tbh tho, i blame most of Aang's character towards Katara on those bryke assholes. Like if Ehasz had continued to writer at the front of everything then i bet SO MUCH WOULDVE BEEN BETTER ugh
Well, of course— you can’t ‘blame’ Aang for his behavior as his behavior is the product of the creators and writers. However, for the sake of critiquing ATLA (or any media), it only makes sense to pinpoint character actions, rather than washing your hands of negative behaviors portrayed in a relationship and chalking it up to bad writing. The reason for critiquing is to create better writing in the future— and thereby create better characters who properly display respect for one each other.
That’s not to say I don’t agree with your comment, however. Based on various analyses I’ve read, I dare say Bryke were largely in control of Aang and were extremely adverse to any development that hinted at a separation between Aang and Katara. To them, Katara was a prize for Aang’s feats as the Avatar,. This was clearly illustrated by the many advances Aang made towards her, his efforts growing particularly aggressive before monumental battles.
Even more so, Bryke’s opinion of Katara as a mere reward was further demonstrated by her lack of voice on the matter of Kataang. Every interaction between Aang and Katara was overwhelmingly told through his eyes. From beginning, Aang looked at her through rose-colored lenses. He put her on a pedestal, believed she was perfect, and thereby only saw perfection in her. She was not free to be herself around him, unless the version of herself being portrayed was that of a nurturing mother. Any romantic connection between them was never voiced by her and rarely made evident, but for the few and far between blushes that came in Season One (The Fortune Teller, and The Headband). Other than these instances, most advances made by Aang were either rejected (which he chose to ignore and kiss her anyways— Ember Island Players, or he lashed out violently— Love Is A Battlefield) or Katara moved on without a second thought (The Cave of Two Lovers) or looked aside with a downcast grimace (The Day of Black Sun & Ember Island Players).
For me, the evidence of Bryke’s distaste for any opinions from Katara was made abundantly clear in The Fortune Teller. Aang receives an ambiguous fortune of a great struggle, of his tremendous destiny, and is prominently displayed as the hero of the entire episode, despite it being Sokka’s wit that saved the village.
On the flip side, Katara has her entire life laid out before her, from how many children she will have, to when she will pass away. Additionally, she is told she will marry a ‘very powerful bender.’ At a glance, this could be loose enough— a powerful bender could mean anyone, from Haru to Aang to Zuko. Even Toph and Azula fit into this prediction!
However, the final comment from Sokka, after Aang’s amazing display of airbending and his saving of the day—
Sokka, appearing amazed: “Wow, that kid is one powerful bender”
Katara, looking shocked: “What did you say?”
Sokka, shrugging: “Nothing. Aang’s just a really powerful bender.”
Katara, blushing and looking amazed: “I suppose he is.”
—sealed the deal regarding Bryke’s view of Katara.
In a show centered around shaping your world, finding your destiny, and creating a better reality, Katara was given no choice in her future whatsoever. There was no mention of her future as a master at fourteen. There was no promise of her destiny as the greatest waterbender, bloodbender, and healer. Her aid in training the Oh So Powerful Bender, her victory over Azula, her saving of the world’s only hope at a decent Fire Lord— not mentioned. She was to marry Aang, she was to be amazed by him, and she was to have three children, then die from old age. And if LOK is any indication, without other writers in the picture, Katara may as well have been a side note in ATLA, too.
Another side note: Even Sokka’s fortune is ambiguous and vague (He will face a lot of misfortune or whatever, as most of it is his own doing—- nothing different from what we all already expected given his development at that point in the story and Meng’s destiny is simply to marry a man with big ears. This showed an extreme preference for males having more say in their destiny over females. Males were to do great things, romantics aside. Females were simply to marry, all their value coming from their spouse.
Meanwhile the Ehasz couple had a large hand in Zuko’s characterization and Aaron Ehasz was responsible for the development of Katara into a WOC feminist icon (not to mention, the existence of Toph and Azula). Had Aaron been allowed complete control, or at least, enough to affect the shipping, we would’ve seen a slightly more pronounced development of Zutara and the natural rifts that appeared in Kataang would’ve been expanded. Furthermore, Season Three would not have been such a jumbled mess of will they or won’t they between Aang and Katara.
Aaron had respect for all the characters affected by his writing— unlike Bryke. He did not godmod one character, put down the rest to further pronounce one character’s heroics, and he not force a pairing together with little to no say from one side of said pairing. His respect for the characters can be demonstrated in a similar fashion that I illustrated Bryke’s disrespect: by referring to the Ehasz’s preferred ship and the interactions between both parties.
For the sake of keeping this concise, let’s ignore Katara and Zuko’s time as mutually respected and challenging enemies, and skip straight to their conversation below Ba Sing Se.
It was what, five minutes? Five minutes of Katara yelling and raging and Zuko sitting there in silence. It took five minutes for the viewer to gain the background story of the necklace, her mother’s death, and her anger towards the Fire Nation. I don’t want to say it was because she felt safe with Zuko, but I will say it was because she felt he would understand her anger. If nothing else, he was just someone who would listen to her, unlike everyone else in her life at that point.
Surprisingly, Zuko sympathized with her and opened up about his own background. Of everyone who knew, or I assumed knew, it was Zuko— her enemy— that said “Hey, I get it, and I’m sorry.” He listened. He responded. He understood.
Wasn’t it Ehasz himself who said no one got katara like Zuko, and vice versa?
It can be argued that Aang understood her loss— he lost his entire culture, I would hope he understood Katara’s feelings— but how much can one know if he never asks?
From the very beginning, so much of the dynamic between Katara and Aang was her sheltering him from the reality and the pain of the world’s current state. She softly hinted that the airbenders had disappeared. She tried to hide evidence of the Fire Nation at the Southern Temple. She coddled him in the desert and held the group together as he fell apart. After every loss and every battle, she uplifted him, helped him, and focused solely on what he was feeling and what they needed to do moving forward.
Never once did Aang return the favor. Yes, he was kind. Yes, he was thoughtful. He did make her a replacement necklace. He did happily surprise her with the regained betrothal necklace. He did make an effort to help her learn waterbending in the North Pole. But the things that mattered, the deep things, the burning things…
Hey Katara, I know you lost your necklace. What did it mean to you?
Hey Katara, I know you lost your mother. Tell me about her.
Hey Katara, I know you’re upset with your father. What’s wrong?
Hey Katara, I know you’re afraid of losing me. Does it hurt you when I fly off?
Hey Katara, I know your father is imprisoned. Is there anything I can do?
Hey Katara, I know this man caused you deep pain. Tell me why hunting him down will help you.
Hey Katara, you know you mean something to me. What do I mean to you?
Tell me, did he ask her any of these questions? Even once? I’m afraid the answer is no. Aang wanted Katara to care for him and be there for him, but he did not return the same sentiment towards her.
But you know who did? Zuko. In the Crystal Catacombs, and multiple times following.
When her father was taken by the Fire Nation, he not only showed concern for her (indirectly), he showed concern for Sokka. He paid attention to the emotions of those around him and offered his aid. And when the family was reunited, the happiness on his face was unbridled. I don’t remember Aang asking or even mentioning Hakoda’s name following the Day of Black sun.
In the Southern Raiders episode, Zuko quickly picked up on Katara’s lingering anger and made every effort to understand her emotions, earn her forgiveness, and promote her own personal healing. He stood behind her in silent support during their journey. He backed her in front of Aang and Sokka. He did not try to voice his own opinions. I remember Aang telling her over and over and over again that she was wrong and ‘acting like Jet.’
In the finale, Zuko opened up to Katara about his Uncle, but instead of it being a one-sided type of thing (where she’s constantly checking up on him, but never receiving support of her own), the conversation was mutual and friendly. It was obvious they were close. It was obvious he respected her. It was obvious that Katara did not have to mother him to make him feel better.
Do you need any cheek kisses, Zuko, to make all your boo-boos better?
Additionally, Zuko looked to Katara as an equally capable bender, the only one he wanted by his side in that final fight. He sought to defend her and he valued her life above his own.
The connection between them was blatant. We didn’t need cheap episodes of dancing and contrived blushing to know what either side was feeling because Zuko and Katara asked each other. There was a mutual support, a mutual uplifting of the other. Katara was permitted a voice in her relationship with Zuko. She was permitted to be powerful and outspoken and she was respected.
Ehasz didn’t view her as a reward, therefore, through his writing, she wasn’t treated as such. And had his shipping preferences been endgame, had there been a fourth book as he envisioned, I’d venture a guess that you’re correct— the treatment of Katara, the progression of Zutara and digression of Kataang, and the development of Aang would’ve been handled beautifully. The viewers would have been offered the closure we lacked (the closure the comics are mutilating) and the characters would have been given the ending they all deserved.