Aang and The Southern Raiders: Why I Find Kataang to be Finely Portrayed in this Episode and Why Zutara Lenses Ruin It
Katara: I need to borrow Appa.
Aang: Why, is it your turn to take a little field trip with Zuko?
Maybe this is the setting tone of condescension some are picking up from Aang in this scene as he starts off questioning Katara in an inappropriately light manner, unnecessarily adding the word "little" as a form of belittlement as he possibly notices the edge Katara has to her posture and voice. The belittlement coming from his lack of respect for her totally and his refusal to see her as an actual person with feelings, say her having a realistic grip on the grief she feels over losing her mother, instead of it being because Katara makes it known how little she wants to do with Zuko to everyone, especially Zuko, as a baseline. Aang, initially hoping that what he's asking isn't true, immediately turns to face Katara surprised and concerned at her confirmation.
Aang: Oh, what's going on?
No assumptions are made here, just further questions asked which most definitely added to Katara's frustrations and impatience in this scene, which built into a tension that exploded more spectacularly with Sokka a few lines after
Aang: Um, and what exactly do you think this will accomplish?
He says after hearing her announce her plans for some time over. Honestly, I hear it in his tone too that he immediately thought of the worst with her when she told him she "was going to find the man who took her mother away from her", as wanting to find the person behind your mother's death usually means irrational and painful shit's abounds not only when factoring in somebody's ability to murder said killer - which Aang does know she's fully capable of in doing and can not be lenient in underestimating as someone who idealized her would. And he can not put faith in her either in making the right choice as he's against murder as a pacifist (not a passivist) and as someone who not only tries to love life but knows how painful it is to bring harm to others even if it might feel right to do in the moment as he had once felt like before. He also wasn't given the chance to naturally gain faith since Katara had begun being dismissive towards him and wasn't necessarily pouring her heart out to him for him to listen to then anyway, which he was doing regardless as he was trying to help her, simply because she didn't want to talk just do; her unfairness in this situation remaining no matter how much reason you put behind it, which is great writing as she's still sympathetic.
Zuko was the perfect person for her to find an outlet to deal with her grief with, as it killed two birds with one stone as they're both similarly passionate and have a vicious history together that needs resolving like hers with Yon Rha, mothers gone and what not, yet shockingly it doesn't mean they have to get together.
Tell me, usually does anyone relentlessly go off on a trip requesting a friend's animal companion as an accomplice into enemy territory with someone you hate just to face down your mother's killer and not have an aim for revenge? Even if the plan isn't explicit, why assume anything else unless given a strong enough reason it's another thing entirely. Whether it's just to maul or outright kill. No matter how compassionate one is, see: Aang, the Avatar himself.
Do I think Aang would still love Katara if she had killed? Discussion for another time.
Do I think Aang is actually a bad person which feeds into the narrative that Kataang is an awful and harmful ship? Discussion for another time but no and any other answer is wrong.
And Katara did prove to me and Aang that she wasn't being levelheaded about the ordeal anyway which I refuse to blame her for, she immediately became defensive at the mere act of being questioned in what she had planned for her mother's killer and further goaded both Aang and Sokka with her indecision and entertainment of her shadow self by thinking out loud. The fact alone that she was ruminating over killing anyone was awful to Aang, which she exposes a few lines later, no matter how potentially personally cathartic it'd be for Katara herself I'll reiterate.
Aang: Wait, stop! I do understand! You're feeling unbelievable pain and rage. How do you think I felt about the Sandbenders when they stole Appa? How do you think I felt about the Fire Nation when I found out what happened to my people?
Aang desperately reaches out for her, feeling defensive, hoping to inspire empathy from the usually warm and understanding Katara. He won't get that side of her however because this time, it's about her, the entire episode is. I don't personally think he's trying to make it about himself, but to Katara what he says falls seemingly to deaf ears as neither of those things relate to what she feels she needs to do. It isn't to talk, it's to do something. It seems like to her that he's trying to stop her, when in retrospect he was trying to do so temporarily in order to gauge what her goals were and hopefully talk some sense into her if she apparently doesn't portray any before her send off, hence his initial questioning. Again, he couldn't of had blind faith in her just yet, and even after Katara stubbornly relents in not letting Aang tell her anything else as she continues to argue with and dismiss both Aang and Sokka (which is very immature of her, which I love) he too persists in trying to guide her after catching her proceeding to take Appa anyway and makes sure that she at least hears him, because he too can't just sit by and do nothing.
What about Aang not going with her? I personally think it's an awesome moment between the two showcasing trust and a decision made for the better of them both where Katara would be free to make her own choice - having her choices made more clear in whatever path she'd follow through on, which she demonstrated by the end in the grey (but more so white) conclusion of her character arc.
Aang: I don't think so, I think it's about getting revenge.
He says after empathizing with her emotions. What reason is there to believe that Katara wasn't thinking about revenge other than her being usually so kind and easy to get along with, but that's exactly it! She's usually like that but here, she evidently isn't as he had pointed out himself in his "pain and rage" assessment of her a line or two ago which brings him to his next comment
Aang: Katara, you sound like Jet.
Which is said after her spout about admitting to contemplating what Yon Rha deserves, and all I have to say here is that, there's such a thing as empathizing too much with a character. Katara did see it as Aang comparing her to an attempted mass murderer, but Aang was coming from a place where he saw Katara shed tears over Jet's death that was partially caused by his inability to cope with his desire for revenge, that Aang had witnessed Katara echoing the words of seemingly not having a choice in choosing anything but to be a puppet to anger and urge to correct an injustice/brainwashing. I do think he could've been more clear with this line alone, but the next line gives this one further meaning.
Could it be that the intention was that Katara is her own person with agency and is someone with nuanced thinking yet with that characteristic chose to be with Aang because of that same characteristic or is that too much for people? Yes. Do you have to like it? No. Does it have to be spelled out like it is being here for an overly eager many who still read too much and confidently into the tiniest of things that turns out to be null and void and before canon had set expectations that the show never explicitly made promises in meeting, and in after canon was ironically spelled out anyway through the unambiguous ending? From the many who celebrates the culture of upholding the extremely subtle and written in between the lines by the fans themselves aspect of writing rather than the text itself and calls thy reading a masterpiece and paradoxically the actual text inferior? The text that their culture derives from and wouldn't exist without, unable to find it within themselves to truly respect? Yes, it seems so. Just because Kataang is seemingly done for, doesn't mean the show is headed for Zutara to put it simply. Just because there was a perceived slight, doesn't mean there has to be a resolution between two characters because odds are the show doesn't recognize it as such.
Before Aang continues after Katara pushes back, Sokka joins in, evidently supporting what Aang has to say and Katara sees it as him beginning their ganging up on her and reacts accordingly, feeling betrayed that her own brother could even think about trying to stop her from going after their mother's killer and all those things he's said about not remembering their mother enters her mind and it seems to her the most rational thing to say, to shut him up and get him to not interfere further, is to verbally highlight that. Yet, again, Katara is wrong here.
Aang: The monks used to say that revenge was like a two-headed rat viper: while you watch your enemies go down, you're being poisoned yourself.
This is the gist of where Aang is coming from, after seeing enough of what Katara is trying to express, that's when he interjects with some proverbs and advice. Advice that he feels would benefit her situation.
Aang: Katara, you do have a choice: forgiveness.
He says after hearing her say she feels like she has no choice, which is just abundantly false in itself, but not necessarily a bad place for Katara herself to be in as it's a familiar anger that's taking over her.
Aang: No, it's not, it's easy to do nothing but it's hard to forgive.
Katara dismisses him again, a cold rage freezing over her eyes before walking away. I'll offer an explanation here however or at least my best guess: Katara feels that she would be letting go of her anger and therefore letting go of her motivation for confronting the man and judging him from there on and doing whatever she deems fit with his fate, and eventually that resulting in her forgetting her mother too. It also could be her just not being convinced that forgiveness isn't the same as doing nothing, siding with Zuko. That in itself is unimaginable for her, because she can't just let this go in any way. She needs to be herself when facing this, which also explains her need to dismiss any and everything Sokka and Aang throw at her, as it'll potentially make her falter. I also think there's subtext there that her following Aang's advice in anyway, taking his help unlike Zuko's complete and subtle support, felt to her as if it had weakened her as she didn't want to rely on anyone else to deal with this demon eating away at her exemplified by Zuko's presence, hence redirecting her anger with the Fire Nation at him you know bestie so well. The demon that she felt obligated to act on finally with the prompting of Zuko promising her a face and name. That's why she felt the need to assert herself by the end with Aang, because his efforts in helping were obvious and something she had continuously struggled to accept. Up until now, her anger resulted in satisfying results, but not this time as briefly explored by episode end.
Aang: So you were just going to take Appa anyway?
He's understandably upset here, yet chooses to cut the tension with a light tone similar to his starting quotes in this post to make an example of himself.
Aang: It's okay, because I forgive you. (Smiling) That give you any ideas?
Aang: I wasn't planning to, this is a journey you need to take. You need to face this man.
I love how people are willing to accept Aang's coming around to taking to Katara's point of view off screen after some obvious thought, yet complain about Katara's thought process in her romantic feelings for Aang in not being elaborated on more when it's treated with the same respect as Aang's when you look at context clues and what reading intuition says adheres to the most cohesive story the show ultimately conveyed. Presumptions are to be made when observing how the character acts after the incident, in a way that fits the narrative/character that's trying to be portrayed by the author, that fits with the themes that usually aren't edgelord ones unless made consistently and clearly so. Just like how it is with Katara realising off screen that she doesn't hate Zuko anymore - it's never explicitly stated why but context strongly suggests it's because she recognized what he did for her and found that it was worthy of her forgiveness.
Once more, Aang sees her perspective here, yet also needs to caution his, never demanding this of her however. They aren't agreeing here, but it's fine.
Aang: But when you do, please don't choose revenge. Let your anger out and let it go, forgive him.
Here, evidently, he is telling her what he meant by forgiveness. It isn't doing nothing, as he isn't stopping or hindering her by not allowing her to take Appa. He's giving her words to live by for the next couple hours, only hoping and pleading she'll follow through.
And although she doesn't adheres to what he advises perfectly, not forgiving him as she has her own definition, her not going through with what he'd dreaded she would was enough for him as he doesn't continue to pester her. Hell, it even reaffirmed his own beliefs that violence is never the answer.
It's understandable why Aang would think she forgave Yon Rha, he had set the bar low on that meaning through at the minimum of not taking revenge, yet Katara says herself that she didn't know why she hadn't let all of her anger out at Yon Rha, taking from his words and applying it how she sees fit yet that method failed her as the answer still didn't come to her. And because of that, she sits on the singular boating dock, not knowing if she was too weak to do it or strong enough not to. She corrects Aang on believing she forgave him, as she's still angry with her mother's killer and will always be, yet also finds it in herself to apply Aang's advice to forgiving Zuko.
And again, that's enough for him.
Aang: Katara! Are you okay?
Aang: Zuko told me what you did...or what you didn't do I guess. I'm proud of you.
Aang: You did the right thing, forgiveness is the first step you have to take to begin healing.
And he says that because he loves her as best boy should. It's Katara.
Zuko: You were right about what Katara needed. Violence wasn't the answer.
Zuko says after the uninterrupted hug and Katara having the free range to do whatever she wants.
Aang: It never is.
He says sincerely with pride. Zuko of course questions him about his fatherlord however, because at that point there didn't seem to be an answer to defeating the Firelord without violence. And just like this episode however, that dilemma didn't end in death, but yes, there was violence as a means to an end. Aang wasn't completely right, as evidently depicted but was he wise regardless? I believe so, because the violence was used to realise there ultimately wasn't anymore need of it.
Had you viewed this from Zutara lenses however, you'd get "Aang bad because he talk down to Katara because he put her on pedestal but also not respect or love her or see her as human because he bad and also Zuko know Katara better at one week of get cold treatment from her after join gang not too long ago yet also knows her well enough to be confident she won't kill man and would stop her from kill man or katara didn't need any man to tell her what she can or can't do she her own wahmen girlboss queen shit did no wrong".
Seriously, which one sounds more true to form of the overall narrative?
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