Wed
Jun 27 2012 1:00pm

Amon Revealed: The Legend of Korra: “Skeletons in the Closet”

Amon Revealed: A recap of The Legend of Korra episode Skeletons in the Closet

Well, now that the hour long season finale of The Legend of Korra—consisting of the episodes “Skeletons in the Closet” and “Endgame”—have aired I have to admit that I was wrong. I don’t think it counts as spoilers to say as much; the theory I articulated after watching “The Revelation” was complete bunk, and I freely and gladly acknowledge that many other viewers had the right idea. I will happily eat crow, and have gotten my just desserts, so on and so forth.

According to Korra, the events of this season took place over a “few months,” which means that they’ve been keeping pace between the fictional world and ours. A pretty eventful couple of months, I’d say! I’m going to deal with each episode separately, and since this is the finale and it does answer a lot of the questions, subplots and mysteries of this season, consider everything that follows to be a big fat spoiler.

Right off the bat, seeing the giant Aang statue defaced (literally) with an Amon mask is eerie, especially after the site’s significance in “The Voice in the Night.” It has become perhaps the most defining part of Republic City’s skyline, and seeing it held by the Equalists really drives home the idea that they have control of the city. After the coup in “Turning the Tides” I asked where the populist uprising we were promised was, and we see it here in rallies in the park and in the repurposed probending arena that the Equalists destroyed during “…And the Winner Is.” Korra and Mako have infiltrated a demonstration using chi-blocker disguises, much the same way they snuck into the first secret meeting by concealing their identities. The Krew has been hiding out with the homeless fellow from “Welcome to Republic City,” who appears to live in an integrated underground shantytown. The group sits and hides, stewing in impatience and romantic tension*, while Amon, Hiroshi Sato and the Equalists occupy the city.

“Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked!” Oh alright, it is the United Forces, but I’m sorry, you can’t put a guy named Iroh with Dante Basco’s voice on a warship and not make me think of the iconic opening from Avatar: The Last Airbender. General Iroh may have a mess of warships and trained benders, but The Equalists have Hiroshi Sato, the mad genius of Future Industries. Sato was just getting started with the mechs in “The Aftermath.” Mines are the first surprise, devastating the United Force’s navy, followed up by “high speed aircraft”: bi-planes, complete with self-propelled torpedoes and explosive bombs. The one-two punch is enough to knock the United Forces out, even with Korra doing a bang-up job clipping mines, redirecting torpedos and acting as a makeshift anti-aircraft gun.

How old is General Iroh? He seems much younger here, where we see him in action; maybe he’ll be added to the roster of characters next season? It does seem like he is not related to Bumi; so much for that theory. The collar appears to be a military uniform, and Commander Bumi is the head of the second wave of the United Forces fleet. After regrouping and licking their wounds, our heroes part ways from one another. Korra feels the time is right to face Amon, and Mako goes with her, while Iroh, Bolin and Asami take Naga and go try to neutralize the airplanes. The romantic triangle started in “The Spirit of Competition” is nearing a breaking point. Mako and Asami part ways saying they “care” about each other. Alright, so it isn’t a breakup, but let me tell you what; if you go off on a life or death mission and the best you can muster up is that you “care” about your significant other? Not a good sign.

Then we get to the meat of the episode: Korra and Mako find Tarrlok under lock and key in the attic of Air Temple Island—where Amon has been holding court—and they find out the secret history of Amon: that Amon is Tarrlok’s brother, Noatak, son of Yakone, and a bloodbender. Boom. I guess the visions of Aang and the rest of the characters from the last season—crystalized in “Out of the Past”—really were incredibly pertinent to Korra’s troubles. Yakone got plastic surgery—as any good crime lord on the lam would—and high-tailed it to the Northern Water Tribe, where he married & taught his sons his signature style of “psychic bloodbending.” Sounds very similar to Combustion Man’s style, but I digress. Noatak and Tarrlok’s story is an all too plausible story of abuse, but it still isn’t enough to make Tarrlok sympathetic. It would take some kind of grand gesture for that…

So that is the mystery of Amon, and the solution to the various odd abilities he possesses. I guess my theories about face-stealers and moon goddesses might seem a little fanciful, in retrospect. Everybody who guessed the bloodbending connection for both Amon & Tarrlock after “When Extremes Meet” wins the prize. It certainly fits; other people had prophesied that Amon would be a bloodbender and even been specific in saying that Amon and Tarrlok were both the sons of Yakone. He is able to avoid everyone’s attacks because he just barely tilts their blows awry, he was able to resist Tarrlok’s bloodbending because he’s a more powerful bloodbender and he’s able to take away people’s bending by…well, that isn’t explicit, but like with Asami and Mako’s parting, sometimes you’ve got to read the implicit logic of a scene, especially with the fast, cinematic pacing of The Legend of Korra. Amon—Noatak—learned some way to use bloodbending to lock a chakra, much the same way that the pebble flung at Combustion Man’s forehead muddled his psychic firebending, or how Azula’s lightning locked Aang’s chakra.

While I’m a little disappointed that Amon isn’t a true believer, a zealot for the cause of the Equalists, the motives he does have are a complicated and plausible bend. Tarrlok says that even as a child, Noatak cared about things being fair—which means that Amon at the very least has that crutch to lean on, internally, to rationalize his deception and assuage any self-doubt. He targets Republic City because like it or not his father Yakone’s quest for revenge was brainwashed into him, on some level. Then there is his clear statement that he views the ability to take bending away as the truest expression of power; trained from a young age to crave power as the only legitimately satisfying feeling, it is no wonder he searched out a way to do it himself.

How eerie is it to hear Aang’s voice coming out of Noatak? In the same way that General Iroh represents a fulfillment of Zuko’s redemptive character arc and the use of the same voice actor telegraphs that, using Zach Tyler Eisen paints Amon as an inverted savior, a negative image of the Avatar. And that is really chilling.


*Please note that Mordicai Knode avoided making a “romantic Tenzin” pun all season, even when there was the lingering romantic tension around Lin and Tenzin. He’s pretty proud of his self-restraint. He’s much less restrained over on Twitter and Tumblr, though.

39 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
Yes, I know the cover image is from the second half, but it was thematically appropriate! Plus, I have a different cover image in mind for the second part.
Max Moseley
2. mmoseley
Where did you hear that Zach Tyler Eisen voiced Noatak? According to the Avatar Wiki and IMDb, teenager-Noatak was played by someone named Alexander Martella. :/ If Zach did voice him, though, then that's pretty cool!
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
2. mmoseley

I didn't see a true confirmation, but it hit my ears as Aang's voice, & a lot of people on "the internets" seemed to agree. I haven't seen a reliable or citable source, but I'm going with my gut! Though you are wise to take it with a grain of salt.
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
2. mmoseley

No, it looks like you are right; Jacob Bertrand & Alexander Martella were the voices of Noatak. Wishful thinking then, on my part, it really does sound a lot like Aang, but it looks like my facts were wrong. Much like my theories. Wow, I am sure wrong a lot! Good catch!
krakens
5. krakens
Hope I'm not the only one in thinking this, but I was kinda disappointed by the finale. Everything made sense, and fit neatly together, but it felt rushed and spoon-fed. The season built up some remarkable tensions that added to the mature feel of the show. Complicated love triangles (squares?), revolutionaries and enemies with morally defensible positions, and Korra's tempermental struggle with her abilities. The season ender mostly addressed these items, but only enough to tie up loose ends before moving to the next point. Asami, had to chill out in a few seconds, the revolutionaries were reduced to the leaders and faceless machines and Korra's air bending skills were inexplicably and suddenly amazing. What happened to the hundreds of other regular humans who were brainwashed by Amon? I thought earlier episodes did a great job of illustrating their feelings of inferiority and fear. In this episode, they were reduced to ninja-buzzstick guy who had to experience the betrayal. Maybe 40 seconds of screen time. Asami, also an incredibly complicated character, made life-changing decisions left and right. Her character development climaxed when she fought her father and nothing surprising or exciting happened. The break up with Mako was very short as well, and while emotional, didn't last more than a few minutes. Lastly, the final dramatic moments of Korra without bending was reconciled far too quickly.
Sean Fagan
6. sef
No, you're not the only one. I thought the ending was very deus ex machina. I'm also entirely puzzled, since it appears to be over now -- so what will the second season be about?
Fade Manley
7. fadeaccompli
Grumbling from some people I know suggests I'm in the minority on this, but... damn, did I ever love that flashback from Tarrlok. It confirmed a lot of my suspicions as to his background while also providing a lot of explanation, and I outright enjoyed it as a miniature story all its own. (Besides, I'm a sucker for childhood backstory stuff.) The brotherly dynamic at the end was the perfect turning point, too: that one-two punch of protection and then betrayal--and you can tell how both brothers feel betrayed by the other at the same time--really felt right for where they both ended up later.

I guess, if I have any analysis at all of this episode, it's that that final scene in the flashback sums up Tarrlock and Noatok entirely. They both feel used and betrayed and determined to fix things--so of course they ended up as enemies. Very much flip side of the coin, there.
Scott Silver
8. hihosilver28
@7 fadeaccompli

No, you're not in the minority. I loved the backstory between Tarrlok and Noatak. I thought that it humanized Tarrlok in a way that I would not have thought possible. Which in and of itself is silly considering what Bryan and Mike have been doing with their "villains" and subverting our expectations since day 1 of A:TLA. It made the final moment between the two a very powerful moment and redeeming of Tarrlok that I would not have expected.

I loved this finale, and thought it was fantastic. The only moment that I felt was rushed was the Mako-Asami-Korra angle. I felt horrible for Asami throughout this double-episode. Boyfriend leaves her, father imprisons and then tries to kill her, and yet she stays faithful to her friends and what she feels is right. Girl cannot seem to catch a break. In my opinion she is one of the unsung heroes of the season. I'd put her right up there with Korra and Lin as far as emotional strength and growth.

And Korra. Sweet mother of pearl. Her journey through these two episodes got me choked up. It was devasting in the best possible way. But, I guess I'll save that comment for the second episode comments.
krakens
10. wcarter4
I wouldn't the season ending reveals deus ex machina. A lot of the plot points were foreshadowed, even if you didn't necessarily see them at the time.
This episode had some plot pointes that were rushed. I agree about that, but I think at least part of that is that Korra was meant to be a miniseries.
There is no garuntee of season 2, and certianly there wasn't when these episodes were in production. So how do you handle simultaneously building on an elaborate and colorful world and make a convincing ending? By rushing some things slightly and leaving others hanging open.
What these two episodes do is an ending for the series. The characters have all rounded corners in their lives and personal growth, if they still have other things unresolved in their stories that only goes to make the world fell more real by enhancing the illusion that doesn't stop after the credits role.
Fade Manley
11. fadeaccompli
hihosilver28 @8: Well, that's one of the reasons I ship Asami/Lin. They both deserve better! Not to mention Asami appears to be the only one in the teenage group who's acting like an adult; Korra and Mako and Bolin act like fairly realistic teenagers, and she comes across as a college senior.

That said, I'm holding out hope that she gets to do a hell of a lot more in the next season. (...we're getting another season, right? Right? Someone please tell me that's actually true and not just speculation.) She's got a whole implied emotional arc ahead that she's clearly been holding off on this season for the sake of Getting Things Done. Which I mean in an IC way, not a story-telling way; she really does seem like someone who is deliberately putting off a lot of emotional fallout for later, because she does not have time for that shit right now.
Mordicai Knode
12. mordicai
11. fadeaccompli

As you'll see in part two...I now 'ship Mechasami!
Fade Manley
13. fadeaccompli
mordicai @12: Mechasami is not incompatible with Asami/Lin, especially given metal-bending. Just. Y'know. Saying.
treebee72 _
14. treebee72
I also really liked the Tarrlok and Noatak backflash. It struck me a few hours after watching the ep that they are who Zuko would have become without Iroh.
krakens
15. Tumas-Muscat
"While I’m a little disappointed that Amon isn’t a true believer, a zealot for the cause of the Equalists"

Nowhere in the episode is it stated this is true. Tarrlok actually says Amon genuinely believes his own rhetoric, and that he truly believes that bending is the source of all evil. And he learned this from his experiences with his father (and, I'm assuming, fermented further in whatever went on after he left home). He just hid the fact that he was a bender because he wknows it would make him seem a hypocrite in the eyes of his followers.
Scott Silver
16. hihosilver28
11. @fadeaccompli

Yes, we are getting a season 2. Following evidence via Bryan Konietzko's tumblr feed:

–Book 2 is happening, and is 14 episodes long. No, I don’t know when it comes out. REALLY, I DON’T. But no, it won’t be another two years from now, as we are already in production on it (that’s the brutal thing about TV, the schedule overlap). So all I can say, and it is the honest truth, is that we’re working really hard on it!

I honestly don't feel that the end of the second episode was a Deus Ex Machina, especially with the precedent established by A:TLA. I'll bring up specific examples in the comments of that section, but I really felt the ending was fitting. Once again, for reasons I'll bring up in detail there. Especially considering Korra's emotional state.
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
15. Tumas-Muscat

I mean, I would argue that being a hypocrite & building trust on a web of lies (evil firebenders, spirit blessings) would...sort of invalidate him as a true believer.
George Brell
18. gbrell
@5.krakens:

You're not the only one. I liked it, but I don't think it rose above good. It was action-packed and resolved a number of plotlines, but the pacing felt alternatively rushed and laconic. The equalist plotline, which the showrunners appeared to be dealing with incredibly as of "When Extremes Meet," ultimately fell to the wayside.

I would've loved to have seen a) a populist solution to Amon (which is vaguely hinted at by the Hobo, b) Korra forced to live without her avatar powers for a period of time, rather than being forced through the entirety of a Bildungsroman in ~5 minutes, and c) the other characters in the Krew (Bolin, Asami) given a little more screentime.

What I'm hoping is that S2 ends up discussing the consequences of these climactic events, much like how the first half of Book 3 covered the fallout of the Earth Kingdom's fall. How does Republic City put itself back together? A significant portion of the population appears unlikely to support the reinstatement of an extraterritorial government of benders.* How does the avatar, as the symbol for benders, fit into a government of laws and equality?

*Random aside: Is it ever established whether the United Republic is a separate country or simply a protectorate of the "five" bending nations? Because if it's the former, why is the Firelord's grandson (and likely presumptive heir) serving as a military commander? It'd be like Prince William of Great Britain serving in the French foreign legion. And if it's the latter, then the citizenry can be pissed about BOTH the dual-class citizenry AND being ruled from afar.
Scott Silver
19. hihosilver28
18. @gbrell

I don't think it has been established what the United Republic is politically speaking. I think The Promise might lay out what it is specifically. It feels to me like it's a protectorate.
krakens
20. Tumas-Muscat
17 mordicai

Personally I think that those are just small facts which dow not really change his core viewpoints being genuine. His family wasn't killed by a firebender, but his father did make him bloodbend his own brother whom he loved and basically abused of them both for the sake of his revenge; both stories can be blamed on bending, but obviously the former would sound better for a revolution. But the core of both stories remain the same, ultimately: bending is bad. Whether it was by a facial scar in the former or an emotional scar in the latter, Amon learned this the hard way.

And yes, Amon just told lies not to hide what he was per se, but not to tarnish the message he was trying to get across. He was a believer, but the problem for him was how to not gain criticisms from others of being a hypocrite for being a bender himself, despite the fact that being a bender gave him the ability to "equalise" as his followers wanted. He believed in the revolution, but was just aware that he was in a precarious position and could easily get bad publicity because of his past.

That's why I would still say Amon is a true believer, just one unlucky enough to lack the acceptance of others because of his nature, and being forced to lie because of this.
Mordicai Knode
21. mordicai
19. hihosilver28

I gotta say, I hope that the Equalist get a seat on the council...perhaps as the city's own representative?
Fade Manley
22. fadeaccompli
Speaking of council seats, I belatedly note that it was nice to see in the extended flashback, some episodes back, that it was indeed Sokka representing his nation on the council. There's clearly precedent for non-benders to act as council members; it would be interesting if that had fallen out of favor by the time the Korra series takes place.

(I immediately thought of a fascinating RL parallel involving religious beliefs, which for the sake of not derailing I probably shouldn't go into.)
Other Alias
23. ghostcrab311
Honestly, I didn’t like it much at all. I think that the frustration of not having it immediately available online contributed to that, but from a narrative standpoint, Amon’s origins were bizarrely added. The abrupt change in Tarrlok from psychopath to nice guy was too jarring and I found it unbelievable. It felt too pat – there was not a single hint throughout the series that that was how it would work out.

I found the whole take-bending-away-with-bloodbending bit to be somewhat offputting as well. Again – no precedent, no real explanation of how such a thing could be possible. We can theorize after the fact, but that is all basically retconning, and not really based on clues in the text.

And the whole stripping of powers thing (essentially the equivalent of cutting off limbs)? By the time we got back to Katara, I had watched so many people get mutilated that I felt truly ill. The feeling throughout that Korra wasn’t going to get to the Avatar state at all was so, well, anti-Avatar that it didn’t even feel like an Avatar show until the last 3 minutes, at which point it simply seemed too pat.

The pacing was just really off for me - the Avatar state should have come earlier, so as to relieve the narrative tension, which went on too long, imo. It really passed from tension into despair that there was going to be anything that would be good to remember about the episode.

Overall, I think a weak ending to a series that started out so promising.
Other gripes: Naga felt like an afterthought, throughout the whole series. Tenzin seemed to be the most well-developed and rounded character, with the gang of four having not enough character development. (Don't get me wrong, Asami shows more character than all the rest of them put together, but she doesn't get the air time needed to really flesh it out.)

tldr; uneven pacing, poor character development, pat ending.
George Shirer
24. grshirer
Although I'm interested in seeing where the creators take the series next, I must admit that I remain ambivalent about this first season. The pacing of this story felt uneven and, at times, rushed. Also, the ending of this series felt far too pat. I particularly disliked their explanation for Korra suddenly being able to access the spiritual dimension of her abilities. It left me literally shaking my head and wondering what the series creators were thinking.
Mordicai Knode
25. mordicai
20. Tumas-Muscat

I mean; I mention that he has a desire for equality...but he also has a desire for power, & for revenge. I don't think you can call him clear of purpose...the Equalists may have accepted "the ends justify the means" as a reason for terrorism, but they (as best exemplified in The Lieutenant & the crowd turning) reject "the means" if it involves lying to them...
Mordicai Knode
26. mordicai
22. fadeaccompli

& that Air "Nomad" seat must have been held by an Air Acolyte, as well.
Mordicai Knode
27. mordicai
10. wcarter4

I'll speak more about this in my next post, but it is an ending, not the ending, right. Two different things. Agreed!
Scott Silver
28. hihosilver28
@23. ghostcrab311
I really liked the pacing of the entire season. Especially the tension. I thought that Korra's struggle to connect with her spiritual side made sense and was an excellent character arc. Since she's the pretty much diametrically opposite of Aang, it would make sense that she has a spiritual block; she is hot-headed, solves problems physically, no desire to meditate at the start of the season. I felt it made sense for the character. All that being said, to each his own. It didn't seem to work for you, I just wanted to say that it worked exceedingly well for me.

@24. grshirer
I'm starting to get a little tired of hearing about the "deus ex machina" and the ending coming out of nowhere when people start comparing it to the original series. That feels like nostalgia to me. I've been rewatching A:TLA over the past few weeks and the same "issues" with deus ex machinas exist within the show. I put "issues" in quotes because it has been heavily lampshaded by the creators throughout the entire first series. I was going to save the examples for the second article, but if anyone wants to get into this here, I'll happily list what I've realized in rewatching the first series.
krakens
29. Lsana
I really liked this episode, though with the emphasis on THIS episode. There were a couple of things I didn't care for. I didn't like the attempt to make Tarrlok sympathetic (sorry, once you build your serial killer dungeon, you lose all woobie points). I also didn't like the fact that Asami and Korra didn't say goodbye to one another; I loved the friendship between those two, and I felt it got completely dumped in favor of the love triangle plot.

Overall, though, I thought the pacing and tension of "Skeletons in the Closet" was good. The reveal at the end, though not the backstory I'd imagined for Amon, was still a reasonable one, and one that made me understand how he could have turned against bending so completely. He may have been a liar, but I don't think he was a hypocrite: I suspect he would have been thrilled to give up his own bending, except for the belief that he needed it to deal with the other benders. He may also have been after revenge in a twisted fashion, but I don't think there is ever any hint he is after any power other than the power to rid the world of those evil benders.

"Endgame" on the other hand, well, we'll get there...
Mordicai Knode
30. mordicai
29. Lsana

Your wish is my command! Part two is up. I agree that Tarrlok can DIAF-- SERIAL KILLER DUNGEONS-- but I think the wisely made him sympathetic like a criminal, rather than as a redeemed villain, & it paid off.

28. hihosilver28

The "deus ex machina" complaint bugs me too, since we live in a world where Aang turned into a Princess Mononoke-eque Godzilla to defeat the Fire Nation navy...
Other Alias
31. ghostcrab311
28. hihosilver28,

Just for clarity, it was just the pacing and tension of the last two episodes that were off for me. I did think they did a great job on the previous ones. :D
krakens
32. realmcovet
Coming from a neutral standpoint, yes, I felt the season finale was rushed, and can agree that it have the deus ex machina approach. But I still loved every second of it. I watched the season finale feeling as though it was flawless, & then came here, read the comments & was able to agree with the complaints as well. I think a lot of viewers just want all the answers right away & don't want to have to wait for another season to have their hopes & dreams realized, honestly. Some of us are perfectly content waiting, others, not so much.

Also, good call on the "inverted savior" statement, Mordicai. Inverted saviors are so my jam.
Mordicai Knode
33. mordicai
32. realmcovet

A Sepiroth girl front to back! I always thought it was weird that his name wasn't Qlippoth but then that is the amateur occultist in my talking.
krakens
34. Ikkin
I didn't like the attempt to make Tarrlok sympathetic (sorry, once you
build your serial killer dungeon, you lose all woobie points).

Well, to be fair to Tarrlok, as Yakone's heir he's one of a very small number of people with a legitimate reason to have a spare serial killer dungeon lying around (can you imagine how awkward it would be to sell something like that?). ;)

And thematically, it makes a lot more sense for it to be inherited. Tarrlok wants to rule Republic City as its hero to surpass his criminal father; serial killer dungeons don't really mesh with that, there's no sign that anyone had even heard rumors that he was doing things that would require one, and it's not like he had the time during his on-screen slide down the slippery slope to make one. But using an inherited one would play up the "Tarrlok unintentionally turns into his father by trying not to be Yakone" aspect even more.

In other words, Tarrlok works as sympathetic only insofar as you're willing to reinterpret assumptions about his character in light of the new information. It's quite plausible, for example, that Korra was the first human being he ever bloodbent; all three times he uses it on other people are driven by fear, and he actually looks quite horrified after he uses it to knock out Team Avatar, Lin, Tenzin, and the other city councilmembers.

Personally, I see him as a counterpoint to Korra. He's just as invested in his identity as Republic City's political savior as Korra is in her identity as Avatar, and the battle of egos between the two of them escalates out of control because they both insist on kicking each other where it hurts the most -- Korra by publically showing up Tarrlok, calling him useless, and comparing him to Amon, and Tarrlok by calling her a half-baked Avatar and demonstrating how politically powerless she is. Neither came off particularly well, but Korra could deal with having attempted to cause massive physical harm to an unarmed opponent by having more important things to worry about while Tarrlok's bloodbending sent him into a massive downward spiral of desperation until the identity he'd built up cracked around him and all he was left with was the realization that he'd turned into his father after all and the desire to bring an end to his father's legacy through his own death.
Mordicai Knode
35. mordicai
34. Ikkin

I think the second half of the finale went a smart way in making him & Amon/Noatak sympathetic. Rather than include some hastily constructed redemption-- which would have read false-- they went the way of The Wire or The Sopranos & just added complexity. Sure, I'm a meglomaniacal bloodbender, but that doesn't mean I don't want things to work out right in the end...so long as "right" overlaps with "my way." Sure, I am a corrupt politician with ambition & outlawed supernatural powers, but I still miss my brother sometimes. Etc.
krakens
36. Ikkin
I think the second half of the finale went a smart way in making him & Amon/Noatak sympathetic. Rather than include some hastily constructed redemption-- which would have read false-- they went the way of The Wire or The Sopranos & just added complexity.

The really interesting thing about the end to Noatak and Tarrlok's arc, I think, is the way that it implies that it's too late for any real change and true redemption is no longer possible for either of them. That's an incredibly bleak outlook, especially because Korra herself actually has a lot in common with the two of them, and it's possibly even more subversive in terms of what can be shown in a "kids' show" than the act of murder-suicide itself. (Then again, much of the fandom is far more comfortable seeing Tarrlok's choice as a heroic self-sacrifice than it is with seeing it as a choice made out of suicidal resignation to the impossibility of redemption, which seems to be rather missing the point)

I'm not sure you're doing justice to the depths of their complexity, though. It's not just about humanizing them by showing there's more to them than their villainous roles, but also about showing how their pasts shaped them into the sort of people they became, unable to separate themselves from those roles. Tarrlok isn't complex because he misses his brother, but because, in his desperation to distance himself from his abusive father, he falls back on the lessons that were ground into him in his childhood and loses himself in the process; Amon isn't complex because he wants things to turn out right, but because he's so dependent on his constructed identity to give him purpose that he falls apart completely when he loses it and is reduced to passive tears as his brother ends both of their lives.
Mordicai Knode
37. mordicai
36. Ikkin

I can't say I disagree with your reading; you've killed it. I think looking at Noatak's tears as sort of mourning for the end of his constructed identity is something that I, as a viewer, really identify with, actually. Amon as the perfect of purpose idealogue, the zealot unswayed, gifted by the spirits to restore not balance but equality...that is a really compelling story. The fact that behind the mirror there is just a bloodbender with daddy issues...well, you can see how Noatak might long for the clarity of purpose that being Amon gave him.
krakens
38. Ikkin
I think looking at Noatak's tears as sort of mourning for the end of his
constructed identity is something that I, as a viewer, really identify
with, actually.

Oh, yeah, that's really compelling, though I'd take it a step further -- Noatak's tears aren't just for the loss of his constructed identity, but of his original identity as well. Up to that moment, he was trying to delude himself that, even if Amon was a source of strength and clarity for him, he could still revert to being the boy who wanted to run away with his brother and survive like that. But, with Tarrlok hovering an electric glove over the boat's fuel line and talking about how it will be "just like old times," Noatak realizes that he lost that identity too -- without Amon, he is nothing -- and just gives up.
krakens
39. Tyga206
Iroh is Zuko's grandson and is named after his uncle. Iroh is not the same guy as the first series.

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