Avatar: The Last Airbender improves on Zuko's original story in Episode 6

Zuko's messy past takes on new resonance in the sixth episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Masks."
Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Arden Cho as June, Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2024
Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Arden Cho as June, Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2024 /

Prince Zuko's story is the main focus of the sixth episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Masks." The episode has a healthy mix of faithful storytelling and new details added for this remake.

First let's talk about the bad stuff. This episode finally introduces Avatar Roku, and it's really off the mark. He starts his first conversation with Aang by cracking a few cheesy jokes that feel pulled from a bad SNL skit. The conversation gets more serious when Roku tells him how to release his friends from Koh's grasp, and alludes to the dangers of friendship.

It just feels wrong. In the original animated series, Roku was friendly but mostly serious when speaking to Aang, probably because he feels responsible for the 100-years war that his best friend Sozin started. It's unclear if the Netflix remake will go into Roku and Sozin's past, but giving Roku a magician-like sense of humor was a bit of an odd choice no matter what.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Episode 6, "Masks"

For the rest of the episode Aang takes a bit of a backseat as we get the explanation for Zuko's scar and banishment, which sticks close to the animated show. Zuko speaks out against a plan to sacrifice a division of new Fire Nation recruits, so Ozai decides to fight him in a one-on-one duel and leave a permanent scar on his face. The Netflix version adds a bit more as Iroh tries to talk Ozai out of punishing Zuko. He's the only one by Zuko's bed in the aftermath.

Ozai's Darth Vader-level parenting goes a bit further than in the original show, as he calls Zuko weak for not fighting back. When Zuko defends his actions, Ozai contends that this "softness" needs to be purged, so he banishes him and tells him to take the division of new recruits as his crew. This subtle change is woven into the story really well, as Iroh explains to Lieutenant Jee that the only reason the crew is alive is because of Zuko's sacrifice. This instantly transforms the crew from contemptuous insubordinates to loyal soldiers. They are loyal to Zuko because he stood up and did the right thing despite great personal risk, which foreshadows Zuko's leadership style later in the story.

Seeds of Zuko's eventual face turn are also planted by Aang in this episode. After the Blue Spirit arc, where Zhao captures Aang and Zuko disguises himself to break him out, the pair have a couple of conversations. When Zuko contends that he needs to capture him because he is expected to be the Fire Lord, Aang tells him about what he learned from the monks: to not worry about others people's expectations. Aang also tells Zuko that his notebook full of Avatar information has helped him more than anything, which bonds the characters more than any scene from the first season of the original Nickelodeon's show.

Both characters have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and they can relate to each other. Although Zuko rejects Aang, a monologue from Iroh at the end of the episode implies that Zuko's true nature will bring him to a point where he'll help Aang and reject his father's cruelty.

The Fire Nation characters — aside from Zhao — continue to benefit most from the changes Netflix is making to the story. This episode made me yearn for more Zuko-and-Aang scenes and got me excited for potential future seasons of the show.

Episode Grade: A-

Next. atla 7. Avatar: The Last Airbender Episode 7 runs a frustrating race to the finish line. dark

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