How different do you think Zuko's character development would have been if Aaron Ehasz had more creative control over the story? From some of what I read of the things he's said, he disagreed with Bryke a lot as to the direction of the character. I loved Zuko in Books 1 and 2, then in Book 3 it felt like he was an entirely different character for the most part. I still think him betraying his uncle and going all "dark and bad" made no sense at all and felt like a cheap attempt at a plot twist.
I’m answering this ask, and this one together:
So I’ve been trying to watch season three of atla after 8 years and I feel like I’m almost experiencing whiplash from how clumsy some of the episodes are. Like you could reshuffle a bunch of episodes in the first half and no one would tell the difference. I was wondering what your take was in the tonal and quality shift in season 3????
A:TLA’s Tumultuous Third Season
As my readers know, there have been rumors circulating since time immemorial of the fabled fourth season of A:TLA. We don’t have hard confirmation from any of the executive producers, but if there’s one thing that could convince me it existed, it’s the structure of the third season.
Season 3 of A:TLA is really two seasons in one. The back half of Season 3 feels totally different in tone as the characters wrap up their journeys and the final relationships of the characters stabilize. The front half is almost a throwback to Season 1, which was more episodic than the acclaimed Season 2. But the real difference lies in the treatment of Aang and Zuko.
Early Season 3 Aang begins by running off alone, and ends determinedly standing with his friends and allies, trying to win the Fire Nation invasion even after all hope has been lost. I was really proud of him during the Day of Black Sun, and I felt like his character reached its peak of development:
Aang: The eclipse is over, but I can face the Fire Lord anyway.
That took a lot more courage, in my opinion, than energybending, because it required Aang to go against the grain of his normal character in order to make a stand for the world.
Fast forward one episode.
Katara: Aang, can we talk about you learning firebending now? Aang: What? The wind is too loud in my ears. Check out this loop. Sokka: I think we should be making some plans about our future. Aang: Ok, we can do that while I show you the giant Pai Sho table. Oh, you’re gonna love the all-day echo chamber.
This is not Season 3 Aang. This is Season 1 Aang. And for the remainder of the season, it is very difficult for Aang to see any point of view except the one he wants to see. From the Firelord, to Katara, to Yon Rha, he continues to get angry when challenged on his worldview, instead of trying to understand and value other people’s opinions.
As for early Season 3 Zuko, he starts taking on some Season 1 characteristics again in the front half. He becomes shut down, takes his uncle for granted, is more temperamental, and even tries to kill Aang! But fast forward to the Day of Black Sun, and Zuko throws off the shroud of his old life, starting a new one and developing as much character in the back half of Season 3 as he did in the entire second season. It makes him the most compelling character on the show. But since his development is happening while Aang seeks to uphold the Air Nomad beliefs as he remembers them (and therefore cannot develop new worldviews), this makes Aang take a back seat at a time when he is supposed to be the ramping it up as the hero.
Always remember: the human literary eye is attracted to movement in characters the same way a real eye is attracted to physical movement. Whichever character is moving the most on his journey is the one we’ll be watching.
I actually think this is OK as far as the show as a whole goes, since Zuko has more than enough material elsewhere in A:TLA to make him the deuteragonist; the first half of Season Three is Aang’s, and the second half of Season 3 is Zuko’s.
As for the other characters–Sokka and Katara do get consistent development, but Toph unfortunately got the shaft in Season 3, and the first half simply doesn’t have a straightforward trajectory the way the other seasons did. As is mentioned, a bunch of the episodes in the first half of the season don’t build from one to another very well, although they do serve the greater whole. But while I agree that this is a legitimate criticism, let’s not forget the early episodes of Season 1 and 2 of A:TLA. King Bumi is an awesome character, but his early Season 1 episode was … rather unimpressive. Then there was The Great Divide, which … the less said about it, the better. As for Season 2, “The Cave of Two Lovers” and “Avatar Day” were pretty much the clunkers of the season, and though the events Kyoshi describes in the latter ended up playing a part in the finale, the episode itself didn’t do a whole lot to move the season forward.
Considering that Season 3 has to do the work of two seasons in one, I think that it made out pretty well. And about Zuko’s regression–it’s one of the reasons, for me, he stands out as an exemplary character. Plot development can (and usually should) follow a linear progression, but real people just don’t develop that way. They stumble and fail and make mistakes, bad actions sometimes following good, and it usually takes a while (and a lot of work) to learn. If Zuko seems like a different person in early Season 3, it’s because he was trying to be: Zuko was trying to be Ozai. And his not only failing at that, but losing the desire to try at all in the attempt, was the impetus he needed become more himself than he’d probably been since his father ascended the throne.
I think if Ehasz had more control over Zuko’s development, Zuko probably would not have ended up with Mai, and I would hope Iroh would return to Zuko’s side as firelord at some point. But Zuko’s character arc as a whole was left in his hands, and I don’t think Bryke was able to damage it the way they did other characters’ (especially in LOK). But I do think A:TLA would have benefited from Season 3 being split in two, and more time given to each half. Four, elements, four seasons–it definitely could have worked.