I'm curious to know what you think about Zuko's character arc, like did you like him betraying Katara and Iroh at the end of Book 2 or did you find it OOC? Did you like how he wanted throughout Book 3, cause to me he looked like a douchebag yelling at Iroh, hiring an assassin etc, really looked like Bryke was trying to make him as bad as possible and pair him up with Mai, to cancel him as a love interest for Katara.
I believe his betrayal of Katara and Iroh at the end of Book 2 was entirely necessary for his character arc. Zuko always showed himself as one who needed to make his own decisions and mistakes before he learned from them. His uncle could preach at him all he wanted, but Zuko only ever recognized Iroh’s truth after he’d pursued a goal to no avail.
For example, the greatest turning point in Zuko’s story during Book 2 was when he let Appa go. Now, he wasn’t planning to do so. He only released Appa after much urging from Iroh, and Iroh’s explanation of Zuko’s past failings:
Iroh: So, the Blue Spirit. I wonder who could be behind that mask …
Zuko: [Sighs and takes off the mask.] What are you doing here?
Iroh: I was just about to ask you the same thing. What do you plan to do now that you’ve found the Avatar’s bison? Keep him locked in our new apartment? Should I go put on a pot of tea for him?
Zuko: First I have to get it out of here.
Iroh: And then what!? You never think these things through! [Points at him.] This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole! You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!
Zuko: I would have figured something out!
Iroh: [Starts yelling.] No! If his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death!
Iroh is quick to tell Zuko that his lack of planning will ultimately lead to his downfall. He was never successful in the past because he never thought his schemes through. What did he really hope to accomplish by capturing Appa? What was his end goal? How exactly did he think revealing his identity in the Earth Kingdom’s only stronghold was going to play out? And this was after he went on a date with Jin, after his uncle had found some success in Ba Sing Se, and after Zuko had a taste of what a normal, peaceful life could be if he’d just let his destiny go.
Zuko: I know my own destiny, Uncle!
Iroh: Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?
He was happy in Ba Sing Se, but largely so, because he had no other choice. His life no longer followed the trajectory he had planned— he couldn’t hunt the Avatar because doing so would mean revealing his location in Ba Sing Se and he couldn’t return home because he couldn’t hunt the Avatar.
Jump back up to Iroh’s last line listed above: Is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you? That can easily be applied to his hunt for the Avatar, but look how easily can that also be applied to Zuko’s newfound life in Ba Sing Se! His actions — pursuing Appa the second he knew the bison was in the city, even after experiencing peace and success — prove that his life in Ba Sing Se was another destiny being forced on him.
Now, I know you may be arguing in your head that Zuko’s metamorphosis proves that he had changed— but I don’t think so. I think Zuko’s metamorphosis proved he hadn’t, foreshadowed by this exchange:
Zuko: Stop it, Uncle! I have to do this!
Iroh: I’m begging you, Prince Zuko! It’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you, and what do you want?
His transformation in Book 2 was his wrestling with this question: What do I want? Zuko didn’t know. He had no idea. Everything was conflicting in his head. Did he want the Avatar? Did he want peace? Did he want to go home? Did he want this new life? This is particularly evident in the warring dragons in his dreams:
Blue dragon: It’s getting late. Are you planning to retire soon, my lord?
Zuko: I’m not tired.
Blue dragon: Relax, Fire Lord Zuko. Just let go. Give in to it. Shut your eyes for a while.
Zuko slowly starts to shut his eyes but widely opens them upon hearing the other dragon.
Red dragon: No, Fire Lord Zuko! Do not listen to the blue dragon. You should get out of here right now. Go! Before it’s too late!
Blue dragon: Sleep now, Fire Lord Zuko.
The dragons disappear, and the room they’re in, as well as the guards watching Zuko, crumble to nothing. The blue dragon reappears in front of him. Two golden eyes appear, followed by the face of the blue dragon, which closes rapidly.
Blue dragon: Sleep. Just like mother!
Charges at Zuko and opens its mouth. Inside the dragon’s mouth, Zuko sees his mother, Ursa. Within that darkness, the camera draws closer to Ursa, who drops her hood.
Ursa: Zuko! Help me!
Zuko disappears through the floor.
Later when Zuko awakens:
Zuko: What’s happening?
Iroh: Your critical decision. What you did beneath that lake. It was in such conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body.
Zuko: What’s that mean?
Iroh: You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience, but when you come out of it, you will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.
I think a lot of viewers take Iroh’s final comment as the end all and be all sign that Zuko was supposed to fully transform here and join the Avatar’s side, however, I do not believe this is the case. I believe Iroh’s comment wasn’t exactly wrong… it’s just interpreted incorrectly. Zuko did change when he woke from his coma: He didn’t change sides or soften or discern all of Azula’s lies, but as became evident in Book 3, Zuko woke from his coma and was able to finally recognize the truth in Iroh’s words.
Let’s delve into the imagery of the metamorphosis… not only is he plagued by weird visions such as taking on Aang’s body, the dragons in Zuko’s dreams symbolize the two dueling sides of him. One part of him wants to enjoy the life he’s found in Ba Sing Se, evidenced by the red dragon warning him to get away from the influence of the blue dragon—
[SIDE NOTE: Zuko may know that Azula always lies… but he always seems to fall for it i.e. that time she said father wanted him home. that time she said he’d be welcomed home. that time she gave him credit for killing Aang as a favor. that time she said the Agni Kai would be one-on-one]
—while the blue dragon represents his desires lying in the Fire Nation. He nearly succumbs to the blue dragon’s suggestion that he sleep, until the red dragon appears and warns him off. However, in the end, Zuko is charged by the blue dragon: He is swallowed by the blue dragon, and in the blue dragon’s mouth, Zuko sees his mother (representing his long-lost childhood desires— to protect those in need and be gentle/kind/innocent) calling for help, before sinking into the floor.
What does this mean? Well, I believe it means that Zuko gave in to the blue dragon, and it was meant to foreshadow him giving in to Azula’s seduction in the Crystal Catacombs, rather than foreshadowing him saving sides. It also foreshadowed his recognition of his mistake and his distraught emotional state following his choice to betray the red dragon (Iroh (and Katara)).
Again, to break it down even more so:
Zuko wants to give in to the Blue Dragon’s request to sleep.
In the real world, Zuko falls prey to Azula’s bait, challenging her to an Agni Kai and being imprisoned.
Zuko is warned by the Red Dragon of his choices.
In the real world, Iroh pleads with Zuko not to listen to Azula. Twice, actually. Once when Iroh flees the palace and Zuko says he’s done running, and again, below the city, when Iroh pleads with Zuko to make the decision he knows is right.
Zuko is swallowed whole by the Blue Dragon.
In the real world, Zuko falls into Azula’s scheme. Unbeknownst to him, Azula is using him— she knows she cannot defeat Aang and Katara alone, so she entices him with the promise of being welcomed home a hero.
Zuko panics over the vision of his mother (innocence), but is ultimately lost to the Blue Dragon.
In the real world, Zuko is completely absorbed in the version of himself he thinks he needs to be. He is angry. He is violent. He is a betrayer. He has lost all connection to the innocence of his childhood and the image of himself that he nearly reconnected with during his metamorphosis.
Furthermore, being lost to the Blue Dragon symbolized Zuko’s emotional and mental spiral in Book 3. He was incredibly unhappy, even after he sold his soul to come home. He’d lost it all. He had no one to blame but himself but he didn’t want to blame himself— he wanted to blame Iroh for being right all along. Zuko’s behavior towards Iroh was unacceptable, yes, but it was in character when you consider Zuko’s complete and utter implosion and the destruction of his soul in his decision to betray everyone.
I fully believe the betrayal was Aaron Ehasz’s idea. In my opinion, it was fundamental to Zuko’s character. As long as he had the support and guidance of his uncle, Zuko would never transform on his own. He needed to hit rockbottom. He needed to realign himself with what he wanted, and the only way to do so, was to have everything he wanted and nothing at all at the same time.
I do not believe it was a ploy by Bryke to destroy Zutara, as the pair came back together in Book 3 and were closer/stronger than ever.
What Avatar struggled with the most was the timing of Zuko’s arc. Book 3 spent too much time focusing on useless episodes that could have been utilized to showcase Zuko’s actions in the Fire Nation and his resulting decision to leave his place there. His treason could have taken place earlier and, as a result, we could’ve spent more time with the transformed Zuko and the Gaang.
I also think Avatar suffered greatly by cancelling Book 4. If we’d had a chance to see Zuko rule as Fire Lord, I believe his transformation would’ve felt complete.