Actually, though, “The Avatar and the Firelord” wasn’t as emotionally distressing as I’ve come to expect, probably because Zuko, rather than being the subject of the flashback, is part of its framing device. Which is nice, actually–after the balls-to-the-wall wonderment of last episode, I need a little bit of a transitionary period before we head back into another “Zuko is an abused child” ep.
Basically, what we’re looking at here is the backstory that links Avatar Roku (Aang’s predecessor, he of winging down from the stars and providing assistance at random times like a lazy Yoda) and Fire Lord Sozin, Zoku’s great-grandfather, the one responsible for the “EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE FIRE NATION ATTACKED” part of the intro. Roku tells his part of the backstory to Aang, while Zuko’s instructed by a mysterious scroll to read about Sozin’s secret history in the Dragonbone Catacombs.
Did you say.
There will come a day when I will win the lottery and buy my very own mansion, and I will name it that. Say what you will about the Fire Nation, but they have flair.
Turns out Roku and Sozin used to be young, hot BFFs, back when Sozin was just a Prince and Roku didn’t know he was the Avatar yet. After Roku is told about his destiny he doesn’t see Sozin for 12 years, but their friendship never goes away. There’s a fun interlude with Roku meeting a young version of Monk Gyatso, who’s basically a mini-Aang, and then getting married to the woman he had a seemingly unrequited crush on when he was a kid (sound familiar)? “Being the Avatar doesn’t hurt your chances with the ladies,” Roku tells his younger self.
Sozin, now the Fire Lord, has gotten a little imperalist-minded in Roku’s absence–he tries to convince his friend that the Fire Nation should “share its prosperity with the rest of the world.” (Read: INVADE THE OTHER NATIONS.) Roku’s all
but, years later, Sozin goes ahead with it anyway. Roku challenges his by-now-ex-BFF, and Sozin tries to pull the “you’re a citizen of the Fire Nation, so you should obey me” card. They fight, and Roku kicks Sozin’s ass like it ain’t no thing. As he leaves, he promises to let Sozin off light in the name of their past friendship, but if Sozin tries to take so much as one of the other Nation’s McDonalds french fries without asking permission first, Roku will kick the everliving shit out of him.
For the next 25 years, things are relatively quiet. Roku and his wife set up shop on a volcanic island, which one day explodes, like volcanic islands sometimes do. Roku stays behind, using his bending powers to stem the tide of lava so his fellow citizens (including his wife) can escape. He does pretty well until the volcano gets PISSED, which prompts Roku to go into Avatar state. The volcano is then like AW FUCK NO and wakes his volcano buddy up, so everything’s looking like Roku’s gonna die. That’s when Sozin shows up on Falkor, and the two of them battle MOTHERFUCKING VOLCANOS together.
But then, whoops, Roku breathes in toxic gas and Sozin refuses to save him, leaving him to die and peaceing out on his dragon so he can use the power-boosting comet to get his conquest on without the Avatar getting in his way. For that to happen, he has to stop the Avatar from reincarnating again, so he destroys the Air Temples. Still, he knows the Avatar’s still out there somewhere, so instead of dying peacefully in his sleep–as the Fire Nation children are taught he did—he spends the rest of his life engaged in a fruitless search for the Aangsicle.
The backstory’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t add a hell of a lot to the wider story. Roku’s a self-sacrificing nerd. Sozin’s a dick. We figured. But wait! There are a few minutes left in the episode. Zuko, angry as usual, visits Iroh, whom he correctly assumes sent him the scroll. “You said my great-grandfather’s death would tell me something about his destiny,” the Zukes says, “but the scroll didn’t even tell me how he died!” Iroh’s response: “You have more than one great-grandfather, jagoff. One was Sozin. Another was…
Zuko and the Avatar are FUCKING RELATED. THIS IS BRILLIANT.(Also, Avatar Roku got bizzay!) Please tell me that, after Zuko joins the gaang, the show will address the fact that Aang is Zuko’s great-grandfather. (Kind of. Hey, I can’t figure out the rules of “second cousins” vs “cousins twice removed,” so don’t expect me to untangle familial relationships as they apply to reincarnation.) So the moral of this story, Iroh explains, is that it is in Zuko’s nature to have both good and evil within him, and he has the power to choose good. Which is exactly what Iroh’s been telling him for seasons, only now it has the added tinge of “By choosing good, you can make up for the sins of the Fire Nation.” Or, to put it another way, you can bring
Except he phrases it as “you can restore balance.” Iroh, use the h-word. You know he responds to that. Iroh gives Zuko the hair thingy that Sozin gave Roku decades and decades back–basically, it’s the symbol of their friendship, or, now, the symbol of the duality of the Fire Nation that exists inside Zuko.
To end the episode, Aang explains to the gaang what Iroh just told Zuko–that, as Sozin and Roku were both members of the Fire Nation, the Fire Nation has within in the capacity to be both good and evil, and should be given the chance to do the former.
Or two chances.
Y’know, four or five chances might be necessary.
Zuko, all the time:
YOU BETTER GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER SOON I SWEAR TO GOD.
Prayer circle for Suki, of whom we have heard neither hide nor hair since Azula supposedly killed her in “Appa’s Lost Days.” I refuse to accept that she is in all likelihood chilling with Jet in the afterlife. I refuse.
The next episode is called “The Runaway,” so I’ll leave you with this: