Rewatch

Book Three: Fire || Chapter Nineteen: Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters

There are a lot of old folks wandering about in the fifty-ninth installment of the Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Episode 3.19 has Aang seek advice, Zuko seek forgiveness, and our heroes seek a plan of action. Also, there’s a lion turtle involved in here somewhere and I rant a lot.

Please note that while the summary will remain spoiler free (aside for everything up to and including the current episode, of course), the subsequent commentary (and comments) will not be. If you haven’t already seen the series, go do it now. This post will be waiting for you when you come back.

Note: I would like this rewatch to remain spoiler free for The Legend of Korra. Please choose your comments wisely. If you wish to discuss Korra, you can do so on these posts.

Summary
June takes a seat to finish her tea. Sokka recognizes June as the woman who helped Zuko attack them before, which is a little awkward. Our heroes approach June, who recognizes Zuko (and calls him Prince Pouty). She asks where Zuko’s “creepy grandpa” is, and Zuko tells her that he’s not here. After a moment, June says she’s glad that Zuko worked things out with his girlfriend, which has Zuko and Katara hurrying to deny that relationship. June backs off and asks what they want. When Zuko tells her that they need her help finding the Avatar, June comments on how that doesn’t sound fun—which gets an angry Zuko to ask her if the end of the world sounds like more fun.

Outside the bar, Appa and the shirshu are in the middle of a growling match, at least until Appa licks the shirshu. Our heroes follow June outside. The bounty hunter first feeds the shirshu a steak before asking if our heroes have anything with Aang’s scent on it. Katara produces Aang’s glider, and the shirshu sniffs it. After searching in vain for several moments for a scent, the shirshu flops to the ground in defeat.

June explains that Aang is gone, and when our heroes are confused, further clarifies that Aang doesn’t exist.


June: Always more fabulous than you are.

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Aang and Momo wander the mysterious island. At first Aang thinks that they both might be in the spirit world, but he can airbend, which means he is not. He decides to climb to the top of the island to see if he can figure out where they are.

Sokka demands to know if Aang is dead, which June denies—they could find him if he were dead. June is about to leave when Zuko comes up with a new idea. There’s only one other person in the world who can help them defeat the Fire Lord, and Zuko has a smell sample.

Zuko produces an old, sweaty sandal of Iroh’s, much to our heroes’ disgust. The shirshu grabs the scent straight away, and our heroes scramble on Appa in order to follow June.

The shirshu tracks the scent all the way through the following evening, when they arrive at the broken outer wall of Ba Sing Se. June tells them that Iroh is somewhere beyond the wall before she leaves. Zuko advises everyone to make camp for the night so they can search at dawn.


I love that Toph is completely unaffected by the sandal.

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Aang reaches the clearing at the top of the island and is confused by the hexagon design at the center. It doesn’t feel like normal rock, and he can’t earthbend it. He sits down and wishes he had help—and then realizes he does have Roku for help. Aang begins to meditate while Momo watches.

After an indeterminable length of time, Roku manifests himself. Roku congratulates Aang on remembering that all the knowledge and experience of past Avatars is available to him if he looks deep inside himself. Aang asks where he is, but Roku has no idea. However, Roku realizes that Aang is lost in more ways than one right now. Aang admits that he needs to figure out what to do when he faces the Fire Lord.

Toph is woken up in the middle of the night, but before she can shout a warning, our heroes are encircled by fire. They look to the crumbled wall and spot Piandao, Jeong Jeong, Pakku, and Bumi, all dressed in blue and white robes. Bumi greets our heroes enthusiastically.

Aang explains how everyone expects him to take the Fire Lord’s life and admits he isn’t sure he can do that. Roku tells Aang that in his life, he tried to be disciplined and show restraint, but that backfired. Sozin took advantage of his restraint and mercy. Roku believes that if he had been decisive and acted earlier, he could have stopped Sozin before the war started. He counsels Aang that he must be decisive and then disappears. Aang is troubled by the advice.


I offer you this wisdom, Aang: you must be decisive.

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Toph asks why they’re surrounded by old people, and Katara explains that the men in front of them are great masters and friends of theirs. She bows to Pakku, who returns the greeting—and reveals that he is now their grandfather. Katara immediately gives Pakku a hug, and Pakku reveals that he made Gran Gran a new betrothal necklace and everything. Sokka leaps forward to give Pakku a hug of his own. When Sokka calls him Gramp Gramp, Pakku pries Sokka off of him and tells him that Pakku will be just fine.

Katara introduces Jeong Jeong, and Sokka respectfully greets Piandao. Suki asks how these four men all know each other, and Bumi jokes that all old people know each other.

However, Piandao explains that they are all part of an ancient, secret organization that transcends the divisions between the nations. Zuko pipes up that it is the Order of the White Lotus, which seems to surprise Piandao. Jeong Jeong explains that the White Lotus has always been about philosophy, beauty, and truth. A month ago, they all received noticed that they were needed for something important. Pakku tells them that the call came from a Grand Lotus—Iroh of the Fire Nation.

Toph confirms that they’re looking for Iroh, and Piandao says they will take them to him. Bumi suddenly interrupts, having finally realized that Momo is missing from the group. Sokka adds in that Aang is missing as well, and Bumi decides that they’ll be fine if they’re together. The White Lotus and our heroes go to find Iroh.


Who would’ve thought that all you guys knew each other?

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Aang calls for Avatar Kyoshi and her wisdom. Kyoshi manifests herself and launches into her story of Chin the Conqueror, who threatened to throw the world out of balance. She stopped him, and the world entered a great era of peace. Aang points out that Kyoshi didn’t technically kill him—Chin fell to his death because he was too stubborn to get out of the way. Kyoshi claims she doesn’t see any difference and insists she would have done whatever was needed to stop Chin. She advises Aang that only justice can bring peace.

Aang mutters that he knew he shouldn’t have asked Kyoshi.


I offer you this wisdom, Aang: only justice will bring peace.

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Sokka asks Bumi how he escaped from Omashu, and Bumi explains that he didn’t escape—everyone else did. He was waiting for just the right moment, though he didn’t know where or when it would be. When he spotted the eclipse, he earthbended some nearby tiles to pry off the front of his metal cage.

Fire Nation soldiers confronted him, but they were taken by surprise when they could not bend. Bumi told them he was taking back his city—and he did it singlehandedly. The Fire Nation troops fled the city after the displays of Bumi’s power, which included demolishing the statue of Ozai.

Suki is amazed by the story, and Bumi asks our heroes if they did anything interesting on the day of the eclipse. Zuko and Sokka look at each other before denying they did anything.


I have to admit that this is pretty awesome.

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Aang holds his head in his hands and mutters that he needs to look deep inside himself. He straightens up to meditate again, and after a while, a new Avatar manifests himself. Avatar Kuruk introduces himself and tells Aang that he was a “go-with-the-flow” type when he was young. People seemed to work out their own problems, and there was peace in the world.

However, Kuruk lost the woman he loved to Koh, the Face Stealer. He blames himself for her loss, as if he had been more attentive and active, he could have saved her. Kuruk urges Aang to shape his own destiny and the destiny of the world.

Kuruk disappears, and Aang covers his face with his hands.


Aang, you must actively shape your own destiny and the destiny of the world.

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Our heroes approach the White Lotus camp. When Zuko asks where Iroh is, and Piandao points him to the correct tent. Zuko walks over to the tent, but he can’t bring himself to go inside. Katara spots him sitting on the ground in front of the entrance and asks if he’s okay.

Zuko says he’s not okay—he knows Iroh must hate him. Iroh loved him and supported him, and Zuko still turned against him. Zuko wonders how he can ever face Iroh. Katara asks if Zuko is sorry for what he did, and Zuko says he’s more sorry for this than anything in his entire life. She reassures Zuko that Iroh will forgive him then.

Zuko stands back up and, after a deep breath, heads inside the tent. He starts to speak, but he stops when he hears Iroh snoring. Zuko smiles faintly and takes a seat at his uncle’s side.


When you’re on Katara’s good side, she is pretty awesome.

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Aang frets because all of the Avatars so far have told him he will need to kill Ozai, but none of them understand. He decides to consult an Air Nomad Avatar in the hopes that he or she will understand where he is coming from.

Aang meditates until a female Air Nomad, Avatar Yangchen, manifests. He explains that he was taught that all life was sacred—even that of the tiniest spider fly caught in its own web. Yangchen confirms that all life is sacred, and Aang is pleased by that. Aang tells her he has always tried to solve his problems by being quick or clever, he only uses violence for necessary defense, and he has never taken a life.

Yangchen sympathizes as Aang is a gentle spirit, but she tells him that this conflict isn’t about him—it’s about the world. Aang protests that the monks taught him that he had to detach himself from the world in order to be free. Yangchen acknowledges that many Air Nomads have achieved enlightenment through detachment, but the Avatar can never do that. The Avatar’s sole duty is to the world. She advises Aang that he must sacrifice his own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world.

After Yangchen disappears, Aang says he doesn’t have any choice—he must kill the Fire Lord.


Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world.

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The next morning, Iroh wakes up to find Zuko in his tent. Iroh keeps his back turned, much to Zuko’s distress. Zuko confesses that he knows that Iroh must have mixed feelings about seeing him. He starts to cry as he apologizes and talks about how ashamed he is of what he did and that he doesn’t know how he can make it up to Iroh—

And before Zuko can get any further, Iroh yanks him into a hug. The two of them cry together, and a disbelieving Zuko asks how Iroh can forgive him so easily. Iroh reveals he was never angry with Zuko, but he was sad because he was afraid Zuko had lost his way. Zuko admits that he did lose his way, but Iroh to points out that Zuko found his way by himself and further adds that he is so happy that Zuko found his way here. They hug again, and Zuko says it wasn’t that hard to find his way—Iroh has a pretty strong scent.


I was never angry with you. I was sad because I was afraid you’d lost your way.

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Aang wakes that morning and soon realizes that weird things are happening: the mountains in the distance look as if they’re getting bigger. He climbs to the top of a tree for a better look—and realizes that the island is moving, not the mountains. Aang rushes down to the ocean and dives into the water so he can get a better look at what’s going on.

It doesn’t take him long to realize that the island is actually the biggest animal in the world. Aang swims around the island, trying to find the animal’s face.


To the deus ex machina!

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Zuko tells Iroh that they need him to come with them—he is the only one who can defeat the Fire Lord with Aang missing. Iroh denies this request and says it won’t turn out well. Zuko insists that Iroh can defeat Ozai and that they will help him.

However, Iroh points out that if he did defeat Ozai (something he’s not sure he can do), it would be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as just more senseless violence—a brother killing a brother to grab power. The only way the war can end peacefully is if the Avatar defeats the Fire Lord.

Zuko asks if Iroh would then take his rightful place on the throne afterward, but Iroh denies that he would. The Fire Nation needs an idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honor on the throne. Iroh tells his nephew that he will need to be the one to become the Fire Lord.

Zuko points out that he has made so many mistakes, and Iroh acknowledges his mistakes, struggling, and suffering. However, Zuko has always found his own path and restored his own honor. Only Zuko can restore the honor of the Fire Nation. Zuko promises he will try.


Zuko, look at it this way: there’s no way you could be a worse ruler than your father or sister.

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Toph wonders what they’re supposed to do if Aang doesn’t come back. Iroh reminds her that Sozin’s Comet is arriving and with it their destinies. Aang will face the Fire Lord.

Iroh tells our heroes that he had a vision in his youth of taking Ba Sing Se. However, now he can see that his destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again. Suki realizes that that is why Iroh gathered the Order of the White Lotus here, which he confirms.

Iroh tells Zuko that he must return to the Fire Nation so that he can assume the throne and restore peace and order once the Fire Lord is defeated. He warns his nephew that Azula will be there waiting for him. Zuko declares that he can handle his sister, but Iroh tells him he can’t do it alone. Zuko accepts this and asks Katara for her help, which she readily grants.

Sokka asks what everyone else’s destiny is today, so Iroh asks what he thinks it is. Sokka decides that even though they don’t know where Aang is, they need to do everything they can to stop the airship fleet. Toph realizes that means they will be nearby if Aang needs their help when he faces the Fire Lord. Iroh smiles at the plan.


There’s our idea guy.

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Piandao gives Sokka, Suki, and Toph a giant eel hound for their journey to the airship fleet base. The base is on a small island just off the Earth Kingdom, and Piandao assures them that they will be able to intercept the fleet within a day’s journey. Sokka thanks Piandao and gives him a hug goodbye.

Katara and Zuko are preparing to leave on Appa. Zuko asks Iroh what he will do once the war is over and Zuko is Fire Lord. Iroh says that after he conquers Ba Sing Se, he will conquer his tea shop and play Pai Sho every day.

Katara says goodbye to Iroh, and he bids everyone farewell. He reassures them that destiny is their friend today. Sokka, Suki, and Toph ride away on the giant eel hound, and Zuko and Katara fly away on Appa.


General Iroh: Grand Lotus and Dragon of the West

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Aang dives under water and finds the animal/island’s face. It catches Aang on its palm as it lifts its head out of the water. Aang realizes that the island is a lion turtle and bows to it respectfully before asking for its help. He explains that everyone is expecting him to end someone’s life, but he doesn’t know if he can do it. The lion turtle speaks:

“The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginningless time, the darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purified light.”

The lion turtle touches its claws to Aang, one on his forehead and one on his chest, and green light radiates from the points of contact. Afterwards, the lion turtle gently deposits Aang on shore. It tells Aang to wait—and that he will come. The lion turtle swims away as Aang bows.

The Phoenix King stands before his airship fleet. He declares that it is time for this world to end in fire and for the new world to be born from the ashes.

Sozin’s Comet lights up the evening sky, and both Ozai and Aang watch as the sky turns red.


Since beginningless time, the darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purified light.

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Commentary
I am less ragey at “The Old Masters” than I was at “The Phoenix King,” but I still have some serious issues with this episode. (There’s also some serious awesome, but we’re going to have to wait a little bit to get there.)

I’m thrilled that Zuko thought to look for June in order to track down Aang—it’s always fun when your show remembers its own bits of obscure continuity. June was a one-off character I fell in love with, and her reappearance pretty much made my day.

That said, I have a significant complaint about her shirshu and the mechanics of the whole tracking thing. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about the shirshu’s crazy-awesome tracking abilities, but I object to the disappearance of Aang’s smell. Simply because Aang has stepped into a mystical realm for a moment doesn’t mean his scent should have disappeared from this plane of existence. Shouldn’t the shirshu have been able to trace Aang back to the beach on Ember Island before getting completely confused as to the disappearance of the scent? How can it just sniff the glider and then the air and give up?

Furthermore, how on earth does June know that the shirshu’s inability to find the scent means that Aang no longer exists? I just don’t understand how that could possibly be the logical conclusion. How many people have June and her shirshu hunted down that have escaped to other planes of existence? Is that something wanted criminals regularly do in this world and that’s how she has run into this reaction before? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to assume that there isn’t a strong enough scent on the glider or something instead of a “looks like our quarry has ceased to exist” explanation?

I am also torn on Zuko miraculously producing Iroh’s sandal. When did he get it? Why did he bring it with him? It’s an amusing joke if he kept the sandal for sentimental reasons, but I object to its sudden appearance as a crucial plot point now. If we had seen Zuko packing it up on the Day of Black Sun or him finding it left behind at the prison, I’d be okay with it. Instead, the sandal appears out of nowhere in order to get our heroes to the next step, and that annoys me greatly.

(And as noted previously, the crazy space/time compression also annoys me greatly. This amount of travel should not be possible in the time our heroes have. Yes, it’s a small, stupid thing, but it’s something that pisses me off. You shouldn’t be able to get from Ember Island to wherever June was on the coast of the Earth Kingdom to Ba Sing Se in such a short amount of time, and it kills most of the impending deadline tension when the show rubs it in your face that our heroes will magically be able to cross any distance when the plot requires it.)

While I’m hesitant to call the Order of the White Lotus a problem, per se, I will note that I’m not wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the idea that all of the old men/still-living mentor figures our heroes have ever encountered are coincidentally part of this secret boys only society. There were hints as far back as season one that there was something up with Iroh and Pai Sho, and Iroh was explicitly named a member back in “The Desert.” Piandao was definitely a member of the Order of the Phoenix as well, what with all the white lotus motifs in his home and how he gave Sokka the white lotus Pai Sho tile.

But we had absolutely no indication that Jeong Jeong, Pakku, and Bumi were part of the same organization. No white lotuses hidden in their homes or on their persons, no love of Pai Sho, no cryptic comments—nothing. Their inexplicable membership turns what could have been a cool revelation about the Order, its members, and its purpose into a glorified AARP meeting, and much of the mystique of the Order disappeared in a rush of disappointment for me.

(That said, I’m glad that we were finally able to find out what happened to Bumi after Aang left him in “Return to Omashu.” He’s been missing for over thirty episodes and hadn’t been mentioned in ages. I was more surprised by the appearance of Jeong Jeong as I figured that the dismissive reference of him in “The Western Air Temple” was a fourth-wall-breaking acknowledgment that he wouldn’t ever be showing up again.)

However, I will forget all of my ambivalence toward the Order of the White Lotus roster because it leads straight to Zuko’s reunion with Iroh. Not going to lie—I totally burst into tears during Iroh and Zuko’s scene, which is not what I expected going in to it. I remembered that it was a touching scene, and I thought I had steeled myself for it, but clearly I was not prepared. Guess prodigal son moments are one of my weaknesses.

The heartbreak started for me before Zuko even got into the tent, when he hesitated to go inside and Katara came to rescue him. I know I said it last week, but I love how aware Zuko is of his betrayal of Iroh. He told Toph that it was his greatest regret, and in this episode he claimed that Iroh must hate him. Zuko cannot really hope for forgiveness, which comes as no surprise considering how little forgiveness Ozai ever showed him. And even though Zuko knows—and has partly come to terms with the fact—that Ozai was cruel, he still doesn’t expect that Iroh will show him anything but hatred. After all, from Zuko’s perspective, he has certainly earned Iroh’s scorn.

But much like Toph did last week, Katara reached out to Zuko and told him that Iroh would forgive him. It’s a lovely moment, especially considering Katara threatened to kill him back in “The Western Air Temple.” Zuko spent the entirety of “The Southern Raiders” trying to help Katara when she was an emotional wreck, and Katara got to repay him in this episode. I loved that Katara was able to have faith for Zuko, and Zuko could have enough faith in her to walk into the tent.

I’m sure other, smarter people online have analyzed Zuko and Iroh’s reunion many times, so I’ll keep my comments brief. The moment I burst into tears most powerful moment was when Iroh yanked Zuko into a hug, cutting off Zuko rambling, heartbroken pleading for forgiveness. If “The Western Air Temple” is any indication, I can only imagine how long Zuko had been practicing that speech, rehearsing it over and over again, trying to figure out what combination of words he could possibly string together in order to get Iroh to at least not hate him anymore.

Dante Basco gets so many points for his voice acting in that scene, especially when Zuko asked how Iroh could forgive him so easily. When you compare this scene to the previous times Zuko has begged people in the past—his father in a flashback in “The Storm” (he got his face burned) and our heroes in “The Western Air Temple” (he got knocked over by a blast of water and driven away)—it’s clear that Zuko didn’t expect this time to go any better.

But Iroh is better than Ozai and our other heroes, and he is also the most eloquent: I was never angry with you. I was sad because I was afraid you’d lost your way.

Iroh is also surprisingly eloquent when he tells our heroes why he can’t be the one to take down Ozai and why Zuko needs to take the throne. It comes as no surprise that Iroh can take the long view on their problems re: taking down Ozai, beyond the fact that Iroh isn’t sure he can actually defeat his brother in combat. I can totally believe that he is enough of a student of history to know that future generations would only see Iroh’s defeat of Ozai as a power grab. After all, Ozai basically stole the throne out from under Iroh when Iroh was a wreck because of the loss of Lu Ten, and it would be pretty easy to believe that Iroh was simply taking down Ozai as a sort of delayed revenge. Aang needs to be the one to defeat Ozai so that it isn’t a matter of royal politics or even war—it’s a matter of the physical incarnation of the world laying the smackdown on a megalomaniac that wants to set the world on fire.

That makes it doubly important for Iroh to not take the throne, even though Zuko is aware of how unqualified and unprepared he is for becoming the Fire Lord. On top of all the talk about the Fire Nation needing an idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honor, the fact remains that Iroh is basically a war criminal—at least when it comes to the Earth Kingdom. It would not be the best PR to enthrone the man who laid siege to Ba Sing Se for six hundred days and breached the wall of the city. The Earth Kingdom would undoubtedly be nervous at the prospect of the Fire Nation being ruled by yet another man with a talent for war.

Sure, Zuko doesn’t have squeaky clean hands himself, but at least he hasn’t spent decades as one of the Fire Nation’s top generals. He probably has fewer than a hundred deaths that can be directly attributed to him as opposed to Iroh’s thousands. There’s also the handy little fact that Zuko’s betrayal of the Fire Nation and joining with the Avatar is already widely known, while Iroh just dropped off the face of the earth. While I imagine there are some people who will never be happy with Zuko taking the throne, I imagine most of the populace would be more forgiving of a teenager who never really seemed to be on good terms with Ozai in the first place.

And let’s face it—Aang vouching for Zuko as his firebending teacher would probably go a long way, too.

One other thing that I enjoyed about Iroh in this episode was how he actively took on the role of a mentor to our heroes. Iroh reminded them that there was nothing they could do about Aang—they needed to worry about their own destinies. He told Zuko that he had to return to the Fire Nation to assume the throne and restore peace and order, which is a wise decision considering all the chaos that could spread upon Ozai’s defeat. And while he cautioned Zuko about Azula being there, he didn’t tell Zuko how to accomplish his task other than to take someone with him. (And yay for Zuko asking Katara for her help and Katara agreeing to go with him!) And when Sokka asked what everyone else’s destiny was, Iroh turned the question back on him instead of just handing him the answer. That gave Sokka the chance to come up with his own plan—stop the airship fleet and back up Aang if necessary. Iroh was actively trying to get our heroes to think and plan for themselves because he had faith in them and their abilities.

We’ll cover these plans in detail next week, so that means it’s time to turn to Aang and his plotlines. There’s a lot of good to talk about here, but there’s also some serious fail.

I love that Aang actively chooses to ask his past lives for help. He knows he is out of his depth on his Ozai dilemma, and he is in desperate need of counsel. So he goes to them one by one, until he has received wisdom from one Avatar of each element, hoping that he will hear what he wants to hear something that will help him figure out what on earth he is supposed to do.

I offer you this wisdom, Aang: you must be decisive. Roku basically gave Aang a reminder of what happened in “The Avatar and the Fire Lord,” and it did little to help Aang feel better. It’s actually a nice reminder about the guilt Roku feels—he is still hoping that Aang will be able to redeem him. And while I think Roku should have kept a better eye on Sozin, for all appearances it seemed as if Sozin really had been keeping himself in check while Roku was alive. After all, he waited twelve more years after Roku’s death to get back to his conquering the world schemes (or at least Air Nomad slaughtering) after Roku shut him down the first time. Roku had no reason to believe that Sozin would go right back to trying to conquer the world.

The only way Roku could have conceivably stopped the war is if he had not shown restraint or mercy in the first place. It would have meant killing his best friend after one (small) conquest—which is something I think Roku also would have come to regret. After all, Roku did immediately squash the talk about conquest the night of his wedding. It’s not exactly his fault that Sozin was power hungry. I’m torn over this advice, as Roku has had 112 years to regret his actions. I will agree that Aang needed to hear that he must make a decision and stick to it, whatever it is.

I offer you this wisdom, Aang: only justice will bring peace. While I’m amused at fandom’s portrayal of Kyoshi as a bloodthirsty maniac, she isn’t anything like that in the show itself. What she is, is confident—and lawful good, probably. I’m really happy that she wouldn’t let Aang make excuses for her. Kyoshi took decisive actions that directly led to Chin’s death, and even though she hadn’t set out to kill him, she still acknowledged that she had been prepared to do whatever it took to stop Chin’s conquest. Though I will note that in “Avatar Day” she apparently waited to act until Chin had conquered all of the Earth Kingdom except for her home.

Kyoshi’s advice is spot on: the world will not be able to be at peace unless justice is served. After a hundred years of war, there is no way that Aang could simply pull a Jedi mind trick and tell everyone that everything’s okay now. The Fire Nation needs to be defeated, and Ozai must be brought to justice for continuing the war of his grandfather and father. Ozai could have ended the war once he assumed the throne, but he did not.

Aang, you must actively shape your own destiny and the destiny of the world. Kuruk’s advice was a reminder that Aang cannot avoid this fight. As the Avatar, Aang must be an active player in the fate of the world—whether or not he wants to.

This lack of action is particularly tragic for Kuruk, as he blamed his go-with-the-flow philosophy for the loss of his fiancé to Koh, the Face Stealer. Whether or not Kuruk could have actually saved her is irrelevant to Aang—what’s important is that Aang cannot be passive about the things going on around him.

Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world. While I appreciate what Roku, Kyoshi, and Kuruk had to say, it is Yangchen’s advice that really stands out. I loved that while she can sympathize with Aang’s upbringing, she is unwilling to let him use that as an excuse to avoid the dilemma he is facing. She told him flat out that this war was not about him. This war was about the fate of the world, and Aang needed to stop being selfish.

While it was harsh for Yangchen to tell Aang flat out that he can never achieve enlightenment, it was a reality he needed to face. As much as it sucks, the Avatar is more than just a person—the Avatar is the protector of the world, the one who maintains the balance between the nations, the only individual who has the power to go beyond human limitations.

(I find it very interesting that Aang would cling to the fact that the monks taught him to detach himself from the world in order to be free when he freaked out at the end of season two about letting go of Katara. Aang, you need to stop waffling about whether or not you think attachment is okay. Otherwise you’re just picking a side to suit your own selfishness, and that irks me.)

I’d love to leave the discussion there, but I can’t—because Aang lied to Yangchen. Aang claimed that he believed all life was sacred, that he only used violence for necessary defense, and that he had never taken a life. That is so untrue that it sends me into a frothy rage, so I’m going to be as short and coherent as possible.

Aang killed a buzzard wasp out of spite for grabbing Momo in “The Desert,” which rather stands at odds with his claim that all life is sacred. In that same episode, Aang also flipped out on the sandbenders for admitting they kidnapped and sold Appa, which means he has used violence for more than just necessary defense. And if you tell me that Aang has never taken a life, then I’m just going to laugh in your face and point you back to “The Siege of the North, Part 2,” in which Aang (and the ocean spirit) laid waste to an entire Fire Nation navy on top of knocking tanks and soldiers into arctic waters.

Aang has gone against these so-called principles in the past, and it pisses me off to no end that the show lets him get away with his hypocrisy by introducing the lion turtle and energybending. Honestly, it comes across as a last minute oh-no-we-can’t-possibly-have-our-protagonist-kill-a-bad-guy-this-is-a-show-for-children development. This show has taken a lot of risks that the children’s shows I grew up on never did, like multiple-episode story arcs, having characters (that aren’t villains!) die, actually letting characters say die or death or kill, etc. that I’m tempted to call this a cowardly solution.

Especially since Aang only has to stick with his decision to kill Ozai for fewer than five minutes before the lion turtle hands over the get-out-of-necessary-and-in-the-entire-world’s-defense-killing-during-combat card. If Aang had had to stew over this decision for a long time (see my suggestion in the “Nightmares and Daydreams” commentary), I’d actually be a lot more eager for him to Take a Third Option. Instead, I’m frustrated because it takes away from the impact of Aang’s decision either way.

Don’t think your twelve-year-old protagonist should have to deal with the possibility of killing someone? Then maybe you should be writing a different story.

If I pretend all the problems with the current incarnation of the lion turtle don’t exist like the fact that we have never, ever had one mentioned before this episode, I actually really like it. No, seriously. How can you not like this?

“The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginningless time, the darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purified light.”

I will admit being confused by the usage of tough, but that’s beside the point.

One of the things I really wish the series had capitalized on more was the spirit world and all the implications that were there. Aang’s journey to the spirit world during the siege at the North Pole was thrilling and mysterious and wonderful. Koh was menacing and fascinating, and I loved the idea that there was a whole world filled with beings from “beginningless time.” I loved that the moon and the ocean spirits could physically manifest themselves as koi and that the Avatar was the manifestation of the world. Even Guru Pathik was on to something when he talked about how the divisions in the world and bending were just an illusion.

There were so many possibilities wrapped up in the spirit world and creatures like the lion turtle, and I will always be a little sad that this show never delved into those mysteries.

  • I can’t be the only one amused about June calling Katara Zuko’s girlfriend again. I cannot believe how much this show enjoyed baiting the Zutara shippers.
  • Nice conservation of detail about how bending doesn’t work in the spirit world. It’s a great way for Aang to figure out where he is not.
  • Poor Toph doesn’t know who any of the old masters are. She kind of met Piandao, but only briefly. Everyone else is a before-her-time character.
  • I’m torn about Pakku marrying Gran Gran. On the one hand, it’s cute that they got together and that Pakku has thus presumably truly gotten over his misogynistic ways; on the other hand, I still resent Pakku for those misogynistic ways. But only a little.
  • I was amused when Zuko and Sokka both denied that they did anything interesting on the eclipse.
  • It’s a tiny moment, but I loved that Piandao addressed Zuko as a prince—Piandao is Fire Nation, after all, and he is presumably quite happy to have a member of the royal family that isn’t totally crazy.
  • The show also enjoys baiting us re: Iroh and his background. Iroh had a vision in his youth about taking Ba Sing Se? Where? Why? How does this relate to his ability to see spirits? *rolls about in the agony of not knowing*
  • And you know what? I loved that all Iroh wants to do after the war is go back to his tea shop and play Pai Sho every day. I really get the feeling that Iroh is more than happy to be done with being a big player in the world; he just wants to recapture the peace and happiness he’s been missing. On the other hand, I really do wish he would at least help Zuko in the transition to becoming Fire Lord. Just because you guys get rid of Ozai and Azula doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other terrible people in the upper echelons of the Fire Nation that resent Zuko and how everything is going to shake out.
  • I enjoyed the lampshade hanging when Aang acknowledged that Momo couldn’t really speak but that he was talking aloud anyway because the audience needed to know what was going on it helped him think.

We’re halfway through the finale and almost done with the set-up. Come back on Monday for Book Three: Fire || Chapter Twenty: Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno, in which things start getting out of hand.

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5 thoughts on “Book Three: Fire || Chapter Nineteen: Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters

  1. I will admit being confused by the usage of tough, but that’s beside the point.

    I think it’s supposed to be “touch the poison of hatred,” which makes a fair bit more sense.

    That aside:

    Aang has gone against these so-called principles in the past, and it pisses me off to no end that the show lets him get away with his hypocrisy by introducing the lion turtle and energybending. Honestly, it comes across as a last minute oh-no-we-can’t-possibly-have-our-protagonist-kill-a-bad-guy-this-is-a-show-for-children development. This show has taken a lot of risks that the children’s shows I grew up on never did, like multiple-episode story arcs, having characters (that aren’t villains!) die, actually letting characters say die or death or kill, etc. that I’m tempted to call this a cowardly solution.

    I’m a little bit more lenient about Aang’s hypocrisy because his failures to live up to his principle were largely caused by lack of self-control. I can accept that Aang believes all life is sacred and violence should be a last resort even if he can’t always behave accordingly when he’s out of his mind with anger. I can also accept that Aang doesn’t have the self-awareness necessary to recognize that he is culpable for the actions of the Ocean Spirit because he channeled it. He’s a kid — he made mistakes, but I don’t think that really invalidates his desire to do live up to his own moral code. (Though I do think the show would have been better served by having Aang frame his wish to remain non-violent in terms of that desire instead of as a continuation of past actions so that he wouldn’t have to lie)

    I also think that the decision to go for the non-violent solution was sincere on the creators’ parts instead of an act of deference to the network’s preferences — one of the two is a vegetarian, and they both clearly respect the philosophies that Aang’s own philosophy is based on. So, I’m not really inclined to think that there’s any sort of cowardice on their parts in choosing to end the show without having Aang kill Ozai.*

    The decision to have the protagonist’s personal philosophy validated is a pretty interesting one to make in its own right, particularly when said protagonist is the last member of his race (and therefore the last one keeping it alive). The problem is, instead of doing anything interesting with it, like having Aang weigh his duty to the world against his duty to preserve Air Nomad culture, it just kind of shows up at the end only to be resolved by a spiritual figure who’d only been vaguely hinted at in previous episodes.

    I think the best way to resolve the problem, like you said, would be for it to come up earlier. I can kind of understand why it ended up showing up so late, since the decision to have Zuko be the one to point out the problem makes a whole lot of sense character-wise, but this particular season would have been well-served by having Zuko switch sides earlier anyway, at which point he could immediately point out the issue with Aang’s non-violence. That could lead into the introduction of the Lion Turtle with time to spare for Aang to take a few episodes to figure out what it was talking about, knowing that he has to do something before the comet arrives. Both The Boiling Rock and The Southern Raiders could work with minor changes even if our heroes knew that Ozai was planning to burn the world (the former as an attempt to gain allies and the latter as an attempt at team cohesion as well as another way of addressing the problem of violence), so there’s no real reason the Lion Turtle’s introduction and Ozai’s plan couldn’t have been dealt with before the finale. And, if they took at least one episode before the finale to directly address Aang’s attempts to understand the Lion Turtle, the energybending wouldn’t have been so far out of left field.

    * Now, if they somehow manage to go four seasons of Legend of Korra without her offing anyone, I’m going to call shenanigans. The Buddhist elements of the Air Nomads gave A:tLA an excuse to play non-violence as a valid moral philosophy instead of a prerequisite for children’s television. Korra’s relationship to violence is just about opposite to Aang’s in every other way, so it’d seem pretty out-of-character for her to balk at the idea of killing someone who threatened the entire world.

    1. That would make more sense, though it definitely sounded like tough to me. The Avatar Wiki also said tough. Meh.

      Though I do think the show would have been better served by having Aang frame his wish to remain non-violent in terms of that desire instead of as a continuation of past actions so that he wouldn’t have to lie.

      This! I would have loved it if Aang had said something like I’ve broken these principles in the past and it didn’t do any good/I hated it and there has to be another way/etc. I would have loved it if he had framed his reluctance in the terms of preserving the Air Nomad culture, as you suggested.

      You made some good suggestions on how to address season three’s story structure problems while still keeping some of the best episodes–I would be sad if Sokka and Katara didn’t have their field trips with Zuko.

      I agree with you. Korra is totally okay with violence as a tool to solve the world’s problems, and I will be with you on the shenanigan-calling.

      1. That would make more sense, though it definitely sounded like tough to me. The Avatar Wiki also said tough. Meh.

        I think I originally saw the version with “touch” in Avatar Spirit’s transcripts, but the transcript for this episode is down now so I can’t check. =/ For what it’s worth, Google auto-corrected “tough” to “touch” when I entered that line into it.

        This! I would have loved it if Aang had said something like I’ve broken these principles in the past and it didn’t do any good/I hated it and there has to be another way/etc. I would have loved it if he had framed his reluctance in the terms of preserving the Air Nomad culture, as you suggested.

        It would have been a nice callback to The Avatar State in Book 2 if he did that, too, since Aang was having nightmares about what he’d done when combined with the Ocean Spirit. I mean, even if he still didn’t quite get the idea that his actions in the Avatar State were still his actions, he could bring up how much he hated what had happened and wanted to find a different solution.

        You made some good suggestions on how to address season three’s story structure problems while still keeping some of the best episodes–I would be sad if Sokka and Katara didn’t have their field trips with Zuko.

        Yeah, the Zuko field trips were definitely a high point of the season. Any change that involves those going away would be difficult to justify.

        It’d be neat if they somehow worked the Lion Turtle into Aang’s field trip with Zuko, though — either have parallel stories where Aang learns from the Lion Turtle while Zuko learns from the dragons, or have Aang meet the Lion Turtle while Zuko tries to figure out where he went (possibly lampshading the fact that he’s always going to have to chase the Avatar whether he’s on his side or not) before they meet back up and see the dragons together, or make it a two-parter like The Boiling Rock and have both of them meet both the Lion Turtle and the dragons in an extended quest. Or, to correct the lack of a field trip with Toph, Zuko could have met the dragons with her, since “learning from the original masters” was kind of her thing, while he and Aang met the Lion Turtle together.

        I agree with you. Korra is totally okay with violence as a tool to solve the world’s problems, and I will be with you on the shenanigan-calling.

        It’s not just that she’s okay with it as a tool to solve problems. Without getting into any specific spoilers, Korra reads as someone who loves violence and power, even if she’s mostly managed to guide that towards pro-social ends. Having a terrified opponent at her mercy is something she seems to find more satisfying than disturbing, which removes the single most important reason why fictional heroes find themselves unable to kill from the equation (both Aang and Katara, for instance, had a moment of noticing Ozai/Yon Rha’s obvious fear before turning their lethal attack aside). Korra’s not a bad person, by any means, but it’s hard to see how she could be kept from killing bad guys without taking the decision out of her hands.

        1. Interesting suggestions for getting Toph a field trip and having an earlier meeting with the lion turtle! In any case, the lion turtle definitely needed to be encountered before the finale, and they way the show handled it will always be one of my disappointments in the series.

          And I think those are some valid insights into Korra’s character as well. One of Katara’s key character traits is her ability to empathize with others–it’s why she trusted Zuko in Ba Sing Se–so it definitely made sense for her to, at the very least, pity Yon Rha, much like she does Azula in the finale. Katara doesn’t derive joy from taking people down, even if the target really, really deserves it.

          1. In any case, the lion turtle definitely needed to be encountered before the finale, and they way the show handled it will always be one of my disappointments in the series.

            Well, I’m not entirely sure that the lion turtle needed to be encountered (even if that’s the easiest solution) so much as they needed some explicit hints about energybending. Something as minor Aang seeking out Koh’s advice and being told, “As old as I am, I do not have the answers you seek, but there is a spirit even older than myself who can teach you the true nature of your power” would be sufficient, since there’s enough lion turtle imagery to put two and two together in that regard. I mean, if Yue taught him energybending, she’d have been someone who was an existing character, but it still wouldn’t have been a satisfying ending because there’s no reason to think she has that power.

            And I think those are some valid insights into Korra’s character as well. One of Katara’s key character traits is her ability to empathize with others–it’s why she trusted Zuko in Ba Sing Se–so it definitely made sense for her to, at the very least, pity Yon Rha, much like she does Azula in the finale. Katara doesn’t derive joy from taking people down, even if the target really, really deserves it.

            Yeah, Katara has anger issues but she’s very much a mother figure at heart and she has more of an instinctive empathetic reaction than almost any of the other characters (with Aang being the only one whose position in that regard is in question). I’m not sure I’d say she never derives joy from taking people down — she seemed pretty amused after she and Toph sent the mean girls in Tales Of Ba Sing Se down-river — but that’s more comedic pettiness than legitimate revenge anyway and (at least according to cartoon logic) no one actually got hurt. Korra can be pretty empathetic at times, too, but it pretty much gets suspended in the heat of the moment when she’s fighting. (I love analyzing Korra’s character, because she looks pretty normal on the surface, but underneath there’s quite a few unresolved issues)

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