ty lee can do a spot on azula impression and loves to make mai jump out of her skin by saying things like “mai get over here NOW!” to which mai just responds “of course, princess” with a small smile.
conversely, mai does an amazing zuko, and loves saying things like “ty lee, you should really consider cultivating an inner life. you’re so vapid and obtuse it makes me— aaAAUURRGGHHH it makes me so ANGRY!!!!!!!!”
to which ty lee responds “wow zuko those were some really big words you just used i don’t even know what they mean!!! im sorry you’re so angry and complicated and tormented and deep. i would love to help you out, but i wouldn’t know what feeling upset is even like, since im literally always happy :) have you tried cleansing your chakras?”
and then mai responds “I don’t have TIME to cleanse my chakras ty lee I have to go LIE FACE DOWN on the FLOOR for FIVE HOURS!!!!!”
they both think these exchanges are the height of comedy (on the other hand, zuko, who overhears them often, happens to disagree).
Sokka chooses to ignore the fact that Zuko squeezes each of his fingers with a quiet desperation so palpable and so real, it causes something within his chest to reverberate with silent energy.
He ignores how Zuko tugs at his arm, slow and cautious towards him, almost as if he’s afraid Sokka might break if he pulls too hard.
He ignores the screaming in his ears and the fireworks that have gone off in his stomach when he turns around and flecks of gold dance in Zuko’s eyes under the full moon.
But he can’t, no, he refuses to ignore the tender touch of Zuko’s hand to his cheek and the subsequent rush of blood to his face and the confused look he’s picked up as he says, all soft and starry-eyed, “Sokka?”
And he’ll never be able to shake the leaning in, nor the explosion of colors that accompanies the kiss.
The kiss that unlocks something in his brain. The kiss that screams, “This! This is what you’ve been waiting for!!!”
The kind of kiss that tears at the inside of your chest and begs for more, more, more! Until your hands are grasping at clothes because they need to be grasping at bare skin because a thin layer of satin is just way too fucking far from you right now.
A kiss that leaves you gasping for air because even breathing is less important than having this, miles and miles of THIS.
Until there’s nothing left. Until there is only two people scared to death and desperately reaching for the one tangible thing they can see. Until there’s nothing more to do, but to do it again and again and again and again…
I wanted to test out this claim about Katara and Aang’s relationship not being as one-sided as people say it was, so I created a version of the “Bechdel Test” to use while watching each episode of ATLA... to see if Aang put as much effort in being there for Katara as she did to him.
I now use this prompt for whenever people ask me why ZK came off as the healthier relationship compared to KA in ATLA:
1) Throughout the series -- meaning, the 8-9 months they travel together -- how many times do Katara and Aang talk to each other?
2) Of those times, how many are positive and constructive conversations with a non-combative/dismissive outcome?
3) ...about Katara’s emotional obstacles, wants or needs?
4) And does the conversation end with a consensual hug or lip-kiss?
Okay-- so, same questions, except now it’s Katara and Zuko, in the span of only 3-4 weeks they travel together after mid-season 3.
What I’m getting at here is that in the entire span of the show, Katara put on 10/10 effort in getting to know Aang, demonstrating that she cared about his needs, but at best, Aang put about 0.5/10 effort in getting to know Katara as a person (meaning, the person outside of what she did for him.)
This comes off as a very one-sided relationship because Aang says and insists to people that he loves her, but doesn’t really show that he wants to help her through her own inner struggles, or listen to her wants/needs. Aang builds this perfect “dream girl” in his mind-- so much so, that whenever she gets angry, Aang gets uncomfortable, or flees, or downplays her combativeness.
Katara builds this guarded wall to herself and has to learn to deal with her issues on her own, never approaching Aang for advice the way he does for her. In “The Waterbending Scroll” in season 1 -- she doesn’t express to Aang that she was jealous of his gifted skills with waterbending or talk about how it’s okay to be bitter at someone who excels at something you’re passionate about and eventually let that go and continue working hard-- Katara instead keeps those feelings to herself, pretends that she doesn’t want to use the scroll again, and then sneaks away to try and learn Waterbending in secret (which puts the team in danger). The same behavior occurs with “Painted Lady” in season 3-- Katara doesn’t express to Aang how she believes they should stay in the village to help more, despite whatever schedule Sokka has for them. Instead, she secretly plots ways to extend their stay, then sneaks away at night to help the village on her own in disguise (which puts the team in danger). From the start of the series, to the end of the series, Katara deals with her own inner conflict and feels like she has to sneak away from the group in order to fulfill what she truly wants. Before Zuko shows up, Sokka is the one who seems to understand her needs (and encourages it in episodes like “Imprisoned”) but Aang remains oblivious on how to help or approach Katara in that mature, comforting way. It’s always the other way around.
Compare all of this to Zuko, where it only took 3-4 weeks starting at the “Western Air Temple” for him to show to Katara that he cared about her as a person-- not just as the one protecting the Avatar, but about her past trauma and needs. Zuko didn’t have to care about getting on Katara’s good graces; he didn’t have to worry about making friends, if his whole intent was to help Aang/The Avatar with fire-bending. But Zuko still made the effort. Katara dismisses him, pushes him away, yells at him angrily, but Zuko calmly and persistently approaches Katara to show that he’s not the same person who betrayed everyone in BSS, even if it means going to great lengths to help her find peace.
The hug that Katara and Zuko have after she forgives him for that betrayal feels incredibly earned, because it feels like these two characters who had been at odds for the longest time are finally on the same page. Never was Zuko’s goal to “win Katara’s heart” or to idolize her as a “Dream Girl”-- Zuko merely wanted to earn his place at the table with the Gaang and prove that he was a loyal friend to Katara, someone who saw her as an equal, a partner. Zuko puts in the effort to face her (with all her rage) and understand her, and she eventually approaches him warmly in the same way when they meet The White Lotus.
To me these were the strong breadcrumbs of a healthy, long-term relationship.
PART III - Take-Aways
So, as someone who’s been a girl all her life with a decent amount of relationship experience (good and bad)... I want to say to all the boys out there relentlessly pursuing the “girl of their dreams:”
-If you truly care about this girl, don’t just assume that the time and affection she gives you (in words, hugs, kisses on the cheek) entitles you to her.
-Don’t just declare to the world that you love her and assume she feels the same. Get to know her as a person, first. Learn what it is that she wants for herself, how she feels about things she is dealing with internally whenever she comes across as “having it all together.”
-Listen to what the girl is saying (not just through words, but also actions and body language) and respond accordingly. If you feel like you don’t know how to listen or respond, do your homework to understand where she is coming from... learn to see her perspective on things so you can be emotionally available to her in a mature open-minded way. This will help for any moment she does feel that she can trust you enough to approach you with her feelings. Listening to her and getting to know her is the best way to realize whether or not you can also be there for her, and it’s best to have that ready before going for a kiss or any indications that you want a relationship with her.
-After all of this... if it’s apparent that she only sees you as a friend, or is confused about her feelings, or just not ready for a relationship for whatever reason... respect that! Don’t pry or push or guilt-trip or threaten her into having a relationship. Love is not about possessiveness, but about selflessness... about meeting the person half-way, about accepting each other and all the baggage that comes with them, the drama they would have to deal with together in the present moment... believing that these feelings are enough to get through it all. (Suki and Sokka are a wonderful example of this, as they were still willing to openly admit their feelings despite the context of the war).
-True love is knowing when to give someone space, and accepting the possibility that in the end, this girl might not feel the same way about you... and you still being okay with that outcome. In the end, if you really love and care about this girl, you will want her to find happiness with someone-- even if that someone is not you.
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
This quote encapsulates Aang perfectly. He defeated Ozai, only to later become exactly like him.
Ozai favored Azula for her bending ability; Aang favored Tenzin for his airbending ability.
Aside from Ozai outright saying this in the comics, the show illustrates this favoritism constantly in the praise Ozai gives Azula and the responsibilities he places on her.
Aang’s favoritism was shown in LOK and I think in a much more heartbreaking way. Bumi apologizes to Aang’s statue for not being an airbender.
“Look uh, I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be an Airbender like you hoped. But I've tried my best to keep the world safe. Hope I made you proud.”
Bumi is in his sixties and he still holds this shame. The implications this has for his childhood is heartbreaking. How many times he was probably treated as not good enough or the disappointment always seeping from his fathers face when he looked at him.
Kya is similar, while she is a waterbender, she still wasn’t an airbender and his disappointment was also present when she saw how he would clearly favor Tenzin over her and Bumi.
Ozai’s favoritism towards Azula’s controlled her life and led to herdownfall, Aang’s pressure controlled Tenzin’s life and made him sacrifice his happiness.
Azula always was pressured to be the best by Ozai’s standards. She was a prodigy, a leader and ruthless because thats how Ozai conditioned her to be. Ozai’s influence is what led Azula to be as destructive as she was.
Aang did the same thing to Tenzin. Aang conditioned him to re-establish the airbenders at all costs and this controlled his life. It forced Tenzin to end his long term relationship with Lin because she didn’t want children. We never actually learn if he did either. All we know is that he needed to have children and Aang made sure to instill that in him. The abuse went both ways but in different types.
Ozai’s neglect led to his children’s resentment; Aang’s neglect did the same to his children.
The neglect Ozai presented to Zuko eventually led Zuko to become arguably the best parent out of anyone from the original gaang.
Aang’s neglect was much more damaging because unlike Ozai who is viewed by the world as a villain, Aang is the hero that ended the war. So in effect, Aang was able to gaslight the world into thinking he had a happy family and anyone- even his own children- who said otherwise were dramatic and wrong.
The impact of Aang’s neglect also had real world consequences for his children outside of family dynamics. His own acolytes- now Tenzins- did not even know Aang had other children. They said so to their faces. This shows how little Aang cared about his other kids to even put his airbending child above his other children even in conversation.
The implication of this is even more heartbreaking because it shows that his love for his children was conditional and if they didn’t turn out how he wanted, he would pretend they didn’t exist. And we can also see this pattern in his marriage with Katara. Which leads me to…
Ozai’s relationship with his wife was estranged and distant. Aang’s relationship with Katara eventually turned out that way as a result of his neglecting his two other children.
Ozai in the comics treated Ursa as a prize for her linage. Aang treated Katara as a trophy for him ending the 100 year war and dictated their relationship in the same way Ozai did in their big decisions.
Ursa had no power in her relationship and Katara didn’t either in a lot of ways. Ursa was held to the standards of the royal court. Katara was held to the standards of public opinion and the expectations put upon her for being with the Avatar.
Both Ursa and Katara’s decisions were overlooked compared to their husbands and that is because they were always considered unequal to their partners. Katara went along with it because that had always been her dynamic with Aang. He was the avatar and his words were taken seriously compared to her which were taken as nagging.
Behind the scenes she had some authority over how the group interacted and contributed to the team. But, that did not transcend into public life and Aang did nothing to establish her as an equal to his decisions. His neglect was not only to his children, Katara suffered too.