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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "Zuko Alone"

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His task completed, Zuko rides into the sunset, as alone at the end as he was at the beginning.

"No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are."
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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...


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Tropes:

  • 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 Innocence: The nicest interpretation of Azula's weird behavior, like burning the doll. While the writing would appear intended to establish her as evil, it's also possible to read it this way; she is only six-or-so years old in the flashbacks, after all.
  • 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.
    • We also don't know if Fire Lord Azulon really ordered Ozai to kill Zuko or if Azula made it up.
    • It was also unknown for awhile whether Azulon died of natural causes or if he was murdered by Ozai, Ursa, or even Azula.
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  • Anti-Hero: Zuko himself is a Nominal Hero. Despite being technically a villain, Zuko fight against Earth Kingdom soldiers that are much worse.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: A non-malicious one. While Zuko is busy helping Lee's father shingle a roof, Lee keeps asking questions, to which a secretive Zuko can't answer. Finally, he asks one so personal that it makes Zuko accidentally hitting his thumb with the hammer.
    Lee: ...So how'd you get that scar?
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: The leader of the group of bullies is the best fighter among them and the only one with earthbending powers.
  • Berserk Button: Fire Nation or firebenders are this for the villagers, including Lee.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Zuko develops a bond with Lee during his time in the village. Unfortunately, that bond is destroyed once everyone knows who he really is.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zuko saves the small town, but he is shunned for admitting his identity. Even Lee hates him.
  • Black and White Insanity: The villagers' unforgiving Fantastic Racism of the Fire Nation is so intense and strong that they absolutely do not see the good in any Fire National or firebender, even Zuko, whom they angrily banished after he saved Lee, who also gives the cold shoulder to him after realizing who he really is.
  • 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.
  • Brutal Honesty: Once Zuko lets the whole village know who he is, an old man calls him out on this, saying he's heard how Ozai cruelly burned, disowned and banished his own son.
  • Byronic Hero: Zuko is established as one early on in the series, but this gets explored further.
  • Character Focus: Zuko, unsurprisingly.
  • Childish Tooth Gap: Lee has more gaps than teeth.
  • Constantly Curious: Lee wants to know everything about Zuko. His father tells him to stop as Zuko gets visibly uncomfortable with the situation.
  • Continuity Nod: Zuko hesitates when Lee's parents ask him his name. The last time he was in this situation, he called himself "Lee", but that name's already taken here.
  • 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 / Samurai Cowboy: The episode 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.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: After Zuko saves Lee, the latter and other villagers kicked him out of their town out of Fantastic Racism of the Fire Nation upon Zuko revealing his true identity.
  • Crush Blush: Mai, on catching a glimpse of Zuko. Azula notices...
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Zuko defeats the first three soldiers without even using his swords, much less his firebending. Gow puts up more of a fight but he goes down almost as easily once Zuko stops holding back.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Zuko of course.
  • Dangerous Deserter: It's implied that Gonsu initially believes Zuko is one of these. He's armed, of fighting age, has a burn scar obviously from a firebender, dislikes soldiers, and acts like he's on the run from someone. Gonsu discourages Lee from prying into Zuko's past for this reason.
  • Dirty Coward: Gow proves himself to be a skilled earthbender, but completely loses it when Zuko resorts to firebending. It almost makes you wonder how he would've reacted if the Fire Nation came to the village to conquer/destroy it.
  • 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 Loved Ones: Azulon is outraged that Ozai wants the throne after Lu Ten was killed, completely ignoring his brother's pain. The solution he proposes, though, is... just as bad.
  • 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 rogue 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Zuko's have dropped precipitously, turning to thievery to get by, but robbing a pregnant woman is still beneath him.
  • 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.
  • The Evil Prince: Ozai is one in the flashbacks. He barely cares about his son, if at all, and immediately asks to become his father's heir after learning about the death of his nephew.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Earth Kingdom village's prejudice of the Fire Nation is so strong, that after Zuko saved Lee, the village (including Lee) banished him for his identity and heritage.
  • Flaming Sword: Despite swords being Zuko's trademark Weapon of Choice, this is the only time he's ever seen using them like this.
  • Flashback: Features a few to Zuko's past.
  • The Gadfly: 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.
  • Godzilla Threshold: The villagers appeared content to simply endure the soldiers harassing them but a prince of the Fire Nation being in their midst causes them to take up arms and run him out of town.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Fire Lord Azulon is probably the most sadistic example of this trope. He's outright furious when Ozai suggests that Iroh be passed over for the throne in favor of himself. He's also extremely impatient with Zuko and seems indifferent to Azula despite her obvious knowledge of history and firebending skill.
  • Hand on Womb: Just so you know that the girl Zuko sees early on really is pregnant, her partner puts his hand gently on her belly.
  • Heroic Second Wind: When Zuko is defeated by the bully leader, he lies on the ground unconscious and having a flashback to his mother. This gives him new strength and he gets up and kicks the bully's ass.
  • I Have a Family: Zuko prepares to rob a couple, but stops when he notices the wife is pregnant.
  • Kick the Dog: Perhaps the only time in the series Iroh ever gets this. In the flashback, then-General Iroh takes a defeated Earth Kingdom general's personal weapons as spoils of war, and jokes about burning Ba Sing Se to the ground.
  • Klingon Promotion: Fire Lord Azulon gets murdered so his son Ozai can take his place.
  • Lack of Empathy: Rather than mourn his nephew's death, Ozai tries convincing his father to make him heir to the throne. Let's not forget that he was also willing to sacrifice his son if it meant being Fire Lord.
  • 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 and pigs are shown throughout the episode.
    • And then there are the turtleducks.
  • Mook Chivalry: The four soldiers/bullies attack 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!"
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Zuko gives Lee the pearl dagger Iroh gave him, but that leads to Lee trying to stand up to a group of ruthless soldiers.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Zuko goes back to the village to save Lee, but when he's forced to use his firebending to do so the rest of the village runs him out of town.
  • Parental Favoritism: Ozai seems to have preferred his daughter, and Ursa, Zuko. Book 3 really focuses on this, implying a deep history of parental neglect with both children.
    • It's also implied with Iroh and Ozai with their father.
  • Pride: Zuko still has his and tries to turn down the family's offer of dinner and a place to stay. The husband and wife share a look that indicates they realize what the problem is and she suggests Zuko work on the barn before eating, giving him a chance to earn his meal and not have to accept charity.
  • Reality Ensues: Ursa wakes up her son and tries to pass on important advice to him. Zuko's half-asleep for the entire conversation, passes out again as soon as she leaves, and barely remembers what she told him.
  • "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.
  • Rope Bridge: The first scene shows Zuko's almost falling from a rope bridge when a board breaks under his ostrich-horse.
  • Ship Tease: This episode makes it clear that Mai and Zuko liked each other as children.
  • The Sociopath: Even in the smaller things, in the flashbacks we see the fledgling sociopath that Azula eventually fully became.
  • Spoiler Title: Zuko. Is. Alone.
  • 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 leitmotif, showcasing how the villagers feel.
  • 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 people of the village immediately force Zuko out after they learn of his identity, the very same people that he saved from a group of Earthbenders. Not a single one of them (including the very kid who is indirectly responsible for revealing him in the first place) has the slightest ounce of regret or is reprimanded for the fact that they just kicked out the very man who risked his life to free their village of oppression.
  • The Un-Reveal: Even in the flashbacks, Ozai's full face is never clearly seen; we only see his mouth, the top of his head when he bows to Azulon, and shots from too far to make out details.
  • Villain Episode: More like antagonist episode, since Zuko isn't the least bit malicious here.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Half of the episode shows what kind of family life Zuko had growing up.
  • 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.

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