This is definitely the first episode in which we truly begin to appreciate Zuko's sheer HOTNESS. πŸ˜€

  95. Amanda says:

    Okay. Um.

    I have a lot, lot, lot of things to say, and… well, Mark, I think I'm just going to have to find a way to send you an email.

  96. Hotaru_hime says:

    Incredibly late to the party, but I had a convention to attend and I was exhausted.
    So, I get to point out to you the funniness of Azula's and Azulon's blue flame- the first four letters of both of their names spell out azul– Spanish for blue. I think Azulon's name is supposed to be like the Chinese dragon Qinglong, but don't quote me on that, I'm not sure.
    Also, finally!! Some Iroh backstory, ohhhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaaaah. Except it's awful and horrible and all I want to do is cry. Poor Iroh!! But this shows that he was truly a member of the Fire Nation Royal Family- until the loss of his only son and heir, Lu Ten. I like that Fire Lord Azulon pitied his son and allowed him to return home from the failed siege of the great city of Ba Sing Se to mourn.
    It also reveals that not only is Fire Lord Ozai a complete utter jackass but he's a usurper too!!! He stole the crown from Iroh and Iroh did not fight! I'm sad for that but I think Iroh loves the Fire Nation and not the crown and would not divide it for the sake of power that was rightfully his but that he did not want. After all, Iroh was tired.
    Ursa, Zuko, and Azula. I think it's very interesting that Ursa could see that Azula was a really fucked up kid (conduct disorder if I ever saw it- LEAVE TURTLE DUCKS ALONE YOU BITCH) but that she still tried to help her become a well-adjusted person… if Ozai wasn't all "BWAHAHAHA, YOUR TERRIBLE BEHAVIOUR AMUSES ME."
    I think that the episode heavily hints that Ursa was the one who killed Fire Lord Azulon though, because Azulon would have killed Zuko so that Ozai would know Iroh's pain. Too bad Azulon didn't know that Ozai could care less for Zuko and that he treasures the obviously fucked up Azula. So Ursa did what all mothers would do- she saved her son from a death he did not deserve. And had to run because of it.
    Zuko has essentially been alone since his mother left. Iroh has been there for him, to play surrogate father but Zuko, while loving his uncle, wants the approval of his real father. And he hopes, even now, even when there are wanted posters for him, that he can regain that approval.
    Poor Zuko.

    But the most important thing about this entire episode is that it gave us TURTLE DUCKS.

  97. stefb says:

    I believe that this is my favorite episode ever, and I always watch it when it plays on TV. Zuko's backstory is so heartbreaking (and yours too! *sobs forever*) and you really get a sense of who he is here and how he became the Zuko we know. Azula is still a little monster, but there's small scenes here that you have to pay attention to that makes you really think about these characters (when Ursa gets the letter that Lu Ten is dead, Zuko and Azula are chasing each other and BOTH look HAPPY–so they used to get along sometimes?)

    Some other scenes also maybe shows what Ozai's relationship with his father might have been like, and how it differed from Azulon's relationship with Iroh. Lots of potential for analysis here in just this one episode. Ozai's silence by the turtleduck pond when Zuko asked where his mother was always stood out to me.

    But yeah—I was so unbelievably annoyed at the Earth Kingdom villagers for turning on Zuko like that…GAH HE JUST SAVED YOUR VILLAGE!

    And little Zuko, Mai, Ty Lee, and even Azula are freakin' adorable.

  98. Hotaru_hime says:

    For some reason I think he did, only now that I think about it he probably didn't. I keep thinking someone else also uses blue flame firebending.
    Oh my God, seriously? Ozai, WTF? Your only remaining heir is clearly insane!

    • H. Torrance Griffin says:

      "Oh my God, seriously? Ozai, WTF? Your only remaining heir is clearly insane! "

      How much moreso than he?

  99. Tess says:

    This episode does an amazing job of giving us the feel and cadence of a Western. Unfortunately, I despise Westerns with every fiber of my being. So I always dread this episode for that reason. But I do enjoy the backstory we get on Zuko, Azula, and their mom.

    I have to speak up for Azula here. Having never met Mark's sister, I can't comment on whether she's pure evil or not, but I don't think Azula is. She has good reasons for her behavior in the same way that Zuko does. She's ambitious, and suspects that because she's female she won't have a chance for the power she craves. In the flashbacks her mother seems to prefer Zuko, and to show him more affection. And the positive feedback she gets is from her father, who encourages her machiavellian behavior.
    (continued below)

    • Tess says:

      To Azula's mind, she must wonder why first Uncle Iroh, and then Zuko, should be presumed to be the eventual heirs to the throne when Ozai and herself are respectively much more competent. She's the one with both the desire and the skill, why shouldn't she be groomed for power? It must be torture. Iroh, who should know better, sends her a DOLL. Seriously? Would you send Toph a doll? Of course she's disgusted. She's being treated like a girl, when she wants to be treated like a king.
      (continued)

    • Tess says:

      I'm not suggesting that such behavior is good or should be encouraged. But we should recognize her as a product of her environment — rather than pure evil for the sake of evil — the same way we do Zuko. Azula was able to see political implications at an very young age–she was incredibly gifted–but she was reviled by her mother for it, instead of taught that she must include empathy and concern for others in her analysis. If her ambition had been trained and focused in positive ways — rather than treated as something abhorrent that must be stamped out by her mother — maybe Azula would not be the villian she is now.

      Isn't that the analysis we always use to excuse Zuko? Shouldn't we give Azula the same benefit of the doubt? I have to believe that she can be redeemed. Also, she's a BAMF.

  100. korosh says:

    This episode is one of my favorites. Speaking of Azula, she was a victim of emotional child abuse. Corrupting , pressuring and spoiling children are forms of child abuse. Favored children think if they don't do what their parents want they will lose their love which is conditional. Not that I rationalize Azula's actions.

    Ursa loved both of her children and was worried about Azula because of her behavior. She didn't deal with Ozai who was behind it. Indeed, Zuko needed Ursa's protection but Azula needed her mother's protection as well. Azulon's danger was obvious and immediate while Ozai's was unapparent and long-term. Ursa was unintentionally and partially responsible for what happened.

    Perhaps Ursa was somewhere in the Fire Nation.

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