Welcome back, Avatar fans! As we inch ever closer to the finale, we’re all about tying up loose threads. This week? Katara’s residual feelings about her mother’s murderer.
1. BANG BOOM ACTIONY BEGINNING.
This episode is heavy on the drama with little action and a lot of suspense. So, to make up for that, we have a big fun action sequence at the start as Azula attacks the Western Air Temple. It’s just as good as any third-act final battle, and that’s because we already know this fight’s stakes. We know exactly why Azula wants the Avatar, and we know what Zuko stands to lose in the fight. It’s taut from the get-go; no further establishing scenes are necessary.
The show has used this technique before, most notably in “Winter Solstice, Part 2: Avatar Roku” (1.08). Here, it also has the task of wrapping up loose threads from the last episode and putting things in place for the finale. In addition to the connective tissue for Azula’s story, it also thins out the hero group to just the essentials (the main team plus Suki). While it was fun to have Teo, Haru, and The Duke, and while it was satisfying to see the reunion with Hakoda, this bit of housekeeping was necessary to keep the story focused.
2. Katara and Zuko: Emo Siblings
Aang and Sokka have each had their field trip with Zuko, so now it’s Katara’s turn! The show isn’t even trying to hide this structure any more. Aang even states as much near the beginning of the episode, but we don’t care, because this is exactly what we all want to see before the show ends.
The Katara-Zuko pairing is simultaneously more and less easy than when Zuko was paired with Aang and Sokka. Aang had already forgiven Zuko, so his unease was in learning how to work together. Sokka and Zuko worked together more easily, but they needed to get used to each other’s personalities before they could really connect. Katara wasn’t as willing to look past Zuko’s past actions, which made things difficult, but at the same time, the pair had a clearly defined goal, they were both completely focused on that goal, and they were able to channel each other’s anger and connect on that primal level. They’re emo siblings.
3. Hell hath no fury like Katara scorned
Katara has gained a reputation for being the most emotional in the group. Here, she is acting on pure rage. Just as she is often driven by her compassion, here her anger drives her to find the man who killed her mother. She refuses to sleep because she is so set on her mission, and she even uses bloodbending (!) for the first and only time outside of the bloodbending episode. Even worse, she feels no remorse for using the technique, because she feels that her emotions justify taking away somebody else’s will.
This is a Katara we have never seen before, yet it’s one that is perfectly in line with her character. Following the show’s typical idea of dualism, this is the heavy and driven side of Katara’s emotionality taking over, all yang and no yin. This is Katara out of balance with herself.
4. Kya’s sacrifice
In perhaps the most heartbreaking flashbacks of the series, we see Sokka and Katara’s reactions during the raid where their mother was taken. As heartbreaking as that is, the big surprise is that Kya sacrificed herself to save Katara. When given the choice between outing her daughter or bringing further destruction to the tribe, Kya chose a third option: pretend that she was the waterbender. For this, she was killed.
I like how these scenes build directly off Hama’s flashbacks during “The Puppetmaster” (3.08). That episode showed us what the raids were like and how people were taken prisoner. Here, we get more pathos injected into the concept, as we see how Katara and Sokka were affected as children and how that still affects them to this day. It also adds a great deal of weight to Katara’s existence. We always knew that she was the only waterbender left in the South Pole; now we also know that it took her mother’s death for this to be possible.Continued below
5. “It’s easy to do nothing. It’s hard to forgive.”
The scene where Katara and Zuko find the man who killed Kya is tough on multiple levels. First off, this man is living a completely miserable life. After all his years of pillaging and murder, karma has placed him in a rough living arrangement with his ungrateful mother, his only source of happiness being a tiny gray garden that struggles to grow. Second, Katara and Zuko find him completely unarmed and merciful. Whether his mercy comes from fear or genuine forgiveness, we can’t be certain. Regardless, the situation is about as brutal and bleak as possible.
Katara whips out all her waterbending power to stop the rain, form a water dome around them, and even hurl a pack of ice daggers at the man… but she stops them before they impale him. She’s content to let him live the rest of his miserable life. And while we all knew Katara wouldn’t kill him because this is a Nickelodeon show, this fate is equally as bleak for the man.
Aang wanted Katara to forgive the man. As the Avatar and as a child of air monks, this is the only advice that he could offer in a situation like this. So I think it’s fascinating that Katara realized she couldn’t forgive him. Forgiveness is difficult for anybody, much less for someone dealing with their mother’s murderer. At what point is forgiveness no longer possible? The episode wants us to make up our own minds, but it does point to the answer being somewhere between “Katara and her mother’s killer” and “Katara and Zuko,” since she did end up forgiving Zuko by the end.
Zuko did seem pretty intent on allowing Katara to do what she wanted, so I’m not sure about his feelings on all this. He had to go through a long journey before forgiving himself. Usually that makes a person more open to forgiving others. Aang took a while before forgiving himself for running away 100 years ago, and that is arguably part of why he is so forgiving of others. Why wouldn’t the same be true of Zuko?
I also wonder (and note that I haven’t read the comics yet, so I hope they explore this idea): Would Zuko forgive his father and Azula, if given the chance? Or are they past the point of his forgiveness?
Wow, that was a lot more emotionally draining than I expected. What are your thoughts on the episode? Any comments on Katara going all-yang, or on the idea of forgiveness? Let’s chat in the comments, and I’ll be back next week for a much lighter installment before the big finale!