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Looking into the Tunnels

August 2007

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[fma] ishbal

woodface in metabender

2x17 Lake Laogai

Thanks to turbonick, a lot of people have already seen this episode. Still, what better way to kick off a community by an episode discussion?

Have fun with it. Obviously, there will be spoilers in the comments.

Comments

Random Comments

*thwaps LJ*

So originally I realised I said that I disliked Toph's newfound ability to tell if someone is lying, but after watching the ep again today, I think it does make quite a bit of sense. It's part of her 'listening to the earth' and proves again why she should be Aang's teacher.

Also I think it's interesting that both Katara and Toph demonstrate newfound powers in the ep. Katara's being the 'mindhealing' - even though it wasn't perfect, it certainly broke through Jet's conditioning for a bit. Sure, it's an offshoot of her healing - and it's interesting that she *couldn't* heal Jet's injuries at the end - but I think that healing brainwashing vs. burns is a big enough difference that it can be considered a new aspect of her bending.

I wonder what this means for our other benders Zuko and Aang in future episodes. Not that Aang really NEEDS new powers.

And a minute of mourning for Jet. Speaking of which, this was the first episode with the new voice actor for Iroh, yes?

Re: Random Comments

Katara being able to break through mindbending kind of annoyed me at first, but in hindsight it was kind of cool and it does make sense if this is part of the aspect that she would really be able to influence the bodily fluids in some way. After all, she didn't completely heal Jet, but she did manage to open up his mind again (so to speak).

Zuko could use a break. I'm really hoping that Iroh managed to get through to him enough that he might start finding some of the inner peace he so desperately needs to learn lightning bending. But that's probably too soon and something they might be saving for S3.

Also, woe on Jet dying. They better not start killing off all the new characters. *clings to Suki*

I'm not sure about the voice actor. I thought the new voice actor would only come in for S3, but that was just a rumour I read somewhere so I don't know.

Re: Random Comments

Ooh, do you think that was mindbending they did on Jet? I thought it was just basic hypnotism/conditioning, but mindbending is a creepy idea. I wonder how the earthbending ties into that since the Dai Li was an earthbender. As for Katara, if we look at the hypnotism/mindbending as a blocking of the person's chi, maybe she was able to use the water to 'smooth' the pathways in his brain and thereby partially unblock it.

Zuko really could use one. And one of the things that I keep wanting to pick at more fully is what exactly is Iroh's goal with Zuko. What is he hoping to accomplish? Why does he so rarely - in what looks to be a very hierarchal society - assert his authority by dint of age and status. I think that a case can be made for Zuko being a higher rank than his uncle - the son of the Fire Lord being a more important than the brother of the Fire Lord. But...hmm, you can tell I haven't completely thought this out yet.

But Iroh's goal is interesting in my head. The Fire Nation hardly looks like its going to be stopped anytime soon unless the Avatar stops him. It's harder to believe that Azula would stop hunting the 'traitors' so he can hardly expect that staying in a teashop in Ba Sing Se is going to be a possibility for ever. To my mind? There has to be a long game for Iroh.

I thought I read that Mako's last recorded scene was the scene in Tales of Ba Sing Se, but I suppose that doesn't mean he hadn't done more episodes than that.

Re: Random Comments

So I've just watched the ep again and came up with some more thoughts.

I don't think it was mindbending. Just regular hypnotising. A blocking of someone's chi does make sense, though. For some reason this is now reminding me of what Ty Lee does as she seems capable of blocking someone's bending which seems to be in favour of bending being genetics.

As for Zuko and Iroh, I think Iroh has just been where Zuko is now. He came back home from a war where he lost is son only to find that his brother had taken over his destiny. He lost his throne just like Zuko did so Iroh went looking for what his destiny would if being Fire lord wasn't it. I also think that he recognises that the only way for Zuko to accept that is if he finally understands that himself.

Iroh is the only person in the series who we have ever heard talking about there having to be balance between the elements. That little speech he gave Zuko so had more meaning than to just teach him lightning bending. I think if Iroh's son hadn't been killed, that Iroh would have just followed up Azulon and he would have continued the war. Instead, he learned that there are more important things. He's clearly been places. He's watched waterbenders, he can see the spirit world. I think he wants Zuko to see another destiny than taking a throne and waging a war. If Zuko learns to appreciate life for itself and that peace is more important than taking over the world, then maybe Zuko is the right person to follow up Ozai and restore balance. If Zuko doesn't, he'll most likely get himself killed by Azula or he'll take the throne and keep up Sozin's war.

Look, I'm rambly!

Re: Random Comments

Though chi is both a spiritual and a physical manifestation of a person's energy, so through training, perhaps benders learn to be able to direct their chi in the same way that martial (not marital omg) artists learn at high levels of martial arts. The some of the specifics of the Tai Chi style that waterbending uses, for instance, was designed by a man who could direct his chi to cause internal injuries with an attack that didn't cause external bruising. (I think we might have talked about this on IM once). So I'd think that the genetics give the person the bending 'spark,' but how they develop it is up to them and their training.

Which obviously brings up the question, is Azula better than Zuko because she's destined to be or did she just train harder as a child while he ran away to learn how to use his dual swords and watch soldiers? He's obviously still getting better and getting to a place where he might be able to start challenging her.

I suppose a better example is Katara. She trained at the North Pole for a few weeks (maybe?) and was able to beat every other waterbending student there and be named a Master (even if only by courtesy). Did the discipline she learned trying to teach herself as a child affect that or is she just naturally stronger than the rest of the students?

I do like the theory that Iroh spent a few years travelling between Azulon's death and when he came back just before Zuko's Agni Kai. It's the only way he could have learned about the other cultures. Though I suppose he fought against the waterbenders and earthbenders and may have observed them closely there. Still it seems like it would have been wisest for Iroh to leave the Fire Nation following Ozai's ascension in order to avoid coming up with a good case of dead.
*Warning: Lots of things I've been mulling over + trying to do this so late/early = rambling and possible incoherence.

Woodface mentioned above that had Iroh not lost Lu-Ten at Ba Sing Se that he would've returned home and followed right in Azulon's footsteps, which is exactly right. He was laughing pretty jovially when writing home about capturing the city, after all.

I think Iroh is naturally kind and curious about others, but as a royal prince this was stifled (something he later sees happening to Zuko and tries to alleviate). He's going to go out and conquer and subjugate the Earth Kingdom like a good little Fire Prince.

But then his son dies. And he finally realizes what he's been doing. The pain and suffering he's inflicted. How many other parents where crying over their own dead children on the other side of the battlefield?

So when he gets home, he doesn't fight Ozai for the throne. He's broken and dejected- sending more sons out to die isn't going to fix that, even if they win. Anomilygrace's idea about Iroh traveling makes sense here, I think.

Leading a country is a great responsibility, a duty. It's about caring for your people. Stewardship. All throughout history, in every culture, it's not what usually happens, however, and it's certainly not been happening in the Fire Nation since Sozen. Iroh learns this too late.

But it's not to late for Zuko to learn, because these qualities in him are apparent as soon as he steps into the war room. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Zuko is told in an end-all way that he is completely and utterly *wrong* in his priorities. And he believes it, partly at least, because his father is his father and how can he be wrong?

Iroh went with Zuko in exile because he loves him. He helps Zuko in his crazy Avatar search- keeps supporting him, always calling him *prince* mind you, because he wants to get him back on the throne. He wants Zuko to rule, because he knows the boy can be a *good* ruler but Zuko needs to know what that is.

In the book Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (an excellent read, Octavian and Dr. Trefusis remind me a little of Zuko and Iroh) the protagonist Octavian talks about an ancient philosopher that said that in the womb, the backbone is one long solid rod, and that it's the travails of birth that gives us our backbone. To paraphrase; "that to have a spine, our backs must be broken again and again". That's what happened to Iroh when he lost his son and then had his throne stolen by his own brother.

Zuko's scar and his banishment are his first breaks, but there will be more. Because becoming a better person (and that's what he'll have to do to deserve that throne) always hurts. Because becoming *more* always has a price. Because anything worth having is worth struggling and suffering for. And I'm rambling, but the show never flinches from this fact, shows it as much as the censors will allow, and I love it for that.

Anyway, I really do have a point with all this. Which is that the Avatarverse is balancing precariously on the edge of nothingness, that this war *has to end*. That it's not about nations, that it's about *people*. Iroh knows this, but Zuko doesn't, because he's never been exposed to it. He grew up as royalty, when has he ever seen what even his own people have to go through? He grew up being told the other nations were barely human, how can he be expected to even think about ending the war should he end up Fire Lord?

Which is why Iroh has them living the peasant life. So Zuko can see that people in the other nations are people that bleed just the same as him. That suffer and struggle and just try to survive. To be reminded why he stood up for those soldiers in the first place and said "No. This is wrong".

In the end, the war must be stopped, and the Avatar is the best hope. But Zuko is a part of that hope, because he could be the first Fire Lord since Sozen *willing* to make peace. Iroh's been steadily trying to get Zuko ready for this, only there is just not enough *time* for gradual realization, and that's where everything gets screwed up. But that's another episode.