Avatar, the Legend of Aang, is one of the best-animated series out there. It reaches a narrative depth that many similar series would give anything to achieve: political themes, social issues, incredibly well-written male and female characters, and an elegant, ethical and incomparable world-building. The “Zuko Alone” Episode is storytelling at its best.
The narrative of the series reaches a point where one chapter can change our perspective. In one of the most underrated chapters of the series: “Zuko Alone” we can see how a character like Prince Zuko who is perceived as an antagonist at the time acquires many nuances. After the chapter, we end up asking ourselves Is Zuko a bad person? Let’s dig into the “Zuko Alone” episode.
Zuko Alone Character Development
Avatar has better character development than any animation aimed at a young audience. In this series, everyone can have their favorite character, but we all agree that the best-developed character is Zuko, he may or may not be your favorite character but his arc and evolution, along with the moral code of his journey and his subsequent redemption make him a complex character, beyond being good or bad, black or white.
Here we will discuss Zuko’s development, but we will not analyze the entire series but rather a key chapter that not many take with importance but is vital to understanding why Zuko constantly struggles with moral conflicts.
From book one we know that Zuko wishes to capture the Avatar to regain the honor that was taken from him by the Fire Nation. For us, he is a simple villain just because he has objectives contrary to the protagonist, but Zuko is different, we are not told about his origin in the first chapter, but from the first moment the series makes it clear that Zuko is someone to be respected, he has more honor than the entire Fire Nation put together. On multiple occasions, he doesn’t hurt other people, he simply wants to catch the avatar.
In the first chapter, Aang and Zuko come to an agreement in which Zuko promised not to hurt anyone if Aang went with him, as well as later when the origin of Zuko’s scar is shown. We see that he has kindness in his heart when he preferred his crew to take shelter instead of chasing the avatar at the end of the first book.
After fighting Zhao in the Northern Water Tribe, someone who wanted to take everything from him decides to save him, there is a hero within Zuko. We are given a clear example of what he can do with these details. Zuko is neither good nor bad, he is honorable, he respects what he cares about despite always having conflicts. This will be repaired with the help of his uncle.
Zuko is Slowly Changing
Zuko goes so far as to defy his entire nation because he wants to be the one to catch the avatar. He is not able to realize that he is changing. We can see him and his uncle as an allegory, they are a betrayal to their nation for doing the right thing.
In Zuko’s arc in the Earth’s book, it isn’t easy to evaluate the character because he is a teenager living a teenager’s life. From the beginning, we see someone banished from his nation, desperately seeking to regain his honor, but here we are presented with something different. He is not a prince commanding a ship; he is a teenager traveling, chasing answers so he can reconcile with himself.
Capturing the Avatar seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but he realizes the damage his nation has done, but he doesn’t want to stoop to being someone else. He doesn’t understand why he can’t be happy, or well, he thinks he does; he thinks he can only get what he wants by capturing the Avatar. In his heart, he hopes to be welcomed by his nation as a hero, but most of all, to be welcomed by his father with love. We know that’s impossible; he just hasn’t realized yet.
The Depth of Zuko’s Pain is Seen in “Zuko Alone”
A man who burned his son’s face, a child who spoke when he shouldn’t have and begged for forgiveness. Ozai is unable to welcome Zuko with open arms, the Zuko Alone episode is simply a gem. In this episode, we see that despite being good and doing the right thing according to his uncle’s teachings an entire village detests him.
He does not look for trouble, he avoids snitching a child, he ends up reluctantly accepting the hospitality of a family. He becomes aware of the problems not only of the family that takes him in but also of the village where the chapter takes place, once again we see Zuko is watching firsthand the suffering caused by war.
We take a walk through Zuko’s memories, he must put his childhood in perspective to define his identity. Thanks to his mother he was loved as a child, so he is not evil, there is goodness in his heart. But he also remembers his father’s actions and the reason for his decisions. This is something that haunts him as he does not want to believe that he is wrong and that the one he so desperately pursues is right.
Conclusion of Zuko Alone
At the end of this chapter, we see the prince go to the aid of the kidnapped boy, confronting a group of bullies who had the whole town in disgrace. In his fight he ends up using firebending and although he defeats the corrupted soldiers he receives nothing but hatred and rejection from the people he saved. Why is this happening to him? He wants to understand it, but he still can’t do it.
In this chapter there is no one but Zuko, he doesn’t have his uncle to give him advice, there is no Avatar, his biggest target. We only see a character venturing into a world corrupted by a 100-year war that he is part of. Undoubtedly not only in this chapter but in this whole book we can notice how the character is immersed in a journey of self-discovery in which he begins to show his various facets.