Welcome back for another weekly review of Avatar! This week, I needed a good cry. The story of Roku and Sozin’s friendship provided.
1. Parallel stories
First off, I think it’s a genius move to tell the episode in parallel: on one side, Zuko gets the information from Sozin, while on the other, Aang gets it from Roku. More than ever before, this episode depicts Zuko as one of the two main protagonists of the show.
Notably, though, the majority of the past story is told through Roku’s perspective. This choice makes sense, I think. Sozin’s solo story is fairly simple. He betrays Roku and starts conquering nearby lands. Roku, meanwhile, has an entire journey as an Avatar to cover, along with several confrontations with Sozin where Roku is undoubtedly the hero. Any further dwelling on Sozin’s sins wouldn’t help the episode, and keeping them mostly unseen strengthens Roku’s surprise when he returns to see what Sozin has done.
2. Surprises everywhere
Before we get to the real thematic meat of the episode, I want to acknowledge how many small details are packed into the script. Roku and Sozin’s friendship is, of course, the biggest surprise, but it was also a joy to see Roku and Gyatso having fun together. Then there was the simple joy of seeing another Avatar in training, witnessing fire nation culture before it became a militaristic state, and hearing small things like Roku using the term “bitter work” to describe his earthbending training. Elizabeth Welch Ehasz really packed the script with joys both large and small.
3. “Some friendships are so strong, they can even transcend lifetimes.”
The strongest part of this episode is its themes, chief among them being that friendships are some of the strongest bonds in humanity. This sort of theme can be corny if done the wrong way, as I’m sure we’ve all seen on children’s shows, but here it’s a tearjerker. Sozin and Roku start out as such good friends, and their separate visions for the world push them apart. Even as they drift apart, though, they share a bond, one that’s so strong that Sozin returns to help Roku fight the volcano. Which makes it all the more powerful when, despite returning to help, Sozin betrays Roku one final time and leaves him to die.
It’s a sad story, and one that has opened up the world to what it has become today. Friendship isn’t the only thing that can transcend lifetimes; grudges can, too. There has not been an ending to this story, only an increasing antagonism. So, as it turns out, making sense of this story-before-the-story will lead our protagonists to bring about an ending. If the world got this way because of a broken friendship between the Avatar and the Fire Lord, maybe mending that relationship can put the world on a path to recovery.
The problem with mending relationships, though, is that both parties have to be on the same page…
4. “Born in you, along with all the strife, is the power to restore balance to the world.”
Now we get to the episode’s biggest reveal: Zuko is the great-grandson of both Sozin and Roku. And with that bombshell revelation, given by none other than his spiritual guide Iroh, the nature of Zuko’s duality has come full-circle. He’s #bornthisway.
Naturally, it’s not quite as simple as being “born” good or bad, as Aang later explains. All people are born with a duality inside themselves, and it’s up to us and our decisions to lean one way or the other. But since Zuko has always focused so much on his inherited destiny, he needed to see that he has the capacity for both great good and great evil inside him. Zuko is a living yin-yang symbol, as his face and now his heritage attest. Now, he finally has the proof that he can forge his own destiny and act as a sort of Avatar himself.
Next step for Zuko’s personal development: What does he truly want?
5. Spiritually beautiful backgrounds.
On a smaller note, the backgrounds were especially beautiful in this episode. I noted back during the middle of season 2 how the backgrounds had a noticeable increase in quality, and I think here we have something similar. Most stand-out to me was the purple-and-yellow sky palette used in certain scenes. When combined with the deep blues of the water and placed behind darkened clouds, the result is almost spiritual. Which makes sense, as the entire episode depicts a shared history, a legend that has a spiritual power on our protagonists.Continued below
Thoughts on this episode? Did it affect you as much as it did me? Are you glad to finally understand the true origins of the war? What do you think of Zuko’s new understanding of himself? Let me know in the comments!