another incredible thing about A:tLA is Zuko
now all the other kids grow up a lot and find out a lot about themselves but Zuko is the only one whose journey changes him completely as a person. He is wounded and scarred and broken and torn apart and angry and unable to face his emotions at the start of the series, and throughout Book 1. And then in Book 2 we begin to see him start to heal. With Song in the Cave of Two Lovers. In Zuko Alone. When his uncle teaches him how to redirect lightning and he screams at the storm to hit him. That moment in particular is incredible to me. That’s the first real time that Zuko breaks down, lets his emotions fall out and faces his hopelessness. It’s really amazing.
And what’s equally as amazing about this recovery process is that essentially, he relapses. He doesn’t just /get better/. He goes back, returns to an abusive, emotionally stunting environment. That’s part of a healing and recovery process, to mess up and return. And it’s not really something you always see, ESPECIALLY not in a kid’s show.
But he struggles SO much with his decision to return, because he knows how wrong it is. We see him trying to repress his emotions, but he just can’t. He knows what’s wrong - his healing in Book 2 has given him that perspective - and he acts on that, eventually abandoning his life, this time willingly leaving the place he was at first exiled from.
And then in Book 3 is only when we see him come into his own. He finds his true morals and ideals and doesn’t avoid his own needs but just…he is awkward and it’s very difficult for him but he keeps moving on and forward and yeah he does go back to his father one more time, but you know what he does then? He calls him the fuck out. He does something so difficult for someone who’s been abused: he says, flat-out, unapologetically, that it was not his fault. He tells his father how utterly wrong it was to treat Zuko (“a thirteen-year-old child”) like that. He’s not afraid. He’s not silent. He doesn’t ignore or repress his emotions.
And in the end, he takes his father’s place, knowing pain and struggle and weakness and abuse, and he is so amazing for it. And he will be an incredible leader.
AND not only that, but in the very, VERY end of the series, when he walks into his father’s jail cell and demands an answer…there is NO trace of fear in him. I love that we see Zuko terrified and walking on delicate eggshells around his father, and then we see him struggling with how to feel about him, and then we see him understand what happened, and we see him so unafraid, so able to confront his father.
Everybody’s got cool stories in Avatar, but children’s cartoons have NEVER seen a story like Zuko’s. He has the best story. Certainly the most inspiring one, and in many ways the most identifiable.
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