Do you wish Zuko had joined the gaang sooner? That way we'd get more time with him and everyone and also more time with him and Katara and them getting close and developing feelings for each other. And also him being best friends with Sokka, being an older brother figure for Aang and Toph.. I really wished he joined sooner so we could've gotten more of this stuff.
No, not at all.
See, the thing is, the third season
follows should have followed an arc. Zuko’s arc, to be precise. And it should’ve gone like this:
The first half of season three should have been about Zuko feeling more and more alienated and like he doesn’t fit in while in the Fire Nation. It should have been about how the home he was so desperate to return to doesn’t exist. How it never actually existed, it was just that he was a sheltered child and had no awareness about the state of reality.
This is why “The Headband” sucks as an episode. By having Zuko be supposedly well adjusted and fitting in and relating to someone, however superficially, it derails his character arc.
And, please, ask me why the only episode i actually and truly loathe is “The Beach”.
The culmination of this part of the arc, as well as Zuko’s mental state’s lowest point would have still come in “Nightmares and Daydreams” except, you know, his characterisation wouldn’t have been all over the place.
(Also, why the fuck wasn’t that general, the one who Zuko challenged, why wasn’t he ever mentioned again? Is he dead? How has the fact that he got, well, not really, but looool if you think that anyone would ever call Ozai out for this, how has the fact that he got the crown prince mutilated and banished for three years affected his life? These are important world-building questions, why weren’t they answered?)
Then, once he confronts Ozai, his state of well, everything, but mostly his emotional wellbeing would’ve taken a sharp turn for the better. Even at their most hostile the Gaang was living in the same world as he was, which let me tell you, does wonders for one’s mental health.
Then season three would progress with Zuko forging bonds with each and every member of the Gaang. I’d even say that they kept them in right order, because the order they went it is from the Gaang member that understands him the least (Aang) to the one that understands him the most (Katara). I just wish that they, you know, kept it as an arc, where Zuko gets progressively happier and more at ease as each member of this found family, that he wants so dearly to be a part of, accepts him.
Finally, this part would culminate when he makes up with Uncle Iroh, thereby finally letting go of all his guilt and achieving a state of inner piece where he could go and face Azula.
Having Zuko join the Gaang sooner
would’ve should’ve interfered with his disillusionment with the Fire Nation, but that that gets lost since they were more concerned with having him suck face than growing as a person.
(Another thing I’m suuuuuper bitter about is how easy it would’ve been to interweave the Gaang’s supposedly filler* adventures in the first half of the season with Zuko’s narrative. Just have him do boring administrative work! Have him have a supposedly useless job, which would also serve to drive the point home that Ozai just doesn’t care,** like receiving reports from within the Fire Nation, like, say, oh I don’t know, about a meteorite that mysteriously didn’t burn anything? Or, hey, a old waterbender that somehow got defeated during the full moon by a bunch of kids?
Then have him cover up for them or something.
*Each and every one of these would have been amazing to see built on in a season four: Sokka as a White Lotus initiate? Toph finding a common language with her parents? Hama! Just imagine Hama going back to the South! Like, I made a whole post about how much wasted potential Hama is.
**Seriously, though, why do Zuko and Ozai have only three scenes together? Zuko and Azula should’ve interacted more, too.
That ties into my hatred of “The Beach.”)
Having written all of that, I will say this:
I wish we had a season four.
I wish we had a season four, where we would’ve seen Zuko and Katara growing closer, and Sokka being his first true male friend, who is also his equal, because while I think that the Aang-Zuko dynamic is like, 33% of the emotional core of the series, Zuko is still Aang’s mentor. And, you know, a sixteen year old just can’t have all conversations with a twelve year old that they could with someone their age (or just a year younger in this case).
I wish we had a fourth season in which Zuko actively helps Toph deal with her family situation, since he’s the only one who can actually relate.
I wish we had Book 4: Air, where Aang would’ve actually had to turn to his inner conflict. Because the first three seasons were all about an external problem for him: defeat the Fire Lord. But now that the war is over, the rest of the Gaang have homes to go back to, while Aang doesn’t. I think that this would’ve been the place where Zuko would take a turn as Aang’s emotional support, because he understands far better than Katara what it’s like to have a home you can never go back to, because it doesn’t exist.
I wish we had a season four, which would’ve explored the consequences of being a child soldier, and the depth of bonds these children forged with each other.
But you know, inner conflict just doesn’t work for your perfect self-insert character, and movie$ are ju$t $old a$ trilogie$