ATLA 3-12: The Western Air Temple

Zuko does his best to join the Avatar and his friends.

Last time on Avatar: The attempted invasion during the solar eclipse failed, but Zuko finally stood up against his father.

 

So yes, this is the episode where Zuko attempts to join the Gaang, who are highly skeptical- especially Katara.  I’ve read about how Zuko was genuinely stuck in “The Crossroads of Destiny” as he couldn’t make a decision without betraying somebody.  I suspect Zuko is more torn up about betraying his uncle than Katara, understandably so.  Of course, not that Katara sees it that way.  A short conversation with her wasn’t enough to have Zuko switch sides, but honestly, everything that Iroh did wasn’t enough to make Zuko switch sides- why would Katara have any better luck, given their much more antagonistic relationship.

That’s not to say that Katara shouldn’t be wary of Zuko, but really… her antagonism could have only made Zuko less inclined to stay on their side.  Luckily, Zuko is indeed determined to assist the Avatar stop his father.  And he’s used to far crueler treatment so maybe Katara’s behavior is considered mild to him and/or gets where she’s coming from even if he doesn’t like it.

The one page in the art book is devoted to imagery of the titular location, which is indeed gorgeous like most settings in this series.  Haru, Teo, and the Duke spend the episode exploring the space while the major characters have to focus on what to do next.  Aang wants to avoid focusing on that right now, particularly so soon after the invasion’s defeat.

12Zuko&Toad

Zuko is rather adorkable here: he tries out his initial speech on a badger-toad and then mimics his uncle and sister.  He’s not very good at social interaction, given how he grew up with Azula and then spent years focused on hunting down the Avatar.  After his initial failure, he yells at the badger-toad about his own foolishness.

Katara apparently doesn’t realize that Zuko’s choice was because he was “really confused and hurt”.

Given her own experiences, Toph is more understandable about Zuko’s family life influencing his life choices.  Plus, she’s aware that Zuko could teach Aang fire-bending.  Aang only accepts the concept when Zuko later opens up about not wanting to hurt anybody with his bending again after accidentally burning Toph’s feet when she went to his campsite at night.  Given his life, I can’t blame him for thinking that somebody would be there to attack him.

The climax involves the defeat of Combustion Man at last.  The creators discuss whether the Combustion Man decided on his own to keep attacking Aang to gain the Fire Lord’s favor or if Azula hired him.  They’re not really sure.  Sokka uses his boomerang to get in a blow, which manages to block the Combustion’s third eye.

When he gets back up to attack, his POV shows it’s blurry… and when he tries a blast, he blows up (mostly off-screen).  Aang and the Water Tribe siblings are shocked by this.  The trio of minor characters pop out from a column to be equally shocked.

Zuko shows up again to try again (daw).  He also apologizes to Toph and the ensuing speech is what I referred to earlier.  Aang brings up the events of “The Deserter” and decides to check with his friends before letting Zuko into the group.  Toph and Sokka are relatively blasé, but Katara only goes along with it for Aang’s sake.

In general, I’m glad that Zuko has joined the group and it’d be less realistic if they had welcomed him warmly.  It’s still hard for Zuko to be struggling to find a place he’s welcomed- he tried to find it with his father and the Fire Nation, but that clearly didn’t work.  And now Katara in particular is unwelcoming to Zuko, with the others being at best warily neutral towards him.

 

Next time on Avatar: Aang and Zuko learn about what ‘true’ fire-bending should be.

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