Toph points out that she never got to go on a life-changing field trip with Zuko. This is true, except she did get to go on a field trip with Iroh that resulted in her getting great life advice. Who did Zuko go on his life changing field trip with?
When the Avatar enters the Avatar state, all the Avatars work together, right? Which means that every successive Avatar's Avatar state is stronger than that of the last. This page has mentioned how Crazy-Prepared the Avatar is, and this is another layer to that: it makes itself stronger every time it's born.
Aang's greatest character flaw is that he goofs around instead of training hard, in part because he doesn't want to be the avatar and in part because he's still a kid. Aang's teachers (Katara, Toph and Zuko) help him overcome this flaw, as well as master all four elements, because all of them have mastered their own element through sheer determination. Katara and Toph had to learn their elements by themselves. Zuko had teachers, but all of them up to Iroh pushed him too far, too soon, in order to improve him. Iroh may be a good teacher but Zuko's training is hindered by his search for the avatar, and now he pushes himself too much.Indeed Katara is told at the first book that she has sufficently mastered water enough to teach Aang, because while he has more raw talent, he lacks the discipline that she has. Not to mention that whatever little Katara knew at the beginning is self-taught. Students that self-teach out of necessity sometimes end up with a great knack for intuitiveness, as they had to work hard for everything they got right.
Zuko's swords foreshadow his ancestry. Subtly lampshaded in Zuko Alone.
Zuko: You're holding them all wrong. Keep in mind, these are dual swords. Two halves of a single weapon. Don't think of them as separate, because they're not. They're just two different parts of the same whole.
If you look at all the masters in the Order of the White Lotus, Bumi, Piandao, Pakku, Jeong Jeong, Iroh, and what Bumi says by "All old people know each other...don't you know that?" you can't help but think that proper practice of the bending arts makes you wise and spiritual, which was perhaps the ultimate purpose of all forms of bending. Remember that kung-fu masters see it not just for combat, but as a way of life and enlightenment? Bumi, you're a master of this trope!
After Firelord Sozin betrayed Roku he started the tradition of killing dragons for fame and glory despite having a dragon mount before and during the betrayal. Roku also had a dragon and it was basically his symbol, so it is possible that Sozin started the tradition of hunting dragons because they reminded him of Roku and the friendship he had to destroy in order to fulfill his dream of conquest.
Zuko's firebending was so weak as a child, but he was able to match Azula towards the end. The Firebending that Zuko learnt at first had to be fueled by rage and hate, which Zuko was too soft for, unlike Azula or Ozai, it isn't in his nature to be so heartless or evil to work well. Well until he got banished and dishonored, he didn't have a source of rage and Angst to fuel his fire. He got much better after he learnt the "Fire is Life" approach, because that is more in tune with his real character.
Another reason he got stronger might be because he finally got over his shame at not living up to his father's expectations (both because of his weak firebending as a kid and his banishment), since it was said when Aang was studying under the guru that the fire chakra has to do with willpower and is blocked by shame. This means that he was getting a boost from more than just Sozin's comet in the finale—he had finally gotten over both his old problems and been forgiven by his uncle. That helped give him the boost that put him on Azula's level.
This is true on a more technical level. In an earlier episode we see Iroh being uncharacteristically stern regarding Zuko's firebending, stressing that he needs to breathe. If you see his fights you can see that he moves to much and rarely does anything besides big fireballs. Per his personality, Zuko always tries for direct and powerful, despite having issues with the basics. Obviously this affects his technique. At his duel with Zhao, he finally improves. Look closely how he fights. He uses simpler movements against Zhao's unnecessary display of power. All thoughout Season 2 Zuko goes Back to Basics in his firebending, and by the Season Finale he's a much more credible threat to the Avatar than ever, making use of impressive techniques. Once he learns the "Fire is Life" approach, and with his revisited technique, by Season 3 Finale he's finally one of the most powerful firebenders in the show.
Keep in mind that Azula lost her sanity when she became Firelord, so her Firebending became more erratic and unpredictable. Zuko perfected his Firebending with Aang so he was much stronger in terms of power and technique.
The season of fire is said to be summer: well Fire Nation is located in a region where it's always summer. The season of water is winter: the Water Tribes are located on the poles where it's always winter. Air and earth don't properly fit into this idea, though. Although, the Air Temples are all between a pole an the equator, like autumn is between summer and winter. The Earth Kingdom still doesn't apply since it is partly on the equator too... but then again, if you look at what parts of Earth Kingdom fall on the equator: The Chameleon Bay and the Desert, two naturally scarcely inhabited areas. (Although, so does Omashu.)
Well, Autumn is often the windiest part of the year in a lot of places, and Spring is when plants and the like start growing in the earth, so there's a bit of seasonal connection.
Think of it along with the order the Avatar learns the element and to which tribe he is born. It goes fire air water earth, in other words summer fall winter spring. Also there is the line in the begining of The legend of Korra where it says "Like the cycle of the seasons the cycle of the avatar begins again. It makes sense!
The Air temples were all built in places that were very windy. Mountain tops, canyons, and the like.
Firebending has a Dark Side that would make you evil because it's the only way to master it. No wonder the Fire nation military and industry commits the atrocities they do with no conscience, they've all been influenced by The Dark Side of firebending.
And why Jeong Jeong hates being a Firebender so much.
Considering that said Dark Side of firebending is fueled but anger and/or hate, how much anger and hate do you think Azula harbored to make her fire freakin' blue?
Considering that Ozai himself acts like an Ax-CrazyPsychotic Manchild in the finale, it might even mean that this approach to Firebending also makes you insane after a point. Perhaps, among other things that contributed to her insanity, Azula went too deep in that direction.
And why Iroh acts like he's One of the Kids so much, he's full of life and youth by mastering the true form of Firebending. Good Firebending makes you more spiritual. In one of the flashbacks in Zuko Alone we see Iroh writing a letter where he makes a joke about burning down Ba Sing Se. So he has always had a sense of humor, it was just darker before his spiritual revival.
Thanks to the Masters, he learned that Firebending can be creative and full of color, which is why he pretended to be a dragons layer to preserve the secret for his nephew.
If you think about what the different bending abilities would be used for in real life, it becomes clear how perfect the characterizations for the different nations are.
Airbending seems like it would be useless in combat, and though the air-benders shown are really strong, none of their attacks can be used to seriously hurt or kill people. Just knock them down or blow them away. This is why the air-benders are all peaceful monks. They only use their air-bending for self-defense, and only when they have to, and usually just avoid fighting altogether. Also, the movements are based on kung-fu, which like airbending, has no purely offensive attacks.
They can move better (or Aang does, at least) than anyone else, and his superior movement tends to win him a lot of fights. Also, air can be really, REALLY powerful (hint: It's called a Tornado). They're peaceful because if they weren't, they'd be in conflict all the time.
Also, they're peaceful because if they actually wanted to kill someone they'd just have to suck the air from their lungs: the world need them peaceful because if they weren't nothing could stop them. Kind of explain the losses taken by the Fire Nation during the Airbenders' genocide: some of the airbenders must have gone desperate enough to try and take down as many Firebenders they could, and as soon as one of them started sucking air from the attackers' lungs...
Forget sucking the air out of someone's lungs - overpressure is all you need. Normal atmospheric pressure is 16 pounds per square inch (psi). It requires as little as 3psi of overpressure to cause serious injuries or fatalities. Even given the general Made of Iron nature of people in the Avatar universe an angry airbender would be a killing machine, one capable of ignoring armour or cover. The Fire Nation may have chosen to attack the Air Nomads during the arrival of Sozin's Comet simply because without it they couldn't have actually won.
To put it simply, if it had been the Airbenders who aimed from World conquest, it probably wouldn't have taken 100 years. All they have to do is either use the above methods listed, or, on a larger scale, possibly use their airbending to creating tornados and all sorts of destruction. And the fact that they frequently ride gliders or flying bisons mean they could easier stay out of harms reach. Especially if they're experienced in flying in those conditions.
The Chinese term "qi" means both life force and air; thus, the ability to bend air comes with the ability to control your life spirit. This could explain why there are virtually no non-bender Air Nomads. It also betrays a darker side of airbending to mirror bloodbending, that is, the bending of the life force within a person, i.e., soulbending. And this is what Aang does to Ozai in the finale.
Earth-bending fights always leave giant walls of rock all over the place. This would be an annoying mess to deal with in real life, because every time there's a fight, you would have rocks and craters to clean up. If someone was to focus their earth bending constructively, they would be able to do anything with them. They could build houses, fences, statues, virtually any structure really. And in the show, they do just that. All of the earth nation cities are shown to have large elaborate structures, and the largest city is surrounded by a giant stone wall. At one point, Aang even uses his bending to build a zoo for a man in Ba Sing Se.
Fire bending seems like it would be the most useless one to have in real life, because you really can't use it for much besides combat, and it would be difficult to use without burning something. This would explain why the fire nation is so war-like. But if you think deeper, you realize that there's much more to it than that, even beyond the basic uses of fire like cooking and warming. Fire can be used in any number of industrial processes, metal forging, engines, ships, factories, etc. And the fire-nation does just that. In the flashbacks with Sozin and Roku, Sozin mentions that the fire-nation has been going through an extremely prosperous era, it's because they were having an industrial revolution! Some fire-bender must have created a steam-engine of some sort. This also means that they will likely never leave steam power, because they have total control over it. Fire-benders basically have an infinite supply of coal shooting out of their hands, so it makes complete sense that the new series will take place in a steam-punk themed city. It's why fire-benders have so much engineering and technology, while the rest of the tribes are relatively primitive.
Water bending is the most obvious one, you can use it to move boats around, and maybe even use it to catch some fish. Their location makes sense because someone who had control over ice and water would want to live somewhere that they were never far from it. But the water tribes’ presence at the north and south poles also gives the gang an excuse to travel over the entire world, before the show ever has to stop in one point for too long.
Also, the Fire and Air. The fire nation is taking over the entire world, growing larger and larger - you know, like a metaphor for fire spreading? Also, the Air Nomads have four different temples scattered around the world, like real wind scatters.
Iroh knew the non-corrupt form of fire bending. And early in the series he's shown instructing Zuko in the art; specifically, drilling Zuko in the basics. Zuko was too angry to catch on; a very different show would have resulted if he had.
Each pair of naturally opposing elements/Bending Arts actually share common ground that the other does not; Both Fire and Water gain boosts in power in accordance to time of day through celestial bodies (Sun and Moon during Day and Night respectively) as the penultimate source of their bending comes from those sources - and yes, Firebending may have been passed down from Dragons but its power is driven by the Sun. In turn, both Air and Earth on the other hand, don't receive such bonuses from...any known celestial bodies or spirits and as such don't have any perks dependent on time (as shown so far anyway). They gain their power from the same celestial body - the Earth. It's just really hard to take away from them. Amusing how the two opposite pairs share a basic thread.
Somewhere up-page, someone made a joke about Captain Planet, but let's run with that for a second:
Aang is Wind
Katara is Water
Toph is Earth
Zuko (or, briefly, Uncle Iroh) is Fire
Which leaves Sokka as Heart. As evidenced by Sokka's Master, which showed that in Sokka's absence, the Gaang is reduced to listlessness and boredom, compared to their previous drive to complete their mission or being distracted by various adventures on the way.
At first Fire nation's abduction of Benders from other nations seems simply like a systematized way of Kicking The Dog and showing was bastards they were. Once one comes to understand how the Avatar's cycle of reincarnation works in the series that it suddenly made complete sense: the Evil Overlords are trying to effectively contain a threat to their schemes before it is even born!
Even if he didn't know that, he would be pleased because the next Avatar would be born either in the easily conquered South Tribe, the highly isolated North Tribe, or the Foggy Swamp which was in the Earth Kingdom he had control over. After that it would take at least 12 years for him to become an effective Waterbender and there's no way for him to become a fully realized Avatar because there's no one to teach him Airbending and it is very unlikely that anyone from the Fire Nation will be willing to teach him Firebending. An Avatar with a 2 maybe 3 element mastery would be useless against a largely consolidated Fire Empire.
Keeping the other bending cultures alive would also greatly benefit the Fire Nation in the long run. They could easily kill a young Avatar, hastening the cycle until the Fire Nation got the Avatar again. Then they could easily indoctrinate him/her and force their captive Water and Earth Benders to teach the Avatar their skills. The Fire Nation winds up with a powerful weapon that they can still theoretically control as a fully realized Avatar is impossible (a Firelord should be able to defeat a rogue Avatar with only 3 elements). After that Avatar, the cycle will break but by then the Fire Nation should rule the world with or without Sozin's comet. The eugenic potential also does not seem to escape them with Ursa's grandfather in mind. Try not to think too hard about an Avatar mentored by Fire Lord Azula and married to one of Azula's children.
It's interesting what was planned for Azula's character and what wasn't. In the very beginning of season 2 she seems like a 'older sister' archetype (even though she's younger). The perfect, older sibling who wins all of daddy's approval, the one thing Zuko ever wanted. It's great how much they developed her, from being the epitome of everything Zuko needed, to her own, flawed character. She and Ozai both have an obsession with control and perfection. When she unhinges, we see her going into a more 'animalistic' instinctive nature. Killing a "weak" sibling (we always knew Azula was fine with Zuko dying, even early in season 3, something she might even actively pursue herself) and displaying more of her real nature. They really play with the idea of her being a sociopath throughout the series. Zuko couldn't beat her in her normal state. Anything else than the breakdown would have been undermining her character, if Zuko had just merely defeated her, it wouldn't have been enough. If she'd 'reformed' or been humiliated, it wouldn't have been enough. She had to die or 'break down' until she couldn't be her former self. Because any other Zeus Ex Machina or decision wouldn't have been a fair treatment of her character.
Referencing Azula's Villainous Breakdown, her first appearance where she does some crazy firebending and then is all perfectionisty upset about her hair? Definitely foreshadows the hair-chopping Ax-Crazy in the finale. Also, her line when Li and Lo tell her about it: "Almost perfect isn't good enough!" Azula has spent her life being perfect. Her fire bending is perfect (nobody else bends blue flames like she does, and she can do lightning), she is a perfect leader, and perfectly executes her coup. When her record becomes "almost perfect" with Ty Lee and Mai's betrayal, she loses it, and she has a terrible success record through the rest of the show (fails to kill Zuko, her reign as Fire Lord is a disaster, she loses to Katara, she ends up in an insane asylum). When she's not perfect, she's ... nothing. Without the veneer of perfection that she maintained through most of the show, she's just an abused kid who missed out on what she really wanted (her mother's love), and no more. She isn't the fire bender prodigy who never lost a match (loses to both Zuko and Katara), she isn't the amazing leader who conquered Ba Sing Se in 2 days due to force of personality (she's over-paranoid and not quite in touch with reality during her reign as Fire Lord), and she isn't even the girl who had perfect control over her life (Mai and Ty Lee betray her). That one line foreshadowed, long before Azula lost it, that she had to be perfect or nothing. She didn't have any middle ground.
Azula was born lucky, and Zuko was lucky to be born. Such a true line, but not in the way one would think. While it was meant as a put-down against Zuko from Ozai, the reality is that this is Zuko's greatest strength and Azula's greatest weakness. Yes, life is constantly putting Zuko down, but as a result he has learned how to deal with failure: he picks himself up and keeps on going, no matter how many times he has to do so. Azula, on the other hand, was used to things simply going her way: she's a prodigy, she was constantly outperforming her brother, earning the praise of her father, and generally kicking ass. But as soon as things went wrong for her - not just a little wrong, but hugely, disastrously wrong, like losing your only friends and getting Kicked Upstairs by her Dad - she has no idea how to emotionally deal with it, and she completely falls apart. In the end, it's Zuko's fortitude and Azula's lack thereof are what put Zuko on the throne and put Azula in the nuthouse.
Why is breathing so important for Firebending? Fires need Oxygen, and the original firebenders were dragons, which breathe fire.
It seems a little weird to me that Zuko just went on quests with everyone is such an alsmost formulaic way (it's even lampshaded by Toph.) But it actually makes perfect sense that Zuko accompany everyone on quests that played huge parts in building up to the climaxes of their respective character arcs, because his arc was the first to be resolved! When you think about it, Zuko's arc is pretty much done in Day of the Black Sun when he has his epic Calling the Old Man Out moment and goes to join Aang. Not that important things don't happen to him post-DOTBS, but his main character development from Point A to Point B was pretty much concluded. Even more important when you remember that Zuko spent years (including most of the show) traveling with a Static CharacterCool Old Guy who played the exact same role in his life - helping him along with his character development because Iroh's own had already been done!
Why was firebending so dangerous for Aang? Precisely because he started as an airbender, and air enhances fire! So firebending would seem easy for him at the start, making it even more likely for him to get himself into trouble with it. However, the opposite was not true for Ruko, as he learned airbending first after firebending, and found it easy. And that is probably because mastering firebending requires mastery of controlling breath, and breath is air. In a similar vein, Aang found waterbending easy, probably because since gases and liquids are both fluids, many techniques he mastered for controlling air probably applied with only minimal modification to controlling water. The order Jeong Jeong wanted Aang to master the elements (air then water then earth then fire) directly mirrors the Avatar cycle itself, and the pattern is a general one for all Avatars (the element immediately after that Avatar's birth element shares enough in common that the Avatar will find learning it very easy, and so will always learn it second after the birth element, the next element will be in some way opposite and therefore counterintuitive and difficult to master, and the final element will be complementary but deceptive and/or dangerous in some way, and so should be mastered last.)
China could have built a world spanning empire instead of Europe. They even sent out massive ships called "floating dragons" as a show of power; some think the expeditions might have reached Hawaii. After Zheng He, the emperor's friend who was leading the expedition, died, bureaucrats called Mandarins burned all the records of the voyages, including the ships and how to build them. The Mandarins were followers of Confucius who emphasized knowing your place. They were also very traditional and cautious of change, thus burning the records. The similarities to the Dai Li seem far too strong for this to be a coincidence, given that the Earth Kingdom was based off of China.
The Lion Turtle basically says that all bending styles were derived from the energy bending Applied Phlebotinum that Aang used in his fight with Ozai; perhaps this means benders can absorb and then use energy from their respective element. This means that waterbenders can give or take (usually take) heat energy from the water they're bending and make it ice or steam and firebenders create fire from nothing by transferring energy into the air. With that logic, it makes sense that the ultimate form of firebending is lightning. It would just be weaponizing the electrolysis firebenders always use.
Aang and Zuko have been portrayed as Not So Different since "The Storm". Remember how Zuko had a Vision Quest of sorts throughout "The Earth King", and Aang has one the next episode to unlock his seventh chakra? Aang rejected his at the last second, despite all the progress he had made to reach spiritual peace and enlightenment, because he chose another person's love over his own empowerment or what was right for the world. Going by the previous parallels, this was broad and subtle Foreshadowing to Zuko's impending betrayal.
The Fire Nation seems stupid for capturing and not killing the waterbenders, in case they escaped with a grudge. Especially since Zuko didn't stake out the Water Tribe in his search for the Avatar. However, they thought the Avatar was a waterbender and were just letting Zuko roam around the world searching for a nonexistent(or so they believed) airbender to keep him out of their hair. That way, the Avatar wouldn't be born into the Earth Kingdom, a huge and not-as-easily weeded out place as the Water Tribes. At least, until the waterbenders died of old age, which I think Ozai was betting on happening after he won the war. Also, even though they don't have the waterbenders from the south pole, even if the avatar was there, it isn't likely they can master earth and fire, there is absolutely no chance of them mastering air, and so they aren't much of a threat to the Fire Nation. There's also a bit more fridge brilliance to this considering Aang's successor as Avatar, Korra. She could already bend three of the four elements much younger than any previous Avatar, Aang included, only having trouble with Airbending because it was opposite to her personality. Ozai's plan was pretty much doomed to failure from the start.
Iroh tells Zuko lightning is fueled by an absence of emotion. However, we see Ozai and Azula generating lightning when they're visibly enraged. The Fire Nation had been corrupted from the true meaning of Firebending. Firebending is about life and energy, not just destruction and when Zuko lost his drive his bending became weak. It's possible that lightning generation isn't about an absence of emotion but a complete focus on a single task. When Ozai and Azula bend lightning while enraged they're completely 100% focused on killing their targets. The reason Zuko can't do it when Iroh's teaching him isn't that he can't let go of his emotions, but that his mind is focused on too many things at once (surpassing Azula, finding the Avatar, getting his father's praise) his mental focus is all over the place. And an even bigger bit of Fridge Brilliance is that Iroh knew the true secret of Firebending and yet he told Zuko what would have been in keeping with the Fire Nation's philosophy at the time. He kept the secret from him until he was ready to know the true way of Firebending. Lightning may be a true expression of Firebending but it is a true and pure expression of firebending in the sense of being the absolute pinnacle of a Firebender's drive.
It could also be that lightning bending requires complete focus on something, but "nothing" qualifies as a focus. Learning it that way, as Iroh did, grants an advantage: lightning (or firebending for that matter) based on, for instance, hatred for an individual is rendered powerless if that hatred fades. Power based on meditation and serenity, though, can't ever be lost.
This actually brings up another fridge brilliance. Bumi talked about how there's over 50 something types of Jing, with three of them being Positive (offensive), Negative (defensive) and Neutral (doing nothing). Bumi said that the best earth benders were those who listened and waited, using Neutral Jing. Since both him and Iroh were part of the White Lotus, it's not out of the question that Iroh learned this from earthbenders and applied it to his lightning, much in the same way as how he learned about redirecting lightning from the Waterbenders.
Also, they are sociopaths. They are strongly in control of their own "temperaments" even when they seem to be enraged - that frustation and rage is detached from themselves. Even in the final Agni Kai, Azula is clearly not temperamentally alright, but she can use lightning because she doesn't "feel".
If you pay attention, Lion Turtles are everywhere— statues in the Air Temples, door knockers in the Earth Kingdom, the front of the Fire Nation war zeppelins, and in the library episode, Aang pulls out a scroll and commented on the HUGE lion turtle on it. The Producers Really Do Think Of Everything.
Ozai was completely right when he says to Zuko, "You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher." At first it seems like a line that just proves his cruelty, and that's probably what he meant it to be. But here's the thing: Zuko didn't learn respect until he had suffered for a while, particularly throughout season 2. Watch as his pride is slowly broken down and he starts being less of a jerk, culminating in his Heel-Face Turn in season 3, which was preceded by half a season of intense inner conflict. There is something Zuko did "learn" from his father there. Consider: Zuko surrendered, and got in a world of hurt for it. As Sokka observes in the season 1 finale, "If there's one thing we know, it's that Zuko never gives up". Up until "The Western Air Temple" halfway through season 3, Zuko was the only one of the "core cast" who had never surrendered to someone who wanted to fight him. That he can offer himself as a prisoner is a sign of how far he has moved out of his father's influence, particularly since getting a bending attack in his face again for the attempt does not work to deter him for long.
Fire Nation troops don't usually fight in formation. This is particularly noticeable in the assault on the Northern Water Tribe. If you replaced the Fire Nation troops with, say, WWII soldiers and replaced the tanks with WWII tanks, they'd look very similar to the FN's loose formations, with squads of troops moving among the tanks. And that makes sense, because firebending would render most pre-gunpowder formations useless anyway, and every firebender (which makes up the majority of the FN's army) would be capable of long-ranged attacks at will - exactly like modern firearm-equipped infantry. The Fire Nation has, quite literally, pioneered combined arms tactics on a parallel with modern mechanized armies. The fire nation's entire army parallels Germany during this period. Their favourite method of attacking is a quick strike before retreating (blitzkrieg), had utilized awesome but impractical weaponry (a giant fleet of zepplins, a gigantic, almost looney-tunes esque drill) and moved to heavily industrializing the mainland for the war effort.
The Fire Nation military was the most gender equal of all the four nations, but all the women seen were young women. There were no older women seen among the Fire Nation generals, and no older Fire Nation women seen in the Order of the White Lotus. And in the flashback to Roku and Sozin's youth, the women that were seen were all in more traditional roles. This suggests that the gender equality seen in the present is a recent phenomenon, possibly spurred by the exigencies of war to make up for manpower shortages (how else could the Fire Nation prosecute a 100 year war against the vastly larger Earth Kingdom?). Which would mean that it had to be one of the three Firelords (Sozin, Azulon, and/or Ozai) who introduced gender equality into the Avatar world. Warlike nations usually have greater gender equality, if only for economic reasons. Western gender equality has been greatly helped by war, although in that case it promoted more women into industrial positions than as soldiers. A good long world takeover campaign would almost necessitate encouraging women to take traditionally masculine roles simply to have enough soldiers and industrial producers.
The order of elements Aang has to master ties into his personal growth during the seasons. At the opening of season 1, Aang doesn't realize at first that there is a war going on and that the world as he knows it isn't the same. Only after visitng the ruins of what used to be his home temple and seeing the skeleton of his mentor does Aang realize that he has a responsbility to the world and can't go back to his old life anymore. Throughout season 1, he has to deal with the duty of being the Avatar. What element does Aang have to master for this season? Water, the element of change. Then next in season 2 is earth, the element of substance, whose discipline requires firmness and strength. Halfway through the season, Aang loses his animal companion and living relic of his old life, Appa and almost loses hope. Also the gang has to deal with delivering crucial info that could end the war to the Earth King past Obstructive Bearucrats, the Dai Li. Finally, Aang learns fire, the element of desire and deciveness in the last season where he faces off against Fire Lord Ozai. In the last first episodes he struggles against killing the Fire Lord due to his pacifist nature despite everyone telling him he must do it. Also in the last episode Aang and Katara kiss, thereby confirming their relationship, something both of them had desired to do.
Fire nation had pride in its benders, and might be losing touch with nature. However, look at what they were doing. All of their machines could be firebender operated. However, they were paving the way for non-benders to have equal power as their benders. Why dedicate a bender who could be used for fighting (gunpowder isn't around yet so Benders still have superiority in fighting) to keeping your vehicle moving when you could have anyone do it by using coal engines?
So, the Fire Nation can develop tanks, giant drills, massive factories, etc...but no hot air balloons? Odd. Until you realize what happens when you kill everyone in the world whose specialty is manipulating air. Of course the Fire Nation didn't realize that hot air would allow flight; all of the accumulated knowledge of flight and moving with the air was lost when the Airbenders were wiped out!
Episodes in the third season like "The Beach", "The Painted Lady", and "The Headband" aren't just Padding or Breather Episodes (though they serve that last purpose too). Up to now, the Gaang (and the audience) has seen the Fire Nation through the royal family and the army. These episodes let us see that the Fire Nation citizens also have kids in school who make pasta art and sneak out to go dancing. They have beach parties and go to the theatre. The lower classes struggle to make a living. In other words, they're not Always Chaotic Evil. The average Fire National is no worse (or better) than anyone else in the four nations. The goal is not to defeat the Fire Nation; it's to defeat Ozai and restore the "living in harmony" between the nations.
Chronologically, the story begins with the Avatar and the Fire Prince as best friends, and when they part ways it causes the loss of balance in the world. The series ends with the Avatar and Fire Prince as enemies, and balance is only restored after they become friends.
Aang is the Last Airbender, and Appa is an Sky Bison, the first Airbender.
The show's three seasons correspond with whatever element Aang is learning, obviously. But they also correspond with what Zuko is doing, proving once again that they're Not So Different! In the Water season, he lives on a ship out in the middle of the ocean. In the Earth season, he wanders around on land pretending to be an Earth Kingdom peasant. In the Fire season, he's a Fire Nation prince again, and then teaches Aang firebending.
Why did the Gaang let Ozai, Azula, Yon Rha, and others live rather than just killing them? If Zuko is an example of the Fire Nation, Firebenders hold a high sense of honor (this is why out of the four nations, the Fire Nation has the greatest royalty). Killing a Firebender would be an easy decision, but an even better solution is through humiliation. Ozai, the ruler of the Fire Nation, is beaten by a child and imprisoned and his throne was taken by the son he personally branded and banished. Furthermore, this defeat came in the form of being held virtually at gunpoint and then spiritually castrated. Azula loses her "friends" and her once-ruthless personality, and Yon Rha is bluntly told by Katara that he isn't even worth killing.
Even Ozai found it more disgraceful when Zuko refused to fight him in the Agni Kai, partly because he's a Social Darwinist and partly because of Values Dissonance within the Fire Nation - he might have looked terrified when Aang almost shot him in the finale, but he was pissed when Aang refused to kill him when he had the chance. Also ... that makes it funny when you consider that Zhao actually had the most honourabledeath in the series, of all noteworthy villains - he refused to degrade himself by taking Zuko's hand to survive, and so although he died with everyone considering him a monster, he at least felt he went out how he wanted. Not to mention, this places some interesting ideas on the level of morality afforded by the 'good guys' to the 'bad guys', and how it became more complicated as the series went on. To add another level to that, his choice was be saved by a teenager, one that was considered an embarrassing failure by his nation, or be killed by what was basically a pissed off god. Still crazy from a modern standpoint, but Fridge Brilliance if you think like a Firebender.
Iroh always said that firebending came from the breath, and what did Combustion Man do before firing (pun intended)? He took a deep breath.
The reason firebenders wear shoes with metal soles is because, otherwise, they'd literally burn their shoes off every time they shot fire out of their feet.
There's another good reason Toph's blind. All the in-universe written text in the series uses Chinese or Japanese characters. Having someone around who can't read gives the rest of the Gaang an excuse to read things to her, and by extension to the audience. Not to mention making it hilarious when someone (usually Sokka) tries to show her something written/drawn (like a picture of Appa).
Rewatching the first season shows that Iroh never actively attacks the Avatar, except once, where he lent his strength to Zuko's fireball (which missed). The reason? Even now, Iroh knows that the Avatar must win and that Zuko must eventually join forces with him. But if he openly tells Zuko that, Zuko will send him away. He helps Zuko hunt the Avatar, because right now that's what Zuko needs. But the entire time he plays up his own weaknesses to try to slow Zuko down. Second season, when he has a better excuse, Iroh starts actively pushing Zuko away from hunting the Avatar and tries to convince him to have a normal life while he can.
Yet more things that make the Hakoda/Kya and Ozai/Ursa families diametrically-opposed mirror images of each other: Kya died and Ursa disappeared at about the same time. Furthermore, Hakoda went to war and Zuko was banished at about the same time.
Waterbenders are the only ones who can logically be caught without their element. Air and earth are pretty much ubiquitous, and firebenders can conjure flames from essentially nowhere. But waterbenders have to carry those skins around if they're battling on enemy territory and don't have the home field advantage of tons of ice and snow (or, in the swamp tribe's case, mud). However, waterbenders are also the most versatile. We've seen them bending ice, water, and vapor, as well as any other liquid (soup, for instance); no other element has that much variation in its power. Waterbenders have both an innate advantage and an innate disadvantage, and are therefore pretty much balanced.
It makes sense that waterbending is incredibly versatile, and waterbender's power vacillates with the phases of the moon? That's because water itself is the most versatile of the other four elements, and the tides can change with the moon.
Iroh said that Water is the element of change and adaptation. Waterbenders are creative by design, because more often than not they have to go without their element. They have to be creative as a survival need. This also makes it obvious why it has to come after Airbending, but before Earthbending. Airbending is about peace and avoidance. Water is about adaptation and creativity, which acts as a buffer to the stoic and head on earthbenders, since it lets the avatar explore before going back to their strict ways.
Of course, having to carry water with you to waterbend doesn't seem like such a huge disadvantage when you consider that soldiers have to carry water around with them anyways, especially if going into battle, or else face the crippling effects of dehydration and heat stroke. The Firebenders, if facing a lengthy fight, would logically have to carry as much water as the Waterbenders just to deal with the negative effects of being exposed to so much heat for an extended period. This could potentially make the Waterbenders even more dangerous a foe.
Talking about the versatility of waterbending, imagine what would happen if waterbenders studied the basics of the other bending forms (using similar principles to Iroh's lightning defense).
Waterbenders could bend ice, like earthbenders bend stone. In the show, waterbenders generally switch ice into liquid water and back again to use it. But using earthbending form, they could bend the ice directly and go as far shoot solid projectiles at enemies. To make it worse given the nature of water they can form the projectiles into shapes the earthbenders cannot.
They could also bend water vapor, like airbenders bend air. Consider that fact that water vapor is literally everywhere except in arid climates (like deserts or tundras), a waterbender with an understanding of airbending form could draw water from the air and never be without water. Taking it further, a waterbender could use the water vapor to attack similar to (though significantly weaker than) an airbender making for a better defense.
They could also use a firebending form to bend scalding hot, high pressure steam.
Iroh, the bumbling old man who travels with Zuko and is constantly trying to get him to take it easy, suddenly turns out to be Bad Ass. If you look at the restof his family, you realize that if he wasn't badass, he wouldn't get to be an old man. Also, the only way to convince his family he wasn't a threat was to be a bumbling old man. The 'bumbling' persona is actually a protective measure.
For the first half of season 3, the members of the Gaang and the Fire Kids mirror each other. Observe:
Aang and Zuko. Obviously this has been pointed out in canon and in analysis several times.
Katara and Azula. They're both extremely gifted, the more talented sibling in their respective families despite being younger than their respective brothers. They also hold the team together, but in different ways: Katara is the Team Mom, whereas Azula controls people through fear and intimidation.
Toph and Mai. Both were repressed during childhood and found freedom and expression through their friends. Also, they're both snarky and awesome, and aren't afraid to tell people off when they need to cut the shit.
Sokka and Ty Lee. Sometimes seen as goofy, but they both bring unique skills to the table that neither group would be able to function without. Also, both of them felt overshadowed in their families, Sokka by Katara, and Ty Lee by her sisters.
It goes further than that, just look one generation above. You have a son who desperately wants approval from a father figure they haven't seen in years, with he and his sister's mother being gone since they were young children because of the Firelord. Now, is that Sokka and Katara, or Zuko and Azula?
We all know how Sokka can't draw, right? Well, he's a Southern Water Tribe peasant. Of course he can't draw! He never went to school, and before traveling with the Avatar, his only experience with drawing would have been pictures in the snow; also, it's very difficult to use ink brushes, even if you know how to use a pen/pencil. He draws on the level of a preschooler because he IS on that level.
Another Sokka one: We all know how the universe loves to torture Sokka, right? Well remember when Toph was training Aang, how quickly Sokka gave up meat and sarcasm, and then he went right back to eating meat and being sarcastic? The Avatar verse is paying him back for breaking his promise!
In addition to that, the speed in which he gave up meat and sarcasm means he's probably done it before. He might not have been in another situation like that while with Aang, but I would bet it's really easy to get lost in a blizzard in the Southern Water Tribe or get into another situation where you desperately need help, especially if you're the kid who manages to do something like get two fishhooks in your thumb. He's probably made that promise before and broken it, and the universe just keeps pwning him because of that.
Regarding Zuko and Agni Kai: In season 1, Zuko manages to defeat Zhao, a potent firebender, early on by "breaking his root" - i.e., upsetting his stance, specifically using an ankle sweep. This is fairly rudimentary principle - as Iroh had been drilling him on the basics in the first few episodes - but it works. Fast forward to season 3: Zuko's dueling Azula for the crown, and it's (gasp) evenly-matched. She's jetting around and throwing huge walls of flame, but he's wearing her down. She circles him, looking to engulf him, and he break-dance-firebends a fire wheel at ankle height. He breaks Azula's root and she tumbles to the ground, pretty much beaten. Zuko bested his nigh-unbeatable prodigy sister, during Sozin's comet, using a basic firebending principle.
The Lion Turtle at the end of the third season isn't drawn like the other characters and creatures, instead, he is done with the more detailed style and coloring used for the backgrounds. It makes perfect sense: he is one of the oldest creatures on the Airbender universe's earth. He is old enough to have a large, thriving forest growing on his back and the only creature we know of that's old enough to know energy-bending. He is drawn in the same style as the earth itself because like the earth, he is ancient.
Ba Sing Se can be considered a parallel of New York. Why? It's seen as a very secure location and immigration hub, with a symbol that everyone immigrating to the city will see which is a symbol of safety and freedom, it has distinct sections each with different class of citizenry, and if said symbols fell many would consider it the end for that city. Also, the ferry that takes immigrants to Ba Sing Se is comparable to the ships that took immigrants to America from Europe.
I wonder if this counts: We all heard Iroh tell Zuko that he is the representation of the battle between good and evil due to being the great grandson of both Roku and Sozin. Many viewers wondered afterward "yeah, but what about Azula?" for quite a while. A lot of them came to the simple conclusion that Zuko is the good great-grandchild while Azula is the evil one. Then, at the end, Azula's Villainous Breakdown happened. Azula's inner turmoil means that both she AND Zuko have great potential for BOTH great good AND great evil. The siblings are inverses: while Zuko is a basically good person struggling with bad influences and emotional turmoil caused by said influences, Azula, while outwardly psychotically evil, struggles with emerging hints of humanizing qualities, such as small amounts of warmth for Mai, Ty Lee, and especially Zuko, and a deep desire for true, unconditional love, particularly from her mother. That's a big part of the reason why Azula snaps, and why, unlike Ozai, she is quite tragic and sympathetic, and has at least some chance for redemption.
There's a small parallel between Zuko and Azula in that regard. Zuko temporarily had the "sickness" when he gave up capturing Appa after Lake Laogai, and went into deep turmoil since Iroh's Armor-Piercing Question made him rethink what he wanted, not what his father did. Azula likewise had a similar breakdown when she realized that being the firelord wasn't what she wanted and the betrayal of her friends made her question herself as well. Unlike Zuko though, Azula's Parental figure Ozai did nothing to help her, instead discarded her to what amounts to being a regent. Zuko, with the help of Iroh, passed his test of character, while Azula failed.
Some could argue that Iroh was holding an Idiot Ball (or just having a What an Idiot moment) when he seriously thought that Zuko, who Iroh knows damn well is stubborn, proud, desperate for recognition, determined, and driven to try and reclaim his place in the Fire Nation for many reasons (including a desperate need to have the love of his family as well as a yearning to return things to "normal" and stop being the disgraced, dishonorable, worthless exile), would happily agree to spending the rest of his life meekly denying everything he was and pretending to be a humble waiter in a teashop. Which leads to Fridge Brilliance in its own right; a further emphasis of the subtle message in the show that all beings are fallible. Nobody, no matter how wise or powerful they may be, is totally immune to making mistakes or learning from those mistakes.
It's possible Iroh was enabling Zuko's choice. By siding with Azula and rejecting all Iroh had to teach him, he was rejecting Iroh as a teacher. And so, Iroh was silent, because by siding with Azula over Iroh's advice, he had chosen to not have Iroh to advise him. And so Iroh didn't, subtly showing Zuko some of the consequences of his choice.
Azula and Ozai think in fundamentally different ways. Whenever you see Ozai's reaction to something, he's reacting as the problem comes along, usually with more harshness than necessary. ("Son speaking out of place? Agni Kai! Refuses to fight? Burn half his face off and banish him! Rebels in the captured Earth Kingdom? Burn the entire continent to the ground!") Azula is genre savvy, plans way ahead, acts on opportunities, plans for every possibility, and manipulates people and events to her advantage. Her train of thought is more like, "I'll dress up like a Kyoshi warrior to get into Ba Sing Se, and since Long Feng wants to manipulate me, I'll let him think he's manipulating me, while really manipulating him. This gives me control of the Dai Li, so I'll use them in a complicated plan to take over the city. I'll instill fear in the Dai Li, so that when Long Feng eventually tries to betray me they'll still be on my side. I won't be able to beat the avatar and his friends, even with the Dai Li on my side, unless I also have Zuko. So I'll easily emotionally manipulate him and take it from there." In the end, Azula's villainous breakdown is shown, besides the paranoia and hallucinations, by her losing this methodical logic and becoming more like Ozai. Her decisions are now just like his. ("Servant left a pit in my cherry? Banish her!) Her complete loss of control and planning comes in her final fight with Katara. She was able to out reason Zuko, but Katara sees a grate with water running under it, lures her onto it, and uses the water to be able to defeat her. Under normal circumstances, Azula would be the one pulling a trick like this, and would have probably known about the water in advance and prepared for it.
In one of the scenes where we first meet Azula, she's practicing her lightning. Afterwards, Li and Lo comment that she was "Almost perfect" with a single hair out of place, which Azula found unacceptable. Cut forward to the finale, just before she hallucinates her mother, she poorly cuts her hair. Her hair was also probably a large indicator to Zuko that she wasn't at her best.
This is seen elsewhere in the series, Azulas hair being cut by Katara in the season two finale, and falling loose signified she was losing. Furthering the importance of Zuko's side switch.
The way Zuko and Azula firebend is fundamentally different. While Azula relies on practice and precision , Zuko firebends using raw power. This is illustrated by the way they use their hands, Azula uses the tips of her fingers while Zuko shoots fire from his fists, thin, calculated strips of fire versus wild blasts.
Also a reason why Azula realized Zuko would eventually win in the finale (and why Zuko thought he could win when he challenged her); Zuko had her beat in both control and raw power. Evidenced in that Zuko barely moves from his spot while Azula was expending large amounts of energy zapping around the dueling grounds. Sure Zuko did some fancy break dancing, but he was basically in the same spot. The only time he moved was to take the hit meant for Katara.
Bloodbending makes perfect sense when you take Waterbending healing into consideration. It likely works with the same principle, bending fluids inside the body for things such as stopping internal bleeding or ensuring proper circulation. Add the Waterbending amplification effect, and what normally works on a small scale suddenly becomes possible on a large scale.
Whoever thought of designing the Avatar State mechanism must have Batman levels of Crazy-Prepared. On one hand you would do well to have the power and skill of all the past avatars, but on the other hand, Aang has access to all their experience. If ATLA and Korra is something to go by, once people find out a child or teenager is the Avatar, then their expectations skyrocket and they want them to be like their fully realized predecessors, who have lived for decades, even centuries. Now that is about as unreasonable as it can get, in fact it's dumb, as Sokka points out when he says Aang is just a goofy kid. No child or teenager has the experience, wisdom and Character Development of a fully realized Avatar who has lived a full life. Unless there was a way by which they could contact the previous Avatars and get their guidance. The Avatar's spiritual link up comes prepared just in case this sort of situation was to happen, and according to Roku, it has happened many times before.
Further Fridge Brilliance: Why does Aang go into the Avatar state to energybend Ozai, Yakone and Korra? Because nobody can overcome the spiritual strength of a thousand fully realized Avatars and the spirit of the whole planet acting through you. This allows the Avatar State to have offense and defense capabilities at a spiritual level too. Crazy-Prepared all right.
In Season 1, Katara tells Aang she's sure that he ended up frozen for a hundred years for a reason. What reason would destiny have for wanting to put the Avatar on ice for a century? Well, imagine what would have happened if Aang (or, if he had been killed, the new Avatar) had grown up and faced Firelord Sozin. Even if he had won, there would have been no one fit to succeed Sozin as Firelord. Azulon wasn't much better than his dad, and certainly would have continued the war if he thought his father had been killed by the Avatar. True peace couldn't be achieved until someone could lead the Fire Nation back to its original path and atone for Sozin's killing of Roku. So Aang had to wait until Zuko showed up, because only together could they restore balance.
Why is Roku the one to introduce recaps of previous episodes at the start of each episode? Because he's the previous life of Aang.
The fact that Zuko is the descendant of both Roku and Sozin, and that this lineage gives him a pointedly evil and a pointedly good side is somewhat sneakily foreshadowed throughout the series. The first is when Azula snarks, "remember to remind the portrait painters to get your good side." But this is exactly why he can learn to redirect lightning. At the point in the story when he learns the skill from Iroh, he's told he must separate the negative and positive energies to create lightning. He can't manage this because at this point, his good and evil sides are in conflict - i.e., his negative and positive energies. He also has an evil (scarred) and a good (unscarred) side of his face. In shots where he's doing something noble, such as the first time he Approaches Aang and asks to join the group, his unscarred side is highlighted.
Sky Bison aren't like mascots that just happen to have convenient arrow-like markings. Master Airbenders tattoo themselves that way precisely because Sky Bison have them. Since they are the 'original airbenders'.
Another for Azula's breakdown. We never see Azula being taught much about actual ruling or ever taking an interest in what's happening at the lower levels of the Fire Nation except when it directly impacts her. All we ever really see of Azula is her exceptional combat skills or using fear and misdirection to ruin her enemies and increase her power. The one time we see her at a war meeting, her contribution is to suggest genocide. Compare that with Zuko, who isn't nearly as good as Azula at firebending and he's incompetent at manipulation, but he is shown to grow to genuinely care about his people, he does listen to other people sharing their problems and at the same meeting his contribution is to analyze the problem and show an understanding of the Earth Kingdom. In other words all there really is to Azula is her abilities as a conqueror and nothing to her as a ruler. From the start the series foreshadowed that Zuko would be a decent ruler while Azula would be a disaster even if Mai and Ty Lee had stayed.
Toph's personality doesn't lend itself well to expressing any kind of love towards others (which she herself points out after punching Zuko on the arm). This makes sense when you consider the element associated with the Heart Chakra, which deals with love; Air. Air, obviously, being the opposite element to Toph's Earth. Additionally, the chakra associated with Earth deals with fear, something that would obviously stop a person emotionally opening up.
The most common hairstyle in the Fire Nation is the topknot, which keeps the hair tied back tight at the top of the head. Makes sense considering long, loose hair is a fire hazard.
We learn in Book 3 that the Fire Nation's version of firebending is fueled by rage and hatred, and once Zuko joins the Gaang and gives up on hunting the Avatar, the loss of his drive leads him to lose his firebending. This means that when his father challenged him to an Agni Kai, a firebending duel, all those years ago, he refused and surrendered not only because he didn't want to hurt his father but also because he instinctively knew that he wouldn't be able to fight it, just like how master firebenders can sense when the solar eclipse is over. He might not have known why, but since he is somewhat of a firebending prodigy (and only The Unfavourite because he was overshadowed by Azula) he could have sensed that the duel was a bad idea.
Zuko and Azula's relationship with their father is a perfect example of the dark side of filial piety, specifically filial cannibalism. In Chinese history, respect for ones' parents and ancestors was and still is very highly regarded, so much that during the Qing period, loved ones would actually commit cannibalism by cutting off parts of their bodies to feed to their deathly ill parents as an ultimate act of devotion. Zuko and Azula spent their entire lives sacrificing their happiness, friendship and sanity (in Azula's case) for their father's prosperity and respect. While Ozai may not be "deathly ill" in body, he certainly is so in mind, specifically his megalomania, paranoia and sadism. In many ways, Zuko and Azulas' attempts to please their father is in some way an attempt to free him of his mental illness so that he may show them love and respect for their efforts. Yet, despite these sacrifices Ozai never reciprocates the devotion of his children and continues to feed of them until he has no more use for them, with Zuko betraying the love of his Uncle and reconciliation with Aang and his gang in season 2, and Azula losing her best friends and being given the crown for a now-useless title.
In hindsight with Korra's story now running; take notice of Aang's element choices when in combat, he actually mirror's what Korra herself would do much later. After Aang unlocks his ability to Earthbend he steadily uses it more and more over the course of the series to the point where it's arguably his second element of choice when his native Airbending isn't a viable option. Why? Earthbending although direct and forceful by nature, also allows a firm and planted defense, which is what he tends to tap into when makes use of it. Although it's his natural opposite, it has a built in compliment to his skill set by allowing him to tank hits when he can't evade them. Korra would then later show an affinity for Firebending as its powerful offensive capability bolsters her natural Waterbending which though powerful, can't dole out the kind of straight forward damage that she likes to employ.
Book One Episodes
The Southern Air Temple
Monk Gyatso's skeleton is surrounded by only around ten dead firebenders, and while an impressive number for a peaceful monk it seems small for the person who taught Aang. But after watching Sozin's comet, and realizing the full extent of the increase to the firebenders' power, a non-Avatar taking out that many uber powered firebenders seems much more impressive.
Why did Bumi try to teach Aang to think differently than he usually would? Simple, he wanted to mentally prepare Aang for the from airbending fundamentally different approach to earthbending.
Adding to that, let's consider the tests Bumi put Aang through. A key in the middle of a vicious waterfall, distinguishing what Flopsy actually looked like as opposed to what he was and finally facing Bumi in a one on one challenge. Now go back and re-examine the settings of these tests, location, color patterns, etc. Bumi not only recognized it was Aang to begin with but was testing him to see if he can achieve what was to become expected of Aang's entire elemental growth through the series. In Book 1: Water, he has to not only accept the ferocity and weight of the world in front of him but he must also become the key to saving it. Book 2: Earth, he has to find an Earthbending master, namely in Toph, and learn that some of the most powerful and threatening forces could become allies like Toph and Zuko. Finally, in Book 3: Fire, he had to face down a Bending Master with proper decisiveness. Notice that Bumi gave Aang the decision of whom his enemy would become. Also notice how the two selected individuals Aang would've fought somewhat resemble Zuko (scar on face and young swordmaster) and Sparky Sparky Boom Man (large and frighteningly powerful in appearance). You can also take into account how Katara and Sokka being encased in crystal is a mirror to their future captivity in the crystal caves and the Boiling Rock. In short, Bumi new EXACTLY what Aang would be up against and actually took the time to prepare him for it way before Aang even knew the weight of what was to come. Bumi, you ARE a Mad Genius!!
The crystal thing was also a metaphor for the return of Sozin's Comet, ie "you have to do all that crap, and FAST".
Also, Bumi (albeit when he was just a kid, so this might not be so much intentional on the characters part) told Aang something along the lines of "see it in a different light, don't think about it how they want you to." Everyone, even Iroh, keeps telling Aang he'll have to kill Ozai, which he's very much against. During the finale, at the last minute, he "thinks about it in a different light" and finds a way to defeat Ozai without killing him.
Tyro and the other Earth Benders were more or less accepting of their situation and collectively decided to just wait it out. It wasn't like they were being starved or beaten relentlessly while in prison (it was downright pleasant compared to the Boiling Rock). Katara wasn't even punished for attempting to incite a prison riot. You'd think they'd be more aggressive towards their captors, even without the use of bending, rather than doing nothing more than waiting it out. However, it relates to what Bumi told Aang about Neutral Jing, and how the strongest Earth Benders are those who have mastered it. It makes sense that the imprisoned Earth Benders would be okay with waiting, as their apparent inclination towards Neutral Jing calls for them to do so. Suddenly the Earth Bender prisoners are far stronger than they seem. Even though they were unable to practice the physical aspect of their bending, they kept practicing the spiritual side of it. Another thing to mention is that earth doesn't move unless an outside force acts upon it. The earthbenders are the earth, the Gaang is the outside force!
The Winter Solstice, Part 1
Aang's short-lived Heroic BSOD seems kind of over-the-top, but the Avatar is the spirit of the earth. Even the tree-huggiest twelve-year-old probably wouldn't go into a depression over a burned-down forest, but the spirit of the planet is another story...
This also may explain the Fire Nation's Steam Punk thing. Another brilliant troper said that the Fire Nation became out of touch with the natural world, reverting to Steam Punk. This could also be why - because the Spirit of the World wasn't there for the balance.
The Winter Solstice, Part 2
The Good Fire Sage tells Aang and co. that the door with the 5 fire-bending necessary locks could only be opened by 5 firebenders or a fully realized avatar. Now flash forward to the very last episode of the entire series. Aang in the Avatar State against Ozai, during Sozin's comet. Look carefully throughout their battle, Aang uses 5-pronged blasts of fire twice during the fight. Over the course of the entire fight, Ozai, supposedly the greatest firebender in the world could not ever manage more than three blasts of fire at once. More than 2 seasons after the fact, the finale of Avatar proved an inconvenient plot device to be completely true.
It's likely that the only thing stopping normal Firebenders from using 5 blasts of flame at once is due to the fact that Firebending jets of flame is a form of propulsion. Ozai only used 3 at once because the mouth blast counteracted the 2 hand blasts just enough to keep him on the ground, whereas the Avatar could use Airbending to balance out the 5 flame jets to unlock the temple door. Obviously, any Firebender who tried blasting 5 jets of flame would propel him/herself into the walls.
When Roku emerges from the room at the Fire Nation temple in The Winter Solstice, he obviously has no qualms about fighting the Fire Nation; he rebukes Zhao and the Fire Sages, while freeing Katara and Sokka. Why, then, does he also free Zuko? At that point in the series, Zuko is the Avatar-hunting Fire Nation loyalist. It's because Roku is Zuko's great-grandfather! That plot twist, which doesn't occur for another two seasons, is foreshadowed in the way that Roku not only recognizes Zuko, but recognizes that he has good in him and deserves to be freed. Zuko, of course, doesn't realize this, and runs away from his genetic destiny instead of staying to find out what's going on.
At the Fire Temple, Sokka attempts to open the doors by rigging bombs. Why does this plan fail? The doors require a constant stream of fire to unlock.
The Waterbending Scroll
Remember when Iroh was obsessing about his lost lotus tile? At the time the episode aired, it came off as simply a joke. But... considering the events of Sokka's Master, giving someone a lotus tile seems to be the general way of initiating someone into the Order of the White Lotus. The lotus tile Iroh was looking for was probably the one he was given when he first joined. Plus, the way members identify each other is based on the use of the lotus tile, as seen in "The Desert." Without the tile, Iroh could not identify himself to other members if the need ever arose. He really did lose something important.
It's also possible that he was just trying to further hinder Zuko's mission to capture the Avatar because he knows he's better off as far from his father as possible. Consider that when all is said and done, he finds the tile in his own sleeve.
Remember when Aang thought Pipsqueak was the one called the Duke? Maybe he should have paid attention to the animation (Pipsqueak is the one moving when Jet says 'Pipsqueak').
The Blue Spirit
Remember Zhao's insistence on I Want Them Alive with Aang, even though it's obvious that everyone else in the Fire Nation doesn't care whether he' live or dead? In that same episode, it was strongly implied that Zhao is just after Aang as a vanity project. And what's more vain then keeping your foe around as a trophy? Also, Zhao does say that were he to kill Aang, the Avatar would simply be reincarnated into the Water Tribe, meaning the search would start all over again. Capturing the Avatar is a vanity project for Zhao to curry favour with Ozai, but keeping him alive also serves - from their point of view - a practical purpose.
Aang asks Zuko if it's possible that they could have been friends if they'd known each other 100 years ago. Now this is obviously them also trying to emphasise that the Fire Nation AREN'T All Chaotic Evil, but I digress ... Zuko responds to Aang's query by attacking him. However, as Aang leaves, Zuko watches with an almost longing expression on his face. And finally (here's the brilliance) in the closing moments of the episode, Zuko is seen laying in his bed on the ship, with a Fire Nation banner on the wall - he shifts restlessly, and specifically turns away from the banner - Fore Shadowing his eventual defection from the Fire Nation.
"We could have been friends if we'd known each other 100 years ago" Roku is his great-relative and there was a lot of comparison's between Roku's friendship with Sozin to Aang and Zuko and we only learn that seasons later. Going full circle with this one, Aang and Zuko fix Roku and Sozin's mistakes.
When Aang makes Katara a new necklace, going by Northern Water Tribe traditions, he was actually unknowingly proposing to her. It's also in that episode that Katara first has a flash of realization that Aang might be the one for her.
This episode ties in to Avatar Roku's backstory, where he also ends up fighting to keep a volcano from destroying a village. At one point, Aang exclaims "You're fighting a volcano - and winning!" Except Roku doesn't win; as a matter of fact he ends up dying, due to Sozin's betrayal. Aang, by contrast, actually does manage to conquer the volcano in spite of not yet being a fully realized Avatar, because he has his loyal friends beside him helping him out.
An early Fridge Brilliant sign of Aang's collective Avatar wisdom? When confronted by the specter of a volcano erupting and destroying a village, Aang, true to his airbending nature, saves the village by simply diverting the lava. We later find out that his previous life ended when he tried to confront a volcano eruption (albeit a MUCH bigger one) head-on, like a firebender would.
Why does Roku threaten Jeong Jeong? Roku knows Aang very well, and must realize that Aang isn't ready. That is the exact reason he does it! Roku knows that, if Jeong Jeong didn't begin by teaching Aang restraint, Aang wouldn't learn the dangers of firebending, and therefore would never visit the Sun Warriors. Roku rebukes Jeong Jeong for thinking that he couldn't learn firebending again, because Aang's mastery of firebending is directly connected to his teachings.
The Northern Air Temple
Teo is said a few times to have "the spirit of an airbender." Well, considering that the Avatarverse appears to use reincarnation, all the spirits of those dead airbenders have to go somewhere, and there aren't any new Air Nomads for them to go into. Perhaps Teo literally does have the spirit of an airbender.
The Waterbending Master
When Pakku realizes Katara's necklace is the one he carved for Kanna, all of a sudden he's willing to break tradition to teach a female waterbender. Why? Because seeing that necklace forcibly reminded him of what those traditions had cost him, an entire lifetime with the woman he loved. It's probably not something he tried to think about often, but the combination of Katara proving her talent and having that element of his past thrust back into his face must have made him see that holding to those traditions had cost him already more than he realized.
The Siege of The North, part 1
When Zuko sneaks in under the ice to get to the Spirit Oasis, he seems unusually good at holding his breath for a long time while he was swimming. The key to firebending is in breath control. So Zuko probably is really good at holding his breath. In the first episode, Iroh told Zuko to master his breathing first, before continuing to the next lesson. Apparently he listened after all!
The Siege of the North, part 2
One of Koh's faces looks almost exactly like the Blue Spirit mask. This means it's possible that the Blue Spirit actually existed, and was the inspiration for Zuko's mask.
"Yue" is Japanese for children who are stillborn or die very early. It also means "moon" in Chinese.
Aside from "Escape from the Spirit World", Koh's line about meeting with Aang again is more or less a gun that never fired. Except he doesn't necessarily have to be talking about Aang. Throughout their conversation, Koh clearly shows that he doesn't care about the individual holding the title, all Avatars are the same to him, and he talks about things that Avatar Kuruk did as though Aang was the one to do them. That statement wasn't to say that Aang would come back, Koh knows that sooner or later, another Avatar would come to him for guidance just like Aang did. For him, meeting Aang again is just a matter of waiting for his knowledge to be needed again. He sees the Avatar as a spirit just like himself, as a single entity. To him, the Avatar's incarnations are just like him changing faces.
Book Two Episodes
The Return to Omashu
Mai was completely apathetic to her baby brother being kidnapped, which has several possible reasons:
She saw Tom-Tom happily asleep in Sokka's arms. He was with Katara and Aang who looks about as threatening as a turtle duck (unless he's in the Avatar State). She realised that they won't going to hurt him (she grew up with Azula... she could probably pick that sort of thing) and trading King Bumi for a two year old is a bit silly. Mai just didn't count on being pwned by a giant, apparently-not-extinct, flying ball of fur.
It was a test of her loyalty to Azula, and, like a certain professor in Harry Potter, Mai had to play along if she wanted scam Cthulhu.
Or Mai could have went along with it because, really, it was a lose-lose situation. Mai has been Azula's "friend" for many years, and so she knows exactly just how ruthless Azula is; if Mai had chosen to make the trade of Bumi for Tomtom, then Azula's reaction would not have been pleasant. At the very best, Azula would have passed on that Mai's family willingly handed over a powerful enemy figure for their son (who got lost because of their carelessness) to her even-more-ruthless father, Ozai; likely punishments would have been either stripping them of everything they had or execution. At the worst? Azula would have had them all executed personally. Somewhere in the middle of the scale? Azula would have killed Tomtom herself right there and then so that there's no reason to make the trade — remember, this is a girl who, at the age of nine, grinned with delight while watching her own brother get half his face set on fire. Killing somebody else's baby isn't that much of a step down — "It's not my baby" and all that. On one hand, Mai had the despair of her parents and possible death of her baby brother (and, as noted above, Aang, Katara and Sokka look pretty harmless and are clearly taking good care of Tomtom already). On the other hand, Mai had the very real wrath of Azula, a ruthless individual if not a budding psycho, and in turn the almost certain death of her baby brother and her parents along with herself. Siding with Azula is the least dangerous option there.
As Zuko and Iroh sit by the road begging for coins, a cart of masks passes them. If you pay close attention, one of the masks is identical to the one Zuko wore as the Blue Spirit◊. But this isn't just a Freeze-Frame Bonus. The end of the episode reveals that Zuko is using his Blue Spirit identity again. However, he and Iroh had to leave quickly to escape Azula, with no chance to pack any belongings. It's highly unlikely he kept the mask with him. So where did he get the mask at the end of the episode? The cart from earlier!
If you look at the expansion of Chin the Conqueror's empire across the Earth Kingdom in Kyoshi's flashback, it expands across the entire continent - except Ba Sing Se.
Just as Aang is about to be proclaimed guilty for murdering their 370-year-ago leader (and sentenced to almost-certain death in the process), Avatar Kyoshi herself steps in, admitting to the crime. This is often noted as a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment, but really, he was just about to be proven guilty anyway, so she did nothing other than stall the villagers... just long enough for the upcoming Fire Nation attack, allowing Aang to save them in time, and a reason for the village to let him live in response. Pretty damn smart of her, if you ask me.
The villagers burn the Avatar statues. Aang stops the fire when the left eye of his statue has been burnt off, leading to an episode-length quest for his Avatar honor, mirroring Zuko almost literally!
The ending. Because Zuko was from the Fire Nation, he was automatically the bad guy. Even against corrupt solders who crossed the line by trying to send a child into a war. Never mind how polite, unassuming, law-abiding or honorable he was. All of Zuko's heroic actions and qualities are instantly forgotten in light of his birth-place. It seemed horribly unjust, even for a case of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. That's exactly what real prejudice is.
There are a couple mentions on this site about how plum stupid it is for Zuko to have a My Name Is Inigo Montoya moment, given the hatred the people in that episode have for the Fire Nation. But put that moment in context with Zuko for the rest of the season: just setting Appa free instead of using him to capture Aang is in so much conflict with his normal self that he spends a whole episode in an Angst Coma, he uses the Blue Spirit around Ba Sing Se as noted above, he can't bend lightning in "Bitter Work"... Zuko in season two still at a core level wants to be accepted by his father and taken back into the Fire Nation fold, and sees that as the only way to regain his honor, so it makes perfect sense for him to declare his Fire Nation heritage at what he sees as a Crowning Moment of Awesome— and this foreshadows his inability to Heel-Face Turn at the end of the season.
Alternately, of course Zuko declared his name when he saved the villagers. He just did something worth being praised and honored for. He wanted recognition that he'd done something righteous and just and correct - and the villagers' rejection of Zuko served to highlight to Zuko just how badly the Fire Nation was ruining the Earth Kingdom, that they would hate him in spite of doing something so good for them. Remember how Iroh told Zuko that pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source? That slap in the face was what Zuko needed to realize that one should do the right thing not to achieve fame and praise, but simply because it is the right thing, and doing it is its own reward.
It's also important because it highlights (along with the rest of the episode) just how terrified everyone is of the Fire Nation and the war, especially because of Sozin's rationale (given later in "The Avatar And The Firelord") that the war, or rather the occupation, would enrich and improve the other nations. Zuko remembers to throw this in Ozai's face during his defection.
In the flashbacks, Ozai makes a grab for the throne immediately after learning that Lu Ten died. At first glance, this seems doomed to end badly, but that meeting likely went exactly as Ozai planned it. If Azulon agrees to Ozai's request, Ozai gets what he wants. If Azulon flat out refuses, it's not like Iroh is going to take the throne anyway after Lu Ten's death, meaning Azulon will have to name Ozai as heir. Since Azulon ordered Ozai to kill Zuko, Ozai gets a legal opportunity to off his 'worthless' son, and proves his loyalty and worthiness as heir. And then Ursa finds out and interferes and Ozai gets everything he wants, except for the fact he's still stuck with Zuko. And that will resolve itself in a few years.
We know that Azula used to "feed" the turtleducks by throwing rocks at them. This is more than just another mean thing for little Azula to do — abuse of small animals is one of the traditional warning signs of a psychopath. Another one is setting fires. See that doll she didn't like...
Earlier in the episode, Toph took Aang to take a stance... and stop a huge boulder she set rolling down the hill towards him. Of course, he does the thing any sane person would do, and jump out of the way. Later in the show, seconds before he learns to earthbend, he defends Sokka by airbending a huge beast out of the way. He was using an earthbending stance, and that the situation was almost exactly the same: He stood his ground against a seemingly unstoppable force, and used an earthbending stance to stop it. And, in further Fridge Brilliance, he uses airbending to make the unstoppable force be unstoppable somewhere else - reinforcing that the true strength of the Avatar, as Iroh points out, is the ability to take abilities, tactics, and philosophies from all four nations and apply them in whatever combination suits the situation.
Iroh also devises a firebending ability using a waterbending stance to redirect lightning, the ultimate form of firebending.
Iroh teaches Zuko about the four elements and how they operate in balance, and how different approaches to different bending arts can be implemented. Zuko comments that "all this four elements talk sounds like Avatar stuff." While Iroh's explanation on how the four elements and the four nations operate in harmony makes sense, it becomes even more relevant in hindsight when it is revealed in "The Avatar and the Firelord" that Zuko is the descendant of Avatar Roku and Iroh tells him he has the power to bring balance to the world - which leads ultimately to Zuko's final turn to the good guys. Even in the middle of the second season, they were already laying the groundwork for the revelation of Zuko's ancestry.
Iroh tells Zuko that lightning-bending is fueled by the separation and recombination of positive and negative chi. This is similar to the way lightning actually works: by separating negatively charged electrons and positively charged cations, and then allowing the former to violently seek out the latter.
Why does the Knowledge Seeker help Sokka get information on stopping the Fire Nation, even though it knows that they plan using it for warfare? Well, for one thing, it's implied that Wan Shi Tong doesn't leave his library, and only sends the foxes out to get new information. He's only seen humanity as the Fire Nation, destructive, cruel, and thoughtless. The Knowledge Seekers, constantly being outside and seeing the destruction the Fire Nation is causing to the rest of the world firsthand, have a better grasp of the situation, and understand that Team Avatar is looking to minimize the destruction rather then intensify it. Thus, they're more reasonable towards them and actively help get the info they need, even if it's going to be used for pragmatic means.
In Western folklore, owls are associated with wisdom and arcane knowledge. In Eastern folklore, owls are associated with fear, nighttime horrors, and death. Wan Shi Tong, the demonic owl librarian, is both.
The cactus juice that Sokka drinks makes him hallucinate, because the cactus contains mescaline.
Why did Jet want to recruit and assist Zuko? Not just to help Zuko, but also because Jet finds he somewhat identifies with him. He makes a remark about Zuko's scar, inferring that Zuko was a victim of a firebender (which was true) and related to his situation.
When the slurry starts to pour out, but before the drill is broken, Azula and Aang both loose their grip and start to slide off the edge of the drill. While Azula struggles and eventually stops herself, it's a long climb back up. When Aang is falling, Momo helps him on his feet. In other words, Aang is helped up by a friend while Azula takes a harder, solo route.
Team Avatar quickly realizes that the drill is impenetrable from the outside, so they have to sabotage it from the inside. And this comes back: after Team Azula fails to penetrate the defense of Ba Sing Se from the ouside, they sabotage it from the inside.
City of Walls and Secrets
Aang at one point says he doesn't like Ba Sing Se, because they don't live how the monks taught him people are supposed to live (contrast the slum Zuko and Iroh were living in and the wealthy neighborhood the Gaang was staying in, complete with state appointed "helpers"). You could almost say Ba Sing Se has a caste system in place. The Airbenders appear to be heavily based off of Buddhist monks, and one thing which separated Buddhism from the Hindu beliefs its founder originally had was a rejection of the caste system.
During the Ba Sing Se arc Zuko get's quite a few scenes with the character Jet. During that time Zuko was going under the name Lee or Li. And who does he end up fighting? Jet. Jet and Li. Jet Li.
Tales of Ba Sing Se
After Zuko lights those candles for Jin, it seems like Zuko was incredibly stupid for doing that, and she was even stupider for not realizing he was a firebender. But it's possible Jin DID know he was a firebender, she was just acting coy and clueless because she thought he didn't want her to know. Why was she not scared? Why, because there IS no war in Ba Sing Se! Though since Zuko didn't know that he was still stupid for firebending in front of her, "close your eyes" or no.
Jet and Katara's storyline foreshadows and parallels Zuko and Katara's storyline in Season 3. Jet and Zuko both set off on a quest of honour and do what they think is best for themselves/their people, even if it's detrimental to other people. They each end up earning Katara's trust, betraying it and then coming back for a second round. The only difference is that when both are mortally wounded, Jet dies, and Zuko lives. Why? Because even after promising to start a new life in Ba Sing Se, Jet couldn't let go of his old obsession with the Fire Nation, while Zuko gave up everything to embrace his new life with the Gaang and makes up for past wrongs.
Iroh's speeches to Zuko after his Angst Coma are channeling the Vorlons and Shadows. ("Who are you? What do you want?") It doesn't end there, of course; his insistence that Zuko find "his own path" mirrors Sheridan and Delenn's epic speech to the First Ones ("find our own path between order and chaos").
In China the word laogai is used to refer to prison for political dissidents, where they attempt to reform them. This is exactly what the Dai Li is doing in the facility under Lake Laogai.
The Earth King
Toph brought down the house.
The Guru believed Aang had to give up his worldly attachments to access his final chakra and the Avatar State. The past Avatars, most blatantly Yangchen, believe Aang should permanently ground himself for the good of the world. The Lion Turtle helps Aang find the medium between the extremes: "The True Mind can weather all lies and illusions without being lost. The True Heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed."
The Guru was, in a way, right. In a bit inspired by Star Wars's own Fridge Brilliance entry, what Aang really needed wasn't to sacrifice his connection to Katara, but to be prepared to subordinate it to his duty as the Avatar, exactly the way Kuruk didn't. When, as in the finale, he has to split the party, or when Katara is in danger, he has to know what his priorities are. (It would help if he realized that, as an extremely powerful bender, she can handle herself a lot better than he tended to think.)
At first the combination of the last airbender avatar telling Aang that he cannot distance himself from the world seemed like it went directly against what Guru Pathik said, since the Guru told him to let go of his worldly attachments. Then it became clear: the Avatar is about balance, not just between the elements but also between the spirit world and the physical world. Aang cannot detach himself from the world, but he has to know when to let go.
Furthermore: Roku's trip through time in "The Avatar and the Firelord" shows that being the Avatar didn't exactly hurt his chances in love, yet he was able to control the Avatar State perfectly to the point of accessing it at bursts. At first this would make it appear that Pathik was talking out of his ass when he said Aang needed to let go of Katara. However, looking back at said Avatar State bursts, they were Roku's most powerful, decisive striking moments in the entire flashback. He neither looked nor acted the part of a man who was distracted by romance, bitterness, belongings, or anything else, but rather one who was fully focused on the task at hand, with nothing else in mind. Roku didn't disprove anything Pathik said, nor was the Guru just kinda right; his story was in fact the first sign of just how on the money Pathik truly was the entire time.
Toph inventing Metalbending, a form of bending no one in the world could do before, in matter of minutes seems impossible, right? Well, what's her family insignia? A flying pig◊. Er, boar rather.
During the war-games Katara attends, in preparation for the Day of Black Sun, Momo jumps onto the board and knocks over all the Earth Kingdom pieces. It seems like a bit of subtle foreshadowing, given the results of that invasion.
It might seem dissapointing that the writers had spent an entire season setting up this beautiful redemption story, only to get cold feet and default back to black-and-white, heroes and villains kiddie fare. However, what would it prove if he switched sides at that point? As far as he knew at the time, he had nothing to lose. It wouldn't have been a personal sacrifice. But after going home and being hailed a hero and praised by his father, he knew exactly what he was choosing between, making his eventual genuine Heel-Face Turn that much more meaningful.
If Zuko and Iroh had joined the Avatar and his friends, they would have defeated Azula, taught Aang Firebending, and invaded the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun with the full might of Ba Sing Se on their side, thus ending the war. Such a scenario could probably play out in about the length of a movie. Since they were planning another whole season, they had to have Zuko join Azula and betray Iroh just to draw things out.
Zuko's redemption at that point is what truly would have made for kiddie fare. His choice showed him to be a truly complex character with truly complex motivations, not one who makes decisions based on fiction conventions. Throughout season 3 he's unsettled but has trouble reasoning out exactly why; that's because real people don't think along the lines of "I'm bad and I should be good."
Moreover, the failed Heel-Face Turn of season 2 was perfectly in character for that Zuko. He may have shown character development to the point that he is now somewhat of a good guy, but he's still obsessed with the redemption of his honor and returning home. Remember how he used the Blue Spirit mask when he was stealing? That was because he was afraid of his name being tarnished even further. So when Azula offered him a chance for the redemption that he had been seeking for years, he had to take it.
Along with the reasons mentioned above, there is another that becomes apparent after watching season 3. Zuko has spent his whole life trying to be what his father wants him to be. At the end of season 2 he has all but let go of his father and the fire nation. Does he then become his own person? No! He immediatly latches onto Iroh and tries to become what he thinks Iroh wants him to be. Compare his behaviour at the end of season 2 to his behaviour at the end of season 3. In the latter he is a slightly friendlier version of the Zuko we have become familiar with, but at the end of season 2 he is almost unrecognisable, he reacts to everything with a sort of bland optimism, with a forced smile constantly plastered on his face. Any decision to join the Gaang at this point would have been empty because he would only be doing what he thought Iroh wanted. In Season 3 Zuko has been removed from Iroh's influence, making his turn all the more meaningful. As Iroh tell him in the series final "You lost your way, but you found it again. And you did it all on your own."
Adding to that, think of who was the most important person in Zuko's life prior to Iroh. His mother. Her last words to him were: "No matter how much things may change, never forget who you are." This is why Zuko obsesses over regaining his honor. He is really trying to regain his identity as the Fire Nation prince. It isn't until season 3 that he realizes that the prince his father wants him to be is not who he truly is and what his mother really meant was to not let his father (or anyone else) change him into someone he wasn't. When he discovers that what he truly believes is that his father is a tyrant and needs to be stopped, his decision to join Aang is clear.
Prior to then, we only see Ozai in Zuko's flashbacks. Given his relationship to his father, it would make sense that he would imagine him as a distant and intimidating figure, beyond the reality of the man.
Ozai, like Azula, is obsessed with perfection. Given that, it would make sense for him to keep his appearance strong and attractive so that he can be the epitome of his own ideals.
Having some kind of disfiguration on Ozai to symbolize his evil is unnecessary. We've had such a symbol from day 1, not on his own face, but on Zuko's. Ozai's evil is symbolized on his son far better than it could be by any flaw in his own appearance. Throughout the series, Zuko is really the strongest evidence for why you should despise and fear Ozai, and most of Ozai's characterization is secondhand through his effect on other people. Having an arch villain that wants to take over the world is standard, but seeing the damage he did to his own kid (psychological as well as physical) makes him a lot scarier than any genocide plot could have.
The "Avatar Extras" mention that Ozai was designed to look like an older Zuko— which explains why he's so pretty— and also makes a lot of sense; Ozai and Ursa (descended from Sozin and Roku, the two sides of the Fire Nation "at war in Zuko") are the extreme "what ifs" for future Zuko, not only in temperament but reflected in their looks.
It's the Bishonen Line. He's the boss because he's the prettiest.
Ozai looks like Zuko, grown up and beautiful, without the scar. Of course his appearance is surprising and shocking. He is what his son could have looked like, but also like what his son NEVER COULD LOOK LIKE. His reveal truly shows how dark of a man he is.
The above makes even more sense when one considers the importance that Ozai places on physical appearance, given his obsession with perfection in all its forms. (This is further reflected in Azula's first appearance, where she is angered that a single hair fell out of place despite the perfection of her form.) This also reveals the lie behind Ozai sending Zuko to find the Avatar: Zuko will never recover from his scar, and so will NEVER meet Ozai's definition of perfection, no matter what he does for the rest of his life. Note that it was only after Zuko was again confronted with Ozai's physical perfection that he realized that Ozai would never restore his honor, and that he had to look within himself (or, literally, beneath the surface, beyond mere physical appearances) to restore his own honor.
One character mentions that people in the Fire Nation don't dance. At the end of the series,Zuko beats Azula using a breakdancing move. That is some subtle Foreshadowing.
Even more subtle that it demonstrates how foreshadows the original form of Firebending, the Dragon's Dance taught by the Sun Warriors. The corrupt form of Firebending is a reflection how the Fire Nation culture disregarded the very roots of their civilization and the appreciation of their element's place in the world. Without that connection, without dancing, the Fire Nation upset the balance.
It would also explain WHY they outlawed dancing. They needed to keep public opinion in favor of the war, and a part of that is making sure everyone stays on the Sozin brand dark-side firebending. But if kids danced, they might accidentally stumble on this other aspect of firebending, and then you'd have a bunch of firebending hippies protesting the war.
At the end of the episode Piandao gave Sokka a White Lotus tile, on two levels it shows that Piandao is a member and that Sokka became an initiate. Taking it one step further: If Sokka is an initiate to the White Lotus, then that means that not only is Piandao the titular master, but so is Iroh. And who else did that episode focus on?
The episode's title can be taken another way: Sokka's Master = Sokka Is Master. He did complete his training, after all.
The Beach, while it had some bits of deeper stuff, seemed to be mostly a Breather Episode. But after the finale, it shows that Azula's awkwardness and desperate behavior was hinting at her deeper emotional problems. In retrospect it's rather disturbing to see her making strained attempts at being "normal". Additionally, at the end, the others each have a sort of a breakthrough but not her. And at the end... They've all Heel Face Turned, but not her.
She makes light of her past ("My own mother thought I was a monster! She was right, of course...") and dismisses it as unimportant, but in the end, that's how her Villainous Breakdown manifests, as a hallucination of Ursa.
Even better than that, Azula downplays her own issues in response to everyone else agreeing on how perfect her life is. They all dismiss her as not understanding what it feels like to struggle before she ever does it to herself (not that she would have admitted to it anyway). In hindsight, Zuko, Mai, and Ty Lee were all relatively well-adjusted. Azula was the one who was about two steps away from a mental breakdown.
Apart from that, her failed attempts at flirting, and the way she lashes out at Ty Lee when she can't get it right make a lot more sense, after The Search revealed just how insecure she is about her (mistaken) belief that she's impossible to love. Granted she may not have been as insecure about it at the time, considering this episode came before Mai and Ty Lee's betrayal, Zuko's Heel-Face Turn, and the revelation that Ozai was only using her, but judging by how she mentions that her mother thought she was a monster, the underlying issue was definitely there already.
Yhe guards in the town used a wooden cell on Toph. Considering it was a Fire Nation jail, anyone they threw in there might be able to just burn their way out. The town's guards, through investigating Toph's scams, figured out that she was an earthbender. Thus, they knew what cell to use, especially after Spark Sparky Boom Man showed up to help set the trap. Also, it only makes sense that a Fire Nation jail would have a cell specially designed to contain an earthbender, considering they're at war with the Earth Kingdoms and thus they might have to worry about earthbending agents.
The fire lilies are real-world world flowers. In Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers, the fire-lily symbolises hatred and revenge.
Nightmares and Daydreams
During the second half of the episode dealing with Zuko, he's upset about not being invited to the upcoming war meeting Ozai is having with his generals, and eventually confronts Azula about it, asking if she was invited. She responds with a yes, and responds that she was the Princess. This makes perfect sense. As the Princess (as a woman), and second born, she isn't expected to show up, and has to be invited, as protocol. Zuko however, has no reason to be invited, as he's the first born child, the Crown Prince. he's expected to be there by default as he's technically the heir to the throne already. The entire reasoning for Zuko getting upset was that he was made unaware that he doesn't have to be invited to these sorts of things, he's expected to show up regardless. Which is the kind of thing that Iroh would have been able to tell him if he wasn't in prison. And it is in fact what Azula told him, but in a way she knew would leave him confused and upset.
Aang's nightmares might not all be stress-induced. The Avatar gets visions about the future, and Aang was currently headed into a premature battle that was destined to fail. The dreams were trying to tell him not to go ahead with it.
The Day of Black Sun, part 2
During the chase scene, Azula was going towards the Fire Lord's chamber, so that when Aang and crew realized that she was leading them on a wild goose chase, they would go in another direction anyway. Made even more brilliant by her quote to Sokka, Toph and Aang when they decided to ignore her.
Azula: It's a trap.
Also, may double as a little bit of Fridge Horror too, but think about what could have happened if they'd ended up following Azula all the way to Ozai. Azula had wasted enough time that, by the time they would have gotten to Ozai, he'd have his firebending back. Therefore, he could have beaten the Gaang right then and there.
The details of Iroh's escape are left somewhat ambiguous, but the scorch marks indicate he began his escape before the eclipse began. There is also a large, gaping hole in the bars of the cage. How did Iroh get out of prison? Probably the same way he got into Ba Sing Se a month later. His prison time wasn't just conditioning his body to be ready for the comet. He was also devising a strategy, and his breakout provided the perfect opportunity to test that plan. If he can breach a prison door without a comet and in the face of an oncoming solar eclipse, taking out Ba Sing Se's inner wall with the help of the comet is easy.
The Boiling Rock, part 1
Somehow, Sokka managed to sneak past all his friends in order to run off and save his dad from the Boiling Rock. Most of the Gaang aren't exactly known for their powers of observation, but Toph should have been woken up by someone walking around in the middle of the night. Problem? Actually, no—the creators snuck in some brilliance by drawing Toph propped up on her bundled-up bedding in such a way that she's more sitting than laying, and her feet are off the ground. Further brilliance comes into play when you realize that Toph probably sleeps like that as much as she can to avoid seeing all kinds of distractions—she can't just close her eyes the way everyone else can.
The Southern Raiders
Katara's quest in the episode fits the pattern of the honor quest Zuko, Aang, and Sokka had. Avatar follows the old concept of honor, not as some ambiguous, positive virtue like it is to us but a tangible possession that could be lost or taken away. This is obviously what happened to Zuko in the flashback in "The Storm." The Fire Lord stripped him of his honor, which would be restored to him when he brought back the Avatar. As a result of Sokka losing his honor when he lost the battle on the day of Black Sun, he had to restore it by rescuing his father. I knew this! So why didn't I see that Katara (appropriately) felt the murder of her mother was a blot to her honor and she had to restore it by avenging herself on the killer?! This is where the concept of the "blood price" comes from — someone who killed someone else would pay the victim's family a monetary "blood price" to make up for the loss. And, if someone didn't pay, a hero would be justified in killing whoever killed his wife or sister or whoever. The blood price is apparently not a foreign idea to Katara, or Yon Rha when he suggests "you take my mother" instead.
More than Honor, it's Pride, Zuko, the weak son of a warrior society, needs to take a life, Sokka, the genius, needs to validate his strategems, and Katara, the maternalcharacter was unable to protect someone. They were all humiliated and need to get their mojo back.
Toph doesn't need a real 'life-changing excursion with Zuko' because she's quite comfortable and confident in who she is and what she can do. While just to round it out, Aang's quest with Zuko is mainly for him to not only learn to get along with Zuko, but to overcome his distrust of and hate for Firebenders in general, and to realise he needs to save the Fire Nation as well.
The Fire Nation had had a policy of capturing and imprisoning the waterbenders, which was clearly what Kaya expected to happen. However, after the horrifying way Hama broke out, capturing the waterbenders would seem like much more of a bad idea.
The fact that Katara was willing to use bloodbending halfway through on the man she believed (in error) was her mother's killer, compared to her sparing the real killer by the end is an excellent indication of how much character growth she went through in that single episode.
The Ember Island Players
Kataang is foreshadowed in Ember Island Players, in that one could say that the situations are reversed. Actress!Katara is attracted to Actor!Zuko, saying that Actress!Aang is like a brother to her. At the start of the play, Katara teases Zuko about his character and he response with annoyance and bewilderment. The whole exchange is rather reminiscent of siblings teasing each other.
Also foreshadowed (or middleshadowed/is just ordinary Fridge Brilliance, since the process started in The Boiling Rock pt 2) in Ember Island Players was how Azula would go completely insane. Look at Player!Azula's facial expressions at the climax of the play; they're the same exaggerated ones that Real!Azula has has during her breakdown during the climax of the show. Also, at one point, (I think it's when she says "you are no longer my brother") she makes an face that's very similar to Real!Azula's expression when she says: "No! You miscalculated! You should have feared me more!", the line that marked the beginning of her breakdown. Quite an Accidentally Accurate play...
There are several possible reasons why Zhao was left out of the Ember Island Play.
It's a case of fridge Irony, since what Zhao wanted the most was to be remembered in the history books. Looks like Zhao wasn't even remembered enough to be written into the play.
The playwright just didn't see him as that important. The more characters you have, the more hard your play is to put on, so a lot of playwrights merge characters together to save on things. The playwright of The Boy in the Iceberg saw Zhao as basically an extra Zuko, and so merged Zhao's role into Zuko's, creating the funny moment when the Blue Spirit takes Aang from Zuko, even though in reality the Blue Spirit is Zuko.
The play is propaganda. What Zhao did, while somewhat awesome, was very stupid, and resulted in a quick curbstomp of the fire navy. And, given the amount of ships seen, that was probably a good chunk of the Fire Nation's naval forces lost in one go. That, combined with the inherent stupidity of killing the moon, meant that either Ozai or his minister of propaganda (or both) felt that what Zhao did was so stupid/embarrassing that it warranted being erased from history, and indirectly interfered to wipe Zhao's role out of a lot of things, like the play.
Zhao killed the moon spirit and nearly destroyed the world. In the deeply spiritual world of Avatar, he committed a very heinous crime, akin to heresy, especially since he harmed a vital and non-malicious spirit for his own personal glory, killed the Water Tribe princess and, once again, nearly destroyed the world. Everyone pretty much agreed to erase Zhao and what he did from history, which would explain why Tenzin, Kya and Bumi don't recognize or guess who he is when they meet him in the Fog of Lost Souls; remember, Aang is from a deeply spiritual nation and he was forced into the Avatar State and killed thousands (nevermind the fact his best friend lost his girlfriend) because of what Zhao did. Zhao pressed all his Berserk Buttons and got himself killed before Aang could get even, so Aang decided to erase the Glory Seeker from history out of spite.
The exaggerated personalities of the characters in the play were based on the usual Flanderization of the characters in fanfiction, but in context, the playwrights could have easily asked Ozai and Azula for information on the Gaang (especially since Azula has fought against them personally). However, the play is Fire Nation propaganda. Of course they are going to make the Gaang look as harmless as possible! It's also a moment of Fridge Brilliance to the Gaang as well, since even the ones who were enjoying the play realize its intention when it depicts Zuko and Aang being brutally killed. They are, of course, horrified.
Why does Zuko look so shocked at the end of the Ember Island Players' show? He's never been shown to be nervous about dying before—he just keeps fighting not to die, even sacrificing himself without question. It's not his death that has him worried, it's the audience's reation. Everyone in the theater cheers at Zuko's death, even though it isn't even the end of that scene. These are the people he has to rule when he inherits the throne! He's not afraid of dying, it's the thought of being hated by the people he's supposed to protect that leads to his shocked reaction.
Zutara being portrayed in the play may have an explanation other then "The creators wanted to troll the fans": Aang was played by a woman in the performance, and his and Katara's respective actresses may have been unwilling to act out a romance scene. So of course they made Zuko Katara's love interest. He's the only male main character beside Aang (who can't be the love interest for the reason above) and Sokka. And what was the EI Ps' other play? "Love Among the Dragons". They have an affinity for (badlywritten) love stories.
Remember how Toph was portrayed as a huge, muscular man? The creator of the play got all the information secondhand, and it's quite plausible that people said she was a big guy, so as not to admit that they got beaten up by a "littlehelplessblindgirl".
The play ends with a Fire Nation victory, despite the fact that it's written by a playwright from the Earth Kingdom. Why would this be? If he wrote it with Aang winning, then the play would likely not be permitted to be seen in the Fire Nation, and there's also the possibility of him being executed for rebelling in such a way. By ending it with a Fire Nation victory, he's essentially sucking up to the Fire Nation! Obviously, the real world has plenty of examples of authors having to comply with censorship to even see their works published, even if it meant ruining their original intent. This instance has an amusing parallel in Mikhail Bulgakov's play The Purple Island. The play shows the rehearsal of a fictional play which is about to get banned by Soviet censorship, but the author saves it at the last minute by tacking on a cheesy ending where the local Communist-stand-in tribe successfully organizes a world revolution.
Sozin's Comet, part 1
When Aang shows reluctance about killing Ozai, Zuko gets pretty angry. This is less about doing what is necessary and more about the fact that Zuko knows firsthand what will happen if Aang hesitates. He was the same age as Aang when he faced his father in Agni Kai. He doesn't want his friend to get burned.
The "Roar like a Dilo-lion" move could actually form the Fire Nation symbol if the two fists of fire rebounded off the ground just right.
Sozin's Comet, part 2
Remember when Azula told Ozai all about how Zuko killed the Avatar just in case he was still alive, then Zuko outright exposed that lie on the Day of Black Sun? Many people believe that Ozai casting Azula out of the "burn everything to the ground" plan, tasked her to protecting the homeland as Fire Lord instead, then openly declared himself the Phoenix King right in front of her, was a punishment for this. This is true, but at the same time maybe that wasn't all there was to it. Let's not completely dismiss the fact that Ozai not only bothered to placate her, but did so by verbally emphasizing the importance of the role he was giving her. Also, Ozai, not only as Azula's father but as the head of a militaristic propaganda state, had to have known about the betrayal of Mai and Ty Lee stopping her from killing Zuko along with several friends and members of the Gaang. It wasn't just a punishment; it was a Secret Test of Character. Could she recover from her recent disappointments, both deception and failure? Could she effectively lead the fortification and defense of the Fire Nation both as a warrior and as a commander? Was she strong enough both physically and mentally to truly be a worthy part of his dynasty? The Social Darwinist that he is, it just makes sense. And the answer was no.
When Aang is talking to his past lives while on the Lion Turtle, he is distraught that they keep telling him to kill the Fire Lord. But they didn't! Not a one. They gave advice like "Be descisive", "Be attentive", "Bring justice". But they never said "The only way is to kill the Fire Lord". Aang was too confused to notice that. Aang actually applies the advice of all his past lives ... just not in the way they intended. Even though they never explicitly direct him to kill, that is their obvious implication. Nevertheless, what Aang actually does IS decisive, it DOES bring justice, it IS an active means of shaping his own destiny, and it IS a sacrifice of his own spiritual welbeing for the greater good. It simply doesn't involve mortal violence.
Iroh taking Zuko back into his arms and even accepting him as suitable for the Fire Lord, despite the fact that Zuko betrayed Iroh personally at the end of season 2 can look a bit unrealistic, perhaps even Easily Forgiven territory. However, Iroh has certainly had time enough to think on the matter and realise that, ultimately, Zuko did exactly what Iroh told him to do under Lake Laogai. Iroh's lecture was for Zuko to find his own path, rather than to let others tell him how to live his life... ironically, Iroh was telling Zuko how he should live his life, trying to force Zuko into the quiet, hidden, refugee teashop worker existence of "Mushi's" nephew/surrogate son. As painful as it was for Zuko to betray Iroh the way he did, it ultimately was for the best, as it was an act by Zuko to choose his own path in life (plus, he then went on to realise that he should turn against Ozai on his own accord, which certainly helped redeem him).
When talking about killing Ozai, Zuko refers to him as the Firelord and deliberately distances himself. His amusing slip up (calling Ozai the 'Fatherlord') suddenly becomes a Tear Jerker.
The episode's name, "The Old Masters", initially seems to refer to the revelation of the White Lotus society and how all those Old Masters knew each other and would form the backbone for the resistance against the fire lord. But it also refers to the past Avatars that Aang seeks for advice while on the Lion Turtle. He needed the wisdom of the Oldest Masters he knew. But the true moment of Fridge Brilliance comes with realizing that the Lion Turtle is in fact THE Oldest of all Masters and that only his advice and teachings are what truly set Aang on the path of defeating Ozai without compromising his ideals. In a season two episode of Legend Of Korra, it has been shown that the Lion Turtles are in fact the ORIGINAL Masters who first gave humans the ability to bend elements.
Sozin's Comet, part 3
It's hard to deny just how poetically appropriate Azula's breakdown truly is - she is someone who has been taught to use fear as a weapon. It has what kept her feeling secure during her whole life. When Ty Lee and Mai turned on her, her sense of security vanished. Eventually, she is consumed by paranoia. She has been psychologically hoisted by her own petard.
Azula's world rested on pillars. That she would always be the best warrior, especially over Zuko, that she had friendship in which she was the dominant one, and that her father loved her for how much like him she was. It was not the breakdown itself that was rapid, it was the pulling away of the pillars. In short order Zuko and Aang's group moved up to within striking distance of her, her captive friends said no we're not friends and turned, and she found out, as Zuko had, then Ozai's only love is for himself. With all that gone, the master warrior and strategist became just a teenage girl with no one who loved her. Remember, up until the finale, she had never suffered the kind of definitive defeat our heroes took as their stock-in-trade.
Zuko realized Azula was going to attack Katara(basically forfeiting the Agni Kai), and jumped in front of the lightning. However, he could've just as easily let Katara get hit, and taken advantage of the opening. In fact, as far as he knows, it's the best tactical decision. He is, after all, ostensibly the person best equipped to fight her. Not only did he sacrifice himself to save his friend, he also trusted Katara to save them both.
Zuko was trying to goad Azula into using the lightning on him deliberately. He may have intended on winning the duel by redirecting her own lightning back at her, since he knows that defending against lightning is the one thing he can do that she cannot. So he may have been also motivated by a sense of personal responsibility when he realized that he had miscalculated and Azula was aiming at someone else.
It's interesting how that's been foreshadowed for seasons, Azula is constantly looking off to the side when about to attack and usually it's to find a distracted person to aim at, she does it at least twice in S2. Once, to take out Iroh who would have been the only one in the group who could have stopped her from escaping.
Toph managed to stick to the metal ceiling Spiderman-style when she donned the Instant Armor? Magnetism. Greatest earthbender in the world, indeed. It's likely she got the idea in the desert. Remember the big vulture-wasp hive? Hematite.
In the Grand Finale, Azula is ranting at the mirror that "trust is for fools. Fear is the only reliable way". Azula, who believes in fear, is bested by Katara, who had accompanied the Firelord's son, and a former hated enemy, to the Firebender infested capital of the Fire Nation all alone. Trust in your friends won the day.
All through the show, Sokka has had to struggle with being solitary in a culture that values togetherness and community. But he still has that Water Tribe background that one's family is everything, the pack always hunts together. So of course, on the day of the comet, he would figure out at once how to take down the fleet, because he knows how quickly a group can fall apart when one member breaks away.
Right before Azula's breakdown begins, Sozin's Comet enters the sky and begins to augment firebending, and Azula's breakdown is complete before it ends. Given that the kind of Firebending Azula employs corrupts its wielder, is it possible that this effect was augmented by the comet right alongside Firebending?
By the end of Book 3 Zuko probably had the advantage on Azula in a one-on-one combat: Azula may be more skilled, but Zuko is physically stronger and faster and has more stamina and combat experience, and Azula's hotter blue flame become a liability when you consider that they exhaust her faster and Zuko not only has more stamina but has mastered a form that wastes as little movements as possible, thus increasing his advantage. By the time Zuko learned the Dragon dance, the only reason he still considered Azula a danger was was her ability to plan ahead and outsmart her foes... That she had lost in her Villainous Breakdown. At which point he proceeded to mop the floor with her.
Azula tells Zuko to stop acting like a paranoid child, while getting the spa treatment for the war meeting. Then when she has her spa session before her coronation...the boomerang comes back for her.
At first Ty Lee joining the Kyoshi warriors seems an odd bit of Pair the Spares (so to speak)... but for a girl whose neuroses all stem from how she spent her life seeking attention and individual acclaim to distinguish herself from her identical sisters, that she has found happiness as part of a team whose members all dress and act alike shows great personal growth. At the same time, it's not as though she had to subordinate her uniqueness to the group in order to get her happy ending. They let her join because she had an unusual skill that she was willing to teach the rest of them, and teaching is a leadership role. For once she was able to be a trendsetter rather than a follower, and that's how she was able to reconcile her desire to stand out with her psychological need to overcome that neurosis.
Aang being shot in the back as Katara watched almost completely mirrored Zuko's near-death experience. So, it was because Katara saw Zuko get shot that she came to love Aang: she was able to compare the two occurences and realize that her feelings of losing Aang were stronger than if the same exact thing happened to any of her other friends, such as Zuko.
It's really intriguing that Katara ended up with Zuko in his final showdown, away from Aang, Toph, Sokka and Suki. It may have partly been because, Katara is "the mother" of the group and while she was needed to help restrain Azula in the end and to also give some sort of "weakness" for Azula to aim at (which was foreshadowed repeatedly in the series, Azula looking away and then hitting a target) it's also because she really represents everything Azula isn't.
Further Fridge Brilliance stemming from the above: Katara is absolutely the Team Mom, and the only other member of the Gaang present at the royal siblings' Final Battle. Who is the most signifigant person in Zuko and Azula's lives? Ursa.
Katara being at the fight also helped Azula's final breakdown. After Katara tied up Azula and healed Zuko they had a sweet moment together that showed they grew as friends and could trust each other. Who was watching this? The same girl who’s friends betrayed her, basically felt abandoned by her mother and father, and had no other person she could trust or rely on. Azula sobbing uncontrollably was not only her insanity but extreme depression and loneliness from watching the friendship she wished she had.
What's more is that Katara appears to be Azula's Good Counterpart: motherly, but in a caring, gentle way as opposed to a manipulative, controlling way, holds the team together with love and trust, not fear, the naturally talented bender in a sibling pair. Azula trying hitting her can be seen as a metaphor for Azula killing (so to speak) any chance of a normal life with friends or even people genuinely who care about her- she has no one left on her side so she attacks the girl with tons of loyal, supportive friends. And once again, Zuko got in her way; he got mommy's love, a dependable father figure, and friends who actually like him- things Azula desperately wants but can't have- and Zuko is the one who stops her attack.
There's also the sibling angle to consider; throughout the series we've seen that even though Katara and Sokka can drive each other up the wall they still love and care for each other. By contrast ever since they were kids Zuko and Azula have been at odds and never really got along, culminating in their Agni Kai in the finale. Katara's presence seems superfluous until you realize what the writers are doing: they're comparing the two sibling pairs. When Azula is chained to the grate at the end, sobbing and screaming, and Katara and Zuko are watching her silently, you know that both of them are thinking about the other's sibling (Zuko-Sokka, Katara-Azula) and wondering how their relationship with their own could have turned out differently.
Speaking of which, Zuko betrayed the Gaang in Ba Sing Se but he goes back to them they accepted him...eventually. Afterwards Azula is betrayed by her friends and they don't come back to her. They're opposites in every way.
Aang killing the Firelord in the wrong way (basically any way that would have made Ozai the least bit of a martyr in the eyes of anyone in the Fire Nation who sympathized with him) would not have helped the world, but instead trigger a civil war within the Fire Nation, creating even more chaos and suffering in the world. So discrediting Ozai's warmongering by defeating him, neutralizing him and sparing his life may in fact have been the only way for the Avatar to restore the balance of the world.
Azula's dismissive reaction to the position of Fire Lord makes perfect sense. With Ozai declaring himself the Phoenix King, it has become nothing more than an empty title. She doesn't care about becoming Fire Lord anymore because it doesn't matter. And the outcome of the Agni Kai in itself didn't matter (at least not to her). Whichever of them won, Ozai was still in a position of power over them. Azula might have been coming apart at the seams, but she hadn't completely lost her senses. On top of that, agreeing to the Agni Kai was a good strategic move on her part. This way, she could try to take both opponents out one at a time instead of both at once (though in her normal, collected state, that might have been unnecessary).
The symbolism of Aang using waterbending, rather than another discipline, to put out the fires during the finale. He uses a gigantic version of Katara's "push and pull" cantrip - and the very first bending in the entire series (opening titles exempted) was Katara practicing the same move to pass the time while fishing.
Some fans feel the whole Energybending thing was a huge Ass Pull, but perhaps they were subtly foreshadowing it. First of all, Aang has to master all four elements to take down Ozai despite the fact that (though Ozai is more powerful), Aang was able to take on Zuko with only Airbending before he started to master the other elements. Iroh also mentions to Zuko much later that all four elements are individual pieces of the same whole. Perhaps Energybending is the reason why an avatar needs to master every element, because, other than the avatar state, that's the true power of an avatar (also, let's face it, the avatar state was just pulsating with energy, so it's possible).
There's also that the show has heavy (South) East Asian and Inuit influences, but Earth, Air, Fire, Water is the typical Western element set, the Japanese set has those four plus Void/Heaven/Spirit. Energybending completes that five element set.
Note that Ty Lee does exactly the same thing earlier in the series, only non-permanently, and with physical force and deft accuracy rather than elemental ability. Aang, too, needed to touch Ozai to Energybend him. Maybe said touch was augmented with really subtle Water/Airbending to make it more or less permanent (And Korra may well have learned this ability from him while in the Avatar State in her season finale, enabling her to later 'cure' it.) Hell, maybe chi-blocking was a lost art, and one of the previous Avatars Aang melded with knew it!
Aang was convinced that he was forced to kill the Firelord. There is an old Buddhist saying that goes "If you see the Buddha (an idea about Nirvana) in the road (the path to Nirvana), kill him (destroy the idea)". In the end, that's exactly what Aang did. He killed the idea of the Firelord.
When confronting Ozai, the Avatars speaking through Aang specifically say that for Ozai's crimes, he will be made to pay "the ultimate penalty". Well, if you think about it, for someone like Ozai, death is not the ultimate penalty, but losing his bending and being made a Soulless Shellis.
All bending disciplines have plenty of Fridge Horror, considering things like how Airbending can induce instant suffocation and Earthbending can bury people alive. And even though Firebending is demonstrated to incinerate anything, there is still the implication that with enough practice a Firebender can create flames anywhere.
You know those funny old monks and cute little kids Aang is playing with in the flashbacks? They all get burned to death shortly afterward.
While it's never directly addressed in the series, the Fire Nation's attack on the Air Temples was entirely for the purpose of killing a 12 year old child.
You remember how Sozin started that whole dragon hunt game just so Firebenders can boast about how they've killed the original masters of fire? You remember that dragon Sozin was riding on in the flashback episode? The guy probably friggin' killed his loyal steed and decided to make it a national sport.
How horrible Ozai was to BOTH of his children (mostly after Ursa left)? What else had Zuko been through before he got half his face napalmed merely for calling BS on sending good men to their pointless deaths. As for Azula, it's possible that her blind loyalty to her father might include more than a little Stockholm Syndrome? Zuko probably also has some Stockholm Syndrome, considering that he still wanted Ozai's favor.
The inside of Azula's mind is scary when you try to imagine how it must feel to actually BE her. She is possibly the unhappiest and most lonely fourteen-year-old ever animated. Keeping up that ultra-competent facade just to keep Ozai (and Azulon before him) happy must have taken a lot of willpower when you see how quickly she snapped. Zuko at least managed to get better on his own after three seasons of therapy.
Speaking of Ozai, Word of God says that he was at least a decent husband and father during the first few years of his kids' lives. Was it all an act? Or was it a horrible story involving a huge fall due to hunger for power?
Zuko's mom, Ursa, had two kids with Ozai, who's clearly disturbed. That means they had sex at least twice. What do you think fucking a genocidal maniac (who you were forced to marry) would feel like? And considering her reluctance to be with Ozai and that Ozai probably isn't against the idea of forcing her to bear his children, it's even more horrifying.
There are quite a few inheritable psychological disorders which, before setting in, the person seems/is normal, but afterwards... It is possible that the Fire Nation royal family has some mental disorder that runs in their family and, unfortunately, until Zuko, every single one of the Fire Lords since Sozin inherited it. Think about it; Sozin was best friends with Roku, but within a few years, Sozin apparently decided conquering the world was in the world's best interest and refused to listen to his friend (the Avatar's) advice and started a war over it. Azulon ordered his son to kill his own son. Ozai apperentally was at one time a "decent husband and father" but then suddenly decides that killing his son is an acceptable thing (if it gives him power) and when Ursa objects, finds killing his father and banishing his wife a great way to get power, when he probably could have been made heir over Iroh and just waited 5 years tops anyway. This is of course, not touching on everything Ozai does during the series itself (Phoenix King anyone?). The pattern fits very well; the person is normal, and then, within 2 years or less, they suddenly go postal
And the fact that genetic disorders often run strong in royal families because of all the inbreeding. (Like in Hamlet how his madness was considered reasonable because he was the prince and that happens to some of 'em)
Regarding disorders and diagnoses, Azula, at least, displays pretty clear signs of sociopathy/psychopathy: pathological lying ("Azula always lies..."), lack of empathy, easy emotional manipulation of others, inability to feel remorse, and an inflated sense of self-importance. The childhood flashbacks in particular lend weight to this theory; read a few written accounts by parents of sociopathic children, and the confusion and horror Ursa expresses at Azula's cruelty will seem chillingly familiar. It's debated whether sociopathy is inheritable, but a lot of the criteria are present in Ozai as well (although it's usually observable from childhood, so it seems Ozai just had some kind of psychotic break as an adult). It should be noted though, while Azula's behavior in the series falls in line really well with psychopathy, The Search makes it clear that Azula is well aware that she's a monster and believes, as an extension of that, that no one will ever be able to love her. Furthermore, she's shown to be very insecure about her perceived inability to be loved. This is a little out of character for psychopathy, as psychopaths (and narcissists) don't generally believe there is anything wrong with them. That's what makes the condition impossible to treat.
Another underlying factor to the "mental disorder" theory is that Firebending is noted to be fuelled by rage and hate in the Fire Nation as opposed to the "Fire is Life" version of the Sun Warriors. As many of the Royal Family are some of the most powerful Firebenders on the planet, a life time of using such a corrupting power might have pushed a succession of Fire Lords over the edge. Sure when they're young they can still function as human beings, love and show affection to their families and generally are mentally sound despite any inherited tendencies. After enough years of using Firebending to the degree they do, restraint eventually snaps and they give in to the disorders plaguing them. Iroh and Zuko are two of the more mentally sound members of the Royal Family and they both have Sun Warrior training.
Think about it for a second: the whole world wasat warfor a hundred years. Besides all the horrible things that happened in the canon, imagine all the horrors endured off-screen. What if people like Jet, Azula, Hama, and Ozai are more common than we think and they've been doing this for decades?! Imagine how gruesome this show would be without its TV-Y7 rating.
It could always be interpreted to be like the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the intial period of campaigning the Fire Nation/Japan ends up overextended and unable to advance further while The Earth Kingdom/China is too divided and weak to strike back effectively. This makes things a lot worse when you consider what happened during that war...
Now that you mention it, we did see Sozin slowly start taking control of the Earth Kingdom decades before he used to Comet to wipe out the air nomads. It's what his argument with Roku was all about. And I doubt the Earth Kingdom gave up their land willingly. That just adds a fresh new layer of horror.
Bumi is over a hundred years old. Aang at some point would have had to watch his childhood friend die decades before him. Depending on how strong Bumi is, Aang would have either had this happen in his late teens or early thirties.
Aang has done many horrifying and awesome things in the Avatar State, the season one finale where he singlehandedly destroyed the Fire Nation fleet being a prime example. It's the previous Avatars who have control of Aang's body for the duration of the Avatar State. Aang's bonding with the koi fish in the season one finale pushed this further, seeing as it was likely the koi fish did all of the destruction itself and left Aang only mildly aware of his actions before the koi fish exited his body. Aang obviously wasn't in control because as seen in the season two premier, he has nightmares about all of these actions, implying that himself in the Avatar State is completely separate from his normal self and scares the hell out of him. It wasn't horrifying that the Avatars before Aang couldn't control him when he got angry and was close to killing people. It's horrifying that they force him to do it.
In season 3 Aang suddenly mentions his reverence of life and how it's essential to Air Nomad mentality to add drama about how he's going to stop Ozai. Think about a couple of episodes in season 1, specifically The Northern Air Temple and the second part of The Siege of the North. In The Northern Air Temple he's dropping large amounts of snow on soldiers marching up very narrow paths. In The Siege of the North Aang (as Koizilla) is ripping apart Fire Nation ships. In very cold waters, near the enemy and at night and that's not even getting into what might have happened to Zhao. It's safe to say that he unconsciously killed a lot of people.
If you combine that with the number of Fire Nation skeletons Aang found around Gyatso's at the Southern Air Temple, it probably sinks in that Aang's huge moral philosophical hangup wasn't with the mere fact that killing and death altogether is a reality of war, as seeing the skulls of ten Fire Nation soldiers around that of Monk Gyatso at the Southern Air Temple was the moment he realized the passed century and the ongoing war were indeed real. No, his issue was the actual mission of setting out to attack and murder a man. This would kinda bring us back to Fridge Brilliance a little bit, except not only does that assessment contain an implied slighting of the lives of ordinary soldiers who would never be explicitly marked for death that way, but let's also think about the above example involving the people Aang has killed while under the influence of Unstoppable Rage, his past lives, and other spirits in the Avatar State. Combine all those deaths, probably the one thing that HASN'T happened yet in that department was Aang himself actively making the conscious decision to stop someone at all costs, including murder, and going through with it to that very point. Now just think: if he had allowed his principles to be compromised into breaking that last plateau, most of the world would've been praising him at war's end just the same. He would be called a monster by a minority, but hailed by the majority as a WAR HERO, for something he could only bring himself to think of in terms of "What a Senseless Waste of Human Life."
As pointed out in the Radar page, "The Drill" is essentially one big metaphor for sex. Except... not exactly. It's forced, so it's also rape, making it an allusion to a historical event: when Japan invaded Nanking in 1937, the atrocities the soldiers committed were so great that a common nickname given to the massacre is the Rape of Nanking. Building off of this, and the rest of the war analogies already discussed on this page, imagine what the Fire Nation would have done when they entered Ba Sing Se. To back that up there is a shot were the Fire Nation soldiers march past Iroh's old tea shop. The shop owner has an epic Oh, Crap face and Zuko's one shot girlfriend Jin is hiding inside. The next shot is that family with the baby, you can tell how worried the father his for his wife and child. Just doesn't help.
Another potentially nasty use of waterbending: Making a mixture of poisons and bacteria, then bend the water into a mist straight into a room. Also, one could manipulate the water that is used in liquid poisons and launch into others, acting like injections into their bloodstream (worse than needles). Yeah, it is a very good thing the Water Tribe and Air Nomads in the series were the passive ones because their elements gave off a creative element to being deadly.
Air is actually the most powerful and the most deadly of the elements. The defensive practices that the Monks show is not because Airbending is lacking in offensive maneuvers, but it's because it is the only way to keep balance. If the Airbenders began to wage a war, and use their bending offensively, there wouldn't be much of a war, but a slaughter (and probably a particularly messy one, since it would likely involve changes in pressure in someone's lungs. Couple that with Aang's sentiment that there's the potential for good or bad in anyone, all it would take is for the "bad" to show up in enough Air Nomads, and you've got a much more horrific scene than the Century long war. In Season 3 of The Legend Of Korra, this is shown to be at least partially accurate. The Big Bad is a non-pacifistic airbender and the most dangerous member of the Red Lotus — an organization that also includes a magma bender, a woman with Combustion Man's powers, and a waterbender able to use water as a Shapeshifter Weapon. Just as theorized, he even has the power to pull the breath out of an enemy's lungs to suffocate them to death.
Like this fic mentions in passing - Aang loves the Fire Nation. Not only was his best friend Kuzon from the Fire Nation, but he loves their dances, their music, their slang, their food (at least the stuff without meat, like fire flakes)... it's as if he was a repeat trader with Japan in the early 1930s who went into a coma and woke up ten years later - "Hey, those people you love hanging out with so much? They're hell-bent on conquering the world, they've committed countless atrocities, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, including not only your family but your entire culture" Oh-damn-it-all-to-hell.
Somewhat related is that the Avatar has incarnated into every nation over and over again since the beginning of the world. Over the millennia, Avatars have married, begun lineages. It's thus pretty much a certainty that many humans are descended from an Avatar. How must it feel for a compassionate, family-focused Avatar when they think of this and think about how often they hurt each other?
Ok. So Bloodbending is the dark side of Waterbending which works by using your body fluids. But if you know your chemistry, it's not just Waterbending alone that has such potential. Eastern philosophy states that all the elements are present in the human body. When you think of the possibilities, it suddenly dawns on you that the doors open for horrific variations in any of the four bending styles. Do not read below if you're of the faint hearted.
Firebending: hypothermia, hyperthemia, heat stroke, spontaneous human combustion...
Airbending: diver's bends, suffocation, explosive decompression, being flayed alive...
Earthbending. For one, Earthbenders can definitely bend carbon if they can bend coal with ease. Our body has no shortage of carbon either. Let's not think too much about the possibilities? Not to mention the most likely use for the Sand Bending variant of Earthbending when used offensively: being flayed alive....
Aang had a friend in the Fire Nation before the war, Kuzan. Kuzan must have felt pretty awful when the Fire Nation army massacred the Air nomads. He might not even have known Aang was the Avatar, in which case he would just think he got murdered with the rest of the Airbenders. And if he did know Aang was the Avatar, the Fire Nation probably told their country that the Avatar ran away like a coward. Kuzan would be happy Aang was still alive, and assume that he would eventually come out of hiding and fix everything. He probably died before Aang came back.
Book One Episodes
The Siege of the North
Zhao's death is being dragged to his doom by a vengeful spirit. That's bad enough, but then you realize it's dragging him back towards a portal to the spirit world. It's very possible it didn't kill Zhao but instead sent him to a Fate Worse Than Death for killing it's counterpart. Terribly confirmed in the sequel series, where in the spirit world Tenzin runs into Zhao, who is eternally stuck in a mental state where he believes he is chasing the Avatar. Drowning is painful and horrific, but at least it ends. Zhao's punishment in the spirit world won't.
When we saw Iroh and Zuko sailing that raft past all those sunken warships, there were no bodies in the water, implying that either they got taken to the Spirit World, too, or they just sank due to wearing full body armor, meaning almost everyone in an entire fleet of ships probably drowned. Even worse when you consider that they were firebenders drowning in icy water. They would have been struggling to swim to safety, but they would be weighed down as their bodies slowly went numb and their air ran out.
Imagine what would happen if the northern water tribe forgot to feed the physical bodies of the Ocean and the Moon Spirit... Could they just die of starvation? As shown in The Legend Of Korra, The Avatar themselves is a spirit vessel, and the Avatars do experience hunger and the need to eat, so it is possible. Then again, the koi fish vessels seem to be immortal and didn't reincarnate into a new vessel immediately upon death, so maybe the rules are different.
Book Two Episodes
The Avatar's role is supposed to be to stop conflict; however, all of the evidence from that episode is that Avatar Kyoshi did absolutely nothing to stop Chin the Conqueror from rampaging across the Earth Kingdom until he finally closed in on Kyoshi Village. And, as far as we know, if he hadn't ended up being killed when she split the landmass off to become an island, she would have just blithely let him continue leading his army to conquer everything in his path. Moral Myopia? Somebody Elses Problem? In the Kyoshi Warriors episode the leader outright states they're avoiding the current war. Avatar or no, maybe the village and she (much like Aang and the Avatars before him) was reluctant to accept the call until she could no longer wait? Aang didn't want to fight/kill Ozai, even if it meant saving the world (and would've waited until the decimation of the Earth Kingdom, were it not for Zuko), Roku didn't want to fight his friend and lost his life for it (and let the 100 year war begin in the first place), Koh took the face of a Waterbending Avatar's lover due to his "go with the flow" personality and arrogance... Noticing a pattern here?
Iroh comes home with a dead son to find his father is dead, his brother has ascended to the throne, and his sister in law has disappeared, then watches Ozai abuse the shit out of his kids.
Before that, Iroh had casually mocked the Ba Sing Se defenders in a letter to home, which was sent along with several pieces of looted treasures, including an Earth Kingdom doll. Think about how Iroh must have felt when his own son died: He just realized that the pain he felt from losing his son is what he'd been doing to thousands of families, whose sons and fathers have been fighting on the front lines against him. No wonder the guy became a comical old fool, he's probably trying to avoid all the horrible memories he lived.
Zuko has a flashback to Azula telling him that Ozai is going to kill him. After she leaves he chants "Azula always lies" and when the flashback ends, he's still chanting it. He's chanting because he believes her and he's never had any reason not to. Every since that moment he's never been sure whether Ozai was going to kill him or not and some part of him believes that he was. For years he's been haunted by the idea that his father was probably totally ok with killing him for almost no reason.
Aang tries to airbend Sokka out of the hole he's stuck in, throwing Sokka's weapons into the air, which then comically strike him on the head...but those things were sharp, and unsheathed. They were only a fraction of a revolution from SPLITTING SOKKA'S HEAD OPEN.
The Gaang finds a bumble buzzard nest where intoxicated Sokka tastes a sticky substance on the walls. Subsequently, he finds that it tastes nasty. Remember, these critters are a cross between vultures and bees. He probably tasted their honey, which was likely made from rotting meat!
Aang sends a wave of wind towards a fleeing buzzard-hornet-thingy. Look closely, and you can see its silhouette split in two as it falls. All those times he gusted Zuko and Azula back, and he could have sliced them like a watermelon.
Appa's Lost Days
If the Guru wasn't at the Eastern Air Temple to point Appa to Aang, Appa would likely have spent the rest of his days barely getting by, alone, either a hermit or constantly attacked by humans, and with little hope of finding his friends again.
The Joo Dees. A bunch of brainwashed young women who will obey the (presumably all-male) Dai Li's every command. You do the math. Considering their inspiration from the Imperial China, they might all be eunuchs, though.
Unless someone would've gone by that road eventually, Yu and Xin Fu would be trapped for the rest of their lives in a cramped metal box while most likely starving to death. While Yu needs to go to the bathroom.
Book Three Episodes
Remember those two guards who saw Aang and sent a messenger hawk to warn the Firelord. Combustion Man intercepted the message, and the world still believes the Avatar is dead. But wait, who's to say the guards didn't spread the word the next time they went to town or realized their message was intercepted? As a trained assassin, Combustion Man would not hesitate to kill the two guards.
Also, the messenger hawk that Combustion Man's bird tied up is pretty much doomed considering it can't fly.
With Plantbending, which can be done during a normal day, you can either draw the water out of the plant or bend the plant itself. With Bloodbending, you can bend the body itself during the full moon. Using the connections these techniques share, a sufficiently powerful waterbender, under a full moon, could draw the water out of their enemies and use it to slaughter others.
You know what waterbenders can do with normal water in the series? Turn it to ice or steam in an instant, use it to cut steel or smash with incredible force. Yeah, a bloodbender can do that inside your body! The implications are so horrific that if the creators had dealt with any of the uses of bloodbending other than the People Puppets one (such as being dehydrated to a mummy, boiled alive, frozen alive, ripped apart by blood ice crystals, body fluids ripped out of the body, ect...), the age rating on the series would have had to have been revised WAY upward.
Who's to say none of that happened off-screen? Hama is nuts enough to do that. Hama's been bloodbending for years; she probably kills most of the time and imprisons people she want to torture longer. It makes so much sense, it's terrifying.
The Boiling Rock
During Chit Sang's first escape attempt, he had his girlfriend and best friend escaping with him too. On the second attempt, he doesn't even seem to bother looking for them. Combine that with the Warden's fixation on his prison's record, and you can propably guess what happened.
The guards at the Boiling Rock torture prisoners for informationin canon. Suki was the leader of the group of warriors found in the company of the avatar's primary means of transportation, so it makes sense she would have some idea of his whereabouts, information that would have been very useful to the Fire Nation. This is made even worse by the fact that we see an apparently hardened criminal fold to these interrogation techniques in a matter of hours. Suki is fifteen years old, and she was at the Boiling Rock for several months. That being the case, she clearly didn't give Aang up, which might merit a sort of off-screen Crowning Moment of Awesome.
The Southern Raiders
Katara and Hakoda discovered Kya's body together after she was killed by Yon Rha. We don't actually see it, however - because Kya was killed by a firebender, and her face (or even her whole body) would have been a burned, blackened, featureless hunk of cooked meat, smell and all. And her daughter, nine years old at most, saw it. Good luck watching that episode without feeling sick ever again.
Sozin's Comet, part 3
When Azula hallucinates seeing her mother during her Villainous Breakdown, she isn't surprised, and before she breaks down some more she seems more irritated than genuinely upset to see her. Does this mean that she's so far gone that she can't even realise the strangeness of the meeting, or does it mean this has happened before? The speed with which she deteriorates shows that her sanity was pretty fragile anyway, and that it takes comparatively little to push her too far, so maybe this isn't the first time her grip on reality has slipped. Suddenly her Cry for the Devil factor gets even higher.
There's also the consideration that since Ursa in this bit is a figment of Azula's own imagination, all the things Ursa says about how she thinks Azula is just confused and that she truly loves her are things that Azula knows already, but just won't let herself accept. It's not that she truly doesn't understand that her mother loves her or that she doesn't need to rule through fear, she is actively rejecting that way of thinking, presumably because Ozai has.
Overlapping a bit with Fridge Brilliance, but Azula tells Ursa that "Fear is the only reliable way [of controlling people]". You can read quite a lot into that rather desperate declaration, because she's already been proven wrong on that count; during Mai's betrayal, Mai says "I love Zuko more than I fear you". Azula didn't actually lose her temper until Zuko's name comes up. She's not terribly upset about losing Mai until she realizes she's lost her to Zuko. Alternatively, it's possible that what she is really upset over is the fact that someone she trusted, considered a friend even, is choosing Zuko over her, which would suggested that her firebending prowess and ability to control through fear and manipulation aren't enough. As much as she looks down on him, Zuko has something she doesn't, and that "something" has cost her one of the only people she could rely on. She responds with "You should have feared me more", essentially putting the blame for her "miscalculat[ion]" on Mai being stupid rather than her philosophy of fear being wrong. It really emphasises that fear is all Azula has, and she dare not let herself think differently or she'll lose everything.
Azula also proves herself wrong in fear being "the only reliable way"; she follows it with "Even you fear me". From what we saw in Zuko Alone, Azula couldn't control her mother, and had to resort to manipulation rather than bullying with her, and frequently got rebuked. Azula is far too clever not to spot the holes in her logic if she really looked at it carefully, so knows her philosophy is flawed, but is too insecure to admit it to herself, and rejects the part of her mind that tries to tell her this.
Sozin's Comet, part 4
One of the first things Iroh warns Zuko about when teaching him to redirect lightning is to make sure he does not send the lightning through his chest, as opposed to his stomach, as it could stop his heart. In the finale, when Zuko takes the lightning for Katara, it hits him in the chest. It's entirely possible he nearly stopped his own heart by taking that blow.