The show does a Western episode centering on Zuko.
Last time on Avatar: Toph made her debut!
Out in the Desert
Zuko is riding the stolen steed out in a desert like area, crossing a rickety bridge over a narrow canyon. Supply-less and hungry, he nearly steals from a couple off to the side of the road before realizing the woman is pregnant. As time passes, he grows weak from hunger and later thirst, briefly flashbacking to his mother’s departure.
He comes across a village which has a Western flavor to it. Some soldiers are doing a dice game when the teen arrives. Zuko wants to spend the last of his money on supplies; I think it’s a sign of his true inner self that he opts to purchase feed for his steed first.
A pair of kids briefly shows up, one throwing an egg at one of the soldiers before they run off. After failing to interrogate Zuko, they end up taking the feed Zuko just purchased and leaving. The shopkeeper is not happy about said soldiers being thugs instead of protecting them from the Fire Nation.
The kid shows back up and wants to return the favor as Zuko didn’t rat him out, taking him to the family farm which features several variants of pig hybrids. The creatures make noises at strangers so the family can’t be snuck up on. Introductions are made: Sela is the wife, Lee is the kid, and the elder son Sensu is off fighting in the war.
Zuko tries to decline dinner. Gansu is the father’s name. Understanding Zuko not wanting charity, Sela suggests that he could help out her husband with some chores before it’s dinnertime. The two end up working on a roof. Lee asks Zuko lots of questions, which Gansu tries to warn him off from doing as “a man’s past is his own business”. Zuko ends up hammering his thumb when asked about his scar.
He flashbacks to Ursa feeding the turtle-ducks at a pond in the past. Zuko demonstrates how Azula ‘feeds’ them by throwing a whole loaf at a turtle-duckling. This causes the mother turtle-duck to attack Zuko before the creatures retreat. Zuko is upset, with Ursa pointing out that if you mess with her young, a mother will fight back.
In another garden are Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee. When Ty Lee is better at acrobatics than her, Azula pushes over the other girl. Sitting under a tree, Mai blushes when she spots Zuko. Aware of her friend’s crush, Azula then manipulates their mother into getting Zuko to ‘play’ with them.
Azula lights the apple on Mai’s head on fire, causing a panicked Zuko to shove her (and him) into the fountain behind her. As he stomps away, his surprised mother notes that he’s soaking wet, leading him to complain that “girls are crazy”.
It turns out Ursa got a letter from General Iroh, who’s currently besieging Ba Sing Se, which she reads to her children. It turns out that when younger, Iroh was more in line with the rest of his family. Zuko got a dagger with an inscription while Azula got a doll, which she hates. Azula wants her father to be Fire Lord. Ursa points out that’s an awful idea and furthermore, Fire Lord Azulon is in perfect health. Zuko points out how she’d feel if their cousin Le Ten wanted Dad to die. Firm that her father would be a great Fire Lord, Azula ends up setting the doll on fire.
Bonding and Burning
Zuko sleeps in the barn that night. Lee sneaks in to borrow his dual swords, waking up the teen. Out in a field of sunflowers, Lee is swinging them around. Zuko shows up to give him a lesson on how to wield them properly. Not that it helps Lee much, but the boy opens up about how his big brother used to talk to him similarly.
The next day, Zuko is preparing to leave and gets on his steed. The soldiers show up to taunt the family about Sansu’s battalion getting captured. Zuko shifts to be between them and Gansu, leading the quartet of solders to leave.
Ursa is in the garden while the kids play. A servant brings her another letter, which reveals that Lu Ten has died to Zuko’s shock.
Lee is worried while Gansu wants to go find his son on the front. The kid wants Zuko to stick around, leading the teen to give him the dagger. When told to read the inscription, Lee reads “made in Earth Kingdom”. On the other side is the ‘real’ inscription of “never give up without a fight”.
Zuko is messing around with the knife in the past. Azula isn’t impressed by his ‘skills’ and isn’t impressed by Iroh’s grief over his son while Zuko is sympathetic. Ursa shows up to tell them that Fire Lord Azulon wants to see them. As the kids exit, Ursa asks herself, “What is wrong with that child?”
It’s time for a meeting where Azula upstages Zuko about remembering past successful tactics in a battle and then she shows off her fire-bending. As sits back down, she taunts her brother, “You’ll never catch up.”
Zuko tries to prove his own fire-bending skills to little avail. Ursa goes towards him and he goes, “I failed.”
“No. I loved watching you,” she assures him. “That’s who you are, Zuko- someone who keeps fighting, even though it’s hard.”
Fire Lord Azulon is dismissive of Zuko and then Ozai wants a one-on-one talk with his father. Azula has herself and Zuko linger behind a curtain. Ozai circles around for a bit, but then opens up about wanting to be the next Fire Lord instead of his big brother. Disgusted by this, Azulon wants to punish Ozai for his lack of empathy. Zuko bolts while Azula stays when the flames on the dais flare up.
That night, Azula goes to taunt Zuko about their dad killing him on Azulon’s orders. Ursa shows up, confused and agitated by what’s going on, dragging off Azula. Zuko chants both in the past and in the present that “Azula always lies.”
Sela shows up at the creek he’s resting by to ask for his help. Lee pulled a knife on the soldiers and got dragged off by them, ostensibly to join the army. Aware, unlike Sela, how Lee got that knife, Zuko agrees to help.
Near sunset, Lee has been tied to a structure near the soldiers when Zuko shows up. He gives a speech about them being bullies and cowards before easily taking them on, not even slashing at them with his swords. But in the end, Zuko ends up deliberately outing himself as a fire-bender (actually, as the exiled prince) and thus turns the village against him.
Sometime in the night, Ursa briefly visits her son to say goodbye. In the morning, Azula messes around with Zuko’s dagger, which he wants back. It turns out that Mom’s gone and Grandfather is dead. In the garden, Ozai is silent.
A Fire Sage gives a funerary speech about Azulon, the royal family clad in gold and white. Afterwards, a fire is set, presumably to cremate the body. Ozai is crowned Fire Lord.
Zuko rides off alone in the sunset.
Only Zuko shows up in this episode out of the core cast. More of his backstory is revealed here, showcasing how in his formative years his mother was his good influence and it looks like Uncle Iroh shifted away from the war-mongering perspective following the death of his son. Azula apparently was always borderline sociopathic, causing concern in her mother but approval with her father given her status as a fire-bending and tactical prodigy. Mai and Ty Lee were largely the same as kids, though that might be due to their small role here.
Zuko did good against the bullying Earth Kingdom soldiers, but his need for approval for being who he is undid any potential appreciation. While in his speech he stated that it didn’t matter who he was, apparently when it comes down to it he still wants his true self to be known. Problem is, he currently sees that true self in terms of his lineage and not his own actions.
While largely implied, there were a lot of dark elements to Zuko’s backstory, starting with the implied regicide and why it was done. There are multiple theories about what Azulon’s real plan was, mostly based in the fact that Zuko’s not exactly wrong about Azula’s tendency to lie. Though there are times where telling the truth can do the most damage…
The art book confirms the Western movie influence for the town. There’s also a pair of black-and-white sketches for a dragon fountain as well as a sepia-toned image of the turtle-duck pond garden. There’s also a line-up of Azulon, young Iroh, Ursa, and the younger versions of Zuko, Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai. Mark Hamill’s character Ozai isn’t included as his character design wasn’t really seen here.
… Anybody else pumped for Rogue One?
Next time on Avatar: The Gaang gets chased by Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee.