Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "Zuko Alone"
"No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are."
Zuko's Day in the Limelight
— "Zuko Alone" focuses completely on the story of the show's resident anti-hero; although he usually serves as the B-Plot, here he is the main focus, with the gaang not appearing at all. After parting way with Iroh in the previous episode, Zuko finds life on his own more difficult than he thought. He befriends a local family in a small Earth Kingdom village, and his experiences with a young boy Lee brings back memories of his own childhood in the Fire Nation palace.
Things do not stay peaceful, however. The town Lee lives in is oppressed by Earth Kingdom soldiers, who use their powers to abuse those they are meant to be protecting. When they kidnap Lee for their own petty amusement, Zuko finds himself willing to risk everything to help him...
- Absentee Actor: The Gaang are absent. Iroh isn't there in the present day, but he shows up in a flashback.
- Actually Pretty Funny: One of the Earth Kingdom soldiers cracks up at Zuko's sarcastic remarks to their interrogation.
- Ambiguous Situation: After Ursa leaves, Zuko goes looking to find her, only to encounter Ozai just standing by the duck pond she frequented. It's never clarified whether Ozai is actually grieving his wife's absence.
- Anti-Hero: Zuko himself is a Nominal Hero. Despite being technically a villain, Zuko fight against Earth Kingdom soldiers that are much worse.
- Bittersweet Ending: Zuko saves the small town, but he is shunned for admitting his identity. Even Lee hates him.
- Book Ends: Zuko on his ostrich-horse, alone and unhappy.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Azula, not surprisingly. After a letter from her uncle, she loudly expresses the idea that Ozai would make a much better Fire Lord than he. Also, when practicing cartwheels with Ty Lee, she shoves her over when Ty Lee does better ones than her.
- Break the Cutie: Zuko had a horrible childhood. And when the flashback ends, it's clear it only got worse from there.
- Byronic Hero: Zuko is established as one early on in the series, but this gets explored further.
- Character Focus: Zuko, unsurprisingly.
- Crush Blush: Mai, on catching a glimpse of Zuko. Azula notices...
- Cover-Blowing Superpower: Zuko's firebending, which gets him run out of the town he just saved with it. (Though it probably doesn't help that he proceeds to reveal exactly who he is— he's not just any firebender).
- Cowboy Episode: It has a very western feel and follows the classic plot of a mysterious stranger helping a town in need.
- Creepy Child: Azula in the flashbacks.
- A Day in the Limelight
- Disguised Hostage Gambit: It's mentioned that the Fire Nation is sending prisoners of war to the front lines, unarmed and wearing Fire Nation uniforms.
- Disproportionate Retribution/Misplaced Retribution: Azulon apparently decides that Zuko has to die to give a lesson to Ozai.
- The Drifter: Zuko
- Entitled Bastard: Explored. Whereas in previous Season 2 episodes Zuko has outright stolen from other people whenever he wants, here he declines to steal food from a pregnant couple. His big identity reveal at the end, along with his speech about the soldiers being bullies, also dips into that same aristocratic nature at Zuko's core but in a positive sense.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Played with, in that the concept is there, what's off is the framing; this would be played straight if we were watching through the villages POV rather than Zuko's. A rouge firebender - the prince, to boot - shows much more humility and honor than the 'solders', is not unnecessarily violent and is genuinely disgusted with their antics.
- Evil Old Folks: Fire Lord Azulon, who's about as loving toward Ozai as Ozai is to Zuko. And he's not fond of Zuko much either.
- Evil Prince: Ozai is one in the flashbacks.
- Flaming Sword: Despite swords being Zuko's trademark Weapon of Choice, this is the only time he's ever seen using them like this.
- Foregone Conclusion: Zuko. Is. Alone.
- Flashback: Features a few to Zuko's past.
- I Have a Family: Zuko prepares to rob a couple, but stops when he notices the wife is pregnant.
- Kill It with Fire: Azula's reaction to a doll Iroh gets from Ba Sing Se? She promptly sets it on fire.
- Mama Bear: The turtle duck mother, and Ursa. The latter may be a Meaningful Name; "Ursa" is latin for "bear".
- Lee's mother deserves mention here. She was ready to personally defend her son from a firebender after seeing what he could do.
- Mix-and-Match Critters:
- Several different farm animals mixed with chickens are shown throughout the episode.
- And then there are the turtleducks.
- Mook Chivalry: The four soldiers/bullies attacking Zuko one by one.
- My Name Is Inigo Montoya: "My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Fire Lord Ozai! Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the throne!"
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "I know who you are. You're not soldiers. You're bullies. Freeloaders. Abusing your power, mostly over women and kids. You don't want Lee in your army. You're sick cowards messing with a family who's already lost one son to the war."
- Riddle for the Ages: Did Azulon really intend to kill Zuko in retribution of Ozai's insolence? Or did Azula make up the whole story, figuring out that this would make Ursa kill Azulon, thus giving Ozai a chance to claim the throne? We never find out what really happened that night.
- Riding into the Sunset: Zuko at the end of the episode.
- Samurai Cowboy: The episode is very much a Western.
- Ship Tease: This episode makes it clear that Mai and Zuko liked each other as children.
- Showdown at High Noon: See above.
- The Sociopath: Even in the smaller things, in the flashbacks we see the fledgling sociopath that Azula eventually fully became.
- Survival Mantra: "Azula always lies. Azula always lies..."
- Theme Music Power-Up: When Zuko reveals his firebending. Unfortunately, said theme music is the decidedly villainous Fire Nation letimotif, showcasing how the villagers feel.
- Troll: Azula sees Mai has a crush on Zuko, so Azula cajoles her mom into making Zuko play with them, which results in Zuko tackling Mai into a fountain. Just because she could.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Azula dancing into Zuko's room happily singing "Dad's going to kill you!" manages to be one of the creepiest moments in the entire series, and it's still only one of quite a few examples of disturbing behavior Azula exhibits in this episode. Young Zuko innocently copies how Azula "feeds the turtle-ducks" by throwing stones at them - frequent, premeditated cruelty to animals is seen as one of the most ominous forms of disturbed behaviour in young children.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Zuko's time in the village alternates with flashbacks of his childhood at the events leading up to his father's coronation and mother's disappearance.
- Ungrateful Bastard: The villagers come across as this.
- The Unreveal: Even in the flashbacks, Ozai's face remains obscured from view at all times.
- Villain Episode
- Whole Episode Flashback
- Whole Plot Reference: According to Word of God, to Shane, but with a dark twist at the end.
- William Telling: In one of the flashbacks, Azula puts an apple on Mai's head and shoots it with fire.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: This is the episode that makes it absolutely clear that Zuko is this.