February 5, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Avatar: The Last Airbender Book Three “Chapter Twelve: The Western Air Temple”

Zuko tries to convince the Aang Gang that he's reformed and wants to help.

Zuko has, for the most part, been played straight.  He hasn’t been a humorous character in any way, shape, or form.  And it’s not like The Last Airbender hasn’t had any comedy.  Much of it is kid-friendly, but it’s also been largely character based.  Even when Zuko has been involved in humorous situations, he hasn’t been acting like a humorous character.

That changed in this chapter as we see shots of his rehearsing what he is going to say to the Aang Gang.  He seems nervous, like a young man asking the woman of his dreams out for a date.  He stops, hems and haws in a manner that is very different from his usual confidence and determination, and even stops to ask what Iroh and Azula would say, doing by his own admissions bad impressions of each.

Also, he’s talking to a frog.

It’s a nice change of pace for the character.

Which, quite frankly, makes sense as this episode marks a change for him as he goes from implacable pursuer to humbled youth seeking absolution.  The Aang Gang, with a few additions, get to the Western Air Temple.  That’s built into a cliffside.  Zuko had been there before when he’d first started hunting the Avatar with Iroh, but he was a different young man then.  The audience knows how much he’s changed.  The Aang Gang doesn’t.

And, obviously, they don’t take kindly to his sudden arrival.

The thing is, Aang does need Zuko.  Someone needs to teach the lad firebending, and Zuko offers.  He even offers to do so as a prisoner.  It doesn’t really work.  Heck, he accidentally lets slip that he hired the Combustion Man.

Yeah, the Aang Gang didn’t know that.

However, Zuko does have exactly two people in his corner.  One is Appa.   Appa can’t talk, but Zuko freed Appa from Ba Sing Se, and the air bison recognizes him.

The other is Toph.  Toph can sense sincerity.  True, it didn’t work on Azula, but Azula practices the George Constanza Technique of Lying:  it’s not a lie if you believe it.

Aang even wonders if the time Zuko saved him as the Blue Spirit was a sign of potential trustworthiness, but then Katara points out (correctly) that Zuko was probably trying to save Aang for his own reasons and not for Aang’s benefit.

It doesn’t help when Toph goes to see Zuko in secret and startles the lad out of his sleep, causing him to lash out and burn her feet, making her more blind than she usually is.  Toph actually recognizes that it was an accident once she calms down, but it sure doesn’t help.

What does help is when the Combustion Man shows up to finish the job and Zuko tries to stop him first.  Yes, it doesn’t work, but Zuko tried and nearly died.  Sokka managed to take CM down with his boomerang hitting the big mute in his third eye, and then CM died…wait, Sokka killed a man.

Whoa.

Anyway, Zuko can stay, for now.  Aang and Sokka think it’s weird.  Katara doesn’t trust him for a second, but Aang has his last teacher.

Huh.  All of Aang’s final masters are about his (physical) age.  That can’t be completely coincidental.

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