Part II of my favorite Avatar moments is serious moments or scenes from the show. I have turned each of these over in my head multiple times in careful reflection. I feel privileged to feel this way about so many parts of this show. (Anything that makes me think is a welcome blessing.)
Again, there are only ten slots in this post for the sake of time. Otherwise, who knows if I would have time to finish all the posts I want before this week is over. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
*Azula is a character I spent the better part of the show hating. There was a brazen, and calculating evil about her which bothered me, especially after she cold-heartedly shot Aang down in “Crossroads of Destiny”. But through season 3, small scenes showed she carried deep feelings of sadness and insecurity. These feelings were born from her relationship with her mother.
Her breakdown in front of the mirror shocked me because she had always seemed unbreakable and above human emotion. But she carried insecurities which resulted in all her friendships and bonds being maintained through fear and intimidation. Though it is hard to see her go through such pain, I believe she had brought it upon herself, which made the scene all the more palpable.
*Zuko has never been my favorite character, but I did enjoy watching his metamorphosis. It was in his heart breaking confrontation with the mountain storm I truly felt the depth of his sadness and pain. Seeing him break down in tears affirmed for me that he had a long journey still before he found peace within himself. How many of us have made horrible mistakes and become swallowed by anger and pain? Probably most of us. Many fans probably connected so well to him because of this.
Destiny is highly emphasized in Avatar. I think on some level we all think about what we are destined to become. What is so powerful about this scene is the conflict between what Zuko wants vs. what he needs. Eventually he did become Firelord but it was on a different path than he expected. I pleaded in my mind, just like Iroh, for Zuko to make the right choice. I feel most fans did. I love their small but powerful conversation.
Zuko: (very angry) I know my own destiny, Uncle.
Iroh: Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?
Zuko: Stop it, Uncle! I have to do this!
Iroh: I’m begging you, Prince Zuko! Its time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions: Who are you? and What do you want?
Whenever I see this scene, a part of me always acknowledges that Zuko later betrays his uncle, but the other part wonders if maybe this was when he began to truly question his life and decisions.
The lion turtle is a mysterious character to me. He seems to represent nature and is older than memory. In life it always seems our lives are full of crossroads which go only two ways. But life rarely is like that. Everyone told Aang he had only two choices; kill the firelord or allow the world to burn. This scene really touched me because it allowed a different option, hidden behind human understanding, to emerge and heal the world. It made me think Aang was meant to be the Avatar because the world needed his gentleness to question the path set before him.
I dedicated an entire post to this episode, so I will be brief. (If you are interested look it up —–> HERE) I love these scenes because they introduce spiritual concepts unseen through popular TV. How many other shows, or movies for that matter, touch on deep subjects like chakras? It opened my eyes to world religions and sparked my love for Eastern philosophy. Ultimately, these scenes open to the audience deep questions on moral agency and spiritual enlightenment.
From one of the more serious episodes comes one of the most heart pounding scenes in the show. Katara is at the heart of it, opened to the possibility of finding her mother’s murderer. It is definitely hard to see Katara, usually a pillar of strength and wisdom, consumed by old hatred. But I find that hidden in Katara’s hatred is a powerful lesson. Many are probably not as familiar with this scene.
Katara: I need to borrow Appa.
Aang: (jokingly) Why? Is it your turn to take a little field trip with Zuko?
Katara: (seriously) Yes, it is.
Aang: Oh…what’s going on?
Katara: We’re going to find the man who took my mother from me.
(hearing this, Sokka walks over)Zuko: Sokka told me the story of what happened. I know who did it, and I know how to find him.
Aang: Umm and what exactly do you think this will accomplish?
Katara: (shakes her head and lets out a laughing breath) I knew you wouldn’t understand.
Aang: Wait, stop! I do understand! You’re feeling unbelievable pain and rage! How do you think I felt about the sandbenders when they stole Appa? How do you think I felt about the Fire Nation after I found out what happened to my people?!
Zuko: She needs this, Aang. This is about getting closure and justice.
Aang: I don’t think so. I think it’s about getting revenge.
Katara: Fine! Maybe it is! Maybe that’s what I need! Maybe that’s what he deserves.
Aang: Katara, you sound like Jet.
Katara: It’s not the same. Jet attacked the innocent. This man…he’s a monster.
Sokka: Katara, she was my mother too, but I think Aang might be right.
Katara: Then you didn’t love her the way I did!
Sokka: (with hurt showing on his face and in his voice) Katara!
Aang: The monks used to say that revenge is like a two headed rat viper; while you watch your enemy go down, you’re being poisoned yourself.
Zuko: That’s cute. But this isn’t Air Temple preschool! It’s the real world.
Katara: Now that I know he’s out there, now that I know that we could find him, I feel like I have no choice.
Aang: Katara, you do have a choice. Forgiveness.
Zuko: That’s the same as doing nothing!
Aang: No it’s not. It’s easy to do nothing, but it’s hard to forgive.
Katara: It’s not just hard. It’s impossible.
Sometimes the hardest decisions we make require us to stop and listen. I felt how lost and lonely Katara was, but also relief when she made the right decision later. This conversation made me consider something I had not before; the breadth of suffering the characters had endured. It is easy to forget that because much of the show is so laid back.
This scene reminds me of my sister. Sometimes I feel like Iroh did for much of the show, watching sadly as Zuko remained consumed by anger and pain. I noticed how for most of the show Iroh never pushed Zuko to change or make decisions. It was not until my #9 he confronted Zuko’s stubbornness head on. I always knew Iroh was merely waiting for Zuko to wake up. It is here in this scene when all the pain and grief suddenly seemed worth it. Their conversation is altogether stirring.
Zuko: Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me. But I want you to know… I am so, so sorry uncle. (starts crying) I am so sorry and ashamed of what I did! I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you, but I…
(Iroh grabs Zuko by his shirt and embraces him)
Zuko: How can you forgive me so easily?! I thought you would be furious with me!
Iroh: I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you’d lost your way.
Zuko: I did lose my way.
Iroh: But you found it again! And you did it by yourself! And I’m so happy you found your way here.
This moment has a special place in my heart, for I wonder if I will have a similar conversation in the future.
Not many people like Mai. (Personally, I think Zutara fans are just angry she ended up with Zuko. .. Ehhhh) When I first saw her in “Return to Omashu” I thought her dead pan, gray personality was funny. She became one of my favorite characters just because her emotionless lines always came at ironic times. It is in this scene though she gained new depth.
Her betrayal surprised me. Really, I was not expecting her to have such deep feelings. But, it was an important moment. It made me consider how long she had waited for Zuko to return and how painful it must have been to be left behind. Her conversation with Azula made it clear why it had taken so long for her deep feelings to be understood.
Azula: I never expected this from you. The thing I don’t understand is why? Why would you do it? You know the consequences.
Mai: I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you.
I loved this scene because it showed how not everything we see is what it seems. If not for her decision, Zuko and the others would have been caught for sure. She decided, ultimately, that she would allow herself to feel in spite of the consequences.
I know it is surprising this scene is not #1 but what can you do. If it is not obvious, each of the moments I have listed left an incredible impact on me. Some are connected to moments in my own life. As for this one, I loved its ambiance and unspoken clarity. Coupled with the lion turtle’s stirring words, it showed how most of life’s battles are more of an inward struggle then they are physical.
In Hinduism, there is a term called the “Atman” used to describe the soul. The Atman is the divine and incorruptible part of ourselves which make us who we are. This scene showed how Aang uncontrolled by the brute force of the Avatar State defeated Ozai through spiritual strength. He beat Ozai because he refused to be deviated from what he had been taught and believed so strongly. That is a wonderful example of how love and gentleness are infinitely more powerful than rage and pride.
I know many do not like this episode because of how much pain Aang goes through. I myself struggle with it. But the scene near the end when all his rage breaks. . . well I relate to it very well. Sometimes, I think it was easy to forget how young Aang was, that he was a human being. This might be because of how powerful he is. Or maybe it is because he usually was a carefree and happy person, who calmed fights and used violence only when necessary. But, he was a gentle spirit with deep attachments who had lost almost everything he knew and loved. So when Appa went missing, all the grief he had carried with him broke all at once.
Despite the palpable grief ringing throughout it, there was still that one moment when Katara reaches up to him and embraces him. It is like she silently told him it was alright to grieve, that she was there and understood him. As he slumped down, crying he became. . . human to me. I think that is why this scene holds such a strong place in my heart.
(I do not like Legend of Korra as much as others because, in my heart of hearts, I missed Aang’s presence while watching it. Korra just could not replace him. This scene is definitely a testament to that.)
I liked how the creator’s handled Aang and Katara’s romance. It was not the show’s drive, but in my mind it was its heart. This scene was incredibly sweet. There were no passionate confessions. They did not need words to express what they both knew was there.
My romantic side shows brightest here. I am a romantic, but I am especially sensitive to simple and quiet love stories. If the Zutara fans had had their way, I doubt I would have taken it well. I believe they wanted Zuko and Katara to have a “forbidden romance” steeped in drama. In my mind, it is a very immature way of viewing love.
I have noticed that love, true love does not need all that pomp and drama. Sometimes, people and characters are simply drawn to each other and when they mature form a deep and fulfilling relationship with a solid foundation. I like seeing genuine characters like Aang find love. It took him a while to grow up and understand his feelings, but in the end it made him a better person.
It took Katara longer to accept her own feelings but I think it was because she was waiting for that moment when the war was won. Since her realization in “The Fortuneteller” I believe a part of her always knew she would be with Aang. (Remember! In this scene it is Katara who kisses Aang!)
All in all, this scene was an incredibly satisfying and touching ending to a brilliant show.