Avatar: The Last Airbender – Crossroads of Destiny

The season finale of Book Two of Avatar: The Last Airbender returns to the core question of Aang’s existence.  Does he exist purely to be the savior of the Avatar World or is he a person in his own right?  Season Two has touched upon this subject, beginning with “The Avatar State,” in which Aang both wanted to learn to control his most powerful ability and at the same time, revealed his fear of the uncontrollable element of it, in which he lost himself within the embodiment of a thousand lifetimes of previous Avatars.  In a state of grief and anger, he nearly wiped out a company of sand benders in “The Desert,” and in “The Guru,” he finally found a teacher to instruct him into controlling the Avatar State.  However, that control came at a price, the sacrifice of everything he loved, ultimately, his love for Katara. 

As previously discussed, Aang left his training after learning that Katara was in trouble and with the warning of his mentor in mind, he would never be able to access the Avatar State so long as he held onto his attachment to Katara.  Unsaid, is the premise that once Aang lets go of all his attachments, he essentially sacrifices Aang the Person to become Aang the Avatar (or better put, Aang the Savior).  “The Crossroads of Destiny,” follows through with this question.  At the same time, Zuko, who only recently chose to become a new person is forced to decide between the person he was versus the person he wants to become.  Ultimately, the season finale ends up with two of our main heroes, Aang and Zuko, being forced to choose who they are or are destined to become.

Early into “The Crossroads of Destiny,” Azula makes her reveal to Zuko and Iroh, and Zuko in marvelous Zuko bad timing, manages to get himself captured by the Dai Li, now firmly under his sister’s control.  This results in him being imprisoned with Katara, whom he has nothing but a poor history from past experiences.  Katara, predictably launches into Zuko, where the two surprisingly find themselves sharing in common the loss of their mothers. Elsewhere, Iroh hunts down Aang, Toph and Sokka, seeking their assistance in stopping Azula and saving our two imprisoned friends above.

Iroh and Aang split off to find Katara and Zuko and in the process, Aang brings up his problems with the guru’s demand that Aang detach himself from Katara.  Iroh quickly tells Aang that power is overrated and approved of a choice of happiness and love.  In short, Iroh is telling Aang that there’s value in being himself, and by extension, it’s more important to be Aang the human, than Aang the Avatar.  His additional advice is simply to keep moving and eventually, there’ll be light at the end of the tunnel.  Not entirely the most helpful advice.
Sokka and Toph attempt to warn the Earth King (and Bosco) of an impending coup, but unfortunately, run straight up against Azula holding the Earth King hostage.  Reluctantly they surrender, and immediately thereafter, Azula completes her takeover of Ba Sing Se by convincing the Dai Li to follow her, making her the de facto ruler of the city.  All that remains for the Fire Nation princess is to capture the Avatar.

In the solitude of their imprisonment, Zuko and Katara have a discussion in which Katara ultimately offers to try and heal his scar with the spirit water from the North Pole.  Notably, prior to this offer, Zuko discussed the scar and how he has changed how he views it.  Initially, the mark of an exile and shame as a Fire Nation prince, since his metamorphosis, Zuko tells Katara that he now understands that while he will never be free of it, he does have the freedom to be who he wants to be.  This flows from his idea of honor and proving himself to his father, in which his whole identity, wrapped around the mission of capturing the Avatar to restore that honor, chained him into being someone his uncle knew him not to be.  It’s a breaking free of the persona he strongly identified with from the moment of his birth through to his exile, and it has taken the entirety of the season’s journey for Zuko to realize that circumstances do not make a person, but the decisions of the person, do.  Or short, he is who he wants to be, not what others expect or demand him to be.  Unfortunately, in short order, he fails to fully break away from these preconceptions of the past.

Right after Iroh tells Zuko that he’s at the (prepare for it) crossroads of destiny and must choose to be good or bad, Azula appears and questions his loyalty to the Fire Nation and whether he will step up and be the prince that he is.  His answer comes in the midst of a beautifully choreographed fight between Katara and Azula, in which he chooses….poorly.  A fight of two against one becomes two and against two.   In the midst of this dueling duos, Toph effects her, Sokka, and the Earth King’s own escape (including Bosco).  Katara challenges Zuko on his change, to which he barks back that he had changed.  Katara, however, is surrounded and effectively neutralized by the appearance of the Dai Li in assistance to Azula, and Aang realizes the only way to save Katara is to embrace the Avatar State…and so lose her. 

After a brief meditation, Aang rises out of a stone tent in the Avatar state and is promptly shot in the back by Azula, caught unconscious by Katara in a final poise that resembles the Pieta, or Madonna holding a crucified Christ.  Iroh appears at the last second, providing Katara time to escape with Aang, and the two ascend a column of water to escape on Appa.  Katara treats Aang’s terrible wounds with the spirit water, and he’s revived (unsaid at this point is the fact that Aang had pretty much died as a result of Azula’s lightning strike).  Team Avatar flies away on Appa into the night, while the episode cuts back to the Earth Kingdom throne room with Azula seated on the throne. 

Zuko stands on her left and acknowledges he had betrayed his uncle.  Azula soothes him by telling him that he Iroh had betrayed him and he will be a hero when they return to the Fire Nation.  Her brother, remorseful in face, questions whether his father will restore his honor without the Avatar, to which Azula simply responds, “You restored your own honor.”  It’s an incredible twist and indicative of how well Azula recognizes her brother’s pathos or did.  The old Zuko would have been much more concerned about his honor, but it falls as an after thought to his worries about Iroh.  It’s his place in Iroh’s eyes that now matters most to Zuko, not the honor that places in the eyes of his father.  The prince of the Fire Nation has changed, but it’s only after committing a final bad act that he is able to have everything that truly matters to himself become clear.
In an episode which demanded the hero and his mirror choose their paths, we had Aang elect to become Aang the Avatar over Aang the person, while contrastingly, Zuko elected to remain Zuko the Fire Nation prince versus Zuko the good person.  Fascinatingly, both individuals chose to be the person they were literally born to be, not necessarily who they preferred to be by this point in the story. 

Deeper into Aang’s story, we see Aang literally placed into the position of being a savior, in this instance, Jesus Christ the Savior, assuming his place in the Pieta. (Notably, disregarding Aang’s romantic feelings for Katara, given her “motherly” role within the group, Katara’s place here is also fitting).  For Jesus to fulfill his destiny, he had to die on a crucifix, ultimately choosing to lose his humanity for the purpose of bringing forth salvation for the world.  Aang, likewise, had to choose to symbolically give up his humanity in the form of his love for Katara to become the savior – who incidentally was killed by Azula, and then ascended upward (something also attributed to Jesus).  The writers are not trying to say Aang is Jesus, but specifically are showing using Jesus’ life as a savior allegory.  They want us to see Aang as a savior to the world, so they’re using imagery we associate within our own world for saviors.

On that note, Season One brought us an Aang who struggled with the question of whether he wanted to be the Avatar or not.  Season Two raised the question of whether Aang was prepared to give everything he had to be the Avatar, and answered it in the conclusion of “Crossroads of Destiny.”  Season Three, the final season, will push forward with the question, will Aang, as the Avatar, be able to do what he must to save the world and not just those he love?

(Screencaps from AvatarSpirit.net)

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