Iroh’s Mistakes

Transcript of my most recent YouTube Video

Shain Slepian

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Iroh’s is every millennial’s wise uncle. Even as a kid watching ATLA in its original airing, I was struck by his avuncular charm and evocative use of metaphors that punctuate his wisdom. He always knows the right think to do and the best way to communicate that knowledge. He’s a basically a saint to us, a character of myth. He’s Iroh, he’s perfect.

Except, he isn’t perfect, because if he was, Zuko wouldn’t have been a villain until half-way through season 3. But don’t cancel Bryke just yet; Iroh’s imperfections are a compelling factor in the drama of Avatar.

Let’s begin at the beginning. By which I mean, pretty close to the end. In the second half of season 3, (clip from “The Western Air Temple”) we see a flashback to an interaction between Iroh and a 13-year-old Zuko just a week after his banishment. Iroh gently advises Zuko to open his heart to the possibility that his father’s command of capturing the avatar may not be the only way to restore his honor.

By the time we first meet Iroh and Zuko a full three years later, Iroh seems to have more or less accepted Zuko’s unacceptable behavior. He defers to him even as he abuses his crew and terrorizes a village of children and old people, and generally coaches him on the best ways to capture the Avatar.

So what’s up with this? We know Iroh has revolutionary aspirations: by the time we meet him in “The Boy in the Iceberg,” he’s been in the White Lotus for several years, and he’s long-since lied to the entire Fire Nation about having killed the last dragons. We know he doesn’t want to Aang to be captured: the Avatar is the bridge their world and the spirit world, and we saw how Iroh reacted with the moon spirit is killed. So why is he going along with his nephew’s bullshit?

It almost seems like Iroh just gave up Zuko.

This is fascinating and deeply frustrating to watch — throughout the beginning of season 2, when we see that Ozai has basically put a hit out on Zuko, we just want Iroh to grab him by the collar and shake him.

And then, he does. And its the biggest mistake of his life…

Toward the season 2 finale, Iroh finally breaks down and yells at Zuko, spelling it out for him…

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Shain Slepian

Shain is a screenwriter and screenplay editor. For more content, follow their blog and check out their YouTube channel, TimeCapsule. shainslepian.com/