Did you also rewatch Avatar: The Last Airbender recently?
If yes, then I hope you keep reading.
I was specifically mesmerized this time around with Azula’s character. I wanted to specifically talk about these 2 scenes that played on repeat in my head for days. I’m putting it out here to make sense of it.
#1 When Zuko and Azula were plummeting to their deaths in the episode, The Southern Raiders.
In this scene, Zuko was saved by Appa and the rest of the gang. Azula didn’t have anyone. But! She used fire bending to propel her to a part of the cliff she could cling to. We even hear Zuko voice out for us what we were all probably thinking: “She isn’t gonna make it…”
Then, “of course she did.”
In the end, they both survived what otherwise would have been a disastrous, possibly life-ending fall.
When I was watching that scene, I was thinking about how badass Azula was for not needing anyone but herself to survive. She was so strong – stronger than Zuko because she only had herself and she only needed herself. Unlike Zuko who had help – who needed help.
Again, they both survived either way. So I found myself thinking, did it even matter who the stronger one is?
I think this scene was singed (pun intended) into my mind to contrast what it’s like to go through an intense moment with versus without friends.
#2 Azula and Zuko’s Agni Kai in the Sozin’s Comet episode.
After Azula struck Zuko with lightning, Katara was there to help him and heal him. But Azula, beaten by Katara, had no one. It makes me almost sad at how alone she was at that moment. Of course she was the one who banished practically everyone who could have been on her side (aka the Dai Li).
The moment of her completely just losing it as both Zuko and Katara watched her is still so vivid in my mind.
It wasn’t on lost on me how this scene looked nothing like the way a victory would often be portrayed in shows: happy celebration, loud music, people cheering, perhaps some metaphorical confetti. On the contrary, the music in this scene was low, soulful. The camera pans from Azula who looks deranged to Katara who looks pained. And sure, everyone who’s naturally rooting for the good side would feel a huge relief that Katara triumphed, but the overwhelming vibe commands that more than victorious, we should feel sorry for Azula. All that strength and power and yet she’s on her knees, defeated.
After watching (and admiring) Azula for her self-reliance and her strength, then seeing her gradual mental decline, I felt the need to reevaluate my priorities here.
If I were being honest, when Azula and Zuko fell off that cliff, a part of me felt almost cheated that the Gaang came to Zuko’s rescue. Of course I want Zuko to live. But my point is, we want the good guy to be stronger, because we always want the stronger one to win. But the end of this fight scene – no matter how awesome – felt strange.
I’m sure this is exactly what the creators meant to do – to illustrate that Zuko, unlike Azula, is a part of the team now.
Perhaps similar to Azula, me doing something without help scratches a kind of itch (perhaps in my ego?). But Azula’s road to insanity forced to me add a level of nuance to this kind of thinking. Have I been trying to accomplish the wrong thing here? Have I been trying so hard to be self reliant when I should have been building relationships with other people?
While there’s nothing wrong with being self-reliant, perhaps there’s a heart issue that I need to address here. What is it about asking help, or even just admitting that I need help, that gives me discomfort? Is it the fear of getting screwed over? I mean, fair. If you’re only relying on yourself, you’re less likely to be screwed over. But also – is there fear here to be perceived as weak? Fear to be perceived as not enough?
Speaking of not being enough, it’s fascinating to see Azula’s character in contrast to Zuko, Katara and even Aang. These three characters in particular were presented in the beginning as characters aware that they need more; that there’s more to them than who they are right now.
Zuko wanted to restore his honor that he believed he has lost. Katara needed to learn water bending from a master. And Aang… well, he needed to first accept himself as the avatar, learn and master the other three elements, and save the world from the fire nation’s tyranny.
Azula was introduced differently – on the other polar end of this. She was already skilled at everything she needed to be skilled at. She was perfect. And she knew it too. Her many iconic lines even include this: “True power, the divine right to rule, is something you are born with.” It shows a strong belief in her identity as someone inherently above others just by the merit of her blood.
In the end though, the three protagonists ended up having achieved the best versions of themselves (yet). And we all know from the scene I described earlier how Azula ended up as. She miscalculated. Fear was not as reliable as she calculated nor was her strength enough.
I’ll be continuing to explore Azula’s in the next post.